If you mosey over to my Publications page, you’ll see I have a couple bylines in xoJane.com. I’m proud of those essays. They’re among the most honest pieces I’ve ever written. Both found large readerships, so they must have resonated with a lot of people. One was even translated into Italian. For a few weeks, I felt like a tiny literary star.
And SO CAN YOU! The great thing is, xoJane is very transparent about its submission process. The editors clearly lay out what they’re looking for, who to pitch and what to include. They value great stories and want to make it easy for people to share their own. That’s one reason I was (and am) an avid reader. Coincidentally, this also is the first step to a successful pitch.
I read xoJane for years before pitching my stories. I was a huge fan of the “It Happened To Me” section, where people share weird, embarrassing, poignant, funny (or a mix of all four) personal experiences. Though I’d sifted through years of back issues, I couldn’t find one that related to my experiences in a very strict, doomsday-oriented new religious movement (what some people would call a cult). I knew there must be people with similar experiences who might benefit from reading mine. So I decided to submit my story.
I had pretty much internalized the site’s voice from reading it so often. I did prime the pump by reading a few published xoJane essays right before I started writing. I told it the way I would recount it to a friend at a bar. xoJane editors say they value honesty and authenticity and your true voice and all that, but the people you should really fear are the commenters. They are bloodhounds when it comes to sniffing out BS. And they will skewer you if they think you’re not being honest with them (or yourself). They rule.
Although you don’t HAVE to submit the whole piece (you can pitch an idea), I did, just so the editors would know exactly what they’d be getting. Here’s what my pitch email looked like (I pasted the entire story in the email, too):
The next day, I got this response:
Thank you for submitting to xoJane! We would like to publish your story. Can you send (or re-send) us the piece, some original art to run with it, a bio picture, and a bio for your author page? I have attached our submission guidelines for your reference. Please try to adhere to these guidelines. If you would like to remain anonymous please do not send a bio or bio image and try to make sure there are no defining characteristics in any of the images you send us. When can you send this all to me? I will send you a contract as soon as you confirm your due date.
I snapped some bathroom selfies, signed the contract with Say Media, and the story went live that week. I will say it was not the most favorable contract to writers, but I can’t disclose anything more than that, because of its confidentiality clause. I didn’t get paid, but at that point in my career, the xoJane byline and its audience (3.5 million monthly readers, according to MediaBistro.com) made an unpaid assignment worthwhile. I would submit to them again just to get that kind of readership.
The overall experience was extremely cathartic. Prior to the story’s publication, very few people knew about my religious experience. It was weird to go from having this secret to having millions of strangers know my story. In twelve-step programs, they say, “You’re only as sick as your secrets,” and “Every time you tell your story, you cut the pain in half.” If these slogans are true, I’m a healthier person now, and I’ve halved my pain down to an infinitely tiny mote of suffering.
I guess that would be my most useful piece of advice, really: Find the kernel of secret pain lodged inside you and tell everyone how it got there. That’s a story I would like to read.