Chances are high that you’re reading this letter in the morning, probably over your cereal or a mid-morning coffee break from your desk. Or maybe it’s the afternoon or evening and your feet hurt or knees crack from a long day. But as I’m writing it, the clock in the upper right corner of my computer screen just flipped to 8:45pm.
That’s probably not surprising to you. You know I work late hours (I wrote a letter describing my day at work for our A+ Membership Drive in June — hi A+ members! — at 10:30pm, so comparatively, I’m learning). What’s different about this one is, I’m trying to get better.
A few weeks ago, Riese and I were sharing a knowing joke together on Slack. We were both reading a really exceptional piece of industry journalism about (and yes, I’m serious here) Teen Vogue in the Columbia Journalism Review. Now, if Autostraddle is one thing, it is famously NOT a Conde Nast-backed corporate entity — but Riese and I couldn’t help but see so many of our struggles mirrored back — running a small team with super-sized dreams and outsized influence in this deep dive 18 year history of the voicey, fashion focused, celebrity focused, unironically activism focused “youth brand” of the world’s most notorious media giant. We exchanged passages back and forth, going from open awe to stomach-drops, and then finally, to self-deprecating memes.
“When I got home, I would continue working. It became so intense that I would preschedule my emails so they went out at 8am — at a normal time — but I was writing them at three or four in the morning,” a Teen Vogue Senior Editor said in the article.
I told Riese, hoping for a laugh, “I see myself in this picture and I don’t like it.”
That’s difficult for me to admit in this letter, when we are here asking you for help to keep Autostraddle alive. More than anything, I want you to know how hard I work. This morning I got up at 8:30am and was at my computer an hour later. It’s now (checks clock again) 9pm and I’m still here. In between, I approved meeting schedules for our upcoming hiring interviews and staff performance reviews, troubleshooted various content holes in our calendar, negotiated a special rate on a personal essay with a writer, workshopped a pitch and approved a different piece from another, worked with our team to approve fundraiser ad copy, attended a fundraiser meeting led by Nicole, edited and published the transcript of one of our podcasts, sent at least a half dozen emails to various freelancers and PR agents, and watched an entire season worth of screeners on a television show so we can review it (this part took 5 hours alone). And I want you to know that before that, yesterday I worked up until 10pm straight before I broke for dinner.
I want you to know all of this, because I want you to feel good that we are stretching every dollar you give us as efficiently as we can, with lots of elbow grease for good measure. Because that is important! It’s so important to me that you know I never forget — we never forget — how lucky we are that you keep finding value in us. And that we continue to earn it.
But I also want to model good, healthy leadership for our team. And I can’t do that if I’m going so many days in a row without sleep that Riese has to quietly pull me aside and require me to take an entire day off to do just that (and yes, this exact thing happened in August). When I’m gently admonishing an editor for answering a note at 1am with “go to sleep” and she responds, “seems like maybe you know it’s not healthy but you’re being more protective of me than you are of you!” then I know we have a problem.
And the problem is not a lack of work ethic, it’s not a lack of passion or love for what we do. It’s not a lack of thankfulness for what you’ve already given us. It’s that we need… well, another 10 hours each day. The reality is that what we are lucky enough to still have going here, being held together with glue, gratitude, and enthusiasm — it is not sustainable. Autostraddle is people powered, and right now the people behind it are breaking. We need help.
Thanks to you, we have already gone further than any of us imagined, paving the road in $10 and $25. We’ve built so much from what you’ve generously given us. Because of your support we’ve raised rates for our writers year after year— and it’s our priority to keep raising the rates until they are market competitive; we’ve built better and more efficient workflows for our editors; we’ve been able to pay for infrastructure upgrades for our site (and we have so much more we still need!) and SEO training to compete with the algorithm whims of Google. You have helped us build something that is so much larger than what any of us could have hoped for alone — a publication of our size should not exist without corporate money, flat out. Anyone would say that it could not be done. But it has been done, and that is because of you. We don’t have venture capitalists or investors, we have you right now reading these words.
Which is why I have to tell you the truth, even when it’s hard: grit and magic alone are no longer enough. We’re a 12 year experiment going on 13, which might as well be an eternity online. If we are going to honor the opportunities that you’ve made possible, if we are going to build an Autostraddle sustainable enough to outlive our wildest dreams — we need your continued investment, so that we can grow into the dreams you have for us. The good news is that we already know how to do a lot with a little! Over the last two months, Autostraddle has had the largest traffic we have seen in well over a year, and we are currently doing it with our smallest editorial team since 2014. Imagine what we can do with just a little bit more.
As I’m writing to you, Autostraddle is in the last stages of hiring two new Senior Editors. I was promoted to Autostraddle’s permanent (no longer “interm”) Editor-in-Chief in June. It’s so incredibly rare that a new EIC is able to hire such a large, new editorial staff this early in her tenure. Starting from last January, when I began as Interm Editor-in-Chief, I will have hired 50% of our current part-time subject editors in the last 10 months, and 2/3 of my full-time editorial team. With these two new full-time hires, Autostraddle is currently undertaking it’s single largest editorial shift in the publication’s history. This is a responsibility to our community, and its blazing future ahead of us. I do not take that lightly.
These days, the #1 thing that keeps me up at night is figuring out how to set these new humans up for the best possible success. I scribble notes into the margins of my planner, sketching out training sessions and virtual team retreats. I’m spending my free moments envisioning what comes first, how will we reach back into Autostraddle’s past and bridge it, stitching it into the very DNA of the new exciting places we are going next. I haven’t figured it all out yet! (And by necessity, we are moving fast!) But I do know this — I want our new editors to have the freedom to grow without being preoccupied by scarcity and survival-tactics.
I want our new editors to be able to bring their biggest ideas and creativity, because that’s how Autostraddle has always worked best, and have the open room to learn how we operate and then shake things up. For them to be able to make mistakes at first, to mend from them, without it being costly. I want them to have a chance to really get to know each other (and all of our other editors) and build trust together, the kind of trust and energy you need to work on a tiny team that’s moving mountains.
More than anything, I want to know that our new full-time editors are empowered to work healthier hours than I have, for them to have good boundaries. With your help, by expanding our team, we can make it happen. I want their job security to also mean mental health and not having to pre-schedule messages to send in the morning that they are quietly writing alone at 3am. I don’t want Riese to have to pull them aside and remind them to sleep. Along with broken code and website crashes, outdated language and that regrettable era when pencil-thin ties over white tank tops and suspenders was considered lesbian fashion, I want unsustainable work habits to be something we leave firmly in the past. That’s where we need your help.
And let’s be real, these new queer humans, these new guardians of our community, they deserve that from us. They deserve our best. I know that together, we will give that to them — the same way we always have, in $5, in $25. That’s all it takes.
When we last spoke together, I told you that it’s hard for me to ask for money but for Autostraddle, asking is never about me — the dreams of this community are not about one person. That’s never been more true than it is right now.
It sounds selfish to say “please give to the Autostraddle fundraiser so that I can sleep” but that is not why I’m asking. We have never had an editorial team this strong, this diverse, this efficient, communicative, brave, full of so much knowledge — simply because we’ve never made it this far before. We did that with your help. And can I just say, the Autostraddle that these people want to build for you? Whew.
I’m here today because I desperately want to help them do it. And for that, I need you.
Sending my love to you Always,