I love to hear people's goals for their cake careers. Whether it's to open a bakery, start teaching more, compete or get published in a magazine. It's great to have a goal in your mind that drives your daily actions and gives you motivation to work towards something that means something to you AND get's you closer to your other goals.
People ask me all the time how I got noticed early in my career. Honestly, I got really lucky. I did the right thing at the right time without really knowing it! I was noticed by a local wedding vendor at a bridal show. She liked my cakes and approached me with her card asking if I would ever like to collaborate on a photo-shoot (inspiration shoot). I had NO idea what that was, but was thrilled!
How do you get noticed in this day and age of social media EVERYTHING. Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, twitter, snapchat. How do you even keep up? Well the good news is. You don't have to.
I made my first inspiration cake, the florist took photos, the wedding planner styled the room, the designer laid out the invitations, and the photographer took the photos. A few weeks later, I had some AMAZING photos of my cakes for my portfolio and the photographer submitted the photos to blogs and magazines. Soon other wedding vendors where asking me to make cakes for shoots, then magazines where asking me! In one short year I went from a small photo in the corner of a magazine to being on the cover.
BOY did that increase my customer base! That was the beginning for me.
During that year I learned something super valuable completely by accident. A beautiful cake, plus a great photographer, and a little exposure can change everything!
Now mind you, this is way before the Facebook and Instagram days. I had a website and a flickr page and that was it. I was clueless and was so thankful at the time to have more experienced business-minded folks helping me figure it out.
But what about today? How do you get noticed in this day and age of social media EVERYTHING. Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, twitter, snapchat. How do you even keep up? Well the good news is. You don't have to.
I spoke with the editor of American Cake Decorating Magazine, Rebekah Naomi Wilbur on how she finds fresh talent for her popular cake magazine. Rebekah has some amazing insight on how to get noticed, get published, and use that recognition to garner more paid work, more cake orders, and publicity.
Liz: So Rebekah, how do you find new cake decorators to feature in your magazine?
Rebekah: I discover people online in cake groups sometimes. I will pop in, as people post in those groups a lot and it's easier to find them there than on their own pages, which I might not follow. If I see someone's work I like, I'll reach out to them and ask them if they want to contribute. I have found people in sugar geeks, cake decorating 101, cake newbs etc.
Tip #1 Posting Your Cakes is Super Important!
I know some are afraid to post their work assuming no one will notice. Or they might post a photo with a messy background or badly lit photo. It's important to always be posting your best work, you never know who's looking!
Liz: That's so great that you are in the groups looking for hidden gems! That actually sounds like a lot of fun. If someone want's to contact a magazine directly to get their cake published, how would they go about doing that?
Cakes with accompanying tutorials are 8 times more likely to be on the cover.
Rebekah: Most websites will list a contribution contact. We have one on our website in the contribute tab along with our 2018 issue themes and deadlines. It's no secret! People always assume it is. It's always better to find out the name of the person in charge- do a bit of research - google, find out who the contact is and personally address them by name. Do a bit of research on the publication- subscribe even, purchase a few issues, find out what the publication style is, what they're looking for, and target your email. I'm always impressed by informed contributors who take the time to do a bit of background work. I'm much more likely to print articles and images from someone who says, "Hi Rebekah, love the magazine, I went online and saw you were looking for cakes for the January issue featuring royal icing, here's a cake I made for the issue. I used the Lambeth technique. I've attached my photos along with my business information. Would love to be featured!" Rather than, "To whom it may concern, I'm interested in being featured...how can I do this?"
Tip #2 Contact the Publication That You Want to be Featured in.
Do some leg work and find out how to submit content and better yet, find out who you are talking to and write a personalized email! Being prepared and professional will get your foot in the door.
Liz: That seems so easy! I think many people will be surprised that anyone can get published with a little effort. You must have a lot of messages to sift through, do you pay more attention if you recognize the name or is it the photo that grabs your attention?
Rebekah: I'm not a cake snob, no editor is. You don't need to be "a name". You don't need to be previously published. You just need to be passionate about what you do, have confidence in your abilities, and send us a decent photo...that's really it!
Tip #3 Don't Wait Until You're "Famous" to Submit a Photo.
Great cakes speak for themselves!
Liz: I know a lot of cakers out there who have a bad case of the "negative self-talk" and convince themselves they aren't good or well-known enough to be in a magazine. I hope after reading this they see that's not the case at all!
Rebekah: I think my main message is that people in our industry need to immediately abandon this idea that if you create amazing cakes and wait patiently, someone is going to discover you and make your dreams come true. We facilitate the dreams and goals of talented hard-working people, abso-friggin-lutely. In fact, we actively search for fresh faces to feature.
You don't need to be "a name". You don't need to be previously published. You just need to be passionate about what you do, have confidence in your abilities, and send us a decent photo...that's really it!
Liz: Ok! So I've got a cake photo, I've done my research on themes, I've made a great cake and now I'm going to submit! What can I do to increase my changes of being featured in the magazine or even (gasp) potentially make the cover!
Rebekah: For those who are interested in being on the cover, which let's face it is all of us, there are things you can do to make that more likely. You can send a tutorial with your cake pics. Cakes with accompanying tutorials are 8 times more likely to be on the cover.
Liz: WOW! 8 times more likely! That's really good to know! Should it be a tutorial of the whole cake or just a part of it?
Rebekah: Either, we like both short technique-based tutorials and full cake tutorials. It depends on the theme, some themes are better suited to technique-based tutorials and others, like our upcoming sculpted cakes issue is better suited to longer, more in-depth tutorials. If you reach out and express and interest in creating a tutorial for an issue, I can often assist and direct people to make sure they get featured, after all, no one wants to put in hours of their hard-earned time and walk away without a feature. The best thing to do is to plan ahead, most editorial calendars are planned 3- 6 months ahead, that means if it's September, we're already planning our January issue for the next year. So it's no good submitting a tutorial that is for Christmas, it's already too late.
Tip #4 Plan Ahead.
Think of up-coming holidays or themes listed on the publications website and work a project around that theme or make something specialized to that theme. Christmas cake coming up? Take some well-lit photos of each step of one of the pieces on the cake and submit as a tutorial.
Liz: What kinds of cakes make it to the cover? It must be so hard to decide!
Rebekah: Our issue cover sells the theme, so a floral issue would feature a gorgeous floral cake, a royal icing issue might feature a cake with piped borders. etc. If you're making a tiered cake for an issue then a cake three tiers or less is much more likely to be on the cover than a cake over three tiers because it's much harder to place a very tall, elongated cake on a cover. A colorful cake is more likely to be on the cover than a monochromatic one, unless the theme is monochromatic cakes, of course. A cover cake just HAS to be a professional quality photo and it has to sell the theme. White or plain/light backdrops are more likely to be a cover cake. A cake on a black backdrop will almost never make the cover. People always assume they have to go bigger and grander to get a cover, it's not the case. Covers are commercial in nature and have to have broader appeal. So, something a bit less intimidating and more marketable is going to be more popular. Something with New-stand appeal! Something that if you saw on a shelf, you'd immediately want to pick up and read.
Tip #5 KISS (Keep It Simple Silly!)
You don't have to go big to be on the cover! Mass appeal is what cake magazines are looking for. Think about those cakes that everyone tags you in and you've seen a million times. Anyone can appreciate them!
Liz: This information is SO valuable. I really appreciate you giving some insight into how getting published can lead to bigger and better things!
Rebekah: Sure, just a few examples of how it can make a difference: Sue Smith (name changed) pretty much an unknown- 2 years into her career in the industry. She emailed me with a cake, it was stunning and we featured her in the March issue. She emailed me again, another stunning cake, and she got our an issue cover. She wanted to do a tutorial, so I gave her some advice, and after using the advice I gave her, she sent me an incredible tutorial. I was so impressed I commissioned her to write another paid tutorial for the magazine because her first was just so good. Now she is being approached by publications left, right and center.
Tip #6 Build Momentum!
Once you get your foot in the door, keep going! Getting published is not the end, it's the beginning!
Liz: So we've talked a lot about what to send in to be considered for publication but we haven't talked about quality of content. Of course a cake has to look nice but what are some tips on the photography specifically? Are phone pics OK? Background or no background?
Rebekah: Tammy Jones (name changed) She emailed me last year asking for some advice on how to get published. I like to respond to everyone, even if their cakes aren't quite ready for publication. Sometimes it's something really simple that they actually can fix. My advice was honest, "Your cakes are on point, your photography is terrible, it's the one thing holding you back." I advised her about cameras, sending her links of affordable DSLR's and lenses, we discussed manual shooting setting and backdrops and lighting...she took that advice, and now she has been featured 4 times in print and was commissioned by a huge company to make and shoot all their cakes for their brochures and advertising. That advice made all the difference.
If you want to write an article, make sure you do your home-work. I often get emails from people with column and article suggestions for columns we already publish. It tells me straight away that they don't read the magazine and they don't know who we are or what we do.
Liz: So basically what you're saying is anyone can get published if they make some great cakes, take a great photo, or have someone take a great photo, do some research on upcoming themes and deadlines, write a warm and professional email with attached photos and stop waiting for magazines to come to them!? Crazy! I wish I had known this information back when I was starting out. Would have saved me a lot of headache. Thank you so much for giving us this super valuable information. Any parting words of wisdom?
Rebekah: If you want to write an article, make sure you do your home-work. I often get emails from people with column and article suggestions for columns we already publish. It tells me straight away that they don't read the magazine and they don't know who we are or what we do. Nine times out of ten times someone will say, I'd like to do a column on product testing, or a business column. We already have both of those in every issue. Lastly, I would implore people in the community to support cake magazines by subscribing. It depresses me how many people we feature in each issue who have never, or have no intention of, subscribing to the magazine they so desperately want to be featured in. Magazines are not safe from closure, if you want publication opportunities, start by supporting publications! And, remember that you're in control of your professional career, and only you can take the first steps to making those dreams a reality.
Tip #7 Be a Professional.
Professional looking cakes with professional photos are much more likely to be chosen. Keep your backdrops clean, preferably white.
Liz: That's such an important piece of info that not a lot people have probably thought about. Magazines are businesses just like everyone else! Their job is to put these cakes front and center, but if no one subscribes, those magazines go away. No more publicity opportunities. Support your favorite magazines and subscribe! Thank you again for your time and I hope people see this article and go out and submit a cake!