Whether your magazine is a passion project or a profit driver, you want to make an impact. How can you maximize that impact with a small staff?
The answer is efficiency: collaborating painlessly with contributors, streamlining your work by creating systems, and using tools that automate away the annoying, repetitive tasks.
When these pieces line up, your small staff gets to invest their time in the work that matters: producing a great publication.
Provide Clear Direction for Contributors
You remember asking for a 1200-word interview, delivered by January 15. You received a 2000-word opinion piece on February 1. What happened?
No matter how skilled your contributors are, they can’t read minds or remember everything you say. (Bummer.) As an editor, it’s your job to provide clear direction. It’s normal to think we are crystal clear: after all, we understand what we’re saying. But miscommunications happen. If you have an enthusiastic group of writers, but you’re never quite sure what they’ll turn in, there’s work to do.
Some tips for clear assignments:
- Write down the assignment details. A phone conversation is great, but it’s not easy to capture all the details. By writing it down, you provide a resource that you and the writer can reference.
- Associate all work with deadlines. Ensure that specific assignments are broken down into specific deadlines, including the parts that fall to your staff rather than the contributor. This might mean that there’s a submission deadline, a deadline for proofreading, a deadline for editorial review, and a deadline for typesetting. Deadlines keep everyone on track.
- Create a template for assignments. If you’re writing assignment briefs from scratch, you’re wasting time that you could spend on more important projects. (And you may be forgetting to add all of the details.) Start from the general guidelines — rules that apply to all the pieces you publish. You can refer to these in every template. From there, think about guidelines for specific types of writing. For example, you publish poetry under 20 lines, or opinion pieces are 1,200 – 1,500 words. If you already have these guidelines as templates, you won’t need to rewrite them for each assignment.
If you’re not sure where to start with your assignment templates, start with these questions:
- What is the topic?
- What approach will the writer take?
- What type of piece is it?
- How long will the piece be?
Clear direction is critical when working with contributors. You can make that easier by systematizing your work process. Assignment templates are the first step, but you can take it further.
Build a Simple System for Writing Contributors and Internal Staff
Whether you’re working with 5 contributors or 50, a simple system amplifies your efforts. This is especially true when your staff includes multiple editors. Imagine being a contributor where one editor prefers pieces to be emailed as an MS Word file, but another wants a Google Document shared via Slack. It’s a recipe for confusion, missed deadlines, and wasted time.
To start formalizing a system, ask yourself:
- How do I want to receive pitches?
- Who accepts pitches?
- How many pitches can be accepted for each issue?
- How do I want to receive submissions and communicate revisions?
- Does editing involve the contributor or only the staff?
- What will the revision workflow look like?
- Who is involved in the revision workflow?
- What are the deadlines for each step?
- How do contributors get paid?
Systems require buy-in from everyone involved.
Q: How do you build a system that gets abandoned in 3 weeks or never fully implemented?
A: Design it in a vacuum and fail to get buy-in from those affected.
Before you formalize a system, talk to other staff members. Understand what they want from the system. You might start by surveying every editor to find out what they like about their current process. Or maybe your team sits down for a morning to workshop the process.
Once you’ve come up with a system, you’ll still need to communicate it. There’s a learning curve for changing your way of operating. Provide your team with directions that they can refer back to as they learn.
Your new system also needs advocates. As always, clear communication is essential. If the staff doesn’t see how they, the contributors, and the publication benefit from the new system, they won’t put in the effort to use it.
Don’t write systems on stone tablets.
Give the team some time to get used to a new system. Depending on your team, that may be two months, three publication cycles, or even a year. Let everyone get through the learning curve and settle in. Then, ask for feedback and look at how the system is working.
You’ll often find opportunities to refine the system. For example, one department started thinking they wanted sign-off on all projects but discovered they only need it on specific project types. Look particularly for chances to pare down your system into fewer steps. Less complexity means everyone has a better understanding of what’s happening.
How to Refine Your Workflow using Camayak
Contributors need clear directions. Your team needs a system to minimize confusion and maximize impact. Camayak can help you meet both of those needs.
Improve communication with contributors.
Camayak users love that contributors are free. Unlike other tools for managing work, Camayak does not charge a per-user fee for contributors. You can have as many contributors as you need, but you only pay for staff members.
Even better? Contributors love working with publications on Camayak. They can submit their pitches and submissions in the same place. Visibility into the review and approval process means they don’t need to send follow-up emails. With assignment information in Camayak, they aren’t stuck wondering, “Where did I write that down?”
One Camayak customer described it this way:
Everyone we work with is a lot happier to have things so streamlined, and I’ve forgotten how we ever managed without it.
Contributors know exactly where to go for anything related to your publication because it’s all in one system.
Use a system that simplifies your work.
Camayak can customize a workflow that reflects how you want your publication to run.
What items should you discuss at the editorial meeting? Pull up a filtered calendar view and breeze through that meeting.
Do three different departments need to know when an assignment is approved? You won’t need to send an email. Instead, approving the assignment in Camayak can trigger a notification for each department.
Are you not sure how many pitches your publication receives because they come through email? Invite writers to send pitches through Camayak. You’ll be able to see the volume easily. As you review pitches, you can also search past issues to ensure you’re not publishing similar pieces.
A system for pitches, submissions, reviews, and edits lets your small staff accomplish more, but Camayak levels that up.
How can you do more with fewer hours and less effort?
Pitches and submissions come into a single place. When you accept a pitch, it becomes an assignment. Contributors log in to see due dates, review the project, and submit work. Your editorial team has a birds-eye view of all the moving pieces: what they’re waiting on and who is waiting on them. Your small team isn’t a limitation when you have the right tools.
Small staff, big impact
With a small staff, you have to be aware of where your efforts are going.
Make it easy for contributors.
Build systems that work for your organization.
Invest in a tool that moves the focus back to what you care about: producing a magazine that your readers love.