Editor Interview

Chronicle exists so that everyone can be a reader of high-quality fiction. Part of our mission is to use technology make fiction accessible to everyone, all the time. We're always thinking about our place in the larger scheme of the publishing market and how to make nonreaders into lovers of literature. We believe that Chronicle is the right tool for the job. We did an editor interview over at Duotrope where we talk at length about Chronicle's philosophy about literariness, fiction-at-large, and the publishing industry. Here's the link, and if you don't have an account, no worries! We kept a copy for us.


Duotrope Editor interview

Question: Describe what you publish in 25 characters or less.

Answer: Catastrophic fiction.


Question: What other current publications (or publishers) do you admire most?

Answer: There is some fantastic fiction coming out of journals like The Paris Review, Tin House, etc., but we take issue with their archaic approach. What really interests us are platforms that make art accessible to everyone. That means lowering the barrier to creation as well as consumption. We’re always watching what tech companies like Spotify and Soundcloud are doing, how they’re disrupting the music industry by putting artists in direct contact with audiences. For us, the challenge is bringing fiction into the small moments of free time that people have today. The question I’m always asking is: how do we bridge the gap between the everyday lives of nonreaders and those of us who already love literature? We think it’s by capturing the short moments currently owned by social and news media. So on the one hand we like the literature produced by top-tier journals, but on the other we really admire technology platforms that mainline art directly to consumers.


Q: If you publish writing, who are your favorite writers? If you publish art, who are your favorite artists?

A: There are a handful of writers without whom the modern fiction story would be unrecognizable. Amy Hempel shows us everything that’s good about the short story. Don DeLillo’s individual sentences are a masterwork of language and his novels are the pinnacle of what American Literature is capable of. David Foster Wallace, Roberto Bolaño, Haruki Murakami, these are a few contemporaries we just can’t get enough of. Literature should be funny, it should be readable, and it should be ambitious. We’re standing on the shoulders of these amazing writers, trying to peek over the wall of what’s possible in fiction.


Q: What sets your publication apart from others that publish similar material?

A: Literature journals target a highly-educated elite who already love fiction. At Chronicle, our goal isn’t to reach an audience of readers, it’s to make everybody a reader. It’s about bridging the gap between reading internet news and picking up Middlemarch. You can’t win people over if you’re swelled up on your own expertise, and you can’t expect anyone to read fiction if you’re not in-tune with the way people spend their time. We curate our publication to meet a certain standard, but fundamentally we want to make short stories so easy, so accessible, that people will open Chronicle while they’re waiting for the bus, sitting in a waiting room, wherever. Our competition isn’t The Missouri Review, it’s Facebook. We want our app to sit right next to that blue tile, so that when you’re waiting for your date to show up, you’re reminded that you can do something substantive with your time instead of scrolling through the nonsense-feed. We’re a bridge into the world of literature and our target audience is every English-speaking person, not just the educated and privileged.


Q: What is the best advice you can give people who are considering submitting work to your publication?

A: Just because a story is short doesn’t mean it’s small. Philip Levine, the poet, does more in twenty lines than most authors do in dozens of novels. Fine-tune, edit, and rewrite—we aren’t asking for perfection, but we look for stories that punch above their weight. We always talk about the length-to-impact ratio. Our max word count is 1000, but our favorites are often much shorter than that.


Q: Describe the ideal submission.

A: The best stories surprise us, they use language in inventive ways, and they’re ambitious. We love diversity of voice. We have contributors from all around the world and we accept all genres because we don’t pretend to know where the next great voice is going to come from. Making fiction more democratic means new styles and patterns can emerge—we don’t believe anyone should be the keyholder to what’s next.


Q: What do submitters most often get wrong about your submissions process? How much do you want to know about the person submitting to you? Do you care about cover letters? If so, do lists of previous publication credits matter to you?

A: Very little until we accept a story. Chronicle authors are a global community, and we love the array of perspectives. The only information we have for a first-read is the author’s name and the story title. The work is all that matters. We designed our submission manager to filter everything else out.


Q: If you publish writing, how much of a piece do you read before making the decision to reject it? Do you read every piece to the end, or can you generally tell if the piece isn't right for you within the first few paragraphs or pages?

A: We read through everything at least once. We can frequently tell from the first couple of paragraphs, but it’s our policy to finish everything because often the best stories don’t pay out until the end.


Q: What additional evaluations, if any, does a piece go through before it is accepted?

A: In the cases of stories that are on the edge of have pointed, unsubtle opinions, we sit on them a bit longer. It’s our policy to hash through the difficult decisions, so we have a lot of conversations about stories in gray-areas. We want to foster, full, nuanced understandings of complex issues, so it’s important to present all the sides of a politically charged problem.


Q: How important do you feel it is for publishers to embrace modern technologies?

This could include electronic submissions, online social networking services, electronic or POD publishing options, etc. If you don't think it's important for publishers to embrace current technologies, why do you think it's important for publishers to remain traditional?

A: Let me reframe the question: When did you last consult a phone book?

Our mission is to keep literature in the public consciousness. Let’s break down the process of a literary journal. They get thousands of submissions per year, they accept fewer than 1% of those stories. Many writers wait years and never even get a rejection letter. These editorial teams, typically comprised of high-minded scholars educated in literature, compile a mixture of stories from high-profile writers and a few up-and-comers, and they print physical copies that get sent out to a few thousand highly-educated, like-minded readers.

Now if you’re a highly educated reader, this doesn’t sound so bad—it saves you the time of having to sift through all the slush. You know what you like and there are editorial teams who curate everything for you. But what about the huge portion of the population who doesn’t want to read high-canon, literary fiction? What about the person in her early twenties who hasn’t read since college, who wants to spend her time doing something more substantial than idling on Netflix and Facebook? What does that person see when she cracks the spine of Tin House at Barnes and Noble? If we’re really honest with ourselves, and I think we ought to be, then we have to admit that it isn’t good.

There are some good reasons that fiction is tethered to history and tradition. But we can’t allow it to be completely replaced by internet news and social media. In order to keep literature in the public consciousness, it needs to be accessible, it needs to be easy to find, and it needs to have a high value-to-length ratio. Facebook has dedicated organizations of designers and engineers whose goal is to make their platform just a little easier and more enticing to use. Chronicle is a bridge between the smartphone and the paperback, because it’s hard to sell people on the experience of reading fiction if there isn’t some way to ease them into it. If we don’t bridge this gap, then the distance between readers and nonreaders will continue to grow until literature becomes relegated to a specialty hobby. We believe that fiction is for everybody, and the way to reach people is through technology. Chronicle publishes fiction. We’re also a technology company. We made an app, not a website or a quarterly journal, because while we love Tin House, our mission is to make everybody a reader, not turn up our noses at them.


Q: Do you nominate work you've published for any national or international awards?

A: We love to promote our writers. Each accepted story is accompanied by an author profile that highlights the author’s other works. We credit each author on our website, and we highlight our favorite stories in deep-dive blog posts every month.