Friday, August 11, 2023

Six Questions for Tejaswinee Roychowdhury and Ankit Raj Ojha, Editors, The Hooghly Review

The Hooghly Review publishes fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, plays, essays, comics, and art/photography in biannual regular issues published twice a year: April and October. In the Weekly Features section published every Sunday, there are humour pieces, culture essays, craft essays, travelogues, photo essays, book reviews, and interviews. The magazine is designed to offer readers a wide variety of work to choose from. The Hooghly Review is a non-profit, has been created with love, and is cultivated with passion. Read the Regular Issues guidelines here, and the Weekly Features guidelines here.

You can follow our progress on our website, on Twitter and on Instagram.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Tejaswinee: I’ve been saying that I started this magazine to fill a void in the world of lit mags, something that is reflected in the magazine’s mission statement. That’s the idealistic part. However, I realised after the magazine took off that our “space for creative expression by all individuals including rebels, free-thinkers, outcasts, and fallen angels”, while, for practical intents, limited per issue, is a free space and not a competitive one, because until now we've worked on curating good work as soon as we receive them instead of collecting and eliminating like most magazines that operate on the issue model. This certainly adds the most important dimension to why The Hooghly Review exists. When I started the magazine, I did not foresee this. That credit goes to Ankit and his insistence that we respond lightning fast lest good and simultaneously submitted pieces be scooped up by other magazines. As the magazine grows older and we receive more and more submissions, we may need to shift certain gears and adapt but our focus will always be on curating the good work that pops up in our inbox, including often, work that is not fully cooked but shows potential.

Ankit: Tejaswinee was kind enough to ask me to join THR. I second her vision and values on how to run the magazine.

SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?

Tejaswinee: Intrigue is the keyword. Can you pique my curiosity and draw me in? For prose specifically, craft is important but I can tell when the writer is more focused on the work being attractive on the outside than promising a good time and delivering it. I like a writer who lets go of control and flows, both in narration and language, but still knows where the brakes are and when to apply them.

Ankit: Every reader likes to have their time rewarded. If you can manage to keep the one with the shortest attention span entertained (I, too, am one), you have my vote. Next comes the writer's belief in their work. The reader, very often, enjoys a work immensely if the writer had a great time creating it. Half-hearted writing, or one trying too hard to impress rather than enjoying its own being into existence loses me eventually. (Think of the musician face: how an artist just having a good time on stage infects audiences with sheer bliss! That is what I look for in a submission.) Third thing I expect is a balance of beauty and justness. If a work indulges in issues beyond aesthetic, I would like it to have its heart in the right place. 

SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission?

Tejaswinee: I don’t like work that preaches. That is not to say that a work cannot be rooted in beliefs, whether personal or political or even religious, but there is a fine line between expressing one’s convictions and attempting to impose them on the reader. That said, I also don’t like language that works on pushing the reader away as opposed to inviting them in.

Ankit: Work that is pretentious, preachy or unjust turns me off. Thankfully, I haven't encountered any of that yet in the THR submission pile.

SQF: What do you look for in the opening paragraph(s)/stanza(s) of a submission?

Tejaswinee: Again, intrigue. If I am curious, you’ll have my attention. If I’m left skipping over words, phrases, or sentences, it's a no.

Ankit: As an editor, I consider it my duty not to let my readers feel that they have wasted their time. Since we are living in an age of content overload, our magazine is at the readers' mercy for its existence. So, for me, the opening lines of a submission should promise an engaging time.

SQF: You recently published your first issue. What advice can you offer others interested in starting their own magazine?

Tejaswinee: I think it is important to have a general sense of direction. You need to be mindful of your budget, time, style, and preferences. But it is also crucial to be spontaneous, and unless you are comfortable and confident being solo, this is where you better have a good partner/team. By good, I don’t necessarily mean skilled or diligent, though both are important and non-negotiable qualities. It is important to establish a rhythm, and have shared values and visions. For me, Ankit and I just clicked in inexplicable ways. We are a good team. Period. There is more spontaneity than planning in the way The Hooghly Review operates. We are willing to stumble, get back up, learn, and grow, over and over again.

Ankit: I think Tejaswinee has covered almost everything I had to say. I'll add a bit more on the heart of the matter. There are innumerable magazines out there. Thanks to the ease of starting and running websites, submission systems and social media handles, a magazine today can be a one-person-show, although doing that comes with its own challenges. We at THR are only an issue old and no experts in the field, but I feel that to keep a magazine up and running you have to make it as much about your contributors and readers as it is about you as showrunner. I have come across submission guidelines, emails and viral screenshots of emails from some magazines that, maybe inadvertently, tread dangerously the line between instruction and frustration. I understand that submitters do not always follow the guidelines nor do they treat editors with professional courtesy. But these are exceptions and must not taint an editor's outlook in print or person. There are many editors I look up to; naming all of them is not possible here. These gentlefolk, while maintaining their magazines' integrity, are kind enough to write encouraging notes—acceptances or otherwise, give shout-outs on social media, accommodate requests, and be a positive force in the publishing industry. My advice, therefore, to those starting their own magazine is this: keep the technicalities tight, work hard, treat your audience as you would your friends, and hope for the best while being prepared for the worst.

SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?

Tejaswinee: I’d like a question about the reader base, actually. I want The Hooghly Review to expand beyond being read and circulated amongst literary circles. I want to tap into the large pool of readers that exists outside this circle. I remember, after our first issue was released, someone on Twitter commented: “There’s something for everyone in this magazine.” And there really is. We’re still new and it is a healthy dream to have!

Ankit: I'd like a question about what more can The Hooghly Review offer amidst a flood of outstanding publications. We would love to take suggestions from all on how to make our magazine more fun and worthwhile. We started the Weekly Features for this very reason: to do more than the usual issue model. Although the weeklies are our own idea, we are open to ideas from everyone. We did receive some exciting suggestions a few weeks ago. We are contemplating those, looking forward to more, and then, maybe, we will pick one or more that we think best serves us and our readers.

Thank you Tejaswinee and Ankit. We all appreciate your taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.

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