By Nenad Senic published August 16, 2011

6 Steps to Follow When Producing a Custom Magazine

The closer you get to the finish line the less time you have for creative thinking. That’s why thorough planning makes the whole magazine production process easier, reduces the stress on everyone involved, and is a great time management strategy, which brings about better results.

Recently, I wrote about five steps you need to take before planning the first issue of your new printed custom magazine. This post examines what goes into making that magazine issue as effective as possible.

6 Steps to Follow when Producing a Custom MagazineBefore you begin, let me point out that the whole time you produce an issue of a custom magazine you have to think about your pre-defined target audience. Decide your criteria for quality content based on your customers/readers. »Do not create based on your needs; base your decisions on their needs.«

1. Create a production schedule

This will help you manage the production in timely fashion, so you do not miss the agreed-upon deadline for sending the magazine to the printers and your target distribution date. The latter should be your starting point. Create your plan going backward from that date, taking into consideration any obstacles you can anticipate that may prolong the process.

Your schedule should, at the very least, include the following considerations:

  • Deadlines for when each story must be submitted to the editor(s)
  • Ample time for proofreading
  • A design schedule
  • Enough time for the editorial board (if there is one) to look over the magazine and add comments
  • Your printing deadline
  • Your distribution date

2. Create a content plan

Create an editor’s table of content for all pages, including the front and back covers. This helps to plan the content of a magazine issue and to monitor the production process. Make sure that the plan is confirmed by all members of the editorial board. In many cases, this part of the process may take more time than anticipated, so plan accordingly.

I’ve learned over the years that every editor has his or her own work processes. For example, I use an Excel spreadsheet. Normally, an approximate number of pages needed to track the work of each department will be determined before the content is planned in detail. Well-defined magazines already have determined the length and placement of each department in the magazine well before the actual production process begins.

A word of advice here: Build your content for at least one issue ahead of your schedule to make sure you are never left with an empty space if an article falls through. This also provides a safety net for articles that might need extra time to be written, photographed, illustrated or designed.

3. Create a detailed plan for each story

Once you’ve confirmed your overall content plan, you’ll want to follow with a detailed plan for every story you’ll be publishing. Considerations here include:

  • The content of a story: What is the challenge it will address for your audience?
  • Types: What type of article will be the best fit for the story? Certain content naturally lends itself to different formats (e.g., interviews, features, news stories, infographics, etc.). For example, sometimes an infographic will be much more effective than a traditional feature story, especially when you want to relay complex or dry (if not illustrated) information.
  • Create modular content: As consumers, we are constantly bombarded with information; therefore, we tend to be put off by long, seemingly unending text. So explore ways to make your content as visually appealing as possible; for example, dissect content into sidebars, infographics, tables, illustrations, etc., whenever possible.
  • Create a design mock-up: This helps communicate layout details to your authors. I usually do this by hand. Keep in mind that mock-ups should be very simple; they provide a visual guide to help you and your designer envision the layout of each story, but they aren’t necessarily the finalized designs for your spread.
  • Instructions: Now you’re ready to write down detailed instructions for every story: The length, what it should cover, etc. I also like to ask each author to send me a detailed outline of his article before he starts writing it.
  • Authors: Finally, you are ready to discuss planned stories with your authors. Who would be the best fit as the writer (or photographer, illustrator, etc.) of a story on your chosen topic? You can choose someone from your pool of potential authors, or you can look for a new author (this depends, also, on your budget and the magazine concept). Once you have nailed down your authors, make sure to give them sensible deadlines for their submissions.

4. Proofread and edit stories

In many cases, an article will need to be returned to its author to make corrections and add information that you, as an editor, believe is missing. For every story, make sure to edit the following:

  • Headline: Writing a great headline can be daunting, so you shouldn’t take this task lightly. I use a great trick I learned from a friend: When the magazine is ready to be designed, I write all the headlines on a piece of paper. This allows me to see what story a magazine communicates as a whole and to check whether headlines by themselves (outside the context of the article) make sense. Oh, and always ask “So what?” after reading each headline. If you’re bored or the answer is, “Not much”, rewrite it (them) accordingly.
  • Lead: An introduction to the story should be short and it should fulfill the following two criteria: It should attract a reader’s attention, and it should tell him/her what follows.
  • Body: Is it readable? Does it make sense? Does it have subheads to break up the text for clarity? Are you using effective pull quotes?
  • Pictures: When you use images, make sure they are of a suitable resolution for the magazine’s format; for example, for print, images should be at least 300 dpi.
  • Picture captions: A legendary communications design consultant, Jan V. White, wrote in his seminal work that captions, “should contain the very best, most startling, newest, most fascinating, most valuable nuggets of information, written so the reader will be avid for more details, reasons, background — all motivation for digging into the text itself.” After all, readers usually first look at the pictures and then the accompanying text.
  • Calls to action: You produce a custom magazine because you want the readers to do something after they’ve read an article. Whatever that may be don’t leave them guessing; suggest where they can get further information about the problem discussed, let them know about services and products that can help them solve the problems, how to ask for information, etc.

5. Design

Now your magazine is ready to be designed. Submit all final materials to your graphic designer and work together closely.

Make sure the design of every spread is logical and works with the design of the magazine as a whole. I am sure you remember scenes from the movies or TV shows taking place in editorial rooms with pages of a magazine hanging around the room. While putting together a magazine, print every page and reduce each one to about 40 percent of its final size. Hang them on the wall, whiteboard, etc. Check, look, compare, and make necessary changes.

6. Checking

Before you can send a new issue of your custom magazine to print, take one final detailed look at it. I usually take printed pages with me home over the weekend, and when I am most relaxed, I read the magazine from cover to cover again to make sure there are no mistakes.

Read the magazine as if you haven’t seen it before. Of course, nobody’s perfect, so you will probably find a mistake or two that you will need to fix or additional changes you’d like to make, but at this stage they should be minor. Also make sure the pagination is correct, the departments’ names are correct, the authors’ names are spelled correctly, etc.

Let your designer apply those changes. Now he/she is ready to prepare the magazine for printing.

Your job, however, is not finished yet. What follows, I’ll discuss in detail in my next post.

Did I miss anything? Do you do anything differently and does it work well for you? Share your experience and advice with us.

Looking for more ways to maximize the impact of your print content? Get practical insights, advice, and answers in our 2018 Guide to Essential Content Marketing Tactics.

* Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Author: Nenad Senic

Nenad Senic, from Slovenia, is a published researcher, award-winning teacher, and experienced journalist turned into a brand editor dedicated to helping companies and organizations build long-term relationships with their target audiences and grow profits by creating better content. He is a European editor of Chief Content Officer by CMI. Nenad has already created and edited numerous custom magazines. He collects custom and B2B magazines, special publications and annual reports from all over the world and reads them daily. On his blog (www.disput.si), he advises Slovene companies how to improve their custom and B2B publications. Follow Nenad on Twitter @NenadSenic.

Other posts by Nenad Senic

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