How to Apply to a Modeling Agency


Most agencies have a �Christmas File�.  That�s a private file kept by one of the bookers that they put the truly awful pictures into.  Pictures that are sent by people who want to be accepted by them as models.  Some are so bad that they are good for a chuckle, or even a hearty belly laugh, and what better time to break them out than the holidays.


Then there is the �round file�:  the trash can.  The great majority of all model submissions end up there.  A lot of people, quite honestly, would be consigned to the trash no matter what they did, but some of them don�t have to be.  At least it�s possible to give yourself a fighting chance.


If you don�t want to end up in one of those files, pay attention.  Here�s what people do wrong, and what you should do right.


1.  What Should be in the Application:


a.  Keep it simple.  The agency wants to know what you look like, what your height and stats (for women, bust/waist/hips, for men, suit jacket and waist size) and location are.  They also want to know your age.  You should include eye color, hair color, dress and shoe size as well, since they may help.  If you are currently represented by a real, booking agency somewhere, say so.

            They do NOT want to know that you have dreamed of being a model your whole life, that you were third runner up in a local beauty pageant, or which high school plays you were in.  They aren�t interested in how many callbacks you received at some model convention. Do not tell them you are a graduate of modeling school.  They also don�t want to know about all the websites you appear on, and don�t care that some �model exposure� site showcased a picture of you.

            If you have extensive professional modeling or acting experience, say so.  Very briefly. 

            If the basics interest them, they may want to know a lot more about you.  But they will ask.  Don�t force it on them at the beginning.  It simply wastes their time and yours, and you may include things that will hurt you, not help. 


            b.  Include contact information.  At a minimum, your telephone number.  If you want to include your address and email address you can, but you must have your telephone number.


            c.  Don�t ask them to contact someone else about you.  They want to talk to you (or, if you are a minor, your parents).  The worst thing you can do is say �for further information please call my other agent at . . . .�


            d.  If you are not a citizen of the country you are calling, explain what your visa status will be.  At some point you will have to have the legal right to work, and the agency needs to know if you do then, or if it�s a problem that needs to be taken care of.


            e.  If  you don�t live near where the agency is, explain what your plan is.  Briefly.  Sooner or later you are going to have to go see them.  Tell them about that.  If you don�t plan to move, don�t bother sending an application.


            f.  Include the right kind of pictures


(1) �Nobody wants to see pictures you happened to have lying around of your vacation, your prom, or snapshots taken of you and your friends at a bar.  Get something specifically tailored for this purpose.  If that means getting a disposable camera and taking a trip to the  drug store, do it.  At least it will look like you tried.


(2) �No matter how much they say it isn�t so, the best possible pictures to send are shots of you appearing in prestigious, paid modeling work of the kind the agency does.  Shots from Vogue or a national ad campaign beat snapshots every time.


(3)� But most of you won�t have those.  If you don�t, call and ask the agency what they prefer.  Some (mostly fashion agencies) will want only simple Polaroid-style snapshots.  Others (primarily commercial agencies) would prefer well-developed composite cards or similar professional pictures.  It all depends on the culture of the agency.  Still, paying lots of money for those professional pictures may not be a good investment.  It�s wise to try an inexpensive approach first.  Only after that hasn�t worked, and you are still determined to pursue modeling, should you make an investment in professional pictures.


g.� If you do get pro shots done:


(1)� Make sure they are in the style the agency wants to see.  Unless the agency specializes in glamour, glamour-style shots are usually a bad idea.  If it�s an editorial fashion agency, lifestyle/commercial/�real people� shots are a bad idea.  If it�s a commercial print agency, high fashion, editorial style shots are a bad idea.  Know who you are submitting to and what they want to see.  If they have a website, use it as a guide to what you need.


(2)� The shots need to minimize what the agency will see as your weak points.� It isn�t enough that they be �good pictures� in the style the agency uses.� They have to be pictures that are good at marketing you.� That could be very different from the typical pictures a test photographer takes.� For example, if you are 22 years old and applying to an editorial fashion agency, you shouldn�t have pictures that make you look more sophisticated.� Go for a youthful look.� If you are shorter than the preferred height, get shots that make you look taller, or thinner, or whatever overcomes the natural inclination of the agency to see you.

�The most common problem for fashion models is that they don�t look �editorial� � the term �too commercial� is applied to pretty girls that don�t have distinctive, edgy looks.� If professional pictures are used, they have to overcome that �too commercial� natural impression.� That�s not easy to do, and for many pretty girls, cannot be done.

(3)� If you are having shots done to take to an agency, quality, style and type must be correct for the agency. "Good pictures" isn't enough. The best way to select a photographer is to use photographers recommended by the agency you are submitting to, or by another similar agency in the same market. Particularly for commercial models, the chance of getting free pictures that are of the correct type, style and quality is near zero. Relatively few people know how to shoot them, and almost none are willing to do it for free. Don't waste your time on "TFP/TFCD" shoots unless you are certain the photographer is very well qualified to produce commercial test pictures.


2.  How to Submit Your Application:


Every agency has a preference on how you should submit to them.  Some have open calls (the best way).  Many do not.  Some take email submissions, others do not.  Some are happy to make appointments, most will not until they have seen something from you they like.  The first thing is to find out what a particular agency prefers, and give them that.  Virtually all agencies will take regular postal submissions.


Go see them:


If the agency has open calls, or allows models to personally drop off pictures, do that if possible.  Pictures are good, but seeing you in person is better.  There are lots of examples of people who would have been turned down from their pictures, but who were accepted when somebody actually laid eyes on them in person.


On the other hand, if the agency does not have open calls or accept walk-ins, don�t do it.  It�s just annoying, and nobody wants to start off that way.


Send them a mail application:


If you don�t live where they are, or they won�t accept walk-ins, the best thing to do is sent them a postal mail application.  It should include pictures and the information described above.  If you want to get the pictures back, include a stamped, self-addressed envelope. Make sure you write your name, contact information and stats on the back of every picture so if it gets separated from the cover letter they can still tell who you are.




Before you send an agency email, check with them by phone, or on their website, to see if they will accept it.  Some will not.


Very few agencies prefer email, although these days many will accept it.  Most would rather get pictures and stats in regular postal mail.  Here�s why:


a.  Many models don�t know how to send an effective email.  They send pictures in formats the agency can�t read, they send pictures that are so large they clog the system and won�t fit on the screen.  They send pictures so small nobody could tell what the model looks like.  They send pictures only, with no contact information except a return email address.  (Yes, that�s a problem.  Agencies want to know where you are.)  They send emails with no pictures and request the agency email for them if interested (fat chance!).

People with AOL send pictures as attachments.  AOL won�t let you send pictures to non-AOL subscribers as attachments, so the email arrives with text only.

            Or they do things like say, �I�ve been hearing wonderful things about your agency and would love to work with you.�  Then the message header shows that it was sent to 47 agencies around the world, including four well-known scams.

            Or they have the message enclosed in another message, sometimes three or four layers deep.  After clicking on all those other emails to get to the message, the pictures damned well better be wonderful.

            Or they ask the agency to go to some goofy site with six popup ads per page, and the agent has to wade through pages of pictures of the model�s boyfriend, puppy and prom night, plus read all about her favorite foods, her best friends and the poetry she likes to write.  Somewhere on the site there might actually be pictures of the model and her stats, but it takes time to find it.  Long before that happens the agent is on to the next email.


            b.  Agencies get lots of spam and viruses.  Publicly accessible agency email addresses are harvested by the spammers, and show up in lots of people�s computers, so it�s not unusual for an agency to get hundreds of spam messages, and several to hundreds of viruses every day in their email.  They don�t want to pay someone to go through all that, so they use automated virus and spam filters to get rid of most of their email.

            Lots of model submissions look like spam, and are deleted before they are ever read.  Some of them with attachments are treated as viruses.  Nobody wants to open attachments from someone they don�t know.


            c.  Email inboxes get clogged.  It�s very common for agencies to get so many submissions (and spam, and viruses) that their inbox gets full, and they never see your email.


            d.  It�s harder to file your submission and show it to other people.  No, it�s not impossible, of course.  Emails can be forwarded (but see above . . .), or put in a different directory that is accessible to others for review.  But pieces of paper are easier to deal with.  They fit in file folders that can be passed around.  Yellow stickies can be added to them.  For all the talk of the �paperless office�, for most people paper is still easier to deal with.  You don�t want to make it harder.


Except when time is critical and somebody at the agency is expecting something from you, it is almost never a good idea to send email.  Use the post office.


If you absolutely have to use email, do it right:


            a.  Include pictures embedded in the body of the message, or by link to the pictures.  The link should be to the pictures themselves, not to some website that the pictures are on.


b.   Make sure the pictures are the right size and format.  They should be 450-600 pixels high, and in JPEG format only.  Do not ZIP or STUFF anything.  Do not embed it in some other document like a word processing document or .pdf file.  If you don�t know what any of this means, or how to do it, find someone who does, or don�t send email!


            c.  Send an email to each agency individually.  It�s not that hard, and it matters.  Nobody likes to get an email submission that is sent to everyone else he knows and some he doesn�t want to know.


            d.  If you feel you absolutely have to send the agency a link to your website, make sure it is the same as what your submission should be:  simple and to the point.  Don�t make anyone wade through extraneous information or click on lots of pages to find what they need.  Put it on the first page.  Put nothing else on that page.




For the most part, the telephone is for asking questions.  You can use it to find out if the agency has open calls, how to send submissions, what they want to see, what their requirements are.  You might be able to make an appointment to come in to see them, but at most agencies you won�t be able to.


Call during business hours.  Every agency gets calls from �aspiring models� who leave messages at odd times of the night, usually asking for a return call.  They get ignored.  If you can�t call the agency when it is open for business, you can�t be a model.


Call for yourself!  (Or, if you are very young, have your parents call for you.)  If you have your cousin, some �manager� nobody has ever heard of or, worse, your boyfriend call for you, you are already at a serious disadvantage.  The agency then wants to know why you aren�t calling for yourself (are you not able to?  Are you not interested enough?) and if they have to deal with some meddlesome intermediary in working with you.  Don�t give them that impression.


3.  What Happens Next:


At most agencies, nobody will contact you unless they are interested in you.  In fact, within minutes after they look at your submission they will have forgotten it, unless they are interested, or if it goes into the Christmas File.


Usually if you call and ask if they have gotten it, or what they plan to do with it, they won�t know.  Nobody logs and tracks those things.  There are too many of them to remember or keep track of.


If you don�t get a response in a reasonable time (a couple of weeks), you probably aren�t going to.  At that point you can think about trying again, but by doing something differently:  get different pictures or go see them instead of just making a mail submission.


If after all that you still aren�t getting a response, it�s probably time to forget that agency.


Want to learn more?

If you find the articles here helpful, we urge you to purchase our book:
The Professional's Guide to Modeling.


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