Good News Always Follows Bad

In February I prepared a few submissions to send out to magazines in four countries. Three of those countries are English speaking nations and so the preparation of the articles and photographs was no more challenging than usual. The fourth country was Japan and I sent portfolios to two magazines, having had my manager check over my Japanese to ensure proper business mail manners and grammatical correctness. The waiting period for responses is usually anywhere from one month to over a year. Every day I came home I checked the mailbox and looked at the mail tray in our living room to see if any packages of slides had come back. A returned package would mean a rejected submission. Two weeks ago there was a large thick envelope waiting for me. I knew what the letter inside would say before I even read it – a formal note of appreciation of my interest in their magazine, a few words of thank you for my submission, and a vague reason for why my submission had been returned. Sure enough, the standard rejection letter was inside but there was also a hand-written message hastily scribbled below:

“The photographs are very beautiful but for the Portfolio Gallery we are looking for a new expression and perhaps your photographs are a bit orthodox.”

I was grateful for the message, even though at first it delivered a blow to my confidence. I was grateful because it gave me a clue as to why my work was rejected. I needed to look at their magazine more carefully and try again. Nevertheless, I had given great thought and care to the preparation of my submission. It was a collection of landscape images from New Zealand and with the liberal request of 30 to 60 images I had room for variety. I chose photographs from early morning twilight to evening twilight; photographs of coastal, pastoral, grassland, and alpine areas; wide angle, standard, and telephoto views; 35mm, 645, 6×7 and 4×7 formats. I thought about what images would appeal to Japanese readers and tried to include such images. I also considered my foreignness and included photographs that were more my own style. Furthermore I wanted to include images that captured the spirit of the landscape of the South Island of New Zealand. My submission could have made a nice photo art book, in my own humble opinion.

Accepting that despite my best efforts my submission wasn’t what they were looking for I went to the book store to check out their latest issue. There was an excellent portfolio of images from India, which were original, innovative and exciting. There was some top notch camera work going on there. However, another profile of American landscapes was nothing I hadn’t seen before and in fact not really very inspiring at all compared to what I have seen in my photo books, magazines and even on Flickr. So what were the editors looking for anyway?

Following my plan, I prepared another cover letter and sent the submission off to another magazine. Then I began thinking about what to send next to the magazine that had rejected my photos this time. The biggest disappointment was that it would mean a delay in getting that submission published. I had all confidence it would get published somewhere, but the longer it took to find a home for it the longer it would be before I could expect any pay. And since my photography outings rely heavily on income from published work and sales it could mean another year of restricted outings.

Then last week good news was dropped in my lap, well actually in my Email mailbox, twice. The magazine Tabi Shashin (旅写真) would be using one of my photos in their May issue (on sale April 20) and The Japan Times ST Weekly, which had run some short articles of mine last year, informed me that one of those articles had caught the interest of a publisher who wanted to use it for a text book. From that I could get an additional copyright fee, a small one but a bit of income nonetheless.

Once there was a time when I submitted to magazines and got mostly rejection letters. But in the last four years or so a rejection letter is often followed by an acceptance notice. There is every reason to keep making an effort. Now if good news comes in threes then I am hoping to get it soon…

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4 responses to “Good News Always Follows Bad

  1. Very interesting stuff!

    Like all “keen amateurs” somewhere at the back of my mind the notion of selling the images hangs about…

    It’s very interesting to hear such stories (and encourages me to keep up with the IT contracting 😉

    Not an easy thing to get in to at all – there are many very talented people out there.

  2. Thanks RedYeti. The famous American mountaineer/photographer/writer Galen Rowel once said that when he heard how much easier it must have been to become a photographer in the 70s he always replied by pointing out how the in the 90s the environment was much more photographer friendly.

    These days I would argue the opposite. Thanks to the Internet, on-line photo stock sites, and high quality digital cameras it is now easy for anyone with a decent shot to post it for anyone to see. The trick is to get people to see it, especially those who might wish to pay for the use of the photo. Many long time pros are dealing with the “macro market” as I think it is termed, meaning on-line stock agencies that sell the rights to photos for only a few dollars. Amateurs around the world can make a few extra cents or bucks from their favourite images. The pros who are used to being paid sometimes hundreds of dollars for a shot are having to find ways to adapt their business to this new competitor in the market of selling photography.

    I get both very excited and depressed when I look through Flickr. Now photographers never would have heard about are impressing me with their glorious photographic images and making me feel rather like a very small fish in a very big sea, even though I know most of them are also small fish like me.

  3. >I get both very excited and depressed when I look through Flickr

    I know exactly what you mean there 🙂

    But as you say – changes can be as much an easier entry as a barrier.

    Have you ever come across How To Make Money From Your Digital Images by Douglas Freer?

    I’ve only read part of it and dipped in to others.

    I’m sure that some of it is useless for an experienced photographer (the parts that deal with taking the images) but the sections relating to dealing with microstock agencies may be useful.

    • Hi RedYeti. I haven’t looked into the microstock market so much. I considered it for my compact digital captures but the quality is not nearly as good as my film results and I considered that I might be besmerching my name (what little I have estavblished of it) by advertising inferior quality photos. Furthermore, when I checked out ShutterPoint (I think was the name) I saw some really top notch camera work there. Maybe once I get a digital SLR I will have images that are more up to par. I will certainly check out the link. Any useful information is worthwhile having. Thank you.

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