Where do all of your relatives live? Chances are that a few might be close by, but probably most are scattered all over. If your family is like mine, it’s a big event when brothers and sisters, parents, and grandparents get together. My extended family had its first reunion two years ago. Attendance was good, but more than half could not come. With relatives spread from Hawaii to Delaware, we have had trouble maintaining contact with each other.
How do you keep up with events in your loved ones’ lives? A family newsletter might be the answer. It can bridge distances and report family news. It is a way to keep family history. It brings member and nonmember families closer. It can teach important principles. It helps the family celebrate events. It nurtures love and builds memories.
Even novices can put together a family newsletter. What it takes is time, cooperation, and a little money. But even elaborate newsletters require less effort and expense than you may think. The key to a newsletter’s success is knowing what you’re doing. The following information will give you some ideas about what’s involved.
Choosing Your Newsletter
The easiest, cheapest newsletter is probably the round-robin letter. This circulates among a set number of people. The first person on the mailing list writes a letter and mails it to the second. The second adds to the letter and mails it to the third. This continues until the expanded letter comes back to the first person. He then takes out his own material and writes something new, mailing the expanded letter to the second person, who does the same. Theoretically, a round-robin could continue forever if no one stopped it.
This newsletter requires only a few pages of stationery, a large envelope, and postage. Relatives can include photos, too, and other lightweight articles. Round-robins work well with immediate families—brothers and sisters, parents, and grandparents. If cousins, aunts, uncles, nephews, and nieces are included, a letter can take a year or more to circulate and can weigh several pounds.
A round-robin letter can easily come to a stop when someone receives the letter and puts off writing or forgets about it. But there are a few ways to push the letter along. Recipients can agree to forward the letter shortly after they receive it, even if they write nothing. A mailing schedule can be sent to all participants. Or a person who doesn’t receive a letter when he’s supposed to can send a postcard as a reminder. The person in charge can also send out postcards as deadlines near.
Another easily prepared newsletter is a packet newsletter. The family member in charge establishes deadlines for the issues. Relatives on the mailing list send in one page per deadline. When a deadline passes, the newsletter editor copies what has come in and mails the packets. If a family misses one deadline, they can send in material for the next issue. A subscription fee, which can be determined after two or three issues, covers costs for copying and mailing. Because this kind of newsletter isn’t sent round-robin style, it can be sent to as many families as you wish. What about a family who misses most of the deadlines or one you haven’t heard from for a while? An editor can increase newsletter participation by preparing easy-to-fill-out forms for families to list information about schooling, employment, birthdays, anniversaries, Church callings, and baptisms. The form could also ask questions to prompt new material, such as “Do you have a gospel-oriented story to share?” “Did you take a vacation recently?” “What was the biggest achievement of someone in your family this month?”
The newsletter you’re probably most familiar with is the magazine-format newsletter. The editor solicits material, writes news and short articles, assimilates all the written copy onto a set number of pages, copies the newsletter, and mails it. This type of newsletter is more flexible and can contain more information on fewer pages. There is also no limit to the number of people on the mailing list. Although it usually costs less than packet newsletters, it requires more time to produce than other newsletter formats. Still, such a newsletter can be done by untrained people who plan carefully.
Starting Your Newsletter
You must answer three questions to start a newsletter: to whom will you mail the newsletter, what kind of newsletter will you have, and how much will the newsletter cost?
The first question (to whom?) depends on which family members you want to reach. If you want to reach your parents and your brothers and sisters, you can make a mailing list quickly. If you want to include uncles, aunts, cousins, nephews, and nieces, you’ll have to focus on a relative as the “starting point.” The Z. Reed Millar Family Newsletter, for example, reaches more than eighty people—Z. Reed Millar, his second wife (he remarried after his first wife’s death), the children of both wives and their spouses, their grandchildren and spouses, and a few great-grandchildren. It’s possible to combine family trees, too. You could pick a couple—your parents, for instance—and include both your mother’s and your father’s close relatives.
The second question (what kind?) depends on personnel, schedules, and purpose. I suggest planning for a less complicated format than you think you can handle in terms of time and expertise. You can always expand later, but if you get stuck in a cumbersome format, you’ll have to spend more time than you estimated, and you’ll probably dislike the whole project while you’re doing it.
The third question (how much?) depends on answering the first two questions and then getting estimates. If you use a mailing list of fifteen and plan a newsletter with three pages printed on both sides, you’ll need to make fifteen copies of every side and pay postage for each newsletter. You’ll need to call a few copy centers for duplicating costs and estimate postage costs.
It’s wise to make a cost projection sheet that includes office supplies, art and photography, copying, and postage. Make a list of all the items you’ll need. Once you establish the cost for one issue, you can set up a subscription price. To cover initial costs and lower subscription rates, you can ask for donations or have some family fund-raisers.
The start-up will involve some correspondence beforehand as you test the idea on others, ask for suggestions and volunteers, and compile a mailing list. For a better response, enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope.
Filling Up Your Newsletter
What you include in your newsletter is limited only by space and cost. But making some guidelines for what you want to include is a good idea. Some news items—promotions, achievements, birthdays, upcoming events—are always appropriate. Short profiles of people or families add personal interest. Tidbits of family history, recipes, testimonials to family members, short poems, family jokes, children’s drawings, sketches, and photographs can all enrich the newsletter.
The Hill Family Newsletter, for instance, regularly contains reminiscences; news of a family ranch; a column called “A Day in the Life of”; brief histories of individuals; copies of correspondence; original poems, stories, and songs; news of anniversaries, births, deaths, baptisms, and callings; tips on parenting; photographs of relatives (with captions); “Happy Birthday” lists; and, once a year, Christmas wish lists.
A newsletter can also become a family history. The Smith Family Newsletter was started in March 1968. It is like a packet newsletter—each family has a page in it (the editors have been able to cajole everyone into submitting something for every issue!). Since it comes out monthly, every family has a more-than-240-page record of itself.
Though publishing a family newsletter may sound intimidating, putting one out is less difficult and time-consuming than you would think. And unlike our family reunion, where distance prevented many from attending, everyone can participate. The rewards can be worth every minute of effort. The motto on the Millar Family Newsletter, “A Linking of the Hearts,” reflects what family newsletters are all about. The distances between your loved ones need not keep you apart.
What Do You Have to Do? A Brief How-To of Newsletter Production
Publishing a magazine-format newsletter proceeds through a number of steps: editing, typesetting, proofreading, production, printing, and mailing. The round-robin newsletter, which requires only writing and mailing, and the packet newsletter, which involves writing, copying, and mailing, have fewer steps.
Editing includes planning, acquiring, and writing material, as well as checking content for accuracy of presentation and fact. Unless you have the training, I suggest that you not worry too much about rules of grammar, spelling, and punctuation. As an editor, ask yourself, Do I understand what’s being said? If you do, leave it alone. Remember, contributors can be easily intimidated if they think that whatever they write is full of mistakes.
Don’t be afraid to actively solicit material and assign articles. You can also assign someone as an assistant editor to handle a specific column for all the issues. Some families also arrange to rotate editors every so often.
You should worry about deadlines for the submission of material. Without deadlines, you’ll create more work for yourself as you track down late articles, and the newsletter will start coming out late.
Typesetting is the setting of text into type. Most family newsletters are typed on typewriters or input into computers and printed out. Professional typesetting is an expensive option for a small budget.
If you type all the material you receive, you can expect to double the time you put into an issue. There are two ways to avoid that. Carol Ann Shepherd writes, “If your family members will type their own assignments, it will greatly reduce your work. Of course, not everyone has access to a typewriter, so be prepared.” (How to Create a Family Newsletter, Boise, Idaho: Carol Ann Shepherd, 1984, p. 18.) Her family newsletter has two columns on each page, and relatives submit their material typed single-spaced in 3-1/2-inch-wide columns. That leaves only the announcements, page numbers, captions, and other miscellaneous items for the editor to type.
Many editors assign one or more people to type material and give them titles like assistant editors, typesetters, secretaries, and assistant publishers. (Titles are a good way to improve cooperation.) Some helpers live in the editor’s household; others live far away and use the mail to receive and send manuscripts. They prepare the material according to a specific format—usually single-spaced with a standard type size and margin on a certain size of paper.
You might consider using type for article titles that differs in appearance from the type in the articles. Titles that stand out create more attractive pages and act as visual dividers among the different pieces. Transfer lettering, stencils, and calligraphy can help. Perhaps you or someone you know has a typewriter with changeable type.
Proofreading involves checking for errors in typeset copy. Remember that anything that is retyped can have new errors. At the very least, you should carefully double-check titles, addresses, numbers, all names of family members, and captions for visuals before beginning production. Production includes layout, graphics, and paste-up. Layout is the process of matching material to page so that everything fits. First, copy everything that will go into the newsletter, including photographs. Second, place as many blank sheets of paper as there are newsletter pages next to each other on a large, flat surface. The sheets should be the same size as a newsletter page. Then number the sheets. If your newsletter has two pages per piece of paper (printed front and back), the last page number of your newsletter must be divisible by two. If it has four pages per piece of paper (folded in two and printed front and back), the last page number must be divisible by four. Otherwise, your newsletter will end up with empty pages at the end.
Now you can start laying your photocopied material on the blank pages in the order you want. If an article runs past the bottom margin, cut the excess part and put that on the next page or column. You will probably have to juggle the order of articles to get everything to fit. If you have too much material, decide what to leave out, such as a photograph or short piece. If you don’t have enough material, find something to fill the extra space. Try not to crowd too much onto a page. When you finish, you may tape or paste the article pieces to the paper.
Graphics refers to the use of visuals in a newsletter. Pictures and drawings enhance the appeal and readability of a newsletter immensely and are not too difficult to find and use. You may even have a few relatives who like to draw, and you can always use children’s sketches. You can also use certain art books in the library (check the 680s and 740s if your library uses the Dewey decimal system). Many books contain alphabets, borders, designs, and small drawings that may be used in other publications. Check the copyright page for the following statement: “Up to ten illustrations from this book may be reproduced on any one project or in any single publication, free, and without special permission.” (Ernst Lehner, Alphabets and Ornaments, New York: Dover Publications, 1952.) If there is no statement like this, you will need permission from the publisher.
You might consider paying for clip art—art designed to be cut out and used as is. Some companies sell several hundred illustrations for a few dollars. Photographs are more expensive to use because you will have to make halftones (in which the picture is broken down into thousands of tiny dots) for good reproduction. It’s cheaper to put several photographs on a single sheet and make a halftone of the whole sheet than to make a halftone of each photograph. Check with a printer or copy center for rates and sizes before deciding to use photographs.
When you design your masthead—the large title that appears at the top of the first page—the alphabet art books can be very helpful. Perhaps you can find a calligrapher to draw the masthead for you. Borders and designs can come from books or clip art.
Pasteup is the process of pasting the type and art onto blank pages to give to the printer. Using your layout as a model, take your original type and art and fix them to blank pages.
If your newsletter is folded (four pages front and back folded from a single sheet), do not lay out page one next to page two. The first and last page should be opposite each other, then the second and second-to-last page, and so on. Odd-numbered pages should be on the right-hand pages. Then, when the newsletter is folded, the page order will come out right.
If you use slow-drying glue (spray, liquid, or solid) or rubber cement, put a little on the back of a piece and lightly lay the piece face-up on the paper. Position it until it is straight, then press it until it sticks. Be sure to press every inch of the surface. If it’s crooked, lift it off and try again. If you use transparent tape, position the piece on the paper and attach it with a small piece of tape. Then put tape on all the edges (if you don’t, faint lines are likely to show up during printing). Don’t write printing instructions on the pasteup unless you use a special nonrepro blue pen, available at art supply stores.
You can use a computer for layout and pasteup, but you’ll spend more time because you’ll have to input all material before you begin.
Printing differs in method and price. If you are making fewer than a hundred copies, a photocopier will probably be cheapest. If you make two hundred or more, an offset printer may be cheapest, but check copy shops for volume discounts. Either kind of printer can reduce type or pictures to fit. Many editors enhance their newsletters’ appearance by preparing them slightly oversize and then asking printers or copy shops to reduce them in size before printing.
Before you give a project to a printer, shop around. Describe your project, the paper you want (twenty-pound white, off-white, or ivory is inexpensive and will work well), and the services (folding and stapling) you expect. Ask to see samples of their paper and their work. Then ask for an estimate of cost and delivery. Choose a printer who combines reliability, quality, and low cost.
Mailing will probably be first class in the U. S. Unless your newsletter has twenty or more 8 1/2 by 11-inch pages, third class will cost about the same. You may usually mail the newsletter without an envelope if you have printed a return address on the newsletter and have left a space for the subscriber’s address. Check with your post office before you finalize your format. If you plan on mailing two hundred or more copies a few times a year, investigate a bulk mailing permit. This can cut postage costs by one-third.