How to Create a Writers' Group Journal

Our local writers' group decided sometime in Spring that it might be time to produce another journal. It's only three, maybe four years since the last one, and we'd like to make it an annual event. So we worked out a schedule, we called for submissions, and...

Anyway, we really are going to produce it, and it's going to be printed in time for Christmas. We're feeling very proud of ourselves, though I'll feel more confidently proud when we actually have the printed copies to hand around. Meanwhile, just in case I end up "helping" again, here are my notes on how to create a writers' group journal.
  1. Make a schedule but don't expect anyone to stick to it.
  2. Just because you don't get any submissions on time, don't assume people aren't interested--they just don't believe in your schedule.
  3. Work out the absolute latest date for submissions and guilt people into submitting by pointing out how much older your oldest member is getting. It helps if your oldest member is absent while you do this.
  4. Get help! Someone to receive submissions and store them (dropbox is good). Someone willing to edit. A cover designer. An illustrator. People who take good photographs.
  5. Allow yourself to be obnoxious as the deadline approaches, but don't take offense if someone responds by believing you're really going to reject his piece because it's two days late.
  6. Don't reject pieces because they're two days late--they might turn out to be your favorite entries, and they've probably been really well-edited during the delay.
  7. Time to create the journal master document! Make sure you can access the files. Make sure you have a list of who wrote what. Otherwise you'll spend forever trying to work it all out.
  8. If you're using Word, set up "normal," then download all the submissions into one document, putting everything into normal.
  9. Go through the (long) document changing headers to "heading 2," subheadings to "heading 3" etc.
  10. Display the navigation pane. All the headers should magically appear and you can now move the pieces around--put all the poems together, all the memoirs, everything about your local city--all you need to do is drag the header in the navigation pane and the story will automatically move.
  11. Add section headings as "heading 1."
  12. Fix the formatting: Some of your writers will have used manual tabs, so remove all tabs (^t). Some will have empty lines at the end of paragraphs; remove them. Look for double spaces at the ends of sentences--either insert them everywhere or, easier, replace them with single spaces. Some will use different sorts of quote marks and apostrophes; you'll need to make them match. Some will use three dots, four dots, even ten dots--some will use single, double or triple dashes, with or without spaces, between words--try to coordinate all these. And center the poetry if that's what it needs.
  13. Add pictures and create a contents list, but don't forget to keep updating it.
  14. Send parts of the document to your editors. It helps if they're using word too. Then you can "lock" the document before sending it, so all their edits appear in "tracked changes" and you can put the whole thing back together more easily.
  15. Put the whole thing back together, either by combining the files sent back to you or, easier but slower, by going through the changes one by one and inserting them into the master document.
  16. Read the journal and edit for consistency--your editors might have different styles for italics, book titles, semicolons, colons etc, but you want the whole document to match. "Watch out for stray commas and periods between dialog tags," she says, "meaning this is okay. But not this," she adds, "That last comma should have been a period."
  17. Save as pdf and repeat--it's amazing how much more appears at this point.
  18. Send the pdf file to another editor to catch the rest of the errors--well, except the ones we miss.
  19. Take the pdf files for the cover and interior to the Espresso Book Machine and print your books. You'll probably want Espresso to keep the journal on file so members of the group can print more copies later.
  20. But, if money's tight and time's not too awfully pressing, you can always upload it all to Createspace too and submit a group order. Don't distribute to Amazon unless the group really wants their journal on sale. And don't use Createspace unless you're willing to be really draconian about sticking to deadlines.
So that's what we're doing. I'm trying to be draconian. And we just might make the deadline... I hope!


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