Archive:Exec report - Journal Editor 2007 - 2008

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Journal Editor: Jeff Mottershead

The following content is from Iva Cheung. Jeff's content to come later.

Post-mortem report on Varsity Outdoor Club Journal 50

Although I’m not technically an exec member, and I’m sure Jeff will have his two cents to add to the transition report, I was heavily involved in the production of VOCJ 50 and thought I’d pass on a few of my notes on the project.

Division of duties
Because VOCJ 50 was such a massive issue, it took two of us working essentially full time in order to complete it. Jeff sold ads, arranged terms with the printer, and was the main liaison for the contributors, contacting them for content and for answers to editorial queries. He also helped select appropriate photos for the photo sections and decide on a final section breakdown of the articles. I copy edited the manuscript, edited the photos, designed some of the ads, typeset the book, and delegated work to proofreaders.

Even if the issue were half as big, there would be more work than one person could realistically handle. You may choose to split the duties some other way, but recruiting some tangible support is key to not going insane. Jeff and I made good use of shared spreadsheets on Google Docs to communicate what articles we were expecting in, which ones had come in, which needed photos, captions, and credits, which had been edited, typeset, etc.

Kaja Sadowski farmed out the copy editing work for VOCJ 49. I chose not to do this because everyone has a different concept of what “editing” actually means. I wanted to ensure consistency in the quality and style throughout the entire journal, so I farmed out proofreading work instead and provided each of my proofers with a style sheet of guidelines and word spellings. I issued a call for help on the message board about a month before I actually needed the bodies, and a number of people responded positively, but when it came time to actually do the work, a few, predictably, bailed. As a result, some of the sections in the journal weren’t covered that well. I was extremely grateful to get the help that I did, though—having another pair of eyes scan the text always helps to pick out errors that you miss read after read. With a shorter issue, you may succeed in getting away with recruiting fewer proofreaders, or more volunteers would be willing to come forward because each would be doing slightly less work.

Jeff was responsible for selling the ads, so he’ll likely have advice of his own, but I learned from our experiences that ad sales should start early—as soon as you’re elected journal editor, even. Many of our potential advertisers set their ad schedule early on in their fiscal year; for instance, although the Shady Tree in Squamish expressed interest in advertising in VOCJ, management informed us that they decide where to allocate their ad funds as early as April.

We designed a media kit in September, but we didn’t really start trying to recruit advertisers until December, and although we ultimately didn’t do too badly in securing ad revenue, the process involved a stressful scramble to the finish that could have been prevented if we’d started earlier and were more discriminating in selecting our potential advertisers.

Some companies had advertised with us previously, and most did not seem to mind the fact that we boosted the ad rates for the fiftieth-anniversary issue; I don’t think they would react poorly if you kept the increased rates. The repeat advertisers this year included MEC, Famous Foods, Arc’teryx, and Cliffhanger, and they will likely advertise again if you approach them.

You may try contacting some alumni for ad leads. I only learned while I was editing (i.e., too late to sell additional ads) that Cam Shute, for instance, works as an engineer for G3, and Nick Waber works for Valhalla Pure. Although they may not make advertising decisions, they would probably at least be able to point you towards whom you should approach.

I tried issuing a call for suggested advertisers on the VOCJ 50 wiki page, but that didn’t really accomplish much.

This year we started selling colour ads. It’s easy to see ads as some sort of necessary evil that takes up valuable space, but I am actually rather grateful to the companies that decided to advertise. These ads paid for a significant amount of the journal budget and allowed us the flexibility to make the journal as big as we needed it to be. With conscientious design and placement, you can make the ads reasonably unintrusive to the rest of the journal’s content. Moreover, since you have the freedom to choose whom to approach for ads, you can be discriminating in picking only companies or organizations that support the VOC’s mandate and philosophy.

In an attempt to secure more advertisers this year, we put together a professional-looking media kit and launched an aggressive mail-out campaign to a massive list of outdoor-related companies. The media kit was very useful; the campaign… not so much. Response rate to the mail-outs was dismal; I suspect it’s simply too easy for people to discard incoming mail as junk. I would suggest making a media kit but only printing a handful of copies (perhaps a dozen or so) and hand-delivering as many of them as you can directly to the potential advertisers you’re trying to recruit. For out-of-town companies, send a PDF of the media kit via email. You’ll save on printing and mailing costs and will be more likely to reach the person actually in charge of marketing.

Ultimately, it was our repeat advertisers and word of mouth via VOCers that secured us our ad base.

Production specs and printer
I knew that the fiftieth-anniversary issue would be bigger than previous issues—I just had no idea how big. We had initially asked various printers in Western Canada—including Printorium in Victoria, Hignell in Manitoba, Blitzprint in Calgary, and Hemlock in Burnaby—for a quote for 300 copies of a 356-page book. These are the major places I know of that have the capacity to produce quality perfect-bound books at the quantity the club requires. The only stringent criterion that the VOC required was that the paper be Forest Stewardship Council–certified—i.e., come from sustainably managed forests. Blitzprint gave by far and away the lowest price, and an added bonus was that because it was in Calgary, no PST would be charged. The downside was that you’d have to pay—monetarily and environmentally, I suppose—for shipping the journals to Vancouver.

I, personally, like Blitzprint. I’ve worked with them before, and I know that they have a professional approach and a quick turnaround. Although the facility is not yet entirely FSC-compatible, Blitzprint does use FSC-certified paper and is working hard towards getting its entire operations certified. I think I would have preferred working with them in the end, partly because I feel it’s just as important to support companies that are in transition towards sustainability as it is to support companies that are already there.

Ultimately, we (or the VOC exec, rather) settled on Hemlock. The company gave us a marginal discount in exchange for placing one of their ads in our pages. However, Hemlock’s prices were still higher than Blitzprint’s, even with shipping. We chose to go with Hemlock, voted Canada’s most environmentally progressive printer three years in a row, for a few reasons. Its environmental practices, and the fact that we wouldn’t have to ship the journals from out of town, were key factors. Another, more delicate motivation was the fact that Hemlock had printed VOCJ 49 and had taken a loss on it. I think there was a feeling of indebtedness towards Hemlock, and the exec wanted to give the company its business. Now that we’ve printed VOCJ 50 with Hemlock, however, I think it’s fair to say that you can consider yourself emancipated. Although you may choose to go with Hemlock again, I think it’s worth giving Blitzprint another look.

I have no issues with Hemlock’s printing quality—it is first rate—but I have worked with Hemlock before, and in one case they were late on delivery, and in another case they recommended a feature that ended up making our book look faded and washed out. However, Hemlock is, in general, more expensive, and they have been known to spring proposals for added features—and added costs—at the last moment. In our case it was an extra $500 for a special type of binding glue. Although we’d specifically asked them if the glue they proposed worked for a book as thick as 540 pages, and they said it’d be fine, they told us just a day or so before we were to go to press that their out-of-house bindery actually recommended a different type of glue given the size of the journal. We likely would have gone with this superior glue (PUR binding) anyway, but it would have been helpful to have this information earlier and factor it into the journal budget.

Jeff will probably think I am being unfairly hard on Hemlock, but I’m really just trying to pass on information here…

One spec that I insisted on changing from previous years’ journals was lamination on the cover. Yes, it’s a layer of plastic on otherwise biodegradable material, but I strongly felt that its function in preserving what is essentially archival material for the club was essential. The spines are cracked and the ink on the edges is rubbed off on some of my older issues of VOCJ, and, knowing some people actually take these books with them on trips to read, I wanted to make sure our cover was more durable.

Content acquisition and deadlines
Early on we’d set the deadline for articles as Monday, February 11. This was the Monday of the week before Reading Week, and although it meant we had only four weeks to completely put together a 542-page book, it was a decent compromise; any earlier a deadline and we may have missed out on some trip reports from club events such as Tele School, Winter Longhike, and the avalanche course. Any later and we simply wouldn’t have had time to get everything done. The deadline the previous year was the Monday of Reading Week, if I recall correctly, and I’m rather glad we didn’t set our deadline then, because pretty much everyone left town during Reading Week and it would have been impossible for us to extract answers to editorial queries and missing pieces—photos, captions, credits—during that period.

The printer will need about two weeks to print and deliver the journals after you’ve approved the printer proof, so you need to budget about two and a half weeks before the banquet for printing.

We issued the first call for submissions on the message board on November 4, 2007 and in the VOCene that week. I felt that it was important to plant the seed about journal submissions at that stage even though I knew submissions probably wouldn’t be coming in that early. We also issued reminders on January 22, 2008, and one week before submission deadline. In retrospect it would have helped to issue a reminder immediately before Christmas holidays as well. I also placed a call for submissions on the VOCJ 50 wiki, but I don’t think that effort amounted to much. Posting the submission guidelines on the wiki probably helped, but it’s worth repeating them in VOCene or message board postings, because students are liable to be too lazy to check the wiki.

We had no problems getting enough submissions—likely because it was a special issue and because the strength of VOCJ 49 compelled people to become a part of the journal. As a result we could stick to our February 11 date as a hard deadline. I think Jeff did a tremendous job impressing upon people that anything submitted after that date would not be accepted, and as a result, we basically got no late articles. The three or four stragglers we did have to deal with were articles that we’d commissioned, and they were no more than about five days late.

On that note: many good articles came voluntarily and unsolicited (if you don’t count the general calls for submission), but most of the strongest and most interesting pieces, I thought, were the ones that we approached people directly to write. Some people we solicited because they’d posted fascinating trip reports on the message board; others we approached because we knew they would do a good job writing up a topic we felt should be featured in the journal (the three excellent advocacy articles in VOCJ 50, for example—for Skaha, Phelix, and Harrison Hut—were all very informative and well written, and all three were commissioned). I’d also made a list of topics on that wiki page that I wanted to see covered in VOCJ 50. This approach was not that effective on its own, but a surprising number of people did sign up for articles once I prodded the membership a bit on the message board. Some of the topics remained unaddressed—feel free to recruit writers for those topics for VOCJ 51, if you’d like—but most of the key articles were snapped up.

VOCJ 50 also featured, of course, articles from alumni, but since you likely won’t have to deal with any (or many) of those, and Jeff and Christian Champagne were the ones who did the work to solicit them, I won’t elaborate on them here.