Personally, I don't really care about formatting or cover letters, so it isn't really possible for those to be "wrong." I think, more often than not, more specific guidelines end up being kinda cheesily "quirky," in ways that are sometimes borderline annoying and other times more confusing than anything, and even more straightforward guidelines feel limiting. I've tried to write versions of "this is what I'd love to see...," but then my favorite submissions are often the ones that surprise me. I think Hobart has the benefit of having been around so long at this point, most people have a decent idea of the kind of things we're looking for? I think there's lots of writers who have a better sense of what makes a "Hobart piece" than I do! And then we, of course, always get some that are outside our wheelhouse, but I think that happens no matter what.
It's writer paranoia. I LOVE when we accept a writer who keeps trying and trying!
Honestly, the two are so intertwined, I don't even know how to separate them. My current writing often influences my reading tastes — although sometimes in ways that I am drawn to the kinds of things I'm most fascinated with in my own writing and other times to the very kinds of writing I'm not doing or not even capable of — and vice versa. Between the two and then also teaching, it's all kinda just a big braiding together of various aspects of my life that are all words.
*blinks once... pauses, unsure if a joke and to leave it at that or if I should blink again*
I really do love it, although discerning exactly how or why is hard. I love sending acceptances and getting an excited reply back. I love accepting work from new writers and sometimes getting to be their first publication, and I love accepting a 4th or 10th or 15th piece by a writer I've built something of an editor/writer relationship with, and I love getting to accept and publish and work with a writer who is among my favorite living writers, and I love accepting a piece from a writer who I or we have rejected a bunch of times, but they kept trying and trying (see: the second question and answer.).
We had two stories ("North Country" by Roxane Gay and "Navigators" by Mike Meginnis) from one of our print issues, Hobart 12, appear in that year's Best American Short Stories, and while that was a huge deal for us, obviously, it was so, so awesome how exciting it was for them.
There are a few writers — Claire Vaye Watkins and J. Ryan Stradal jump to mind, but I know there's lots of others, too — whose first publication was Hobart and who have since gone on to publish amazing, brilliant books, and it has been awesome to read and love those books and also awesome to see them get so much attention.
I could keep going with stories and examples, but I'll end with saying: I'm not always a hands-on editor, lots of stuff comes in ready-to-publish, but I feel like semi-regularly there's a piece I love, and I think I have a good idea or two to help take it from very good to great and sometimes those edit suggestions come back with excitement from the author about how the edits unlocked the piece for them or answered one of their frustrations or just surprised them with something about their own piece, and that is never not an amazing feeling, helping a writer figure out how to make their piece "better," even just a little bit, and see them get even more excited about their own work.
Honestly, my biggest note is that stuff like that doesn't really matter. I know newer writers can stress about it, in part because it feels like a just-right bio or cover letter is going to become the key to unlocking an acceptance or is going to be the reason why they might get rejected, but that just isn't the case. Just be simple, straightforward. Mention a couple pubs, if you have any. If you don't, mention that this is/would be your first publication. As noted above, most editors and journals would love to see that! If you're a student, either MFA or undergrad, feel free to mention that, but also, you don't have to. And if you aren't, don't worry about not being; it doesn't matter. Mostly just keep it simple and don't worry or think that much about it. Spend your time and energy on the writing itself.
Great writing; doesn't take itself seriously.
Not really. Ha. Sorry! Read a bunch. Write a bunch. Repeat. If you have time, volunteer to read for a journal. Seeing behind the scenes can be really helpful in demystifying it all, and it can also be really helpful to read a bunch of stuff that gets passed on. Most of us only ever get to read all the stuff that gets published; reading the stuff that doesn't can be just as (more?) helpful.
I don't know. These Qs were great! So great, I feel like I used up all my mental energy trying to answer them helpfully and thoughtfully (and maybe also at least a little entertainingly), and so nothing else really jumps to mind.