The Act Itself

The Act Itself [review]

The Act ItselfI’m a big fan of erotic magazines. As internet porn and e-books increase in accessibility, there’s just something about the old formats that I find alluring. Every time I enter a used bookstore, I’m on the lookout for vintage pin-ups and underground bondage publications. I’m proud of my collection, even if it is still fairly meager.

So when BearManor Media offered me a copy of their new magazine in exchange for an unbiased review, I couldn’t help but give them an enthusiastic yes!

The Act Itself

The Act Itself is an ambitious publication, promising readers three issues a year — each with 150 pages of erotic writing and visual artwork. Unlike the most famous adult magazines, the focus here is on erotica as opposed to explicit pornography.

What Works:

Durability – Upon receiving my copy of the Spring 2014 premiere issue, I was surprised to find that it more closely resembled a large paperback book than a magazine. The cover is thicker, the binding feels more secure, and it’s not nearly as susceptible to wear and tear. In my opinion, this makes the rather high magazine price ($14.95) a bit more acceptable.

Variety – I was also impressed with the variety of content that The Act Itself has to offer. I was expecting mostly erotic literature and photography, but was pleased to find drawings, poetry, and non-fiction essays as well. Some of my favorite submissions were those that challenged the idea of what is “erotic”: the fictional account of a man who wakes up one day and decides to stop wearing clothes (One Day Naked by The Mrs.) and a photo collection of an adventurous & shirtless female, exploring the wilderness (Topless Tourism by Lilah Rose). 

What Needs Work:

Design – Although we like to say “don’t judge a book by its cover,” the truth is that the cover is what draws in potential buyers. The premiere issue of The Act Itself is not something that would have piqued my interest. The layout is awkward, with a lot of empty gradient space on the front and several unattractive end-of-line hyphenations on the back. It screams “self-published,” and if the exterior doesn’t look professional, I can’t help but assume that the contents won’t be either.

There was also a small-but-annoying design flaw with their subscription forms. Instead of using inserts, they printed the form on actual pages of the publication. If you do want to subscribe via mail, you have to either cut out part of a submission on the reverse side or go through the hassle of copying the page.

Print Quality – Despite the high-quality feel of the cover and binding, the interior pages of The Act Itself are thin and matte. The poor quality allows for visible print lines, the occasional distracting bleed-through, and most importantly, a lack of crisp detail. While none of these problems are excessively noticeable with text or line drawings, it made even the most beautiful photography submissions difficult to appreciate.

Typographical Errors & Crediting Sources – While reading through the first issue, I was extremely distracted by errors in the text. Words were mistyped, names were interchanged (a character from one story is referred to as both Laure and Laura), and sentences were at times poorly worded and confusing. A story which is credited to an anonymous writer from 1880 on the title page is also credited to a contemporary contributor on the contents page. Many of the photographs and other artwork that appear to be examples of early visual erotica simply go uncredited altogether.

My Overall Opinion:

Unfortunately, the premiere issue of The Act Itself neither impressed nor aroused meEven if I could look past the poor design and textual errors, much of the subject matter left me feeling bored. My personal tastes lie in the realm of BDSM and, with the exception of one cuckolding story and a few bondage photographs, most submissions were pretty vanilla. (In fact, the submission criteria states that only some “light” fetish-oriented material will be considered for publication. I’m not exactly sure what topics would be considered too heavy, but taboos such as sibling incest have passed the test.) Several submissions also appeared to be pulled from the middle of larger stories, making them seem random and unfocused.

Call me picky, but I also have an absolute, seething hatred for tacky genital references and poorly chosen metaphors — even in small doses. I do not want a vagina to be called a “castle.” I either want the intelligent, anatomical terms (penis, vagina) or dirty-talk slang that will get my juices flowing (cock, cunt). Some phrases were so absurd to me that I was completely removed from the story. (Ex: “Her lips were full like diapers,” being used to describe an ugly girl in The Pumping of Little Janie’s Cunny by The Mrs.) I recognize, however, that I have some pretty high standards for erotica. Blame the fact that I have a history of working in bookstores, a love of reading that borders on obsession, and a romantic partner that is a freelance editor.

My suggestion for The Act Itself team would be to rethink their goals for this publication. Although this was a surprisingly substantial first issue, quantity is not nearly as important as quality. I feel that reducing the 150-page publication to a smaller size might be beneficial. Ideally, this would create funds for a more professional appearance. Plus, more stringent submission standards would allow the good art to shine rather than be overshadowed by the mediocre and unpolished. The way it is now, a lot of content in The Act Itself seems on-par with the free content on Literotica — without the ability for readers to choose topics that appeal to their sexual tastes.


A big ‘Thank You’ to BearManor Media for giving me the opportunity to review this publication.

If you’re curious about The Act Itself, you can still purchase a Kindle version of the premiere issue on Amazon (at a discounted price of $6.99). The second issue is scheduled to be released sometime this month, although I have not seen any recent updates on their Facebook or blog.

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