People ask occasionally how I make my zines, so I thought I’d write about that process.
First, why publish a zine? I do it because I want to get my and others’ writing out there in the world, and now. A zine is quicker and cheaper to create than a book or magazine, and slower but more satisfying, more permanent, and less commenty than a blog. The final product is a format that thrills me completely. I like having control over the entire process. It’s a way to meet and collaborate creatively with a bunch of inspiring people. And it’s a way to be true to the cranky, idealistic visions of my 15-year-old self.
Also, and more important at 33 than 15, it’s a somewhat financially sustainable way to write. E-books, now the mainstream self-publishing medium, have lower overhead up front, but the financial margins are better on my zines even at relatively low quantities. That means I can sell them cheaply without plugging into a scaled-up corporation. I don’t make a ton of money, but it pays for its costs and my time sooner than selling the same number of e-books would, and the bulk of my expenses go to the post office and the printer down the street. The giant in Seattle still gets its cut via my funding platform, but that’s another story.
So. This definitely isn’t the only way to do it, and it may not be the best way, and this description entirely leaves out the creative process which justifies the whole operation in the first place. But it does hopefully answer the question of how I’ve been making it work:
It’s really all about planning. Decide what you want your zine to look like, what size, how many pages, what colors, what look. If you haven’t written or compiled it yet, then decide exactly what content you want inside. That determines the rest of the process, and helps with getting your budget, printing, and postage lined up too.
I recommend planning a production timeline for your zine, striving to meet your deadlines, and then taking it real easy on yourself when you don’t. If you have a hard deadline for publication, like an event, then allow way more time than you think you need (as in a month), especially for any parts that are out of your own hands. Be sure to have a backup plan for glitches along the way, like doing a xeroxed short run at the last minute if the printing is delayed, or mixing up the layout or having backup illustrations in case a contributor flakes.
If you’re going to solicit contributions from writers or artists, give them a content deadline of at least two weeks before the one you’ve set for yourself. Then give them plenty of reminders. This will give everyone time to be late and allows a cushion for editorial back and forth. Same goes for printing.
Tools of the trade
For the first two issues of Taking the Lane, I wrote and edited everything to within an inch of its life, compiled in a text document, and then emailed it to a friend who designed and laid everything out and emailed that to the printer along with the technical instructions.
Since then, I use Adobe In-design, which is nicely set up for laying out books. I taught myself to use it by googling the heck out of every little thing. (It’s also helped a lot to have an in-house expert.)
My zines are offset print in bulk. I’ve worked, happily, with both Charles at Eberhardt Press in Portland and Amy at 1984 Printing in Oakland. Going this route only makes sense if you are printing 500 or 1,000 or more copies of your zine, which is a lot. Get a quote in advance (you’ll need to know the dimensions of your zine, how many pages, how many colors on the cover, what kind of paper you want — actually, it’s best just to send the finished files for the quote).
If your aims are more modest, your software access or computer mojo aren’t as suited, or you prefer not to play the funding game described below, then disregard this blog post and cut and paste and xerox your zine yourself! There are plenty of resources already out there to help you make this work.
Because paying up front to print zines in bulk usually costs more than I have in my bank account at any given moment, I fund the operation using Kickstarter. Kickstarter basically produces the dream production situation of having paid all costs through pre-orders. The costs you need to consider when deciding how much to ask for include printing, postage, envelopes, the cost of any rewards you offer (I recommend keeping these real low), and, finally, 10% of the total for fees.
This method is great — if you have a megaphone and are comfortable using it to promote your work. As far as I can tell, only a very few of my zines’ backers have found me while clicking around on Kickstarter — most have been friends, colleagues, colleagues-of-friends, friends-of-colleagues, past supporters, and people who found the project through echoes of my social media blasts and blogs I’ve promoted it to.
Raising money up front this way has other major benefits. It pushes you to get good at promotion, it helps build a base of loyal readers and supporters, and it puts a bunch of your zines out there in the world right off the bat rather than sitting sadly in boxes in your basement. Also, nothing raises your morale like this in-pouring of support from friends and strangers.
One thing I learned the backwards way is that you should have a webpage set up where people can buy your zine *before* you publish the zine. This is in part so that you can put the link to that web page in your zine, so readers can go buy another one for their friend. It’s a good way for people to order or pre-order your zine. WordPress is easy to use for this, and their wp-shoppingcart plug-in links to your paypal account pretty smoothly. Etsy is good for this, too, but their extra fees are only worth it if you want to tap into their whole community vibe.
Once you have this set up, time to promote your zine! Do this pretty much the same way you promote anything else — let all your networks know about it, send review copies to publications that review zines or have a similar audience to your zine, blog about your zine and related topics, write guest articles for people who write blogs or zines for a similar audience, start an email list and send updates every few months, table at events, etc.
Other ways to sell your zines include local bookstores and comic shops, boutiques, and zine distros (google it!). These places will pay you between 50% and 60% of your retail price. Selling wholesale is a good way to get zines out of your basement, but it’s even better for promotion.
I think that’s it. Please feel free to add your own experiences and advice or ask questions in the comments. But most important, go out there and make whatever it is you’ve been itching to.