Insider Tips: Sydney L. Keniston

blue keyboard key with iInsider 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!

This month: Advice from Sydney L. Keniston, of our reading panel.

Why do you read for Hippocampus Magazine?

I enjoy the honest, unpretentious style of Hippocampus. Hippocampus is refreshing and quite different from the majority of lit mags on the web now. I wanted to be a part of it, so I volunteered to read.

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?

Strong, believable characters are important to me. This is nonfiction after all; these should be real people in these pieces. If characters feel real I am drawn into a piece. Dialogue plays a big part in this as well. I’m a sucker for a good line of dialogue.

What is the most common mistake–or mistakes–you see writers make in those submissions which you decline?

Most pieces I decline are not consistent in their point of view; they jump back and forth between characters, seeing from practically everyone’s eyes but the dog’s. Easy to follow POV is important in any work, whether fiction or nonfiction, but especially in nonfiction. As I said earlier, these should be real people in these pieces. In your real everyday life, how many points of view do you see? I rest my case.

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?

Any Good News by Carol Feiner, just published in the April issue, spoke out to me due to, again, it’s believable dialogue. That first line really hooks you too, “The old ladies sit and wait to die”, how could it be any more ensnaring than that?

Without giving away revealing details (like title) can you illustrate an 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?

There was a piece a while back that was more like a shopping list than a nonfiction piece, little snippets of unconnected facts. I am all for experimentation, but I think sometimes writers forget (I’m guilty of this occasionally as well) that our main purpose is to tell a story. If there was a story that wove through these snippets, even a picture of a character, it could be quite interesting, but unfortunately it wasn’t there.

Now that you’ve been reading for Hippocampus for a while, have you been surprised by anything–good or bad?

I have been surprised by how many submissions come in each week! It opened my eyes to the plight of the lit mag editor; they have an enormous amount of work. I will never get angry again when a month goes by and I don’t hear back about one of my submissions.

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?

Make sure your piece has a storyline, a narrative arc. That’s the biggest thing that cannot be stressed enough. I’ve been told that over and over again and I will pass that advice on. Story, story, story.

For literary agents the rumor is chocolate. What delectable treat, for you, is bribe-worthy?

Hmmm…. a well made croissant and a good cafe au lait. That would get you just about anything you want.

Finally, what is your favorite Hippocampus piece as of today’s date?

There have been many, many great pieces published in Hippocampus over the past year but I’d have to say the one that sticks in my mind the most persistently is The Thing That Worked by Ben Jolivet. Growing up as a wuss myself, I could identify with his tale.

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