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What to do when your yearbooks come in late

If you’re reading this, I feel for you. If you’ve searched this topic and came across this post, you’re probably in quite a pickle.

There are a number of reasons a yearbook can come in late –

  • A world-wide pandemic can shut down all non-essential businesses and halt production across many industries. (Parents are usually pretty forgiving about this one.)
  • There is an egregious error that requires some kind of intervention, such as a crack-and-peel sticker or tip-in to be placed.
  • You missed a deadline (or a few). You are most likely working to produce a very detailed and thorough publication with a very small team (of kids!) in a short amount of time. It’s not ideal, but it happens.
  • Delays at the production plant. Again, not ideal, but it happens. Most of the time, yearbook publishers try their best to print as much as possible ahead of time so they can complete the majority of their projects in about a 6-week window. That’s suuuper quick turnaround times in any industry, but it’s the nature of the beast in yearbook – especially with spring delivery publications.
  • Your dog ate your proofs. (OK, let’s hope that didn’t happen!)

Regardless of why your yearbook will be late, it’s important to remember a few things:

This is not life and death, it’s yearbook.

As much as we loooove yearbook, at the end of that day – that’s all it is – a yearbook. I know that not getting the yearbook before the end of the year is super disappointing, especially to graduating seniors (and the yearbook staff), and I’m not trying to diminish that. But let’s reframe our perspective – having the yearbooks arrive late isn’t the end of the world, no one ever died because their yearbook was late, they WILL arrive, students WILL get them, and they WILL love them. It will be okay.


Usually, people aren’t upset if they’re given a head’s up. This applies in life, not just yearbook. Being open and honest with your community will lessen the backlash and complaints. Push your publisher to give you a statement with a firm expected delivery date. If you don’t have one, communicate with your community that you are working on it. Acknowledging the problem early and responsibly is half the battle.

Also, make sure to loop in your admin. Having them send the communications out can add a little more weight to the message.

Managing the expectations of all the stakeholders (the yearbook staff, student body, faculty, parents, advertisers) ahead of time will go a long way in earning their trust and preventing escalation.

Where you can, under promise and over deliver. That may mean your messaging starts with a somewhat vague and a bit extended anticipated delivery window. If you don’t have a guaranteed delivery date, still communicate something, and be as specific as possible without promising anything.

Saying “the publisher is doing everything they can to get our yearbooks printed as soon as possible” is better than saying nothing. If parents are already asking where the books are, you need to get an update out ASAP.

That message may change over time to something like “The publisher anticipates we will have the yearbooks on campus by mid-June.” This sets an expectation without any specifics.

Once the time gets closer and the publisher is able to give a more solid delivery date, your messaging can change to “It looks like we will be receiving the books a bit earlier than expected and are planning distribution for the first week in June. Stay tuned for specifics.


Even if it’s not your fault, express empathy. If needed, do take responsibility (in a tactful way), but most of all be careful not to appear overly defensive. It’s sometimes hard not to take complaints personally – after all – do they not know how hard you’ve worked on this thing ALL YEAR and how disappointed YOU also are to not have it delivered on time?!!

Stay positive

For your own sanity, but also for your staff. Remember that you are the adult in the room and set the tone for them. If you approach the unfortunate situation with grace and patience, they will follow suit. Even if it’s not quite how you want to react, try to maintain your composure and professionalism. It’s in these hard moments that students are looking to you for cues on how to handle the situation. If you’re frazzled, they will be too.

Explore solutions

  • Share sneak peeks online
  • Look into hosting a big distribution event when they do finally arrive
  • Coordinate with the publisher to include additional accessories free of charge as a “thank you for your patience”

Lastly, get down to business

Once you get through the situation, take some time to reflect on what caused the delay.

If it was something you can change with better staff management in order to meet deadlines, be honest with yourself and make changes.

If it was your publisher’s delay, they should be communicating updates with you very often – if not daily. Many will apply discounts or concessions to your bill to make up for the delay. If the delay or communication is seriously lacking, it may be time to look for a new publisher.

If it was your silly doggo eating those proofs… give her a pet and belly rub for me! Sorry I can’t help you with that one. 😉

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