Standart Magazine is a print publication that writes about coffee, from coffee culture to issues facing the industry. The publication is aimed at anyone who loves coffee, not just industry professionals. I have quickly grown to appreciate the depth of content in Standart and have read many issues this year.
I sat down with Luke, the editor at Standart, to learn more about what goes into producing an issue of Standart Magazine. We discussed how Standart plans editions of their publication, the process of writing an edition, Standart's recent design change, and more. I hope you enjoy our discussion.
Can you tell me a bit about yourself and your role at Standart Magazine?
I am the editor at Standart. My work essentially comes down to setting the content and the editorial direction of what we are doing. That all lies with me.
I work quite closely with our creative director who is responsible for responding to my editorial direction and also pairing the textual contributions we get in with visuals. He will commission all of the visuals and we will have a back-and-forth regarding each piece in the magazine and what we want to express visually as well as textually.
I do a lot of other bits and pieces here and there. I will proof read marketing copy or Instagram posts. I give the odd interview and talk. Predominantly, my day job is working with authors, mostly, which is what I really enjoy. I am the person on the team who, on a daily basis, spends the most time with people external to the company—especially this year, with the lack of trade shows and festivals, which we often attend as a team. I am mostly speaking with authors for the majority of my day.
As far as a bit about me, moving backwards before Standart, I was doing boring city-based consulting work and then before that I was at university studying English. I studied English because I like reading, writing, and working with texts, which means I essentially landed on my feet with regards to what I am doing now.
I guess it must be interesting having a wide range of conversations on a day-to-day basis.
Yes, I cannot think of a better role. One of the more rewarding aspects of my work, aside from the selfish one of being able to speak with lots of people about their ideas and how best to express them in writing, is helping younger writers who are perhaps not too experienced through various drafts and edits of a piece so at the end they feel like they have learned something from the process.
My work is always a bit of a translation job going from an author's personal style and then making it fit a cohesive, edited volume at the end of the day. We have a house style that’s chatty yet detailed and precise, and tonally we want to have a diversity of voices and opinions, but they all need to fit the overall mood. I like to try and approach a sense of cohesiveness, so you feel like you are reading Standart as opposed to a collection of coffee-themed articles.
That's probably the most rewarding aspect of my work: seeing a text through from early ideation to a complete text, and in some cases even an award-winning text.
Having an in-house style guide with which writers need to comply is essential in many publications. How do you make sure you preserve the voice of the author as well as maintaining your editorial standards? How do you interface with writers?
It's usually a case of trying to improve the text almost objectively. What I mean by that is in order for an article to feel like a Standart piece it needs to be of high quality, clear, economical, and the piece cannot have any needless obscurity or anything that is unexplained or taken for granted. Given that we are an international magazine, this point is really important: to make sure the writing is clear.
The majority of time there is not too much butting of heads between me and the author because they understand that is what I am trying to do and that is what they have sort of signed up to in wanting to write for an international magazine. A lot of the time it doesn't come down to having a house tone, it's more of a house style in that we like to satisfy various criteria, mostly around readability and original insight. I'm happy to say there are very few pieces that get to the point where the author says they have to withdraw it. I try to be quite light in my edits when I can be.
On the other hand, some pieces need a lot of editing and almost ghost writing in some cases, especially with scientific pieces or articles that aim to communicate farm-level science. In some cases, the authors are not writers or either do not write in English at all or if they do their work requires heavy editing. At that point, you need to make sure you clarify with the author that what you are rewriting is representative of what they mean to say.
It's never really a case of telling somebody to write in a particular style that they are not suited to or anything like that. I personally value originality and individuality above most things in writing. I am excited to have a variety of voices in the magazine. It's mostly about standards and making sure the publication is readable, and readable by an international audience.
Let's say you are planning to compose a new edition of Standart. What's the first thing that your team does when you start to work on an edition?
It depends. At this stage, it is pretty rare that I have an end date of one issue and a start date of another. I often have various texts planned six months in advance if they are not particularly timely. It's a bit all over the place. There's not really a start date where we start planning an issue.
Most frequently, my work is about looking at the texts I have that I can use, some texts or pictures that I am really excited about, and seeing whether a theme begins to develop even with those few pieces. If I can see a clear theme developing and I think it is one that is poignant enough but certainly broad enough that it will allow for more abstract treatments of the theme, that's when I will decide on a thematic direction and try to commission other texts that speak to it.
None of our themes are supposed to be that strong. We do not even name the theme at any point in the magazine most of the time. I think once we did when it would have been silly not to because it was so obvious. I look at theme as a sort of glue that binds the issue together. When you are reading through the magazine a particular motif will repeat itself throughout a couple of pieces or you will get a sense that a piece is related to another you read earlier in the issue.
As far as planning the issue goes, that's kind of it. The big change over the last year has been reacting to the various shutdown situations all over the world. Getting photography in particular has been a real challenge because, we can't shoot in anybody's homes and many people are wearing masks. To try to take photographs of subjects for interviews wearing masks, you miss a lot of emotion and personality. It's been a real challenge.
We have had to react a bit more to the situation on the ground than we usually would. In a couple of cases we dropped interviews and chose to go in another direction. Or we have changed the location of the city profile based on where we were allowed to get photographs and where photographers felt safe to take pictures. It's been a bit crazier this year but most of the time planning is relatively smooth sailing.
We don't tend to rush too much. We're not one of those publications with everybody running around throwing papers all over the place and screaming about deadlines and so on. We do not go in for any of that.
I do find it interesting that photography was a limitation. When you read a city profile, you do not think of the considerations that went into making a choice about which city to feature.
We hadn't really thought about this before the last year either. It was bad timing for us because we started on redesigning the visual layout of the magazine in something like November 2019, when there were only vague and distant rumblings of a novel coronavirus. When we were putting together the final touches of the redesigned issue, it was in full swing. So we had to adjust and switch some pieces around. That was a tough few months with long hours but we got there in the end.
With regards to photography, we have either chosen to do different city profiles or interviews based on where we could get photos. That seems to be easing significantly now but all of last year it was tough.
We tend not to be too dictatorial in what we want from photographers. We tend to choose photographers whose natural eye and talent we like and who we think can bring something original to Standart. That's a bit of a change. In the past, we placed more constraints on photographers but now I feel the visual expression in the publication is much livelier.
What was behind the redesign of Standart and what factors influenced the decisions behind your new design?
We had not had a visual refresh in about four years and we all felt that the design was a bit stagnant and was not expressing the kind of energy and enthusiasm that we wanted to express. We thought we needed to have some sort of visual refresh. That was step number one. We thought about that for months, nine months maybe. We knew that we needed to do something but we were not sure what and how we were going to do it.
The other side of our change was that we thought our publication was a bit too text-heavy and the majority of the texts were quite serious in tone. We came to realise we were in a position in the market where we didn't really have any competition on the international stage with regards to print media about coffee. We thought therefore that we ought to be a bit more diverse and inclusive and fun—to not just be a literary journal about coffee. We felt the old design tended to express that side of what we were doing more than anything else.
We thought that we would try something new and try to be more out there and edgy and fun. Literally, fun. That's one of the things we identified as a word to guide us.
Also, our production budget is larger than it was, naturally, by virtue of being around longer and having more subscribers and more revenue. So we can invest more into production, which I think is obvious looking at recent issues. More money spent on production has helped us get to that next level.
The new issues certainly have a unique style and the content feels more approachable.
That was another reason we wanted to move away from the stodgier content. We wanted to be more accessible not just to people who were not native English speakers but also to people who are new to the industry. We are still working towards being even better at that.
I might receive a pitch for an article that doesn't seem particularly interesting to me because we published something like that five years ago. But I need to keep reminding myself that we had a hundred subscribers five years ago and now we have thousands. 90% of our readership will not remember or have read that piece so it's a constant personal challenge to weigh up whether it is time for a refresh on a particular subject or not.
Can you tell me a bit more about how you facilitate with content creators? Let's say I had an idea for an article for Standart. What would our process be like to get from an idea in my mind to a final piece that is formatted and ready to go.
It depends. I receive pitches and ideas in a variety of forms. Some people will submit a finished piece and ask if it fits. My answer to that could be one of many possible ones. I cannot think of a time when someone has submitted a piece that was absolutely perfect and the first time I read it did not need any work at all. But some pieces are close.
On the other end of the spectrum, somebody will have an idea for the publication that they would like to see treated but they themselves are not a writer and they do not intend to write the piece. Every so often, if it is a really good idea, we'll commission it. I will go and find an author who is an expert in the field and see if they want to write something about it. Early on, my work involved much more commissioning. At one point, I would come up with a lot of the ideas myself, because we were small and few writers were pitching to us, and I would reach out to academics, particularly young academics, to help out.
The most usual case is that somebody will approach with an idea and ask if we are interested in something on the theme. Sometimes it is not an appropriate theme. Usually, I will say "that pitch sounds good and here is our submission guidelines to give you an idea for what we go in for." They are pretty basic: "should be interesting, should be enriching, should be educational in tone, cannot be self promotional, we do not do any brand profiles, we do not do any native advertising."
Once that's out of the way, I will ask for an outline which answers a few questions: what is the vague argument of your piece, what is the structure of it, why do you think it is important, what might readers get out of it, that kind of thing. People will submit an outline and if it looks good at that point I will say "great, send me a draft in a couple of weeks" and then we go from there. On average, there might be three or four drafts in the most typical case and then at the end of the fourth draft if we are both happy with it, that's it. We put the piece aside and consider it ready to print and then we pay the contributor.
Because we are quarterly, we cannot be too news-oriented. If anything in the magazine is too newsy, it will be old news by the time people read the magazine. The magazine itself is designed to be chipped away at and read over the course of three months, so we cannot have too many news items or trendy items or anything like that.
We also like to put out the sort of thing that you could not otherwise find on a blog or online, for reasons of differentiation more than anything else. It's not because we have anything against the idea, it's just there might be plenty of good stuff out there already. What's the point in competing on that front? We don't do listicles or reviews or recommendations. We do not do a lot of brew recipes because they are everywhere and we want to try to do something different. That's a criterion I need to remind myself of because we often get feedback like that from a few readers.
We only relax this rule if we feel a subject would really benefit from print presentation. If we can think of a way to express something in a nice infographic or if analog film photography printed on glossy paper would capture something better than could be achieved with digital and online, then we will do it.
What steps are turning the edited submissions into the Standart publication? What goes into layout and formatting?
Deciding what we want to include often happens first. I am working a month or two ahead of the creative director. Often we have the bulk of the texts when we first discuss the upcoming issue and we will have a pretty good idea after, if not the first discussion, maybe a few discussions in subsequent days, what the final layout might look like.
It's just brainstorming really. We read the texts. Oftentimes I am pretty close to the texts because I have worked on them a lot, so I have my own ideas of what could work visually. Then we brainstorm and go back-and-forth. We then decide what the approach is going to be for illustration. For photography, sometimes it is as easy as saying "we have a city profile that is in Istanbul," we just need to find a genius photographer in Istanbul and see if they are available.
The final form of the layout and ordering of the articles happens about two weeks before print, quite late in the process. We have an in-house designer who is purely in charge of graphic design and layout production. During the final period of production, we work quite closely together, going back-and-forth, commenting on this, working through two dozen PDF versions of the magazine, figuring out what the ordering is going to be like, and so on.
The magazine all sort of comes together. It feels like it comes together more or less organically even though there are many, many steps required.
To simplify it, we have the text, a vague idea of what the theme is going to be, an initial kick-off discussion to sort out what illustration ideas we have, what sort of photography we have, and then that all starts happening. At that point, it's a lot of commissioning and giving feedback to contributors. Once we have all of the materials, we start designing the layouts. Then we approve all of the layouts and maybe deal with a couple of ordering issues and that's it really.
That's sort of the final task and then we decide we are happy with the magazine. Then I will do a final read through to make sure there are no typos or solecisms. There is always at least one typo that goes to print. That seems to be the rule. It's often only one, which is somehow more annoying than if there would be two or three typos. But that’s the nature of print.
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