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Lit Mag Spotlight: McSweeney’s

August’s Lit Mag Spotlight is beaming on McSweeney’s! McSweeney’s does it all: The Believer, the ever-hilarious Timothy McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Quarterly & Books, and so much more.

A staff member of this incredible jack-of-all-trades lit journal took a moment to answer some of our questions, so please, meet McSweeney’s (if you haven’t already!):

CONTEST! Leave a comment on this blog post by August 30 to enter to win a FREE copy of McSweeney’s Issue 41 (pictured here!). This contest is now closed. Congratulations to Clyde, our winner. Thank you to all who participated!

1. Give us the lowdown on your journal’s mission. 

Really, we just want to publish good writing. But beyond that most fundamental desire, we hope that we’re challenging the confines of traditional publishing. There are no rules. We publish what we find intriguing and hope that our readers will agree.

2. Describe your ideal submission in 15 words or less. 

A captivating story, written with controlled language, which comes to a surprising conclusion, would be an ideal submission.

3. Tell us about a piece you recently published that got the staff really excited. Why did you love it? Why did it strike a chord? Can readers find it online? 

I’m not saying this because I am supposed to; it’s just the honest truth. We get pretty excited about each Quarterly. Issue 41 is an assemblage of some exciting pieces: Aimee Bender, Deb Olin Unferth, Jess Walter, and Steven Millhauser—just to name a few. It’s an all-star lineup and a wolf created from photos of lightning graces the cover. So, we have a lightning wolf, and that’s about all you need to know about that.

4. Regarding submissions: What’s the most common turn-off that you encounter (in terms of craft)? 

Submissions are our lifeblood. We want to love your stories, but too often a potentially good story is just sloppily constructed, and this seems to be a product of the writer hastily slapping a story together, overeager to submit. I get it. Being published is sort of addictive, to see your efforts validated and appreciated by others, all wanting to read your work. It’s an incredible feeling, but don’t rush it. Scrub, polish, massage. Repeat. I’ve read work from writers that I know are talented, but they submitted a piece that’s not up to par with their abilities. Take your time; wait until it’s ripe.

I also think that every creative writing workshop teaches its students the importance of hooking the reader with the first line. Essentially, this is true; but I’ve found that writers take this a bit too far and it’s just off-putting. There’s no need to shock us with irrelevant images and outrageous scenes. Begin with a regulated first paragraph. Sure, make it interesting, but harmonious is also paramount.

Submit to Review Board

5. What’s the most common oversight (in terms of submission guidelines)?

Be familiar with the Quarterly before submitting. Most journals have a certain aesthetic. Make sure your story is somewhere in the vicinity of ours.

6. Why is your journal awesome?

If there’s a good idea, no matter how outlandish it may seem, we do it. I don’t think there are many publishers today that would give the OK to creating a journal in the shape of a box that looks like a man’s sweaty head (see Issue 36) or a Sunday-edition-sized newspaper (see Issue 33). If it’s remotely feasible, we make it happen. A lot of the folks contributing to the Quarterly are just downright brilliant and have an extraordinary capacity for creativity, and luckily, our staff is still naive enough to put our dedication to literature above turning a profit. We continuously surprise ourselves, and I daresay, I think we also surprise our subscribers—pleasantly, we hope.

7. Where can readers find your submission guidelines?


8. What prize (aka bribe) would you like to offer to one random U.S. reader who leaves a comment on our Lit Mag Spotlight? 

A free copy of Issue 41!

Check out McSweeney’s on Facebook and Twitter, and peruse their online store here

Contest: Leave a comment by August 30 to enter to win a FREE copy of McSweeney’s latest, Issue 41! This contest is now closed.

25 Responses to Lit Mag Spotlight: McSweeney’s

  1. McSweeney’s has rejected 14 of my pieces, and I must say they are the kindest rejectors of all time. I actually look forward to my rejection letter from them.

  2. I first heard of McSweeny’s from a college friend and was invigorated and intimidated. Unfortunately, life got in the way and I never followed up, but from the other comments and the editor’s comments, I now vow to do better.

  3. I always find great advice on this site! I think I might be one of those writers who sometimes overdo their first lines. I have always been taught the importance of hooking my audience but this is a good reminder to keep things real and to make sure that they are important to the overall story. I look forward to reading McSweeney’s 41. Thanks for all the great tips!

  4. McSweeney’s is one of the best small(er) presses out there! The lit mag itself is great, but I love the books they put out too!

  5. Consistently inventive, provocative stuff from McSweeney’s (sticks to the ribs of the mind, and causes no unsightly cavities). Thanks for what you guys do.

  6. Love the designs! That alone is enough to make you want to read the content. Aesthetic appeal is so important, so it’s nice to see people brave enough to shake things up and do it differently.

  7. Don’t get me wrong, I still love you, McSweeney’s. In fact, right now I’m reading the book you published by John Sayles and it’s just wonderful.
    But, but, but. Have you become safe? You used to say that McSweeney’s existed to publish stuff that no one else would consider. Now I see famous names who would be comfortable in any magazine. Terrific writers, to be sure, but I want more of the unexpected, the diverse, the magical, the inventive. I want to see the writer’s workshop story turned on its head.
    The formatting of your magazine continues to be spectacularly imaginative and audacious. I’d love to see more writing that shares those qualities.

  8. As a newbe to this lifestyle I am excited as well as intrigued by the written word. I consider myself to be not so much a writer but a storyteller. I really look forward to reading some of your back issues and possibly making a future submission.

    Thank You

    Clyde Stoner

  9. What a relief to see your astonishingly satisfying cover with blues and purples. What a refreshing relief to hear you discuss first lines in this interview. As a mature writer, I am consistently numb from reading ‘edgy’ first lines, often throughout a piece, by writers today. I’d love to get to know your magazine.

  10. I love that the publishers are willing to take a risk, even to the point of a “lightning wolf.” I’m headed over right now to take a peek!

  11. The Mustard Seed Risk is a new literary magazine. One of our greatest inspirations, in constructing our own format, came from reading McSweeney’s. Issue 35 blew my mind, especially the story, “Local,” by Roddy Doyle. We love what McSweeney’s does.

  12. There was a Literary Death Match between McSweeney’s and a Scottish literary journal (I think it was Cargo) at Edinburgh Book Festival a few days ago. I wasn’t there so don’t know who won, but talking about it afterwards a friend and I were wondering about some sort of Literary Death Match inspired event for Burns Day (the day that commemorates the great Scottish poet Rabbie Burns, it always features the eating of haggis) between McSweeney’s and MacSweens the major Edinburgh maker of haggis.

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