I occasionally get asked about submitting work to magazines – the process, the prospects, and the pay. I don’t claim to be an expert, but I’ve got some experience that I can share. First, the process. As an exercise in discipline and creative production, I try to develop a dozen good gag ideas a week. Sometimes life gets in the way and it doesn’t happen, but you have to have a target to aim at, and that seems to be a pretty reasonable one. There are 4 magazines that are my primary focus: the New Yorker, Harvard Business Review, Reader’s Digest, and Barron’s. The reason I’m interested in these specifically are, for one, the rates they pay for cartoons. With the exception of Barron’s, all of the above pay in excess of $600 per cartoon, and in this market, that’s pretty darn good. The next reason is the credibility you gain as a result of being published in these magazines. These publications receive thousands of submissions a month, and should one of yours be selected, it means it’s passed a pretty tough litmus test of quality. So, if you’re an editor or an art director looking to add humor to your print media, you would be reasonable to contact or accept the submission of an artist with a big name published credit if you’re looking for value-tested work. This isn’t always true, but true enough to influence decisions.
This leads us the your prospects in getting published. As I mentioned above, you will be competing with the best out there, so present the highest quality work you can produce. The major magazines know what they’re looking for, and they quickly identify and sift out the material that either isn’t suitable or isn’t high enough in quality. As far as what’s suitable, it pays to study the material they’ve purchased in the past. You would quickly determine that it would be a mistake to send material you’d written for Reader’s Digest and send it to New Yorker. You will have wasted your time as well as the time of New Yorker editor Bob Mankoff, and he’s a very busy guy. And sending New Yorker material to Reader’s Digest editor Norman Hotz would yield the same result. By studying the material they have selected in the past, most of which is viewable via online image searches, you increase your prospects significantly. The next component in the prospects piece of the puzzle is persistence. New Yorker cartoonist Dave Sipress submitted faithfully to the magazine for over ten years before having his fist cartoon purchased. That’s not in dog years either – that’s ten people years. That being said, it’s a good idea to accept that submitting cartoons is a process, and possibly a long one. But don’t think there isn’t a benefit if your work doesn’t sell for an extended period of time – you will be building an inventory that can be submitted to one of thousands of other magazines, newsletters, etc., your writing and art skills will show a maturity that can only be gained with time and effort, and your chances of having your work picked up increases as the editor picks up your submission consistently, whether it’s weekly or monthly.
Finally, the pay. As I’d mentioned above, with the exception of Barron’s, these magazines all pay above $600 per cartoon. Since New Yorker assumes all of the rights at purchase, and HBR assumes the publication rights, you won’t be able to resell these in the future. But if you gain credibilty with the editors, and should you find yourself published in one of these magazines, your prospects for selling to them again in the future increase. While selling gag cartoons solely to magazines will not likely yield a reasonable living, when looked at as one component of a larger art business, it could certainly justify the effort.