Publish effectively on the web and in print – Communications Strategy, Research, Writing, Editing, Design, Digital/Print Production Supervision

The Basics of Web and Print Publications

10-questionsYou or your organization has a history. Tell readers what you do for clients, constituents, customers, or the world at large. Better yet, tell your stories in graphics as well.

Keep the writing short and select the best graphics you can find. Use photos of real staff and the people they serve. Write short. For the typical Web surfer and even the typical reader, attention spans are famously short.

You or your organization has a mission or vision – where you want to be, what you want to become. Show and talk about your aspirations as well. Better yet, get others to assess your work. Research consistently demonstrates that third-party endorsements are the most effective persuasive tools. Ask people who know you or your organization what they think.

At that point, if you’re very good – or very lucky – or both, you will have a considerable amount of material. Create navigation bar(s) or a table of contents that give the reader a clear picture of what lies ahead. For verisimilitude, try to use illustrations or photographs of you or your organization, not stock photos.

You should have quite a lot of material by now. Organize it in a way that makes sense to you.

Now – most important – ask several individuals whose opinions you trust to serve as beta testers. They will preview your work and give candid feedback. Expect surprises. In the end, you or your organization will put its name on the Website or publication, so you will decide what feedback to incorporate and what to reject.

Metrics. It’s extremely worthwhile to learn how to read your C-panel. How many visitors entered your site? Where did they come from? Once there, where did they go? How much time, on average, did they spend on your site? If you’re selling, did they buy? Google Analytics, free on the Web, dominates the field, but many shorter documents provide condensed information for users with different experience levels.

Books are trickier. What makes people buy them? Where do they buy? Readings and good reviews (even if bought) help. But the bottom line: Only a very few people know – publishers generally don’t – and they aren’t telling. It’s been called a black box. Magnificent Publications, Inc. will pay a reward – seriously – to anyone providing convincing evidence of book-sale metrics. Amount of reward contingent on quality of evidence.

Websites, e-mail newsletters, and non-fiction share certain basic characteristics:

Clearly articulated goals

Before beginning, the group leaders think things through. What does the organization want to accomplish with its Web product(s) or publication(s). What is the timetable? The budget? How will group leaders measure success?

Well-targeted audiences

People don’t wear their interests on their sleeves. “Consumers seeking organic food” is not a target market. “People who shop in health food stores and subscribe to wellness publications” will get you closer. Postal and e-mail mailing lists are bought and sold every day.

Main messages

The project team must reach consensus. Magnificent Publications finds focus groups, interviews, and brainstorming sessions to be good vehicles for generating ideas. Consensus is crucial if writers and designers are to produce effective work, on time and within budget.

With the Internet, few excuses for factual inaccuracies remain.

Regarding style, many organizations have their own. Editors can also use a popular style guide, such as:

The Careful Writer, by Theodore Bernstein.

Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words: A Writer’s Guide to Getting It Right, by Bill Bryson.

Garner’s Modern American Usage by Bryan A. Garner.

The Classics of Style — presents writing guidance from William Strunk, Jr., Emerson, Whitman, Poe, and other writers.

The Elements of Style. By William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White.

The Associated Press Stylebook. By the Associated Press (AP).

The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage. By Allan M. Siegal and William G. Connolly.

American Medical Association Manual of Style—for medical papers published in journals of the American Medical Association.

American Psychological Association Style Guide—for the behavioral and social sciences; published by the American Psychological Association

Budget and schedule

Most organizations set budgets for outsourced services but treat staff time as a given. Especially in a new project, budgeting raises tough questions. Management wants to know what costs will be. Staff wants to know how much is available for it. Around and around they go. A solution: Develop low and high estimates, and keep interested parties apprised of project status versus budget.

Regarding schedule, keep in mind that people lead busy lives. They need to know what is expected of them and when it’s due. The best approach is to work backwards from the deliverable date. When developing a product for the first time, surrounded by major uncertainties, we consider setting an ideal schedule and a worst-case schedule. Key staff will know whether to stand by for work on New Year’s Eve.

Web elements

We create wireframes, drawings generated in pencil or on computer, to show positioning of elements. We assemble candidate images, photographs, or illustrations. Two or three of each are ideal – the more the better. Project managers interpret visuals in different ways.

Publications

Conventional wisdom says outline your publication, then write it. Most professional writers are less linear. They write in chunks, as ideas occur to them, then rewrite the chunks, sleep on them, get up, and tackle the project again.

Graphics

Most project managers expect to be asked, “What to do you want?” The best answer: “Something like this.” Ordinarily, “this” comes from Google searches in which we select “Images.” An art director usually makes the best selections.

Contract

The American Institute of Graphic Artists (AIGA) posts contract templates on its Website specifying, among other things, that the creative artist owns rights to his or her work, which is leased for specific purposes and lengths of time.

Bids

Everything is negotiable, especially in the current economy. Alongside the client, we specify what is wanted, in print or Web product, look at samples, and talk with colleagues in comparable companies.

Final edits

Copy edit, fact check, and proofread.

Copy fitting

Typically, the writer, editor, or project manager hands the designer the text and says, “Go to it.” We do it differently. We design the product, greek in the copy with “lorem ipsum” text, and ask the writer or project manager to make it fit. Sound economics underlie this approach. A competent writer can shorten or lengthen text to fit. For a designer, the image is what it is. Many images can be cropped, but substitutes are often costly.

Sign Offs

During management’s last chance to approve or tweak the product, we try to tease out hidden objections, especially if we see a furrowed brow or puzzled look. Publishing on the Web means that something less than perfect today can be changed tomorrow. Books are harder, but most digital printing companies turn on a dime.

Press check or review of Web elements

Colors can be corrected and spacing adjusted, but the designer has responsibility for providing guidance to the printer.

Distribute

Let the world know a new product is out there. Send e-mails or post cards.

Magnificent Publications, Inc.
(202) 544-5490
szharris@magpub.com
1122 F Street NE, #5
Washington, D.C. 20002

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