How To Fix Last-Minute Publishing Uglies

Posted: September 14, 2010 in Articles, For Editors
Tags: , , ,

Today was a rough day in the office. Not rough compared to high-pressure environments with screaming bosses and slamming doors, but rough in the sense that we were almost there — and then we just weren’t.

We were supposed to send all our files to the printer today. We were pretty close to sending most of them; that is, until we placed the pages on the wall. We have a process with the magazine I work on in which we place all the finished pages, including ads, in consecutive order up on the wall so we can pick up on any color clashes or facing-page problems. Today, once the pages were up, we could see that five features in a row had the same basic design. Title on the left, photo on the right, secondary photo at bottom left. Awful. Ugly. Unimaginative. We had to act.

This evening, I sat back to ponder what I learned and what others could take from it. Here’s what today taught me:

Think of the flow. Will your reader flip from page to page without realizing he or she has moved on to another story? Are your features different enough to make the reader pause and consider each story? Going from page to page, does it feel as if the magazine is building to a crescendo? Make sure each part of the magazine functions as it’s supposed to, guiding the reader to the next page and delivering a treat for each page turn.

Imagine you’re the reader. Publishing professionals sometimes forget that the readers are not pros at the printed page, but rather sponges of the subject. Strive to please your most discerning reader, but realize that the average reader won’t look at each page and criticize the colors, the photo composition or the editorial style. The reader wants to be drawn in with a captivating headline, strong graphic, compelling entry points and a story that appears easy to read — or easy to ditch if it doesn’t measure up. Focus on those elements first and foremost.

Fantasize about what would make the page perfect. Picture having all the resources in the world to put this issue together — huge budgets, ample staff and tons of time. And ask, what would make this page awesome? I try to visualize what’s the best our designer can do with the material he has. If he needs more photos, copy, illustrations or charts, I need to conceptualize those and find or create them. Sometimes I ask, “What would Men’s Health do?” (Or, insert other great men’s mag like ESPN The Magazine or Time.) Then I think, could I imagine one of those magazines running the photo or layout or headline we’ve got? If not, it’s back to the drawing board. They do better, and so can we.

Ultimately today, we ditched one story, found an illustration for another and created a new primary photo for another. It helped tremendously. We’re not done yet, but I guarantee this issue will look better because of these changes, and I think our readers will appreciate it.

What do you do when faced with crunch-time publishing problems?

–Tyler Reed

Editor, The Sidebar Review

  1. Joe Clark says:

    Tyler – really GREAT post that every editor and writer should read…

  2. flyinggma says:

    This is a blog offers great insight for an outsider on what happens at the publishing level. I like the idea of the magazine building to a crescendo, drawing me in from the beginning and keeping me moving through as a canoe moving down a beautiful flowing river. You, as the reader, always want to see what is around the next bend.

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