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Editorial Practices for Small to Mid-Size Magazines by Sheila Sampath

By Sheila Sampath, Editorial and Art Director, Shameless Magazine

Editorial practices are a combination of professional, interpersonal and political structures set up to help guide decision making and workflow through the production process. From conceptualizing an issue to executing it, these considerations will help articulate and inform the why, what and how of your work.

The Political: Defining editorial scope (or: WHY do we publish?)

1. Articulate a clear mandate.

Regardless of whether you’re working on a new or established publication, taking the time to articulate (or gain deep understanding of) your magazine’s mandate is foundational to creating frameworks for transparent and accountable decision-making. What role does your publication play in a genre, industry or demographic? Are there existing mission, vision or philosophy statements? If so, how do you understand them, or how can you and your existing editorial staff elaborate on or reinterpret them? A staff (and board, if applicable) discussion can be facilitated internally or with the help of an external facilitator.

2. Decide to whom you’re accountable

Negotiating accountability in publishing can be a challenging task, but it’s helpful to, at the very least, build off of your mandate and map out who you are publishing for. What is your funding structure and what expectations come from those revenue sources? Who is your readership and what role do you want to play in their lives? If these two groups aren’t the same, or have conflicting agendas, how do you intend to resolve those tensions?

3. Prioritize voices that matter

Working from your mandate and thinking around accountability, ask yourself, whose voices do we need to centre? Are those voices currently represented in leadership roles at our publication? And, what practices and policies do we need to implement to reflect that vision? Understand that outreach to new communities of writers and editors is an ongoing process of trust and relationship-building.

The Professional: Ensuring clear workflow and quality (or: WHAT do we do?)

1. Define roles and responsibilities

In small- to mid-size publications, staffs tend to wear many hats. Whether your publication is in its infancy or is more established, it’s helpful to schedule semi-regular audits to make sure people are being recognized for their contributions and to see if there are better ways of structuring power or redistributing labour. When job expectations are clearly defined, people know when to ask for support, where to focus their time and energy and how to relate to their coworkers.

2. Map an editorial process and calendar

Defining the phases of a production cycle is particularly important for both staff and contributors to your publication. Here are some questions to consider:

  • How are issues conceptualized? Who is a part of this process?
  • What processes are in place to outreach to writers or respond to pitches?
  • How will you determine if a writer is a good fit for a story (and how does this relate to how you’ve defined your editorial scope)?
  • How do you want your process with writers to look? For example, do you expect an outline, first, second and final drafts? Is it an ongoing conversation between the editor and the writer? What are the deadlines that you want writers to follow and what deadlines can you guarantee you’ll follow as well?
  • Once a piece is filed, what is your process of copy-editing, fact-checking and proofreading? If there are major issues or changes late in the game, how will those be communicated to the writer?
  • As pieces move through layout and art assignments, if applicable, how will your editorial scope apply as your art director works with photographers and/or illustrators?
  • When can contributors expect payment? How will you notify them when their work is published?
  • What overlap will exist between issues?
  • How can you build in space for contingencies in your editorial calendar?

As you map out this process think of how you want to communicate it to your team and what ongoing communication looks like for your organization. Note: there are many free or inexpensive online systems that can support managing this process once it’s mapped out (e.g. Google calendars, Trello.com, Slack, etc.).

3. Build in spaces for flexibility—ask people what they need to do their jobs well

While it’s helpful to have a clearly articulated editorial process and calendar, a part of working well with people of diverse backgrounds means building in spaces for flexibility. For example, a writer submitting a personal piece on a traumatic life event may realize the editorial process is taking an emotional toll on their wellbeing; an interview subject may be facing a challenging personal situation and be unavailable for an immediate interview, etc. In these cases, it is helpful to go back to your editorial scope, particularly what it means to be accountable and to centre specific voices and to ask people what they need to be able to file on time. The more you’re able to keep communication open and problem-solve with the people you’re working with, the smoother the process (and the working relationship) will be.

The Personal: Defining ways of working (or: HOW do we work?)

1. Position yourself within your mandate

For us to be able to go deeper into the editorial process—that is, to not just define what happens when, but how that work happens, we need to be able to unpack our relationship to our mandate, our readership and our contributors. Do you identify as being a part of your readership? What communities and identities do you represent and are those the voices that you are aiming to centre? Answering these questions can help you articulate the nuances of your role (for example, editor-as-facilitator vs. editor-as-expert; publisher-as-ally vs. publisher-as-representative, etc.). Your relationship to your mandate and readership might change over time, so it’s helpful to think of this as an ongoing and iterative process of self-reflection.

2. Practice care in your work

Often we inherit ways of working from spaces and experiences that are inequitable or contribute to erasure or harm (e.g. unpaid internships, J-school, etc.). There is nothing that is stopping us from reimagining our relationships with the people we work with through a framework of care and respect. Ask yourself, How can I implement a strong editorial vision, adhere to the challenges of a deadline-driven environment and foster care for my co-workers and contributors, so they can produce their best work and be their best selves, along the way? What learning and unlearning needs to happen to create a new kind of work environment?

3. Think of editorial process as a form of relationship/community building

Very few publications exist just to publish—often, we are trying to connect readership to knowledge, connect the public to new ideas or connect communities to each other. As editors and publishers, we are conduits for these relationships and so relationship-building is always a central part of what we do. Keep this in mind as you continue to define how your work happens.


Magazines Canada Hotsheets deliver current information on a single topic, each written by an expert in the field. Return to Magazines Canada Hotsheets.

Canada Council for the Arts / Conseil des arts du Canada Department of Canadian Heritage  Ontario Arts Council / Conseil des arts de l'Ontario Ontario Creates / Ontario Créatif

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The Quick and Dirty on Demystifying the Slush Pile by Chelene Knight

By Chelene Knight, managing editor at Room magazine, CEO of #LearnWritingEssentials, author of Dear Current Occupant

The Mystery of the Slush Pile

Photograph of Chelene Knight
Chelene Knight

What is a slush pile? The definition changes from person to person, from magazine to magazine, and from publisher to publisher. To most, the slush pile is the towering stack of submissions that were not selected to be published at first read-through. The emergence of online submission managers such as Submittable, has turned this tangible tower into an out of sight, out of mind virtual filing cabinet.

To others, slush can mean “any unsolicited submission,” but for literary magazines, (aside from the commissioned pieces) wouldn’t that mean that all submissions are unsolicited? Now that so many literary magazines have shifted to online submission managers, there is no real slush pile; instead there are a series of processes in place to sort where a submission “lives” while it’s not currently being read, edited or considered. Although having the option to submit your work online has it conveniences, the influx of submissions has increased substantially.

The practices and procedures for reading submissions will differ depending on the magazine, their staffing and volunteer levels and a few other key factors, but the idea is the same: to log and track all incoming submissions and to have readers read and rank EVERYTHING (this is what takes so long).

So then…your gorgeous short story, essay or poem is already labelled slush, before you even hit send. So yes, let’s demystify the slush pile because slush piles can harbour gold, too.

Timing & Submission Deadlines

If a call opens on November 1 and closes on January 31, is there a best time to submit? The truth is, it does not matter. As long as your submission falls within those deadlines, you are fine. What so many folks do not know (and this is especially true for quarterly magazines) is that when the call is open, the submissions generally aren’t read until the call closes. What does this mean? If you submit your piece on November 1, chances are it will not be looked at until at least the end of January. The reason for this is that with quarterly magazines, editors and editorial teams are working on four issues at once, with all of them at different stages of production.

Production

Second editor forwards:
If your piece makes it to the editor and that editor likes your piece but cannot use it, they will usually forward it to another editor for a subsequent issue (it’s nice when magazines send you an email letting you know, because this basically means your wait time doubles, and it’s important to keep writers updated). Note: this is a process some magazines use, not all.

What you need to remember:

  • Most magazines will have first readers and your submission needs to make it past the reader before it gets to the editor. This is the tricky part because even though you may have researched the editor and have a good understanding in terms of what they like and what they usually publish, your submission might not even make it to them. I know that sounds disheartening, but rest assured, if your work shines, it will get published one way or another.
  • Production time is long. There’s no way around this. A lot goes into putting the issue together and a lot of this work goes above and beyond just reading and selecting pieces. Most issues take one full year with four issues in production at once but all at different stages (this is true for quarterly mags). If anyone has questions about production, please post in slack and I will do my best to include simplified answers.

To Check In or Not to Check In

I think it’s totally acceptable to reach out to a magazine about your submission if you haven’t heard back in six months or longer. But in doing this, be careful with what you are asking for.

Unpaid labour is real. Most literary magazine editorial teams are volunteers or paid small honorariums and do this work before and after their day jobs. Asking a magazine editor to provide you with substantive feedback is not something you should consider doing. You can, however, ask if the rejection was an issue of not having enough space in that specific issue (which is a real thing). Another acceptable ask is if you get an email directly from the editor, you can ask if there were any notes left on your piece that can be passed on. But note, this is rare. Just be polite in your ask and realistic with your expectations and acknowledge the added labour you are asking for.

Summary of Best Practices and Key Takeaways

  • Nowadays the slush pile is a virtual filing cabinet of submissions marked “to be read.”
  • Due to the shift to online submissions, the number of submissions magazines receive has increased substantially.
  • Editorial teams are usually working on more than one issue at once in various phases of production.
  • If one editor does not have space for your piece for whatever reason, they might forward it to the editor of the next issue (or if there’s only one editor, they may hold it for the next issue).
  • There are usually readers who take a first read before deciding to pass it on to the editor.
  • Production can be a long process. There are a lot of steps involved in putting the magazine together:
    • Interviews
    • Organizing art
    • Reading submissions
    • Formatting and graphic design
    • Soliciting ads
    • Backend admin
    • Copyediting
    • Proofreading
    • Theme tie-ins
  • You can check in on your submission, but be sure not to ask for substantive feedback as most editors are volunteers and unpaid labour is always something they are battling.
  • Always send your best. Chances are, if it sings, it will find a home.

Magazines Canada Hotsheets deliver current information on a single topic, each written by an expert in the field. Return to Magazines Canada Hotsheets.

Canada Council for the Arts / Conseil des arts du Canada Department of Canadian Heritage  Ontario Arts Council / Conseil des arts de l'Ontario Ontario Creates / Ontario Créatif

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AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act) Tips for Your Website by Caren Watkins

By Caren Watkins, MDes; Inclusive designer, IDRC, FLOE, OCAD University; coordinator SNOW: Inclusive Learning and Education

An accessible website means that all information found on a web page or web application, including text, images, forms and sounds, must be accessible to physical, sensory and cognitive diversities. As of January 1, 2021, all public websites and their web content published after January 1, 2012 belonging to and controlled by a private, non-profit or public organizations with fifty or more employees must conform to WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) 2.0 Level AA (excluding live captioning and pre-recorded audio descriptions). While you don’t have to make content prior to January 2012 accessible you will be required to accommodate anyone who asks for alternative and accessible content.

In the 2016 AODA Hotsheet we discussed the importance of knowing how users access your content, staying proactive, and reframing accessibility: “Think of accessibility less as a compliance process and rather as an exemplary design process, the objective of which is to reach people of all abilities.” This year we dig deeper into tools that can help you get your site to Level AA and maintaining compliance.

The Facts about Deadlines and Compliance

The 2021 deadline is approaching and compliance monitoring will likely become stricter. Reporting compliance should be part of your accessibility goal, both to help you map a strategy to achieve accessibility as well as to avoid fines.

Here is a snapshot of web accessibility deadlines for private businesses and not-for-profits with 50 or more employees leading up to the big 2021 deadline:

Private & Not-for-profit Organizations (50+ employees)
2014 All new internet websites and web content on those sites must conform with WCAG 2.0 level A
Multi-year accessibility plans in place
File accessibility report (by December 31)
2017 File accessibility report (by December 31)
2020 File accessibility report (by December 31)
2021 All internet websites and web content must conform with WCAG 2.0 level AA
(excluding live captioning and audio description)

See a full list of deadlines at Access Ontario: https://accessontario.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/AODA-Deadlines.pdf

For this Hotsheet we’ve focused on section 14 of the Information and Communication Standard of the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation (IASR) of the AODA called “accessible websites and web content.” It is important to understand that there are many other standards within the IASR that include not only the information and communication standards but also the transportation standards and the employment standards, each with their own accessibility requirements. Publishing companies may need to comply with various sections within all three of the standards.

The mandatory compliance report includes 17 questions mainly related to services and built environments (space). The final question of the report encompasses website compliance: “Other than the requirements cited in the above questions, is your organization complying with all other requirements in effect under the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation?” Even though wording doesn’t specifically indicate web-related compliance, the broad statement is a catch-all for all mandated requirements.

There are specific accessibility rules for publishers of educational materials, which I think is useful to mention here, given magazines often repackage materials into special editions or books. If those materials are intended as learning resources for educational and training institutions then they must meet accessibility standards in Ontario. Find out more here: https://www.ontario.ca/page/accessibility-rules-publishers

Getting It Done

There are two useful guides to help support understanding of accessibility and specifics of what needs to be done to your site based on WCAG criteria.

1. Accessibility guide based on four principles

W3C, the Web Accessibility Initiative, has put together a useful guide for web accessibility requirements organized under the four intrinsic principles of web accessibility: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust (POUR). Under each principle there are links to relevant WCAG criteria and several stories from people with lived experience. Below is an overview, but be sure to check out the full guide to get the most out of this useful learning guide:

A. Perceivable information and user interface includes text alternatives for meaningful non-text content, captions and other alternatives for multimedia, and options to control an audio or video component, for example.

B. User interfaces and navigation that is operable means a person can use a keyboard to move around your site rather than by gesture, mouse or trackpad, and that people have enough time to read and use the content by postponing or suppressing interruptions. It may also mean that the keyboard focus is visible, pages have clear titles and the purpose of a link is clearly evident.

C. A webpage is considered understandable when text is readable and understandable, content appears and operates in predictable ways, and users are supported in avoiding and correcting mistakes (when filling out forms for example). You can support broader “understanding” by providing definitions for unusual words, idioms and abbreviations and using the simplest language possible (or even provide simplified versions); having consistent navigation and prompts throughout all pages to let people learn how to move around the site with actions they can predict; and giving people the opportunity to review and correct content during and after filling out a form.

D. Making sure markup can be interpreted by assistive technologies (such as screen readers) is part of creating robust content that includes a name, role and value for content so that assistive technologies can process the content reliably. “ARIA is the means of supplying names, roles and values for common UI designs that aren’t part of the HTML standard, such as tabbed navigation interfaces,” notes Alan Harnum, senior inclusive developer at the IDRC. (See “What to Expect in the Near Future 2. ARIA 1.1” below for more info and learn about what name, role and value mean in context of technology here).

2. WCAG’s quick reference tool

This reference tool has a filter to help you zero in on the areas of your website that need to be addressed under the POUR accessibility principles. By setting the filters to 2.0 level AA you will be able to scroll through the approximately 13 requirements to fulfill AODA compliance. Level A has approximately 25 criteria and if you have already fulfilled all or most of them then you are well on your way to being Level AA compliant. And to make it even easier, each criterion displays expandable areas for further information, such as full descriptions, techniques and failures, and deeper information to help you understand the specific criterion.

WCAG's quick reference tool filter tab showing selection options.

Figure 1: WCAG’s quick reference tool filter tab showing selection options.

What to Expect in the Near Future

Work continues around the world to inform best practices and international standards. Working groups, research centres, advocates and others are focused on building a more inclusive world by making ICT (information and communication technology) accessible to all. We can, therefore, expect there to be valuable updates to criteria, standards and compliance requirements. Here are two worth noting:

1. WCAG 2.1

WCAG released version 2.1 in June of 2018. “The main goals of version 2.1 are to improve accessibility for mobile, low vision and cognitive differences,” says Lisa Liskovoi, designer and accessibility specialist at the Inclusive Design Research Centre. “The focus on mobile is significant because many people use and need a mobile device to navigate their world, so for example in 2.1 it is required that orientation cannot be restricted so users can operate a site or app vertically or horizontally on their device. Complex gestures such as pinching or twisting require alternative ways of performing the action. For example pinching to zoom in also has a plus (+) and minus (-) option that people can select to perform the same function.” In her reviews of website accessibility, Lisa often sees that contrast of non-text content such as buttons, icons and other important user elements is poor so that they become very difficult to find. Version 2.1 addresses access to non-text content with a new requirement for better designed contrast and visibility. WCAG 2.1 has been adopted by the European Union but has not been incorporated into any Canadian legislation as of November 2018.

We are starting to see more and more work being done around inclusion of cognitive differences and ICT. Last fall the IDRC (Inclusive Design Research Centre) had the opportunity to organize a workshop that brought together global procurement and accessibility leaders to inform a progressive accessibility policy for the Federal Government of Canada. A key recommendation from the group was the importance of supporting cognitive differences. WCAG 2.1 has begun to incorporate some functional requirements that support cognitive differences, such as giving people warnings about tasks that have time limits. For example, if someone needs to gather credit card or address information for a timed task they are told about the requirement before entering into the timed action, allowing people to gather information within their own time.

2. ARIA 1.1

ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications specification) is a set of attributes for web markup that “defines a way to make Web content and Web applications more accessible to people with disabilities” by adding a semantic layer of information that can be picked up by assistive technologies. For example, it allows users to communicate the functionality and current state of toggles that collapse and expand content, something that is generally only communicated visually. Developers can make advanced Web applications accessible and usable to people with disabilities, especially people who rely on screen readers and people who cannot use a mouse.

ARIA has several updates in the latest version 1.1. Lisa points to sites that use infinite role feeds like Pinterest, where a screen reader doesn’t tell a user that the page has been refreshed, something that is easy to identify for a visual user. With ARIA 1.1 there is now an attribute that prompts a screen reader to voice when a page in role feed has been refreshed.

Being Agile and Inclusive Go Hand-In-Hand

The most important adjustment you can make is with processes. How you design and build your web content can make it easier to be compliant. “Move away from one champion and have accessibility scaled laterally,” says Lisa, “and better yet, make accessibility a value in your company.”

Maintaining sustainable compliance is about embedding accessibility thinking at every stage of your design process by having your practices be inclusive of a diversity of people. The Inclusive Design Guide‘s insights, practices, tools and activities are resources you can easily layer into existing processes (in particular if you have an agile publishing process in place). Also check out the “inclusive design practice” section on the FLOE resource page for more helpful links.

Here’s an idea: consider accessibility as your fourth bottom line in a quadruple bottom line model and you will no doubt be a leader in inclusion.

Thank you to Lisa Liskovoi, Dr. Vera Roberts, Justin Obara, Alan Harnum and the inclusive design community.

Resources

2016 Hotsheet on AODA Tips for Your Website

https://magazinescanada.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/2011_hotsheet2016_aodatipsforyourwebsite_carenwatkins_e.pdf

Inclusive Design

The Inclusive Design Guide
https://guide.inclusivedesign.ca/index.html

List of Inclusive Design Practices resources and more
https://floeproject.org/resources.html

The Inclusive Learning Design Handbook
https://handbook.floeproject.org/

Different types of assistive and accessible technology used to access content
https://snow.idrc.ocadu.ca/assistive-technology-2/

The Inclusive Design Research Centre
https://idrc.ocadu.ca/about-the-idrc

The Business Case for Digital Accessibility

This resource, published by The W3C WAI Education and Outreach Working Group (EOWG), includes direct and indirect benefits of accessibility, the risks of not addressing accessibility adequately, and case studies and examples that demonstrate how continued investment in accessibility is good for your organization. It shows how accessibility can:

  • Drive Innovation
  • Enhance Your Brand
  • Extend Market Reach
  • Minimize Legal Risk

https://www.w3.org/WAI/business-case/

WCAG 2.1 blogs

https://knowbility.org/blog/2018/WCAG21-intro/

https://support.siteimprove.com/hc/en-gb/articles/360004825651-FAQ-on-WCAG-2-1-The-new-standard-for-Accessibility

How to Meet WCAG 2: Quick Reference Tool

https://www.w3.org/WAI/WCAG21/quickref/?currentsidebar=%23col_customize&versions=2.0&levels=a%2Caaa

Accessibility principles: POUR

https://www.w3.org/WAI/fundamentals/accessibility-principles/

Understand the concept of ROBUST and what name, role and value mean in the context of AT
https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2015/03/web-accessibility-with-accessibility-api/

ARIA

The standard (https://www.w3.org/TR/wai-aria-1.1/)

The authoring practices document (https://www.w3.org/TR/wai-aria-practices-1.1/)

User Interface Options (accessibility add-on for your site)

UI Options is a tool that allows individuals to personalize web content and other user digital interfaces to meet their needs and preferences. It works by adding to the existing styles of a website or application, and can be integrated into a design with relatively minimal effort.

Accessibility checker tools & guides

Check your website to see if it’s accessible:
http://achecker.ca/checker/index.php

http://idrc.ocadu.ca/index.php/research-and-development/478?gclid=Cj0KEQiA3t-2BRCKivisuDY24gBEiQAX1wiXHmwOJbsMQMB3PYdBjLjr1mt69mBqD75tH3nw5axKCMaAoNe8P8HAQ

Check your markup for accessibility best practices:
http://validator.w3.org/
http://adod.idrc.ocad.ca/

Check your colour contrast:
http://webaim.org/resources/contrastchecker/

Understanding users of all abilities:
https://www.w3.org/WAI/intro/people-use-web/Overview.html

Web content accessibility guidelines: introductory guide for web developers:
http://www.gaates.org/aICwebdev/cont.php

Authoring tools accessibility guidelines (ATAG 2.0):
https://www.w3.org/TR/ATAG20/

50+ employees:
https://www.ontario.ca/page/how-make-websites-accessible

Minister Qualtrough’s site:
http://www.esdc.gc.ca/en/consultations/disability/legislation/index.page

Other:
https://www.rgd.ca/database/files/library/RGD_AccessAbility_Handbook.pdf
http://terracoda.ca/ramp/
https://www.ontario.ca/page/accessibility-rules-businesses-and-non-profits
https://www.wlu.ca/docs/EnablingAccessHandbook_online.pdf
http://webaim.org/resources/designers/
https://www.w3.org/WAI/Policy/
http://www.ami.ca/about-ami/web-and-mobile-accessibility
http://www.lflegal.com/2013/05/gaad-legal/


Magazines Canada Hotsheets deliver current information on a single topic, each written by an expert in the field. Return to Magazines Canada Hotsheets.

Canada Council for the Arts / Conseil des arts du Canada Department of Canadian Heritage  Ontario Arts Council / Conseil des arts de l'Ontario Ontario Creates / Ontario Créatif

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Webinar: SERPs Up: How to Boost Your Magazine Content Rankings

Lisa ManfieldSERPs Up: How to Boost Your Magazine Content Rankings in Search. Getting ranked well in search engine results pages (SERPs) can boost your readership—if you apply good SEO tactics. Beyond the basics like using effective keywords in all the right places, optimizing magazine content for search requires an understanding of how search engines find and rank your content. As SEO evolves, getting ranked well in search requires a solid combination of foundational and new strategies. Join Lisa Manfield as we look at some of the top ranking factors you’ll want to master, as well some of the newest SEO trends that can give your content an extra Google boost.

Lisa Manfield is a content strategist and digital marketer with 20 years’ experience creating print and web content that engages a variety of target audiences, including search engines. Her areas of expertise include: digital publishing, content strategy, multi-platform content development, and SEO. Currently the Managing Editor at Forge and Spark Media, Lisa has also been the founding editor of BCLiving.ca, a contributing editor at Backbone Magazine and marketing manager at TheTyee.ca. She has developed conversion-oriented marketing copy, instructional materials, web copy, marketing collateral, and courseware for small businesses, tech companies, non-profit organizations, government agencies, and educational institutions. In one particular role she was responsible for training hundreds of contributing writers in SEO. She’s also a web writing an SEO instructor at Simon Fraser University and Capilano University.

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