There are a couple methods to getting a magazine out the door on time every month. There’s what I call the “ABC” (Always Be Closing) method where the various sections are staggered, heading to production over the course of an entire month, which in theory sounds like a sane way to do it but in practice feels like you never let off the gas and makes it nearly impossible to take vacations or do anything besides ship pages. And, no matter how hard you try there always manages to be a couple all day marathons to ship pages at the end. The other method I’m calling “look everyone this thing ships in two weeks we really need to buckle down if we’re gonna make it,” where you smash the thing out in a week or two right up to the deadline putting in long hours and generally working as hard as you can in a sprint to the finish. Sounds bad in theory but is not too bad in practice because there’s a couple weeks of slacking in between the all-out efforts. But, you know who really gets hammered in this arrangement? The production department. So, the solution has always been to give everyone fake deadlines (I’m not really blaming them as they always seem to stay till 5am on closing week shipping pages).
Whatever method you’re using the fake deadlines are usually a conspiracy between production and the managing editor–who also tries very hard to hide those 5 week issues from everyone–so we don’t completely check out for awhile. One place I worked they had a fake thing they called “the early form” where they duped everyone into thinking they were printing parts of the magazine early. Problem was those parts were totally random which makes no sense whatsoever if you know anything at all about printing magazine forms.
The game for me was to figure out the real deadline and on occasion when a photographer I really wanted to work with needed more time, give it to them. I think some of the more stressful points of my career where those days after the fake deadline had passed and the managing editor, editor, creative director and production department were asking me for the film and I had to come up with an excuse everyday and thinking to myself “If this shoot fails, I’m definitely fired.” I certainly don’t think it was good for my health but I couldn’t resist when a photographer I wanted to work with said they couldn’t do it without a few more days to deliver final art.
So, what’s the drop dead date? Well, that depends on who’s asking. Photographers always get a couple extra days.