Review: The Art of Making Magazines

Magazine-making is a career not far off from my own that I am not sure I would like to attempt. Fact-checking maybe. Copyediting yes because I am amazing at copyediting.

Quickly because this is great: Robert Gottlieb was writing about the differences in editing for books and for magazines, and he told a story about this one copyeditor called Miss Gould, who was the queen, evidently, of all the copyeditors. When she would mark up a proof, it would be so brutal in its mark-up-edness that most authors could not be permitted to see it, because the radiance of the copyediting would burn their eyes. Or because they would get too cross. One of those. Susan Sontag was one such author, not being the most receptive to criticism ever, but when she finally saw a Gould Proof, she adjudged Miss Gould to be a genius and requested her to copyedit everything she ever wrote.

Susan Sontag!

The Art of Making Magazines is a collection of lectures given by magazine-doers of various stripes to Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism (I hear it is an okay school). Topics range from types of magazines (Ruth Reichl weighs in on being a food critic, Roberta Myers on editing women’s magazines, etc.) to the role of art in magazines (largeish!) to copyediting to the challenges of editing all sorts of different periodicals.

If you are a fan, as I am, of nonfiction that could be subtitled What it is like to be me in my job (cf. Gig), this is a book for you. One thing that never fails to fascinate me is the self-justifying tone that pervades this type of nonfiction. “Self-justifying” sounds unkind and I don’t mean it unkindly — I just mean the tendency to say some form of “We do a lot of good here,” sometimes with the tacit or explicit addition of “contrary to what you might have heard.” I think it’s something to do with recognizing the existence of dozens of lives you passed up to have the one you do have, and worrying that people will look at your choices and wrinkle up their noses and go “That one? Really?” So you — or rather, these people — hasten to say why your choice is awesome and you are on the side of the angels. It’s choice-supportive bias!

Lectures I liked a lot included Ruth Reichl’s one, in which she talked about the wacky way she became a food critic. It made me want to read her books — has anyone? I was curious to know more about the disguises she donned when she was out doing her food criticizing incognito. John R. MacArthur, the president of Harper’s Magazine, talked about the thin line between advertising and content, and how he has navigated the balance between those two concerns in his time as a magazine guy. Chris Dixon discussed art direction and why the art people sometimes get into fights with the editorial people because the art people have done a big expensive photo shoot and the editorial people suddenly demand that the art be cut down to accommodate the addition of 5000 extra words in one of the big pieces for that issue.

In short, many interesting things! If you like knowing what other people’s jobs are like.

Oh and there was this one where the guy said someone was all spin and grin instead of jam and gin. That is one of the best things I have ever heard. I love it. I want to say it every day. It rhymes and praises gin and really what more could a human person ask of her idioms?

I received this e-galley for review from Columbia University Press through NetGalley.


9 thoughts on “Review: The Art of Making Magazines

  1. My favorite of Reichl’s books is Garlic and Sapphires. She talks about her disguises, food, and her relationship with her mother and it is so well written you’ll eat it up like one of the delicacies she describes.

  2. OMG! I just found out this week that this book exists, and I have to have it because magazine-making is my career, and I hardly ever see books about it. I like that it sounds like this one covers lots of different kinds of magazines and different aspects of them. Every magazine is a little (and sometimes a lot) different, so it’s fun to see how other ones work.

    • It wasn’t exactly what I expected — it’s a collection of lectures that were given to Columbia journalism students, not a collection of essays — but still really interesting.

  3. That looks very interesting! I wanted to get involved in publishing and ended up in sales at a magazine publisher, and then later at a book publishing company. It wasn’t exactly what I had planned but it was fun. I would have liked to have gotten into the editorial side of the industry.

  4. Oh please, please read Ruth Reichl! You will find her entertaining, I feel sure! I also like books about people’s jobs, but this is one instance where I prefer them to be written by Brits because we are so very keen on self-deprecating humour that most time is spent describing stupid/foolish/irrational things that the writer did in amusing ways. Or else it’s about the ridiculousness of the job – the TV series The Office is probably the most representative example of this sort of thing. And after all, if you do work in a great place and you write about it well enough, self-justification is entirely redundant.

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