How McSweeney’s zags where other publishers zig

The American publisher has spent the last 23 years defiantly doing the opposite of everyone else in the book and magazine world. Here’s how McSweeney’s creates its distinctive and often daring tone of voice

Every year, on the first day of Autumn, McSweeney’s reposts a now infamous and expletive-ridden piece by Colin Nissan – celebrating the gourd-mania that comes with the season. The publisher has been doing this for 12 years, selling thousands of pieces of merchandise off the back of the post, and sending ‘decorative gourd season’ so deep into the internet’s cultural lexicon that the Smithsonian has even used the term.

It’s a classic move from McSweeney’s, which has been defying publishing convention since it was set up in 1998 by author Dave Eggers. In its earliest days it was just a black and white website – it’s still largely monochrome and text-heavy – called McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. It shared satirical musings, short stories, and a whole raft of other pieces that don’t fit into any particular news or magazine format.

Top image: McSweeney’s Quarterly 58; Above: McSweeney’s Quarterly 64 – the audio issue, photographed by Mark Davis. All images courtesy McSweeney’s