Your portfolio is only as good as your weakest shot! If you look great in a couple of shots, but lousy in one or two; the art director is most likely going to remember the bad ones.
Variety, variety, variety!!!
The more "looks" you have in your book, the better your chances for getting work! Can you look 18 yrs. old, and also 28? Can you look great as a businessperson and a rollerblader? Every GOOD look you can come up with for your book improves your marketability.
You will get the types of work you show in your portfolio! If you have nothing but swimwear and lingerie in your portfolio, then those are the types of work you are going to get offers for 99% of the time.
If you want to market yourself in several areas of the business, have separate books for each of those market-segments. A lifestyle agency is not going to be able to get you work (or even want to deal with you) if you have all lingerie in your book.
Keep that as a second (or third) book, and have a book that specifically targets the work you are going after.
DON'T let just one photographer shoot your entire portfolio: Different photographers will look at you in different ways, and again; the key to a good portfolio is VARIETY!!
ALWAYS get a stylist to do your makeup/hair! Find several that you trust to make you look great, and start a relationship with them. and as with photographers, make sure you use a number of different ones for the images you show in your book; Good Make Up Artists are essential to a successful book! - This is the #1 error most beginning models and photogs make! yes, it usually costs money; but it is WORTH the investment.
Presentation is important
Yes, you can sometimes get away with using color copies. HOWEVER, I'm a lot more impressed by a model who has made the investment in herself to have actual PRINTS, or at very least HIGH QUALITY Ink Jet Prints. Put them in a nice presentation binder or portfolio. If you have a "box" type portfolio, make sure your prints are laminated or mounted on boards. This is your resume; you wouldn't hand in a work resume typed on toilet paper; why would you do the equivalent with your VISUAL resume??
Tearsheets are great, but they show you have worked in a professional setting, and have had the trust of someone else's money for a shoot. BUT, Laminate them! I can't tell you how many folded up pieces of magazine I have seen come across my desk as 'tears'..
Getting your tears for cheap!
If you are in Vogue, Maxim, Nylon, etc., and you want a bunch of copies of the publication, buy a few when it hits the stands so you have some to show immediately if you are proud out them. THEN, wait 'til the end of the month (when the magazines are about to be taken off the shelf) at your local bookseller or magazine store, and explain to them why you need a bunch of copies of the publication. Most publications only require the bookseller to send back the cover of the magazine as proof that they did not sell that copy of it then they throw the rest of the magazine away. If you are nice, and professional about it and offer to buy a couple of copies; many smaller booksellers will hold the extras for you and give them to you when that issue goes off the stands.
When making your tearsheets don't tear them out. (Yeah, yeah.. I know they are called 'tears'..) take the binding off of the magazine apart. Presentation is important!
DON'T use low-quality prints or photos in your book. If you have nasty, grainy, amateurish looking images in your book, then that's how you will be perceived.
Pics to avoid, at all costs, in a portfolio. Glamour Shots portraits, Web-Cam shots, School yearbook photos, Snapshots, Snapshots of you in a group, Snaps of you with standing next to Celebrities and 'famous' people, etc.
Glamour/Nude images in your portfolio. Unless you are specifically looking for glamour work, there is NO need for more than one bikini, or underwear shot in your book (unless they were ads, or published pieces). If you are serious about doing fashion, then concentrate on Lifestyle, and Fashion shots.. Too much bikini/glamour imagery in your portfolio is extremely amateurish (unless you are a bikini, glamour, or lingerie model, then it's what you WANT to have). Nude images are not helpful in a commercial Fashion/lifestyle portfolio.
A model must be CONSTANTLY updating on his/her portfolio. A model is constantly updating his/her portfolio to reflect their current look, as well as to keep their marketing efforts fresh. There are a number of ways to accomplish this. The best is to hire a photographer you admire to create images that specifically meet the needs of your current portfolio. Another is working for photographers in a Trade for Print (TFP) situation (I will not go into TFPs here... a lot has already been written on this subject elsewhere).
Approaching Agencies. If you are a beginner approaching an agency for the first time, you don't need to have an expensive portfolio to take with you. Each Agency has it's own policies on first contact, It is best to consult the individual agency's Web site to find out their particular policies. If the agency does not have a corporate or informational Web site with their own domain name, they are most likely not an established agency.
You will be accepted (or not) based on how much money that agency can make off of you (by getting you jobs...) If you approach an agency, and they turn you down, It may NOT be because you are not marketable; it may very well be for another reason.
Rejection from one agency does not mean you are not marketable. You may not be right for a certain agency for a number of reasons. Certain agencies only work with certain types of models. If you are unsuccessful with one, don't be discouraged, try more agencies. If you have tried with a large number of agencies over an extended period of time, it may be time to make an honest look at yourself, and the possibility of being a commercial model. It's a dream many people have, but not everyone can make it.
Your marketability does depend on your market. Example: In my old home town, a secondary market in the Midwest, we have an overabundance of tall, blonde-haired blue-eyed women.. The population is Very, Very Dutch.
It's not easy for a 20 yr. old 5'10" blonde-haired girl to get a LOT of work in that market, because of the amount of competition.
NOW, a model and friend of mine, a 29 yr. old Lawyer, 5'4" and Korean; who started modeling as a hobby has more modeling work than she can deal with now, because she is highly marketable. (there are not alot of Koreans in that market)
She does SOME fashion, but primarily her focus is on Editorial. You can see her all over that city in sporting goods ads, on billboards in family situations, and a bunch of other places, not because of her age, but because she is marketable in that city. So another key to building your portfolio is to remember the market you are selling to.
One more note on Legitimate Agencies. As mentioned earlier, Legit agencies make their money by marketing you, getting you jobs, and taking a commission from the jobs they get for you. Never sign with an agency that wants to charge you for to sign up with them, have any kind of upfront fees, or insist that you pay them to have photographs taken with their "in-house" photographer. These "agencies" are scams that are making money off of signing up as many "models" as possible, taking their money, and seldom ever even attempt to market the models they have signed.
A Legit agency will be happy to provide you with people you can talk to who they have working for them, and they have been able to get successful jobs for. Just ask. Also, check with the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org) for information on any Agency you might find questionable.