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Keeping Up Appearances, Or Making Sure Your Events Brochure Sets the Right Tone.

January 12, 2013
Nottingham Festival of Words events brochures. The finished product.

Nottingham Festival of Words events brochures. The finished product.

Event brochures are rather like house work. Something everyone takes for granted, but soon complains about if they’re haven’t been done and done well; like many of the jobs that have gone on invisibly behind the scenes of the big event that is the Nottingham Festival of Words. Fortunately the volunteers helping to run the event, like Pippa Hennessy, are not only able to put the event together, but are also able tie up all the loose ends. In Pippa’s case that means creating a professional brochure giving a tantalising glimpse of things to come.

Pippa has been on the blog before and a few months ago gave a thorough picture of what it’s like to work for Five Leaves, a Nottingham based small publisher. Working with Emily Cooper, a creative and professional writing student from Nottingham University, Pippa was able to put together something that should leave people in no doubt that the Festival is not to be missed.

What part did you play in the production of the Nottingham Festival of Words event brochure?

I volunteered to design it, initially. But due to time pressures I asked Emily Cooper (who is also leading a workshop on writing comics at the Festival) if she would take over the layout, design and typesetting. She agreed, which was a great help because she’s a very clever graphic designer.

So I gave her the material we had which, unfortunately, was changing right up to the very last minute; as event information was updated and new events came in. I worked quite closely with Emily and she came up with a couple of proposals for the design which the steering committee looked at to work out what we liked. I was then responsible for fine tuning that design – it was so good it didn’t need much needed changing. Then I collated the copy, including the extra information that was needed – things like how to get there and where everything was. For example, Andrew Kells wrote some general information and I wrote some copy about Newstead Abbey, as were having quite a few events there on 9 February

I gave all the copy to Emily who produced a draft which was proofread by just about everyone on the committee. Then I collated all the amendments and sent them back to Emily. Once she had done them, a couple of us did a final proofread, then I collated all the amendments again. By that time Emily had some deadlines coming up at university, so I took over the typesetting at the last minute to do the final tidying up, ready for printing.

How easy was it to put the brochure together?

It wasn’t very straightforward. We originally asked for information for the programme in the proposals, which some people provided and some people didn’t. We gave them guidelines – told them how much text we wanted (100 words) and what sort of images we wanted (black and white and small). What we got back varied from nothing to about 500 words.

My next task was to look at all the text (copy) and decide what order we wanted to see it in – chronological order, or grouped by venue. In the end we decided to list it in chronological order.

Then I put the copy together and checked it all. I had to rewrite quite a bit of it to make it fit the programme, but at the same time had to give each event enough copy to do their event justice. I had to expand some of the event descriptions, whereas others had to be contracted; some had to be written from scratch. So that was a large collation exercise.

Did you storyboard the brochure?

No. It goes straight into QuarkXPress. That’s the advantage of using a top end desktop publishing program; rearranging the material is really easy. There are many facilities for doing it. When we got near to the end of the process, when Emily had done quite a lot of adjustment for various things, positioning of images and deciding which events would take two-thirds of the page rather than one-third, it became more awkward. For example, the keynote speakers needed two-thirds of the page because they are big names such as Michael Rosen, Alice Oswald and AL Kennedy. When we got to two days before the print deadline and someone said, ‘Could we just put this new event in?’ and, ‘The date of that’s changed,’ we had to move it around. I didn’t draw it out as a storyboard, but I did list exactly what was on each page, so I could make absolutely sure that everything would fit where I needed it to fit and that Emily would understand what was required. I just typed it out in text.

What was the next step?

We then had to sort out printing. Antonia Bell from Writing East Midlands and I worked together to call in the quotes and work out which printer to go with. Antonia did some brilliant negotiation. She finally arranged for Pyramid Press, one of our Festival Supporters, who have been brilliant, to produce posters and postcards for the launch event for free. They gave us a really good deal on the brochure as well and they’re printing other publicity material for us.

How do you decide how much space each person has in the programme?

We took the 2012 Lowdham Festival programme as a good model – A5 landscape with three columns on the page. This dictated how much material we could put in for each event. It turned out that about 100 words (absolute maximum) could be fitted in.

To try and make it consistent in terms of actual content was an interesting process, because you don’t want to take away the individual character of each event. Each organiser is going to describe their event in a different way and they’re not all going to say the same thing. In some cases we did give a little bit more space to events, for example the music events at the Broadway on Sunday 17 February were given half a page each because there was so much information I felt was necessary to properly describe the event.

After that, it was really a question of having a look at the style and making sure that people were clear in what that they were saying. I had a pretty good idea what all the events would involve because I know a lot of the organisers and I was involved in the actual programming process, as well as creating the brochure. Because of this, I got a really good overview of all the events. So it was a matter of making sure that the information the organisers provided actually described the events as best they could.

You were talking about copywriting. Describe what copywriting is. Copywriting is usually writing for clients or writing for someone else. And it involves expressing what the client wants to be expressed in the best way possible. So it could take all sorts of forms, such as writing for adverts or writing for company brochures. In this case it’s writing information that festival goers or prospective festival goers need, in the best way that enables them to get that information clearly and concisely.

What do you think are the priorities in a brochure? What vital information should be there?

The best way to think about that is to think about what the purpose of the brochure is. The brochure has two purposes: Number one, it’s got to tell people about the festival so that they know about it. Number two, it has to give them a reference so that they can see quickly what’s on when and decide what they want to go to. So it needs to have clear information about the festival and what it’s about, who it’s aimed at, the sorts of things it includes and a general overview of its atmosphere. It’s kind of like the general look and feel of the festival and all the sorts of things we’re planning to include. All the information you need on how to book tickets, how to get to events, how to find it.

Paul Fillingham did the map for us so that festival goers can use it as a reference to see where everything is, which is very useful. We also have documents online that include information that didn’t make it into the program, and which we’ll update with any new information.

As a reference,s it needs to enable festival goers to look through and find the events they’re interested in. This has been a problem with the programme because there are so many events running at different venues concurrently, but there are features on the website that should make choices easier. For example, they can see where and when all the poetry events are being held. If they’re interested in music, then they’ll be able to see where and when music events are being held, and the same for workshops. So people can sort the events into categories and therefore filter the events differently and can see what they’re particularly interested in. But it’s very difficult to do this in a printed brochure.

You do have an events key in the printed programme.

Yes. Because there are different types of events, we wanted symbols next to the events so people could quickly see what events applied to them, for example which are workshops, which are for children and which ones are free.

The programmes are largely black and white. What is the reason for that?

Cost, pure and simple. The overall design of the front cover, which is colour, is greyscale with a red heart. We felt this was really simple and more effective than having lots of colours. It very clearly picks out the Festival themes of love and lace. Because of that we didn’t think we needed to spend the extra money to get the insides in colour.

There are photographs and a lot of pictures in the programme. Where you very specific about what you wanted?

No I don’t think we were. We just asked if they had any images that could be put in the program and took what they gave us. They were mostly JPEGs, but many of them were in colour, so we converted into greyscale. To be honest I am happier doing that in-house, rather than letting the organisers of the events to do it. There are many different ways of converting to greyscale and you don’t necessarily get the best representation of that image if you don’t do it right. So we did that in-house.

How important is it to work with a good printer. Surely you could just get these things done very cheaply these days by finding somebody online?

Yes, you can get it more done more cheaply on the Internet, but it is absolutely vital to work with a good printer. A good printer will tell you if there are any problems with the PDF that you haven’t anticipated. For example if images seem to run off the edge of the page and you haven’t provided enough bleed (i.e. the copy you provide doesn’t include enough ‘overflow’ of images beyond the page edge), you might get white lines at the edge of the page. This is because in any printing process you can’t predict exactly where it’s going to come out on the page through the printing and trimming process. So if the copy you provide only goes up to the edge of the area and that shifts slightly, you might end up with a white line at the edge. So a good printer will check through and pick up issues like this. They’ll also pick up images which you haven’t provided in high enough resolution so that you can sort those out.

The after-care is also important. For example, we’ve found in the past it’s possible to get pages swapped around in the final booklets. If this is discovered then a good printer will take all the booklets back and check and correct them. It’s not likely you’ll get that sort of service from an online print company.

Do you actually get to see a proof before the printer goes ahead and prints all the copies of the brochure?

We do indeed. Because we have to sign them off, to say we’ve approved them.

Event Brochure Proofs

Event Brochure Proofs

What are you looking for in that proof?

Two things:

Firstly, that when it’s put together, all the pages come out in the right order.

Secondly, that everything is as a good quality as it should be and that it looks as it should do on the page.

This can take quite a while to check through. The primary aim is not to check for typos, those should have been corrected before then, but quite often at this stage you do spot typos, and then you have to make the decision as to whether it’s worth re-providing the PDF and checking the proofs again. Inevitably typos do creep through.

So as far as the process of producing a brochure is concerned, how do you put it together on the computer? Is there a particular publishing program you can use for this?

Yes, this is QuarkXPress – a professional desktop publishing package, which both Emily and I have used before. I use it quite a lot in my professional career as a typesetter. Emily has used it to typeset the University of Nottingham Creative and Professional Writing students’ anthology. So we’re both reasonably experienced in how to use it effectively.

It’s quite an expensive package normally. So if you are actually looking at printing something, why bother using an expensive package like that?

I would, because it does the job really well. You could use Microsoft Word, but I wouldn’t recommend it by any stretch of the imagination. You could use things like Microsoft Publisher which is a relatively cheap desktop publishing program and may get near enough the same results. But things like QuarkXpress and Indesign are designed to do the complex things that you need to do for typesetting a book or a brochure, as opposed to laying out the parish newsletter or something like that, where you don’t need the sophisticated facilities that you get in the top-end packages.

What sort of complex things are you talking about?

Things like full support for master page layout. These programs allow you to define different types of pages. For example you can say that the cover is always going to look a particular way, the event listing page is going to have its own specific look. Information pages may be laid out differently. This helps the reader identify the types of pages more easily and when you want to put, for example, another information page in, you just say you want to use the information page template. There is also full support for text styles, layout styles and item styles. For example you can say all the pictures need to have a drop shadow placed around them in a particular way. This is much easier to do this way than have to go through every picture individually to put the drop shadow on. This would be a nightmare with something like our brochure which has over 100 images in it.

Also packages like QuarkXPress and Indesign are really good for processing images themselves. With programs like Microsoft Publisher you really have to get the image spot on before you put it into the program. Whereas with QuarkXPress you can pretty much put it where you want in the program and specify the scaling and it will reproduce it faithfully.

What is typesetting?

Typesetting is defining the way the content of the book or brochure is laid out on the page. The content as provided by the author can be in any form. It can be a text file, a Microsoft Word document, a PDF or handwritten onto paper. Typesetting is actually specifying where those words will appear on the page in the printed result.

It goes back to the old days of movable type, lead type, where you actually took the individual letters out and slotted them into a frame. Then you would ink the frame and print the page from that. That’s setting type.

When you get brochures do you do a spot check them, and if you do how big a sample do you take?

Typically you open the first box and have a quick flick through all of them. You check a couple in detail and then maybe you check another couple out of other boxes. You tend to trust the printer if they’ve got it right once, to get it right all the way through, which in general they do. Certainly in publishing and working with Ross Bradshaw at Five Leaves, we’ve had quite a few books where on the face of it they look okay, but when we started sending them out we discovered that there are one or two scattered throughout the boxes that are not right and then we’ve had to stop and check them all, and alert our wholesalers and get them to check the boxes they’ve got. I would say that 10% to 20% of print jobs you have done will have some problem with them, which is far too high, but it’s just the way it is. So it’s always important to check books or brochures when you get them back.

Breaking open the box of event brochures

Breaking open the box of event brochures

So what do you think of the final product?

I have to say it was so thrilling to get the proofs and spread them out to see what they looked like. When the boxes of brochures arrived and they sat as a wall of 63 boxes in the storeroom of the Nottingham Writers’ Studio, it was an amazing feeling to know that in there was something that I had helped to produce. That was the moment when the Festival became real for me, because there was a real physical object that represented it, rather than lots of different people sitting around a table discussing it or lots of emails going backwards and forwards. It was brilliant, amazing.

Pippa Hennessy

Pippa Hennessy

Pippa is involved in the following events at the Nottingham Festival of Words:

Rainbow Writing: Sat 16 Feb, 2.45pm – 3.45pm. Nottingham Trent University Newton Building.

Poetry Relay: Sun 17 Feb, 11am – 12 noon. Nottingham Trent University Newton Building.

Rainbow Performance: Sun 17 Feb,1.30pm–2.30pm. Nottingham Trent University Newton Building.

Lacing Your Words Together (workshop): Sun 17 Feb, 3pm–5pm. Nottingham Trent University Newton Building.

Chewsday Writing Workshop: Tue 19 Feb, 7pm–10pm. Atlas Deli.


General workshops run by Writing East Midlands and Writing School Leicester:

Publish Your ebook in a day, Saturday 26 January, 10:30am – 4:30pm. Leicester Adult Education College, Wellington Street, Leicester, LE1 6HL

Advanced eBook Publishing, Saturday 2 March, 10.30am – 3:00pm. Leicester Adult Education College, Wellington Street, Leicester, LE1 6HL


Pippa’s poems have been published in 1110, Hearing Voices and Glitterwolf; and has also had an essay published in Utopia (Five Leaves’ second annual compendium).

She will soon have four poems in Obsessed with Pipework.

From → Event, Poetry, Publishing

  1. I think that this is a powerful post, not only for its range and depth, but also for helping people to understand that what looks a simple document on the surface is in fact the product of some very skilled, meticulous and collaborative work. The attention to detail achieved by Pippa, Emily and the rest of the team is testament to their professional attitude to what they do.
    The post might just help the contributors of information for copy to appreciate the need to be precise and to meet deadlines, but experience tells me that they are chronically poor at both, year on year, even if they say they understand!
    As always, it is a pleasure to visit here. What I have heard from this site about the Festival of Words impresses me more and more.

    • Thanks Christina. Praise indeed from someone who understands publishing. The brochure can be downloaded for anyone not living near Nottingham and you can see how professional it is.
      The Nottingham Festival Words is a case of ‘watch this space’.

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