Marketing Mondays: Editorial Coverage, Part 1

Q: How do I get my art featured in magazines?

That was the question asked by a reader of this column. The short answer is that it’s a long answer with a number of corollary questions: Which magazine? What kind of coverage? Under what circumstances? Today in Part One we consider art magazines.

Art magazines
It's a rare artist who would not like to be the subject of a feature in Art in America, Art Forum or Art News. While I don't have the inside scoop on these three magazines, I have worked as a senior or chief editor for a daily newspaper and a range of periodicals, as well as freelanced as a writer or editor for a great number of magazines and books, so I have some idea of how the business works.
You or your work are the subject of a feature
If you’re well-known, if you’ve got a well-connected dealer, if you are on the radar of the editor in chief or senior editors, or if a feature writer who knows your work goes to bat for a story about you, you may be the subject of a feature in an art magazine. Typically there’s a hook: a current show, an upcoming retrospective, something that makes the editor decide to include a feature about you at that particular time.
The bigger the art magazine, the harder it is for an unrepresented or unconnected artist to be considered for inclusion. In other words, it’s the print version of getting into a gallery. But there are many specialty publications with a national or even international focus for which your work might be a good fit: discipline specific (like Sculpture Magazine or Plein Air); medium specific (like Ceramics Monthly), craft or technique oriented (like American Craft or Fine Woodworking); or published by a non-profit as part of organizational membership (like Surface Design Journal). 
There are also regional art magazines, which have better odds for inclusion, since geography is a defining factor. Indeed, in the smaller magazines, whether regional or topic specific, editors are actively looking for the best of the best to feature. Examples here might be Art Ltd., which focuses on the West Coast; Chicago Gallery News, Art New England or even more specifically, Provincetown Arts.
As for getting the cover, any editor will tell you that it has to be the best image of all the good images relating to that month’s issue. But don’t take my word for it. About a year ago, I went to a panel discussion in which David Ebony, the managing editor of Art in America, was participating. That month’s issue featured a virtually unknown artist. Of course artists were buzzing about the choice. I asked him: “How is it that Artist A came to be on the cover?” He replied in more or less these words: “We felt is was the best image we had for the issue.” You can't argue with that.
Covers have their own special requirements. If the issue is sold primarily on the newsstand, the cover has to stand out, with cover lines that pull the reader in (and you wonder why the women’s magazines all promise flatter abs, better hair, more orgasms and 25 tips for just about everything). If the issue is sent to a subscriber base, it already has the reader’s attention, so there’s more latitude for the image and less hype in the cover lines.
Your work is included in a feature
Whether it’s an article about a topic such as an art trend--Provisional Painting, say--or a biennial exhibition or art fair, or artists in their studios, the writer will assemble images that underscore the story in visual terms. Indeed, sometimes the images are the basis of the story, introduced by an opening paragraph, and completed by captions and a pullquote or two. A writer needs to know about your work for you to be considered. In this regard, getting included in a round-up article is much like being curated into an invitational exhibition or invited to participate in a group show. And the same advice applies: show, show, show so that you and your work are visible and known to the people in a position to do something about it.

Feature writers don't work in a vacuum. Writers talk to dealers, curators, critics and other journalists; they visit galleries, attend openings, read the art blogs, talk to their artist friends, listen to the buzz. Desk-bound editors depend on their network of writers to bring the art world to them but they, too, get out as time and work load allow

Still, when you consider the number of artists who are seeking editorial coverage, then narrow that number down to artists whose work is ready to be featured, then further whittle that number to the limited amount of articles in any given magazine in a month, and then whittle that number down to the particular mix of articles an editor is considering (because every reader's taste or interest has to be satisfied with each issue) you realize just how talented, connected, timely and just plain lucky you have to make it onto the pages of an issue.
Your exhibition is the subject of a review
There’s  a  trend in contemporary art magazines to run a review while the show is still up. Typically that means the review takes place before the actual show. “I don’t feel entirely comfortable reviewing a show in advance, but that’s the way my editor wants to work. If I want to keep writing for the magazine, that’s what I do,” confides a critic who writes for a regional art magazine.
And if you want your work to be considered for review? Some months in advance of your exhibition, you or your gallery should send a press release and several images to the editor in chief of the magazine. Include a postcard for the show (if you have one already), and maybe a couple of tear sheets or printouts from other publications. Don't expect them to be returned. You can send a press release directly to the critics, too, but skip the supporting material. “What are you, a museum?” says my critic friend, only partially in jest.  Follow up the online press release with the hard-copy version closer to the exhibition and after that, the exhibition postcard.
Several critics have mentioned casually that they appreciate receiving a (legible) handwritten note on the postcard announcement--a reminder of a conversation they might have had with you, a group exhibition they reviewed that you were in, something that jogs their memory of you, or a few words to let them know you're not robo-mailing but really interested in them seeing your work. Critics get paid peanuts for their reviews; they do it because they love what they do. That's why a personal connection is so important.
Who makes the decision to review your work? Sometimes the critic pitches the idea to the editor. Sometimes the editor (there may be several at a magazine, so it would be the one directly responsible for the review section) assigns the review. For his part, the critic I quoted earlier says, "There are many reasons I might be interested in reviewing a particular show: I have been following the artist's work for a while; or a previous review didn't run for lack of space and I want to make it up to the artist; or I was seduced by the postcard and when I got to the gallery, I loved what  saw; or I might walk into a gallery, see work that blows me away, and want to write about it."
Some critics make their rounds while the show is up. This would certainly be the case with critics who write for daily newspapers, or art bloggers whose turnaround time can be close to instantaneous. Galleries make it their business to know who the critics and writers are, so they're aware when one is in the gallery. Moreover, the galleries make a point of knowing which critics like to be left alone, which like to chat, which routinely request additional information about the artist and the art. Critics view a lot of exhibitions, so a visit ensures nothing but that you're now on one's radar (for better or worse). Even if a review is written and set for inclusion in the next issue of a publication, there are no guarantees until it's actually in print. At the last moment an editor may decide to run a different review, or make a picture larger in another review thus bumping yours, or maybe a big ad comes in, taking up the space that had been allotted for you. By the next issue, a review of your show would be too late; besides, another crop of reviews is ready to be published. Writers understand this, but such an omission can be crushing to an artist.
The difference between advertising and editorial
You probably know this, but it’s worth mentioning just to be clear: You pay for an ad. The space that’s left over, after ads, is what’s given over to editorial. You do not pay for editorial coverge. Ads keep a magazine in the black. The editorial gives it color. Just as galleries have their programs, magazines have their editorial points of view, which create the mood and tone of each publication. Ideally the editorial and advertising have a relation to one another. But sometimes you'll see an ad so egregiously out of character with the editorial esthetic of the magazine you find yourself thinking, “What’s that doing here?” Paid advertising, that’s what.
Some artists and galleries feel that if they take out an ad they should be entitled to a review or even a feature.  Usually  there’s a separation of church and state between the publishing side and the editorial side, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes the publisher is also the editor. Galleries that advertise regularly expect editorial coverage, and they eventually they get it; publishers don't like to lose a good advertiser, and editors don't like to lose their jobs. Things get sticky when the editor’s boyfriend is the owner of a high-profile gallery whose artists are regularly featured, when a staff writer's husband is an artist who is featured regularly, or when a dependable freelancer pitches hard for story about someone she’s dating. There’s a lot of gray.
And then there’s the advertorial, a.k.a. the “Special Advertising Section," in which advertising and editorial combine into a unique shade of gray. A publisher makes a financial decision to focus on a particular city or region, say. Sometimes the advertorial is produced on the publishing side of the enterprise, but in small publications like most art magazines, it may be treated like a regular feature. In that case the editor assigns a staff or freelance writer to cover that city and its art scene, and the art department designs it. This is an opportunity for the publisher to repay the advertising galleries from that region by seeing they are mentioned in the article, as well as to sell ads to additional galleries or even to artists--the latter sometimes grouped in a "studio" section--all of which will then be placed in a way that appears as editorial-friendly as possible. 
Guidelines put out by the American Society of Magazine Editors urge that special sections be clearly identified. Often a typeface different from the regular magazine font is used. Magazine people understand that advertorial coverage is a bit of a vanity undertaking (though nothing like the magazine put out by a pay-to-show gallery that features, at an additional charge, the artists it shows).

But for most people, hey, it's an article and you're in it.
Art magazines are not the only publications to offer artists much-desired editorial visibility and credibility. I'll talk about others in Part Two next week.
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Bridgette Guerzon Mills said...

Thanks for posting this Joanne- it's very timely for me. I got an email a few days ago from a regional art magazine asking if I would want to take out an ad for a special issue. I saw that you mentioned that here and it gives me some clarity. As it was described to me and as you describe it, it would fit under “Special Advertising Section". I knew that galleries take out ads for their artists, but wasn't sure if artists do it for themselves and wasn't sure if it's worthwhile.

Adeaner said...

I'm sorry to see that your RSS feed now does not include pictures -just words and that, only the first paragraph.
My reaction - vexxing.
I'm a picture person and this just does not do it for me. Now I'll have to take you out of my Google Reader. Google Reader saves time - but I only include sites that keep their pics in the feed. If this was a conscious decision, you don't need to explain. There was a good reason and I respect that. If it was accidental - please reconsider.
Your Blog is very important to me and I hope this comment is not taken in a negative way. (but you can take it in a "what the heck was she thinking?!!" way. hahahaha)
best wishes

Joanne Mattera said...

My blog is more than one article. It is links, pictures and projects on the sidebar. It's the way the blog looks visually. It's the live-linked index to four years' worth of Marketing Mondays. It's also a "Support This Blog" request with a link to Pay Pal. An RSS feed doesn't convey or include any of that.

If my blog is important to you, then take the two seconds required of typing in into your browser line. Or just take me out of your Google Reader. Your call.

Adeaner said...

was just checking . . .

Anonymous said...

or just add it to you bookmark bar and click once!

annell4 said...

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