Maribeth Batcha and Hannah Tinti (r) are the co-founders of One Story. Photo by Jesse Winter
Amy Stolls: If you subscribe to “One Story” literary magazine, you receive just that, one short story in the mail every three weeks, one good story. And so not all literary magazines are, as they say, going the way of the dodo bird. This little magazine - it measures only 5 by 7- is standing tall. I’m Amy Stolls, Literature Program Officer with the National Endowment for the Arts. What follows is a brief conversation between the NEA’s Adam Kampe and cofounder and Editor-in-Chief of “One Story,” Hannah Tinti.
Adam Kampe: So if you could just introduce yourself and tell us who you are and what you do at “One Story.”
Hannah Tinti: Well, my name is Hannah Tinti and I’m the Editor-in-Chief and one of the cofounders of “One Story” magazine. “One Story” is a literary magazine that publishes one short story and sends it in the mail to our subscribers every three weeks. I founded it with Maribeth Batcha in April, 2002. And she’s the publisher of “One Story” and it was her idea to basically promote short stories as individual works of art, versus most literary magazines publish them in a format that’s more of an anthology. And a lot of times, writers can get lost in there. And oftentimes, when you, you know, sort of subscribe to those larger literary magazines, you only go through and read the writers that you know. So we wanted to create a new kind of literary magazine that had an entirely different kind of format than- and do something different than anyone else was doing. So our idea was to have the magazine come up frequently and to really promote emerging writers as well as established writers.
Adam Kampe: You know, I gotta say, I’m fascinated by the model. How did you settle on deciding to distribute “One Story” every three weeks?
Hannah Tinti: Yeah. We felt every two weeks was too often, and once a month seemed too little for what we were doing. So somehow, three weeks ended up being just the right amount of time to give someone- to really read and digest and be- you know, be ready for a new work. You know, unlike most art forms, you can sit down and in about 15 minutes have a complete artistic experience. You know, beginning, middle and an end and really walk away with something.
Adam Kampe: Speaking of artistic experiences, if I may, why don’t we pause for a moment and listen to a brief excerpt of a short story published in “One Story.”
Amy Stolls: “Below us, servants in pairs ambled past on their way to buy milk and vegetables. Other groups of men in loose white pajamas and singlets gathered at the corner cigarette stand, smoking and laughing, draped over each other’s shoulders in familiar fashion. A cricket game played by rough boys shared time with passing cars and auto rickshaws. Their shiny cork ball flew viciously through the air with many near misses of a car window or a person’s skull. I preferred the safe solitude of the roof.”
Adam Kampe: That was an excerpt of Mohan Sikka’s award-winning short story, “Uncle Musto Takes a Mistress,” read by Amy Stolls. You can actually hear the story in full read by its author at one-story.com. Okay. So, Hannah, what’s- what’s the breakdown of published authors versus authors who are publishing for the first time and “One Story”?
Hannah Tinti: About 10 percent of our writers that we’ve published have been debut authors publishing their very first fiction. And 75 of our authors out of the 135 that we’ve published so far have been emerging authors, which are writers who have not published a book yet. So my job at “One Story” is to go through all of our submissions, which come from our open submissions, which we do online, and also from agents and from editors at different publishing houses, and narrow that enormous amount of material-- you know, somewhere between 10,000 short stories, say, and narrow that down to about 18 stories that we- each year.
Adam Kampe: Wow! That’s quite a daunting task.
Hannah Tinti: It is. Luckily, I have, we’re, we’re pretty much an all-volunteer organization uhm.. and we have these wonderful readers who come and work with us. Most of them are MFA, recent MFA grads. And then once a month, we- we have an editorial meeting, and any- you know, any work that they really enjoyed, they’d bring to the table and we pass it around and discuss. As a result, we ended up publishing some authors right before they hit it really big. For example Nam Le, whose collection, “The Boat,” ended up making a really big splash when it arrived. we published him right before he- you know, his collection came out. Also, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who has also gone on and created quite a name for herself, we published her before she had published a book.
Adam Kampe: So I understand that “One Story” only publishes one author one time. Why is that?
Hannah Tinti: Because I feel that most of the magazines that I’m familiar with have a stable of writers that they go to time and time again. And, yes, while that makes the editors’ job a lot easier because you have these writers that you can count on to produce something really fantastic, and it does give a magazine a certain kind of style; at the same time my feeling is that, of course, coming from a writer’s point of view on this, I think there’s so many undiscovered voices out there. And what’s nice about is, now that we’ve grown to-- we’ve got about 7,500 paid subscribers, and they read every single issue.
Adam Kampe: And so with literary audiences allegedly shrinking, what is “One Story” doing to keep and/or grow their audience?
Hannah Tinti: Well, we’ve done a number of things that have really with the help of NEA, we’ve been able to do our first direct mail campaigns, which we’ve never been able to do before. And we’ve had an amazing response from it. We’re still getting in the responses now. And that- you know, already, we’re getting tons more subscribers from that. And that other thing that we did recently was to get onto Kindle. As a result, we’re the top literary magazine on Kindle publishing fiction, and we are getting more and more subscribers every day. So I feel like we’re providing an- an essential service and one that really is a really important part of American literature. If there are not these magazines like “One Story” out there writers, you know, will not get that sort of step that they need or that push that they need to- to move to the next level. You know, there are so many voices that won’t make it and particularly when it’s so difficult now to publish, and- and the- the publishing industry is in so much dire need. And I think that the people who are going to succeed are- are people like us who are trying to do it leaner and smarter.
Amy Stolls: That was an interview with Hannah Tinti, cofounder and Editor-in-Chief of “One Story.” To learn more about the NEA and its grantees, check out arts.gov. That’s A-R-T-S.G-O-V. Thanks for listening.
One Story is an innovative literary journal that publishes short fiction literally one story at time. In this audio clip, co-editor Hannah Tinti gives us an inside look at independent publishing. Read about two other independent publishers in “The Business of Books: Behind the Scenes at Coffee House Press and Narrative.”