Want to get published? We’ll help you crack the code.
For decades, most interior designers’ love of the profession began in the pages of a magazine. The glossy spreads—torn out and pinned up, shared or saved—were a place to find inspiration, hone a personal style, and dream of seeing one’s own work published someday.
These days, would-be designers are just as likely to get inspired through digital media—beautiful rooms are more often liked, regrammed or pinned than tacked onto a corkboard. But whether it’s on the page or a homepage, getting published still matters. So how do you make it happen? We went straight to the source, talking to editors at both print and digital publications to learn how they work. If you just finished an amazing project the world needs to see, here’s your guide to getting it out there.
HOW TO SUBMIT YOUR WORK
Most outlets have a “general submissions” email inbox, which can be found on the “about us” page of a magazine’s site, in its Instagram bio, or in the first few pages of a print issue, likely near the table of contents. But a cold email can sometimes feel like a long shot; fortunately, there are more direct ways of reaching an editor.
“Projects make their way to us every which way—through publicists, Instagram messages, email,” says Bebe Howorth, the senior interiors editor at Elle Decor. Designers and design publicists form relationships with magazine editors after working together over the years or hanging out at conferences and events, which allows the flow of projects to go both ways. “We are very proactive about reaching out to designers,” says Lindsey Mather, the editorial director of home at Domino. “If a designer is posting a behind-the-scenes peek of an installation that catches my eye, I will often email and ask, ‘What’s up with this project? What can you tell me?’”
If decades of networking seems daunting, know that thanks to the internet, the barrier to entry keeps getting lower. “We reach out to people we find on Instagram,” says Adrienne Breaux, the house tour editor at Apartment Therapy. “We even comb through the #apartmenttherapy hashtag on Instagram and TikTok to find interesting homes.” Whether your pitch is a cold call or follows a warm introduction, there are a few simple things you can do to grease the wheels. While it may seem obvious, make sure your submission—whether organized within the body of the email or in attachments— includes basic information like your name, links to your digital portfolio, stats about the project (location, size, style, start and end dates) and a few sentences that tell the space’s backstory. You’ll get extra points, says House Beautiful executive editor Amanda Sims Clifford, if you include a link to a Dropbox or Google Drive folder of curated web-resolution photos. Those smaller-sized files are a plus here, as no editor has the time or patience to wait for previews of large files to load. “Order the photos so wide shots of whole rooms are right at the start, and detail shots come later,” she advises. These photos can be professionally shot or taken with your iPhone—just be sure to note which kind of images you’re sending.
In short, remember that editors are often sifting through 50 submissions or more in a given week, which means a designer may only have 30 seconds to grab their attention. By making your email as efficient and complete as possible, you’re ensuring that those seconds are devoted to admiring your work, not being bogged down by dozens of detail shots that don’t tell the full story.
WHAT EDITORS WANT
It may seem like all design magazines are looking for the same thing: a handful of stunning projects to print on their pages every month. But like every designer, each magazine has a distinct spirit and style, and anyone preparing a submission would do well to scour recent issues to make sure their project fits the bill. At Apartment Therapy, editors are on the hunt for wildly unique homes—“tiny houses, converted vans, homes made from shipping containers, old barns, grain bins and more,” says Breaux. At the other end of the spectrum, Architectural Digest is all about an aloof voyeurism into the homes of the rich and famous, while House Beautiful prides itself on showcasing new or lesser- known talent across the country and delivering its readers accessible inspiration. In short, what you’d reasonably pitch to one title won’t make as much sense at another— and editors can tell when you haven’t picked up a copy of their magazine.
In some cases, what publications are looking for goes beyond the project itself. The editors at Domino, for example, see themselves chiefly as storytellers. “Beautiful design is only part of the puzzle,” says Mather. “What is the story behind the home? Was it a gut renovation? Did it take five years or five weeks? Who is the homeowner? We believe that the best interiors are deeply personal.”
For other brands, where the project is located is crucial. “Design is local. The homes we publish exude a strong sense of place, are rooted in one of our 14 regions and represent the local vernacular,” says Pamela Jaccarino, the editor in chief of Luxe Interiors + Design, which publishes regional editions across the country. “Local designers featured in Luxe provide valuable access to resources—be it design inspiration or local builders and craftspeople— in their region that nonlocal designers cannot provide.”
Here’s the tricky part: Those guidelines aren’t set in stone and may shift with new leadership— which is why it helps to pay attention when a new editor is installed. “With Asad [Syrkett] as editor in chief and a number of new editors coming on board, we’ve had this great opportunity to create a new vision and reconnect to people and the industry,” says Howorth of the new hires at Elle Decor in 2020. The magazine is still centered on the intersection of art, fashion, culture and design, but also on demonstrating how design functions and intersects with other industries all over the world. “First and foremost, we’re showcasing impressive, challenging and influential work,” says Howorth. “We want to be completely global, so we feature projects that take our readers to different places and embrace different styles.”
Even from issue to issue, a publication’s needs may vary. “Our quarterly magazine is a bit like a puzzle,” says Rue editorial director Kelli Lamb. “A project may be a good fit, but if I’ve already committed to a home that is similar in style or location, or that features a lot of the same vendors, I may ask a designer to wait for the next issue.” Magazines that have banked a stash of photographed projects may also have to turn away a perfectly suitable project because they’ve shot too many projects in the Northeast, for example, or because they’ve already committed to several years’ worth of cheerful coastal retreats.
HOW TO STAND OUT
Great design counts for a lot, but it isn’t the only thing you need to catch a magazine’s attention. Every shelter magazine editor will ask for the same thing: “Tell us—and better yet, show us—what makes the project truly unique,” says Sims Clifford. “Nail down an angle for the story and don’t bury the lede; share this information right upfront, clearly and concisely. Your favorite photos or rooms should be the first ones we see.” As any novelist or screenwriter knows, the conflict is the story. “If there was a particularly challenging design issue that the designer created a genius solution for, start there,” says Breaux. “If the client is very interesting or has some special way they use the home, mention it. If the home has an inspiring idea to make it more beautiful or more functional, that is the kind of angle we look for.” It’s a sentiment echoed by Lamb: “I love to know what is unique about the home, the family that lives there, the renovation or budget. Is it going to be an interesting article, or will it be solely aspirational? I hope for a bit of both.”
Some brands also want the projects they publish to provide readers with advice and takeaways—“whether that’s really smart use of space, an unusual material used in an interesting way, or a budget save that allowed the designer to splurge somewhere else,” says Mather. “Those kinds of tips and tricks influence whether or not we proceed with featuring that home, because our reader is interested in inspiration they can apply to their own spaces.”
Finally, don’t be shy about your passion and pride for the project—if you have an existing relationship, alerting the editor that this is the most exciting home you’ve done in years will at least guarantee an attachment is opened. “Share your enthusiasm,” says Howorth. “Communicate what makes a project different from others.”
HOW TO PITCH STRATEGICALLY
As long as there have been magazines, there have been themed issues, which tend to draw advertisers (say, a fall kitchens issue sponsored by appliance and tile companies). With print subscriptions in decline, those tentpoles are more important than ever—and publishers are happy to provide a glimpse at their calendar via the brand’s media kit, which is often found on its website.
House Beautiful typically runs issues centered around renovations, bold color, the outdoors, kitchens and shopping, while Elle Decor consistently offers issues themed around art, A-listers and entertaining, as well as one devoted to designers’ own homes. In 2021, the title also tried a cities issue, and another themed around winter escapes. AD’s topics are more opaque, but still shed light on what the brand is after, with a fall issue devoted to fashion insiders, and others focused on far-flung international locales or American style. Domino’s biggest franchises all center around renovation—so be sure to always take those universally beloved “before” photos if that’s where you want your project to land.
Especially for print, timing is key. Editors are generally working three or more months ahead of a print date, so if you have something that would be a great fit for a fall issue, you should generally aim to pitch it in the spring. For digital outlets, the turnaround is often much shorter, so submitting a project three months ahead of a particular opportunity may land your email in an “open later” folder that never ends up getting opened.
On that note, magazine websites—and digitalonly outlets—have historically been seen as less prestigious than their print counterparts. It’s a bias you’ll still hear from designers and see in media culture itself, where editors working in print tend to garner more prestige (and earn more) than those in digital. That divide feels less and less relevant with each passing year, especially as more and more digitally native design lovers come of age. And even if your ultimate goal is to end up in print, placing a project on a magazine’s website is a good way to establish a relationship for when the time is right.
HOW TO AVOID POTENTIAL DISQUALIFIERS
Generally, magazines want to be the first (and only) outlet to run your project, but exclusivity is not necessarily a hard-and-fast rule everywhere you look. Context matters a lot: There is a vast difference between one image running in another publication versus the entire project; media brands also size up the competitive landscape differently, so what is a dealbreaker for one may not even faze another. The important thing is to be transparent. “Just make it super clear: ‘This home was previously published by X magazine in print and on digital (here’s a link) in the spring of 2020,’” says Sims Clifford. “If that story was too recent or too widely circulated, we may decline, but if they didn’t run all the imagery and our readerships don’t overlap much, we might not mind.”
Exclusivity can mean many different things these days, especially beyond the confines of the printed page, where Instagram virality can be a turnoff for editorial. “We often find projects through a tease or a process shot, or even one room in a home, but there’s a point where the person has already shared every single space in their home and it’s gotten a lot of regrams and attention,” says Mather. “It can lead us to feel like we won’t be offering anything new by sharing it on our own site.”
Another big question these days (and considered elsewhere in this issue) is whether the project should already be professionally shot before it’s submitted. While it’s true that editorial budgets have diminished severely since the golden era of publishing, that doesn’t mean there’s no money left. “In digital, which is most of our focus, we do original shoots 25 percent of the time, and then 75 percent are pickup—either provided by the homeowner, the designer or the architect,” says Mather. In that environment (which is becoming more and more common), a good project that needs to be photographed might get passed over in favor of a similar house that has already been styled and shot. In other words, great photography can be a shortcut to a green light.
But while submitting with great photos can certainly help a project’s chance of being selected, it’s not the only factor by any means. “We have a limited budget to commission photo shoots for print or digital home tours, so we have to be especially selective when reviewing projects that need to be produced by our team,” says Sims Clifford. If you do send scouting shots (another term for nonprofessional photos), just be clear in your pitch that they aren’t the final photos—and indicate if you’d be willing to shoot the project or you need the magazine to coordinate photography. “If you’re trying to decide which is the best route for you, connect with a photographer who has published work with House Beautiful before,” she adds. “They can give you insights about costs, exclusives, and who retains rights to the images.”
While it can be easy to pine for the days of big-budget magazine shoots, Lamb points out that controlling the photography offers designers a unique opportunity to showcase their oeuvre. “I want to help designers share their work and grow their businesses,” she says. “I think photography is one of the best investments a designer can make, and if they are working closely with a photographer, they’ll be able to best tell the story of the project with a preferred shot list or their own signature styling—not to mention, use all of the imagery on their websites and social media accounts.”
Rue does commission shoots from time to time—especially for covers. “There is a lot that goes into the perfect cover, from layout and flow to room for headlines, and those images aren’t often in submissions,” says Lamb. However that also means that even though the house has already been photographed, your client will need to be amenable to another shoot.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
Despite the changing publishing ecosystem, there remain some unwavering truths: Print magazines work on a long lead time (minimum three months, but up to two years when it comes to major tentpoles or projects), and email inboxes are hell. “We try to go over projects every week and get back to designers as quickly as possible,” says Howorth. “If a designer feels it’s been too long, [give] the courtesy of letting us know you’re taking the project to another publication.” But feel free to check in with the editor periodically. “My email is insanity, so please follow up—I really encourage it. It’s not annoying to me,” says Mather. “I need a reminder sometimes. Every day is probably a bit much; on a weekly basis, 100 percent.” When you are at your wits’ end from waiting, or eager to move on to another outlet, remember to give a heads-up. “We get it—just let us know,” says Sims Clifford. “We can always expedite a decision if it’s ‘Move it or lose it,’ though that might mean opting out of a feature if we haven’t had time to place it.”
Homepage image: French doors reveal a lively wallpapered room. | Fitz Pullins