Sunday 28 August 2011

Ten Tips For First Time Zinesters

Ten Tips For First Time Zinesters

This is not an exhaustive list, however I’ve tried to bring together some of the strongest themes from the zinester interview series on my blog (which asks, amongst other things, what tips the zinester has for anyone thinking of making a zine) with my own experiences. I am by no means an authority on the topic but hopefully this list will be of some help to newbies or at least trigger debate! Please feel free to use the comments box to add tips of your own whether you are a first-time or established zinester, or even considering making your own zine.

Before you begin…

1. Read. Read as many zines as possible – this will give you an idea of what works well and what doesn’t. Think about what you enjoy in a zine and how you can transfer that to your own creation. Don’t just look at the words either – consider the different sizes and lengths of zines that are out there, and of course pay attention to layouts. Reading plenty of books too will help you hone your writing skills and consider elements such as style and structure.

2. Consider your privacy. It is important to think about this before you even begin writing as once your words are in print and out there you can’t get them back! Personally I choose to keep the name of the city I live in and my surname out of my zines, and these are factors I consider when writing any articles or re-using materials with my full name on in layouts. You might also want to set up a separate email address to use for zine-related communications if your main email address includes your surname. Of course many people do choose to print their full names and even their mailing addresses in zines and that’s fine too, but think before you print!

Writing and layouts…

3. Accept your zine isn’t going to be finished straightaway. Zines aren’t finished in an hour. If you’re really eager to get your zine out there as soon as possible, consider a mini-zine or a 24 hour zine (or even combine the two). Many zinesters perform several edits on each piece before producing their final version - although many good zines are written stream of conciousness style too. As with all things zine-related there is no hard and fast “rule” on this but I would advise that you take your time with writing, and double check your facts if you’re writing about (for example) a band or well-known author. Take the time to proofread your writing, or even better – ask someone else to proofread it for you as they will most probably spot mistakes you hadn’t.

4. Create an eye-catching cover. This is the first thing people will see when they look at your zine, and the image you will use for promoting it once its done, so it's worth investing a decent amount of time and effort in it. I often make several potential covers for each issue of my zine (or at least sketch out several potential ideas) before picking one. If you feel you don’t have the art/design skills to make the cover your zine deserves, consider asking a friend or another zinester if they will design it for you – many will be only too pleased to be asked and to oblige, as long as you give them appropriate credit.

5. Keep it neat and legible. Potential readers will want to flick through your zine at zine events (or see photos/scans of the inner layouts online) before they pay for a copy, and if these are messy and unattractive you may lose out on readers even if your writing is of a very high standard. (Not that having as many readers as possible should be anyone’s goal when making zines, but you probably don’t want to miss out on readers if you can help it.) Personally I find messy layouts are a huge turn-off when it comes to whether or not I will enjoy a zine no matter how good the content is. Call me shallow, but that’s how I roll (and I’m not alone in this – most zine review blogs frequently comment on the layout of zines they feature).

If you’re not visually artistic don’t worry – this is where “keep it neat” comes in. Your layouts don’t have to be particularly ornate or original to be good, just make sure everything is stuck down properly, that your text is neat and not too small (I made a major error in Not Lonely #1 by trying to fit far too much in and consequently using tiny text which copied very badly and almost illegibly) and that there aren’t crossings out everywhere. Two things I often see in zines that don’t look great and can be easily remedied with time and close attention are outlines around text blocks with stray lines coming off where the zinester’s pen has slipped and messy cutting-out of blocks of text/images for layouts (of course the latter can sometimes be a stylistic choice). And finally, keep an eye out on this blog for an upcoming article I’m writing on layouts for beginners!

6. Consider your content: Or, “all killer no filler!”. This is related to point number 3 – a good zine isn’t going to be finished in a matter of minutes. It’s very easy to spot when a zinester has put in content merely to fill up space and whilst a page or two like this may be inevitable once in a while (you miscounted the number of pages a piece would need perhaps, or you need to fill those last two pages so your zine is ready for a zine event the following day) your zine will be a disappointing read if a lot of the content feels like it is there purely for the sake of it. Give some thought also to the overall flow of the zine for the reader – if you want to include some lighter, fun pieces alongside heavier content then that’s great, but intermingling the two throughout the zine can (again, it won’t always) make a zine feel a bit disjointed.

7. Number your pages. It will make your life much easier when it comes to assembling your printed zines!

8. Just do it! This has been quite a long list of “do this” and “don’t do that” so far, but these are merely ideas and tips and as long as you have something to write with and something to write on, you are halfway there to making your zine. It’s easy to agonise over making everything perfect and to become stuck. I feel like this is potentially contradictory to everything else I’ve said here, but if you want to write a zine, just get on with it and write a zine! Do the best you can and get it out there. Once your first zine is out of the way you will learn and grow as a zinester and will have got the hardest part over with.

Once your zine is done…

9. Get it out there! As mentioned earlier, if you’re writing zines with the intention of becoming some kind of celebrity with hordes of readers (or if you think you’ll make any money off zines – most zinesters consider themselves lucky to break even over postage and printing costs) then you’re doing it for the wrong reason, but now you’ve taken the time to create your finished product its only natural you’re going to want to get it out there. Before you start promoting it consider the price you want to charge – copying costs do vary up and down the country but unless your zine is full-colour or in another way particularly expensive to print don’t expect to get more than 50p - £2.50 per issue, depending on its length. If you think you’re going to get back more than it cost to print your zine, you’ll be disappointed. Zines are made out of love, not the desire to generate cash!

Some ways to get your zine into the hands of readers are:
- Give it away! I gave away around 25 copies of each of my first couple of issues to friends, most of whom now order every subsequent issue and some of whom were inspired to make zines themselves.
- Set up trades. Email zinesters (its usually best to stick to those who are writing zines in a similar genre to yours, although again this isn’t a hard and fast rule) or contact them through social networking websites to arrange trades. Keep in mind fairness (for example people may not be keen to swap a 40 page ½ size zine for an 8 page mini-zine) and consider offering part-trades as well as direct swaps (for example your mini-zine in return for 50% off the usual PayPal price of their larger zine). Don’t be discouraged if you don’t hear back from everyone (or anyone) you attempt to trade with straightaway – sometimes it takes people a while to reply to messages or they just can’t set up trades at the moment (e.g. for financial reasons - I am quite selective with international trades for this reason, although I always email and explain).
- Get it into distros. Ask your zinester friends which distros they’d recommend you submit your zine to, and/or have a look online. It’s usually worth making an order or two from a distro before you submit your zine to them so that you can get a sense of their catalogue and the type of zines they like to carry. Again, try not to feel discouraged if you don’t hear back from a distro/any distro quickly/at all. Remember a distro may say no to the first five issues of your zine but yes to the sixth – just keep trying.
- Send it out for review. If your zine is British, why not send it to Spill The Zines with a request for a review? If not, then there are lots of other blogs out there – have a look around the internet and ask other zinesters for recommendations. But please bear in mind point 10 when doing this!
- Promote and sell! Scan/take photos of your zine (including some examples of the inner layouts) and post them on your blog/facebook/twitter/tumblr/livejournal etc., along with a quick description of your zine, its price and how people can order a copy. Join We Make Zines to connect with other zinesters and to set up trades as well as generally promote your zine (look out for groups relevant to your zine – there are ones for perzines, mental health zines and feminist zines, amongst others). Etsy is a handy website to join for selling your zines - they do charge a small fee per listing but as the site handles the transaction I find its worth it to save a wee bit of potential hassle. Etsy is another way to promote your zine to those who might not have known about it previously, too.

10. Expect/accept compliments and criticism. Finally, once your zine is out there, prepare yourself for the feedback. Most of it will be positive, but don’t expect that everyone will love your zine. Personally I found it quite hard to hear (even constructive) criticism when I first put Not Lonely #1 out – I had poured a lot of myself into the zine, as well as a good deal of time, and felt quite defensive in response to critical comments. But in hindsight I’ve learnt that without people telling you what’s good/not so good about your zine you’ll never improve. And remember, no-one’s first issue is going to be amazing, so take what was best from it with you and leave behind the rest.


  1. this was so helpful!! Thanks :)

  2. I really like this. The info is clear and to the point.