Have you seen Modern Humorist? They’re giving you the once-over. Is that a competitive thing or what? Educate me for I live in a happy world and don’t understand such things.
I know, I know, it seems to some as if the people at MH are being mean. But you should know that I saw it before they put it up, and thought it was funny. Is it not funny? I believe it is. One of the founders of Modern Humorist is Daniel Radosh, one of our own contributors, so it’s all in the family. Laughs. Laughs for everyone. I laughed. Ha.
Although: I will say this, because I personally found it surprising and interesting: the thing is, what I’ve learned recently is that instead of >becoming less sensitive, over time, to jokes or criticism or what have you, in many instances — in my case and in the case of a few book-doing friends at least — one becomes more sensitive. It’s weird. You really just get to a point where you want to stop hearing anything at all. You stop reading magazines, you stop checking when friends tell you you’ve been reviewed here or there — you even beg friends to refrain from informing you about any press at all. This is true. Thus, I’m aware of things like Radosh’s (what I prefer to call) homage only because he gave me a heads up and not because I would have otherwise seen it myself. This head-in-sand strategy actually becomes the best way to get work done and just live, unimpeded, because it dawns on you, however slowly, that it’s actually not your responsibility to read or care about what people write — and that you really don’t have to set aside any time for it at all. And paying attention to these things does take time. It takes time to process, enjoy, or even just dismiss, people’s words, and you can easily spend a good part of your days thinking about responses, etc. And in the end, what many people want to do is simply engage other people — in debate, in a fight, whatever. And that’s tiring from my end. I’m really too tired to fight anyone.
But I would like to here mention a completely unrelated item, since someone reminded me last night about the imminent arrival, I’m not sure when, of Losers: A Brief History of Notable Failures, a collection of Paul Collins’s pieces, all but one of which will have run in the pages of McSweeney’s. I recently saw the whole book, finally in manuscript form, and it’s just perfect. Collins writes about the most eccentric characters of the last three centuries, and does it with such clarity and such a light touch — I guarantee that anyone who likes anything at all about this site or our journal will covet this book. Collins represents, as much or more than anyone, what we’re aiming for when we put together McSweeney’s, so if you’ve missed his pieces — which have been in every issue to date — I urge you to look back and dig in. I only wish I could say when his book will be available. My guess is it’ll be about six months or so. Sorry about that.
Okay. Before the digression, we were talking about parody, imitation, patience, etc. This all has a bearing on the next question.
Like many people, I thought the McSweeneys.org site was a product of the actual McSweeney’s empire. But I was at your reading in Toronto, and you insisted that it wasn’t, and you were pretty convincing. Please please tell the truth, here. Are they you guys or not?
I promise you that we have nothing to do with mcsweeneys.org. I’m actually not sure if it still exists, for the same reason I mentioned above. I have seen the site, I swear to God, once. Many weeks ago, when it first appeared, I looked at it, thought it was kind of funny, and assumed it would go away. Other McSweeney’s staff members wanted to do very bad things to the proprietor of the .org site, but again, I thought it was clever (if for a short amount of time and not having read much of it).
But things are becoming disturbing. For instance, a person recently was trying to get in touch with me, and mistakenly went to that site first. This person emailed the M.R.-equivalent of that site, thinking her missive would get to me, and, most disturbingly, received an email back, from someone claiming to be me. She realized her url-mistake soon enough, but her experience was unsettling.
How do you get someone to stop impersonating you? There’s really no way to do it. If we threaten any sort of legal action, then we have another Danny Hellman/Ted Rall case, where it’s ugly and silly and everyone looks bad. If we leave it be, then many people — including The Wall Street Journal, which reported as much — believe that the two urls are part of a whole.
And here we are, giving the creator of the .org site exactly what I guess he wants: attention. I only hope that he will soon do the human thing and take down his site. We have been flattered by his imitation, but now are kind of tired.
Dear, dear M.R.,
How can we like you now that we hear you’re filthy rich? Could this be true, that a publisher paid $1.4 million for your paperback? [This letter was severely edited]
Okay Jason, As you know, because I don’t think of money as a personal effect, I’m not shy about revealing how money comes and goes. In this case, the path of this particular sum was interesting to me, and I had a feeling would be interesting to others. So, just to clarify: Only a fraction of the money in question actually makes its way to me. You see $1.4 million and you of course think it’ll be delivered straight to my door, the cash shoveled through my mail slot by two burly men in overalls. Oh but no. Chuckle, chuckle. No.
This is how it works: First, since Simon & Schuster contractually owned the rights to the paperback — but in this case agreed to auction those rights — they receive half of that auction price. So, S&S takes $700,000, leaving $700,000 for me. But not before the applicable agent takes 15 percent. Thus, $700,000 becomes $595,000. Then taxes. According to my accountant person, approximately 40 percent will be sliced, like meat from one of those wonderful rotating gyro meat-slicing machines. Which leaves $357,000, or most likely much less. Which is not bad, of course, but is not $1.4 million. And all of which Neal Pollack promises to blow on babes and room service during his book tour.
Now I’m confused. First you say you can’t afford to keep the site up, then you say you’re publishing books. How can you afford one but not the other? Are you stupid or am I?
Thank you for your question. It is a fine question. It has an answer. Okay.
The money coming from and going to each outlet — website, book projects — is different. Our website, because it generates no income — we take no ads because they are ugly — was becoming an unlimted revenue drain. We paid for web hosting, for web programming, but received nothing in return.
As is, the print version of McSweeney’s is self-sufficient — we sell all of the copies we print, and thus can recoup our investment issue to issue. McSweeney’s Books will also be self-sufficient in a similar way. We are currently negotiating with a few printers in the U.S. — our books will be printed here, not in Iceland, to cut down on costs and pass along more to the authors — to provide us with a creative credit situation, wherein they might float us until a given book’s revenues come through. Of course, it is very, very slow, this process of being paid for the books sold.
But the point is that the website was originally started as a secondary element to the print version, our primary focus. Not smart enough to borrow money from one venture to pay for another, we figured that with the website’s rising costs — our service was charging us quite a bit for our high mail volume — we might not be able to justify the expense. Only with the support of benefactors like the Massachusetts McSweeney’s, who had an interest in funding the site — whether that was altruistic or vain we can only speculate — did it make sense.
But while under the wing of McSweeney’s.com, we did a good deal of thinking about from whence money was coming and where it should be going. The question we had to ask was, is this website worth keeping up, given that at first glance it does not help our bottom line? We decided that it was, actually, important to our bottom line. Besides the subscriptions that are sold online, we will be using the website to provide readers with news about how to procure early and special copies of our books. With Neal Pollack’s book, for instance, we will afford readers the chance to pre-order signed and personalized copies of the book, at a discount, through us. Bulk discounts will be available, and we will be offering many incentives — T-shirts, rare copies of McSweeney’s, etc — to bookstores who order and/or sell the book in volume. News about incentives will be posted in the coming weeks.
This answer has been too long already. Hi.
Are you aware of the McSweeney’s look-alike site that is using your name and trying to sound like you? It is located, cleverly, at www.mcsweeneys.org. It looks very much like your site, but I do not believe it is your site. The links are the wrong color. There are too many pictures. The faux M.R. does not sound like you.
Can you explain this phenomenon and detail your plans for legal action to be taken against this imposter?
This is indeed weird. We admittedly started all this, by experimenting with the M.M.‘s, but one can never predict what will spawn from such things. We do not know these .org people — and aren’t the .org domains for nonprofits only? — but for the time being we will be enjoying watching their work. When was the last time someone did not a parody of something but simply a near-facsimile? Is Gus Van Sant behind all this?
Last week many of our readers were confused. Now we are confused.
But being confused is always better than being bored.
Two weeks ago I sent a copy of my zine, [name of zine withheld to protect reputation of zine], for you to look at and for a trade maybe with your magazine. I haven’t heard back yet, so I’m assuming you’re too important for me.
[Name removed to protect the letter-writer]
Dear angry person,
The odd thing is the sense of guilt I have, and my colleagues have, derived from the amount of things we are sent and to which we cannot adequately or promptly respond. Keeping up at this point is impossible. Even with one full-time person, Ms. Diane Vadino, helping with trade subscriptions and everything, we are still behind, completely behind. We have, for example, at this moment, 220 unopened submissions — and that is counting only those using the U.S. Mail. (The web submissions are double that, many dating back to January.) It is depressing, really, because every day — and even more so while I was on that recent tour — dozens of people have sent or handed to me or slipped through my mail slot the most incredible things — the most kind and happy letters, and gifts, and money even — everything but socks, which is what I really need. Dark grey socks, cotton, with good support up top. And yet we can only respond to a sad small percentage of everything without devoting all of our days to the task, which we cannot of course, given the amount of great things currently on TV. To keep up with everything and reciprocate in a proportionate way is at this point impossible.
But do not be angry, angry person. We are doing our best and you are too and there is “Baywatch Hawaii” and The Threepenny Review and thus no need to be sad.
Dear McSweeney’s Representative:
I was dismayed to read that your hero was none other than Goose Gossage, a pitcher I forever will associate with a certain ballclub that plays its home games in the South Bronx. On account of your publication’s overall sensibilities, and its apparent ties to the New England region, I had deluded myself into thinking that McSweeney’s was somehow aligned with the Boston Red Sox. If you think about your choice of hero a little more deeply (beyond mere statistics), I am sure you will conclude that Luis Tiant is far more deserving of your admiration (despite his sad two-year stint with said unmentionable team).
I just opened Time (I was at the dentist) and there you were, again. Is it just me, or are you dangerously close to being preposterously overexposed?
(of The Great State of Ohio)
Well, hmm. There is a certain logic to that way of thinking, and then again, maybe there is not so much logic.
First of all, let this be known:
For McSweeney’s, we have never issued a press release. We have never made one publicity-related phone call. We do not send the journal to any media people unless they pay for it. What press we are lucky to get just happens — people like the journal, write something about it, and ideally get our address right. We are thankful for this attention, because without it, we sell fewer copies, and when we do not sell all of the copies of a given issue — and it took us until last week to sell all of No. 2 — we lose more money than we already do.
Still, when people call to write about the journal or my own dumb book, we or I run through the same thinking you or anyone else might. We first think it would be good to talk to this or that reporter, to help make people aware of what we do or have done. Then we think that perhaps it would not be good, because then people like yourself will think McSweeney’s, or me personally, overexposed. But then another feeling overrides the others, and this is what that feeling says: Er, what?
For example, today we got an email from the Maroon, the newspaper of the University of Chicago. They wanted to do an interview. Did we wonder whether we should or should not do an interview with the Maroon, the newspaper of the University of Chicago? Did we wonder if we could or could not spare the ten minutes on the phone, or whether or not it was worth talking to such a small periodical in such a very cold city?
No, no. All those thinkings would take too much time to think. So we just said yes. The day before, someone from Book magazine, also in Chicago, called to ask a few questions. We were home at the time, happened to be close enough to the phone to pick it up, and thus answered this person’s brief, simple questions. It was not hard. If we had not been home, we would not have talked to this man. If we were on vacation, we would not have talked to this man. But if we are home, and we pick up the phone, we talk, and when we are done talking, we hang up the phone and then have a snack.
It is not difficult, and very little thought goes into it. If it feels to you like overexposure, then perhaps you are reading too many magazines. One is enough, Susan, and that one should be RePlay, the magazine for sellers of pool tables, jukeboxes and pinball machines.
The other important thing to note about that Time piece in particular, should it be of any interest:
That ridiculous picture was not the one we hoped would run. The good folks at Time, when we said we would be willing to stand out in the cold and take a picture for them, agreed, and duly sent a photographer. The five of us stood in the middle of 10th Street and 6th Avenue in Brooklyn, in temperatures hovering below a very low amount of degrees, for an hour.
Before we started, however, a woman, about 70, stepped into our lives. She was shoveling snow out from under her car when she noticed us all huddled together taking a picture. She waved hello. Sean Wilsey, editor at large, waved back and asked her to join the fun. Without hesitating, she did. She dropped her shovel and marched over and gathered in with us. She was not more than five feet tall, so she stood in the middle of our throng, with her arm around Mr. Wilsey’s waist and, best of all, her hand on the top of Todd Pruzan’s head. (Todd was sitting below her, for no very good reason, on a red beanbag.)
We discovered that the woman’s name was Sabrina, and that she is 72, and from Sicily. After Wilsey and she compared Italy notes — he worked, no joke, for some time as a gondolier in Venice — she stayed from the first frame to the last, and, outside of saying, twice, to the photographer, “Hurry up, lady!,” she complained very little.
When we finished, we were reasonably confident that we had completed the very best photo shoot that had ever been done in this part of Brooklyn with a 72-year-old woman. But then, like you, we opened this magazine, Time, and found not this masterwork, but rather a ludicrous picture of one of us, taken a year ago for another magazine, sitting Potsie-style on a chair, grinning away wildly, ostensibly because he is so very satisfied to have written all about his family’s darkest secrets. Nice.
We hope that answers your question.
Paul, please bring Susan her free gift.
Dear McSweeney’s Rep.,
I just read in New York magazine that your hero is David Foster Wallace. That’s so cute!
Dear Ms. Mink,
Okay. Now the story must be told.
First of all, I should say that the idea in general, cooperating-with-such-magazines-wise, is this: if people write about McSweeney’s or the book, then bookstores order more copies of both, which in turn enables McSweeney’s to sell more copies — and it should be noted that it is still excruciatingly difficult to get our journal distributed quickly and effectively — which in turn keeps us afloat, which in turn might eventually enable McSweeney’s to do some of the other things we’d like to do, such as pay our writers, and perhaps publish new books, and booklets, and a regular series of more topical pamphlets and tracts, including one, in the works right now, about the nuances of electrical lighting on large boats. We are very serious about all this.
So. The writer in this case spent an hour and a half in my living room. He talked to me and to associate editor Todd Pruzan, who was there looking over proofs of Issue No. 4.
At some point the writer asked what my relationship to Mr. Wallace was. I said that he had been kind enough to let us publish his work, and that our relationship did not extend much further than that. He asked if I liked Wallace’s writing. I said I did. He asked which writers were my favorites among those working today. I named a bunch of writers. Did I say that Wallace was my hero? Of course not. My respect for Mr. Wallace knows no bounds, but would I have called him, to a writer from this magazine we’re talking about, my hero? No, no. Especially considering that my hero, as anyone who knows anything knows, is Goose Gossage*.
The magazine writer, however, desiring to make some sort of connection between my work and Wallace’s — not a very fitting connection, under a few superficial characteristics — inserted the hero part, and then went a step further, by writing that my book, like those of Mr. Wallace, has footnotes.
Not a big deal, but the truth is that my book has no footnotes. Not one footnote. (I just checked to make sure none were inserted since last I saw it.) There is, however, a preface. Perhaps that is considered, by some, the same thing.
So. These two factual tweaks are kind of funny, but not as funny as others, a few of which were corrected before publication. For example, at one point, a factchecker called me, and, reading a galley of the article written by this person, wanted to confirm that the suburb I had grown up in, which is twenty miles from Chicago, was on Lake Erie.
I hope this has answered your question.
- Nine-time All Star (1975-78, 80-82, 84-85); intimidating relief pitcher; Fireman of the Year in 1975 with White Sox and 1978 with Yankees; led AL in saves with 26 (1975), 27 (1978); 1,002 career appearances; 310 saves.
A long time ago, you requested that readers send you any copies of Will Cuppy’s stuff that they could find, as you were having trouble getting hold of them. Did any reader ever send you “How To Be A Hermit” or “How To Get From January To December” by Mr. Cuppy? If not, I’ll send them to you. I got them in a used books for credit trade at Avenue Victor Hugo in Boston — a great place.
Someone actually did bring, to a fete we hosted some time ago, three pristine copies of Cuppy’s works, and presented them as gifts. They were much appreciated, so much so that they were immediately placed in the M.R.‘s sporty black backpack, the sad fate of which is described in the new print edition of McSweeney’s (though in telling the story there, we had forgotten that the Cuppy books were among the bag’s contents). So yes, please send these copies, if you can spare them. This time we will be more careful.
Shamefacedly, I confess to having moved with no notification to the bulk-mailing operation of McSweeneys, save that provided by the U.S. Mails. I’m sure this has cost someone a wad by now, or perhaps it is I who will pay the piper, but the point is, should I venture back to the old address and rifle through their mails, would I find the very magazine you mailed to me, or would it be lost to the people who starred with Greg Kinnear in “Dear God”? Can I get absolution, or perhaps more tangibly, a replacement issue 3?
You make us sad. No, things mailed via Book Rate, like our journal, are not forwarded by the Post Office. Sometimes they are sent to the old address and remain there, enjoyed by the new residents. Most of the time, however, they disappear — they are usually not even returned to us. So when susbcribers do not notify us of their movements, and then want a replacement issue, it costs us: $2.40 (or thereabouts) for the originally-sent issue, $1.33 for the mailing of this issue, and then another $2.40 (or thereabouts) for the mailing of replacement issue, and another $1.33 for its postage. $7.46 total.
So it makes us unhappy to have to incur this kind of expense because Molly, when considering and executing her move, might have thought of boxes and insurance and emailed notices to friends and relatives, but she did not think of McSweeney’s, who have done so much for her, for so long, and have asked for so little in return.
So will Molly get a free replacement copy of Issue 3? We are heartbroken but we cannot say no.
Why doesn’t the Hungry Mind like you? On your Internet Tendency (and Web Indication), you list Hungry Mind in Minneapolis as being a place to acquire your publication. . . however, in your nice and recent issue (#3?) in the fine print of where to buy McSweeneys – under Minneapolis it says Hungry Mind. . . and that Hungry Mind doesn’t like McSweeneys. Actually, your entire publication (and Internet Tendency/Web Indication as well) is fine print (in every sense). Hungry Mind did produce a useful T-shirt a while back with a Quayle quote about not having a mind — which, when worn, causes people standing behind one in the supermarket line to laugh — seemingly at one but I suppose really at Mr. Quayle. Dan Quayle. Mr. Dan Quayle. I’m really on the fence about Hungry Mind in spite of the T-shirt. So. Just wondering in Wisconsin (not Western Wisconsin).
Mr. or Ms. Barribeau,
We felt obligated to answer this question, as many people have been recently asking the same thing. This is what happened: Many many months ago, when McSweeney’s was young and distribution was excruciatingly hard to come by — and harder to expand upon — the M.R. did something foolish and drastic, because he is a horrible businessperson and was desperate to move copies from his dining room to make way for a new, large houseplant: he began simply sending boxes of copies straight to bookstores, without first consulting them, in hopes that they would like the journal and would sell it because it was nice and they were nice. And for the most part, this tactic worked. About a dozen retailers, from Iowa to L.A, received the copies, liked them, displayed them, sold them and all were happy.
But not so with Hungry Mind. After receiving a box of 20 copies, a woman at Hungry Mind wrote a letter back to the M.R., which started with the following salutation:
“OF ALL THE NERVE!”
and went downhill from there. She explained that she did not order the copies (we knew that), that she did not want the copies (we were sad about that), and that she would not sell them.
So. With that, the woman at Hungry Mind — her name eludes us at the moment — joined the ranks of those who have accused the McSweeney’s team of acting unprofessionally and unbusinesslike. And in that summation (we have said this before) she is absolutely correct. Sigh.
— The M.R.
Over a month ago I submitted a story to you. After hearing nada for two weeks, I submitted it again. I still have heard nothing. What is the problem?
We appreciate your submission. We really do. Much of what we publish, on the web and in our print version, comes from strangers like you, who are kind enough to send their work to us, with no hope of payment, much less a contributor’s photo. But please do not mistake us for something real, an entity with real employees and timetables and worries about being prompt, etc. Think of the McSweeney’s operation not as a well-engineered German precision sports car-type vehicle but more like, say, a hammock. We are simply here, stretched between this and that, and we do our best.
There are some months, for example, when we do not read any submissions at all. We are currently about 150 behind, dating back to — no joke — late May. We do not feel good about this kind of sluggishness, but then again, we do not feel all that bad about it, either.
So. Bear with us. If your submission, however, is extremely time-sensitive, then indicate this in your subject heading. Otherwise, go grab a cold beverage and put your feet up. Is there anything good on TV? I bet there is.