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: Lulu Nunn
Job/Title: Founder and Curator
Location: London, UK
Without using the word “yes,” describe what it feels like to read something you want without question to publish.
It feels like when you meet someone new and you know instantly that this is a person you want to talk with for ages, who you can share things with, be friends with, and also introduce to your other friends. It’s really exciting!
How does HOAX deliver the good news? Would you change that?
We’re pretty informal, friendly and excitable with our communications. We email our acceptances and tell them the news, ask if they are still happy to be published and, if so, if the date we suggest works, plus what that means for their work and how it will become part of HOAX. We also ask for people’s payment details straight away — we never pay people more than one day after their work is published. However, it can take us a while for us to get back to people who have submitted work because our online submissions are always open, because of the way we curate the works we publish, and because we’re such a small team. That’s actually the highest thing on our priority list to change right now because it doesn’t suit writers and artists as well as we’d like.
How far do you read before you settle on a “no”?
Sometimes it can be instantaneous, and sometimes we umm and ahh for ages. It’s really hard because most of our ‘no’s are purely because we just don’t have the space to publish everything — though sometimes it can be an instant ‘no’ too, though. For example, if the values on display really don’t align with ours. But I think we are clear enough about our principles and approach, and the sort of work HOAX is here for, that most of the submissions we receive are genuinely really well-suited to us… Which makes things even harder in a way!
In sending a rejection, is there anything you feel you cannot say?
We try to be as constructive and helpful in our rejections as possible. We are always upfront that a lot of rejections are because of HOAX’s capacity. Sometimes (rarely) we might genuinely just dislike a work for one reason or another, but that’s totally subjective, of course. We aren’t the arbiters of what is and isn’t good work so we’d never try to discourage anybody — editors and curators hold a lot of responsibility to be supportive to writers and artists first and foremost. I don’t think anyone should ever, ever be made to feel that their work is bad or that they don’t deserve to have it published or shown. What’s not right for HOAX might be well-suited for another platform.
How does your editorial body break ties when there is a disagreement on a submission?
We’ve really had some arguments in the past! But we’re a very small team so thankfully it’s never much of a committee decision. We’ll normally just make our cases and talk each other around. If one person feels very strongly that, for whatever reason, a particular submission and HOAX aren’t right for each other, we mostly end up going with that person’s view. For the first half of HOAX’s life my co-editor / co-curator was the mysterious Anthony Autumn, a writer and artist based in Glasgow. He had more of a creative writing background and I had more of an art background, so we’d also defer to each other a little on that basis, depending on the art form of the submission.
Do you ever regret rejections? Second-guess acceptances?
Hmm, I don’t think so. We publish (or present) one piece per week on our web platform. It’s hard not to get hung up on rejections, for us, because the sad reality is that there are tons of pieces we would love to publish but simply can’t fit them all. This is even more so the case with our print issues. So while we don’t really tend to think “oh no, I made the wrong decision there,” we do regret having to sometimes reject submissions because of the lack of space.
What do you include beyond the necessary information, like page limit and pay, in your submission guide? Has that changed over time? Why?
We have really open standards about what can and can’t be published or shown in terms of art form and subject matter. All we ask is that the work is creative and incorporates text in some way, and is intended to be shown online (or in print, or IRL depending on what arm of HOAX the submission is to). That can translate to a poem, an art film with text in it, pages and pages and pages of conceptual writing, workshop facilitation tools, a digital painting, a pwoermd, an online game… Anything. We’ve been around for nearly 12 years and that’s always been our schtick, but our submissions guide has changed quite a lot. When we started, our whole ethos was to be super casual, free-flowing and radical. We started out as a uni zine, sneakily printed on the staff photocopier. Our first submissions guide was just a photocopied leaflet that we stuck all around the art school and basically just said we’d feature ephemeral, mass-producible work on paper — if it used text. Now we’re clear about our duty to artists/writers, and try to anticipate questions they might have.
If you are also a writer, when does being one affect your work as an editor?
I used to be; I actually have some work on HOAX from many, many years ago! HOAX is a hybrid of a lit mag and art exhibition, and it’s a lot more common or accepted in art to include your own work in a show if you are the curator, particularly if you’re a student or emerging artist, so that’s my excuse. Lol. Writing is still a big part of my day job, just not creative writing. At work I am constantly writing and editing copy and proofreading so it can be tricky to leave that approach to one side sometimes. However, it means you’re also permanently in a communication and reception mindset, which I like a lot and think benefits my work with HOAX.
Has your experience editing changed how you view the submission process?
Not hugely. Though I did realise quite early on, going through some submissions that were very much not the sort of thing HOAX is here for, that we needed to be clearer about our own values and that we were seeking works that didn’t contradict those.
If you work outside the industry, does your outside life inform how you tackle the submission pile?
I work for a women’s rights NGO, and before that worked for various social justice and social enterprise arts organisations. It’s full time and can be quite emotionally occupying and very busy — a bit hard to switch off from, much as I love it. You have to be careful not to get burnout, so balancing HOAX with rest in my non-job hours isn’t always easy. However, my working life and the social justice knowledge it’s given me is something really deeply interwoven with HOAX. We want HOAX to be a platform for good, so we’re always looking to publish and show work that intersects with human rights, social justice and emancipation.
What have you learned from reading submissions that you’ve applied to your own creative process?
I consciously stepped away from creating a few years ago, but when I was it was so fantastic to spend hours every week reading these incredible submissions from so many different minds all over the world while making my own work. ‘Inspiring’ is a really cringe and extractive word but it definitely sparks so many ideas and prompts a lot of understanding about your own practice. Going through hundreds of submissions, you realise a lot of work can be overly self-reflective and self-involved. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I don’t mean writing from experience or about yourself; more that I feel if you are only talking to yourself in a work then sometimes it can end up being closed off and might not really suit being published or exhibited. That’s something that I then tried to be more aware of in my work.
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 remember once I submitted to this fantastic art-and-lit mag that I really, really wanted to get my work in. When they sent their (generous, kind) rejection, they included a long explanation of why they had rejected it, but the reasons they gave had TOTALLY misinterpreted the work — in a really negative way — and it felt awful. It was on me, though; I thought I was doing the right thing by not going into detail explaining the work or my own background and why I had made it in the way that I had — even though it was conceptual and not at all self-explanatory! I’d wrongly presumed editors didn’t want that, and that it’d be trite to include. Now, HOAX’s submissions form asks everyone to ‘tell us about the piece.’ Even so, people don’t always, or only say a few words, but I actually LOVE reading what writers and artists say about their work. It helps so much to get it from their perspective, and it also means we can ‘explain’ it to others if we do publish it so we don’t end up alienating people who perhaps aren’t as familiar with reading creative writing and art.
Where does the submission process still need refining?
We want to get better at managing how long it takes us to get back to people who submit work. We’ll be focusing on this in the next couple of months. We’re also always open to feedback on our submissions process from others.
How do you conceive of the target reader of your publication and how do you know if you’re reaching them?
HOAX is for everyone — to be global, accessible and approachable — and it’s also here to support artist and writer communities around the world. We work to our principles: we are anti-fascist, feminist and radical. At the same time though, we don’t only want to reach people who’d necessarily call themselves all of those things — otherwise you’re just preaching to the choir. This all means that HOAX is online, that our print issues are free of charge, that we build in accessibility and inclusion, that we work through community spaces, and that we don’t publish any work that’s harmful to others. We think this approach is working, judging by the emails we get, the supporters we have, the submissions that come our way, and the people and places that are interested in working with us. We have some amazing followers around the world whose primary exposure to art and writing is through HOAX, which is incredible.
What do you do when you’re supposed to be writing?
I don’t really write creatively any more! But when I used to, it was more the other way around. I’d be driving and all these words would come into my head and I’d have to pull over and hammer out notes on my phone.
Favorite font/pen/paper/word processor?
We spent sooo long agonising over fonts when we rebranded HOAX in 2021 and chose Source Sans Pro, my now-favourite, alongside Source Serif Pro. Both were created by Paul D. Hunt, a brilliant LGBTQ+ rights advocate in tech (including through the Unicode consortium, advocating for better gender representation within emoji). They’re beautiful.
Most common mistake you see in submissions?
Always lots of typos and spelling / punctuation / grammar errors — but that’s fine! If people want us to proof, we do, but we don’t ever want to presume that an ‘error’ isn’t deliberate or that it represents a slapdash attitude. We’d never think negatively of a writer or submission because of this. Equally, though, we do like to pick up on it if we can, if something wasn’t deliberate and the writer is happy for us to amend it. We want HOAX to be accessible, which means being dyslexia and screen reader friendly!
Do you have perfect grammar?
Nobody does. I have good grammar on paper because it’s part of my job, but I don’t ever think about creative writing in that way, or that I’m meeting or setting a standard that others should have.
After the interview, we like to ask each interviewee to pose a question for future interviewees based on the conversation they’ve just had. Aaron asked:
What’s one instance that stands out in their mind, as reader or editor, as a “best experience” — most fun, most rewarding, whatever?
A few years ago, a creative writing student messaged us on Twitter. She had just stumbled across HOAX on there and was overjoyed. She told us that when she was a young teen she had gone on a trip to London with her auntie and found a copy of HOAX in a bookshop. She said reading it was a life-changing experience and made her want to be a writer — so she became one! That was absolutely amazing to hear.
What question would you then pose to future interviewees based on these questions, your answers, everything that’s been said and unsaid:
What’s been the piece you’ve read and published that’s changed you, personally, the most?
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.