Interview with T.D. Johnston, Founder of Short Story America

I finally managed a cyber sit-down with the incredibly busy and productive T.D. (Tim) Johnston. Aside from being an educator, and an author, Tim is the founder and editor of Short Story America which was recently named by Writer’s Digest as one of the Top 50 Online Literary Magazines in the world.

But, as you will see below, Short Story America is far more than a literary magazine. For starters, their first Anthology will be released this month, and they are publishing it under their own imprint.

It’s a beautiful book – hardback with dust jacket – containing 56 of their best stories from the last year or so (including one of mine). You can get your hands on a copy for only $29.95. That’s around 50 cents a story – a bargain for a book with such high production values – and if you get your order in soon, you can get a signed copy.

I have read some of the stories in the collection, and they are excellent – all kinds of stories with really great writing. But don’t just take my word for it, the early reviews have been excellent.

Can you tell us a little about Short Story America and about what gave you the idea?

I have taught short fiction throughout my life as an educator, teaching American Literature, World Literature and Creative Writing in college-preparatory schools. For years it has struck me that it is very hard to find good contemporary short stories, not because they are not being written, but because they are either unpublished or are published briefly by a review and then disappear, never to be read and appreciated by most of us. This is beyond unfortunate.

So I decided to leave the school world and start a publication which is devoted completely to the short story and its author. Short Story America is dedicated to advancing modern short stories, while also keeping hundreds of classic stories readily accessible online in a classy format, unlittered by nuisance advertisements swimming along the margins of the page. Short stories deserve to be read, and not just in the year and venue in which they were published.

So I started Short Story America, in the hope that others felt the same way. Many new friendships later, I’m glad I did.

There seems to be writers from all over the world in the Short Story America Anthology, you must be getting readers from all over too. How did you get the word out?

We used Facebook to spread the word about our mission and to bring authors to our website to see the atmosphere there. We also registered Short Story America with Duotrope and Writer’s Market. Then, we returned to Facebook when we began publishing stories, and word of mouth (or of keystroke, rather) has been our best friend ever since.

I noticed you set up your own imprint to publish the Short Story America Anthology, and a lot of the readers of this blog are self-publishers. Can you talk a little bit about the process of doing that and getting your book to print?

Short Story America Press is our imprint, and we subcontract only the manufacture of the books. We were not interested in the self-publishing companies, though they certainly serve a wonderful purpose for many individual authors.

We decided to control our own quality, and not offer our books to the Big Six publishers, etc. We are, by mission, a publisher of short stories in all formats: book, audio, e-reader and online.

So it made sense to work with a manufacturer directly, just like other book publishers. This way, a big book that could easily have cost the reader $40 is instead $29.95. That is better for both the reader and Short Story America.

You have done a lovely job on the hardcover collection. Do you have any plans for paperback and e-book versions? Will you handle the production of those yourself too?

We plan both softcover and e-reader versions, but our first priority is the first edition: the hardcover with dust jacket that says “Short stories are important, and so are their creators.” After the first edition sells out, we will turn our attention to softcover and e-reader versions. Until then our focus is on the first edition and on developing audio stories. We will produce everything.

Do you plan any other releases from your imprint or will you reserve it for these anthologies?

Short Story America Press will also publish other short-story collections, as a contracting and editing partner for authors. Some authors might prefer that we publish their book. We would not do so in a traditional sense, because we do not have a sales team nor a marketing team. Authors who wish to put their own collection out under the Short Story America imprint will submit a collection to us.

If we like the stories, we will negotiate a fee for publishing the book, and will assist in publicizing the book to our membership, on our website, and through social media. The author will own the book and control its distribution.

We will publish it (including editorial work directly between the author and me), and help to draw deserved attention to it. We will not publish a collection if we do not like it, so our full endorsement of the quality of the stories will come with this partnership.

I encourage authors who wish to publish a collection through Short Story America Press to contact me directly, at tim@shortstoryamerica.com.

Are you still taking submissions for the magazine? What are your guidelines?

Yes, we accept submissions year-round, and publish year-round. Our guidelines are at the website.

Describe the ideal submission. What really grabs your attention?

Our collection is eclectic, so it isn’t a gun to the head that’s necessary to start a story to grab my attention. What I want is to be interested in the story right away, whether subtly or explosively, whether humorously or disturbingly, etc. The beginning must compel me to keep going. If I feel like I will be missing something if I don’t keep reading this story, then this story is working on pages one and two.

Like any good story, the submission that grabs my interest early, and which makes me at least curious about the obstacle (whether immediate or developing) faced by the protagonist, and which makes me forget that I am an editor, is a submission to which I will give every chance. Some element of suspense is very important…in the many ways in which suspense can be achieved.

The only time short stories seem to be mentioned by the media is in an aside, usually stating that they are terminal decline. And while some famous magazines are gone, there are exciting new avenues like Short Story America, and some writers are starting to make money from self-publishing shorts. How do you see the state of the short story in general?

The short story’s greatest enemy is not its potential readers. One cannot blame readers for not reading short stories if the publishing establishment doesn’t put short stories within arm’s reach in this hectic life we have little choice but to experience.

The problem for short stories as an art form is that the good ones are hard to find. It is unrealistic and overly expensive to subscribe to thirty or forty literary reviews in hopes of occasionally finding a quality and memorable story, one which lasts for you even if you read it only once.

So the availability of short stories online is helping the art form due to the “locatability” of quick opportunities to try venues out without digging deep into one’s wallet. We need a comeback of truly reliable anthologies (like Short Story America’s), so that books of short stories continue to be passed on from generation to generation (that legacy happens physically, not on Kindle, which is a format I like but I don’t want to rely upon for my library of “keeper” stories. So long live the quality anthologies of stories!

I also believe that the short story art form will enjoy a renaissance as a result of audio downloads. A short story is perfect for the commute, for example, as it is experienced in one sitting, whether in a car or train or plane, or on a jog, or reclining on a beach. That’s why we are making audios of our stories. A well-read short story is a quality entertainment experience for the listener, and can be enjoyed completely, not broken up with necessary rewinds and re-starts. If technology has hurt the short story in the past fifty years, now it will, ironically, help bring it back.

You are a writer as well as editor and founder of Short Story America. Can you talk a little about your writing process, and how you find the time to write?

Finding time to write creatively is a challenge, since I read hundreds of stories each month, and work with authors on a weekly basis in publishing their stories. My wife and I have twin daughters who just finished the first grade, so family time is also very precious.

That being said, I continue to write short stories by taking advantage of quiet time: late nights and patches of weekends. I don’t have the opportunity to establish a set routine, which for any writer is most preferable of course, but I’ve become accustomed to disappearing into that writing world, that other dimension which is the in-progress story, whenever I can see several hours coming that would be well-accompanied by a pot of coffee and solitude, with music that suits the mood of the tale I’m creating. I do believe in music as background and even influence for writing stories and creating the human souls which find themselves in some form of conflict within those stories. And yes, sometimes silence is the right music.

Can you name some of your favourite short story writers?

I love masters like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Flannery O’Connor, Raymond Carver, Anton Chekhov, etc. My list of favorite stories is very long, but off the top of my head I always remember Irwin Shaw’s “The Eighty-Yard Run,” Conrad Aiken’s “Impulse,” Fitzgerald’s “Winter Dreams” and “The Rich Boy,” O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard To Find,” Carver’s “Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?” and “Cathedral,” Chekhov’s “The Bet” and “The Lady With The Pet Dog,” Hemingway’s “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” and “The Killers,” Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game,” Jack Finney’s “Contents of the Dead Man’s Pockets,” Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” and on and on among the stories that stay with me, always with that singular effect so aptly described by Edgar Allan Poe in talking about good short stories.

You have accomplished a lot since you opened your doors. What plans do you have for the future?

We are currently producing short stories for audio. The anthology will also come out in audio and as an e-book (both in the fall), and individual audios will be available as MP3 downloads very soon, where readers will be able to pay a nominal price to download individual stories from Short Story America at our site.

We are also going to make PDF versions of stories in our Contemporary Library available for individual download at a nominal price. The Story of the Week will continue to be free for our members, but they will only have seven days to read each Story of the Week before it moves to the Contemporary Library as an available PDF download.

15% of net PDF download sales of a story will go as royalty to the author, in addition to any money already paid to the author for other formats or to establish the nonexclusive agreement.

***

First, I would like to thank Tim for taking the time for this chat. I’m a huge fan of the work he is doing. I always love fresh ideas, and Tim is helping short story writers gain incredible exposure for their work. If you are a short story writer, and even if you publish those yourself online, I would strongly recommend submitting to Short Story America.

Tim knows what he is doing, and is great to deal with. Plus, if he likes your story, there is a chance it will end up in one of these beautiful anthologies. You get paid for the story, plus a cut of the royalties from the anthology sales, audio sales, and everything else too. Remember, the deal is non-exclusive, so you will be free to publish the story yourself at a later point, so it’s win-win for the author.

Short Story America is an incredible resource for readers, students, and educators. Membership is free, you just sign up online. Once you do, you will have access to an incredible library of free stories including classics from the greats, as well as a brand new (free) short story each week from a contemporary writer. If you want to write short stories, you should read lots of them.

And don’t forget, if you want to see what all those reviewers are taking about, order a copy of this beautiful hardback anthology (with dust jacket). It contains 56 of Short Story America’s best from the last year or so (including one of mine), you can get your hands on a copy for only $29.95. If you get your order in soon, you will get a copy signed by Tim, who both edited the collection and has some of his own great stories in there too.

Have a great weekend, see you on Monday!

About David Gaughran

David Gaughran is Irish, living in Prague, and the author of Mercenary, A Storm Hits Valparaiso, Let's Get Digital, Let's Get Visible, and this here blog.
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