Starting a magazine—one made out of actual paper—might feel like a quixotic pursuit in our dark, screen-obsessed times, where ad revenues are in free-fall and most people would rather swipe than flip. But fuck it. Adult magazine, a heady hybrid of porn and high culture, wasn’t launched in the name of profit, although that would be nice. Editor-in-chief Sarah Nicole Prickett, Publisher Noah Wunsch, and a small team of like-minded, and obviously self-motivated friends started the kind of magazine “we wanted to see in the world,” according to Prickett. The result is 144 pages of restricted editorials, incisive profiles, illicit poetry, Q&As, essays, short stories (“dick lit”), and an omelette recipe for good measure, because sex can starve you. We recently spoke to Prickett, who has contributed to BULLETT in the past, about the ins and outs of starting your own erotic magazine.
First off, a question that every editor must face: What is your target demographic?
Do I have to? We — Noah Wunsch, Berkeley Poole, Jai Lennard and myself — made the magazine we wanted to see in the world. The audience will decide itself. When we find out who that audience is, we’ll make a magazine for them as much as, or even more than, for ourselves.
What was the most challenging aspect of creating Adult?
Getting four people — then five, when Lauren Festa joined, plus our editorial intern Chayenne Skeete — to agree on anything without also compromising freshness. Also, for me, it was impossible to make a living writing for money while also editing for love. It wasn’t just me, though. Each of us wanted to quit at some point, and now we’re all so fucking glad we didn’t.
There are stories in Adult, like the Ryan Coogler profile, that don’t fit within the mag’s overall erotic framework. Why include those stories, and what criteria must they meet?
For Cord Jefferson, Ryan Coogler was a perfect match; Fruitvale Station is Oscar Grant biopic with its devastating analogue in the murder of Trayvon Martin, and Cord was an absolutely necessary writer in the aftermath of Zimmerman’s trial.
The magazine is one of contemporary erotics and experience, to give it an approximate tagline (and maybe a lame one, as almost all taglines are lame). The Coogler profile falls entirely under experience. Nothing erotic about it. But also, Coogler was (I thought) the year’s most important new American filmmaker. I wanted this first issue, arriving so near the end of 2013, to have a slightly retrospective feeling. There seems little point in doing a hyper-current or trendy thing in print. Adult is full of the things I found significant this year.
You worked with a miniscule editorial staff. In terms of content, was there a lot of bouncing ideas off other people, or did you rely mainly on your instincts?
Right. Noah and I discussed a lot of ideas in the beginning, but over the nearly nine-month process, the story ideas became more and more mine, while he worked more to secure distribution and advertisers. He’s really good at getting out there and talking up the magazine, while I’m good at sitting down and talking through it. I do depend almost entirely on two things: My instincts, and my trust in the writers I choose.
Although I edited almost every story, from top to bottom, myself, I had help in the final stages from my fiance, Jesse, who works at Harper’s and has a huge dick, I mean is really good at proofreading. Also, Alyssa Reeder edited the Kristopher Jansma piece; she’s a pro with fiction. And my assistant editor, Lauren Festa, became really invaluable to me, in terms of someone to sit with and talk to about what I was working on. She also has nearly unerring taste; every day she sends me a link or an image and I always feel better for it.
How did you find/convince people, either contributors or subjects, to work with you on a first-time magazine? What was your pitch?
The pitch was different for every person, depending on how well I knew them. With Rachel Kushner I was very informal, just like, hey, can I print all these emails you send me? To Deborah Kampmeier, whom Noah wisely suggested, I sent a long and sort of fangirlish email about female sexuality, storytelling, and guts.
Some of the most instrumental talents in the magazine, like the illustrator Kathryn Macnaughton and the typeface designers Helsinki Type Studio, were found by Berkeley just through her research online, and she was able to convince them — even though they didn’t know her at all — by having such a dead-on vision. As for the photographers, I think anyone would want to work with Jai Lennard, who is the raddest, most personable dude.
What advice do you have to anyone else looking to start their own magazine?
If you’re a woman, work with women. Work with queer or queer-ish or (at the very least) open-minded young men who know that the right way to be a male feminist is to know when to shut up and listen. That’s what works best for me; I’ve never been a guy’s girl, and the babes in my life have my back. Rachel Rosenfelt (editor of the New Inquiry) once said this amazing thing in an interview. She was basically like, stop with the VIDA counts. Stop trying to get old established magazines to publish more women. Let them burn! Start your own thing.
How big of a concern is advertising and monetization going forward? Does that aspect of this freak you out at all?
It’s a huge concern. I don’t want to do another cool project that keeps all the good kids broke. Luckily, we’re already getting much more interest from people with money than I could have dreamed of, although maybe that’s because I don’t sleep.
How instrumental was your insomnia to getting this thing done?
When we were finally closing the issue, I felt the lowest I have, physically, in a long time. I fell asleep at my computer three times in a row—at a “normal” hour, like 11 pm or midnight, but Berkeley and I were so used to staying up late that she was like BITCH I KNOW YOU DIDN’T. So yeah, I’d say my non-sleeping schedule helped, although that doesn’t feel like the right verb. Anyway, it’s not exactly insomnia, more like intense moods, these overdetermined highs that sometimes make sleep impossible.
What are some things you’re going to do differently for Issue 2?
No spoilers! Well, I can say that the photography will look wildly different. The first issue pays homage to our predecessors, and because of that, it’s too homogenous for my taste. I’m not going to soft-pedal what I personally so strongly believe. Also, as I told Molly at The Cut, I screamed bloody murder over some of these images, but the decisions were ultimately our photo editor Jai Lennard’s to make. I want more sizes, more shapes, more colours, because I think it’ll be more beautiful that way (and also more politically right).
We were all making Adult for free and as equals. Translation: Constant disagreement. By the end, though, we all loved the cover story, while also feeling that we would do things much more… open-mindedly the second time. In the sophomore issue, there will be as many naked men as there are naked women in the first. We’re still not going to shock, but we’ll surprise—I hope.