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Best Practices for Building a Successful Elementary Yearbook Program

Thinking of starting a yearbook program or taking over the project at your elementary school? Don't know what to expect or where to get started? Here are some tips to help you create a little piece of nostalgia that will be cherished for years to come. As the National Trade Association for School Pictures and Yearbooks, SPOA is here to provide tips and resources for yearbook advisers all across the country. Here is a simple guide to get you started.


  • Establish a Yearbook Committee: teachers, parents, and even students can help collaborate on the project. Make sure to have a mix of strengths in individuals: creative tech-savvy designers, photographers, and organized individuals who can serve as editors to ensure nothing is missed. Divide responsibilities among team members such as sales and promotion of the book, photography, layout design, and editing. Decide how often and when you will meet to ensure everyone is working cohesively. Communicate regularly and decide who will manage this project and group of people as the editor or editors ultimately responsible. This sounds like it could be daunting, but it doesn't have to be! The more people working together, the better off your book can be, but great books can be built with just a couple of people getting together a few times a year.

  • Set a Budget: After choosing a reputable school picture company and/or yearbook publisher, figure out if you will need any money up front to get started, considering a potential deposit to the publisher or promotional costs to advertise sales to families. If you begin selling the book early enough, you will have money coming in that will offset the startup costs. For a list of school picture and publishing companies in your area, look here: Topics to consider when setting a budget are:

    • Promotion of the yearbook - Will you create flyers and other sales materials, or do you have an online system to order through or is this something that will be provided to you through your publishing company? Will you collect and deposit money from families to pay for the books or will your publisher deposit this money?

    • You will want to estimate how many books your school can feasibly sell and not order an abundance of additional books. If you know how many were sold last year, it is recommended not to order more than a handful more than that number. If your school has never produced a yearbook before, it is recommended to do a presale before ordering yearbooks.

    • What is an ideal price point for your families, and will your costs be able to support this price point, or should you think about other fundraising options to offset costs? To set your pricing appropriately, factor in the total cost per book that includes shipping and tax and any other costs you may have. If additional funds are needed to keep student price down, see fundraising ideas under Promotion below.

    • School Photographers of America recommends that yearbooks not be used as a fundraiser. The goal of a yearbook program should be to make yearbooks affordable for all families, so that more students can have access to and enjoy these keepsakes. It is recommended not to add more than $1.00 to the total cost per book to keep this goal attainable and to only cover costs and the potential of a few unsold books at the end of the year.

  • Create a Timeline: Work backwards from your needed delivery date of the yearbooks. Determine the typical turnaround time for printing with your selected printer and add in an additional 1-2 weeks for unexpected delays or a missed deadline or revisions/edits. Using this final deadline as a submission to print date, establish a clear timeline with internal deadlines for different stages of the yearbook production, including photo collection, layout design, proofreading, and printing. Consider any spring events that may need to be a part of the book when setting this deadline. Create a timeline for the committee outlining key milestones to ensure the project stays on track. Keep in mind that your sales deadline and your creation deadline may be different dates depending on if you want to order any extras or if you have the ability to reprint after your initial run of books. A presale deadline date will help you determine how many books to order.

  • Devise a Marketing Plan to Promote Yearbook Sales: Consider when you need to have your final quantity to the printer, what methods of payment you will accept, any promotions or discounts you will have, and other school events which could help or hinder the sale of your book. If you are going to offer any other personalization or customization, that decision needs to be made early on in the process in order to work out the logistics of creation and delivery.

  • Create a Ladder Diagram: Think of all the events and activities from the school year that you want to include in the yearbook. Create an outline or plan for what will go on each page. Remember that typically page 1 is on the right-hand side of the yearbook and many layouts can be set up as a double page spread so it is important to consider what events will go beside or near each other. It’s possible to set up the book chronologically as the year happens or to divide the book into sections logically such as class photos, student profiles, and special events, ensuring a smooth flow from beginning to end.

  • Decide on a Theme: Consider consistent design elements to be carried throughout the book and to tell the overall story of the year. Will your book be dedicated to anyone? Are there any books from previous years that you need to follow a similar format to?

Content Creation

  • Create Appealing Page Layouts: Choose a cohesive theme and color scheme that runs throughout the yearbook. Decide about how many pictures you want to feature on a page or within a spread. Look at old yearbooks or yearbooks from other schools or even magazines to note what size is too small or too large. Keep in mind the balance between images and text and decide how much text you want for your age group to capture the essence of the year and tell the story of an event.

  • Choose Consistent Design Elements: Decide on fonts, colors, layouts, backgrounds, and graphics to be used throughout the yearbook for a more professional look. Be consistent with your font sizing and formatting to ensure the design is easy to read and visually appealing. Creating layouts with these design elements ahead of time that can be easily edited helps to ensure consistency and less errors when editing.

  • Address the Cover: Decide on a cover for the yearbook that goes with your overall theme or ties in your layouts. Will your cover be something you create graphically, or will it be an image of the school with text overlay? Consider an artwork contest showcasing student art depicting something specific about the school year. How will the winner or winners if putting additional art on the back cover be judged? Consider engaging your school’s art teacher to help with the design or implementation of this part of the book.

  • Organize Content: How will your school collect and compile photos from various sources? Create an organization system that multiple users can deposit pictures or text into such as Google Drive or Dropbox. Use that software or filing system to track which photos have already been used in the book creation throughout the process to avoid duplicate images in the final product. Organize the content in a logical order, such as sections for each grade, special events, class photos, and extracurricular activities.

  • Include Everyone: Ensure that every student and staff member has the opportunity to be represented in the yearbook. Decide if you will track whether they are included or how many times they are included. Consider adding special features like student or staff profiles, quotes, artwork, fun facts or surveys about the school year. You can also include academic achievements, class photos, and collages representing different school events. Be creative and think about what would make the yearbook unique and memorable.

  • Document Special Events and Capture Candid Moments: Assign people to capture planned events and special occasions throughout the school year. Ensure coverage of a variety of activities including sports events, classroom projects, field trips, assemblies, and school performances. Also make sure staff are always diligent to take candid photographs of students, teachers, and staff engaged in various impromptu activities throughout the school year.

  • Collect Photos: Reach out to other teachers, parents, and students to collect photos from school events throughout the school year which provides a different perspective and mix of individuals from your staff-captured photos. Consider creating a yearbook email for individuals to send photos to or collecting photos on social media.

  • Create Copy: Include captions and quotes explaining the context of a photo and consider including memorable quotes from students and teachers about an event or the year in general. Ensure that the content is accurate and appropriate for your audience and proofread thoroughly for grammar and spelling errors.

  • Proofreading and Editing: Have multiple people review the content, layouts, and photos to catch any errors or inconsistencies. Check names, dates, and captions for accuracy. Have each classroom teacher proof her class page for new or transferred students, spelling of names, and nicknames. Proofread all content meticulously to eliminate errors in spelling and grammar, and to catch layout or font inconsistencies. A recommended practice is to edit the book multiple times, each time focusing on a different aspect or looking for a different thing. Get feedback from teachers who worked on the book and from teachers who didn’t work on the book to identify any mistakes or areas for improvement. Review a printed proof before giving the final approval for the entire print run, as typically more is caught in hand than on the screen.


  • Early Promotion: Start promoting the yearbook early in the school year to ensure maximum participation. Use various communication channels, including school newsletters, social media, and any events where parents might be on campus, to create awareness and generate interest among families.

  • Discounts and Early Bird Offers: Offer early bird discounts or incentives for purchasing yearbooks before a certain date to help build momentum with sales, to be able to pay any deposits, and to predict the number of books you may need to print. To keep your yearbook account in the positive, you do not want to order more books than you can sell. A presale will help you conservatively determine this amount.

  • Engage Students: Involve students in the yearbook creation process to contribute artwork, stories, and photos. When students actively participate or know they are featured, they are more likely to ask their families to purchase.

  • Create Buzz: Organize promotional events or contests (like a cover artwork contest) to create excitement and anticipation among students. Advertising the contest inadvertently promotes the yearbook is for sale.

  • Utilize Social Media: Leverage social media platforms to showcase sneak peeks of the yearbook design to parents and influence families to feel like they are included in the production of the yearbook.

  • Online Ordering: Set up an online ordering system to make it convenient for parents to purchase yearbooks. Ensure the website is user-friendly and secure.

  • Consider Ads or Partnerships to Offset Costs:

    • Partner with local businesses to sponsor or advertise in the yearbook or other school communications. Local banks, relators, or other businesses might be willing to sponsor the cover which can drastically reduce the cost to families.

    • In all cases, it is recommended that you do a social media post about the sponsorship or advertisement, as businesses see value in the partnerships when they are publicly acknowledged and they are tagged in the post.

    • Offer partial page ads in the yearbook at a cost to families to include special shout outs to students. This can include family submitted photos or just text. Make sure your ad pricing to families is affordable but, more importantly, make sure it covers the cost to add additional pages to your book if enough families participate. You can calculate a price per page by taking the total cost of a book and dividing by the number of pages.

    • Have an organized system in place to track ad sales and ensure nothing is missed and everything is carefully edited. Document all communication with families.

  • Consider Personalization: Provide options including students’ names, photos, or custom pages or covers as an add-on to books to create a sense of ownership and individuality to make yearbooks more appealing to families.

    • Have an organized system in place to track personalized orders and make sure you work with your printer well in advance to work through the logistics of any customization you offer. Pro-tip: have a separate early deadline for placing any customized orders or ads!

  • Think About Your Timing: There are other events throughout the school year that can help or hinder your yearbook sales. Keep these in mind when setting up deadlines and promotions.

    • Incorporate School Events: Combine yearbook sales with other times parents will be on campus. For example, open house, curriculum nights, school assemblies, parent/teacher conferences, etc. You could organize a bake sale or auction where a portion of the proceeds from another event goes towards the yearbook fund. This not only raises funds for the school but also promotes the yearbook project.

    • Avoid school “fundraisers” or times when parents spend additional money at school including book fairs, picture days, and holidays as they may not see the yearbook as a necessity or have the means to purchase at that time.

    • Make sure your sale and promotions last long enough to coincide with all families pay periods to maximize the ability for all families to purchase.


  • Plan a Yearbook Delivery Event: Organize a yearbook signing party to distribute books to families where students and staff can exchange messages and autographs to create a memorable experience for families.

  • Inspect the Product: Carefully inspect all books or at a minimum a few books from each box to ensure there are no printing errors or books that were damaged in shipping so you have time to replace prior to student distribution. Please make sure that if the first few books have an issue, that you dig deeper in the box to verify as typically the last ones packed in the box are the last ones off the press. Just because 2-3 have issues does not mean that all of them will. So, don't panic!

  • Plan for Extras: Order a few extra copies of the yearbook to accommodate new students or those who might have missed the initial ordering period. Make sure the cost of any extras can be covered by yearbook profits if they don’t sell. This is another opportunity for you to help families in need. There may be families that would be willing to purchase additional book(s) to donate to a deserving student.

  • Encourage Reviews: Urge satisfied parents and students to spread the word. Positive reviews within the school community can significantly boost yearbook sales of leftover copies and sales in future years.

  • List Lessons Learned: Document the yearbook creation process in lessons learned and successes to guide future yearbook committees.

  • Save a Copy: Preserve a copy of the yearbook in the school office and/or media center for future reference. This is a nice thing for families to look at while waiting in the office that depicts the culture of a school while also showcasing your creation for years to come.

These strategies and best practices will help involve the entire school community to ensure that more families have the ability to look back on the well-crafted memories captured within the pages of your elementary yearbook.

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