At the uneasy intersection of the creative process and the manuscript submission process exists a website known as Chill Subs. The site provides an extremely fast-growing grassroots alternative to Submittable, the venture capital–supported site that has dominated the submissions space for more than a decade but has occasionally frustrated writers with its fees and lack of transparency.
Part practical tool and part global online community, Chill Subs is a user-funded startup that aims to ease the stress of an essential yet often stultifying chore: sending one’s written work, in the proper format, to the persnickety editors of literary journals and indie publishers capable of igniting or dousing a writing career. In the insouciant, slangy voice of the site, its overriding goal is “making your writing life not so freaking exhausting.”
Web developer, musician, and writer Karina Kupp founded Chill Subs in January 2022 from her then-home of Warsaw, Poland. Originally from Belarus, she now lives and works in Tbilisi, Georgia. “I’ve been obsessed with the English language since I was a kid,” Kupp said, and after writing in English for years—she’s in her mid-20s—she quit her tech job in late 2020 to try her luck playing music and sending poems to literary journals.
With no idea where to begin as an author, she opened up the Poets & Writers directory, “went through the whole list of magazines, picked the ones I liked, and put them into a spreadsheet. And then I realized I didn’t understand how to work with this data set. It’s hard, the response times are huge, and sometimes there are no simultaneous submissions. I didn’t know what to do.”
When Kupp shared her sense of overwhelm online, her writer friends commiserated. Then they began asking for a copy of her spreadsheet. Kupp resisted. “Spreadsheets are boring,” she said. “Nobody wants another spreadsheet, so why would I do that?” Over beers with her husband in a bar in Poland, “I decided I wanted to make a website. I had this initial idea for the vibe, like it’d be cool if it had all sorts of filters.”
After a few days of experimentation, she created a mockup to help prospective authors navigate a sample set of 75 magazines’ submission guidelines. “I imagined I would share it with my friends, and that’s it. But when I posted it on Twitter, I gained 3,000 followers in the first weekend.” When she shopped around for domain names, she was certain Chill Subs wouldn’t be available: “It sounded really cool, and then it was free. So I booked it.”
By the time Kupp talked about her enterprise with Lit Mag News in March 2022, would-be collaborators were contacting her with ideas for tools and features. Among them was content creator Benjamin Davis. “I’ve been submitting on and off for many years, and I was just blown away,” Davis said. “I bombarded her with super long emails and different ideas.” Kupp invited Davis on board as cofounder, and he now runs the content side while she handles software development.
Next to join Chill Subs was Write or Die, the online magazine edited by Massachusetts-based Kailey Brennan DelloRusso and her editorial team. Write or Die merged with Chill Subs in May 2023, billed as a way to encourage writers’ work and organize literary workshops to keep determined authors informed and motivated. “We really want to build a top-tier magazine that sets an example,” Kupp said, noting that Write or Die pays $200 for one published work of fiction per month and $50 for four accepted essays per month.
Cheering Acceptances or Playing Rejection Bingo
Two years after Chill Subs’s initial launch, “our website gets 250,000 views per month,” Kupp said, and employs six core creators as well as part-timers. Users have access to more than 3,000 literary magazines, 1,300 writing contests, and 200 independent publishers. “We have a side project right now, to really start working on our indie presses and expanding that one,” Davis said.
Users apply filters that identify magazines and presses with open submissions, simultaneous submissions, word count and genre limits, entry fees, and payments or prizes. “We have a bookmark system so people can bookmark their favorite magazines and strategize their submissions process,” Davis said. “That then attaches to our calendar, so they can see when the magazines open and close.” In addition to trackers and other tools for writers, Chill Subs links to editorial services, Write or Die workshops, and a space where editors can add listings.
Kupp wants Chill Subs to be known as “a submissions manager that's more affordable for editors” that “integrates perfectly with the rest of the ecosystem that we created,” with automatic tracking of submissions “because manual tracking will never be as accurate” and opportunities for writers to display successful submissions on their profiles. The site invites users to get on a waitlist to be beta testers and to join a Discord channel to discuss features, including “secret features” for insiders to discover.
More than 18,000 writers have registered and created Chill Subs profiles, and more than 1,000 visitors support the site as patrons. Community buy-in is Kupp’s vision. “We have no investors and don’t want them,” the membership page attests, and Kupp adds that “we really want to stay independent. We have our very specific vision for things, and we don’t want it to be altered by people who hold the money.” Chill Subs works to differentiate its approach from that of Submittable, which seeks investor financing in addition to charging publications to use its platform.
Members join Chill Subs at one of three levels, from a free entry-level plan to a $5/month Premium plan to a $10/month Supporter plan, each of which grant tiered access to resources. Premium members receive the Sub Club newsletter, which announces submission opportunities across multiple genres three times a week, while Supporter members get access to a new Substack called Write or Die 101, which Kupp calls "a forever workshop project" introducing new instructors every month.
Some Chill Subs followers show up for the Prose Formatter, a premium feature that automatically converts a cover letter or written piece according to a magazine or press’s specifications. “People can take their story, paste it in, and click a button, and it will download a perfect industry-standard formatted copy of their work ready to submit to a magazine,” Davis said. “They can choose to include personal information or not, and it approximates the word count so you don’t have to. It’s Times New Roman, size 12, double-spaced, one-inch margins”—an almost magical transformation for writers who prefer to work in an alternate format or typeface.
Other Chill Subs visitors come for the sense of humor. “The last time I checked, the rejection rate was probably 79%” among aspiring writers, Kupp said, so Chill Subs gamifies both positive and negative outcomes in a wryly funny way. Acceptances get cheers and positive affirmations, while those less fortunate receive tongue-in-cheek perks. “When you update the status of your submission, you get a generated message,” said Kupp. “If it’s an acceptance, you get celebration. If it’s a rejection, you get crying. But also, when you are rejected, the Rejection Bingo card pops up, with 20–25 phrases you typically encounter in a rejection letter.”
If a writer is unfortunate enough to track their progress and complete their Rejection Bingo card, Kupp promises “a surprise. It’s become part of our identity—people come and have fun, even if they feel like crying.” She’s also eyeing the trend of creating erasure poems from rejection letters, and she hopes to program a feature that will enable rejected writers to instantly resend manuscripts rather than wallow in the slough of despond. “We’re very people-centric,” Davis said. “We want to make it more of an enjoyable process, and that’s what a lot of our tools are directed toward.”
Perhaps not far in the future, Chill Subs will enable Kupp and Davis to rejoin the authorial hopefuls they’ve done so much to encourage. When she inaugurated Chill Subs, “that’s when I stopped submitting [my own work],” Kupp said, because she and Davis quickly foresaw four or five years’ worth of features they wanted to develop. “I wasn't alone—our team has been working tirelessly. We had the best year, but we didn't have weekends,” she continued. “We worked 12-hour days, seven days a week, and it wasn’t sustainable, but it allowed us to build it a lot of things.”
Now that the site is generating enough income “to afford small salaries for all of our team, we finally have a normal Saturday and Sunday like humans do. I’ve had time to play music, to write,” Kupp said. “I’ve even started considering submitting poems again.”