By Ann Cinzar of AnnCinzar.com
There’s a reason McSweeney’s is a top publication goal for many people. It’s a great humor site. Once you’re published there, you’ll gain the respect and admiration of all the cool and literate people in your life. And everyone else—friends, family, your husband—will say “McWhat?” But screw them. They don’t know from funny.
Here’s your guide to getting bragging rights for life.
Follow the guidelines.
McSweeney’s outlines specific submission guidelines on their site. Follow them. This may be a humor site, but they still expect professionalism. Chris Monks, the editor, is the nicest guy you’ll never meet. Still, no one wants to publish people who aren’t smart enough to follow the rules. Moreover, dumb people aren’t funny. Well, except when they’re doing slap stick. Or in The Hangover. That was hilarious. But that’s not what you’re doing here! This is McSweeney‘s! Smarten up!
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Use Current Cultural References and Popular Topics and Figures.
Sometimes things in culture are so perverse that they’re easy targets, like hipsters. Or the election cycle of 2016. But you have to take it one step further. I got published on McSweeney’s with a piece about our over programmed parenting lifestyle and the fact that our kids are signed up for a million activities. Too funny, right? No. But blaming it on the “10,000 hour rule” and Malcolm Gladwell? Hilarious! I’m not saying you need to read it, but sure, go ahead. Anyway, McSweeney’s articles often take a common cultural phenomenon, and subvert it, or add a twist. Sometimes we need to find laughter from the stifling cog of our existence, otherwise we’d just cry.
Formulate A Good Concept.
McSweeney’s is about conceptual humor. You can’t simply bang off a riff about an amusing anecdote from your trip to the grocery store, or things your kid says that you think are charming. Those aren’t fully formed concepts. And other people’s kids really aren’t’ that charming. You need to take what you think is funny and add another dimension: not just funny, but smart-funny. Now, I’m speaking metaphorically here, of course, but it’s like the cute guy who engages in witty banter with you and charms your, um, socks off with his clever use of double entendres. Or in those Aaron Sorkin shows where they walk with intention down long hallways while exchanging witty repartee? That’s McSweeney’s. But be careful! Don’t try to outsmart the smarty pants. You don’t want to be so clever and conceptual that you are no longer funny. This isn’t Shouts and Murmurs!
Pick a Great Title
A strong title is key to getting a piece accepted. A perfect example is Kaly Sullivan’s piece “Course Catalogue for Children Who Can’t Get Their Heads Out Of Their Asses.” The title tells you up front not only that you want to be best friends with Kaly, but also that this is going to be a funny piece. If you don’t understand the humor in that title, McSweeney’s is not for you. Or you don’t have kids. Or at least not a boy. Boys have their heads so far up…well, never mind. Just pick a great title.
If at first you don’t succeed, then you must not be that funny. No, no, just kidding. Try, try again. McSweeney’s receives hundreds of submissions per week, so don’t take it personally. I was accepted with my first submission to McSweeney’s but of course, it’s really funny. You should read it. Anyway, even if you get a rejection, it will come within a couple of weeks, and it will be accompanied by the sweetest rejection note. As I mentioned, Chris, the editor, is kind and gentle. I mean, I’m sure my notes are a bit more personal and intimate, but I have a special bond with Chris. Like, you know how you can tell that if you ever met Ellen, or Ryan Gosling, you’d totally hit it off? Like that.
Once your piece is published on McSweeney’s and it gets shared with 85 people, you can hang up the proverbial gloves because you have made it! You’ll dine out on your McSweeney’s byline for years. I mean figuratively dine out, because they don’t pay. But what you lose in financial compensation is offset by the knowledge that you are just as funny as Tina Fey. Or Amy Poehler. Or Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. More importantly, self-esteem has little to no calories.
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and Keep Trying!
Since my first acceptance I’ve had a number of rejections. Sure, sometimes I feel like Chris has broken up with me, despite our initial instant connection. I’m definitely not trying desperately to win him back. Every day. It’s fine…I know he can’t accept everything I send him. And the truth is, humor is subjective. And sometimes love is blind.
Ann Cinzar writes about lifestyle, culture and family. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Brevity, The Globe and Mail, and elsewhere. Connect with her on Twitter and Facebook