Out now on newsstands, in grocery store checkout lanes, pharmacies, and pet stores nationwide, it’s the very first issue of Dogster, the print magazine! My article, “How Bad Are They Really? 19 Human Food Favorites You Sneak To Your Dog,” is a feature story! It’s on the flipping cover! How in the world did this happen?
I came up in academia, where the process of producing a piece takes years of writing and research, to say nothing of the time that elapses between submitting a manuscript and publication. For instance, the germ of my sole contribution to scholarly knowledge, an article on the friendship between James Boswell and Pascal Paoli in Boswell’s Journal of a Tour to Corsica, was a paper I gave at a conference in February 2010.
The final draft of my article was submitted that October, and was not published until October of 2013. And that’s nothing to the years of work and iterations of the topic that preceded the conference paper. Years of work, totally unpaid. When it was out, the journal that printed it wanted me to pay them to see the actual physical volume.
The process of normal periodical publication happens several orders of magnitude faster. Thanks to Vicky Walker, the Executive Editor of Dogster and Catster online, who passed my name along to the Senior Editorial Director of the print magazine, Mel Kauffman, I was approached about the assignment in mid-November. The task: to write about 21 human foods that people commonly feed their dogs. This was whittled down to 19. The deadline was 8 December. Writing for a magazine was a new experience for me, and I was simultaneously excited and terrified.
I’d never conducted a proper interview before. Unsurprising, since all of the people I wrote about in academia have been dead for a couple hundred years. Before I interviewed anyone, I talked with two of my favorite people, Anna Maltby and Mandy Oaklander, both of whom are legitimate periodical stars, people who were actually schooled and trained in journalism. These are folks who have written for Time and Cosmopolitan, among many other notable publications, both online and in print. They were extraordinarily generous with their time, expertise, and advice.
Writing is a laborious process for me; when I’m composing a piece for Dogster or Catster‘s web sites, say, on “Why Do Dogs Lick People?” or about “Cat Islands of the World,” it is typically a full day’s work for me. Research the topic. Think about what to write if the SEO doesn’t give me many clues as to structure. Draft 1000 words. Edit the piece. Locate, resize, upload, and caption the art. It takes anywhere from 6 to 8 hours per essay if I’m working quickly.
If it’s something I really want to get right and have it be a good piece of writing, according to my own impossibly high standards — like this one about The Adventures of Milo and Otis, or this, about cats in comic books — a single article can take three full days to produce. This one, on hairless cats that look like Peter Capaldi in Doctor Who…you don’t want to know how long that one took. I get paid the same amount per article regardless, but sometimes, the subject is so important to me, it’s more significant that I do it well than efficiently.
This is print, though. The pay rate was far, far higher than what I usually write for the internet; I thought the assignment, then, should get a proportional amount of attention. I worked at it off and on from the day I got the details through the due date. At the time, I assumed that the new Dogster print magazine would be a sister publication to Dog Fancy, which has been published since 1970, and is now owned by the same parent company. Fortunately, it wasn’t until a day or two before I submitted it — by which point the article was nearly complete — that I found out that Dogster was supplanting Dog Fancy, just as Catster was replacing Cat Fancy. I almost hyperventilated. No pressure! Just replacing an industry icon.
In any event, interviewing, transcribing interviews, researching 19 different food items, drafting, editing, and submitting took the time available for it. Lists are my least favorite things to write, mostly because the research for, say, a disease, is on one topic. Striving for accuracy on 19 different things, writing with a certain tone, and keeping it to 1000 words was difficult. After the first draft was submitted, my editor asked me to expand in certain areas, after which I was at around 1500 words. It makes a difference to the look of the article, which I realized only when I saw the .pdf of the article for a final edit.
That .pdf file, though! I gave my editor a file full of text, and what I got back looked like a proper magazine article. I was astounded and filled with joy at the sight of the mock-up. This was going to be a real thing; something people would see and read at a dentist’s office, pick up at the grocery store, or have delivered to their homes.
The experience of seeing the actual magazine when the preview issue arrived at my home a few weeks ago was even more overwhelming. I shared the collage of images from it at the top of this post on Instagram earlier this evening. Then it occurred to me…holy crap, my face and my dog’s face, to say nothing of the article itself, are on magazine racks across the country. The realization made my head spin a bit. The editorial and production staff have done such a marvelous job.
Dogster magazine is scheduled to come out every two months from here on out. If you’re interested, go to http://subscribe.dogfancy.com/ to subscribe! Pick it up wherever magazines are sold! A significant number of people have done their very best work to bring this into the world. It’s a gorgeous publication from cover to cover, and I’m very proud to have played a small part in its creation.