Discover more from Adventures In "Journalism" by Sari Botton
Use Me, Choose Me
Wish me luck pitching again. (Groan.)
Every now and then I’ll run into a writer friend who’ll ask me what I’ve been up to since my memoir came out in June, 2022. I’m talking about the rare colleagues in my life who don’t publish newsletters, who read few to none of them, and are largely if not entirely unaware of mine.
Lucky them, they’re busy writing well-funded books for traditional publishers, and/or articles and essays for legacy media or websites; they’re going back to school or teaching; busy raising families, caring for elderly parents. Or they’ve been so discouraged by the demise of publishing and media, they’ve bowed out and found work in other fields.
They have little to no idea that I put out three different publications—this one,, and . That, if I do say so myself, with over 55,000 subscribers in total (only a small fraction of whom are paying, but still) I’m currently killing it on this platform.
Substack agrees, recently naming Oldster a “featured publication” for the third year in a row.
I’m working my butt off, but I love the work I’m doing, and it’s paying off in such a way that I’m able to make a living. I get to be my own boss, and to give other writers opportunities to publish their work while paying them, at least nominally. (I’ve also begun giving opportunities to guest editors at.) The Best American Essays, the Pushcart Prize, and Don Van Natta Jr.’s The Sunday Longread are all giving nods to work that has appeared in Oldster, recognizing it as a legit publication.
Colleagues tell me they love my “magazines,” and frequently ask to interview me, or invite me to contribute to their newsletters—especially those within this ecosystem. Each time, I feel flattered and honored and grateful. Publicists want me to feature their authors, actors, and TV personalities. Exponentially more writers want to contribute to my publications than I could possibly publish over the next ten years. This is good.
After worrying my career was over post-Longreads, things are looking up for me. I feel fortunate and thankful, and proud of what I’ve created and achieved.
At the same time, though, I’m anxious about having all my eggs in this one basket, to the degree that those who don’t pay attention to this basket have no freaking idea what I’ve been doing for the past couple of years—and I’ve been doing a lot, literally running two magazines by myself, and writing this, which I consider more of a blog. I’ve been talking with a friend/colleague who’s in a similar boat, and we both feel a need to start at least occasionally publishing some work outside of this environment.
Some of my concern is informed by wisdom imparted to me as a freelancer coming up: to publish in as diverse an assortment of publications as possible, evidence that your work is valued by many editors in many places, and a way to hedge your bets in what has always been an unstable industry. Even when I had full-time positions at newspapers and magazines, I made sure I occasionally published elsewhere.
More of my concern comes from just how unstable the industry has grown, and a fear that eventually something similar could happen to this platform, too.
In the past year, so many publications have either folded or been dramatically downsized, leading to layoffs and the loss of opportunities for freelancers. Just in the past few weeks we lost Jezebel, Catapult took down its archive (although it now appears to be back up), and the Gawker archive was deleted after the brand was sold, invalidating the old notion that online is forever. (Everyone go make PDFs of all your work!)
A few days ago, the same guy who essentially decimated Longreads down to a skeleton crew right after we’d celebrated our tenth anniversary with a big, standing-room-only event in Manhattan—just as we were doing our best work and being recognized for it, winning all kinds of awards, getting nominated for a National Magazine Award—leading to my departure after five years; that guy announced he is similarly decimating Tumblr, taking that staff down to a skeleton crew as well.
In light of traditional publishing and digital media largely tanking, Substack has been an incredible boon for many of us, brilliantly (and lucratively) blending elements of blogging, social media, and crowdfunding. But I’ve been burned on the tech-meets-publishing merry-go-round enough times to have serious trust issues around it.
I’m anxious about having all my eggs in this one basket, to the degree that those who don’t pay attention to this basket have no freaking idea what I’ve been doing for the past couple of years—and I’ve been doing a lot.
And even if things keep going well for me here, which I desperately hope they will, is it ever good to store all your eggs in only one basket? I want to succeed as a writer in general; I don’t want to only be doing my work—to be only known for my work—in this one place. It feels wise to begin to diversify my writing portfolio again, at least a little bit. (With all I’m doing, I can only afford enough time to do this a little bit.) What’s more, I think garnering a few bylines elsewhere would actually help my magazines here—raise their profiles a bit higher.
With that in mind, I’m going to start occasionally pitching personal essays to venues outside this platform. I’m also interested in occasionally writing profiles and doing Q&As. The only problem is how much I hate pitching. (That and the irony of looking to publish elsewhere when there are so few elsewheres left.) I know I’m hardly alone in this, but trying to appeal to editors is incredibly anxiety-provoking for me. It brings up all my insecurities about not being good enough, not having the right background or pedigree, not being popular or liked by the cool kids. I also hardly know any editors in the field anymore. When I had friends in high places, it was a lot easier (yet still pretty hard!).
I’m going to be bold here and ask: If you’re someone who acquires personal essays, I’d love it if you’d consider me and my work. If you’re someone who assigns profiles or Q&As, please consider assigning one to me—maybe of someone doing something interesting now that they’re older. Please drop me a line in response to this if that feels appropriate.
In the past I’ve had essays published in The New York Times, LitHub (this one just received notable mention in The Best American Essays) Catapult, many women’s magazines, and lots of anthologies. For various publications I’ve interviewed Jeff Bridges, Jennifer Aniston, Bebe Neuwirth, Gloria Gaynor, Ethan Hawke, and many other celebrities, and many authors, too. I’m good at framing questions in such a way that people feel comfortable opening up.
I realize this has big “The Music and the Mirror” from A Chorus Line energy, but that’s kind of where I’m at right now, trembling at the thought of cold pitching again after so long. I figure it can’t hurt to ask.
In the meantime, I’ll keep plugging away at my “magazines,” which I’m truly enjoying. But it would be nice to find my way back to at least a little bit of freelance work. Give me a chance to come through?