The Ultimate Guide to Starting a Zine

There has surely been a point in all our lives where we really wanted to get something off our chest. And not just to one or two people, but to as many people as possible. It’s surely why Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have done so well over the past decade. It’s certainly why blogs became such a big thing in the early 2000s (and onwards!). But these platforms, while not exactly dropping in popularity, seem to have become very saturated – and people are beginning to look towards new methods of connecting with others.

Of course, there are plenty of uses for social media and blogging that go beyond personal use and creativity. Businesses use these platforms to great extents. But there are a lot of business owners out there who are looking for a new and exciting way of connecting to their most loyal customers, as well as turning eyes to their brand that may never have looked their way previously.

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So it’s pretty clear that Tweets and Facebook status updates aren’t always enough. Sure, you could look into starting your own website or writing for a blog. Those are definitely great ways to connect with an audience. But zines – smaller-scale versions of magazines – are becoming more popular these days. They’re a unique way to get your creations out there, as well as getting word about your brand. Check out this guide to getting started.

Pick the subject

Zines are generally noted for being centred quite closely on one specific subject. Of course, this is true of most publications. Magazines, for example, are largely based around one medium such as fashion or music. But with a zine, you have less room to meander. Magazines will generally cover a bunch of subjects, albeit ones related in some way to their “main” subject. You have to pick a topic you love enough to focus on for 12-24 pages.

So what’s it going to be? Business? Punk rock? Horror movies? Bizarro fiction? A mix of all four? See if you can find a niche or a new approach to a widely-covered subject.

Gauge interest

The next step is to see how far a reach you think this zine could have. This is also a good way of gauging what kind of things people would like to see in such a publication. As you’re going to be doing something very small-scale (at least at first), the best people to speak to are your friends. If you have any online followers, you may want to speak to them, too.

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Go online and see if you can find any information about other zines in your area. While zines have gained popularity in the age of social media (oddly enough), they’re still not exactly ubiquitous. The chances are high that you’re the only one making a zine in your area, let alone a zine of your particular subject! Having said that, you should be considering the potential for an expanded audience in the future.

Create content

What kind of content are you going to have? News stories? Opinions and think pieces? Poems and short stories? Artwork? Many contemporary zines employ a mixture of all of these things. Decide what you want to fill your zine with, then get to creating as much content as you can. You should aim to create enough content to fill several issues of a zine, then comb through it all and pick the best stuff.

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For this stage, you’ll also need to have worked out whether or not you’re going it alone. If you are then that could be a pretty heavy workload. But you could look into getting submissions for the next zine if you so wish. Alternatively, you can accept submissions from the beginning during the “gauging interest” phase. You could also choose to work as part of a team, bringing a friend or two on board. If your zine is geared towards business interests or you’re looking to promote your brand, then you might want to consider working with copywriting experts. Remember that this isn’t going to be a big publication (physical size-wise), so take care not to invite too many cooks into the kitchen!

Adding goodies

A lot of zines just come as-is, with no supplementary material or gifts. Whether or not you want to continue this trend is, of course, up to you. But there are a few zines out there who take a route akin to that of magazines. They’ll come with small items relevant to the subject material.

If you’re making a music zine, then this kind of thing can definitely work in your favour. Let’s say you’re doing a zine about the local music scene. (Not a bad idea – you already have a guaranteed audience, i.e. the local music scene!) You could include some CDs with the zine that includes music from local unsigned bands. Producing a bunch of CDs will be a lot cheaper than you think, and getting the music shouldn’t be too difficult if the bands have recorded material. (You are, of course, going to want to focus on unsigned bands if you don’t want to get into legal trouble!) DVDs are also an option if you want to include footage of business seminars.

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Heading to print

As the circulation of your zine is going to be pretty small, getting it printed should be quick and inexpensive. It is here, of course, that you’ll need to decide just how many you’re going to print. Is there a magic formula that will help you work out without error just how many you’ll need? Unfortunately, no. It will depend to a great extent how many people you’ve already planned to send it to. You may want to consider printing that number of copies and then an additional third of that number. Again, that’s not a formula everyone works with – you’ll have to work it out yourself as you go along!

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Don’t feel pressured to print too many. Remember: as long as you have the original documents, you can always make more copies. So while it’s good to have some spare in case you have unexpected interest, don’t go ahead and print a thousand copies. It might end up costing more than the eventual readership will justify! Once you’ve printed the copies you need, either hand them to your readers in person or send them by mail to people who are out of immediate reach.

If you’re producing zines as part of your business strategy, then sending them out to subscribers is a good idea. This can also work as incentive to subscribe to your business’s mailing list! You should also consider bringing a bunch of copies along with you when you have events to attend. If you produce something particularly eye-catching and bring them to a trade show as a giveaway, for example, then you could attract more people to your stall than with the usual gimmicky giveaways other businesses use!

Getting the word out

Okay, by distributing your zine you’re already technically “getting the word out”. But what I’m referring to here, specifically, is letting more people know about your zine. In other words, we’re talking about marketing!

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Of course, much of the ethos of a zine involves small readerships and limited advertising. But that doesn’t mean you should keep its presence hidden completely. Start up a website and a Twitter account for your publication. These things can help bring the mood of your zine onto the Internet. It will also help you catch the attention of passers-by, especially friends of friends!

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