How to run a zine without dying: Part 4, preorders

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Now that your beautiful artwork is ready, it’s time to get the word out! In this section, we’ll cover how to create an online storefront, find vendors and estimate your product costs, price your bundles, and market the zine to the public.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. Part 1: Planning - Clarify your idea

  2. Part 2: Applications - Assemble your avengers

  3. Part 3: Production - Herd your cats

  4. Part 4: Preorders - Get that bread

  5. Part 5: Shipping and Fulfillment - Now make it


1. Finding your vendors

Your files are ready, so it’s time to find people who will make it. You have to do your own detailed research in this area, but I’ll give some tips and pointers to hopefully help you get started! For this step, you’ll have to make a very rough estimate of how many books you expect to sell.

I’ve also written a blog post with my personal recs for getting merch produced and printed here.

Book vendors

  • Small orders. Books are expensive to make, so these tend to not be profitable. Even so, you can go with a print-on-demand service used to handling small orders like Lulu, Blurb, or Barnes&Noble Press. You can also connect with a local printer who will usually give you better prices for small orders.

  • Large orders. Most vendors have a big price break at 100 copies, as that’s when bulk pricing kicks into effect. Check printers like Mixam, PrintNinja, and Printrunner for your printing needs.

Merch vendors

  • For print goods like bookmarks and prints, check printing companies like Catprint or Printrunner.

  • For charms, check Vograce, Chilly Pig, and Ink It Labs. Vograce is the only company that assembles charms for you, so keep in mind that ordering from others will require you to also buy jump rings, jewelry pliers, and straps or keychains.

  • Pins take specialized machining and lots of prep work, so they can only really be ordered in quantities of 100 or more. Check Enamel Pin Factory or Wizard Pins.

  • Buttons are sold by a variety of vendors including PureButtons and Sticker Mule.

  • You can find vendors for pretty much anything on Alibaba, a network of Chinese vendors.

Digital file vendors

  • Itch.io. With itch.io, you can create a digital product and generate digital download keys. You can then manually email these keys to customers so they can redeem it for a digital download.

  • WeTransfer. You can send files directly to customers’ emails using a file sharing service like WeTransfer. Transfers expire in 7 days.

  • Payhip or Gumroad. You can run a separate storefront for digital downloads where customers can buy the downloads directly.

Packaging vendors

  • Product packaging. Generally, the standard vendors are ClearBags for poly bags, and Vistaprint for business cards and packing slips.

  • Shipment packaging. Few orders can be supplied by Paper Mart, while lots of orders can be supplied by ULINE. If you’re looking for an eco-friendly alternative, EcoEnclose offers recycled mailers and packaging.

 

2. Setting your final budget

Now that you know who’s going to make your stuff, you can figure out how many sales you’ll need to make to not lose money.

This is an extremely important step so that you don’t have to pay tons of money out of pocket or come in at a huge loss. So even though it’s not very fun, I’m going to go into this subject in quite a bit of detail.

In general, you will need to do the following:

  1. Set the price of your zine bundles.

  2. Get quotes from your vendors so that you know your break-even point.

  3. Estimate profit margins so you can instantly know how much you’ve made.

Market value

Before we start setting zine prices, we have to know what customers are generally expecting to pay. This is where market value comes in, which basically means: how much can you sell your products for, given what your peers are selling the same products for? This is important because if your bundles are too expensive, customers will not be used to paying that amount of money and won’t buy your bundles.

Here’s some very general market prices for zines, although these will fluctuate depending on book length and size, number of items, etc:

  1. Digital only zine: ~$15

  2. Physical zine: ~$25

  3. Physical zine and selected merch: ~$35

  4. Merch only bundle: ~$30

  5. Everything bundle: ~$50

Generally speaking, you’ll want to price your products within $5 of these ranges, and no more than $10 of these ranges.

Profit Margins

So, now that you know how much your zines can plausibly sell for, it’s time to calculate the profit margin (how much profit you make) on each bundle.

Example 1

PHYSICAL ZINE + SELECTED MERCH CALCULATION
Zine production cost: $6
Charms production cost: $4
Stickers production cost: $1
Transaction fees: $1
TOTAL COST: $12

Market value: $35
PROFIT MARGIN: $23

Example 2

MERCH ONLY CALCULATION
Charms production cost: $4
Stickers production cost: $3
Enamel pin production cost: $3
Button pin production cost: $2
Transaction fees: $1
TOTAL COST: $13
Market value: $30
PROFIT MARGIN: $17

Calculating profits

Make these calculations for each bundle. I recommend compiling them into a spreadsheet that you update during preorder season, so that you can immediately see how much profit you’re making.

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3. Creating product mockups

Now that you know who’s going to make your stuff, you can create accurate mockups. Mockups are digitally-made prototypes so that customers can see what their product is going to look like. Good-looking mockups and promo graphics are very important. These are what will really sell your product. People are much more likely to purchase products with good mockups, so spend some time and energy on these.

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4. Creating promotional graphics

Now it’s time to make your promotional graphics! Chances are that you’re either getting a design mod to do this, or you’re doing it yourself with previous graphic design knowledge—so I won’t go into the technicalities of graphic design. Instead, I’m going to cover the kinds of graphics you’re going to need for preorder season.

1. Hero announcement. Large promo banner that will act as your primary and opening promo material.

1. Hero announcement. Large promo banner that will act as your primary and opening promo material.

2. Piece previews. It’s generally a good idea to put piece previews on the post, or somewhere in the thread. That way customers can see what they’re getting.

2. Piece previews. It’s generally a good idea to put piece previews on the post, or somewhere in the thread. That way customers can see what they’re getting.

3. Bundle graphics. Graphics for each of the bundles and what they contain.

3. Bundle graphics. Graphics for each of the bundles and what they contain.

4. Countdown graphics, leading up to zine orders opening and closing.

4. Countdown graphics, leading up to zine orders opening and closing.

Need inspiration? Here’s some zines that have featured awesome promo graphics!

 

5. Make an online storefront

Can you see the light at the end of the tunnel? All your prep work has paid off, and it’s time to set up an online store! There’s a lot of solutions out there, but zine organizers tend to have the following favorites:

  1. Big Cartel. This is the top zine storefront. They have a free plan as long as you have 5 or less products, they don’t charge transaction fees, they’re super easy to set up, and they look beautiful. There are only two drawbacks: 1) You can’t send tracking notifications through Big Cartel, and 2) you will have to manually fulfill digital orders.

  2. Ecwid. This is another great storefront with a free plan, no transaction fees, and up to 10 products. They have more complicated, but more customizable, shipping and product options. You can also send tracking notifications. There are two drawbacks: 1) There aren’t different appearances or themes, and 2) you will have to manually fulfill digital orders unless you pay $15 for the premium plan.

  3. Storenvy. This option is favored by a number of international sellers with a free plan, unlimited products, and a fairly customizable appearance. The main drawback is hidden fees; they charge each customer a handling fee unless you choose to pay a 6% fee. They also don’t offer automatic fulfillment for digital products.

  4. Zibbet. This option is for paid plans only at a minimum of $10/month, but it does offer unlimited products, no fees, no commissions, automatic digital product fulfillment, and tracking notifications.

When writing your product descriptions, make sure to specify that the item is a preorder item, and when it’s expected to ship.

 

6. Announcing the preorders

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It’s finally time! Go onto social media to run your countdown and scream about your zine’s preorders. Tag the following accounts (at the time of this writing) to get a little more promotional power:

  1. Tumblr. @zineapps, @zine-scene, @fandomzines, @zinewatch, @zinefeed, @zinesubmissions

  2. Twitter. @zine_apps, @ZineTown, @ZineSpotlight, @zinewatch

 

7. Expected sales trends

It’s easy to get demoralized if your zine doesn’t explode in popularity or draw in hundreds of sales (and very few of them do). In general, here’s what you can expect from the sales trends of your zine:

  1. 60% of your total orders will come in the first week.

  2. From your second week to your closing week, there will be very few orders.

  3. 40% of your orders will come in the last 3 days as the procrastinators scramble for their wallets.

As a result, don’t get too scared if you hit a dead spot in the middle. That’s the natural course of the buying cycle. While it’s a good idea to keep promotional campaigns going, such as artist spotlights, piece spotlights, or interactive posts, don’t beat yourself over the head. Preorders take patience, morale, and a solid head on your shoulders.

Preorders complete!

Phew, that was quite an info dump! I hope that the mystery of preorders is now clear and easy to navigate. While there’s quite a few moving pieces, modding just takes a bit of organization and clear thought. You can do it!

Happy modding!


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