Editor Interview: Hippocampus Magazine

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

A: True stories that move us

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

A: The Sun, mental_floss (not literary magazine, but we love its quirkiness), Brevity, The Good Men Project, The Rumpus, Riverteeth, Creative Nonfiction, Under The Gumtree

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

A: In the creative nonfiction realm I've been greatly inspired by Jeanette Walls, Tobias Wolff, Frank Conroy, Beverly Donofrio, Nick Flynn, Augusten Burroughs, and Rebecca Skloot.

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

A: We like to think that our engagement with our readers and integration with social media sets us apart. Coming from a background in public relations and online marketing (in both ecommerce and higher education), I am of the school of thought that it's not just about pushing out content (or a product), but about creating relationships and conversations. We try to do that at Hippocampus, and our Most Memorable designation helps that (a monthly contest awarding that story that gets the most"buzz"). Also, our mission statement is "educate, entertain and engage", so in addition to publishing creative nonfiction from emerging and established writers and creating those conversations, we also publish articles, reviews and interviews to inform writers and readers of creative nonfiction. Overall, we find that we're friendly, personable and open to everyone; we've received lots of positive feedback on our personality.
I should also add that we specialize solely in creative nonfiction. We like to think that, at the time we launched in 2010, that we filled a content gap in online literary magazines. There are a few long-time print publications in our genre, but just a few online-only journals. However, there are hundreds the specialize in poetry and even more that are multi-genre. A nonfiction writer myself, I struggled finding places to which I could submit. I wanted to give people like me that place!

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

A: Read our guidelines. In reading industry blogs and going through the MFA program at Wilkes University, I've always heard/read the warnings about the importance of reading guidelines, and the stories of those green (or experienced) submitters that break the rules. Until I started Hippocampus, I never realized the extent of the ignorance many have in actually reading guidelines. And this doesn't just go for writers. We get a lot of fiction and poetry submissions, for example. But also we get review copies of novels from publicists and publishers. We clearly specialize in nonfiction, so we ask that people pay attention -- it not only saves us time, but also saves the submitter a rejection. We have a blind reading process, and are proud of that, yet we get lots of submissions with identifying information. So, just read our guidelines, please. Submit the proper genre and the proper format! Other than that, we're open to any type of essay or memoir excerpt. We say in our guidelines that we like quirky, edgy, funny and moving material. We do hope for for of the quirky and funny (hint, hint!).

Q: Describe the ideal submission.

A: Our ideal submission is one that keeps us scrolling (I would say turning the page, but it's the day of online submissions!) and keeps us engaged the entire time. A polished draft is super important, but story trumps all. For memoir excerpts, pieces need have a clear beginning, middle and end--ones that can stand on their own two feet without the rest of the book. If I laugh, or cry, or feel enlightened, you did your job as a writer. Make us feel something. Give us memorable characters. Show us don't tell us.

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

A: The biggest mistakes I see in submissions to us, process wise, are wrong format, wrong genre or revealing identity in the draft. To me, the latter is lazy. It shows me that people are going from lit mag to lit mag submitting. I'm not submitting as much of my own material as I should, but here's a tip: I have a few versions of the piece I am submitting: with name in header, without name, and with name and contact information. I also have page numbers because many require that, but no one says NOT to have them. This way, as you scan (let me rephrase that; as you READ) guidelines, you can choose the appropriate version. Also, we updated our guidelines to only accept one submission at a time from a reader after receiving several at a time from the same writer; still, we see multiples. Finally, it's the right thing to do to immediately withdraw your piece from consideration if accepted from another literary magazine; a few times we accepted a story and got a reply that it had already appeared elsewhere; it's not fair to any small team of editors to spend time reading something that is no longer available.

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

A: We have a blind reading process so our reading panel does not at any time see cover letters, so the work stands on its own at Hippocampus. Also, we publish a lot of first-time writers, so publishing credits do not matter when it comes to being selected. However, we DO love cover letters. As a marketer by trade, I am always interested in learning more about those interested in our magazine (where they come from, what they do, how they found out about us, etc.); that information really shows me how far we've come since we launched two years ago. As the admin of our submissions software program, I do have access to reading the letters as submissions come in and I enjoy reading them. But they are not required, and they do not impact our decision.

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

A: Our readers are instructed to stop reading when they are no longer interested. This is not to say all of our panel members do that, however. I learned this model when I volunteered to read for a national novel writing contest, and I favor it. Now that our queue is really filling up, this process is more important. We want pieces that grab the reader right away. If the hook is buried on page three, then there is an issue with the story. And if we feel that way, readers of the magazine will too.
Submission-quality-wise, from what I see and what our panel of readers say in comments, is stories that have no depth, ones filled with errors (as I said in a previous answer, I am very forgiving of random typos when the story itself is incredible), or stories that don't have any value to the reader. An example would be a story of recovering from the loss of a family member that reads more like a sob story or a journal entry--like a personal coping mechanism. Stories like this also need to leave the reader with something. So, these are the types of stories we may stop reading before we get to the end.

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

A: None. After stories are accepted, they go through a copy-editing process. Occasionally, though, there is a story that seems to have a lot of promise but it's not "there" yet. We sometimes decline a submission with personal feedback and the option to resubmit a revised person.

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

A: I work full-time as the director of integrated communications at a private liberal arts college, so my days are filled with telling the stories of inspiring young people and our faculty and staff members, all while working on a beautiful college campus. I love it! So much of my day revolves around web content, social media, marketing and PR, and all of that informs what I do with Hippocampus. Throughout the day, whether on a lunch break or a mental break from the hustle and bustle, I'll read submissions and correspond with the reading panel and our contributing writers and editors. And, of course, engage with our readers via Twitter and Facebook. It's usually in the evenings and on the weekends that I do most of the work for Hippocampus. As submissions come in, I assign them in bulk (usually 10-15 pieces at a time) to our reading panel. The stories that begin to rise above the rest in ratings (coupled with the comments from our reading panel), I then read. I make final decisions, but sometimes if there's a bit of debate on a piece, such as split evenly with yes/no votes, I have designated readers that come in to help vote. After I accept pieces, I would send out a PDF acceptance packet, but now Submittable has built in functionality. I love sending out acceptances and loathe sending out rejections--but I have to do that. Aside from reading submissions, I am the sole person responsible for our website, so I am constantly working on that, but when it's new issue time, that's when it's crunch time. The last week of the month, for me, is dedicated to production.

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

A: I run an online literary magazine and I work full-time in web communications, yet I do not own an ereader or tablet. I prefer reading paper books and subscribe to plenty of print magazines. My heart hopes that the printed word never goes away. That said, when I wanted to launch a creative nonfiction literary magazine, I knew the web was the right and only place for me. My background is in web and social media, and I also did not have resources or funds to start a print magazine. My hope is to publish a print edition annually. All that said, yes, it is critical that publishers embrace modern technologies. It's cost effective for promotion and marketing--so many new channels to use! Web and social media can extend the life of content and enrich print publications and give them more traction. Print publications should have an online element... they need to in order to survive. I think it's smart for new publications to consider web-only, but also I think that if there is a demand for print for a specific publication that it should, at some level, remain in print. Perhaps that means cutting down length of publication or publishing fewer issues per year. I definitely think the new and old can work in harmony. The most important thing to consider is AUDIENCE. That drives everything in my book--you need to deliver your content in the means best suited for your audience. Otherwise, you alienate them.

Q: Do you nominate work you've published for any national or international awards?

A: Yes, we nominate for Pushcart, Best of the Net, and Best American Essays.