Why should adults have all the fun?
A decade after launching One Story magazine, the editors are ready to bring out a parallel publication for young readers.
Back in 2002, the plain little pamphlets that arrived every three weeks seemed impossibly antique: no illustrations, no photographs, no ads. Just one piece of literary fiction running 3,000 to 8,000 words long. But One Story soon attracted contributions from established writers like Gregory Maguire, Roxana Robinson and Jim Shepard. Fifteen thousand people now subscribe in print and online.
Contributing editor Pei-Ling Lue frequently wanted to share stories from the magazine with her creative writing students, but few of the pieces seemed appropriate for young people.
Convinced that a new publication for teens could find an audience, Lue said she drew up an elaborate business plan to win over Maribeth Batcha, the publisher and co-founder of One Story. But their meeting went nothing like Lue had planned. “Maribeth immediately said, ‘Oh, that sounds great. I always wanted to do another magazine!’ So all my bullet points and lists went out the window because I didn’t even need to go there.”
After months of planning and soliciting donations, the first issue of One Teen Story is ready to be mailed out to about 500 charter subscribers early next month. The issue features a story called “The Deadline,” by Gayle Forman, a journalist who started her career at Seventeen magazine and has won praise for her YA novels “Sisters in Sanity,” “If I Stay” and “Where She Went.”
Designed for readers 14 and up, One Teen Story will publish nine issues a year, once a month while school is in session ($18/year). Like its older sibling, this new magazine won’t carry photographs or advertising, but each year’s issues will have a cover designed by a single artist. Stefan Lawrence, a graphic designer in Los Angeles, has been hired to create the covers for 2012-2013. Classroom discounts and additional educational material are available on the magazine’s Web site.
From her office in Brooklyn, Batcha explained that the new periodical is a response to a strange absence amid the “explosive interest” in YA novels. “We couldn’t really find short stories,” she said. “There wasn’t really a place for established or up-and-coming authors to publish short-form YA fiction – a place between the glossy magazines and the journals. We thought somebody should do it.”
While the editors of One Story search through unsolicited contributions to fill their pages each month, One Teen Story is taking a different approach: Lue contacted established authors such as Aimee Bender, David Levithan and Matt de la Pena. “Pretty much all the issues are already planned out for the first year,” Lue said. “Since we’re launching this new magazine, we thought it was important to have recognizable names.”
But all that will change at graduation time. The last issue of the magazine’s publishing year, in May 2013, will feature a brand-new author: 18-year-old Nicole Acton, winner of the first One Teen Story contest for young writers, which attracted more than 200 submissions. Acton will receive $500 for her story “Night Swimming,” about three sisters who go out to a lake at midnight.
That innovative publishing schedule — eight issues written by professional authors and then one by a teenager — will be a hallmark of the new magazine. “We thought it would be fun to have the issues throughout the year inspire kids to write something of their own at the end of the year,” Lue said. “Hopefully, we’ll discover some great writers.”
Editing stories for teens has been an adjustment for Lue. “I wasn’t a YA reader,” she said from her home in Westchester, N.Y. “It’s different than non-YA. There’s a very strong voice. And I was a little shocked by how much sex and drugs there is in YA literature. We don’t really publish a lot of that stuff in One Story. It surprised me that the teens were reading about these hard-core experiences.”
Fundraising efforts will continue this week with a Kickstarter campaign to raise $5,000. “The cost of producing One Teen Story is not gigantic,” Batcha said. “We’re a tiny staff — four paid staff members — but none of us works here full time. And we have two contributing editors, two interns and a staff of readers — all volunteers.” She hopes the new magazine can attract several thousand subscribers by its third year.
A launch party during the Brooklyn Book Festival next month will be themed as a high school homecoming dance — with a bake sale. As a nonprofit, the organization also receives grants from the NEA, the New York State Council on the Arts and Amazon, among other supporters.
Kindle and iPad versions of One Teen Story are in the works.
Charles is The Washington Post’s fiction editor. You can follow him on Twitter @RonCharles.