"Needing attention as an introvert" — An Interview with Points In Case
With 50 vetted humor magazines you can submit to from editors Court Sullivan & James Folta
Today we have our first editor interview. I’d like to do more of these, so I’m testing the waters here. We’re thinking to do it as a combo. Interview + recommended magazines from the editors. Who else is into this idea? Let me know in the comments. Also, what sorts of questions would you ask editors if you had a direct line? (cause now you do) If everyone is into this, I might start a sub-newsletter for optional sign ups. We already send out 3 per week (four on some weeks) so I don’t want to over-load folks with another ping to your inbox. So, yeah, if you like this, want more, sound off in the comments or give it a like so I can make an informed decision. If you are an editor who’d like to be interviewed with an idea for a list of magazines you’d like to recommend to our community, please shoot me an email - email@example.com
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A while ago, I wrote up some observations about magazines that had been around over 20 years with no fees, using a submission manager, who paid writers and had no institutional backing. Out of 3,000 magazines, there were only three. Points In Case was one of those three. Since they only publish humor writing, I kept them out of the final results. Humor has a more universal appeal than poetry and literary fiction so holding lit mags to that standard felt a bit unfair. Thankfully, though, Court & James, who run Points In Case, agreed to an interview with me so I can finally talk about it!
The other aspect of Points In Case that I think is well-worth highlighting is that they have profiles for every writer who publishes there AND a catalog of any books that writer has published. This blew me away. So, here is an interview with the editors followed by a list of all the places you can submit your humor writing vetted by James & Court.
Points in Case is a US-based magazine founded in 1999 that is fee-free, pays writers and responds within 14 days. <5% acceptance rate.
A daily literary humor publication featuring enlightening and irreverent comedy from seasoned writers and fresh voices, since 1999. [CS Listing]
They accept simultaneous submissions.
Submit via Submittable.
Genres [Humor.] - Satire, lists, columns, stories, and jokes.
Our records show that they are active on social media.
They have a solid social media presence with 10K+ followers.
Let’s kick it off with a little background about Points in Case. Where did the idea come and how has it evolved to where it is today?
Court Sullivan: Points in Case started as a monthly email newsletter I sent to friends back in 1999, my very first semester of college. I continued the newsletter through senior year, eventually hitting 25,000 subscribers, while also devoting the website to other forms of literary humor. You could say PIC grew up in the College Humor era, and graduated around 2006 to the Evergreen Humor era. It’s been hilarious and fascinating to see the evolution of styles over time, with 800-word articles as the anchor format since the beginning.
James Folta: I came on board as managing editor in 2018, and in that time, Court’s let me hone the editorial voice of the site, which has been a fun process! I’ve enjoyed finding the ways that our sensibilities intersect, and trying to publish work that we’re excited about and that also establishes our own space in the humor writing world.
I’m definitely most proud that we’ve been able to start paying writers. It’s something we’d been working towards for a while, and I’m happy we got there!
If you could sum up the vibe of Points in Case in six words, what would they be?
CS: Absurd, weird, irreverent, committed, inclusive, progressive.
JF: Punchy, sharp, silly: that’s comedy, baby.
Pulling from my own experiences with writing humor, I’ve found I make two mistakes: I tend to over-complicate my humor to the point where the jokes get lost in the mess, or I have an idea I think is super original and then find out I’m butter-toast basic because it turns out to be something people submit all the time. When looking at a humor piece, what jumps out to you as a “people think this is original but we see it all of the time” style/content?
JF: It can be hard to evaluate, frankly, and even harder to make a blanket rule for. There are only so many things to write about in the world, so trying to evaluate humor solely on the basis of originality would be impossible. And personally, I’m reading a lot of humor, both professionally and because I’m a nasty little glutton for the stuff, so my sense of what’s original is probably different than the average PIC reader, which is a difference I try to stay cognizant of.
What I tend to look for instead is an original angle, or a fresh combination of topic and format, or a specific point of view. If you’re working on a piece that you realize is a common premise or something that’s been published already, my advice would be to find a way to specify the idea. What’s a new spin on it? What can you add to pull it in a new direction? What’s the version that only you can write?
It’s also totally fine to not publish everything you write! I think it’s good to practice, especially early on, and try out those more shopworn, frequently-addressed ideas and premises, even if you never submit them and they never make it off your hard drive. If the goal is to be a better writer, not a more published writer, then you’re moving in the right direction.
CS: You know James is a glutton because one of his favorite things to flag is “Have we run something like this before?” to which my goldfish brain is like, “Maybe? But I love/loathe the angle/topic/format/POV this version is using so does it matter?” We’re like the 360 Club when it comes to circling a piece for all its angles before making any decisions.
JF: I don’t trust my memory—I’ve mixed up too many peoples’ names in my day…
A lot of new writers analyze their rejection letters for hidden meaning (there is even a whole webpage dedicated to it). As the proud owner of 5 rejection letters from Points in Case myself (and one acceptance! [shut up, ego]), one thing I’ve always appreciated is that they often come with a little line of explanation, or nice custom note at the end of the first line. Some of mine: ‘a bit too short for us’, ‘don’t run a ton of stuff formatted as scripts’, ‘not in our wheelhouse’. Then there are two that say ‘some nice lines here, but not quite hitting it for me’. Do you have a list of recurring ones you use when it’s a standard no, vs an ‘almost’?
JF: This question has some nice lines, but it’s not quite hitting for me.
But in truth, we get more submissions than I have time to send personalized feedback on, unfortunately. If a piece is making an obvious misstep, I’ll flag it, but I wouldn’t overanalyze the wording of rejections—there’s nothing I’m trying to surreptitiously communicate, and I don’t think trying to get into my head will help with writing your next submission.
What doesn’t come across in the rejection notes is that I do genuinely enjoy reading most of what gets submitted, so what you can divine in the rejection tea leaves is “not this one, but maybe the next.” I’m always happy to read someone’s next piece! Hell, I’ll even read stuff from folks who have sent very rude and aggressive replies to previous rejections.
What I’m trying to say is that I’m a perfect lil angel.
CS: If James is the perfect lil angel on one shoulder, I am the sadistic lil devil on the other, desperate to start a service called “Roast Rejection” where you can opt-in to let us “dom your sub.” Which is to say, whether it’s an “almost” or a “standard” no, isn’t a “HELL NO” more fun? I’ve been told the answer is “no,” but I’ll keep trying.
There are not many well-known humor magazines out there—off the top of my head, there is Points in Case, McSweeney’s, The Belladonna, Slackjaw, Shouts & Murmurs. Yet, there are thousands of fiction and poetry ones. What do you think is the extra challenge for a humor magazine that limits the market so much and how do you think you succeeded where others petered out? Also, if there are some humor gems out there that you enjoy that I didn’t mention, feel free to drop some names.
JF: I wish I knew what keeps humor writing so niche! My most honest diagnosis is that there’s not a lot of money in the humor game. There are not a lot of directions to advance a career in humor, and not a lot of incentives to stick around as a result—people tend to move on to more lucrative forms of writing. Which is great, but it means people don’t tend to make humor careers.
It’s a little circular, but I think what’s kept PIC going is that we’ve stuck around and we’re consistent. We publish pieces on the same schedule every week, year after year. Our readers know they can show up and find new funny stuff every day of the week, which I hope keeps people coming back, so that we can keep growing, little by little.
But there are a lot of funny, dedicated folks making a go of it, too! Reductress is one of the most consistently funny sites out there, right up with The Onion and Clickhole in my mind. The American Bystander and their briefer site Two Fifty One put out good work, especially cartoons. Weekly Humorist not only publishes articles, but is putting out books too. Flexx is going strong. And I’ve been enjoying the new site The Stopgap, too!
There are a bunch, in short. We compiled a vetted list of humor sites that’s a great resource if you’re looking to read more: 50+ Humor Writing Websites to Read and Submit To. (see below)
CS: While there isn’t much money in the humor game specifically, there was at least enough money in the “web content” game through 2014 or so to get by, from a publishing perspective, which built up a sense of optimism. I’ve always had an equally obsessive interest in both comedy and entrepreneurship, so finding opportunities to mesh the two has been an enjoyable challenge. I want to say that’s probably a unique enough combination that it’s ensured a sense of perseverance in this niche of a space.
For writers looking to improve their humor writing chops, what are three resources you’d recommend? This could be workshops, pamphlets, books, people-watching, or whatever.
CS: Well, if you’re me, the top resource I would recommend is “needing attention as an introvert,” also called the Zuckerberg Method, in which you start writing (code, in Zuck’s case) to get others to like you. I also learned a lot from Scott Dikkers’ book How to Write Funny, and most importantly from making intense observations out in the world and jotting down not necessarily the funniest, but just the most core or striking aspects to turn into material later—don’t wait until you’re sitting in bed on your phone later to try to capture this initial essence.
JF: It’s not all that sexy, but I think the best thing to do is to read humor. Getting a sense of what’s out there, what’s possible, and what works and doesn’t work for you, is the best way to develop your taste and refine your sensibilities.
I also always tell people to get an outside eye on your writing from someone you trust. I’ve benefited immensely from consistent relationships with people who I give and receive feedback from. This doesn’t have to be some intense writers group that you send hundreds of pages to every week—even just one person you swap drafts with is going to be helpful. And I think this is important not just because you get to hear someone else’s thoughts on your stuff, but also because thinking critically about someone else’s pieces will help you hone the craft. I learned humor through years of noting and being noted by Brian Agler and Luke Burns, who I started a reading series and a humor writing newsletter with.
One aspect of Points in Case I love is how you promote your writers in different ways by listing their books, allowing them to create accounts, and overall providing a supportive atmosphere. What inspired you to do this?
JF: We love our writers! They’re funny and talented and we want to do what we can to support them. Our overarching philosophy is to make sure that we’re always doing right by those writers. I know how tempting it can be to try lots of different things as a humor outlet—podcasts, newsletters, live shows, merch, etc. All of those things are fun, but our thinking is that we don’t want our attention and energy to be spread too thin. So we deliberately focus on publishing the best writing we can and supporting our writers. Having that clear topline keeps us focused—any changes we make or new features we roll out need to fit that narrow criteria of championing funny writing and funny writers.
And not for nothing, I’m a writer too, so I do tend to take a golden rule approach to how I operate as an editor.
CS: We really do want to empower and support our writers as much as possible. I feel like part of that process involves allowing writers to update their profile whenever they’d like, and helping them collect their entire humor writing portfolio in the same place, whether they’ve published on PIC or elsewhere. We spent a lot of time developing PIC accounts to facilitate those features, and it feels much more like a community when you give people the space to share on their own terms.
Points in Case has faster than average response times (14 days) with only two editors. Do you have a system for reviewing submissions? Or are you just fast readers who know when something works pretty quick?
CS: I’m a slow reader, so if I’m not hooked from the title, it’s going to be a no from me. Kidding, kidding! I give it to the end of the first paragraph.
JF: We have a backend workflow that works well for the two of us. I’m a pretty fast reader, but it’s mostly about going through the submissions regularly enough that they don’t pile up. My grandpa used to quote that Navy Seal maxim, “slow is smooth, and smooth is fast,” which is a pretty apt way to describe going through short humor submissions, and a pretty dark way to describe efficiently killing people.
If there were one question you could add to this interview, what would it be and how would you answer it?
JF: If someone was trying to catch you in a big, Wiley-Coyote-style Acme brand trap, what would be the best thing to use as bait?
CS: For me, a slightly tattered handwritten note that looks like it’s been accidentally dropped on the ground.
JF: For me, probably a big cardboard box filled with free books.
50 Humor Websites You Can Submit to
Compiled by Court and James, originally published in Points In Case.
The New Yorker "Daily Shouts"
Description: Satire and cartoons about politics and life, featuring a cosmopolitan sophistication.
McSweeney's Internet Tendency
Description: Satire, lists, open letters, and monologues often featuring timely political pieces.
Points in Case
Description: Satire, lists, columns, stories, and jokes. "Enlightening and irreverent comedy."
Description: Humor mag featuring short stories, poetry, and "fake nonfiction" three times a year.
Description: Satire, interviews, stories, essays, cartoons, and quirky pop culture.
The American Bystander
Description: Satire and cartoons in softcover format. "An essential read for comedy nerds."
The Offing "Wit Tea"
Description: Articles and stories featuring "character voices, absurdity, vulnerability, and surprise."
Little Old Lady Comedy
Description: Satire, short stories, essays, poetry, and cartoons. "Comedy that matters (to us)."
Description: Comedy and satire by women and other marginalized genders, for everyone.
Description: Satire, cartoons, podcast, and print magazine. "The standard in American immaturity."
Description: Satirical journal dedicated to showcasing humor by women. Based in London.
Jane Austen's Wastebasket
Description: Humor inspired by literature, history, and other non-lucrative college courses.
Description: Satire, essays, short comedic fiction, and cartoons. "Medium humor, large laughs."
Description: Comedy and satire by writers "obsessed with out-joking each other."
The Daily Drunk
Description: Humor, film, and pop culture. "We ain't picky. Not many rules here."
Two Fifty One
Description: Prose humor 251 words or shorter, and quick hit cartoons.
Description: Satire, essays, cartoons, and poetry about modern (and post-modern) life.
Description: Intelligent, left-leaning humor. "Humor and satire in a world gone totally insane."
Description: Twice-yearly issues of witty verse, plus weekly poems on current events.
"Niche Humor Weekly"
The Rumpus "Funny Women"
Description: Femme humor featuring "trashy laughs for millennial queens."
Description: Explores the comedic side of being an immigrant, children of immigrants, and diaspora.
End of the Bench
Description: Satirical takes on sex, dating, relationships, and all things passionate.
Description: Satire news, imaginary and genuine criticism, book and movie reviews.
Description: Irreverent and satirical slant to the current big news stories throughout the world.
Description: Satire news taking aim at current affairs from the UK and around the world.
Waterford Whispers News
Description: Satirical news out of Ireland. "Just a local newspaper."
Description: Primarily Canadian satire news. "North America’s trusted source of news."
Description: Satire taking on the outdated perspectives of popular women’s media.
Description: Parodies clickbait sites like BuzzFeed. "Because all content deserves to go viral."
The Hard Times
Description: Punk, alt music, and gaming satire news. "Real punk news, comin’ your way!"
Description: Satirical takes on STEM, scientific journalism, and the universe. "Science unraveled."
The Chicago Genius Herald
The Boston Accent
Description: Massachusetts satire news. "Wicked serious satire for everyone, especially Massholes."
The Broadway Beat
The Chicago Machine
Description: Satirical crowdfunding platform. "No matter the cause, we always take 5%."
The Lunar Times
The Philadelphia Satirer
Description: Satire writing incubator (not specific to PA). "Committed to dispensable journalism."
Ye Old Tyme News