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Want REAL Photography Work? Query it!

A Guest post by Eric from Impermanence Photography.

I recently ran into this slight problem where I was pitching an idea to an editor and he said to me, “Eric, I can’t do anything for you without a formal query letter.”

Erm… what? I thought that’s what I was doing, bouncing emails back and forth sending proposals his way. Well, that’s not quite the whole story.

I decided to follow up with the editor’s second in command (who used to be the editor) and got this email back:


[The Editor] is the kind of guy who feels that if you are a professional, a submission should show up accompanied with a professional query letter…

…the best thing you can do is to not ask an editor to perform any special task in order to make that kind of decision…

…Give the editor exactly what he asks for and you have a better than even chance he will want to work with you. Anything short of that will probably result in a rejection.

Frankly, the whole freelance business is really bad because page rates are falling (!) while more people than ever are submitting work. Based on that, to succeed means doing it better and more professionally than everyone else.”

And there you have it. Right from the editor’s mouth. You have to be better than the next guy, in every way possible. Having good photos just won’t cut it anymore.

Selling yourself is half the battle these days and having professional language in a query letter will get you far. Here are a few tips for writing these types of letters to editors:

1. Use proper language and grammar.

Nothing will get you put in the “deleted” bin faster than a letter full of typos and colorful euphemisms.

2. Spell out exactly what you can do for them!

Understand that editors of magazines are busy people, they want to know exactly what you can offer them to make their life easier.

3. Send samples of your best work.

This ostensibly means your portfolio. You have one, right? Online? It better be. A website is a must here, your photos should right out front and not require a lot of load times or clicking through to get to your work. Portfolios should be your BEST work, not all of your work. Lead with the best and sell them early!

Addendum: You really should target your audience when you show your portfolio. If you are propositioning a gardening magazine, a bunch of portraits isn’t going to convince the editor. Tailor your portfolio to your specific market!

4. Provide contact information.

Not everyone does well via email. Give them options to contact you.

5. Sell yourself.

Your letter and portfolio need to scream “PICK ME!” and if you don’t have confidence in either of these, you’ll be passed up. Be confident and deliberate. If you can’t deliver what you promise, you won’t be picked next time. Be honest, but not a push over. Hyperbole here is your enemy.

6. KISS – Keep it short stupid!
Query letters should NOT be more than a page long, if you are then you are wasting your time. Editors are BUSY like I said, they want brevity. Be short and concise. How many other of these letters do you think they are getting per day?

This is a short list of things a query letter needs. These are just the basics and each letter needs to be made for each person you are propositioning, a basic form letter will not suffice here.

I’m rooting for you,


See more from Eric at Impermanence Photography – making it in the world of commissioned work in a shrinking market.

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