Unexpectedly Intriguing!
01 April 2005

What if you were suddenly promoted from being an occasional free-lance writer to be the new editor-in-chief of a weekly online magazine? After getting comfortable in the corner office with the big windows and yelling "Great Caesar's ghost!" or "Stop the presses!" a few times just to get into the right mood, it's time to get some work done. Your first responsibility: collect the next week's articles from your 20 to 100 writers, organize the content into a coherent form, then get the next edition of your publication out the door (so to speak) on time and under budget. Oh, and make sure the contributors, advertisers, distributors and customers get the product they've ordered and are expecting.

Could this fantastic situation ever happen? As it turns out, it happens every week around the blogosphere with the traveling Carnivals, weekly roundups of the best posts in the blogosphere. Every week, diverse posts on topics such as business, dogs, recipes and more are gathered together to highlight the contributions offered by members of the blogging community. And every week, some poor slob gets the thankless task of running the enterprise, learning the business and management of online publishing by fire. Heck, it sounds like a bad episode of The Apprentice!

So, what can we do to simplify the lives of those who take on the awesome task of running an online publication for a week? First off, the key to running a Carnival is organization. You must be organized. You will be organized. Start getting organized now. [Ed. What is this, hypnosis? Hey, whatever works!] You need to have a working game plan for dealing with the article submissions that will soon be arriving, many of which will hit your e-mail inbox just before the deadline. If you don't have a plan, you're sunk. Whatever you end up publishing will look like the unorganized mess that your previous lack of organization guaranteed it would be, and you'll only anger everybody in the supply chain - writer, distributor, and especially reader. Of course, you'll mainly hear about it from the writers, who have the greatest stake in having their work read, and as bloggers, their own platforms for making themselves heard.

Next, if you receive a large number of contributions, start by sorting them into logical groupings. Believe me, there's nothing like changing mental gears unexpectedly when reading a post. Avoid reader whiplash by putting the stuff together that makes sense to be put together, in the order it makes sense to be put in order.

Now, rank the articles within each grouping. *You* are the editor after all - it's *legal* for you to do this! The first article presented in each grouping should be the strongest. The last article presented should be the second best, or possibly the most controversial. The articles in the middle may be placed in whatever order you choose, preferably one that connects the first to the final post in the grouping. The moral of the story: Always lead with strength, always finish with a kick, and when possible, guide the reader from beginning to end. And if you're looking to finish with a bang, end the Carnival with a second look at what you feel the best posts of the week are. There ain't nothing like a grand finale, done right.

You also need to recognize that we're in the online age. If you're able to count the number of articles you have by the dozens, once the main structure of the Carnival you're managing for a week is assembled, take some additional time to add navigation features (such as in-page anchor tags) to help the reader burrow down to what interests them. You may have thousands of readers the week you host a Carnival, but only a very small fraction will take the time to go through the whole thing post-by-post. Make it easy to get them where they want to go, and they might just take more time with that week's edition than they had originally planned.

Lessons Learned

You should also take advantage of the best resource available to you - the hard-won knowledge of those who have previously hosted Carnivals. Here are lessons learned in the trenches of Carnival Management:

  • Warren Meyer of the Coyote Blog has the best inside scoop of what to expect when hosting a Carnival.
  • Bora Zivkovic of Science and Politics shares the experience and lessons learned from having hosted some four Carnivals.
  • Brian Gongol at Gongol.com makes a winning argument for posting a single edition of a Carnival versus running the event as a series.

You will also need to remember that readership of a Carnival is highly affected by the support of big-league bloggers, such as InstaPundit, who direct much of the traffic received by the hosting blog. The day of their posting sets your deadline - don't fall behind, and don't deliver a product they don't know about in advance.

Finally, have fun! They're called Carnivals for a reason, and no one enjoys spending time trudging through dark, poorly lit, surroundings - not the writers, not the readers and most importantly, not you. The fun you have in putting the Carnival together may be the most rewarding aspect of the experience that you take away from it. Future editors, good luck!

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