Covers were the department of Harry Steeger and Aleck Portegal, and the scene depicted almost never had anything to do with any of the issue's stories.

Covers were the department of Harry Steeger and Aleck Portegal, and the scene depicted almost never had anything to do with any of the issue's stories.

Al Norton’s principal editorial function was to read all the incoming pro submissions, and what few the three of us had considered possibilities from the slush pile, to pick out the ones he liked well enough to buy. Copy editing, proofreading, writing house ads and departments he left to us.

We also picked a few scenes from each story that seemed illustrative possibilities and handed copies over to Aleck Portegal, the art director — or more likely to his one and only assistant — to farm out to artists for the ten or twelve interior black-and-white drawings each issue had. What we got back from the Art Department was not only our suggestions for drawings, but both the original drawings themselves, as well as the zinc linecuts that went to the printer. (All our magazines were still printed on Mr. Gutenberg’s clever movable-type machines. The faster and easier offset presses were not yet in favor.)

Alden’s department was collectively charged with getting new issues of about a dozen magazine out in each two-month period. (Ours were all bi-monthlies, Harry Steeger being very attached to that two-month on-sale exposure. Each of the magazines came with six or seven deadlines, which meant that the three of us had some 72 separate deadlines to meet in each 60-day period. Since we didn’t work on Saturdays, Sundays or national holidays, that meant that every day of the week was usually the day when at least one deadline had to be met,

For, say, an issue to be dated August, the first deadline would come on about February 17th. That was the deadline for cover copy; on that day we had to give Al or his assistant a sheet of paper containing the best, or at last the titles that sounded best, of the stories that would be in that issue. That meant that we had to keep a record of what titles we had picked out, for it meant some embarrassments if, when we actually put the issue together out of the first proofs, we didn’t include the stories we’d listed.

Note that I didn’t list any deadlines for the actual cover paintings themselves. That’s because they weren’t our problem. Covers were the department of Harry Steeger and Aleck Portegal, and as the scene depicted almost never had anything to do with any of the issue’s stories, none of us, Alden included, had any idea of what would be on the cover until the actual printed copy was in our hands.

The second deadline would be a week later, say, February 24th. That was when typed descriptions, taken from the manuscripts themselves, of scenes for the black-and-white interior illustrations, were due to go to the Art Department.

Third deadline: March 17th: copy-edited copy of all material intended for that issue, along with all relevant line-cuts, to the printer.

First proofs of all that back about April 7th, proofread texts, organized into the actual contents for that issue, plus typed copy for house ads, departments, etc., back to printer April 14th.

Foundry proofs back May 1st; to printers May 5th.

August issue on sale June 1st.

That, remember, is for just one of the dozen or so in our department.

More to come. . . .

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  1. David B. Williams says:

    Bah, offset printing was the beginning of the decline of civilization. I’m glad I was born early enough to edit a magazine with type set on a linotype machine and the page forms printed on a proper flatbed press.

  2. H. E. Parmer says:

    “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”

    Douglas Adams

  3. Chap O'Keefe says:

    Oh, Mr Williams, how tempting it is to embrace your creed! My own professional career in writing and editing began in the early ’60s as a teenager working in a series of publishing offices in London — central and suburban backstreets thereof. And I can tell many mildly horrific stories not dissimilar to Fred’s. But as I think Fred would agree, we must move with the times if we want to stay in what successively passes for the business. I’ve experienced the introduction of cold type, word processors, computers, direct editorial input (i.e. you took on the composing room’s chores as well as your own), and much more. But I would say that writing fiction, and just about anything else, is much easier now than when we had to cope with clunky, balky typewriters! Currently, I’m tackling the task of retrieving rights and formatting my backlist novels for the Amazon Kindle. Alas, old dogs must learn new tricks unless they intend to remain mired in nostalgia.

  4. Michael Haynes says:

    I just wanted to write a quick note to say how wonderful it is to be able to read these personal retrospectives on the pulp days. Thank you for sharing your experiences with those of us who look back on that time fondly.

  5. John Traylor says:

    I assume that the text was set on a Linotype machine? When I began in the printing trade everything was hot metal and when I retired everything was digital. Much more comfortable for me as they had to A/C the rooms for the computers. I do think that proof reading was better done in the “old days” than it is today.

  6. H. E. Parmer says:

    That’s a great cover illustration, too.

    Hopefully, the mad scientist who in his blasphemous meddling in Things Man Was Not Meant to Know created this knife-wielding cyborg(?) also had the foresight to obtain a long extension cord. You have no idea how embarassing it is — not to mention anticlimactic — when that damned plug gets yanked out of its socket right at that critical moment.

  7. LeRoy Pearle says:

    Thanks again! All these anecdotes and reminiscences are better than interesting, they’re valuable to all of us science fiction fans.