Lehman first approached Clark in 1992 to help create a magazine with short stories that would be distributed from coast to coast. The first issue of Rosebud appeared in November 1993, the second issue in June 1994, having subsequent issues published each year without interruption. Usually, there have been three, sometimes two, issues published each year. Though the magazine’s emphasis is on encouraging emerging writers, Rosebud has published well-known writers as well
Many Rosebud writers are relatively unknown, but the magazine has, also, published pieces by Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Norman Mailer, Alice Walker, as well as Thomas Merton and General Patton.
John Smelcer, Rosebud’s Poetry Editor since 1995 – upon hearing that Stephen King had written a poem about his own son – made inquiries and published the poem in 2003.
Other contributors to Rosebud include Seamus Heaney, Ursula K. Le Guin, Allen Ginsberg, Philip Levine (United States Poet Laureate from 2011-2012), Jacquelyn Mitchard, Studs Terkel, X. J. Kennedy, Louis Simpson and Robert Pinsky, who was the U.S. Poet Laureate from 1997-2000 and the originator of the Favorite Poem Project.
Regarding Bradbury, "What began in 2003 with Bradbury — a celebrated eminence once again living in Los Angeles — kindly agreeing to allow Rosebud to reprint one of his early stories, eventually developed into a long-distance friendship with Rosebud publisher Rod Clark, culminating in Bradbury writing an original short story that had its world premiere in Rosebud."
Doug Moe, reporter for The Wisconsin State Journal, said in his review of Rosebud, "The writing has consistently shined, with the odd big name flavoring the mix. ‘We have a fairly wide network of friends,’ Clark said. They approached Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451, for permission to reprint one of his stories. When it was granted, they sent the author a copy of the magazine. ‘He liked it,’ Clark said. Bradbury's agent contacted Clark and said the author would like to submit a new story. Would that be OK? Clark said pretty quickly it would."
Besides authors and poets, Rosebud features the artwork of fine and graphic artists. Toni Pawlowsky, a painter, illustrator, graphic designer and commercial artist was featured in Issue #60, writing about her work in the section entitled "Eye of the Beholder." The illustrator and cartoonist, Rick Geary, has been a regular contributor to Rosebud with his work being featured on the inside back cover with original cartoons in "Afterwords."
Subject-matter that was initially conservative in content and tone has changed to include more unconventional submissions. As of 2015, Rosebud embraces both the more traditional and established genres in literature, as well as advant-garde pieces.
"Rosebud embraced all genres, but the one constant is stellar prose that grips the reader with in the first paragraph."
Visually, the magazine is illustrated with images, artwork, graphics, and calligraphy. Sir Paul McCartney’s artwork was featured on the front cover of Rosebud Issue 34 and Toni Pawlowsky’s art is featured throughout Issue 60, as well as gracing the front cover with "Dog Walker" and back with "She Took That Elephant Everywhere."
Rosebud is organized as an anthology magazine featuring fiction, non-fiction, short stories, essays, poetry and featured art, sometimes reviews, as well as behind-the-scenes insights from writers, artists and poets on their creative process. Each issue is formatted to contain five rotating tonal groups, for example, a female multi-role theme of "Mothers, Daughters, Wives" or, again, a compound theme of "Overtime," which included working, working overtime, and over working. Tonal groups contain stories, articles, profiles and poems with themes of love, alienation, travel, humor, nostalgia and unexpected revelation, all punctuated by showcased artwork.
"Among Rosebud’s hallmarks is a blurb accompanying each story or poem describing the origin of the piece or the author’s intention for creating it—‘like a window into the interior landscape of the writer,’ says Shoshauna Shy, whose work has appeared in the magazine."
During the school year, Rosebud is either subscribed by or donated to many schools and colleges, sometimes being used as an example of what an unconventional literary magazine looks and reads like. In addition, issues are regularly sent to urban and rural libraries. As a third method of outreach, complimentary copies are given for free to institutions housing residents.
Alongside its educational efforts to encourage literacy and reading, Rosebud recognizes fine writers and poets with several annual awards.
Rosebud, Inc. is a non-profit, Wisconsin educational corporation, recognized by the IRS in 1994 as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization. The founding board of directors was composed of: John Lehman, Roderick Clark and Tom Pomplun. As of 2015, the board of directors consists of: Roderick Clark, president and treasurer; Johnny Smelcer, vice president; Brian Soper, secretary; and Parnell Nelson, director.
Rosebud is a subscription-based periodical publication with direct mailing to subscribers from its headquarters in Wisconsin. It has a circulation of about 6,000, "a massive number for a small literary journal." The national bookstore and newsstand distribution of all copies is handled by Ingram Content Group. Rosebud is sold in large chain-bookstores and many independent book retailers throughout the United States and Canada. The magazine is available to schools and libraries through EBSCO and Turner Subscription Agency, Inc. It is also available in public and university libraries.
Rosebud is sustained almost entirely by subscriptions, bookstore sales and small donations from readers. Rosebud pays writers for each story, poem and article in addition to offering annual awards.
Rosebud has been and is a member of several professional organizations, including the Association of Independent Publishers, Council of Small Literary Magazines and the American Booksellers Association. Articles about its work have appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Wisconsin State Journal, Boston Globe, Baltimore Sun and Library Journal.
On January 25, 2016 and regarding sequel films to "Fifty Shades of Grey,' namely :Fifty Shades Darker" and "Fifty Shades Freed," Universal Pictures requested permission from Clark "to use several issues of 'Rosebud' magazine as set dressing in scenes throughout the film , in order to help achieve professional authenticity, as some scenes as set in a publishing firm." Clark granted permission the following day.
"The magazine's name, with its allusion to ‘Citizen Kane,’ was Lehman's idea.
Rosebud’s tagline was "The Magazine for People Who Enjoy Good Writing," and is now "The Biggest Little Magazine in the World."