Q&A: Aaron Burch of HAD, Hobart & W&S

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By Zoe Grace Marquedant

Don’t You Want Me, Baby asks: what is rejection? How do you phrase it? How do you take it? What makes it past the sensors? Is there a long German word for refreshing your email on decision day? Each installment, we’ll hear from different sides of the literary magazine submission process. From writers, editors, readers, volunteers. Maybe we’ll learn the secret ingredients, the rituals, the rules that need to be broken. Maybe we’ll all just agree to retitle our PDFs and try again.

Name: Aaron Burch
Job/Title: Editor
Location: Ann Arbor, MI
Publication(s): HAD, Hobart, W&S

Without using the word “yes,” describe what it feels like to read something you want without question to publish.

Sometimes it made me wish that I’d written it and sometimes it made me wish I could write something like that and sometimes it just made me go “wtf???” in a really good way, and almost always it makes me feel like I can’t wait to share it with others.

How does HAD deliver the good news? Would you change that?

Email. No, it works.

How far do you read before you settle on a “no”?

Until it makes me know that it’s a no. HAD primarily (though not necessarily exclusively) focuses on really short stuff, so I often read it all, but sometimes I know as early as the first sentence that it just isn’t “HAD-y.”

In sending a rejection, is there anything you feel you cannot say?

I mean… just don’t be a jerk? I actually rarely say anything specific or personal. Part of this is HAD’s unique submission reading system — we open for really short windows and then try and read and reply to everything as fast as possible; often within an hour or two, almost always within 24 hours. With that in mind, I don’t really have time or energy to personalize rejections. But, also, I found over time that that can be tricky. Sometimes I’ll add a little note, but I try to do so in an encouraging way, or why I liked it but it just wasn’t quite a match for me, right now, but also… Writers are submitting for publication, they aren’t asking for critique.

How does your editorial body break ties when there is a disagreement on a submission?

We don’t really have an editorial body. It’s me and Crow and then we ask guest editors to step in for a call, but whoever is doing the call is doing it solo and has autonomy to make decisions. I tell editors that if they want a second opinion, I’m happy to read something and give one, and I often forward a handful of maybes to Crow, but there isn’t ever really disagreement, it’s just another opinion.

Do you ever regret rejections? Second-guess acceptances?


What do you include beyond the necessary information, like page limit and pay, in your Submission Guide? Has that changed over time? Why?

I tend to keep it pretty simple and straightforward. Basics of word count limit and the like, and maybe a little note about the kind(s) of thing I’m looking for.

If you are also a writer when does being one affect your work as an editor?

I started Hobart basically at the same time as I started writing, and before I was really submitting myself, and so writing and editing/publishing have always been linked and intertwined for me. I have been an editor for as long as I’ve been a writer. One affects the other and vice versa in a multitude of ways, in ALL the ways, probably, though I’m not sure I could put words to any specifics hows.

Has your experience editing changed how you view the submission process?

See above.

If you work outside the industry, does your outside life inform how you tackle the submission pile?

I teach, which is both “outside the industry” and is the industry? It informs tackling submissions just in when I do or don’t have time.

What have you learned from reading submissions that you’ve applied to your own creative process?

I would struggle to define how, but my whole creative process feels fed through this lens of reading submissions. It often is a reminder of just how subjective it all can be and, maybe more than anything, just reminds and teaches me about my own taste.

Whether it’s misspelling the name of an editor or forgetting to actually attach your piece, what’s one time you fumbled a submission?

I’ve been writing and sending stuff out for almost 20 years, I’m sure I’ve done all of the above at least once. Misspell an editor name, forget to attach, use the wrong name (for editor and/or journal), etc. One time I got an acceptance and withdrew it from everywhere except one place that doesn’t use Submittable and I just forgot I’d submitted to them and they ended up accepting the piece and it probably wasn’t the biggest deal but I felt so bad for not having withdrawn it and I love where it ended up but that second journal that accepted it is something of a dream journal — the only piece they’ve ever said yes to and I’ve probably sent them 10 or 20 — and it still haunts me a little.

Where does the submission process still need refining?

I don’t know that it does? I like that different journals are trying new and different things. More than needing refining, I’m super pro just trying things, having fun with it, seeing what does and doesn’t work for you, and there being a range in how different journals handle things differently.

Rapid Fire:
What do you do when you’re supposed to be writing?

Scroll Twitter, prep for classes or grade, watch Netflix, go on a run…

Favorite font/pen/paper/word processor?

I write first drafts longhand on a white legal pad with Pilot G-2s.

Most common mistake you see in submissions?

This is a boring and common answer, but just not being familiar with the journal. Especially with HAD, where our vibe feels pretty specific and the way we read and handle submissions is real specific, pretty much the only “mistake”s come from writers who are submitting just to submit and they have no idea who we are or what we do.

Do you have perfect grammar?


After the interview, we like to ask each interviewee to pose a question for future interviewees based on the conversation they’ve just had. Monica asked:
How do you conceive of the target reader of your publication and how do you know if you’re reaching them?

I don’t think about this too much. Mostly I love accepting and getting to publish stuff that I love as a reader and then I just hope lots of others will love it too, will get to feel the joy reading it that I felt when reading it as a submission.

What question would you then pose to future interviewees based on these questions, your answers, everything that’s been said and unsaid:

This didn’t really quite fit anywhere in the above, but a lot of how we run HAD is born up out of having done Hobart for so long and wanting to try to do things a little different and just really have fun with it. Other people — readers, writers, submitters… — seem to find it all pretty fun too and that’s just been so encouraging and this idea of fun just seems to have fed off itself, back and forth, over the last year, our first.

Along those lines, I’d maybe ask for one instance that stands out in their mind, as reader or editor, as a “best experience” — most fun, most rewarding, whatever.

Zoe Grace Marquedant (she/her/hers) is a queer writer. She earned her B.A. from Sarah Lawrence and her M.F.A. from Columbia University. Her work has been featured in Olney Magazine, the Cool Rock Repository, Schuylkill Valley Journal, and the School of Commons.

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