Plaiting Fog

How many times is it necessary to move things about when finalising the layout of a magazine?  The answer has to be ‘far too many’.  It’s a totally fluid and ‘fog’ like beast for the first couple of weeks of laying it out.

You think you have it all worked out – based on what people have booked in and confirmed that they’ll send you.  Having said that rather like an airline, we overbook by about 120% as we know from bitter-experience that people often ‘forget’ or leave things just too late.

When we start to get things ready for printing, the magazine starts to be designed and laid out, this time as a high resolution pdf file – all ready for it to go by email to the printers.

We usually start at the front, just occasionally if the back of the magazine is more complete then will go from the back to the front.

When we start we may still be waiting for details for adverts, or completed adverts to arrive, these do not cause too many problems as they are all made to a very specific size and can then be slipped in a little later.  Everything else is far more difficult.  This is why our editorial deadline is set a few days before our advertising one, as this is where the surprises lurk.

If we’ve an article booked in and we’ve planned to put at the start of the magazine and it’s not here then we will probably have to swap this for something that we’ve received and that we can see will fit in the booked space.  So p.8 may then become p.78 and vice versa.

If instead we just leave a hole where the missing article would have been, and work past it, we may have the problem of it arriving later and not fitting the space we’ve left.  All of which gets harder to amend as we have more of the layout fixed and final design work done.

Adverts can move – maybe an article arrives that has a relevance to a particular advert or maybe we have an ‘accounting’ issue and we move the advert to a position where its last minute removal will not cause so many problem.

At some point we end up working also from the back of the magazine and  so we usually end up with, somewhere in the middle, what we lovingly call the ‘naughty-pages’ those that we cannot confirm and finish to the last minute. 

Every edition feels, for a while, like we are plaiting fog and it feels nothing ‘less than a miracle’ when we come out the other side and the final design is worked out.

Fancy-formatting and the pursuit of simple plain text

 

At this stage of every edition’s production (28 days to printing) we’re starting to receive submitted article text for inclusion.  A mixture of longer pieces and some shorter pieces of local information.

Simple, straight-forward and stress free?  - Of course not.

On our website we’ve tried to explain how we need to receive text, but this is nearly always unseen or ignored!  The only time we receive contributions 100% correct and ready to use is when they are being submitted by either professional writers or those involved with modern publishing technics. I suppose that there is no great surprise there.  But what we are asking people to do is to make life easier for themselves and not just us.

So where do the problems creep in?

Well, it’s with the dreaded and often dreadful use of ‘formatting’!  Every single bit of which we have to remove from the submitted text.   People carefully set out their text; including the use of underlining, emboldening, indentations, centering, fancy fonts, colours, different font sizes and the real bug-bear of images (even worse set in a box) within the text. The first thing we have to do is remove every single bit of formatting from the submission.

If you consider how text appears in a magazine, it is usually placed into two or three columns.  So if the text arrives (as we would expect) as a single column (full-page width) then every bit of fancy formatting done is just a waste of time.  Not just the time of the person submitting it but also our time as it takes time to strip out all these ‘extras’.  Even when we have cleaned up a piece of text there are sometimes hidden bits of formatting (strange spacing at the end of rows for example) creating problemsthat only appear once the magazine is set ready to print.  This then requires further time and energy to sort out – usually when we are short of both. 

This is also a problem with the submission of adverts.  We can (and offer to) prepare adverts for people but there is a small charge.  It is a skilled job getting everything into the correct size, resolution and designed to look nice – and all in a format ready to print.  So regularly we receive files for adverts that are supposed to be ‘camera ready’, where someone has decided to prepare their own work (and avoid a small charge).

We receive these half prepared adverts on either publisher, power-point, word and even excel documents.  We cannot use any of these.  A ‘camera ready’ advert would be sent to us as a high resolution .jpeg or pdf file.  Prepared to an exact size and resolution.  When we receive these ‘alternative’ productions – we have to try and take it apart and the see if any of the component parts (logos and images) are fit for use.  This takes time and causes frustration.  Invariably the small images included in the ‘prepared’ advert are too low a quality for the correct preparation of the advert and then we have to go back to the client for more images and to explain that we cannot use their submitted advert.  People can get upset – but the way things are printed requires absolute adherence to what the final computer/printer can accept. 

We mentioned images there – we will come back to those in a further blog – there’s a whole further set of issues with images!

Having complained about things being included unnecessarily – how about an omission.  Accents! It can be time consuming to add appropriate accents to text – we know that – we do our own and often have to go through everything that comes in to make sure it is done correctly.  Insert - then Symbol on any QWERTY keyboard – so now everybody knows!

Increasingly we move the submissions with the least problems to the front of the queue for space and preparing for print.   So, naturally, the more bizarrely the state in which things are received – the less likely they are to get into print.

What do we dream of?

Single space text, no indentation and a double space between paragraphs is what we need.  Images, to accompany text, should be sent only as attachments and all by email.  We cannot use submissions sent on pdf files – we need word documents only. 

There!  That's solved that problem- or has it?

 

 

That Old Chestnut – Credit Control (or lack of it)

 

A subject that virtually every person in business will understand.

One of the main headaches for any businesses is the amount of time spent keeping on top of non-payers!  This problem can and does put people out of business.   What do you do if people just ignore the payment dates on the invoices you send?

It’s tempting to publish a list of the amusing tales and excuses that are used for avoiding payment.  But it’s not actually amusing.

If someone solicits goods and/or services from someone else then they must make sure they’ve the money to pay for what they want.   People shouldn’t massage their own cash-flow problems onto someone else.  Unless (that is) they’ve explained things and allowed the business they’re just about to trade with - the chance to NOT get involved in their funding issues.

Sometimes people do not want to pay for advertising in advance of printing.  Clearly these are people that have not dealt with many publishing businesses.  We try to be fair, we try to be considerate and importantly we try very hard to make sure that all advertisers do not end up paying for the antics of the few.

When space in a magazine is booked then it is effectively ‘sold’.  At that point you are entering into a contract and an obligation to the publisher. 

Here at The Quercy Local we know ‘oh so well’ that once the magazine is printed an individual advert cannot be removed for non-payment – cutting out 7000 adverts from an already printed publication is not going to happen! 

So instead, every month, we face a handful of problem payers.  Sometimes we know it’s just a case of organisational problems, other times it is a lot more irritating and distressing.  In the end the cost for all of this ends up having to be passed on – passed on to the well-run businesses.    We send reminders and sometimes people do not like that!  Our invoices are sent by email and we can see when the emails are opened.  So the ‘sorry I didn’t see an invoice’ excuse is very annoying – we do know if it’s been read.

A great tip to anyone struggling with invoices they cannot pay – contact the person you owe.  Confirm receipt of the invoice and communicate how you are dealing with things. Simple, brilliant and helpful.

We carry a note on our invoices of the penalties we may apply in the event of non-payment – but who wants to go down that route?  It’s all about fairness and honesty.

So the next couple of hours will be spent chasing up people who are well behind with payments. Payment for work we’ve already done and costs we’ve already incurred in getting adverts often designed, certainly into print, transported to our offices and then distributed around the region. Do we object to chasing these payments up?  Yes we do – it’s such a waste of what could be time better spent.

So, the long term dilemma is how to find a way of ensuring that the increased costs caused by unpaid invoices lands precisely with those that cause the problems and not with the vast majority of great businesses out there.  If anyone has any great credit control ideas – we would love to hear from you.

Front Page, Page 3 and the fight for the Back Cover

It’s the start of October and this week we’re starting to send out the advertising renewal notices.  This is necessary when the adverts booked for a run of editions have all finished.  So we need to see who wants to reserve space in the December edition and then the editions going forward into next year.  We try and see which of our usual advertisers want space before we can release too much space to new advertisers.  It’s always a real balancing act. 

It might seem early to be asking people to make decisions but in order to guarantee space and indeed the popular space, people need to let us know their intentions.  The artwork and details can wait a little longer but right now we need to know who is going to be with us for December!

There’s then the thorny issue of premium placings!  We effectively have to write to everyone about what space is available but actually that availability changes all the time.  So everything has to be ‘subject to availability’.  The popular ‘premium places’ such as the back cover can be booked up for some editions up to 2 years ahead.  Inside the front cover, the page facing it and then the page opposite the contents page are also in demand and clearly work very well.  In one case we’ve had the same advert booked into the same place for over 6 years!

It is important not to forget the back of the magazine.  Inside the back cover is classed as a premium position as many people do flick to the back of magazines first (I do).  Importantly, adverts inside the covers, or the back cover itself benefit from being printed on a much heavier paper.

The banner on the front cover is also bookable and causes its own problems.  It can (amongst other things) interfere with the choice of front cover image.  Sometimes we don’t have the artwork until the virtual last minute (although it is due in a week before other dead-lined items) so as with everything with this media 3D jigsaw type arrangement – it can force last minute changes and a whole lot of wriggling about!

So this week we will be emailing our advertisers with the renewal options and hoping that one way or another we can put everyone where they want to be! 

Being ahead of ourselves - Early planning for a Winter Edition

As we start a lovely Quercy autumn - here in the magazine office we are knee deep in tinsel and fairy lights - we have Christmas on our mind!

 

This week the work on this ‘festive’ edition is just about to start in earnest.  However, it is still very hard to get people to think about Christmas, New Year and even worse February’s Valentines’ Day. This Winter edition covers all 3 events so we’ll have to keep pushing for information. 

You can also bet your ‘last dollar’ that at the start of December, after we are in print, people will start contacting us about seasonal events they want to include!  Believe-you-me – we’ve received messages along the lines of ‘We know you have printed but it is possible to add something?’   No!! 

We have to work ahead of time – we are booking things in for 18 months ahead now, so  for us December is very close almost imminent.

At this stage the question is how many pages will we be printing?  Sometimes we cannot say definitively how many pages it will have until almost the last moment.... Like most things in life it comes down to 1) costs and 2) whether people do things in time. 

We try to keep a steady balance of advertising and other material.  So until we know how much advertising is booked in we cannot work out the number of pages we can print.  It is much more economical to print the interior pages in multiples of 16. That is just how the printing machine operates.  The four pages that make up the cover are added to this as they are printed separately of a different paper grade.

So at this stage of the game the number and length of articles we can run is very much up in the air.  We have to book them in with an estimation of their final size but there’s a ghostly ‘vague’ section which represents the extra pages we may be able to add if the advertising load is sufficient.

We may get close to the deadlines and then find we have more adverts that expected and so we have to up the page number – suddenly adding possibly 16 pages to the plan means that we suddenly have space!

So when people ask ‘have you room’ the answer is not a simple one!  We may have or we may not or we may not have now but we could have at the very last minute if we add pages or when something booked in does not arrive in-time or to size. 

 

The Beginning

What could possibly make an otherwise fairly-sensible person decide to start an English-speaking magazine in the depths of the Quercy region of south west France?

The decision to first publish a magazine was a relatively gradual one.  Now it’s hard to imagine a time before it all started.  The Quercy Local seems to have now taken over such a large part of my life and feels as if it’s been around forever.  However, in reality, it was  in 2010, only 7 years ago, that the first ideas started to form; it was one of those growing notions that begins with just a flicker.

I’d already been struck by how many loose leaflets were scattered over the counters of the bakers’ counters and bar tops locally.  The potential for these loose fliers to fall, slip, become unruly or even become lost, worried the part of me that ‘could’ be described as anxious and /or overly precise.

Then later when visiting southern Spain I noticed how many English speaking publications there were in every bar, shop, café and restaurant.  I knew that this area of Spain was very different to the French Quercy region; it enjoys or suffers (depending on your view point) a much greater density of English-speakers.  These Spanish magazines were essentially only advertising; aimed at a very different audience than would be found here in the Quercy region. 

These Spanish publications helped me develop the idea of producing a magazine here it France but it was just the start – things here would have to be very different to work well.  The way forward had to include a way of publishing a magazine that editions were not immediately superseded by the next one.  That is what happens with the Spanish magazines; the older editions go straight in the bin.  Being immediately replaced with the new one, which looks virtually the same but with updated adverts for cocktail bar opening-hours and offers on glitzy clothes and jewellery.

Somehow I wanted to produce something that would be boost to the region.  A way of allowing people with great ideas, good causes and innovative businesses to share what they were doing.   This was a time before Facebook had taken hold, so telling people what you were doing was a difficult.  I suspected that quietly behind every woody copse and up every narrow Quercy street there were people with great skills doing interesting things.

Producing a magazine from scratch couldn’t be that complicated – could it?  I’d never done anything like this before so my enthusiasm was largely fueled by complete ignorance.  There was so much to learn – if I had known then what I know now!