A staff of talented jugglers

Posted by Ron Kovach
on Thursday, September 06, 2012

The monthly "art rough," where the staff discusses the layouts of each story, is one of many meetings a member of the Astronomy team attends each month.
Magazine editors can be excused if they sometimes can be heard muttering aloud, “If our readers only knew what went into making this issue.” That thought has occurred often to me in the last two months after I came over from The Writer magazine to become Astronomy’s managing editor.

Astronomy has a complex workflow process that is intimidating to the newcomer, but in time starts to make sense. In brief, the staff is always juggling three issues at once — all in varying stages of completion and all intricately tied in to a specific set of deadlines and meetings.

How’s this for meetings? At various intervals we have — let’s see now —  production meetings, planning meetings, editorial hand-in meetings, art handoff meetings, illustration meetings, headline meetings, art rough meetings, and customer-focus meetings. And that’s not even to mention (for some of us) marketing meetings, editors’ meetings, ad-closing meetings, ad-target meetings, and two cover meetings per issue.

The meeting load may sound onerous, but so far I haven’t minded because it offers an editor the chance to have a hand in every aspect of an issue. Each month, we help construct a magazine from the ground up, piece by piece. It’s creative and interesting.

If you know Astronomy, you know it’s full of great illustrations, and many are quite technical. And right there is one of the main reasons we have such a complex workflow process and why we work so far ahead. All of the drawings, charts, maps, and photos you see in every issue take a lot of advance planning and coordination with the art department. (How far ahead do we work? Editor Dave Eicher already has the story lineup done for our May 2013 issue. I should add, though, that we’re always ready and willing to jump in and change it up if big astronomical news breaks — if, for example, space aliens land near our offices in Waukesha, Wisconsin, or a large asteroid makes its presence felt.)

One of the main differences between working at The Writer magazine and Astronomy is that at the latter, we are usually drowning in potential ways to illustrate articles! The staff member who serves as photo editor, Michael Bakich, alone has about 7,000 digital astronomy images on file. (And nicely organized, I might add.) And this is not to even mention the drawings, charts, and maps we can get done with the help of our talented art department.

Compare this situation to The Writer, where we often faced the challenge of illustrating a very abstract topic — e.g., the art of description, or pacing, or dialogue in fiction, or great creative-nonfiction leads — on a limited art budget. Which would you rather illustrate, an article about the importance of smooth transitions in writing or one focused on strikingly beautiful spiral galaxies?

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