June 18, 2011

Program book

Since I discussed badges in last post, I’m going to stick with printed materials and discuss program books in this post.

I have recently become very concerned that the printed word is quickly becoming a lost art, so what follows is some basic info that you should consider.

For cons with a real budget, program books should never be overlooked. I’ve been to a number of cons where the program was simply a stack of papers stapled in a couple of places. And if that’s what your budget can support, so be it. If your budget is large enough, though, you should save some cash for the program book. Having an actual printed program is often times cheaper than most ConComs think it will be. It’s nearly always cheaper than photocopying tends to be. By printed, by the way, I mean take an electronic file to an actual print shop and have them print your book. You should be able to find a suitable print shop in your area.

Warning: Pricing at print shops can vary widely, so I suggest getting several quotes.

Still need more convincing that you need an attractive program? Well, consider this; people tend to take them home with them. I’ve picked up a number of programs from cons I could not attend. After flipping through the book, I frequently made a decision on whether I would attend one of their future cons. Think of it as advertising for the future. If folks get a good vibe about your con from looking at the program book, then maybe they’ll come to your next convention.

Okay, assuming you have bought into spending some time and money on the program, let’s discuss some of things you need to be aware of when creating your book. Number one, the book needs have a number of pages that is divisible by 4. It is a mathematical fact, so live by it. Second, you can have too many fonts. Pick one for the headings and one for the text, and then STOP.

The next thing to consider is font size. For the uninitiated, fonts are not all the same size… really, they’re not. An 11pt Arial is a whole lot bigger than an 11pt Times. My recommendation is to go with no more than a 10pt font for the text, and about a 14pt font for the header. Artistic license applies here, but just be careful. Also, keep in mind that using too large of a font can actually cost you money in the form of needing additional pages in the program.

Once you’ve made your decisions on fonts, it’s time to consider columns. The number of columns you need greatly depends on your book size. If it’s a standard 11 x 17 folded (that makes it 8.5 x 11, btw) then you want 2 columns, perhaps three. You do not want one column, trust me on this one. It just doesn’t look right. Smaller books can get away with one column, but not larger ones.

Now, let’s discuss the cover. Bleeds are nice, but can be costly. You can save money by having a nice color cover that doesn’t go all the way to the edge of the page (bleed). For the artwork, ask your AGoH if they are interested in contributing. If they are not, then start asking other art guests. Someone is usually willing to donate artwork. Nice artwork can make your book look really professional. Just be sure to credit the artist in the book for their contribution.

There are a number of additional topics I could cover on program books, but I’m going to end with the topic of content. Unless you have a large convention, like say, DragonCon, the program should contain more than just guest bios. You should provide con rules, a list of ConCom members, guest bios, event descriptions, a gaming schedule, locations of area restaurants (with a map), rules for things like the Masquerade and Art Show, and a schedule of book signings and autographs sessions by your guests. Basically, if folks need info about something at the con, it should be in the program book. Your attendees (members) may not read the program, but the content should be there anyway. One thing I used to be very adamant on, but I now see as optional, is placing a schedule grid in the program. If you provide a pocket program, you can get away without a grid in the book.

Alright, that’s it for this post. As I said, there’s a lot more I could discuss about the program book, but this post is already too long, so I’m going to stop, for now. If you follow what I’ve already covered, though, you should have a decent start on a professional looking program book.


  1. Nice post. I'd also add that if you do list the panel descriptions, please, please include a list of who is sitting on the panel and who the moderator is.

    As both a fan and guest, it is very challenging to sit on a panel or in the audience where no one knows who is supposed to be on the panel or who has been tagged as the moderator.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Concurring with Tera about listing the panelists and the moderator. I understand that sometimes these aren't finalized in time for the program book, but they should AT LEAST be in the pocket program.

    I'd also ask that panelists NOT be added at the last minute, but that would be a whole separate post (that I hope you do).