Rob Stone has been working tirelessly on the brilliant Positive Creed Fanzine since 2001. In that time, he’s experienced the joys and harsh realities of DIY publishing, and he’s kindly shared this guide… for punks who aren’t afraid of a few papercuts.
Before I begin this article I would just like to make it clear that I do not regard the following list as any kind of rule book or structure to writing a zine. It is merely a catalogue of things that I have learnt over the twenty years that I have been involved in DIY publishing. I also do not consider myself as any kind of authority on the subject. I have made a lot of mistakes during that time, discovered some utterly fantastic music and made contact with some extremely talented people. I hope that the following will help people out and perhaps inspire some of you to produce your own fanzine. Good luck.
10: Safety In Numbers
It’s important to carry enthusiasm but don’t allow yourself to get carried away whilst organising your first issue. Start off small and get a good feel for the potential sales that are possible. Perhaps begin with 50 copies and then gradually work your way up with each issue.
When I use the word research, I am coming from the angle of putting together interview questions. I have read more zines than I can remember over the past twenty years and have come across many interviews where a zine editor has managed to arrange an interview with an interesting band/musician, only to ask the most basic and mundane questions.
If your approach to writing questions is lazy and soulless then there’s every chance that the answers will return to you lacking in substance. With the internet and social media now at hand, there is no reason why you can’t delve into the history of a band and construct in-depth questions. This will not only get you a better response, but it will also give your readers a far better insight into your subject.
8: Get It Out There
There is nothing more frustrating than coming back from a printers with your zine and having your enthusiasm crushed by a lack of interest from other people. This is in no way a reflection on your writing skills or the content of your zine, it is purely the fact that promoting a zine is hard work and needs time and thought. It is easy to become despondent very quickly when others don’t share your energy, which is why you need to put it out there on all levels.
Make full use of the internet and all of the social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter. I am not saying that by doing this you will sell hundreds of copies within a hour, but it will offer the opportunity to spread the word and promote yourself. Also, do not forget the old school style of advertising. Leaving flyers in record shops might sound like a redundant concept, but there are still people out there who get out there and buy music and will be interested in what you’re doing.
This is something that I feel is very important. Trading zines will offer the opportunity to get a feel for what other people are doing and reading other publications can inject unlimited inspiration and give you further ideas to expand on.
Remember that you are all in the same boat. Realising that there are others out there that hold the same interest in self publishing will help keep you positive. If you are finding it difficult to sell copies of your own zine, ask other editors for ideas and they might be able to send you down other avenues which you never knew existed.
6: Invest Time
This can be the hardest part when it comes to creativity. Work and family commitments are two of many reasons why it can be difficult to commit to starting something and getting it completed. Set yourself a realistic amount of time each day to dedicate to your zine and stick to it. Even if it’s an hour, this will get you into a routine and you’ll quickly begin to create and finish things. The majority of us are not fortunate enough to have eight hours a day of free time so it’s important to use the limited amount that you do have wisely.
5: Embrace The Independent Not The Major
Creating a printed zine does not have to cost you an excessive amount of money if you take a bit of time to plan things out. Search around your area for an independent printer. By doing this you will be paying less and giving your money to an independent business, without lining the pockets of a big company. The likes of Staples can sometimes charge you double, so it is well worth hunting around. There are numerous different ways of getting a zine printed in this day and age, so allow yourself to consider all options, but don’t fall into the trap of allowing a business to make money out of your creativity.
4: The Absence Of Profit
I have yet to meet anyone who has made a living from publishing a fanzine. This is a sad realisation that some people quickly grasp and then decide to call it quits after a couple of issues.
I am not saying that it’s impossible to make a few quid if you have free access to a printer and stationary equipment, but most zine editors struggle to cover costs and consider themselves lucky if they manage to break even. You might not be pulling in heaps of money each issue but you will be putting yourself out there and having the opportunity to hear new music, discover art and meet interesting people.
As with all things in life, being passionate about something will bring out your best efforts. Two of my favourite zines out there today are Gadgie and Ugly Love and both are not only created by great writers but they are also put together with 100% passion. As soon as I turn the first pages of these zines I am immediately hooked and pulled in by the standard of writing and the honesty behind the words. It doesn’t matter what your subject matter is, if you’re truly into it then people will be more inclined to read what you’re doing.
2: Have Fun
It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a political zine with the intention of bringing down the government or putting together a publication of jokes, writing a fanzine should be fun. If you are not enjoying the experience then you will quickly lose interest and call it a day. Try new things and experiment if you’re finding yourself in a position where you feel like giving up. If it feels as if you’re covering the same ground then go to new places.
1: Be Yourself And Shine
The biggest and best thing about a DIY zine is having the freedom to do and say exactly what you want. There are no rules and nobody to answer to so the possibilities are endless.
This is what makes the difference between the mainstream and the underground in my opinion. You don’t have to fit into any of the latest trends or fashions or work within a certain framework. Use your imagination and be you.
Rob Stone has been working tirelessly on Positive Creed Fanzine since 2001. They’re one of the most respected DIY publications around; all the articles are well-researched, well-written and full of love for DIY punk.