Editor Interview: Hypertrophic Literary

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Q: Describe what you publish in 25 characters or less.

A: Heart punches.

Q: What other current publications (or publishers) do you admire most?

A: Definitely Matthew Kabik of Third Point Press. Third Point has a beautiful aesthetic and I love reading everything Kabik ever writes about the industry. It’s so hard to choose because there are so many fantastic publications out there right now, but I suppose some other favorites are Room Magazine, Hobart, and Cleaver. I’ve recently started paying close attention to Amanda Miska of Split Lip Press too.

Q: If you publish writing, who are your favorite writers? If you publish art, who are your favorite artists?

A: In terms of short stories, everything Christopher D. DiCicco writes is absolute gold. I’m also a huge fan of T. Imel and Chelsea Laine Wells.

Q: What sets your publication apart from others that publish similar material?

A: We’re told constantly that our magazine is one of the most beautiful ones out there. We publish work we love, work that reaches right into your soul and squeezes your heart until you can’t breathe, but we also put a lot of emphasis on the design side of the magazine. We feature a new artist every issue, and I think the artwork really adds to the magazine and influences the way each piece is read.

Q: What is the best advice you can give people who are considering submitting work to your publication?

A: I’m going to chime in with the chorus here and say “Read the magazine!” This is the most common advice in our industry, but the reason you see it so often is that no one ever actually does it and all the editors out there are still trying to convince people of its importance. You don’t have to spend money, you don’t have to read 7 issues worth of content. Skim a few stories and you’ll know right away whether or not your stuff fits. And be honest with yourself about it – it’s that simple. Reading a magazine’s past content before you submit is the easiest way to save yourself and the editors some time. Many magazines often take 6 months or more to respond, so there’s no point in waiting all that time for a response that would obviously be a no because they don’t publish what you write.

Q: Describe the ideal submission.

A: Regarding the actual work, we look for things that evoke real emotion, pieces that break your heart. It has to be intense and it has to stay with you even after you’re done reading. In queries, the ideal submission for me is short and sweet and includes a bio that shows the writer is a real person. I think people don’t pay enough attention to bios when submitting, and one that can make the editor laugh or pull the editor in right away will definitely make a submission stand out and make the editor look at your work with a more attentive eye.

Q: What do submitters most often get wrong about your submissions process?

A: We get quite a few submissions that go over our word count or that include more pieces than we allow. And I’m sure most lit mags encounter this every day: we get a lot of submissions where writers haven’t read our magazine or our guidelines and send things that are very obviously (to us) not what we publish.

Q: How much do you want to know about the person submitting to you?

A: Cover letters set the tone, but the work should speak for itself. I would never pass over a great piece just because of a poor cover letter. In a query, I want to know the person’s name, why he/she is submitting that particular piece to our magazine, and I want a bio that reflects the person’s personality. My favorite part of a cover letter is the bio, and my favorite bios are the ones that show you who that person is instead of telling you. I still think about one where the writer began it with “NAME’s bio was stolen during the break-in of 2008” and then went on to list everything else stolen at the same event. It said so much more about who he was as a person, and it made me want to work with him.
I enjoy seeing where our submitters have been previously published, but it doesn’t mean anything to me. I’d say to never list more than 3 specific magazines you’ve been in – no one wants to know the names of all 25 journals you’re published in. But to be honest, we tend to publish a lot of first-timers or writers with barely any publication credits. We really do pick pieces based on the actual work and not the resume.

Q: If you publish writing, how much of a piece do you read before making the decision to reject it?

A: When I’m looking for work to publish, I look for reasons to accept a piece, not reasons to reject one. With that said, I can tell pretty quickly whether a piece is for us or not. Poetry is usually short, so I’ll read or skim the entire piece regardless. With short stories, I always read up to the first page entirely and then, if it doesn’t catch me right away, I’ll skip to the middle, and then skip to the final paragraph. If the last paragraph is amazing I’ll go back and reread the whole piece, but if I wasn’t pulled in by any of those sections then I pass on the piece. I think people have so many options in terms of what to read now, and that a reader will give a piece even less of a chance than an editor will, so it’s important for a piece to start off in a way that captivates.

Q: What additional evaluations, if any, does a piece go through before it is accepted?

A: Hypertrophic is very small (we’re only two people), so we have an agreement that anything we publish needs to be a unanimous acceptance. That means that once I find a piece I love I send it to the other half (our designer, Jeremy Bronaugh) for his opinion. There have been rare instances where we disagree and one of us loves a piece so much that we veto the other’s vote, but it takes an intense debate to achieve that. I remember one day where I was about to send out acceptance letters and found that three of the stories were pulled because they’d been accepted elsewhere before I got to them. So when I read “Bienville Plantation” by Cameron Hagler later that day and fell in love, I texted Jeremy and said that I was going to accept it before anyone else could and there wasn’t time for him to read it, but I promised he would approve. I will always fight (nearly to the death) for every single piece that gets me, and I hate to lose.

Q: What is a day in the life of an editor like for you?

A: I’ll very rarely read just a few submissions and call it a day; when I have a day to go through that folder, I stay in it for hours. We always have such a long to-do list, though, so I’m frequently distracted by mailing out books to contest winners, arranging for interviews with our authors, promoting our latest event, etc. If I’m distracted, I’ll always go back to whatever submission I was on and reread it – I always try to give everyone a fair shot and a reasonable amount of attention. I drink an unhealthy amount of coffee while I read, I always have to have my hair tied up, and I read in ABSOLUTE silence. No music, no noise. I often forget to eat while I’m engrained in submissions and will surface hours later weak and cranky. But I quite frequently end up having real conversations with people who submit to us, and that’s my favorite part because I personally write back to every single person. We don’t have a form letter and will never ever have one. If you’ve taken the time to submit to us, then I think you deserve the time it takes me to write back with my real thoughts.

Q: How important do you feel it is for publishers to embrace modern technologies?

A: I think it’s very important, but that you have to use what works for you. If you don’t embrace it, quite often you’ll just fall behind, but not every new technology is going to make sense for every publisher. In terms of social media, Twitter is MASSIVE in the lit mag world. That’s how I stay in contact with our previous contributors; we always try to promote new work by anyone who has been in our magazine, and Twitter is where we find a lot of it and keep up to date. We also read a ton of stuff that other lit mags post on there, and we find quite a few writers we end up soliciting for work that way.
Online publication is HUGE too, and there are so many magazines that you can read in whole or in part just on the publisher’s website. Readers can’t afford to purchase every single lit mag they come across, so providing online content is a great way to expand your readership easily. Originally we wanted our magazine to only be available in print; we knew that the people who were interested in it would still find it, and since we’re so design heavy we thought print would be a better medium for us. But this year we’ve decided to start publishing our magazine digitally as well. We will always have the print option – that will never go away – but offering our content in a digital way as well will provide a more accessible option in terms of price and will make it easier for us to reach a wider audience. Ultimately our goal is to showcase amazing work and get it in front of as many people as we possibly can. It’s often impossible to do this without embracing new technology and acknowledging what your audience prefers, so you really have to make an effort to adapt.