Proxart just released it’s Summer 2011 issue. And, as usual, I barely slept at all for (at least) two days. I drank a ton of coffee, barely ate anything, and didn’t have much time to shower.
But I wasn’t alone. Between myself, a dedicated editorial staff, and a slew of designers and photographers from all around the world, Proxart has managed to turn this potential catastrophe into an art. Here’s how we make it happen:
Anything, but not everything.
When we start planning for an issue, we throw all of our personal feature picks into a mush pot. Any artist is fair game as long as you can get an interview with the artist themselves. (We won’t publish arbitrary commentary about an artist. Every article has to come out of a real conversation with them about what they do.) We generally take submissions from the staff for a two week period and, after that, Gia will pick and finalize our table of contents.
Once we sort through who made the cut, Gia and I map out which articles are major features, which are minor, and assign opinion pieces. Then we put together a book-map and allocate a certain amount of space (and a certain amount of words) for each article.
Picking our players.
Once we’ve finalized who we’re featuring and allotted their article an appropriate amount of space, we figure out where each artist lives. Then Ben Hunter goes exploring online to find photographers who live close to our featured artists. Once we find photographers that shoot in a style we appreciate (and that fits the look of Proxart Magazine), we hook the artist up with the photographer and we help them arrange a time for the shoot.
Meanwhile, we look through our rolodex of designers, and we start matching design styles with each feature’s art and photography. Each designer gets assigned 1-3 features each.
In the past, our contributors have come from all over the world. For PM5 we had contributors in Nashville, London and Serbia (to name a few places), and in PM6 we had contributors from New York, Cincinnati, and back to our home town in Santa Clarita. PM5 had twelve contributors. PM6 had nine.
Refine, refine, refine. (Repeat)
Once articles, photography, and design are assigned and we formally announce the assignments, everybody gets to work. Using Basecamp, we’ve developed this nifty little system where we upload everything that each non-staff contributor needs to make their work happen. Writers and photographers get contact info, designers get templates and brand guidelines, and everybody gets a deadline.
As a first draft of each article comes in, they’re passed to the designers who lay out the drafts in the space that each feature is allotted, and they use placeholders for images. Designers upload their first draft, and we review before they’re given anything else. Once the images come in, Ben sifts through (or in the case of PM6, scans through) every single photo we get and picks his top 10 for each article. Then he uploads low-resolution photos to each designer so they can finish laying out their spreads. Once images are placed, and designs are finalized, the designers package their Indesign files, and upload them (again) to Basecamp.
The real work.
Up to this point the Proxart staff is basically just managing the process. Of course, we still produce quite a bit of the magazine in-house. But since we’ve been growing so rapidly, we’re finding ourselves managing more and more, and doing the work up front less and less.
That said, the real work begins once all of the content is in.
Gia, Ben Panama, and Zach will pull marathon copy editing sessions in person and via Google Docs, while Ben Hunter and I work to finalize a cover. Once the cover has gone through multiple iterations¹, we pull our section colors from it and get to work on a promotional campaign.
While all of that is going on, I work with our designers to make sure everything is consistent on the inside. Since a couple of designers moved on after the release of our Spring issue, I was fortunate to have Aaron Wilson help us re-work the style guide on the inside of the magazine², and to help us redesign the masthead for PM6. Mr. John Liwag even jumped on board last-minute to help us finalize our features.
Once we’ve moved every feature into the master document, updated them with edited copy, and replaced all of the low-res images with high-res versions, we standardize the look and feel and hand it back to Gia so she can read, re-read, and re-read again before we officially, finally, finalize the copy.
At this point, the magazine is done so we apply links for the interactive version, and save it out for print on MagCloud.
While everything in the first three sections above generally happens over the course of two months, that last section usually only lasts about a week and a half. Hence why I started this exploration of our process by talking about not sleeping, and being strung out on coffee.
Also keep in mind that all of us work “normal” jobs too. None of us make money off of Proxart yet, so we’re making this magazine in our spare time. Since that’s the case, we’ve all decided to simply cut the BS, cut the politics, stick to a process that works, involve as many talented people as we possibly can and get the work done to make our magazine look, feel and sound good.
Once we’ve pushed a finished issue out of the gate and into the wild, it often feels like waking up after a night spent drinking too much. There’s a post-release haze that we all instinctively enter into; one where the only thing we can talk about is how good it feels to not talk about making the magazine. We revel in the finished product, and we love getting feedback (both positive and negative), but we don’t want to even think about the process—not because it’s hard work, but because it’s over.
It’s always bittersweet.
For a magazine that started as an experiment—one that we never expected to turn into a full-time gig—I think I can speak on behalf of everyone on the Proxart team when I say thank you for reading. Thank you for caring about what we do, and thank you for involving yourself in it. We all really appreciate it.
¹ Quick! Everybody ask Ben Hunter how much he loves Indesign and grids right now! I bet he still has a headache after putting together PM6’s cover. Thanks, Ben!
² For those type nerds out there, we replaced our display typefaces, Gotham and Futura, with Berthold Akzidenz Grotesk, and we replaced our body copy type, Adobe Garamond, with Milo Serif.