We wrangled the Chillsubs founders into a campfire chat.
An Interview with Karina Cupp & Benjamin Davis
The Chill Subs Mission Statement: Making your writing life not so freaking exhausting.
In January of 2022, Chillsubs rode into town, seemingly outta nowhere, and shook up the lit community.
When I first discovered chillsubs, it was still young and I thought wow, I hope this takes over. Just a year later and I’d say you’ve accomplished that, at least in the minds and hearts of the lit community. That happened with a speed that speaks to our dissatisfaction with current platforms. You were dissatisfied as well, but you had a sense for what was wrong with the system and how you, specifically you, might improve it.
We did! Well, Karina did. I (Ben) was just a frustrated writer with loads of spreadsheets who wrote a frustrated guest post in Lit Mag News where I saw an interview with Karina a couple months after she’d started and thought HELL YES! Then bombarded her with ideas via email.
Was there a final frustration, a straw that broke the camel?
Hm, I think for both of us it was being forced to pay for every little thing. I mean, we understand the need to make money, we have some premium features. But to pay simply to learn about a magazine, then pay to submit, it was like…OK, what’s going on here?
Am I going to be forced to stuff $5 into every snowball I toss into hell?
Our theory was that, if we could provide all the necessary tools for free, then build useful things on top of it, we could create a world that was both fair and profitable. Jury is out.
Was it one of those plans that leapt off the fry pan or did it simmer on the back burner?
Frying pan that got warmer, and warmer, and warmer.
Were you surprised by our enthusiasm?
In the beginning we were surprised every single time someone was enthusiastic about Chill Subs, but quickly realized we were not alone in what we’d been feeling. It is by far the best part of this when writers tell us they’ve started submitting again because of Chill Subs.
Let’s go way back for both of you….what’s your origin story?
I grew up in Belarus and now I live in Tbilisi (Georgia). I have a cat named Earl. I write music, mostly. When I started writing poetry and tried to submit it, I couldn’t handle the headache so I made this silly little tool to help that has somehow become Chill Subs. So weird.
Karina Kupp is a writer, musician, web developer, and creator of Chill Subs. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in North Dakota Quarterly, BULLSHIT LIT, The Daily Drunk and Corvus Review. She can often be found creating yet another Spotify playlist, taking a spontaneous trip to the other side of the world, or thinking about her next startup idea.
I grew up in central Mass. Started writing at nineteen, left United States at twenty-two (now thirty-four, still gone). My childhood consisted of mostly getting grounded, throwing my mother’s kitchen knives at trees to alleviate the boredom, then getting double-grounded. We had no TV and this was before cell phones so, yeah. Knife ~~~~~~> Tree was the best I could come up with.
Benjamin Davis has stories and poems in over two-dozen literary journals including BOOTH, Hobart, Maudlin House, and Slippery Elm Press. His first book of poems, The King of FU (Nada Blank, 2018), was such a smashing success it shocked the indie press who printed it into an early grave. He is now working on his first six novels.
Find him on Twitter – @_benjamin_davis
Are ya white hats or a black hats?
Wouldn’t matter. Either way, we’d likely lose it in a light breeze, trample over it in the search, then get distracted by some neat bird over there.
In the westerns, heroes are motivated by love or vengeance. What motivates the chill subs team?
Proving people wrong. Everyone says you can’t make money in indie lit. Everyone says we should paywall our browser. Everyone says indie lit will never attract readers. Everyone says we should get real jobs. Strange, everyone sounds suspiciously like our parents.
What’s next for chillsubs?
Oof, a lot. But in the short term? We’re beta testing a load of fun tools right now for paid members. Our philosophy has always been that information should be free, so we better create some cool things people want to pay for.
So far we have a submitter’s drive where writers can store their work that syncs with our data to show them only works that fit their piece.
They can download pre-filled cover letters with all their details and editor details.
And we have a prose auto-formatter that downloads industry standard copies of any prose works. These are just the start. Then these tools will tie into the submissions manager we are building to create a seamless, couple-click submit process (rather than the weird acrobatic scavenger hunt we all have to do right now).
After all you’ve learned about magazines and submissions since you launched, do you have a solid tip for publications who are new to the game?
Oh sure. Hm, okay.
1. It’s worth it to shell out a few bucks to have a unique domain (i.e. it doesn’t say ‘wordpress, wix, weebly, etc.’)
2. Design and presentation of work is super important (especially if you want readers).
3. Kicking things off with a submission fee is going to tick a lot of people off right away.
4. Paying writers, even a little, goes a long-long way.
5. Celebrating writers and promoting them is a great practice. In this age of the internet with ‘influencers’ and whatnot, writers can be your magazine’s ambassador. But if you just slap their work up, tweet once, and say bye, it’s not going to create much brand loyalty.
Unfortunately, most of these things come down to time + money + kindness. We’ve researched magazines a lot and it’s no wonder the most funded ones are also the most popular. But there are plenty who do very well and are beloved with just a little investment and some extra time.
Here at Cream Scene, we often console writers who have been trying and trying, but getting nowhere. They feel like failures, especially if they’re stuck on The New Yorker or using Submittable to measure their success. Everyone struggles there, especially us weirdos.
But Chillsubs is a map.
You tell us what we want to know – like who accepts transgressive fiction, who is chill / looking for chill, who nominates pushcart or BotN.
Thank you talking to us, Karina and Ben, and thanks for helping writers find their mags and for helping mags find their people.
Your existence is fortifying.
Paper Doll Portraits by Cream Scene’s Art Director
Katy Somerville was beamed into existence on a Monday night in the mid-eighties by stars, glitter, and a glorious Italian woman from a long line of very strong women. In the present timeline, she likes to drink coffee, pat any animal that will engage with her, make collages, and spend time laughing and finding moments of joy wherever she can with her partner and her goofy, lanky dog.
[…] Soon, we had poems about cowboys in tighty-whities and shadow box murders and bolo tie fashion features. We had embroidery and textiles, with essays from unique and feminist POVs. There were so many new names, doing stunning work. The sparse existentialism of Matt Bechtold, the dysfunctional family dynamics of Dan McGuire, and the aching poem about the lamb by Katie Stollmack. The interview with Luis Jazz-Minero, a Spanish musician – The Masked Man – reminded us that the Wild West belongs to everyone, not just Americans. We even wrangled Chillsubs into a campfire chat in Literary Outlaws: An Interview with Chill Subs. […]