Cover of After Dinner Conversation Interview with Kolby Granville

After Dinner Conversation Interview with Kolby Granville

Welcome to our interview with Kolby Granville, the EiC of After Dinner Conversation, a lit mag looking for stories that spur discussions and expand the reader’s mind. If you’re worried about what this means, have no fear. ADC has extensive guidelines and even a video to explain exactly what they're looking for. Unlike some places with crazy long convoluted guidelines, these take the time to clearly lay out what their team wants to see in a story. And yet, so many submissions still miss the mark. Is there any hope of getting all submitters to pay attention to what they’re submitting where? Probably not, but After Dinner Conversation isn’t daunted. Here is our interview with Kolby about how he handles running a journal while living abroad.

Let’s kick it off with a little background about After Dinner Conversation. Where did the idea come and how has it evolved to where it is today?

The idea came, oddly enough, on the night before my wedding. I was up late talking to a good friend who was in town for my wedding and we got to having the “what’s next?” discussion. And I told him, “I really enjoy teaching and facilitating discussions that encourage people to think about and evaluate the underpinnings of their own values. I need a way to keep doing that.” And from that, the publication (and later the magazine) was born. Basically, each story is a little Greek morality play and I love it.

If you could sum up the vibe of After Dinner Conversation in six words, what would they be?

What’s “right choice” in this situation?

After Dinner Conversation has a ‘fast pass’ option for submissions, shortening the time for a response to 3-5 days. What percentage of submissions do you find taking this route?

About 5%-10% take this route and, honestly, that’s about all we can handle with such a short turnaround. If the number of fast pass submissions ever goes up significantly, we will need to raise the price to bring the # of fast pass submissions back down.

In your submission guidelines, you mention, “90% of what we turn down is not because of the quality of the writing, but because it’s simply not the kind of thing we publish.” It is a common complaint but I like that you come out and say it, and put a number on it. Why do you think this happens so often in short-story publishing?

I think many writers, particularly new writers, think submitting is a numbers game. “I have a 1% chance of getting accepted, so I just need to spam 100 people my story and I’ll get published.” But that’s not the way it works. You have a 0% chance of getting published in a literary magazine that doesn’t fit your writing and a very high chance of getting published in a magazine that does. Better to submit less, but more selectively.

Everyone has become more mobile these days. In our emails, you talked about living as a digital nomad. How do you think the lifestyle of living in and exploring new cultures has impacted your literary tastes or the philosophical ideas you look for in submissions?

I do run the magazine as a digital nomad. In the last three years we have lived in 14 different countries. I don’t think traveling has changed my literary taste or philosophical ideas; I’ve been traveling for years before this so those changes have already taken place. The main thing it has done is given me the economic freedom to run the magazine. A literary magazine is a huge amount of time without any salary in the foreseeable future. Working as a digital nomad has allowed me to keep my living costs low so I could work 40-50hrs a week for 3+ years without pay. That’s been the real benefit. If I was living in the US, there is no way I would have the time to grow the magazine without a salary.

After Dinner Conversation has extensive submission guidelines and even a video. Did you set out with this as the plan or did it evolve over time after receiving so many submissions that missed the mark?

It evolved over time. When the publication first started, we had minor guidelines, but people just ignored them. We got loads of spam submissions and it became obvious that we could never keep up with so many submissions. After a few months we sent an email to everyone saying, “Our bad, clean slate, if you want to resubmit your story for consideration, send it back in with this statement attached to the email.” That helped some with getting rid of spam submissions. I later added the video for authors to watch. The goal is to get to fewer submissions, but to get ones that are a good fit for us so we have the highest acceptance rate possible. Even with all the videos and guidelines, we still get a surprising amount of spam submissions.

I think a lot of writers might see a blurred line between philosophical undertones and “theme”. What would you say would be a few questions they could ask themselves about a story that would clearly differentiate the two before considering submitting?

This is a great question! For me, theme is the message of the story, and the philosophical undertones are something very different. Let’s use “The Three Little Pigs” as an example. The theme might be, “it’s better to spend extra time to plan.” However, the philosophical question is, “what obligation (if any) does a person who plans for the future have to those that do not when disaster strikes?”

An author should absolutely consider the difference. We frequently make this suggestion to authors in our rejection letters, “What is the question in your story you want us to ask ourselves? Have you removed everything superfluous in the story that doesn’t support that question?”

How do you as an editor manage to navigate the different timelines, living conditions, and internet firewalls that you have to face while living and moving about abroad? Especially since you offer a print option as well. Do you have a team that helps you during these times or does it not end up causing too many problems?

Another great question. It can be difficult. Certain banking websites and payment processor websites don’t work if you are outside of the United States. This requires using a VPN to make it appear I’m in the US to their servers. Phone calls are tough and so are time zone differences. I have way too many 4 am meetings. Filing taxes, scanning documents, and getting 2FA text messages all become a bit more difficult when you are always moving. Big fan of Wise for banking and Airalo for esim data plans.

Regarding the print version, that’s not too hard, as we work with a company that does the printing and mailing for us from the US. Ironically, because I’m always moving, I’ve never held a copy of the magazine in my own hands. Every picture I have of the print books and magazine are from authors who took a picture and posted it online.

What kind of conversations do you have after dinner?

LOL. My wife and I have really wonderful conversations during, and after, dinners. I learn a great deal from our discussions about politics, justice, economics, and ethics.

If there were one question you could add to this interview, what would it be and how would you answer it?

In the theme of the publication, I’ll mention the question that I think is the single most important thing I want to know about someone when I meet them. “If you were in the Garden of Eden, and you knew what eating the fruit of knowledge of good and evil would do; that it would cause you to learn about hunger, pain, suffering, love -- all of it. Would choose to stay blissful and unaware of everything, or would you eat the fruit anyway and be eternally tormented with knowledge and the pain of perpetual choices?”

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After Dinner Conversation

"An independent, nonprofit, monthly literary magazine that focuses on short story fiction that encourages philosophical and ethical discussions."
Response time
2-3 months
Twitter followers
Submission guidelines