If you’ve ever been deep in fandom, you have no doubt come across at least a few fan-made magazines — more commonly dubbed “zines.”
What are “zines”?
Zines are special within fandoms. They accumulate great art and writing that highlight particular character(s) or relationships. Zines bring together talented illustrators, writers, and other creators together to showcase their work.
Participating in a zine as a contributor is an incredibly unique and deeply-honored experience, but managing the formation of one is a whole other story. As two people who have moderated and managed a few zines in the past, we’ll be first to admit that zines represent some of our biggest achievements — and challenges.
Publishing magazines is hardly a one-man job. There are entire companies that make publishing their whole business, adhering to strict schedules and rules with the resources and a team of creative hands to chug out issues periodically. Now compress that same amount of work into a small group of fans who take time out of their daily lives to do something similar, as a token of love towards their fandom.
Making a zine is a long and arduous project, and we’d love to share our advice and expertise so that you can skip over some of the growing pains we encountered along the way.
Here are our top tricks and tips for managing a successful and fun fandom project from start to finish:
Create a timeline and stick to it.
Before starting any project, know how you’ll distribute your tasks over time and when you will complete them. A timeline helps you think ahead and plan a reasonable goal, as well as plan around other events you might have going on in life. A timeline also serves to let your team and submitters know when to expect milestones and, of course, the completed zine itself.
Obviously just having a timeline is not enough. Share the timeline with your colleagues and respect the goals you’ve set. Otherwise, it’s easy to stray with your commitments. That being said, a variety of circumstances can impede on your schedule. Anticipate this, and communicate about it sooner than later.
Share ONE communication platform that is both efficient and accessible.
…And by that we don’t mean do everything on Twitter. Choose a platform where things are easy to exchange and manage, and where communication can be conducted professionally. Having one common email (like Gmail) and one shared storage folder (like Google Drive) is essential.
With regard to communicating with contributors, many moderators use a chat app (Discord is particularly popular right now) to discuss and check in with contributors.
Manage a specific and itemized budget.
Every step of the zine-making process requires some money management. Producing a big project requires hefty investment for printing, production, merchandise, packaging, shipping, and other smaller expenses. (Not to mention that some moderators pay back their contributors after profits are accumulated, too.) Consider these incurred costs ahead of time makes the journey moving forward much easier.
Promote right from the start.
You can certainly execute everything perfectly but without sufficient and effective publicity, your project won’t be seen by the audience you want to engage. Set up the appropriate social media accounts so visitors from multiple platforms have a chance to see your project.
Start early. First, announce your zine — even if it’s just an idea! Spread the word! Those with design skills can jump in to make attention-grabbing graphics, flyers, and/or newsletters to help spread your brand.
Your audience will inevitably grow as you keep them informed. What you can change is how soon you reach these people! The earlier you start, the wider and the larger your audience.
Promote frequently. Don’t feel bad about how many times you promote your own posts. It’s not a sign of vanity or being immodest — it’s a means of publicity and connecting to people on the Internet at different times. Many apps enable future-scheduling of posts ahead of time. If you’re using Twitter, TweetDeck is a free way to schedule your future posts. If you’re using Tumblr, Tumblr has an internal way set up to schedule posts. Use these to your advantage!
There are different kinds of promotions you can implement. These include: creator profiles, encouraging creators to share WIPs throughout the process, moderator Q+As, and giveaways. Don’t be afraid to delegate advertising to your creators!
Lastly, have others promote for you, too. Make use of people you know to help get the word out! Research the hashtags used for your project’s focus and utilize them. In many big fandoms, there are dedicated blogs compiling fandom events, ongoings, and projects. Also, don’t be shy to reach out to “fandom celebrities” with big followings to help advertise your project.
Develop your theme and style before you start layout.
Develop a consistent style and font ahead of time, and keep it organized on one document. This helps in the long run! Be as specific as possible when setting up your stylesheet: Record all the hexadecimal/RBG codes for your colors, the font size for your captions, the position placement for your borders, etc. Use a program’s in-built capabilities to help you out too! For example, Adobe’s Indesign allows you to set up ‘paragraph styles’ so that within a click, you can stylize the entirety of text.
Of course, it’s hard to develop a style especially if you prefer to “figure things out as you go,” but without doubt, there are certain constant components of a zine (such as page numbers, texts, fonts). Doing as much as possible before you get started prevents you from retracing steps. (And also decreases error and inconsistencies! Which we’ll talk about just below.)
Check, check, double check, and triple check. Then check again.
We’re not urging perfectionism. But we encourage multiple look-throughs to catch small errors. At the same time, accept that mistakes are inevitable — but don’t be fatalistic about it, either! With each run, focus your scope. Maybe with your first run, check style and font, and in another, punctuation.
Find an appropriate online platform to sell your product, and place limitations on your sale period.
After the production side is done, a finished zine needs an online platform to be sold. Most moderators choose Etsy, BigCartel, or Shopify, while few choose to simply do transactions through Paypal.
When it comes to choosing your platform for purchase, we recommend setting up a preorder period, even before your zine is ready for the printer. Preorders allow you to estimate how many zines to print. This ensures you don’t have stacks of unsold extra zines left.
Realistically, a total of three- to five-month selling period is enough to keep people’s interest on your product. The shorter you make your sell-period, however, the more ability you have to keep buyers’ attention by offering extra perks.
Factor packaging and shipping into your expenses.
Once you have your prints and preorders come in, the biggest, and often tedious, part is to send them out to your buyers. This is, however, where you can get creative too by getting attractive packaging that you can personalize. How you package a zine and everything that goes with it is an art of itself, so definitely use this chance to add your own flair!
Lastly, you have to consider that a chunk of your expenses will go towards the shipping price. It’s important to have a fair idea about how big your package may be, the weight, and whether you are shipping domestically or internationally. Getting an idea of the cost at the post office can prepare you beforehand. We also recommend that you include terms & conditions with each package you ship. This ensures you are not responsible for any item that may get lost or damaged in the mail, particularly when via an international route.
Tie up your loose ends.
Hooray! So you make it to the end, which we can say is not a feat to be taken lightly. After creating a full-fledged zine, selling it, distributing it, and accumulating your income, it’s time to know what to do with the money.
As we said before, money managing and making an expense record is key, as they will eventually help you understand if you broke even (earned enough as you spent) or made a profit. If you made a profit — first, a big pat on your back! Then you have several options on whether you want to donate that profit to a charity of your choice, or distribute it among your creators. Most zine moderators opt for a charity, as it allows the project to be strictly a philanthropic objective. Some do both, leaving aside a certain percentage for charity, and the rest to equally pay their contributors.
Either way, the important thing is to make sure you make that known early on so people know what to expect. This is a good time to treat yourself for your finished work, and send your gratitude for everyone who was involved.
The little things count!
Personalize it. Aim to make your zine stand out among others. It doesn’t take innovation or ingenuity to do this, just a little bit of your personal touch. You can tuck small handwritten notes thanking your creators in their copies or slap on a Post-It with a doodle onto the zine for your buyers. These tiny tokens of appreciation cost almost nothing but go a very long way, giving your zine and brand a heightened sense of professionalism.
Credit everything, credit everyone. A zine takes a lot of time to put together, and everyone has to put in their share of time. The majority of people in fandom don’t make fandom their job, rather balancing it with their jobs and other life priorities. Recognize that being part of a zine is a big ask for fandom creators. On top of that, zines are often not-for-profit, which means contributors don’t necessarily get paid for their work outside of receiving a free copy of the zine. Ensuring everyone is recognized and valued for their good work is the least you can do.
And last but not least…
Probably the most important message out of all of this is to have fun and to celebrate your accomplishments! Zines take a lot of time and dedication, and managing their production is certainly difficult! Don’t forget you’re doing this for fun!
Feel free to tweet at us if you have any specific questions! Both of us have been participants and organizers of previous zines, linked here. We’ll always be available to offer advice! Tweet us at our Internet home, @geekgalsco!
Read more of Catherine’s articles here.
Read more of Julisa’s articles here.
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Featured image credit: Julisa Basak/Geek Gals