Entourage Yearbooks

How do I start to plan a yearbook?

When I started as a yearbook person, I had no idea how to organize and plan a yearbook or even that you could plan out a yearbook that is more fitting to your school and your style. The only thing I did was look at the previous yearbooks and follow that plan, but as I got comfortable and more knowledgeable, I learned that there is a way to organize and plan the book that made better sense to me and fit more with the way I wanted the book to flow. 

When thinking about the yearbook, usually the first two things that come to mind are theme and cover, but the best place to start is with a plan and what’s called a yearbook ladder. What is a yearbook ladder? Well, if you are like me, I had no idea what that meant when I started. A yearbook ladder is the page-by-page content guide for what will be on each page of your yearbook. It will be a constant reference tool that is flexible because your plan can change as you work through the yearbook content.

The plan and the ladder are two very important parts of organizing your yearbook. The plan includes all the things you need to include and cross-referenced with the photos you need based on the lists, but you also have to start creating the structure of the book. These two things work together – you have to have the content to create the book, and you have to have the ladder to know what content is going to be included.

To start my process, I grab a few items to do my master planning:

  • a school academic calendar – when does school start, when are the breaks, when is the last day of school
  • a school activities calendar – are there big games like homecoming, are there class parties, are there other big events at your school 
  • last year’s yearbook – I use this to make a list of the sections from last year – sports, clubs, how many portrait pages, index pages, intro pages, etc. If you have last year’s ladder, great!
  • a printed blank paper calendar for the school year – write in those important dates from the calendars above and write in your deadlines for your cover, your portrait pages, your final deadline, and distribution date
  • a pencil and some paper – I have a blank paper as well as page with numbered lines equaling the number of pages I have in my book (see inset photo for an example)
planning yearbook

Now that I have all my materials, it’s time to get planning! 

Part 1: The Plan

  1. I write all the important dates on the blank calendar 
    • first day of school/last day of school
    • breaks 
    • yearbook-related deadlines, including estimated yearbook distribution date
    • Key events – homecoming, dances, plays, musicals, music programs, art show, science fair, games, competitions, etc. These dates will be updated throughout the year.
  2. I make a list of all the sections of the yearbook I am planning to have. I use last year’s yearbook as a reference and any notes about new sections to add – sections can be Staff, Back to School, Homecoming, Spirit Week, Senior Ads, Holiday Parties, Fundraisers, Music and Art Shows, Clubs, Teams, or just general ideas – Fun, Spirit, Ugly Sweater, Friends, etc. Sections that should be specific to your school may be similar to the Key events list.
    • A subset of this list is the specific list of clubs, sports, activities, events, and groups I want to include. 
    • Depending on your school, you may have 2 sections of each of these with the posed group photo as well as candids specifically for those groups – this is a reference list to put on paper to use when it’s time to decide what space is available for all of them. 

*These lists can just be what I call the kitchen sink list – “everything and the kitchen sink” – just to get it on paper somewhere so you don’t forget and can see it all in one place – I add to it as I remember something or a new one is created.

3. I make a cross-referenced list of the photographs I will need for all of these groups, teams, clubs, activities, events, etc – they need content and photographs, 2 different parts of the yearbook. Make sure to mark it on the calendar as something that needs photos taken.

Now is the biggest part of your yearbook plan – PORTRAIT PAGES – how many pages to set aside for these? A lot of it depends on how you organize your portrait pages. How many students will be included? How many portraits do you want on a page, how large do you want the photos, and what shape is the frame around the photo: square, rectangle, or circle? Is the name under the portrait, or are all the names on the sides? Do you want to leave space at the bottom for candids to run across the page? Are you organizing by full grade or by classroom/homeroom? How many grades are in the yearbook? Do seniors have larger portraits in their section? 

When I plan out the shape and layout of my portraits (how many across and down on a page), I will divide the number of students and the number of portraits per page, and then I get the number of pages I will need for portraits. Always round up! I have a general idea of how many pages I need for portraits. It’s definitely a guess until I get the portraits back from the photographer, but it’s a start.

Now you have a calendar, several lists, and ideas of the content you need to collect in order to plan and the set pages to create your yearbook flow on the yearbook ladder.

Part 2: The Yearbook Ladder

  1. I pull out my numbered paper and pencil and start filling in the sections I know for sure. 
  2. I know what my first and last pages are – Welcome and Closing. 
  3. What does the flow of the book look like? I try to plan my book to flow basically like the school year – back to school, fall activities, winter activities, spring activities, but then I move things around because they fit better in another spot or make more sense to be with another section** – this is where the ladder is flexible. It is like a constantly changing puzzle. 

**Mark which sections have to stay together as a 2 or 4-page section vs. a 1-page that can be moved and paired with another 1-page item. By 2-page, I mean the double spread where the pages face each other, and a 1-page is a half/single spread.

  1. Block out the number of pages you need for portraits or intro pages to the grades/portraits – we know those stay together and cannot be broken up.
  2. Step back, take a look, take a break, and take a look with fresh eyes, does it make sense?
  3. Revise as needed – that’s what pencils are for!
planning yearbook

It’s okay if your plan is only a basic one when school starts because you will continue to work it out. Make it a priority to get the photos you need and work on the ladder when you can because it is a lot to organize, and if you’re anything like me, the ladder can fall together later, but the photo moments are happening with or without the ladder, and you don’t want to miss them. That is why you have to keep an eye on the calendar you created to get those photos for your book!

This is only a starting plan. As the year goes on, I inevitably have to revise my plan as things change or I have new ideas! I’m sure each of us yearbook groupies has a different method for planning a yearbook, and I can’t wait to hear the way you plan and create your yearbook ladder! 

Share your ideas and methods in the comments. This is our way to share, learn, and connect in our yearbook groupie community!

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