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 Austin DeMarco of our Reading Panel:
1. Why do you read for Hippocampus Magazine?
Artists need a venue for their work because art in its truest form is meant to be shared. I read for Hippocampus because I want to help writers share their voice. That and I get to read all these great stories before anybody else!
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 make it a solid piece?
It’s a story I can’t put down. It needs to be compelling. There were a couple of times when I opened up a submission not expecting to actually read it and then couldn’t bring myself to put it aside. This to me is a very good sign.
3. What is the most common mistake–or mistakes–you see writers make in those submissions which you decline?
Pieces that lack focus and fail–as I mentioned–to maintain my interest. Stream of consciousness is a great tactic when done properly, but most often it’s done in a way that has little coherence and leaves readers asking “huh?”
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?
“The Thing That Worked” by Ben Jolivet. There’s great energy to this piece; the writer keeps us compelled through twists in plot and a few carefully placed moments intended to evoke surprise and even humor. It’s one of those pieces that delivers a compelling and gripping narrative.
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 the submission have been better?
There have been several submissions that I was keen on at first but ended abruptly or left me feeling unsatisfied. The ending is the last part of a story that readers will see, so it has to be one of the most powerful parts in terms of emotion and theme or the story as a whole falls flat.
6. Now that you’ve been reading for Hippocampus for a while, have you been surprised by anything–good or bad?
Honesty. There are some topics that writers have broached in both good and bad pieces that I’m not sure I would have had the guts to talk about in such detail. But that’s what creative writing is all about–being honest about what it means to be human–and I love stories that do it right.
7. Based upon 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 well-known trope among writers but you have to read and write consistently. The best way to improve is to practice. Writing books and seminars can help, sure, but they’re no substitute for getting your hands dirty every day and never giving up.
8. For literary agents the rumor is chocolate. What delectable treat, for you, is bribe-worthy?
Sushi, though warm homemade baked goods work too.
9. Finally, what is your favorite Hippocampus piece as of the date you are completing this survey?
“The House that Built Me” by Cory Fosco. What was great about this piece is that Cory describes the house in such vivid detail and with such love that it almost becomes another character in the story. When that character is hurt, we care about it just as if soomeone close to us had been in a similar situation. It’s that emotional appeal that compells me through a piece and lingers in my mind for some time after I’m finished reading.