SQF: Why did you start this magazine?
BH: In 2000 some friends and I began an online competition called the Booger Prize. This was a monthly cash prize for humorous writing of around five hundred words. We called the genre ‘Short Humour’.
It is absolutely true that we wrote to the Booker Prize organisers in 2002 demanding that they change the name of their competition to avoid any confusion with ours. At best we were expecting a negative reply that we could publish. Almost immediately, however, they changed the name to the Man Booker Prize. We took this as an illustration of how seriously Short Humour was being taken in the world of publishing. Some people persist in believing that it was just a coincidence.
I started to write Short Humour at that time and had a page on the old site under the pen name of Swan Morrison. I continued writing when the site closed, and by 2006 I had written one hundred pieces. I created the Short Humour Site to publish these online, also to include the work of those who had contributed material to the Booger Prize and work by any other contributor. Hence the Writers’ Showcase was created as part of the new Short Humour Site.
SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a story and why?
BH: It is quite difficult to have a piece rejected by the Short Humour Site. All anyone has to do to be published on the site is:
- express a comic idea in any written form: story, poem, song, etc.
- develop it in around 500 words.
- avoid being unnecessarily offensive in terms of the sexual content of the piece or its treatment of gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, disability or other such issues.
SQF: What are the top three reasons a story is rejected, other than not fitting into your answers to the above question and why?
BH: For the Short Humour Site, the above criteria are all there is. The Short Humour Site is supposed to be fun for everyone and not a cause for stress or anxiety.
I start from the premise that I will publish all submissions, and I do not presume to be an arbiter of what is funny. I would like the readers of the site to choose what they like from the work of the contributors. If there is a significant problem with a submission, I explain my concerns to the contributor and try to work with him or her to produce something that can be published.
If I can’t publish a piece, I try to encourage the contributor to either change the piece or submit something else. If they don’t want to do that then, in effect, they select themselves out of the process.
SQF: When reading a story, how do you know it was written by a novice author?
BH: The quality of grammar, phrasing, punctuation and proof-reading is better for those with greater experience of writing. That experience need not necessarily be of writing fiction but, when I have sufficient biographical knowledge of contributors to draw conclusions, wide reading and lots of practice in writing seem to correlate with the best written stories.
That is not the same thing as having the best comic ideas. Some of the funniest ideas have been submitted by the least experienced writers.
SQF: Will you publish a story an author posted on a personal blog?
BH: I have no problem in publishing work which has appeared elsewhere, as long as the contributor still retains the copyright and there are no other restrictions on the publication of the piece.
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
BH: As this survey seemed to follow from issues about rejection of submissions, I wondered if a few words of advice might be helpful that I have personally found useful:
- All writers have material rejected, even the most successful. That may not be about the quality of the piece submitted but just about what editors need for their magazines at specific times.
- If there is a constructive response accompanying a rejection then you can learn useful things from it.
- Some submission processes and editorial responses demonstrate, possibly unintentional, arrogance and/or discourtesy. That is the the editor's problem, not yours.
- In submitting a piece of writing to any editor, you are simply offering that piece for publication. You are not seeking approval of your style, nor basing any part of your self-esteem on the outcome.
- A rejection of a piece of writing is just a rejection of a piece of writing and happens for all sorts of reasons. Don’t take it personally.
- Don’t give up.
- Don’t even think about giving up.
NEXT POST: 3/25--Six Questions for Michael J. Solender, Editor, MiCrow