First published in 1922 by Minnesotan DeWitt Wallace, a U.S. Army veteran recovering from his World War I shrapnel wounds, Reader's Digest is now the world's largest paid-circulation general-interest newsstand publication. The magazine samples and condenses content from other periodicals for an audience of more than 10 million readers worldwide. It publishes English-language print, large-print, Braille, and non-English language editions 10 times a year.
Regular print editions are digest-sized—approximately 5-by-7 inches—theoretically small enough to fit into a soldier's cargo pocket.
In addition to reprint articles and stories, the publication has a long history of publishing new and reprint short matter, including jokes and inspirational quotes, science facts and trivia. Long-running departments include "Humor in Uniform" (funny anecdotes about military life), as well as "Life in These United States" (funny true stories) and "All in a Day's Work" (funny stories from one's past or present employment). Another department, "Laughter is the Best Medicine," focuses on jokes. Departments run from 1 to 3 pages in length, and often include cartoons.
From time to time, the departments are anthologized into newsstand specials, or even paperback or hardcover books. This 2008 Humor in Uniform anthology, for example, is available in multiple print, Kindle, and other formats.
The magazine's traditional department headers are not used on its website. Instead, funny and inspirational 100-word anecdotes are all presented together, under the header "Your True Stories." On-line anecdotes are sometimes accompanies by small, evocative illustrations.
The publication's mass-market appeal and corny humor is sometimes the subject of derision. Who can forget, for example, the character of U.S. Army Lt. Steven Hauk in the 1987 movie "Good Morning, Vietnam"? The stuffy young officer, played by Bruno Kirby, tries to impress the manic new Armed Forces Radio talent, Airman 1st Class Adrian Cronauer, played by Robin Williams.
"I understand you're pretty funny as a dee-jay and, well, comedy is kind of a hobby of mine," Lt. Hauk says. "Well, actually, it's a little more than just a hobby, Reader's Digest is considering publishing two of my jokes. […] perhaps some night we could maybe get together and swap humorous stories, for fun" …
"Oh, why not?" replies Cronauer. "Maybe play a couple of Tennessee Ernie Ford records, that'd be a hoot."
"That's a joke, right?" The lieutenant asks.
"Maybe." (Awkward silence.)
"I get it."
Submissions to Reader's Digest are always open, but highly competitive. "Everybody's got a funny story. What's yours? We'll pay you $25 for any joke, gag, or funny quote and $100 for any true funny story published in a print edition of Reader's Digest unless we specify otherwise in writing," the submissions website reads …
Contributions cannot be acknowledged or returned. Due to various considerations, even usable items may not be published for six months or more. The competition for publication is intense; last year, editors selected only a few hundred stories from over a quarter-million submissions. It may also take some time for your submission to be considered; please don't inquire about the status of your submission--we'll be in touch if we use your material.
Stories that are not necessarily humorous in intent or effect can still be submitted to the publications "100-word story" department here. This includes military stories.
If nothing else, consider using the model of a 100-word humorous story about military life as a writing prompt. The tight word-count forces brevity and efficiency, and the assumed "audience" encourages communicating military realities in easy-to-access language. Try it out! If nothing else, it should be good for a laugh!
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