Starting with a blank piece of paper for a new publication can be a daunting task.
But being clear on a few key things can usefully help shape the project.
Even if this is not a ‘first edition’ but an ongoing publication or regularly updated website, asking these questions can be extremely helpful to evolving and improving your editing (and creative) process…
What is the purpose of your publication?
Is it intended to influence, entertain, inform – or maybe all three?
Who is it for?
Who is your readership: other pupils, teachers, parents, the wider community in which the school is an important part?
What is the range of subjects to be covered?
Are there boundaries (topics relevant to your school and what it does, for example) or is ‘the sky is the limit’ – anything from how the universe began through music, mobile phones and social media to potentially contentious topics such as politics, sex and religion?
What size is it?
And, particularly if a printed publication, how many pages will there be. For a website, how many sections and what is the page structure?
Do you have a budget and business plan?
Few things can be done without money and without managing the ‘business’ element. What will be the costs of producing your publication for paper and printing for example? Are there other costs? How much do you have? Can you find some more – through advertising, sponsorship? A simple business plan is always a good idea.
Who should edit it and write it?
Great magazines and newspapers are seldom produced by individuals – it’s all about working as a team and making sure that everyone involved is bringing their special talents and skills to the project.
- As a unit, everyone can and should have their say, but you may still need to appoint an overall Editor – a pupil who knows what your readers want and enjoy.
- This kind of judgement is more important than simply being a good writer.
- The ideal Editor is someone who can encourage people who are talented and knowledgeable to contribute words and pictures.
- Remember to give contributors a full briefing of who the readers are and what your magazine message is, together with an approximate word count.
- As a guide, three hundred words is considered a short article; five hundred is medium; one thousand is maximum length if you want to use your space for a varied mix of articles.
Do deadlines matter?
Quick answer: how do you think newspapers get published every day…!
- Deadlines must be set and met if your magazine is to be published on time, so regular editorial meetings are vital to share thoughts and assess how best to use the material.
- These meetings will also help you focus on progress and whether or not all the articles and illustrations are going to be ready on time.
- Don’t forget to proof-read everything carefully and check that grammar and spelling is accurate.
- Don’t just rely on ‘spell-checker’ on your computer which often defaults to American English.
What makes a good cover?
They say ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’… but an awful lot of people do!
- The cover must have impact and make people want to read it.
- At an initial meeting, decide what to call the magazine and what style the cover should be.
- A good title is vital in publishing! Some words look good written down while others look less so.
- Play around with graphics, colour and titles but as a general rule, short and sharp works best.
- Take a look at magazines in shops and see which ones stand out.
- We also suggest that the name of your school is featured prominently.
Should we number the pages?
We’d always recommend it . . .
- If you look at a commercially produced magazine, you will see there are no numbers on the front cover, the inside front cover, the inside back cover or the outside back cover.
- But there are numbers on all the other pages, starting with the first right-hand page after the cover – that is page three (3).
- Odd numbers (3, 5, 7 etc) are on right-hand pages and even numbers (4, 6, 8 etc) are on left-hand pages.
- At the beginning of the publication, maybe on page 3 or 4, you should list the ‘contents’ and put the page number alongside each article or feature.
Is there competition?
You may decide to examine other similar publications in your area to understand what competition your magazine might have.
Do some research by deciding where it is to be available e.g. local shops and community venues and ask other organisations who produce their own publication how many they circulate to help you calculate the optimum number.
Points to consider are:
- Is their target audience similar to yours?
- Do they charge a cover price and if so, how much?
- What sort of articles do they feature?
- What kind of organisations advertise in their magazine?
Can we produce a stand-alone online edition or website?
Yes, if you feel you have the ability and resources.
Or maybe you already have an established online ‘magazine’.
Some of our entries don’t have the financial resources to print, but are judged in just the same way.
- The same fundamental rules apply and all of the elements we have already covered will be needed in an online version.
- Above all, clarity and functionality are key and you still need to think hard about who will use it and ensure the whole site has real editorial values.
- If your website or online magazine is password-protected, you will need to let the judges know what the password is.