How to run a zine without dying: Part 1, Planning
Hi ya’ll! I recently organized my first zine project, Seasons: a Nozaki zine, and learned a great deal. So here’s a detailed walkthrough on how to mod a zine for anyone who might be interested!
For those who may not know, fanzines are projects where fans gather to create a collaborative artbook, which is distributed as a limited run doujin/fanbook.
Table of Contents
1. It All Starts with an Idea
So, you’ve woken up seized by an amazing, exciting, totally foolproof idea.
Maybe you want to create a zine where the Love Live girls are superheroes, or where Animal Crossing citizens are horrifically psychotic, or where the characters from Persona 5 are unicorns.
Either way, it’s likely that you’re starting a zine because you feel a huge passion for a particular game, product, or character. And that’s awesome! So let’s think about what you’ll need to make this happen.
2. Fleshing Out Your Idea
There are three things you’ll want to think about when you solidify the idea for your zine: Concept, Budget, and Scale.
Concept: Is this fresh, and is this clear?
You want to make sure that the idea behind your zine is two things: fresh, and clear.
Freshness - You will have a hard time getting applications and selling your zine if there’s nothing special about your zine. For example, there’s probably 50 billion different BNHA zines out there, so be sure to think of something specific or new. BNHA and secret agents? BNHA and fairy tales? BNHA and a zombie apocalypse? If you pick a well-known franchise, be sure to find a secondary concept that can set your zine apart.
Clarity - You will have a hard time promoting your zine if the idea is too vague. For example, let’s say you’re a fan of Cells At Work, so you want to make a Cells At Work zine. But what does that mean, exactly? Is it about a specific character? Will there be ships, or no ships? Is it the canon setting, or are AUs allowed? The lack of clarity will confuse both applying artists and your customers on the nature of the zine.
Budget: How popular do you expect the zine to be?
It’s hard to tell immediately off the bat, but you should start thinking about money now so that you won’t run into trouble later. I’ll dive more into pricing and quotes later, but here’s some good points to consider:
Popular franchises will tend to sell better than niche ones.
Zines with some sort of function (cookbooks, playing card decks, workbooks) will tend to sell better than pure illustration books.
Something that I didn’t learn until later - The anime/manga audience is more accustomed to pirating, while the video game audience is more accustomed to buying. Zines centered around games will tend to sell better than zines centered around anime.
Why do we have to think about budget right now? It is standard to provide contributing artists with a free copy of the zine and/or accompanying merch. This means that you have a minimum cost that you need to earn. If you predict your zine having a small budget, then you need to accept fewer artists. Conversely, if you predict your zine making a lot of sales, you can accept a greater number of artists.
Scale: How many artists can you accept?
This point is intricately tied with Budget. As I mentioned, you need to form a really general estimate of the popularity of the zine in order to figure out how many artists you can accept to your zine project.
You are responsible for finding the proper vendors and quotes and forming accurate estimations, but in general:
You need at least a 1:1 ratio of artists to customers to come close to breaking even.
Books are expensive to print. You will need to print at least a total of 50 to break even (if you choose to provide a free copy of the zine).
Depending on the franchise, 40-75% of your artists will be international, so shipping will be one of your biggest costs. International shipping from the U.S. costs between $12-$20 per package just to ship!
Sales numbers are highly variable. Seasons Zine made 54 sales. Popular zine projects, like the GBF tarot zine or FE arcana project, made more than 500 sales. Other zines I have been in have made anywhere from 12 to 180 sales.
Zines often pick anywhere from 12-24 artists. Zines on the larger end may accept 48, although this or any larger is rare.
3. Interest Checks
It’s always hard to accurately predict the demand or market for any product, and a zine is no exception. That’s why, if you’d like, you can run an interest check.
An interest check is a short survey that is filled out by artists and customers (but the majority of submissions are usually from interested artists). It attempts to gather the numbers on how many people would be interested in contributing or buying the zine. Furthermore, if there’s anything you’re debating on the concept (e.g. to ship or not to ship, that is the question), you can always throw that question on the survey to see what the general populace wants.
The interest check is usually a Google form that is distributed on an original Twitter or Tumblr account for the zine.
Here’s some sample questions you could put on your interest check as you desire:
Are you interested in being a contributor, or buying the zine?
Would you like a physical zine, digital zine, or both?
Would you be interested in merchandise? If so, what kind?
Should there be ships?
What theme / concept would you prefer?
Interest checks tend to not gather a ton of submissions, but the data you get can still be very useful.
You’re well on your way!
Congrats! You made it through the first part, so give yourself a pat on the back and a confetti cannon!
Running a zine can seem overwhelming at first. Even this breakdown and walkthrough can look intimidating. Honestly, though, if you feel scared, you can always start with a small zine that is more manageable.
I jumped headlong into modding a big zine with 43 whopping artists, 52 pages of illustrations, and 8 pieces of merch for my first experience. But the only reason why I didn’t die was because I had a lot of previous experience as a project manager. And even with all that experience, I still ran into unexpected difficulties.
You can always get started by applying as a mod for another zine project. This gives you a secure place to dip your toe into the zine field. Since you will work with a team of mods, everyone will be overseeing a different area, meaning that one person isn’t overloaded with all the work of running a zine. This is honestly one of the best opportunities for anyone interested in running a zine.
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