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A Press From Scratch: Hush Harbour restructures the submissions process

Often publishing houses are seen as gatekeepers, one of many, that decide which work and whose stories are suitable for the industry. At Hush Harbour, our team recognizes the responsibility and privilege of working to create space for new stories. Our “For Us, By Us” ethos works against the popularization of diversity that hyper-simplifies and commodifies Black stories in ways that are harmful. For these reasons, we as a team strive to be spacemakers.

The day we launched, and in the subsequent weeks, we received an overwhelming amount of inquiries and submissions from the public. There was much excitement and a strong need for this type of press, and yet it was important to step back and ensure we were ready to receive submissions with intention and care. Being an independent press is not only about publishing what we want but also thinking through the stories that are needed. What does the CanLit landscape look like for Black folk? Where are the apparent gaps and the not-so-obvious gaps? How do we house stories for Black folks within the diaspora, far and near?

In the creation of our submissions process, we’ve been greatly supported by our lead reader, Rosy Dougé-Charles. For months, the team worked to develop Hush Harbour’s submissions guidelines. We poured a lot of energy into honouring the multitudes and complexities of Black identities and experiences. This process was challenging but ultimately restorative. Each member of our team approached the guidelines with their own outlook and purview of the industry as well as their own love for certain genres and artistic expressions. For instance, Whitney is passionate about a short-story revival in Canada while Alannah champions tales of fat Black bodies in poetic form. Rosy was adamant about experimental nonfiction works that are accessible.

To even begin calling ourselves spacemakers, we have to acknowledge the inherent power dynamics between publishing houses and potential writers. Who has final say on what we publish and what we don’t publish? What criteria will guide equitable decision making? How can we decenter power and glean from the collective voices of our publishing team?

After many nights on the phone and Zoom meetings (sometimes with the camera on, often with the camera off), we contended with the fact that we needed an anchor, one that we all could reference. In time, we developed submissions guidelines that involve multiple team members, thinking through accessibility, confidentiality, and innovation.

So (with undefeated spirits), here is a tool in the Hush Harbour submissions process:

an authoritative rule; ideals or requirement on which selection is based; a guide listing specific criteria for grading or scoring.

With focused criteria around audience, theme, form, setting, and character, our submissions rubric is an evolving table that takes all our secondary readers on a journey to best classify each piece. Collectively, we created a nuanced four-point scale that allows us to re-imagine storytelling from standardized checklists and boxes. For example, under our audience section, a four-score story embodies these descriptors: “connection to the audience and purpose is an excellent, unique voice; strong sense of audience; and writing evokes strong emotion”; a lower score is afforded to a story that is unaware of its audience and evokes minimal emotion. Ultimately, our rubric allows for the collective to offer greater discussion and reflection about how to move forward with incoming submissions.

Rejection is a painful but necessary part of writing life, and a “no” may simply mean “not now.” Our rubric in its preliminary state allows us to be specific about the noes we will inevitably have to send to folks. No protects our values as much as it guides writers toward a better home.

As we build capacity within our team, we keep the identities of our authors and audience at the forefront. We strive for more non-hierarchical structures to support our decision making. Knowing that our rubric is an evolving, living document, we hope to create space for writers to submit their unique stories and to carry on our promise to support great work that comes our way.

By: Alannah Johnson and Whitney French

October 6th, 2021

2:37 pm

Category: Industry News

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