In the past decades, technology has brought the power of publishing to almost anyone willing to pay $2,500 for a computer, printer, scanner, and the necessary software. Many have taken advantage of this opportunity to create newsletters, brochures, and other publications for their businesses or organizations. But just as owning a propane torch doesn't necessarily qualify you to do the plumbing in your house, having a computer and a printer in the den doesn't mean you're ready to create a professional-looking publication.
Once the desktop publisher has completed the job, he or she will deliver a proof to you for your approval. You should go through this carefully to make sure it is exactly what you want. Make a note of any changes or corrections and discuss them with the designer. While you want to correct any mistakes, this is not the time to change that paragraph that's been bugging you or "add a little section." These changes may involve reworking entire pages, which take time — and cost you money. Think of a carpenter who's finished a house and then been told to add a window in the middle of a wall. OK, that's a little more involved, but you get the idea. Make sure you're satisfied with your stories and photographs before you send them off to the desktop publisher.
Once you have approved the proof, the desktop publisher will make corrections, then arrange to have the publication printed and delivered to you. The process of having a publication printed is much more complicated than simply pushing the "print" button on your computer. Printers — the men and women with the presses — speak a language that is often confusing to publishing novices. Mistakes at this end can cost hundreds of dollars, waste weeks of time and cause you incredible headaches. At this point, you'll be glad you hired someone to do the job for you. Quality counts. It really does. The words and images you use in a publication contribute greatly to its impact. Poorly written copy, misspellings, grammatical mistakes, fuzzy graphics, and blurry photos are marks of an unprofessional job.
Photographs, when used properly, greatly increase the impact of a newsletter. But all too often, desktop publishers are given out-of-focus, poorly exposed photos showing a room full of tiny, unrecognizable heads to use for the front page. It is often worth the cost of hiring a professional photographer for your project. Remember, your publication is a direct reflection of your business or organization. If it looks amateurish, so do you.
“If you have a graphic or an advertisement you want to use in your newsletter or brochure, give the desktop publisher the original, not a copy of a copy.” — John Gold
If you can't afford to hire a professional photographer, look around for students interested in the subject. They may be willing to work cheaply or even for free in return for having the work published. I'll offer the same warning here that I did earlier regarding students — they are capable of great creativity, but they don't always understand the needs of a business or organization.
Sometimes desktop publishers have photographs from stock companies that can be used in newsletters for a fee. It is worth asking to see whether stock photos are available and if any are suitable for your purposes. Try to bring a variety of photographs if you're providing your own. This will give your desktop publisher some options when choosing photos.
Even the most gifted graphic designer can't make up for poorly written copy, misspellings, and bad grammar. Make sure you deliver the best quality you can. Use your spell-checker, then go through the transcript yourself. Spelling programs are great, but they don't catch improperly used words. If you can, have someone else edit your stories — a fresh pair of eyes often catches mistakes that you missed.
A word of clarification here. If you are supplying the copy for a project, it's your job to get the words right, not the responsibility of the desktop publisher. And don't forget about good writing — writing that goes beyond correctly spelled words and grammatical sentences. If your publication is well written, people will read it — and that's what you want.
Too many times a client has handed me an advertisement or a graphic ripped from the newspaper and asked, "Can you put this in the newsletter?" My answer, invariably, is, "Yes, but you won't like it." We can do a lot with computers and scanners, but we can't work miracles. A smudgy, blurry graphic printed on newsprint will look crummy no matter what you do to it. If you have a graphic or an advertisement you want to use in your newsletter or brochure, give the desktop publisher the original, not a copy of a copy.
John Gold and his wife Susan are partners in Custom Communications, a desktop publishing firm in Saco, Maine that Susan launched with a Macintosh SE computer in 1988. Together they design newsletters, brochures, non-fiction children's books and web sites. We feel fortunate to have enticed these recognized leaders in their field to offer their expertise to you. When you visit Custom Communications, please tell John and Susan Internet Brothers sent you.
Return to part 1 of John Gold's Desktop Publishing Professionals tutorial.