Insider Tips is a recurring series in which members of our reading panel and editorial staff share advice about submitting to Hippocampus Magazine. Each Insider Tips Q & A column reflects the opinions of the individual interviewed, not the magazine as a whole. We hope you find this helpful!
Advice from Fran Young:
1. Why do you read for Hippocampus Magazine?
I feel honored to read for Hippocampus, and know that my own writing will improve as a result. I have noticed this happening already!
2. Let’s start with the positives. Describe what type of submission screams “YES” when you are reading through pieces. For example, what elements are evident that makes it a solid piece?
I am inordinately concerned with titles of essays. Yes, I know it’s true that you can’t (shouldn’t?) tell a book by it’s cover, but I DO! Don’t we all? With Hippocampus submissions, the title is, in essence, the cover. So an interesting or intriguing title is something that makes me first take notice. If it’s blah, I assume the story will be, also. Same goes for a title that’s intriguing. When the first paragraph is gripping, and propels me directly into the piece, that’s a good sign that I’ll love the story. If the story has strong characters with whom I can identify and perhaps even give a face to, that makes me want to know what happens next. It really is true that compelling characters propel one into a book/story.
3. What is the most common mistake–or mistakes–you see writers make in submissions that you decline?
The first sentence and paragraph has to sing! If there are too many characters, or commas, or even one grammar/spelling mistake in the first lines of a story, I’m out. Certain typos (i.e. your for you’re, for example) send me right over the edge, and while I certainly don’t think of myself as perfect, I just can’t be bothered to take seriously an essay that has these oh-so-annoying/common errors. Dialogue seems to be a tough one for many writers. The mechanics of whether to italicize or indent or apply apostrophes aren’t as important as the flow of speech. When this fails, reading the piece is like riding over speed bumps–it just doesn’t work. I’ve noticed that many writers have problems with time and sequence, leaving this reader (me) unsure if we’re reading about a previous experience, or the future, a flashback or a hope and dream. Once I get lost, I give up interest.
4. Can you give us an example of a piece that you voted YES on, and that has already been published in Hippocampus–and tell us why you voted to accept this piece?
I’m new to reading for Hippocampus, but I’m crossing my fingers big time for those few pieces that I’ve considered yes-worthy so far! Here is the first line of a recent favorite of mine: “When I was a child, and I was a child for just a little while, I addressed my mother….” This story had me in its grip immediately. I HAD to know why the author could be a child only a “little while”. The writing was flawless, and perhaps because my stories are also about difficulties in my youth that forced me to grow up fast, I couldn’t resist reading with total absorption and admiration. I hope we’ll see this piece soon on Hippocampus! (editors note: you will, Fran!)
5. Without giving away revealing details (like title) can you illustrate a specific example of a piece that you felt was ALMOST there, but needed some work? What was the issue and how could it have been better?
I read a piece about a person’s physical reaction to an experience with their family. I gave it a rare “maybe” for two main reasons: The piece started off shaky and with a somewhat preachy tone which put me on guard. Personally, I hate religious or “spiritual” writing. Furthermore, the piece had some gender questions which were left unclear and so I found it was either supposed to be unclear (which I didn’t like) or else assumed that the reader wouldn’t notice. It made the piece seem like info was withheld or the author presumptuous. Either way I, as a reader, was left uncomfortable.
6. Now that you’ve been reading for Hippocampus for a while, have you been surprised by anything–good or bad?
I’m constantly surprised in the quality of writing that Hippocampus receives and which I’m privileged to read. I’m certain that some pieces that are accepted and read by Hippocampus fans will go on to become best sellers. Again, I feel honored to have been ‘there’ at this early stage of certain authors’ success.
7. Based on your experience reading for Hippocampus and what you see accepted, rejected–and debated–what advice do you have to those looking to be published here?
It’s a phrase that has certainly been drilled to death, but it’s true: Kill your darlings, especially in short pieces (I would add). Pare down the scenes and the characters to the bare bone nitty-gritty guts of the piece. And check, and re-read for correctness. Who would want a wonderful piece rejected by ANY one due to a stupid typo?
8. For literary agents the rumor is chocolate. What delectable treat, for you, is bribe-worthy?
An Einstein everything bagel with loads of cream cheese, lox, red onion, tomato, and don’t forget the capers!
9. Finally, what is your favorite Hippocampus piece as of today’s date?
I love A Father by Aimee Anderson. It gripped my heart…