HANNAH TINTI grew up in Salem, Massachusetts. Her short story collection, Animal Crackers, has sold in sixteen countries and was a runner-up for the PEN/Hemingway award. Her best-selling novel, The Good Thief, is a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, recipient of the American Library Association’s Alex Award, winner of the John Sargent Sr. First Novel Prize,and winner of the Quality Paperback Book Club’s New Voices Award.
Hannah is also co-founder and editor-in-chief of One Story magazine, and received the 2009 PEN/Nora Magid award for excellence in editing. Recently, she joined the Public Radio program, Selected Shorts, as their Literary Commentator. Hannah will be reading on Tuesday, July 30th for Fiction Addiction’s A Night with One Story.
One Story is an award-winning literary magazine that has been operating successfully for eleven years now, publishing over 180 different authors, and captivating a wide audience of readers. How did you and Maribeth Batcha originally decide to found the magazine?
Maribeth and I were both MFA students when we met. At the time I had worked for a number of magazines in the editorial departments, and Maribeth had done the same but on the business side, handling printing, circulation, and subscription fulfillment. Maribeth came up with the concept of One Story being one story at a time, and together we brainstormed to bring it to life. The idea was the subvert/fix problems that literary magazines at the time were facing (expensive to print & mail, irregular publishing schedules, low circulation, publishing the same people over and over, and basically running out of money and energy and folding after a few years). The main points we came up with for One Story were:
1. To look at short stories as stand-alone works of art.
2. To publish frequently, in order to create a relationship with our subscribers.
3. To print something beautifully designed but small and light, so that it would be easy to read, easy to carry around, and inexpensive to print and mail.
4. To never publish an author more than once, so that the magazine would never become a clique and our readers would get a new voice with each issue.
5. To maintain a connection between our reader and writers, and to continue to support our authors, long after they had published with us.
Maribeth got a bonus at work, a few thousand dollars, and we started the magazine with that money. Our first issue was “Villanova: Or How I Became A Former Professional Literary Agent” by John Hodgman.
What were some of the greatest obstacles you have faced throughout the years in running One Story?
Most literary magazines out there are supported by universities, or large individual donors who fund the business and pay for staff. But we’ve never had that. So the biggest obstacle was keeping the magazine going, which was a full time job, on top of our other, regular, paying full-time jobs. Maribeth and I only recently started taking an extremely modest, part-time salary (we still both hold other jobs to pay rent, etc.). But for the first nine years or so, we both worked for free, paid for the magazine out of our own pockets, and did it all on top of other pretty demanding jobs. It did not leave a lot of time for having personal lives, or doing laundry. There were definitely days when either Maribeth or I turned to the other and said, “I don’t think I can do this anymore”. But luckily, each time the other would step in, and shoulder more of the work temporarily until things got under control again. That’s why it’s kept going, I think—because we have a really good working partnership, and different skills that complement each other. We also have an amazing support staff, mostly volunteer, who have helped us with everything from events like AWP and Brooklyn Book Festival to reading slush and daily office operations to helping us apply for grants. And of course, our writers—who give us such amazing stories to publish. One Story would not exist without them.
In the quickly changing landscape of publishing, how has the role of the literary magazine shifted? Do you think there are more opportunities for exposure to the general public than there were before? What specific role does a magazine like One Story play within the wider publishing field?
I think One Story plays a very important role in the publishing world, as both a source and a resource. Because of our “no repeat” rule, agents and editors read the magazine to discover new writers that they can work with and publish. After each issue comes out, I receive scores of calls and emails from industry professionals looking to make contact with our writers. At the same time, publishers and agents also look to One Story to help spread the word when their author’s books are released. We have 15,000 very dedicated and enthusiastic readers, and One Story does all we can to support our authors and keep them connected to those readers—using our social media platforms, and also hosting readings, doing insert mailings (such as our “New Books by One Story Authors” program), email blasts, and our annual “Literary Debutante Ball”—which celebrates any One Story author who has published their first book in the past year. For many of our writers, especially those publishing with small presses, this exposure has made an enormous difference in their literary careers.
As an acclaimed author yourself, how has working on both sides of the editorial process changed the way you work? Has editing other writers’ work opened up the way you read and edit your own, and visa-versa?
It has made me much harder on myself as a writer. It can be difficult to shut off the editor-side of my brain, especially when forming early drafts. At the same time, I’m grateful to all the authors (185 and counting) that I’ve worked with. Each editing experience has taught me something new, given me a sharper eye, and helped me to dig deeper into my own work.
What advice would you give to other aspiring editors interested in starting their own small press or literary magazine?
1. You will start with a great deal of excitement and energy—but that energy and excitement will dim, especially when you are not getting paid for the work you are doing. Be realistic about your time and what you can contribute.
2. Make sure the people you go into business with are dedicated and hard-working. Not just party-people or people looking to further their own careers. Try and find people who have different skills sets. Does anyone know html or indesign? How to create an online database? Apply for grants? Do taxes for a LLC/non-profit? Have contacts with printers or distributors?
3. How are you going to pay for this? Sit down and figure out the financial aspects of everything before you get started, from domain name to possible salaries and what you’ll be paying the authors.
4. Take a look at the current literary marketplace—and try to do something different than what is already out there. You need to find a way to set yourself apart from the crowd.
5. Don’t be a snob or make enemies. Be nice and friendly to everyone—from interns to best-selling authors.
6. Learn how to reject with kindness. And be prepared for people to hate you for it anyway.
7. If you are a writer—realize that running a lit mag is going to take all of your writing time away. You’ll need to set up some firewalls/time away to keep your own work moving forward.
8. Join CLMP (council of literary magazines and presses). An amazing organization that has helped One Story in so many ways.
9. Continue to grow. One Story would have gone south long ago if we didn’t find ways to change and expand. We started as a tiny zine that we cranked out of our apartments, and now we’ve got a full staff and an office, a sister publication (One Teen Story), an educational department, a digital edition (iPad/Kindle), and many other aspects beyond the magazine itself. In other words: be open to change and welcome it. If you feel like things are going stale, open up a window and let in something new.