Beware the Seven Deadly Sins

Written by Jan Hensel

Beware the Seven Deadly Sins of yearbook production. For you and your staff’s well-being, remember thou shalt not:

1. Believe nobody’s perfect
Thou shalt rue the misspelling of any students’ names for all of Distribution Day and beyond. You can’t check names too many times. Hell hath no fury like the mother of a buxom girl whose senior picture reads “Brabra” instead of “Barbara.” The sins of poor proofreading and name-checking can ruin the happy occasion of passing out yearbooks. If Brain, I mean Brian, is the son of the football coach or the loudest mean-mouthed mother in town, it is worse. You can be perfect-at least on mug names.

2. Let yearbook expenses exceed your budget
Thou shalt spend in haste and repent for years. See that yearbook is fiscally responsible. Professional publications could not stay in print if they spent more than they earned, and you should not allow cover and color choices to cause debt. BEFORE you start the book, carefully determine a budget based on reasonable assumptions about book and advertising sales as well as a complete accounting of expenses including estimated correction charges, professional organization memberships and contests, and production expenses (don’t overlook things like toner cartridges, ZIP disks, staff rewards, FedEx and postage charges, color enlargements, developing color rolls for the third time for the clubs division…).

3. Set deadline days instead of deadline times
Thou shalt be unable to walk through any valley and will feel like death if deadlines end at unreasonable hours. Deadlines should end at a prescribed time dependent on the number of pages to be completed for us, usually 8 p.m. You have no business keeping students at school until midnight or beyond for the sake of finishing pages. If you have no concern for your own health, consider how such late hours affect staff members and parents. Students cannot be successful in school if you send them to other classes (yes, they have other classes) the next day on 3 hours of sleep; and believe it or not, many parents can’t help but stay awake until kids are safely home, meaning late deadlines also can cause friction in the family. If that doesn’t reform you, think about this headline: Yearbook editor killed in accident after falling asleep at the wheel…. Stop wearing late deadlines as a badge of honor.

4. Insist unhappy staff members stay
The impact of pressuring another human being to finish the year is lasting: Thou shalt regret nine-fold forcing any staff member to remain on yearbook. I know how it feels to have several students drop class, leaving you and the editor (oops! there goes the editor!) with unfinished responsibilities which fall onto the shoulders of the rest. Still, after years of experience following a stringent policy requiring students to honor their “year-long commitment,” I now know I am better off without some staffers.

5. Print Personal Ads
This particular “sin” requires a lengthy penance: Thou shalt come to abhor personal ads for all generations to come. If you don’t print personal ads written by one or more students to each other, DO NOT START! It is almost impossible to end such risky business. Personal ads carry a liability that is not worth it. Students can easily insert secret messages into an ad which you cannot possibly detect until too late. References to drug or alcohol use, sex, vandalism, unpopular students, etc., can turn you into a target for public criticism or worse, a claimant in a libel lawsuit. In most cases, you personally are responsible for what is printed-a responsibility that is shared, but you won’t care much about that if the ax is poised over your neck. A better source of ad revenue is ads sold to parents or clubs (with signed verification from the sponsor that the ad meets specific guidelines).

6. Make important decisions too quickly
Thou shalt find thy snap decisions become like burrs in your underpants. Listen. We all know that just because the phone rings doesn’t mean you have to answer it-the premise upon which Caller ID is based. If your proofs come the day before Thanksgiving holiday, call the plant and discuss a mutually agreeable compromise; don’t send in 42 pages or your cover and endsheets without adequate time to review them. If a work session is so hectic that you discover yourself muttering “Uh huh” to staff members without really tuning in, you may inadvertently agree to let the section editor miss deadline night or fail to notice an offensive hand-signal in a photo. Insist students put special requests in writing. Make staff members wait until you can give them your full attention before you shake your head yes. And don’t ever be afraid to say you need to think about decisions before you act.

7. Keep too many fonts
Thou shalt suffer mightily at the hands of your laser printer for being a fontaholic. I have finally “cleansed” our lab of extraneous fonts; we’re down to 35, a combined list from newspaper and yearbook. Every computer now has the same list. All these fonts were sent in first deadline. The plant is happy. I am happy. And Courier will never appear in our book again. (My support group meetings are on Thursday nights if you want to come.)

NOTE: Please don’t ever, ever ask me how I came up with my list of Seven Deadly Sins. But, I might be willing to tell you about the disgruntled mugs editor who “accidentally” left out all the K’s!

Jan Hensel

Jan Hensel is the former adviser at Liberty High School in Liberty, Mo., where she taught yearbook, newspaper and photography.