For many a cake artist, getting their work published is a life goal. There’s really no greater feeling than flipping through the pages of a glossy magazine and seeing your work in print. Somehow it feels like you’ve finally made it, that all of your years of hard work and dedication have paid off. Whether you want to get your creations featured in American Cake Decorating or in a national bridal magazine, the process is quite similar. Our managing editor Rebekah offers her top tips for getting published.
Overcoming the Fear Factor
A lot of the people I publish are often surprised at just how easy it is. The real obstacle is the “fear factor”. Many artists I have spoken to have wanted to reach out to magazines for years but have been too intimidated to make first contact, or have doubted their abilities. They fear the unknown. Let me put your mind at ease, I am not here to upset, humiliate, or hurt anyone. My goal is to help facilitate your goals. Most editors are thrilled when contributors take the initiative to open the communication gates. We love being introduced to new, talented artists. We also love it when our job is made all the more easy by enthusiastic potential contributors. So get over those fears and take the first step: making contact.
Another obstacle that artists face when it comes to being published is that they’re waiting to be “discovered”. Whilst I do, in-fact, discover quite a few new artists as I’m researching content online, most of the artists featured in the magazine are those who have reached out to us directly. You have a much greater chance of being featured in a magazine if you make your wishes for feature known. You CAN do things to make yourself more visible and appealing to publishers online, however. Maintain a strong social media presence. Post pictures of your creations often, and share your work in groups. I will quite often look for new and up-and-coming talent in cake groups. Just don’t take it as a given that an editor, or a publisher, will find you. You have to do the legwork.
Standing Out From the Crowd
I’m always extremely impressed when a potential contributor takes the time to do a little background research. Take some time to research the publication you wish to be featured in. If you don’t subscribe, consider signing up; purchase a few back issues to get a feel for their style and flavor. This is especially important with bridal magazines as it allows you to submit work that is relevant to their readers and therefore appealing to the editorial team. Find out who your point of contact is at the magazine, craft a polite, well-written introduction, and address the email directly. Tell them a little about yourself, share any links to photo galleries you have, awards you may have won. Express a sincere wish to be featured and ask for the next steps. Remember that editors will often receive many requests for features a week, some receive many requests each day, so be patient. I always try to get back to feature requests within 48 hours but occasionally when things are very hectic, contributor requests might accidentally slip through the net. If you haven’t heard back within a week, send a polite follow up email. It’s most likely that an editor or publisher has simply overlooked the email rather than snubbed you as an artist.
As much as we would like to be able to feature every artist who expresses an interest, we just can’t. Sometimes that’s quite heartbreaking, especially for the artist. If I am unable to feature an artist in a particular issue, I will always try to accommodate a feature at a later date, or offer the artist some online coverage. Sometimes unexpected things happen and an editor may be unable to fit your feature in. Try to work with them—believe me, they don’t like disappointing people either. Occasionally an artist who wishes to be featured may not be quite ready yet. This is OK, it doesn’t mean you’re not a great cake designer, or that you’re not worthy for print feature. It simply means that you haven’t quite reached the level you need to be at just yet but you have lots of potential. Most often, this happens with artists who have been making cakes for quite a short period of time (newbies). There’s no shame in being new to the industry. New artists are full of enthusiasm, but they are still learning. I will always offer words of encouragement to new artists and I know all too well how quickly we can improve and get better in this industry. It’s a fast learning curve and I love to foster new talent, and offer encouragement and advice.
Sometimes, an artist will email me and their work is absolutely top-notch-level brilliant, and then I get very excited about featuring them, but, and here’s the kicker, their photographs aren’t “print quality.” There’s nothing that bums me out more as an editor than receiving bad photos of amazing cakes. The worst of it is that it’s out of my hands when this happens. It’s on you as an artist to provide great photos that we can print and feature. This is true of ANY publication. Don’t forget, magazines have an obligation to their readers to provide excellent content, and that means great photos. Art directors can have quite a challenge working on poor photos to make them print-ready, and if you want any chance of being on the cover, the photography is paramount. Photographs should always be professionally or gifted-amateur shot. They should be at least 300 dpi, CMYK, and at least 1 MB in size. This is really essential and there’s just no way around it. Although phone cameras are much improved, you still may struggle to get a phone picture featured in a magazine. There are lots of ways you can get professional pictures of your work. You could offer trade to a local photographer—cake for photos is one I hear quite often. You could hire a photographer and create several display cakes and shoot them all in one go, which offers value for money. You could purchase a digital camera yourself and learn how to use it, which, trust me, you will never regret.
Working to Deadlines
Working to deadlines is what magazines do, and most magazines are working on several issues at any one time. I know I am! It also means we’re working several months ahead of schedule. If you’re looking to contribute to the May issue, then start reaching out to magazines in December of the previous year. Submission dates can run anywhere between 2 and 6 months ahead of issue release depending on the publication and the issue. Most editors will tie up content well in advance of print dates. American Cake Decorating publishes all their editorial close dates online. You can find the latest information on themes and submission dates on our website in the About section, under Contribute. If you commit to a feature, make sure you follow through. We understand when things crop up, after all we’re a busy industry, but don’t take on a publication obligation if you know you’re short on time. Editors are often selective with their features, especially written features and tutorials. They don’t have an endless list of backup content if you fail to deliver. They’re trusting you to deliver on the content as much as you’re trusting them to feature it. If you do pull out or become unreliable, they may think twice about featuring you again.
Say No to Black Backdrops
I’m not sure if this is an industry standard or simply a preference of mine and our art director, but black backdrops are a bit of a pet peeve. I think studio photography can be fabulous and, in fact, black backdrops can be too if used in the right context, but so often they are not. A backdrop should always enhance your cake, it should never distract from it. If you’ve created a towering Gothic wedding cake, with black sugar lace and purple roses, then yes, a black backdrop could be a phenomenal way to shoot images of your cake for print. Placing a gorgeous pink and white, delicately piped cake against a harsh black backdrop both detracts from the beauty of the cake and thematically it just doesn’t make sense. It means more work for the graphics team who then have to spend time digitally cutting out your cake from the background, and that could mean your gorgeous cake pics end up on the chopping block. Think about your audience, too; it’s not much use to send pictures of ethereal wedding cakes to a bridal magazine that are all on a stark black background. You’re selling your cake, yourself, and your brand when you submit photos, so make sure they represent the best of what you do.
Something that is essential for bridal shoots is exclusivity. Cake magazines are all jumping on the exclusivity bandwagon, too. It can seem unfair at times that you do all this work, you take amazing photographs of your cakes, and then a magazine asks for exclusivity. Essentially it means you cannot publish pictures of the cakes anywhere else, either online or in print. Though exclusivity rules vary from publication to publication, essentially you could be hurting your chances if you do not adhere to their guidelines. In the modern age where things are instantly available online, it’s important for magazines to be able to offer something special, that their readers can only get from them. They need to stand out from the crowd, too. This is why they may ask you not to share images of your published cake online, and it’s especially essential if the magazine hasn’t gone to print yet. Most magazines are happy for you to share your work online after the issue has come out. Tag them, share your work online, and share links to the magazine, so that others can find it.
Getting Paid for Features
Another hot topic and one I get asked quite frequently is, “Do you pay artists to feature their work?” The answer is, yes, we do. However, like most publications, we cannot pay to feature every artist. This would be an impossibility. Most bridal magazines do not pay to feature styled shoots, however, occasionally they may commission one if it’s for something special. They may also have budget for feature writers. I’ve written for several bridal magazines and one did pay me to write a feature story on the wedding industry, while another simply offered exposure. Exposure can be great for your cake business, it validates your skills and solidifies you as an expert in the industry. Having publication credits to your name can raise your business profile. It offers assurance of your credentials to new clients who wish to book your services. It can be a way to generate new business. It’s also just really awesome to have your work in print. Don’t sniff at exposure. Done well, it can open doors, possibly to paid opportunities later. American Cake Decorating has a number of exclusive paid columnists. These are members of our team who write features for every issue, these are paid team members. A lot of them were contributors to the magazine long before they became columnists.
My last topic is the one that I get the most questions about. The cover! The holy grail of print features. Quite simply, everyone wants the cover, and when you get one, it’s like all your Christmases came at once. There really is no feeling quite like seeing your cake on the cover of a magazine. Though bridal magazines rarely feature cakes on the cover, occasionally they will. As will lifestyle magazines like Southern Living, etc. It does happen! At ACD, the cover is coveted and treasured. We take great care and consideration with each and every issue when choosing our cover artist. It’s an extremely difficult job because so many talented artists are equally deserving. Sometimes it’s something very small that pushes one over the top of another. It has to be a great cake, of course, we’re a cake-decorating magazine, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be a BIG cake. One mistake I see a lot of artists make is that they think that in order to be featured on the cover they need to create the biggest, most complex cake of their careers. You don’t! Often a simple one- or two-tier cake will take precedence over an elaborate six-tier cake. Why? It’s about visual appeal and composition. Two- or three-tier cakes or smaller novelty cakes are easier to place on a cover. Bigger cakes often require us to feature a close-up rather than the full cake, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. When you’re designing a cake for publication think about how it would look on a page. Color is also important; a bold cake will always stand out from the crowd and offer great newsstand appeal—coupled with great photography, you have a winning formula. Another way to help bolster your chances of getting a cover is to supply a tutorial. Magazines love to feature images of cakes on the cover when the possibility of making that exact cake also lies inside the pages. How many times have you seen “Learn to Make This Cake” written in bold font across the cover? Lastly, be original, think outside the box and offer something a little different, and, of course, keep the issue theme and the season in mind, too. Making a cake for a wedding-cake issue that comes out in June is much different than making one for an issue that hits the shelves in December. Color palettes, seasonal trends, and holidays can all affect what a publisher is looking to feature on the cover of an issue.