For crafters looking establish themselves as professional designers, getting published in a magazine can be a good first step toward building a professional portfolio. Designers who've been in the business for many years continue to submit work to magazines because it's a great way to get national distribution and exposure to a new audience, plus a little bit of cash, while retaining the copyright to your work.
To get the inside scoop on what craft and sewing magazines editors are really looking for I reached out to Shannon Miller.
Shannon is an editor, author and designer living in Huntsville, Alabama with her husband and two young children. The former editor of Stitch Craft Create magazine, she currently serves a dual design and editorial role with Sew Beautiful magazine. In her free time, she blogs at Crafty in Alabama. She is currently authoring a papercrafts book for KP Craft that will release in Fall 2014.
Shannon explained to me exactly how to get published in a magazine.
Here’s my advice: look for submission guidelines, follow the instructions, and repeat. Submission guidelines can often be found on a publication’s website; and if not, find a contact form and ask if they accept submissions. You’ll also sometimes see calls for submissions inside print magazines.
It’s important to make sure that what you’re submitting is clean and professional. Usually, you have to attach a snapshot or a sketch of your idea, plus a short outline of what you intend to include with the article. You don’t have to go out and hire a professional photographer, but taking a nice, vivid, clear snapshot from a couple of angles, and including any pertinent details, is vital.
Any descriptive writing you include should be straightforward and grammatically correct. If you want to be seen as a professional, write like one! Use proper capitalization and punctuation. If you write like a texting teenager, your work is likely to be dismissed – no matter how great it is.
I also really love to see examples of your other work; so if you have a blog or a website, do not forget to include a link! To be honest, some of my favorite projects I’ve accepted over the last few years have come not from a designer’s submitted project, but from something else I saw when I clicked through to their blog, then asked if they could recreate something similar.
Lastly, know that there any number of reasons as to why your work might not accepted that have nothing to do with it being a good project. If you feel it is original, nicely done, followed the instructions and yet you’ve heard nothing, ask yourself: “Does this project truly fit the content of this publication?” For instance, Stitch Craft Create was a very contemporary, youthful craft magazine; and I would sometimes receive submissions that made me question whether the person had ever cracked open an issue of ours at all, because it didn’t fit our look or style at all.
Other reasons for rejection that are not related to the quality of your work might be space (ex. I like it, but I don’t have anywhere to put it), content balance (ex. I already have 8 bracelets in this issue, I can’t use another), past feedback (ex. the last time I published something like this, it bombed); questionable production schedules (ex. I don’t have a calendar for 2014 yet, so I can’t commit to putting it in), you were placed in a “hold” file (I like this, and I might use it, I’m just not sure when or how); and the list goes on.
The moral of the story is: submit, submit, submit! Just because you didn’t hear back about your first five projects doesn’t mean that your sixth won’t be a shoe-in. I’ve seen it happen many times!
For me follow-up is a big question. Once I submit a project and the deadline is approaching I always wonder if I should send an email just to be sure they got it. Am I being annoying, or is a reminder helpful to editors? I asked Shannon the best way to proceed in this situation.
It’s always okay to follow up; the fast-paced schedule of most magazine offices mean that it’s easy to overlook emails. I’ll be honest that being a magazine editor was most hectic time of my professional life; so checking back in once (or twice, if you must) to confirm receipt is not a bad idea.
BUT. If you are continually ignored or receive a polite rejection, don’t keep on. I absolutely understand that it’s hurtful and frustrating to not receive a response (I’m guilty myself of spending too much time clicking the “send/receive” button), but you won’t be helping your case as appearing to be someone who is great to work with. Just be polite, and move onto the next submission. Whatever you do, don’t take it personally, and be sure to include your complete contact information with every interaction so that there is zero confusion if they do decide to contact you.
I will say that offering flexibility with your proposals is a nice touch; so if you didn’t do so in your initial email, mention it (briefly) in your follow-up. For instance, a casual offer that you’re willing to recreate the project in alternative colors or with a different seasonal focus might be what seals the deal for a wavering editor.
U.S.-based sewing magazines typically pay about $150 per project with the copyright reverting back to you within a few months of the magazine coming off newsstands. UK-based magazines pay somewhat more, about $300 per project. Either way it's not much compensation and you have to wait about six months before you see your project in print, and often don't get paid until 90 days after publication. And yet magazine work is still attractive. Shannon says it's worth it.
I think that besides the general exposure and payment, you’re going to be reaching a whole different audience than your usual crowd. Most craft magazines will happily publish a website link alongside your article, and that can be the ticket to snagging the attention of new fans you might otherwise be missing. If you’re working to expand your clientele or grow readership, some of the customers you’re going to pick up from being in print are not necessarily already part of your online crowd.
Being published is also a very respectable bullet point for your resume. Whether that means you are a full-time craft professional with a “published works” section on your actual resume, or maybe you’re a DIY blogger who wants to add an “as seen in…” section in their sidebar, it’s impressive to the general public if someone’s past work has been selected for the honor of publication. And maybe guest blogs or book deals are on your long-term goals list; having been published in industry periodicals can be a great selling point to your credibility.
Getting published once or twice can open the floodgates; if the editor likes working with you, you’re more likely to get asked to contribute again. And when submitting to other magazines, having been published elsewhere tells them that you know what you’re doing. Before you know it, you could be building a steady flow of commissions.
I asked Shannon to describe the planning stages for a new issue of a magazine. I wanted to know how the number and types of projects are determined.
This is one of my favorite parts of putting magazines together! First, each issue usually has an overarching theme that dictates what kind of content will be pursued and selected for publication – such as a certain season, holiday or other focus. From there, we develop visual guides in the form of style sheets that include color palettes, keywords and other style cues such as snapshots evoking the look and feel we want to capture. These are extremely helpful when trying to create a flow throughout the issue, or at the very least, within each separate section of magazine.
Deciding on the types of projects is always a balancing act, and there are a lot of factors to keep in mind. For instance, depending on your target audience, you want to make sure that a range of difficulty is represented (you don’t want all beginner-level projects in a publication that is generally geared toward advanced- or expert-level artisans, and vice versa). Even in publications with a highly-focused subject matter, balancing the type of content is key. In editorial planning meetings, we’ll often look over our list of potential articles and ask ourselves: “Are topics A, B, C and D all represented in some form or fashion?”
As far as determining a general number of projects, different magazines have their own internal structure (which you can usually determine by looking at how the table of contents is divided). This list will always include your “must-have” items that will be in every issue, such as regular columns, the table of contents, plus how-to articles that may or may not be divided into distinct sections that have their own themes.
Page count is highly dependent upon the complexity of what you’re sharing; is it the entire pattern from start to finish, or is it a small technique as featured on a larger project? An approximate ratio of editorial versus advertising pages is usually set from issue to issue, so we always create visual roadmaps – chart-like layouts of all the page spreads in the entire issue, labeled with what articles, photographs or other items (such as pullout centerfold pages or masthead information) may fall. Ideally, you’ll have a good idea of your space allocation before you even being the editing process.
I first met Shannon when I submitted a project to Stitch Craft Create. The theme was "summer" and I designed and submitted Benji the Bumblebee. Shannon was the editor and she accepted my project, but the magazine folded right before that issue was to be published.
Craft publishing is rapidly changing and I wondered how Shannon envisions the future of the industry.
I think it practically goes without saying that digital is the new way of the publishing world. Today a single print edition of a magazine is so much more than the physical copy you buy at the bookstore; you can get digital, interactive versions and extra web-exclusive content. You’ll also be invited to join their online communities; the marketing strategies of magazines have become incredibly diverse!
I don’t think print is dying, but its purpose is changing dramatically. Digital is not an afterthought or an added bonus now; it’s an expected counterpart. I think craft magazines are specifically going to really start investing in ways of harnessing all the possibilities of digital with amazing apps, new ways of delivering exclusive digital content to print subscribers, and so much more. Building communities is a huge part of that.
I also think we are going to see the success of niche publications continue to grow. The availability of craft content online is absolutely exploding, and I think that as a way of combating saturation, the industry is going to keep branching off into fractals. So look at it this way – say, for instance, you don’t feel like there is a suitable magazine out there for your particular type of craft, making it hard to get published at all. I’d speculate that within 5-10 years, more and more avenues for these hyper-niche craft audiences will continue to surface.
Related to that, self-publishing is gaining a ton of steam. It’s so exciting to see what individuals and independent businesses are creating to fulfill gaps in craft publishing that they don’t see being satisfied. It’s easier than ever to DIY your own magazines in digital form, and just as you can do things like order your own photo prints on coffee mugs and in keepsake books, I think we’re going to start to see more affordable options for independent publishers to create their own print versions, as well.
A huge thank you to Shannon for giving us an insider's perspective into the world of magazine publishing. If you have any thoughts or questions, please leave a comment here and Shannon will respond.