Dispatches | April 19, 2012

We were lucky enough to speak with C. Max Magee, editor in chief of literary super-blog The Millions, and he was kind enough to answer some of our questions. Check out the interview, then check out our website as well.

We were lucky enough to speak with C. Max Magee, editor in chief of literary super-blog The Millions, and he was kind enough to answer some of our questions. Check out the interview, then check out our website as well.

1. The Millions has been around for very nearly a decade now. What was the
impetus to start The Millions (beyond thinking a blog was a good idea)? How
did the website start? How has it grown in the intervening years?

The Millions was founded in 2003 as my personal blog but grew over the
years into an online magazine focusing on books, arts, and culture. At
any given time we have about 15 part-time writers, editors, and
interns on staff and we have published over 500 different writers,
including Jeffrey Eugenides, Margaret Atwood, and John Banville. I
started the site because I was looking for something that would
motivate me to write more, and the site rather quickly began to focus
on books because I was working in an independent bookstore in Los
Angeles and spending a lot of time immersed in the world of books. As
the site started to attract a few readers, other writers and book
lovers that I knew became interested in the project, and it basically
grew from there.

2. While The Millions is primarily a literary site, it also functions as a
overarching cultural critic, encompassing a wide range of topics,
approaches, and issues. Given that, how does content get chosen, picked, or
edited? In other words, what is The Millions’ process for choosing content?

There is no editorial board and I’m the point of contact for almost
all of what we publish. Anyone can email pieces or pitches my way, and
if it catches my eye and it is up to the standards we’ve established,
we’ll use it. While we occasionally assign pieces to staffers, 90% of
what we publish comes in over the transom. This is why we might
publish a review of a new book one day and a family memoir the next. I
think the web is very well suited to that open flow. The web has
trained us to expect randomness. Google reader is a long stream of
random content. We listen to 10,000 songs on shuffle on our ipods. The
Millions is like that too, curated for form and quality, less so for

3. We’ve been spending a lot of time recently reblogging your Tumblr posts.
How do you think the explosion of social networking in the Web 2.0 age has
changed the landscape for websites? How are the various outlets–website,
blog, Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Pinterest–harnessed together to present an
integrated experience for the website user? Also, excuse that last sentence
for sounding a little pretentious-y.

Social media has changed everything. It used to be that the bread and
butter of attracting new readers was hoping for mentions from other,
bigger sites, now it’s possible to build and devolop an audience on
those social platforms, and your followers on those platforms become
great advocates for your content. We have over 100,000 Twitter
followers (https://twitter.com/#!/The_Millions) and the bulk of our
new traffic now comes from Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and Reddit. I
think this is by far the biggest change for us in the last few years.

4. Which brings us to our next question: What is The Millions’ USP? Given
how many literary websites there are, why do you think The Millions has
managed to carve out such a large niche for itself? What do you attribute
that to? Are there specific editorial decisions that are geared towards
maintaining that USP as regards content?

I think part of it is that we’ve been around so long and are so
reliable. We have published one or two quality long-form pieces every
single weekday for years now. There aren’t a lot of sites out there
that can even pass that hurdle. Being bigger allows us to attract more
talented writers, and having more talented writers allows us to
attract more readers. There’s something of a snowball effect there.
Looking at content specifically, we try to be timely but we don’t
chime in on every little scandal and rumor. We don’t waste readers’
time with slideshows or repurposed pieces from other sites. We try to
be unpredictable and surprise readers; I think it’s great that you can
fire up The Millions each day and have no idea what to expect. We also
have a team of great curators who make our Curiosities link blog
another draw on the site.

5. You recently edited (along with Jeff Martin) a book called “The Late
American Novel” in which various authors talked about the future of books.
What are your own views on it? How do you see the publishing market in, say,

I’m pro-reading and I’m platform agnostic. I think this is a great
time to be a reader. I don’t think it makes sense to make predictions,
but the current trends point to further disruption in the industry and
a further blossoming of choices and access for readers. The internet
has allowed readers to find each other and sites and communities
catering to those readers to flourish. Not only is it now suddenly
possible to get your hands on almost any book you could ever want,
it’s possible to find people to talk to about that book. It’s possible
to write about that book for The Millions and be read by tens of
thousands of people.

6. As a literary website that is not attached to any academic institutions,
how do you feel the presence of so many writing programs has affected the
literary landscape? There’s a constant debate between the “McStory” theory
aficionados and the “Time to Write” theory adherent, and as an impartial
observer, your opinions/views would be most welcome to inject some fresh
life into a tired debate.

I don’t have a lot to say about it, since I have never been a part of
that world, and, as a reader, it’s something I don’t think about much.
(I think this is true of most readers, unless those readers are MFA
grads.) I subscribe to the view that having an MFA isn’t a determiner
of quality one way or the other, something that was nicely summed up
by our staffer (and MFA grad) Edan Lepucki in a recent column.

7. Any advice/ suggestions/ morsels of hope to those attempting to be a part
of the publishing, writing, blogging about literature world?

If you want to be a writer, get out there and write! Pursue your work
aggressively, which isn’t the same thing as being an aggressive
networker. I’m interested in writers who are full of ideas and who are
writing regularly whether they are getting published or not. I want
writers who are looking to establish themselves through their work,
not through networking and trying to know the right people.