This resource offers gives you tools to plan, execute, and deliver a fanzine that is enjoyable to participate in and worth paying for.
Explore the links above for guides, sample emails, spreadsheet templates, and more that will help you create and manage a successful fanzine. If you have any feedback, feel free to email [email protected].
NOTE: This guide defines "fanzine" as a professionally printed collection of art and/or writing by multiple contributors that is distributed at cost to customers.
4 hard questions to ask yourself before starting your fanzine
Making a modern, high-quality fanzine is hard work. It requires managing 10-40 people over at least 6 months, making and sticking to a budget, tracking communications, resolving conflicts, working within constraints, and delivering a quality product to paying customers.
Not everyone is cut out to do this. Them’s just the facts. Here are some difficult questions to ask yourself before you embark on your fanzine-making journey.
If you answer “no” to any of these questions, you should think hard about whether you’re capable of making a fanzine. You can, of course, ignore this advice, and still make a fabulous product. I will happily applaud you.
1. Do I have (at least) $500 to burn?
As with any business venture, making a fanzine means you should be prepared to invest and lose money. There are many costs you need to cover upfront, i.e., before you have received any payment for the fanzine.
2. Am I ready to tell myself and others no?
A successful fanzine leader must know when to say no, how to say no, and to say no. Running a fanzine requires you to be honest with yourself and others about what you can take on, what you think they can take on, whether you think they will deliver, whether an idea is possible or worth executing, etc.
Consider: Making a fanzine means managing 20-40 people for 6+ months. It means building a budget, a timeline, applications, and more. It means making judgement calls about exceptions, changes, alterations, what information to share, how to share it, whether someone has broken the rules….
If you cannot say no when it counts (i.e., if you prefer to be a people pleaser), you will most likely end up with a @!$#ing disaster on your hands (angry participants and customers, low quality content, unshipped products, etc.).
3. Do people want to buy my fanzine?
Running a successful fanzine means running a fanzine that people want to buy. Making sure there’s a market for your fanzine will also save you from losing money and winding up with 200 boxes of fanzines and merch overwhelming your living room with no one to buy them.
4. Is my fanzine idea unique, or does it have a unique value add?
When you come up with a fanzine idea, always consider: Why should people buy your zine if there are similar zines available? Depending on your fandom, there could be 1 or 100 other fanzines going on at the same time as yours. There is a very real possibility that one of those already-in-production fanzines is the exact same as your idea.
Do your research. Make sure you’re not replicating a product (yes, a fanzine is a product), and if you are, figure out what your unique value add can/will be.
Another way to increase the uniqueness or appeal of a fanzine is to see if any popular artists and writers are willing to commit to participating upfront. These are often called "feature contributors."
Planning your fanzine
Before you run an interest check, it's good to outline the key points of your fanzine. This will help people determine if they want to buy and whether they can participate in the fanzine! This includes naming your fanzine, building a budget, and creating an initial project timeline.
Questions to ask yourself at this stage of the process include:
What will my fanzine be called?
How will I fund my fanzine?
When will my fanzine be released?
What kind of work will I feature in my fanzine?
What format will my final fanzine be?
What will I do with the profits from my fanzine?
Will I compensate contributors?
Do I need co-moderators/editors?
Do I want to include merchandise with your fanzine?
How much will it cost to produce my ideal zine?
Are there specific people I really want to participate in my zine?
Gauging interest in your fanzine
Interest checks are polls or surveys that help you gauge whether there are enough people interested in buying and/or contributing to your zine that it’s worth making!
You should run an interest check before committing to making a fanzine. In combination with a cost projection based on the results, your interest check will help you determine whether you can produce a fanzine without losing money.
This means you should also have a rough (but not necessarily final) idea of how much it would cost to produce your ideal fanzine, including merchandise. This will help you determine whether the level of interest in your zine (and willingness to buy your zine at a certain price) will cover production costs.
Remember: It's okay to walk away from an idea! It might not be the right time, or it might be too niche. In the former case, perhaps you can do the project at a different scale or decide to do it not for profit.
Branding & marketing your fanzine
Now that your fanzine has a market and a name, it's time to do the difficult (but fun) work of branding and marketing your fanzine so you can tell the world it's happening.
The goal of marketing your fanzine is to build trust and relationships with potential contributors and buyers.
The easiest way to reach fans who may want to buy and participate your zine is through social media: Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook groups, Reddit, and anywhere else your fanzine's fandom may congregate online.
To effectively brand and market your fanzine, you need to think like a social media strategist and...
Create a visual identity for your fanzine
Post regularly and frequently
Post content about the fandom in general, not just your fanzine
Engage with other members of the fandom
Selecting your contributors
Contributors are the most important part of your fanzine. Without contributors, you have nothing to put in your fanzine and nothing to sell!
First, you need to choose your contributors. This usually means opening your fanzine up to applicants:
Communicating with your contributors
Gaining the trust and confidence of your contributors is critical to the success of your fanzine. You want your contributors to be informed and excited about the fanzine. A happy contributor meets deadlines, shares information about the zine, and produces their best work.
Guide: Communicating with contributors
Guide: Check-ins and why they're important
Sample email: Welcome to selected participants
Sample email: Check-in reminder
Sample email: Final works due reminder
Sample email: How to get your copy of the zine
Shipping your fanzine
Last but definitely not least, these documents will help you get the actual products you will mail people and then avoid a shipping nightmare.
(Coming soon!) Shipping considerations
(Coming soon!) Shipping supplies
So you want to know the asshole behind this colorful, fun-loving, not at all tedious, scary, or spreadsheet-heavy resource?
I am Meta, aka metaandpotatoes, a sentient potato who likes to smash words together until they break. I also really like spreadsheets. And creating things that people are happy and proud to own.
I have headed 2 fanzines, and received multiple remarks from contributors that each was the smoothest/easiest fanzine experience they have had:
Onigiri Miya: The Unofficial Cookbook
Onigiri Miya: The Unofficial Cookbook is a 76-page Haikyuu!! fanzine featuring art, recipes, and writing by 12 collaborators. Among the contributors was a social media moderator, who managed the Instagram, Tumblr, and copyediting process.
851 units were sold. The project grossed roughly 43,000 USD and netted roughly 15,000 USD, with 45% of the profits split among contributors.
Profits could have been increased by offering a group order discount for international customers and/or charging slightly more ($12, instead of $10) for U.S. shipping. The latter would have helped offset the losses suffered by keeping shipping affordable for individual international buyers.
Rebirth Dilemma is a 126-page Neon Genesis Evangelion fanzine featuring 36 collaborators (7 writers, 28 artists, and 1 musical artist). While the fanzine was initially managed with one other person, I took over the project entirely after contributors were chosen.
189 units were sold. The project grossed roughly 7,000 USD, with 500 USD donated to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Profits were limited in large part due to a rookie move: Charging too little for shipping.
If you have any suggestions for how to improve this resource, please email [email protected]