What Zines Will Teach You About Publishing

Written by Paul White

The Sticky Institute 

The Sticky Institute 

Trying to get published is about as fun as looking for a job or trying to find a place to live. And just like becoming self-employed or building your own house, publishing your own writing is a lot of work that won’t necessarily end up how you planned. But self-publishing does have a cute friend you can hang out with—zine making.

Zines are like dreams. Short, generally confusing and you’re left wondering what the hell they were all about. Zines are fucking awesome. They are also terrible. Zines are a bit like tagging, as they are often the first step people make on their way to becoming artists. Since they are often made by ‘early career’ artists, (otherwise known as young people) they can be not so great, but personally my writing was a bit hit and miss when I was seventeen.

I used to make zines, but I’m all grown up now

Not every poem or short story I read is amazing, just as not every zine I read blows my mind. But every now and then I come across one that is a joy to read, perhaps because of just one page or an idea, or maybe the whole thing is a delight from cover to cover.

Everyone takes something different away from a zine, but the person who usually gets the best deal is the creator. Beyond their intrinsic value as pieces of writing and art objects, making zines can teach you about how the publishing world works. Want to practice layout? Make a zine. Want to learn about design? Make a zine. Want to learn about distribution? Make a zine.

Back to basics

Zines give you the freedom to experiment with style. ‘Sniffin’ glue’,was the first punk fanzine [http://www.punkjourney.com/fanzines.php] published by Mark Perry after seeing the Ramones play in London in 1976. The template it set out is still a mainstay of zines today (40 years later), it’s the most basic layout you can get. Not pretty, but that’s the point.

Back to the future

If you do care about design then look at the work of David Carson on ‘Ray Gun [http://www.designishistory.com/1980/ray-gun/] which was based on taking a ‘cut-and-paste-do-anything’ ethos and applying it to a professional magazine. Sometimes unreadable, but great to look at.

Back to black

Or you can get back to the classics with Jan Tschichold, who published ‘Die Neue Typographie’ [http://www.designishistory.com/1920/jan-tschichold/] in 1928. His study of the golden canon of page construction [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canons_of_page_construction] can help your work achieve a classic feel without too much effort.

Distribution, distribution, distribution

How many places are there that stock zines? Sticky Institute is the best zine store in the world. But unless you are in Melbourne you can’t visit it, so you need to get involved in a zine distro [http://www.secretsofthephotocopier.com/distros/] A distro is a collective or really keen individual that distributes physical copies of zines around the world, just like an indie record label. Great for learning about the mechanics of shipping heavy paper items around the world.

Apart from being lots of fun, attending a zine fair is a great exercise in point of sale marketing. People are easily distracted by shiny things and gimmicks, so colour covers, inserts and extras will boost your sales. When your zine is sitting on the shelf alongside hundreds of others, ask yourself how is it going to stand out?

What’s in it for me?

Zines are around the bottom of the arts food chain. They are either free or sell for cost price. This makes them a good object lesson in the market forces that rule the publishing world. Zine makers certainly are not in it for the money. Any zine that costs more than $5 had better offer something special. And if you don’t recoup the cost of production for your zine, remember that running a zine-making workshop for high school kids can be a great way to help pay the rent. But at the end of the day, as much as zines have taught me about proofing, layout, printing and distribution, I keep making zines because I just love making zines.