CRAFT is a premier destination for fiction and creative nonfiction, known for its focus on the craft and artistry of prose. We’re excited to share a glimpse into this publication, through the eyes of Editor-in-Chief Courtney Harler.
Courtney holds an MFA from University of Nevada, Reno at Lake Tahoe (2017) and an MA from Eastern Washington University (2013). She also cohosts the literary podcast PWN’s Debut Review, as well as instructs and edits for Project Write Now. Courtney has been honored by support from Key West Literary Seminar, Writing By Writers, Community of Writers, Napa Valley Writers’ Conference, and Nevada Arts Council. Links to her publications and other related awards can be found at harlerliterary.llc. Find her on Twitter @CourtneyHarler1, and on Instagram and Facebook @CourtneyHarler.
Before diving into our Q&A, let’s take a look at a snippet from CRAFT’s About Us page:
We explore how writing works, reading pieces with a focus on the elements of craft, on the art of prose. We feature previously unpublished creative work, with occasional reprints, as well as critical pieces including craft essays and interviews. All published creative pieces include an author’s note and an editorial introduction that both discuss stylistics in the work.
CRAFT features two separate submission categories each for fiction and for creative nonfiction, based on the length of the work submitted. CRAFT is a paying market. See their submissions page for more details.
WOW: Hello, Courtney! Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to answer my questions. I’ve been a wild fan of CRAFT for several years, and so I’m thrilled to talk with you. First, can you tell us about your role at CRAFT? How long have you been EIC, and how did you get involved with the publication? What do you like most about your position?
Courtney: Thank you, Myna, for the invitation. It’s lovely to chat with you.
I came to CRAFT in December 2021 from The Masters Review, our sister literary magazine, where I’d been a reader since 2017. I’d also written several interviews, reviews, and essays for The Masters Review, and based on my work there, Cole Meyers, their Editor-in-Chief, recommended me. After a series of interviews with our Managing Editor, Josh Roark, I was offered the position. I’ve had such a rewarding year at CRAFT—we have a multitalented team of readers and editors, and I feel so lucky to be able to work with each of them.
I love working with this team, and I love publishing great prose. As you know, a lot goes on behind the scenes to make a lit mag happen, but one very specific part of the process brings me endless joy—personally notifying writers via email when we would like to accept their work. Contest winners are especially appreciative and expressive, given the higher stakes and rewards, and I am just honored, again and again, to share that singular moment of validation with them.
WOW: CRAFT is a dream journal for so many writers, particularly because of your reputation for publishing truly excellent work. How has CRAFT achieved this prestigious position in the literary space? What are the primary goals of the magazine?
Courtney: Thank you for the kind words here. Since I’m only a year into this role, I must credit CRAFT’s previous editors for our well-established position in the literary world. I inherited their aesthetic, their vision, which I’ve endeavored to uphold while also moving us forward. Our primary goal, as you say, is to publish “truly excellent work,” but also, to ensure diversity and inclusivity in our archives. We believe in featuring a broad variety of voices, styles, and creative approaches. Publishing authentic, innovative work keeps our website fresh and inviting for our readership.
“Our primary goal is to publish ‘truly excellent work,’ but also, to ensure diversity and inclusivity in our archives. We believe in featuring a broad variety of voices, styles, and creative approaches. Publishing authentic, innovative work keeps our website fresh and inviting for our readership.”
WOW: CRAFT is somewhat unique in that it’s free, both to read and to submit. General submissions are open year-round with no capacity limits, and authors receive a generous payment ($100 for original flash, $200 for original short fiction and creative nonfiction) upon acceptance of their work. This is fantastic for writers, but I wonder if this is a sustainable business model. How can your publication afford to be so generous?
Courtney: Our annual contest fees allow us to pay our contributors, editors, and guest judges—so thanks to all those writers out there who are able and eager to enter our contests. That said, we also value accessibility, so that’s why we work hard to keep general submissions free and open. We realize that not everyone can budget to submit to a contest, but those who can enter directly support the ongoing creative work of others. It is a system that does require funds, but to level the field a bit, we also routinely offer a batch of free submissions to those from historically marginalized groups at the end of each contest period. Writers should watch our calendar and my social media feeds.
WOW: Your website mentions several types of contests, as well as an editorial feedback option. Can you tell us about those?
Courtney: Last year, we held five contests: the Hybrid Writing Contest, Short Fiction Prize, First Chapters Contest, Amelia Gray 2K Contest, and Creative Nonfiction Award. These contests are also slated for 2023, but we may yet consider updates or modifications. Each contest seeks specific writing, with the hope that writers can find the perfect contest for their work. Again, we want to offer as many opportunities to as many writers as possible, and our Editorial Feedback Program comes into play here as well. Interested writers may purchase feedback on both general and contest submissions. We maintain a core team of experienced editorial consultants who provide actionable feedback. We always want to encourage writers to continue to pursue their craft—contests and programs are good ways to reach that goal. In 2022, we launched even more programs for writers, including collaborative, lab-style experiences, as well as a virtual conference and reading salon. We look forward to expanding these new initiatives this year.
WOW: So many opportunities for writers! Now let’s talk about general submissions. What’s your acceptance rate, and perhaps more importantly, what are you hoping to find in the slush pile?
Courtney: We accept less than one percent of submissions. As a generously paying market, we must keep a tight publishing schedule. As for what we seek from the slush pile, here are some brief thoughts from our section editors, which we also shared at our half-day virtual conference in December:
“Creative nonfiction is a capacious genre that embraces narrative nonfiction, expository essays, lyric essays, literary journalism, speculative memoir, braided essays, hermit crab essays, and a great deal of experimentation. Our choices reflect that range in forms, and we particularly appreciate works that are emotionally resonant, innovative on a craft level, and exhibit a sense of discovery.” —Jacqueline Doyle, Creative Nonfiction Section Editor
“While we definitely publish a fair amount of experimental work, in flash fiction we are also looking for some kind of arc or change—something beyond the language itself. Flash fiction is a demanding genre as it requires writers to ruthlessly examine...every single word, so we are absolutely looking for work that feels driven by this attention at the sentence level.” —Melissa Benton Barker, Flash Fiction Section Editor
“...I think that voice actually often boils down to this—to paying attention. Every single one of us is going to pay attention in a different way to different elements of the life that happens around us. Exactly what we see and how we translate it uniquely on the page—that’s voice. When your subjective vision goes into your words to create texture—that’s voice. Your syntax, your word choice. Your use of elements like metaphor or repetition. Remember that whatever craft elements you’re struggling with, precisely no one has your exact perspective. That’s your edge, your gift. So, yes, we are most passionate about voice.” —Suzanne Grove, Associate Editor & Short Fiction Section Editor
At CRAFT, each section editor works with their editorial assistants and reading team to process weekly submissions. In my year of experience, I would say that each section has its own style, but that each of those styles contributes to the magazine’s greater overall aesthetic. I rely on the section editors to champion and curate content, and final decisions are made collaboratively.
“I try to approach each facet of this literary life with an open heart sans ego.”
WOW: It’s so helpful to hear from each section editor! I’m always blown away by the excellence of the stories featured in CRAFT. This is probably an impossible question, but can you tell us about a few of the stories that have stuck with you? We’d love to take a peek at what you consider to be the best of the best!
Courtney: “An impossible question,” indeed! Let me first offer this caveat—as much as we focus on craft, this type of question asks for more subjectivity than objectivity. From an objective perspective, each of our publications succeeds in its own way. But—if you’re asking for some personal picks, I’ll do my best to oblige. I’ll exclude contest winners here, because they’ve already been chosen and celebrated by a guest judge. Finally, I’m only choosing because you’re making me do so!
For short fiction, “Suckling” by Neeru Nagarajan, which we published about this time last year, still rattles around in my mind—the language, the images, the hefty issues faced by the narrator all continue to reverberate for me.
For flash fiction, Christine H. Chen in “Story of You” harnesses an interesting structure and makes it sing. As a reader, I appreciate experimentation and meta gestures that truly hit home.
For longform creative nonfiction, and speaking of meta moves, I invite your readers to check out “The Writer” by Matthew Raymond. It’s a speculative essay that really challenges the form.
For flash creative nonfiction, in “Yield,” Jolene McIlwain explores modes of motherhood and the hidden cost of “production.” Fascinating, surprising language and comparisons found here.
WOW: Thanks for those stellar examples! Okay, shifting gears: tell us about your own work. You’ve had success in so many literary pursuits—writing, editing, teaching—how do you balance it all? And is your approach different for each? What’s your true love?
Courtney: Let me take those questions in reverse order. My first true love is reading, which led to writing, which led to teaching, which led to editing. I’m still foremost a reader—I need story every day—but I know I need to make time for my other responsibilities and endeavors as well. I try to approach each facet of this literary life with an open heart sans ego, but with varying success. Frankly, I’m still working on balance, but I find the work can be almost cyclical, or seasonal, even within the span of just a few days or weeks. I aim to give each project its due diligence—which works best, for me, when I allow myself the indulgence of full and total concentration. “Indulgence” is maybe not the right word, but that’s what it feels like, because it seems a luxury these days to really let yourself focus. Maybe it’s the old dig-deeper-not-wider advice, but I am happiest and most fulfilled when I can block my time into meaningful, uninterrupted sessions.
WOW: That uninterrupted time is so valuable (and elusive)! You’ve had a lot of success with the WOW quarterly contests, both fiction and nonfiction. I was moved by your winning essay, “Be Still My Mother.” This line really got me: “in the roundest eyes capable of the boldest lies.” Just gorgeous work! How did you find WOW, and what’s your contest strategy?
Courtney: I’m guessing I found WOW through google searches in 2016—it’s been some time—because I received my first honorable mention in January 2017. Encouraged, I’ve continued to submit for the past several years. When “BSMM” won last year, I felt a real sense of completion, which isn’t always easy to achieve in this industry. I’ve always admired WOW as a platform devoted to women, and for their willingness to consider reprints. In fact, an earlier piece, “Still,” that won second place in fiction in 2019, garnered a whole new life with WOW. It had been first printed in a Vegas lit mag called Neon Dreams, then reprinted online in The Vignette Review. Both of those markets served emerging writers, so I continued to revise the piece, then known as “Gass Peak,” until it became “Still,” and by then, it seemed the right time to submit it to WOW. My contest strategy has heretofore been persistence, but I’ve been much more selective of late. You never really know when a piece will resonate with a certain reader or editor, but working in the industry has given me a great deal of insight into how to ascertain a lit mag’s overall style.
WOW: Thanks for sharing that journey with us. It’s encouraging to see the evolution of a successful piece. So, what’s on the horizon for you?
Courtney: I’m currently revising what I want to call a hybrid collection (flash fiction, flash nonfiction, some prose poems and vignettes), with the work funded by a grant from Nevada Arts Council. Since the pandemic, I’ve been writing a lot more lineated poetry, prose poetry, and microfictions, so next, I’d like to go back and review those materials, maybe unearth a viable manuscript there. This year, I’ve had a collection of linked stories on submission with indie presses. I may need to jump back into revision with that project as well.
WOW: One last question: do you ever wake up at 2 a.m. with an exciting new story idea? How do you capture it?
Courtney: Apparently, I am a bad sleeper. Especially in winter. I am trying my best not to wake at 2 a.m., and when I do, which is more often than I’d like, I’m rather disgruntled. Story ideas don’t occur to me when I am rather disgruntled in the dead of the night, usually. I try to listen to sleep stories or sounds of thunderstorms to lull myself back to some sort of rest until my alarm at 5:30 a.m., but again, with varying success. However, I do sometimes have a dream that inspires me, and I play it over and over in my mind in the midst of my insomnia, trying to recollect and cement the surreal details, but I often forget them and have to reinvent them. Good thing I enjoy reinvention.
Is this your year to ace a CRAFT contest? The Short Fiction Prize opens March 1 and runs through April 30. And remember, general submissions are always open and always free. Thanks again to Editor-in-Chief Courtney Harler for this overview of CRAFT!
Myna Chang (she/her) is the author of The Potential of Radio and Rain, out in March from CutBank Books. Her writing has been selected for Flash Fiction America (W. W. Norton), Best Small Fictions, and CRAFT. She has won the Lascaux Prize in Creative Nonfiction and the New Millennium Writings Award in Flash Fiction. She hosts the Electric Sheep speculative fiction reading series. More at MynaChang.com or @MynaChang.