Thousands and thousands of photographers try to get published, featured or promoted every year–and thousands fail. Your photo story may be wonderful, and it may be the diamond amongst all the jewels but it just may not stand out enough. So how do you get yours in the door successfully?
Imagine if you will for a second that you are blindfolded and that you have to somehow or another get to a loved one. But you are surrounded by 500 people, and they’re all screaming out to you. Your loved one is also trying to get your attention and their voice is being drowned out by everyone else’s. Additionally, everyone is pushing you in one direction or another. But in the end, you have to get to your loved one.
That’s what it’s like to be an art buyer, photo editor, magazine/publication editor, and gallery gatekeeper. And you as the photographer are the loved one. That person needs to either find a way to get to you or you need to find a way to get to the right person. For ease of phrasing, we’re going to call them all gatekeepers.
Here’s how to pitch your photo story and get results.
Come up With the Concept
First off, what you should do is develop a concept for your series. This concept should have some sort of appeal specifically. Is it just a random collection of images from a documentary project that you’re working on? Well, that’s going to be tough to pitch unless you can make the gatekeeper care about your project. But that gatekeeper also has other people to answer to.
Are they a photo editor at a magazine? Well, they have an Editor in Chief or a higher up to report to and explain why your project is pertinent to their company’s content coverage. At the end of the day, they need to bring in pageviews or ensure sales. There is a big split between advertising and journalism, but they also need one another to survive.
Pitching to a gallery art buyer? They need to be able to ensure that your work being displayed will bring people into the gallery and potentially spend money. Because at the end of the day, they’re not doing this for their health.
So if you’re pitching a concept or a project, then it needs to be to a space that caters to your specific niche project. A publication that specializes in black and white pinhole photography (and there are tons of them out there) won’t want to share your documentary project on children in Africa unless you’ve somehow found a way to do it with pinhole photography.
Keep this in mind as you pitch.
Develop a Package
At this stage you need to prep a package of some sort to send with your pitch or to pitch in person. In the case of a finished project, get either a printed book with the images (stating that it just being used for marketing reasons) or put them in a private gallery on a tablet to show someone.
If you’re pitching a project that isn’t finished yet, then say that it is a work in progress and perhaps bring with you a description of where you want the project to go. Generally though, this only applies to photographers looking to get funding of some sort.
Preferably, it would be nice to give the gatekeeper something that they can hold onto to view at their leisure. This should not only include images but also be comprised of:
– A description of your project
– An official pitch letter detailing the project and telling the gatekeeper why it should be important to them and their outlet
– An outline of your plan to market it
Yes, photography is a business. And businesses need marketing.
The Photo Business is About Marketing
You didn’t think that you’d just pitch a project and not have an idea about how you’d be marketing it, now did you? Bring out a marketing plan of some sort to market your project. Get ready to shop it around to:
– Various publications: after you’ve curated a list of ones that you think would be interested in the project. It’s a very good idea to usually pitch to only one publication at a time though.
– Galleries: If you want your images in a gallery, put together pitches specifically for these.
– Take to Kickstarter: If you’re doing a project that is a work in progress, try to get the word out there via Kickstarter and time it with your pitches to publications.
– Social Media: There are loads and loads of people/companies with large social media followings that you can probably ask for some sort of promotion in helping you with your project.
The key to marketing in this case isn’t to necessarily build a marketing tank machine yourself, but to use ones that people have already created and piggyback off of them. While that sounds weird, that’s how the industry works.
Before we even get into the art of the pitch, we want to talk to you about what not to do. And believe it or not, it’s incredibly simple.
Are you ready?
Don’t copy and paste the same pitch from one place to the other place. They all need to be custom tailored and be spoken about in different ways. Each one needs to be given its own time and care to work properly. Gatekeepers receive pitches every day and almost every hour–so they need to be fine tuned.
Now this is where it gets really, really tough.
When you’re pitching a story, it has to have value. As we always say, you should answer the who, what, when, where, how and why about the pitch. You’ll need to explain to the gatekeeper why your story should be featured by their outlet. Sometimes the photos are enough to leave a gatekeeper in awe, but the story may not work for them. That is where you need to help guide them a bit more. Trust me, our brains are fried each and every day.
Don’t Underestimate Snail Mail
These days, many pitches are done via email. Generally, I’d recommend not calling–but some gatekeepers don’t mind it. Also try to create an enticing headline in your email.
But more over, don’t ever underestimate how effective snail mail is. Sending us a package is much better than sending something in an envelope. It stops us and makes us pay attention right then and there.
Once you get your foot in the door, it’s important to go out there and network like your job depends on it–but in some ways it really does. The creative industry overall is more about who you know than what you know, and it always has been that way. So you’ll need to go out and force yourself to go meet new people, make connections, and find ways that you can collaborate. There are meetups all over for stuff like that.
This can help you continue to get your project into other places and keep it alive.
Now get out there, and make it happen. Good luck!