One Year Of Writing Emails
Some thoughts on the value of words and building community. And announcing the Burnt Toast Book Club!
One year ago this week, I launched what I called then “The New Burnt Toast.” After 18 years of writing for prestige media outlets, I decided to try out a new way of working for myself, or rather, working directly for my readers, with this paid newsletter model. There was some financial motivation: In early 2021, I lost two of my best-paying clients to corporate reorganizations. That’s how it goes with prestige media: Wheels are reinvented every few years when companies merge or bring in new leadership. The new editors clean house in various ways and sometimes this results in better journalism and more often, it just kind of confuses readers, and leaves a bunch of people unemployed. As a long-time freelancer, I was used to bobbing around those waves and perpetually finding a new place to land. I was both good at this, and multi-privileged in ways that make it possible for me to buffer those storms. But I was burnt out on media’s grind culture. After two years of pandemic parenting, I was especially over media’s built-in expectation that I would always make my work as a parent invisible and secondary to my work as a writer. And I was frustrated by the continual compromises I felt forced to make when doing anti-diet journalism for outlets that perpetuate diet culture and anti-fat bias:
Maybe, after almost twenty years of rolling with these kinds of changes, I would like to have a place that is just mine. A place where I can critique diet culture and combat fatphobia, without the continual compromise required by corporate media. Where I don’t have to worry that a sidebar ad for flat tummy tea will run alongside my explanation of why the ob*sity epidemic is over-hyped. A place where I can publish the stories I can’t tell in other outlets because they are too niche or aren’t newsy enough, but still matter deeply to people’s lives.
I was right that the newsletter model would enable me to tell these stories. But I was wrong about one thing: This is not a place that is just mine. Burnt Toast is ours—and that’s why this has worked so well. In December, I reported that we’d grown from a tiny list of 700 at the start of 2021, to a community of over 10,000, with enough paid subscriptions that my gross newsletter income was exceeding my last big anchor client. Six months later, there are now about 14,000 of you, and more every day. Burnt Toast has become my full-time job. Paid subscribers make it possible for me to hire great help (what would Burnt Toast even be without Corinne?), to give out 75 comp subscriptions and counting, and to start compensating every expert podcast guest for their time and knowledge with a $100 honorarium.
We’ve also started to figure out what our community’s activism should look like, by raising over $16,000 for the States Project’s work in Arizona (we’re going for $20K!). And how to be a community beyond the numbers. We’ve yelled together. Shared lockdown comfort food recipes. Made anti-diet resolutions together. Your entertainment suggestions got me through Covid. And I love how you all show up for each other in the comments, offering support during brutal times and even planning meet-ups. Last week we celebrated our anti-diet wins and oh my goodness! The power of so many people setting boundaries, challenging medical fatphobia, trashing scales, wearing the swimsuit, and eating whatever the hell they want for breakfast! I now can’t imagine ending my week without our Friday Threads, and I look forward to the first thoughtful comment on every essay and podcast episode, even when—especially when!—you challenge me to work harder and dig deeper.
I’ve learned a ton in this first year of newslettering, and made a few mistakes. But I am delighted to say that the vast majority of Burnt Toast content —all reported essays, all podcasts with expert guests, and half of every Ask Virginia column—is now free and accessible to everyone. When you pay to subscribe, you’re doing it because you value words, you value our work, and you value being in community with other people who are also committed to divesting from diet culture and dismantling fatphobia.
Every so often, I get a little angry pushback to this whole paid newsletter model. And I get it: $5 per month for one newsletter isn’t a lot, but it’s not doable for everyone, and if you want to read a lot of newsletters, it adds up fast. And you can consume so much content from other media outlets, especially on social media, for free. Except it’s never free. Publications that don’t charge readers (or viewers) make their money by selling your attention to advertisers. Influencers that don’t charge for their content make money through sponsored posts. I don’t think either of those models is inherently wrong, but I do think they make anti-diet journalism impossible. Because somewhere in the mix of advertisers, there is always, always, a weight loss brand. And I’ve seen, too many times, how the influence of those advertisers can steer the editorial decisions of a publication—whether the editors and creators want to acknowledge it or not.
So being a paid subscriber here is also about creating a safe space where you know the stories you read haven’t been curated to match a brand’s agenda. My big hope, in the next year, is that paid subscribers will also make it possible for me to hire other writers and pay them better-than-market rates to tell their stories about fatphobia and the many issues that intersect with it. We’re not quite there yet, but I promise, it remains a front-of-mind goal. I’m also excited that finishing up my book manuscript this month will free up my energy for bigger reported projects here. And to just generally continue to grapple with the subtle but systemic ways that anti-fat bias shapes our world.
Depending on when you first subscribed, you may be getting a notification this month that it’s time to renew. Of course I hope you still consider this a community still worth investing in! But if it’s no longer financially feasible for you to do so, just let me know and we’ll figure it out. Even if you never open another email from me, I’ll always be grateful you were here, in the beginning of making this place. Below is a list of just some of the stories and conversations your support has made possible.
How Do You Measure A Year?
(I will understand if that Rent reference causes non-Millennials to mass unsubscribe.)
And of course, Jeans Science.
Also: We Need a Book Club!
Paid subscribers do get a few tangible perks, too, of course (commenting privileges, bonus podcast episodes, full access to Ask Virginia). And soon, we’ll be adding one more. Next month, I’m launching the Burnt Toast Book Club! This will be a monthly thread discussion where we’ll read and discuss a book that intersects with the conversations we have here about diet culture, fatphobia, parenting and health. By popular demand, our first book will be The School of Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan. (I know several of you read it after Sara and I talked about it in this podcast episode, and there have been requests for a place to process All Of Our Feelings about this exquisite and brutal book.)
Our first book club discussion will be on Wednesday, July 13, so you’ve got about a month to read (or listen to the audio!). I’ll keep the book club open to everyone this summer so we can try it out together; come September it will be a paid subscriber feature.
And don’t forget that if you become a paid subscriber or renew your existing subscription before June 30, you can enter the Burnt Toast Book Giveaway!
We’ll pick 15 folks at random on July 1. The winners can pick any of the books we’ve featured on the Burnt Toast Podcast in the past year, and my beloved local indie Split Rock Books will send it out to you or to the recipient of your choice! (US residents only, sorry. Email Corinne with any questions at email@example.com).