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An Interview with Emily Rems


Like so many others, I was drawn to BUST because I was dissatisfied with a lot of other women's interest publication. I didn't appreciate the superficial feminist philosophy that many of them espoused. I didn't want to have to buy a cool new lipstick in order to be seen as powerful. I didn't want to order some new jeans that would help me look great while saving the world. I just wanted to do my thing and save the world.


When I found BUST, all I could think was "Finally." Finally a publication that treats me like a person and not a consumer. Finally a magazine that I felt inspired by, instead of discouraged by. Finally, a magazine that showcased women for what they do, rather than how they look or what they could sell. I felt seen.


It's obvious from BUST's content that a lot of care goes into making it. I wondered about the women behind BUST and what drove them to continue to create such a positive, uplifting community for women, which is how I came across Emily Rems, the managing editor of BUST. Based on the quality of BUST, I had assumed that it had a large, full-time staff of editors, but I soon learned that the editorial staff at BUST basically just consists of Emily. I have so much respect for her, and it was truly an honor to hear about her process.


Who are your biggest inspirations and what lessons have they taught you?

In life, my biggest inspirations are Ricki Lake, because she starred in Hairspray in the 80s and her character Tracy Turnblad was like the model of who I wanted to be in life, and Patti Smith because I love the way she expresses herself, and I always wanted to have that clarity and candor, like living a nonstop creative life.


What work are you most proud of?

BUST. BUST became my life's work. I was a fan of BUST. I read it and it really meant a lot to me for years before I applied to be an intern. I've been at BUST for nineteen years now. It's my life's work, it's part of my identity, and it's the thing I'm most proud of for sure.


What do you think is the most important skill for a young journalist to develop?

I would say persistence. It's not an easy industry to be in. It requires a lot of energy and a lot of hustle. There's a ton of rejection, also. So just don't stop and you'll find the place that's right for you. Don't ever stop looking for that place.


What do you admire most about BUST as a publication?

I admire that it tells the truth about women's lives, that it doesn't lie to women to make money. It doesn't sell women out for profit, or for advertising, or for somebody else's idea of what women should or shouldn't be. BUST is made by real, actual women for real, actual women and it shows.


How would you describe BUST readers?

I would describe BUST readers as the coolest girls in your school. When I say "cool," I'm not talking about popularity. I mean the most interesting, creative, smart, punk girl. There's a tribe of women who are drawn to BUST because they're not content to be the woman society wants them to be, they want to be the woman they were born to be. That always shines through. Those are the kind of women that I'm drawn to, those are the kind of women that BUST is drawn to celebrating. And those are our readers, so that's what they want to read about.


What's been the most transformative experience of your life?

While I was on assignment for BUST 15 years ago, I went to the Coney Island Sideshow to interview the women that worked there. While I was there the gentleman that was selling tickets to the sideshow asked me out. And he became my life partner and totally transformed my life. We've been together for fifteen years. We have a home together, a life together, and two cats together.


What's the hardest part of your job?

The money is definitely the hardest part. My boss likes to tell us that, like crime, feminism doesn't pay. It's absolutely true, it's really a labor of love. We get salaries but they're so small. I can't even tell you what it is because it's too small to tell you. We're making this magazine because we love it, but we make almost nothing.


What's the most rewarding part?

There's girls all over the world who really, truly love BUST. BUST is one of those things where people have either never heard of it or are really obsessed with it, and there's not much in between. For the most part, when I'm out in the world and people ask what I do and I say I work for BUST, they're like "Is that porn?" and I say no. But one out of ten times, I'll say I work for BUST, and someone's face lights up and they're so excited. And I know they're not excited to meet me, they're just excited by the whole phenomenon of BUST. And that's just the best, because I know there's like a BUST army out there in every industry, in every corner of the world, and it's so nice to just make contact with it.


In your opinion, what makes a good pitch?

Usually we can tell by the pitch whether or not you're a good writer. Sometimes people get hung up on what clips they should use or not having enough references when really the proof is in the paragraph. If you can say, this is who I am, this is what I want to write about, and then write a paragraph that really makes us want to know what happens next and gives us an idea of what the story is about and why it's exciting and interesting, you're going to get the job regardless of your experience. Because if you can do that for us in a paragraph, then with a whole feature length article you'll definitely be able to do that for our readers. The other thing is we've been making BUST for over 25 years now. If you can surprise us with an aspect of women's lives we haven't covered before, we'll probably go for it, because it's very hard to surprise us.


Using a metaphor, how would you describe your editing/creative process?

It's like a skeleton crew on a massive ship. When people see how well-produced BUST is and how thoughtfully edited and chosen all of the articles are, I think they're surprised to learn it was made by six people. We're a big ship with just the barest minimum of people in control of it. At this time I'm talking to you, the full-time editorial staff of BUST magazine is one person and that's me. Imagine a beautiful ocean liner that's entirely ran by six people. Obviously, though, we have all these freelancers, we're not writing everything ourselves. There's freelance writers, freelance artists-- a whole army of them. But there's six people who are actually controlling the ship.