Producing a User Group Newsletter

Source: Carolyn Sagami, Zig Zichterman, Randy Simon, "How the Newsletter Was Done," BMUG Newsletter 4:2 (Summer/Frall 1988), xi-xiii.
Location: M1007, Apple Computer Inc. Papers, Series 12, Box 13, Folder 1.

Carolyn Sagami is a former baker who knows she won't be working on any more BMUG Newsletters unless someone dies, or she is officially committed.

Zig Zichterman is a Computer Science student at UC Berkeley and the "casual and generous"' tech support for Farallon's MacRecorder Sound System. He's also very bad at basketball.

Randy Simon is a frustrated pianist from Beverly Hills and currently a tech support guru for the BMUG Help Line who has bad dreams about widows and orphans (he's a sensitive guy).


It goes without saying that a publication of this size involves many dedicated people, but it should also be noted that only a few people are actually responsible for the BMUG Newsletter. These people are not paid big bucks, yet they work very hard, losing weekends and losing sleep for months on end until the book goes to the printer. These people actually aren't paid anything at all, yet they willingly suffer from a recurring, semi-annual condition called "Newsletter Bum-Out."

This issue was a scorcher. Carolyn Sagami set a record by returning for her third term as an editor. Though she saw it through to the end, she will not be returning this Spring. She has worked nearly continuously since the Spring of 1987 on one Newsletter or another or another. Our thanks as a group go out to her, as it has to no previous editor.

The other two editors also did more than we could ask (do you know how embarrassing it would be to actually ask, "Hey, would you guys read, format, edit, layout, and publish several hundred pages of articles for free?"), and they have produced one of our best Newsletters yet. A description of this hair-raising process follows.

In the Beginning There was Paper...

And lots of it. An entire filing cabinet in the office is dedicated to storing the articles submitted for the Newsletter, and it's usually overflowing by the end of the production period. This is where the process of cataloging and tracking articles begins. Each article is given its own folder in both manila and magnetic media. The manila one contains a floppy disk with the original article and the edited copy in MacWrite format, as well as printouts of every edited version from the raw original to the final version you now hold. Also in this folder is the Track Sheet, where editors sign their names and date their changes. Current versions of all articles are kept on an antiquated HD 20 hard disk, which is backed up onto a second set of floppies. Yes, we backed up everything a lot, and yes, we fell back on the backups a lot.

To keep track of all this information, Zig enlisted the aid of everybody's favorite almost-database: HyperCard. A small stack listed authors' names and addresses so we could send them their rewards: a thank you letter, a coupon for a free disk from our library, and a free six-month membership or extension. In the future we hope to also send a confirmation-of-receipt card and a copy of their edited article for comment prior to publication. Maybe next issue. The stack tracked which editors had which articles and which types of editing had been done on each. The stack was fun to build and frighteningly easy to adapt to the changing needs of the editorial staff (although certain upper-echelon editors found the interface too difficult to master, which was more the fault of the stack designer than of the HyperCard team.)

All this was the Content Editor's job: to handle initial editorial work including filing and organizing articles, to watch them through sequential edits (spelling, style, content, (p. xii) technical, and final), and to call and meet with the Volunteer editors. Due to the wide range of topics covered, and the limited experience of any one editor, BMUG follows the "as many eyes as possible read each article before it goes to the printer" school of editing. So BMUG is always in need of loyal Volunteers who would enjoy spending a couple hours a week reading material that other people pay $25 to see. Unfortunately, Spring is always worse than Fail with respect to the number of volunteer editors who show up on those sunny weekends. In fact, last Newsletter we had twice as many editors as this time around, with only four of the previous ones returning.

And Then There Was TBBS

After talking with Raines Cohen, Sysop Extraodinaire of the BMUG Bulletin Board System, we decided to set up a section on the BBS for editors to transfer articles via modem instead of motorcar. New articles, after a Zig-check, were posted with the first half page as the message and the MacWrite file enclosed and ready for downloading. Editors with modems were given access to the Newsletter Area on the board and could download any articles that interested them. After doing so, they would delete the message so that no one else would simultaneously edit the same one (a wasteful practice to be avoided at all costs). Editors were given extra time on the BBS to accommodate these multiple downloads added bonus for volunteering.

But the dream of a paperless office shattered as usual. The fact that articles were available online was not made well known and only a handful of volunteers tried to keep the information flow going. A few hardy souls used it rigorously and were very helpful in pointing out several annoying features not originally intended. To further complicate matters, most editors found it difficult or impossible to get on the BBS at all. Although we have four incoming phone lines, the board is still busy several hours a day. In the future, distant editors will be given access to Line 5, a closed line only for volunteers working on current projects.

The Best Laid Plans

So the ultimate editing burden fell back onto Carolyn and Zig. Carolyn's motto for her job become "the Managing Editor does whatever needs to be done," and in this case that was a lot. Fortunately, she was between jobs for an entire week, during which more than a third of the articles were worked over in what Zig called "a mind-boggling editing blitzkrieg" and which Carolyn called "not fun."

One of the things that makes editing such a task is the need to reformat so many articles. BMUG has a standard Style Sheet (on paper) describing some basic rules we follow for formatting the text of articles (italics for application names, bold for menu commands, etc). Anyone interested in writing for the Newsletter should write a letter first and ask for a copy-it will make your editors happy.

The other major hassle of initial editing arose from our loving spell-checker, Spellswell, which has the annoying tendency not to learn new words until after you're done with the current document. A spell-checker is not a lot of help after you've finished the article. Spellswell also has a pathetically small dictionary. It seemed fine two years ago when we started using it, but though we have added to it with each issue it now seems seriously impaired. We ended up re-checking everything with Coach Profes-sional this time, and it was needed.

Of course, not all our experiences were unpleasant. We learned that DiskFit was sent from Heaven the night both the HD 20 and Zig's home hard drive went down. He now backs up religiously every day. (p. xiii)

On Through the Night

Once the editing had been done, the Newsletter Odyssey led to the layout stage. The design for this Newsletter was begun as long ago as late February. Randy had decided to go with PageMaker 3.0 (which he was beta-testing at the time, but which would reach final release before the actual layout began) to continue BMUGs experimenta-tion with the latest page layout software. This little project of ours makes a pretty good test of an application. He assembled a separate team of layout volunteers who began work in late May.

For some formatting changes, all the articles had to be converted into Microsoft Word (in order to search for double carriage returns, etc. and because of its speed). This may mark the end of an era, folks. The next issue may have Word as its basic article format unless something better comes along (hint: it hasn't yet). Finally, formatted articles were imported into PageMaker and laid out based on the templates and Styles designed by Randy.

The proofs were finished four weeks later, and a final edit was performed by more volunteers. The perpetually-late entries (mostly stuff in this section!) were added and the final checking was done in another marathon effort by Randy in late June.

But it got done. This issue marks the first time in our group's history that we have finished a Fall Newsletter with enough lead time to mail it to members well before the Boston MacWorld Expo in mid-August. We hope it doesn't look rushed, but the truth is that it was produced in remarkably little time. Congratulations to everyone involved.

Change is Basic, Change is Good (right?)

The folks at BMUG usually have good ideas, but we often end up trying to do too much at once. For instance, this was the first time we used separate editorial positions. Dividing up the work would have been a fine change by itself, but adding the BBS option at the same time really spread our resources too thin. Giving editors access to articles from home was intended to make editing easier, but it also caused confusion for those new to the Newsletter process. Murphy's Law definitely applies here. We are learning (in the school of hard knocks) that with a project of this size, any change has big consequences. Maybe someday it'll be done perfectly.

Really, all that counts is the book in your hands. It doesn't matter how it got there. It would have been nice if all the articles that were meant to get in had actually made it. The PD ROM, Shareware Directory, various doctoral theses, jobs in transition, and graduations all exacted their toll from our regular contributors. We thank all of you out there who did submit articles to this issue of BM UG Newsletter. Wanna go for two?

BMUG also thanks our volunteers who did much of the brute work:

Phoebe Bixler
Mark Nadell
Manny Roizen
Caleb Ross
"Big" Eric Gundrum
Christine Wykoff
Mark Smith
Kevin Countryman

Janna Bouc
Geoff Geiger
Janice Albert
Orville Perkins
"Lil" Erik Engstrom
Joe Urcia, Jr.
Michael Wright
Hans Hansen
Cafe Neutron

Don Mehl
Michael Claysen
Ken Bobu
Reed Derlith
Patrick Kammermeyer
Joe Caldarola
Jim Woolurn
Noah Potkin
Taqueria de Berkeley

...and everybody else not named here who helped.

Document created on 20 April 2000;