Tim Bete, humor writer and coordinator for the annual Erma Bombeck’s Writing Workshop, teaches that to become a paid humor columnist, you need to submit your column to someone who will pay you. Straight humor publications are few and far between in a world of online and paper magazines. A writing comic could starve to death if he had to live off the income of those markets. So he digs into that twisted gray matter of his and learns to spin his words for more than just the funny papers. Humor markets are more than just MAD Magazine.
First, get your style down pat. Do people say you are hilarious? Great. Can you put it on paper and still be funny? Humor writing is tricky. The reader has to see the humor in the word play. You must create the characters, setting, and story to deliver the chuckle without saying “Hey, this is funny.” That includes using the senses and all those writing talents you possess as you would writing fiction or journalism. Humor is serious writing.
Some writers are not funny people so don’t discredit your humor because you aren’t a stand-up comic. I abhor large groups and published The Shy Writer about my character trait. But every time I ramble about my personal life in my weekly FundsforWriters column, people write me about my sense of humor. One humor writer suggested I start a column. Another reader spit out her morning coffee. For the life of me I don’t understand it but it sneaks out. Ranting about a subject brings out the sarcasm in me, and that often leads to a string of metaphors, word slinging or picture painting that lends itself to silliness. Wish I could bottle the stuff and sell it for more than the ten cents/word I often get paid for articles.
Speaking of me, let me mention that first-person is often the easiest way to write funny. Poking fun at yourself is honest and safe for the reader and creates a familiarity that often connects. Third person humor can become critical, so know whether you desire that style of humor before presenting it to an editor.
So you have decided you are hilarious. Now comes the market search. Suddenly you question what is humorous because every magazine you come across has a different slant to comedy. The definition of “humor” varies widely to include: criticism, sarcasm, spoof, sweet, slapstick, silly, black, dry, quirky, jamming, light, intelligent and even acerbic. Your humor must fit the style of the publication. Come to think of it, humor is no different than any other writing. Know the flavor of the publication to land a contract. Send dark and biting humor to Reader’s Digest and don’t hold your breath to see a byline. Know thy market.
The obvious markets come to mind like greeting card publishers, Funny Times and Reader’s Digest’s “Laughter: The Best Medicine” column. But a huge number of magazines accept humor in the form of fillers. Anecdotes exist in hundreds of magazines with titles like Rocky Mountain Rider, Spirituality & Health and Today’s Christian. Fillers are not openly advertised in most magazines, so knowing your publication pays off. If you have read silly shorts in a pub, then proceed to pitch your fillers. Since they are small, submit them in their entirety. Queries are unnecessary when you are writing under a hundred words.
Flight magazines adore humor. They serve customers confined to their bottoms for long spells and need a little jocularity to lighten the boredom. Taste is key here. Comedy in everyday events usually fits whether talking about travel, business or vacation episodes. US Airways is a typical example. But don’t forget about other travel publications. Every body has a funny story about the trip that went awry with luggage that went to Timbuktu, the broken air conditioner on a bus or the five-star restaurant meal that resulted in food poisoning. Live Life Magazine has a column like this entitled “Totally Griswald.”
While we are discussing vacations, consider parenting magazines. One cannot give birth to kids without having a string of unbelievable stories that draw out smiles and chuckles. Minnesota Parent Magazine and Oklahoma’s Metro Family specifically ask for humor pieces.
Stop and name the periodicals on your coffee table. The big names all have a short humor piece somewhere, and they usually pay big bucks for the 600 to 1,000-word piece that sparkles with mirth. The Smithsonian pays up to $1,500 for 700 words. Harpers, Grist and Entrepreneur all seek a little tongue-in-cheek. Even the pro-military Soldier of Fortune magazine pays $250 for humorous features (not that you have that on your coffee table).
Humor writing is everywhere. Use your writer’s eye to capture the sources as you are flipping through the parenting, medical and sports magazines in the dentist’s office. Everyone needs a laugh whether it’s political satire or gardening mistakes, office embarrassments or tangled childhood sayings. Your job, if you wish to accept it, is to magnetize your words with folly, fancy and fun and tickle the world’s funny bone.
General humor. 500-700 words pay $60.
Environmental stories and original investigative journalism. Pays up to mid-three figures.