How To Start A Zine
Posted by grrrlriot on March 29, 2008
Here’s something I got from the old and no longer around The X-Womyn Collective website. It tells you how to start your own zine.
Before You Start
Buy a whole bunch of zines and take note of all the different layouts, designs, graphics, content, etc. It will help you get a better feel for what you want to put in your own zine.
What do you want your zine to be about? What sort of things are you going to put in it? Is it going to be a fanzine for a band (i.e. C.I.L.L. – a Lunachicks zine)? A zine about your local scene (i.e. Neus Subjex – a zine about Cincinnati punk rock)? Personal writings like rants, poetry, stories, etc. (i.e. Puzzle Pieces)? A political/informational zine about sexism, rape, violence, homophobia (i.e. Body Count/FEM-UH-NIST)? FYI, punk, ska, riot grrrl, hardcore, whatever… decide what you want to put in your zine. This is your project. Don’t worry about who will buy it and who will like it. Put what YOU would want to read about. Most zines are created because people see zines they like and want to imitate it. There is no such thing as an original zine anymore, so do whatever you want with it. If you are going to be using pre-printed material, whether it’s a poem, statistics, interviews, graphics, etc., make sure you give the original author credit. No one likes to pick up a zine they’ve never heard of and see something they wrote and the zine writer claiming it as their own (regardless if you tried to pass it off that way). If you are unsure who the author/artist is, make a note of it and offer future credit for that person.
What are you going to call your zine? Choose a name that means something to you. It’s what you are going to be associated with from now on. Pick something that will go with what’s inside. Don’t pick a generic name like “Punkzine” or something like that, use some creativity and put some thought into it. One Up, Neus Subjex, Poop Corner, Cicada, Little Girl, Agitprop, Doo Wrong, Shakeface, Maximumrocknroll – all pretty good names. Don’t purposely rip off zines names though, zine writers get very angry when they see zines with almost exact titles. Your zine will become your life, and it’s sort of like identity theft if someone else is using the same name as you. (We’ve had this provlem before. You wouldn’t think it would be that big of a deal until it happens to you.)
What sort of images, if any, are you going to use to accompany you’re writing? Find pictures, drawings, anything to fill in extra space. Empty white spaces are an eye sore. If you have access to it or can afford it, try using colored paper. It doesn’t add to the graphics, but someone may be more willing to pick up a zine if the pages are blue instead of white. Use anything to add life to your zine. But beware of copyrighted material. If you steal graphics off the internet or out of another zine, make sure you mention where you got the graphics from. It’s proper zine ettiquettte. (I never paid much attention to “zine ettiquette” before but in the world of zines, it’s a major issue.)
Arrange your zine so it’s easy to read. Don’t cram everything into 10 pages if you have 20 pages of material. If you have that much stuff, save some of it for a future issue. You don’t want to run out of material after 2 issues. Don’t reduce it all either so you need a magnifying glass to read it. Normal point size (10 or 12) is good, and with certain fonts you can go as low as 8. Handwritten zines have a certain charm to them, but only if your writing is legible and it copies dark enough. If you are going to handwrite, try using a roll-point pen or transparency marker, that way it will come out better than a ball point pen. Make sure you leave a margin on all sides for copying and stapling. If you are using a comupter, you can mess with your page layout in your writing program and modify the margins.
This is the biggest pain in the ass of the whole zine process. You can go through 50 printers before you find one that suits you. This is also the most time consuming part of it all, at least from what we’ve experienced. You need money and a lot of time to print. Call around before you venture out and see what prices are available to you. Print shops may be a bit more expensive but their copies usually turn out better. And you don’t have to stand at a xerox machine for six hours printing your zine. But, it is better to do it yourself since you know how everything should be laid out and how you want it to look. But, you can always have someone else do it for you. Plan to spend extra money on your first issue, since it’s the first time you’ve ever done this, you are going to mess up a lot and it’s going to cost money. A quick way of printing is to make what is called a flat. It’s a single-sided version of your zine. Take your final product to the xerox machine, copy each page until it looks the way you want it to. Then place the flat on the document handler on top of the copy machine and select 1 to 2 sided. This makes things go a lot faster so you aren’t screwing up 50 copies of a page at a time. It also helps if you make friends with people that work at copy shops. They can cut you deals and sneak you free copies. Or you could go all out and work in a copy shop!
Getting your zine out
This is the fun part and where all your hard work pays off. Give a copy to the bands and zines you reviewed, if you did reviews at all. Give it to other zinesters where you live and ask them to review it in their zines. Trade zines with people. Sell them at shows. Take them to local record stores and see if they’ll buy them. The internet has made zine distributing a million times easier. You can trade zines with people you’ve met online. You can get on zine mailing lists and talk about your zine there. You can make a webpage to promote your zine and have an e-mail address so people can contact you. Send your zine to bigger zines like Punk Planet, Factsheet Five, Maximumrocknroll and ask them to review it. A lot of people read their reviews and buy the ones with the good reviews. You can send zines to friends out-of-town. You can look for out-of-town distros that would want to carry your zine. Pander, Riot Grrrl Press, Basement Children, Word Is A Weapon, Bitch – all of these distros carry many zines. Send your zine to online places like World Wide Punk. Hundreds of people visit there a day and trust Vic’s opinions.
Here’s a major dilemma. You are going to lose money on your zine. There’s no getting around it. Some zine writers have lost hundreds of dollars each time they print. It’s just a fact of zine life. You have to decide if you want to give your zine out for free (if you have good advertisers you can manage this, see below for selling ad space) or if you want to charge for it to cover some of the copying. Don’t expect to make money. You probably won’t so don’t even hope for it. If you do happen to make money, someone loves you. heheh. Keep the cost as low as you can – people are cheap. They’ll spend 4 bucks on a cup of coffee but not 2 bucks on a zine that could change their life. Don’t rip yourself off either, but keep the cost low enough that you aren’t losing tons of money every issue.
Stickers, word of mouth, shirts, reviews, anything so people know what your zine is and so they get interested in it. Although it’s lame, have people talk about it so other kids will overhear and want to see your zine. Don’t be shy. This is your baby and you busted your ass on it. Talk to bands at shows and ask for interviews and stuff for review. Getting a big band like Screeching Weasel to do an interview is going to get a lot of people to buy it, although getting Ben Weasel to do anything like that can be a struggle with futility. Just kidding.
Make sure and ask for feedback. What does everyone else think? Don’t be hurt or crushed by negative feedback or bad reviews. Not everyone is going to die over your zine. And not everyone will use it as toilet paper either. Find out what’s good and what’s not. What you need to improve on, what rocks already and you don’t need to change. No one is just going to flame your zine out of spite, they are giving you an honest opinion, whether it’s good or bad, and you should be willing to accept suggestions and criticism and try and improve on it. Some zine reviewers at bigger zines like MRR can be real snotty and picky so don’t give up on writing your zine if they give you an awful review.
Send letters, e-mails, zines to bands and labels and other places. Call them a few weeks later and ask if they are interested in advertising. Make them pay for it. Not only are you making money to print your next issue, but the labels are reaching a bunch of kids with their products, which is really good for small labels that don’t get much press. The bigger labels are a lot wearier about advertising in small zines with limited circulation and print count. Try and stick with the smaller labels, they will probably send you some stuff to review as well if you ask, since they need all the press they can get, and so can you! Visit local places like record stores and coffee shops and skate parks and ask if they are interested in advertising as well. It’s a good way of lowering your printing cost and in turn lowering the price at which you sell your zine.
Sit back, relax, and repeat as necessary
Don’t start your next zine as soon as you are done printing an issue. Give yourself a break. After a few weeks, begin thinking about the next issue. Draw a layout of what you want to be in it, make a list of articles, gather submissions, get everything in order and then go into the next issue. Don’t burn yourself out. Don’t set deadlines, you’ll bever make them.
Split zines take a lot more work on both editors’ parts. You have to coordinate page numbers, material (so you don’t print the same thing), graphics, etc. It’s always a good idea to let the other editor read what you have before you go to print. I got into a short spat with the other editor of my split zine over something I wrote. That could have easily been avoided had we talked about it beforehand. There’s a lot of give and take in a split zine, you have to be willing to compromise, like in any relationship.
E-zines are just as fun as paper zines to make. You can do it one of two ways (that I know of). You can make each zine a website (like we do here at the X-Womyn) or you can send it out as an e-mail. Making a website zine is just like making a webpage for anything else, you need a basic understanding of html and material to publish! Just make your zine as a webpage, publish it on the internet and you’re done! You still need to go through the steps of deciding content, name, etc. but the whole copying business is history. =) I’ve personally never done an e-mail zine before, but you can either send all the contents in an e-mail or attach a text file to an e-mail containing your zine. AOL members have more benefits with adding pictures, colors, fonts, etc. that you can’t do in a text file. Just organize your zine in an e-mail and send it off!
I admit, I’m a newsprint virgin. The next issue of my zine is going to be on newsprint, but I have never done it this way before. We contacted Small Publisher’s Co-op and asked for a pricing list and information. You can also call around and find printers that use newspaper and talk to them about how to print your zine that way.