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The Medium Is The Message

By Scott Puckett

As unpunk as it sounds, I never thought I could do my own zine. I don't know why; maybe I just didn't have enough confidence. When I started writing for them, I never thought I could do my own. At least, I didn't think I could do my own until I read an article in a zine a friend handed me which detailed every step in zine creation. It took a few weeks of research, but in a matter of a month or two, I did it. It wasn't that great (if you never saw Sick To Move #1, you aren't alone). It was thin, it had gaping white spaces everywhere ... it was wasted space and poor design. There wasn't a lot to it. The best thing about it was that I could go on to #2. However, the point is I did it and the only reason I figured I could was that article. So, in the interest of answering some letters I've gotten which asked questions about zine production, as well as encouraging people to start their own zine, here is virtually everything you need to know about creating your own.

Figure Out The Logistics

What size do you want to use? There are a number of standards for photocopiers - half size/digest, half-legal, and full size. I won't say stay away from web presses, but understand that printing 2,000 copies of a zine is going to be more expensive than doing a test run of 100 copies. On a per copy price, web press is far less expensive. To print 2,000 copies of STM with 32 pages and a size of about 10 1/2 by 8 inches including stapling costs about $400. I'm currently having it photocopied, which costs about $240 for 500 issues with 26 or 28 sides, meaning 52 or 56 pages. Call around and do some price checking. Find out how cheap you can get the rates and if there are any breaks. Do you get a discount if you provide the paper? If you're using web press and want to add color, do they offer a "house" color? Some places offer a discount if you use a standard color left in the machine after the last run which offers some flash for a small price. By figuring this out now, you have an idea of how much it will cost and how much space you can afford. You also need to figure out whether you want to charge for it, which adds a host of complications. You need to investigate consignment and find places which will allow you to do it. You'll also need to investigate distribution and find out what it means to you. Frankly, I don't charge for my zine for two reasons - First, I'm not so arrogant as to believe people should have to pay for my opinions and the opinions of the contributors, and second, I don't want the hassle of dealing with money. You need to decide whether potential added income is worth the certain added hassle.

Figure Out What You Want To Do

Is it a punk zine? Is it about anything in particular? Do you want to figure out what it's about as you go along? It's really pretty simple - you don't need to have a stated topic or goal, it just helps when you're figuring out what you want to put in your first issue. If you want to do interviews with bands, try to catch them at shows. If you're so inclined, call or write their label and see if you can set up an interview. In the case of bigger labels, they usually have at least one publicist. In the case of smaller labels, whoever answers the phone may do half the things in the office. It really isn't that difficult to do, as long as you explain what you're doing and why you want to talk to whoever it is. If this doesn't apply to you, try to think about other things you can do which might be interesting to people. Read books and try to figure out how they may relate to each other and write about it. Try to make connections between ideas which may be useful to people and help them better understand what's going on, why the world is the way it is, or why new Coke bombed. Do whatever you want, just try to make it interesting.

Do It

You've already done the hard part, now comes the easy bit. Asking people to write things for you is risky - in general, assume they're going to flake and what you asked them to write won't get done. Be prepared to write material to fill the space if it becomes necessary. However, asking people to write things also adds diversity of opinions and also takes some of the work off your shoulders. I'm beginning to regret only taking on contributors in the last few issues because I feel it was, somehow, a loss. In addition, it's just more fun to get together with friends and do these things.

Lay It Out

This is the part which was the hardest for me until just recently. Once you've figured out the dimensions, you need to fit everything for the zine in that space. Let's take 8 1/2 by 11 as an example. Your active area is going to be roughly 7 1/2 inches by 10 inches in the case of photocopying, which means you don't have the full page to work with because the photocopier has problems printing as it gets near the edges of the page. Instead, you have to leave margins to make sure the entire page gets printed. Check with wherever is doing your copying to find out what your active area is, or exactly what margins their photocopier needs to have to be able to read the entire image. Many computer printers have minimum margins which correspond to the active area for photocopiers. In my case, I use margins of .3" on the top and bottom and .7" on the left and right, which works out quite nicely. If you aren't doing this on a computer, you need to put this material together on paper and take it in. I use paper which is somewhat thicker than usual as a flat, glue sticks to adhere the document to the page, and then clear tape to make sure it stays down. Generally speaking, you will put pages on the flats as follows - let's assume you're looking down at the centerfold, and let's further assume we're dealing with pages 5, 6, 7 and 8 of a piece. With the centerfold facing up, page 6 would go on the left side, page 7 would go on the right. On turning it over, page 8 would be placed on the left side, and page 5 on the right. Feel free to take this zine apart if you need an example. This is something which is easier to see than explain.

Print It

This is relatively easy. Beyond checking the copies or the issues, there isn't much to do. As long as it isn't messed up (some common problems with photocopiers including flipping document pages, getting them off center and the like), there isn't much for you to do here.

Distribute It

If you're doing a free zine, this is cake. Take some to shows with you and pass them out. Take them to record stores and drop them off. Distro runs are a great way to meet people and make new friends. If it isn't a free zine, take them to the stores which are handling your consignments and get them to any other distributors who may be handling it. Take them to shows and sell them. I'd suggest keeping prices down, as people are more likely to buy it if it's inexpensive. I'll always buy a zine if it's 50 cents or less, usually if it's between 50 cents and $1, but after that I start looking at it to figure out whether I want to kick in my money.

Start The Next Issue

This is pretty self-explanatory. Look at what you did, figure out what, if any, mistakes you made and how you can correct them next time. Think about what you liked and what you didn't like and how you can increase the things you'll like and decrease the things you won't like in the next issue. Then get to work on it. Repeat this cycle ad infinitum. Publishing your own zine isn't that hard. It's just a matter of knowing where to look and being confident enough in your own ability to do it. So what are you waiting for? Go do it!!!

Buz's Tips For The Uninitiated

Shop around.
Talk to your printer and let them explain their technology.
Don't assume you know everything about printing.
Use your printer as a problem-solver.
Always get a proof. It may be a little extra, but this is only safety net you have to check the final product before it's done.


Active area - the actual area on the page which can be printed without being trimmed down in the case of web press or which a photocopier can read.
Camera ready - Anything a printer can put in front of a stat camera and shoot to film for press without modification on a scanner or the like.
Consignment - a deal with a store which allows you to put your good on their shelves. Generally, you split the money with the store.
Flats - thicker paper which text and photos are placed on for printing purposes.
Plate - an 8 page combination which is printed together. Usually, the front, inside front, back, inside back, doubletruck (the centerfold) and the pages on the back of the doubletruck compose a plate. If you buy color for a plate, you can usually use the color on all pages on the plate.
Saddle stitching - A form of binding which essentially "stitches" a piece of metal through the spine of a zine. It is similar to stapling, but different in that the machine "sews" the pages together.
Spot color - color selectively applied to a page to enhance the page appearance. It may appear in a title, a name or something similar. It does not mean the entire page is covered with the color.
Web press - a type of printing machine which prints the document on a roll of paper, as opposed to individual pages.

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Last modified on Wednesday, March 26, 2008