I recently sat down with Michael Fitzgerald of Submittable to talk about the service and business, alongside his personal writing. While it’s been a long path for the company, I believe there are key insights in the interview and Michael’s path to help entrepreneurs and artists alike.


Christopher Bowen: Thanks for giving me some of your time, Michael.  For those not aware of it, could you give a brief history of Submittable over the last five or so years?

Michael Fitzgerald: Thanks, Chris. I appreciate your interest.

History: My partners, Bruce and John, and I were friends through our day jobs as software developers. In 2008, Bruce and I were bored and thought starting a company together would help. (We had previously worked on a film together about people who climb mountains with letters on them.) So we went out to lunch one day and made a list of things that we thought sucked. One of them was the various ways you send out work. We didn’t know exactly how to fix it, but we came up with the name “Submishmash” because we thought it described the crappiness of the existing process, and we started writing code that afternoon.

We went in the wrong direction for about a year.

During this time, our friend John joined us. He’s a musician and an incredible developer. By early 2010, we had the first version of Submittable (then still  Submishmash). It started to get some traction with literary and academic publishers. Then we just kept working and working (we didn’t really pay ourselves until 2012) and added video and audio transcoding, worked to make the UI better and better. We added the ability to share among multiple people and multi-file usage which is great for poetry. We basically just asked the people using it how to make it better and did whatever they told us.

Also, in 2012,  we applied and were accepted into arguably the most elite start-up accelerator, YCombinator. It was an amazing experience. YCombinator helped launch Dropbox, Airbnb, and a few other billion-dollar companies. They really got us to focus and grow up a little as a company. Before that it was all pretty much by the seat of our pants. No one was being paid and the company was always inches away from combustion. We’re on a much more solid foundation now. We have an office and 10 employees.

CB: You’re a writer yourself. How did this concept develop for you and how do you handle or separate your life as an author from that as a ‘techie’ or business owner?

MF: I don’t really separate my life as an author or developer or business owner. In the beginning, I used to try to turn things on and off, but slowly it became apparent all these things are more or less the same process. You’re making things that didn’t exist. You’re trying to get strangers to spend time with your thing and hopefully pay you so you can keep the thing going. You’re living without any kind of safety net. It’s all the same process.

 I remember when I finished my first novel, Radiant Days, I was completely exhilarated for the first few days, but then it began to dawn on me that no one actually asked me to write it. This was a sort of blunt and obvious thing that just wasn’t crystal clear until I had the 400 or so pages in my hand and the words “The End” typed on the last page.

I’ve also since realized that the best business minds are similar to artists. Most truly successful business people are total freaks. Before starting Submittable, I assumed “business” meant playing around in Excel sheets and honing insincere marketing slogans. I assumed I needed an MBA to start a company, but it’s a little known secret in Silicon Valley that MBAs actually suck at starting companies. They’re good at working within large companies, they’re good with asking bullshit questions that make you feel like they know something you don’t, but ultimately they are horrible at making something out of nothing. Starting a company is a weird, personal, and organic process. You’re doing it with no money, no support, no marketing budget. It’s just you and your friends in your basement desperately trying to get a stranger to give you a dollar for this weird thing you may have spent years working on. You have to be constantly resourceful. You have to thrive on rejection. You have to be, not just comfortable, but enthusiastically working in the face of almost certain failure.

Incidentally, the most successful artists generally have a bit of business savvy.

Also, after trying both, I’m finding both art and start-ups are horrible ways to make money.

Regarding the “idea”: I knew as a writer (and previously an editor at Cutbank and having started a magazine in college) that the existing process sucked a little and that as electronic communication became ubiquitous, the problem was going to get bigger and bigger. Also, any developer understood that cloud computing was going to make processes like this less and less expensive.

CB: Where do you see Submittable headed to in the future?

MF: With Submittable, we’re going to keep adding new features while desperately trying to keep the UI simple and hopefully beautiful.

But the biggest thing on the horizon is Submishmash… an intergalactic creative content marketplace that will allow creators to sell anything they make.

CB: Where do you see your writing headed?

MF: I’ve continued to publish fiction and non-fiction here and there, but my big project is a non-fiction book called Startdown. It’s mostly about the process of starting a company in the middle of nowhere. (We live in Montana.) The nuts and bolts: how to create a life that lets you work on something for 2-3 years without going bankrupt, how and when to raise capital, how to hire (and fire) people in a small town where everyone knows each other. How and when to get an office. The aim of the book is to show people how to do it outside existing tech and financial hubs like Silicon Valley or New York.

Also, I’ve found a new appreciation for “writing” in the process of building Submittable. Writing well is so undervalued in our world, oddly enough, especially by writers. I think there’s a huge opportunity to infuse art into what we traditionally call the “business world.” “Content marketing” has become kind of a bullshitty buzzword. The vision isn’t to have poets doing marketing as much as to make businesses understand that eclectic and interesting writing has a huge value to them. Businesses can gain so much from demonstrating personality. An example would be to have a poet or novelist on staff at a shoe company, but not to write a blog post about the company’s innovative new lacing system, but about some general and interesting story like the history of the high heel.



Christopher Bowen is an Ohio author and culinary chef. His recently-released personal fiction chapbook, We Were Giants, is available from the publisher, Sunnyoutside Press. He blogs at

by Krystyna Fedosejevs

IMG_7951 copy

What was it like for me to start writing flash fiction? Exciting because it was a challenge, something new to explore and learn about. Frightening. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Nor was I confident that I was capable to reach the goal of mastering it.

Flash fiction. I heard about the form in writers’ circles approximately four years ago. Didn’t give it much thought, put it aside. Decided to continue channelling my energy into poetry, short stories and creative nonfiction. Not that I was an excellent writer in any of those areas, for I was not. Rather, I felt I was in my comfort zone having had some success being published and winning contests. Starting something new back then was not a consideration.

In late March 2013, I stumbled upon a website dedicated to flash writing (Flash Fiction World). I became a member. The site was set up as a tutorial and exercise meeting place for writers. We posted our stories and engaged in constructive criticism of each other’s works. We could also submit stories for publication and if chosen by the editor, they were published. I was fortunate to partake in this educational, exhilarating experience. In autumn of 2013, I learnt that the site had closed down.

Also of benefit were the following sites for writing tips as well as lists of markets for one’s flash fiction: Flash Fiction Chronicles, Stories in your pocket: how to write flash fiction, Flash Fiction: What’s It All About, and Writing Flash Fiction.

How did I approach writing my first flash fiction? Naively. I look back and shudder at a few of my attempts. Imagine, I thought that a truncated traditional short story could be called flash fiction merely by downsizing the number of words! I learnt quickly to recognize the differences, primarily from the feedback I received from more knowledgeable writers. Also by reading other flash stories, especially by award-winning writers. Soon afterwards, with an energized zeal to improve, I produced stories with more favourable results, most of the time.

It’s not easy being a beginner no matter what field or interest one pursues. As writers we realize that we need to learn how to survive rejections or negative remarks. At times, I wondered if to go on making my writing available for public scrutiny or better to retreat and become a word-obsessed recluse. I chose to get my word out there. Let criticism bite me, depress me but then release me to become an even better writer. 

I have been writing flash fiction for more than a year now and realize I’m a long way from being looked upon as an excellent writer. However, I’ve made some headway.

Several of my ultra short works have been published. They can be found at:

Some of the sites I post at are:

Writing flash fiction is a challenge yet so much fun. Opportunities are endless. Six, twenty-five, fifty, one hundred word stories and variants and extensions of words, words, words …

There’s so much out there to discover, embrace and absorb. For one, I plan to look at magazine markets, an area I haven’t touched yet. More possibilities.

I’m definitely in flash fiction mode.


Krystyna Fedosejevs writes poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction. One of her six word stories will be published in the Summer 2014 issue of From the Depths. A recent piece was published at 100 Word Stories. She delights neighbourhood cats with her singing in Alberta, Canada.

by Sarah Crysl Akhtar

Sarah Akhtar

It’s like the pangs of afterbirth. There’s your lovely story, ready to send out, and you can’t for the life of you think what to call it.

Happened to me once. Put a working title on a flash piece so I could at least submit it. Revised the title when I did the rewrite, but knew it was still a dud. The right one finally came to me, literally in the nick of time, shortly before the due date, so to speak. And to my enormous relief, one commenter remarked that the title was perfect for the tale. If she’d known how I sweated that one. . .

I’ve looked in some strange places for titles. I loathe, fear and despise mathematics, but my offspring has a gift for it. Go figure. And it so bothers me, being locked out of that world he inhabits so naturally, that with the bounteous help of Wikipedia, I’ve named a number of my stories for mathematical or scientific concepts. Those titles sounded so elegant, while making me feel closer to my kid. And strangely, they expressed just what I wanted to say.

Without the intuitively perfect title, a story’s luster is a little dimmed. And a bad or mediocre title may keep readers away from a piece they might have truly enjoyed.

If you’re struggling to name your story, take a little break. I once had to leave something alone for a couple of months, until my main character’s voice called to me so clearly that the right title fell naturally into place. It was frustrating not to be able to submit something I believed in and had worked hard on, but part of growing into your craft is recognizing when you haven’t fully achieved your intent, and waiting until you do.

Resist the urge to slap something on your story because you’re facing a deadline or just want to mark it as completed. You don’t want any child you love to go out into the world ill-named.


 Sarah Crysl Akhtar‘s shtetl forebears gifted her with the genes that impel her to make much from little. So of course she writes flash fiction, cultivates orchards on her windowsill and bakes fabulous shortbread. Her son gives her what’s immeasurable–the best of all possible worlds. Less miraculous fruit of her labors has appeared on Every Day Fiction, Flash Fiction Online and Perihelion SF Magazine.


1. ”Map Reading” by Helen Rossiter, winner of Alice Munro Prize 2013, suggested by Rose Gardener.

2. “Drinking in the Loons” by Stephen MacKinnon in Carve Magazine suggested by David James.

3.  “Water Liars” by Barry Hannah in Garden and Gun Magazine suggested by David James.

4.  “Pounds across America” by Meg Pokrass in Wigleaf Magazine suggested by David James.

5. “Turkey” by Andrew F. Sullivan in Hobart suggested by Neil Serven.

6. “The Visitation” by Brad Watson in The New Yorker suggested by David James.…/06/090406fi_fiction_watson

7. “The Sentence is Always Death” by Ken Gerber and Brian Hirt in Daily Science Fiction suggested by Von Rupert.…/the-sentence-is-always

8.  “He Pulled Me From the Sea” by Frank Haberle in Smokelong Quarterly suggested by Jim Harrington.

9. “Grackles” by Barry Basden posted on Fictionaut suggested by David James.

10. “The Prune Eaters”by Alex Pruteanu in Brick Rhetoric suggested by Susan Tepper.

11. “Remembering Awe” by Mira Desai in Pure Slush suggested by Susan Tepper.

12. “Mother in the Trenches” by Robert Olen Butler in Narrative suggested by Susan Tepper.

13. “Blackened Catfish” by Christian Bell in Camroc Press Review suggested by Barry Basden.

14. “Making it Right” by Jane Hammons in Camroc Press Review suggested by Barry Basden.

15. “Why Aren’t There Fireflies” by Doug Bond in Camroc Press Review suggested by Barry Basden.

16. “Husk of Hare” by Christopher Allen  at Referential Magazine suggested by Robert Vaughan.

17. “Speed Date” by Meg Tuite at Wigleaf suggested by Robert Vaughan.

18. “Dead Letters” by Gary Moshimer in Camroc Press Review suggested by Barry Basden.

19. “Heading West” by Martha Williams in Camroc Press Review suggested by Barry Basden.

20. “maybe” by DsD in Camroc Press Review suggested by Barry Basden.

21. “Losers” by Megan Lent at Shabby Doll House suggested by Robert Vaughan.

22.  “Dressing Room Fashion Show From An Ex-Fiancee in Iowa” by Mike Joyce at The Molotov Cocktail suggested by Robert Vaughan

23. “Tuesday Afternoon” by xTx in Camroc Press Review suggested by Barry Basden.

24. “Messes of Men” by Michael J Seidlinger’s (an excerpt) at Atticus Review suggested by Robert Vaughan.

25. “Forging” by Jane Hammons in kill author suggested by Carol Reid.

26.  “Triplets” by Len Kuntz at JMWW, Spring 2013 issue suggested by Robert Vaughan.

27. “Leaving Lena” Jeanann Verlee’ at JMWW Journal suggested by Robert Vaughan.

28. “Last Night in Big Sur” by Sara Lippmann at Flycatcher Magazine suggested by Robert Vaughan.

29.  “Healthy Start” by Etgar Keret in Tin House suggested by Alex Pruteanu.

30. “Funky Little Blaze Orange Pork Pie Hats” by Michael Gillan Maxwell at Metazen suggested by Robert Vaughan.

31. “They Will Tear You Apart” by  Bud Smith at Zygote in my Coffee suggested by Robert Vaughan.

32. “The Embassy of Cambodia” by Zadie Smith in The New Yorker suggested by Christopher James.

33.  “The Naturals”by Sam Lipsyte in The New Yorker suggested by Michael Dwayne Smith.

34. “Safety” Mary Miller  in Tin House suggested by Michael Dwayne Smith.

35. “Is That Rain” by Leesa Cross-Smith in Spartan suggested by Michael Dwayne Smith.

36. “Collision Course” by Stephen V. Ramey in Nib Magazine suggested by Susan Tepper.

37. “The Abridged Biography of an American Sniper” by Linda Simoni-Wastila in Smokelog Quarterly suggested by Susan Tepper.

38. “I Named the Stars for You” by James Claffey in Blue Fifth Review suggested by Nate Tower.

39. “Annette and Florian” by Beate Sigriddaughter in Eclectica suggested by Susan Tepper.

40. “Piglets” by Rae Bryant published at Matter Press suggested by Christopher Allen.

41. “What Rachel Didn’t Know” by Denise Howard Long in Burrow Press Review suggested by Liz Wallace.

42. “The Cartoonist” by Kathy Fish (originally at elimae) suggested by Christopher Allen.

43.  “Heart” by Ethel Rohan at Connotation Press suggested by Christopher Allen. (scroll)

44. “Skirt” by Ethel Rohan at Connotation Press suggested by Christopher Allen.

45. “Dying Juices” by Ethel Rohan at Connotation Press suggested by Christopher Allen. (scroll)

46. “Salvador Dali Eyes” by Douglas Campbell, winner of the Press 53 Flash Fiction Contest, published at SmokeLong Quarterly suggested by Christopher Allen.

47. “Swim” by Owen Vince, winner of the Press 53 Flash Fiction Contest, published at Prime Number Magazine suggested by Christopher Allen.

48. “Lithopedion” by Randall Brown, winner of the Press 53 Flash Fiction Contest, published at Metazen suggested by Christopher Allen.

49. “Puppy Wonderland” by Nadine Darling at Eclectica suggested by Timothy Gager.

50.  “Written in the Bones” by Christopher M. Jones and illustrated by Cary Pietsch at Carey Draws suggested by Jane Hammons.

51.  “Her Hair” by Erica Stern at Metazen suggested by Christopher Allen.

52. “The Girls” by Rachel Sherman at n+1 suggested by Sara Lippmann.

53. “Shadow Play” by Stephen V Ramey at Every Day Fiction suggested by J. Chris Lawrence.

54. “A Glimpse” by Jen Knox at Fiction Southeast suggested by Michelle Elvy.

55.  “A Woman on her Way to Work” by Chris Okum at Fictionaut suggested by Michelle Elvy.

56. “Houseboy” by Sara Lippmann in Bull suggested by Jane Hammons.

57. “Luring” by Jane Hammons at Tupelo Quarterly suggested by Sara Lippman.

58. “We Three” by Frankie McMillan at Truck suggested by Michelle Elvy.  (scroll down, mid-page)

59. “Heartworm” by Zoe Meager in Penduline suggested by Michelle Elvy.

60. “The Light Eater” by Kirsty Logan at the Scottish Book Trust suggested by Michelle Elvy.

61. “The Hard Years” by Emma Lincoln Pattee in Carve Magazine suggested by Leesa Cross-Smith.

62. “Steaks” by Guy Anthony de Marco at Every Day Fiction suggested by Kathy Kingston.

63. “Birthday Cake” by Rayne Gasper in Word Riot suggested by Leesa Cross-Smith.

64. “The Siege Of Eristavis” by Tara Isabella Burton in the Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review suggested by Virgie Townsend.

65. “See Jane” by Kathy Fish in Together We Can Bury It suggested by Virgie Townsend.

66. “Mornings with Teenage Genius” by Jacob Drud, at Every Day Fiction suggested by Sarah Crysl Akhtar.

67.  “How to Become a Robot in 12 Easy Steps” by A. Merc Rustad in Scigentasy suggested by Alexis A. Hunter.

68. “The Art of Memory” by Annam Manthiram in Camroc Press Review suggested by Barry Basden.

69. “Tenderoni” by Kathy Fish at Smokelong Quarterly suggested by Ellen Parker.

70. “The Meat Sweats” by Michael Czyzniejewski in SmokeLong Quarterly suggested by Matthew Dexter.

71. “Treading Water” by Amanda Miska in Storychord suggested by Leesa Cross-Smith.

72. “Birdman” by Gary Moshimer at Necessary Fiction suggested by Matthew Dexter.

73. “Year of the Queerling” by Joseph Dante at Metazen suggested by Christopher Allen.

74. “A Haunt of Memory” by Tara Masih at Awkword Paper Cut in video-story form suggested by Michelle Elvy.

75. “Providence” by Christopher Allen at Pure Slush suggested by Michelle Elvy.

76. “Dancing with the One-Armed Gal” by Tim Gautreaux in Zoetrope All-Story suggested by David James.

77.”Natural History” by Daniel Enjay Wong at  Metazen suggested by Christopher Allen.

78. “Like a Family” by Meg Pokrass in Juked suggested by Christopher Allen.

79. “Summer of Pinbugs” by Kate Folk at Smokelong Quarterly suggested by Gay Degani.

80. “Lamb to the Slaughter” by Roald Dahl.

81. “Mama Maggie’s Pies” by Leanne Gregg in Contraposition Magazine suggested by Mike Joyce.

82 “The Belt” by Julie Innis in Underground Voices suggested by Jane Hammons.

83. “Projection” by Lisa Mecham from Cheap Pop suggested by Amanda Miska.

84. “Sport” by Carol Reid in Stymie suggested by Jane Hammons.

85. “Desilu, Three Cameras” by Alicia Gifford in FRiGG Magazine suggested by Dave Clapper.

86. “The Woods Behind” by Marek Jones in Literary Orphans suggested by Jane Hammons.

87. “Every Time a Fairy Gets Laid” by Ryan W. Bradley originally in Space Squid suggested by DaveClapper.

88. “Mobility” by Ellen Parker in The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts suggested by Dave Clapper.

89. “The Vegetarian Eats the Vegan: Five Scenarios” by Michael Czyzniejewski in PANK suggested by Dave Clapper.

90. “Aquarium” by Nadine Darling in SmokeLong Quarterly suggested by Dave Clapper. So many lines in it are eminently quotable.

91. “Stray Dogs” by Steven Gullion in Night Train suggested by Dave Clapper.

92 “Waiting for the Grassy Drop” by James Claffey in The Manifest Station suggested by Mike Joyce.

93. “The Sun Eaters” by Alex Pruteanu published in The Monarch Review suggested by Carol Reid.

94.”Storm in a Teacup” by Dan Powell published at Carve Magazine suggested by Christopher Allen.

95. “A Haunted House” by Virginia Woolf in public domain suggested by Christopher Allen.

96. “This Program Contains Actual Surgical Procedures” by Roxane Gay at Twelve Stories suggested by Matthew Dexter.

97. “Ditch” by Eric Beetner at Thug Lit suggested by Matthew Dexter.

98. . “One Trip Abroad” by F. Scott Fitzgerald suggested by Matthew Dexter.

99. “Show-and-Tell” by George Singleton in Atlantic Monthly suggested by David James.

100. “The Guy” by Isaac Boone Davis at Two Hawks Quarterly suggested by Virgie Townsend.

101. “The Good Book” by Cynthia Larsen at Hobart Pulp suggested by Meg Pokrass.

102. “While You Were Away” by Tara Laskowski in matchbook suggested by Gay Degani.

103. “A Few Bedbugs” by Susan Tepper in Cape Fear Review suggested by Bonnie ZoBell.


By Rohini Gupta

A previous version of this post appeared on Rohini’s blog.

Rohini Gupta

A friend asked a question: Why do you write?

I thought about it and I had no answer. Why do I write?  I have been writing all my life—but why?

It’s rarely easy. Writing itself is an effort of will, usually a balancing act, caught in the cracks between work and family commitments. You must take whatever moments you can, steal time to write, cutting out other pleasures in a desperate and sometimes secret attempt to squeeze a little more writing time from an almost empty tube.

You might drift into many professions because it just happened that the opportunity presented itself but not this one. Writing is a treadmill—if you are not running desperately in place to keep up you will get thrown right off it.

Money is not the reason either. It is not a profession which leads quickly to an obese bank account. Sometimes, as in poetry, it leads to no bank account at all. Poetry is notorious for it—poetry and money just don’t live in the same town.

Does that ever stop poets from writing? Of course not.

So what is it? Success?

Very few writers achieve success. In the days of traditional publishing, many writers never got published. In today’s age of self-publishing you can self-publish and then just disappear in the flood of other books.

A handful achieve fame and fortune. But that has never stopped anyone from writing.

So what is it? What keeps you going, year after year, alone, doubting yourself, struggling with the knives and daggers of rejection, wounded over and over and yet picking yourself up from the gutter again and again, reinventing yourself when all doors seem to be shut, losing yourself in another story while the old ones moulder unread.

It’s a minor miracle that anyone lasts in this field—but some do.

You grow two skins. One is tender, soft and sweet, with the poet’s fingertip sensitivity and the openness to the flow of words.

The other is tougher than rhinoceros hide—you need that when the rejections begin. Make no mistake, you will always need the rhinoceros hide—even success cannot insulate you.

So why go through all that and write?


You do not write for the externals, for the gains. It is something internal. The act of writing itself.

You don’t write for readers. Your readers are usually your writing friends and writing group members. Will you have millions of fans one day? You can hope but you cannot be sure. Even successful writers are not sure.

All books are not equal, even by the same writer. Writers say that a book from which they expected great success flopped and another, written in a spare thoughtless moment, somehow caught the reader’s imagination. Readers may love you or ignore you, but will that stop you writing?

So why do you write?

You write to write.

Something magical happens when you write and especially when you write poetry or fiction. You connect to the creative part of you, what you might call the Muse.

It opens a universe. It takes you out of yourself. It fills you with magic quite unknown in this prosaic, unimaginative world. For that magnificence what will you not do?  Everything else is dwarfed by those starry moments.

So perhaps, that is the answer to why you write.

You write for companionship—your own.

You write to meet yourself at the deepest and most profound level. The ancients called it ‘yoga’—union with yourself.

You write because without words to express it, the world is brittle and prickly and almost unlivable.

You write to survive and you write to become.

Most of all, you write because it gives you wings.


Rohini Gupta is a writer living by the sea in Mumbai with a houseful of dogs and cats while working on short stories, poetry and a book.


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