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August 20, 2015

Keep your sanity and maintain a quality publication: tips for managing multiple contributors

by Donna Huber

Whether you have regular contributors or accept the occasional guest post it is important to make your guidelines and expectations clear.

I have always accepted guest posts, but a little over a year and a half ago I added regular contributors to Girl Who Reads. It has been a great help to spread the work around a bit, especially when we went to 7 days a week publication. Along the way I have learned a few things that apply just as much to one time contributors as it does to regular contributors.

If you are struggling with managing multiple contributors to your publication, I hope you will find these tips useful.

What do you want the contributing writer to write about? 

You may have specific topics in mind or you may want to provide general ideas and let the writer decide the angle to take. I'm in the latter category.

Under submission guidelines I have listed broad topics, with suggested content ideas. But I always leave the specific topic to the writer. This is particularly true of one time contributors. Often they are submitting the article as part of a tour or other media blitz and I want them to reveal themselves to my readers. I think this is best done with allowing them to explore a topic that is of interest and relevance to them and their book.

With my regular feature writers, I still give them a lot of autonomy in deciding the topic of their article. However, if I see something in the news or observe a trend in publishing I will often suggest a topic to the writer. For example, there were a number of fairytale based novels coming out and I was curious about the trend and fascination. Since I was curious and I figured my readers would be to. Alison took the suggestion and wrote the article Happily Ever After.

Because my regular feature writers are having to come up with a topic each month, I regularly send out an email with general topic ideas. I usually do this if I see them writing on the same topic regularly. It clues me into that they may be struggling with ideas.

You will also want to consider the appropriateness for your readership. Girl Who Reads is an open site and reviews books for all ages, I request content be appropriate for the PG13 crowd. If your publication is focused on erotica or other adult, then you may allow more explicit content in your articles.

How long do you want the article to be? 

I one time had an author write a "guest post" that was 1 paragraph. While I often had authors ask about word count, I didn't feel I needed to state an actual word count in my guidelines. I learned my lesson. I did some research on what were optimal lengths for online news reading and discovered that 500 to 1,000 words were a good general guideline. Do I count the words when an article is submitted? No, but since I set the guideline I haven't any super long or way short articles. The exception is if the article is graphics heavy, such as a "how-to" article where pictures give more instruction than just text.

By setting guidelines for the content you accept, you will give writers a better sense of what your publication's focus is as well as having a standard by which to judge quality. Having stated guidelines, makes it easier to reject an article as you have an unbiased reason to not publish.

When do you want articles submitted? 

Right now I have set a submission guideline as the Friday before the article is scheduled to publish. I do most of my blogging on the weekend and this deadline allows for me to have all of the upcoming week's contributed content available.

However, I've thought about revising this deadline. For contributors whose pieces publish on Monday, it does not provide much time for editing. If I see the article for the first time Saturday morning and it needs major revisions it is unlikely that it will get done by Sunday evening.

As this really impacts quality of the pieces published, it is important to allow adequate time to the task of editing. Right now, all I'm really able to do is a proofread, but as I want to take Girl Who Reads to the next stage of online publishing I really need to consider more editoral involvement. And that means I will need to set earlier deadlines.

I have written about the need for an editorial calendar. Setting up the calendar is much easier if you know what content you are publishing that month. I know that my feature writers will provide their articles, and I typically know which books I'm reviewing that month. The problem for me is knowing what my staff reviewers are going to review that month.

I'm working on that problem now. For July and August, I sent them the dates that I did not have content already planned for. July worked well, August not so much.

I'm contemplating another method - a revolving deadline, but no set publish date. In this case, reviews could be submitted throughout the month, but they may not publish until the next month. This method would allow me to set the editorial calendar in advance based on the content I had already. A variation on this method would be to set a deadline for submission as the 20th of each month for inclusion in the next month publication schedule.

When will the article publish? 

Tied to the deadline for submission is when will you publish the article. Presently, my regular feature writers are assigned a specific day of the month that their article appears (1st Friday of the month, 2nd Wednesday, etc.). For the most part, they are good about meeting their deadline.

The problem more lies with one time contributors. There have been instances where an author or publicist has schedule a date for an article to run and then "forget". Unfortunately, I believe this is largely due to the unprofessionalism that is rampant among self and indie published authors. To combat this problem, I have been more reluctant to set a date for publication until I have received the article.

Again, this problem may be solved by setting a submission date the month prior for inclusion in the next month's publication schedule. It would require writers to be more organized, but it isn't anything that major news publications don't require.

It should be noted that I like to set the editorial calendar on a monthly basis. However, if your publication does a weekly calendar or annual calendar, then you will need to adjust your schedule accordingly, i.e. for weekly editorial calendar planning you may want to set the deadline as 2 weeks ahead. That will give you a week to review the submission and a week for any revisions that are required.

Communicate regularly with contributors

It is particularly important to touch base often with any regular contributors you have. Open communication between parties will alleviate the stress that can come from managing multiple contributors as well as acknowledge the hard work the contributors do. 

Sometimes I do mass emails, but these are usually reserved for communicating topic suggestions or tips for writing better articles. As a means of encouragement, I will often share stats and announcements of awards/recognition.

I also email them individually to provide feedback on their articles or to get their thoughts on a change I'm thinking of making. 

I want my regular contributors to feel like they are part of the team. So sometimes I just write to see how they are doing. 

Does your publication manage multiple contributors? What do you do keep your sanity and maintain a quality publication?

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