One of the trickiest parts of putting together PEOPLE each week is making the writers' words fit the designers' layouts. Tempers can get particularly raw when writers write more words than agreed upon with the designers, when photos have to be changed at the last minuteā€”or when editors decide the whole story needs an 11th-hour revision. That's when the staff in PEOPLE's copy processing department rides to the rescue.

"We make sure everything fits," says copy processing manager Alan Anuskiewicz, 39, summing up his department's crucial role. Using the layouts created by PEOPLE's page designers and layout artists, the 14-member copy processing staff appropriately "codes" each story, feeding into the magazine's computer system information about the article's proper typeface, point size and column shape and length. Desperate calls from the magazine's editors are a closing-night constant. " 'Tell me there's a coding mistake' is a frequent plea," says Anuskiewicz. "So is, 'Can't you squeeze a few more lines onto the page?' "

The copy processors who field those requests are a diverse group, including Charles Glasser, 31, a Hunter College prelaw student who is also on the varsity fencing team; Donna Cheng, 29, who is studying graphic design at Pratt Institute; and accomplished tuba player Jennifer Paradis-Hagar, 34. Working up to 12-hour shifts, often through the night, department members survive the pressures by downing an estimated 15 pots of coffee and taking early-morning strolls through otherwise abandoned hallways. "The toughest nights are those when there's a sudden cover change," says Anuskiewicz, citing last month's quick-switch to convicted tax evader Leona Helmsley as a story that demanded a Herculean effort from all staff members.

Though layouts start trickling in on Thursday, the big crunch begins Tuesday morning at 10 and continues until about 6 A.M. Thursday when that week's issue is finally put to bed. "We call it the Tuesday night bloodbath," says Anthony Zarvos, 38, deputy copy processing manager. "But it's kind of challenging knowing that you have so little time to do so much."

After PEOPLE's copy editors correct for style and grammar, the stories are returned to copy processing for final adjustment. "The copy editors make sure it reads correctly," says Key Martin, 46, a 10-year department veteran, "but we make sure it looks right."

After giving the pages a final scan, the staff transmits them electronically to be merged with the photographs at the magazine's engravers and sent via satellite to PEOPLE's printing presses around the country.

"When we hit that button," says Zarvos, "it's got to be right."