The Five Rules of Writing a ‘Zine
There’s nothing I love more than reading someone else’s ‘zine. Some people would call other zines competition, but I don’t. If anything, I would call them inspiration- they alert me to new bands, give me ideas for design, and let me be a consumer instead of a reporter for a while. I love it. Straight-up love it.
That’s why it hurts me so much to see ‘zines that fail. I cringe when I go to a ‘zine that has one writer who absolutely loves music but doesn’t have time to keep up the site. The few articles stored there may be simply amazing, but if there’s not a drive to keep it going, the site crumbles.
That’s why I’ve put together this checklist of “Things to Know and Do Before You Start a Zine.”
1. Dedicate yourself to the zine. Priority number one is this: do not give up on your ‘zine. Dedication is key- if you love your ‘zine, you will keep it going. If you love other stuff more, your ‘zine will fall by the wayside, and you’ll lose all of the money you put into the design and the hosting and the domain name. Dedication isn’t just a mindset, though- it’s committing to a plan of action. Figure out what you want to accomplish before you start and work to get there. Do not just start a ‘zine to start a ‘zine- that’s a sure recipe for failure.
Here at the IC we pretty much love everything about our ‘zine. We love writing, we love the bands we write about, we love contacting the bands we write about, we love the design of the site we eventually put our writing on. We just love everything about this ‘zine. That’s not to say it’s perfect or that we couldn’t love it more, but at the moment we take great pleasure in what our ‘zine is.
2. Have a focus. If there isn’t a specific genre or subculture that you consistently want to keep reporting on, there’s a good chance you’ll lose interest and the site will fall into disarray. If you just love music, but you love all types of music indiscriminately, you might be better off writing for an already-established zine or cultivating your interests in music more.
Here at the IC we focus on bands that have received little or no exposure- we have a passion for bands that haven’t been heard and it’s that passion that keeps us going. 3. Make the zine operate on a schedule that you can consistently make. If you say that you’ll have a CD review every week, have a CD review every week. If you’re going to post stuff every month, post every month. If you don’t, then people will start to wonder what happened. If you’re consistent in posting material, there are people who will be consistent in reading it. If things fall through, but you really were planning on it, just post a note on your site that says “Vacationing in the Swiss Alps for a month” or “Broke all fingers on right hand, can’t update” or “Carrying 24 hours this semester due to computer error.” Your readers will understand, and you’ll probably retain some of them. Always post something, though- if you don’t post regularly, you will lose readership. It’s that simple.
Here at the IC we update in the last week of the month. Our goal is the third Sunday of the month, but usually it’s sometime in the last full week of the month.
4. Have promotion ideas to reach your group. If you’re a punk ‘zine, hit up the punk shows, the skateparks, and the skateshops. Posting flyers at a coffee shop for your punk zine is not going to be very effective, let me tell you. Then again, an indie-kid leaving business cards at a body-piercing joint isn’t going to work very well either. Find where your audience is and advertise there. Don’t waste your time in the wrong places. And trust me, even if there are 1700 people there, spreading flyers for a bisexual folk singer at a Christian pop-punk show is not going to increase the amount of people at the coffeehouse (I wish I was kidding).
Here at the IC, we hit up the purevolume.com general promo boards pretty hard. It’s basically the first stop for bands with recorded music, seeing as posting three songs is free and promoting yourself on the message boards is as easy as having an e-mail address and a name. We find a LOT of new stuff there. We also make ourselves known in the local scenes, getting the word out to bands that haven’t made it past the local ‘converted-shop’ venue (every scene has at least one).
5. Get some people to help out. Once you’ve got the idea going, make it bigger. Post an all-call for writers. At first you should take whatever applications come your way, but eventually you’ll be able to get selective. Once you have turned those applications into staff, you’re ready to take some of the load off of your back and spread it out amongst your writers. At first you won’t have any more pages than you already did, but you’ll have a lot less work on your back. All things grow, though- and soon you’ll be putting out way more than you ever did on your own, and you won’t be as heavily taxed as you were in the beginning.
The IC has pretty much the best staff in the world. From top to bottom, I’m pretty thrilled with the staff we have collected over the years. Hardworking, talented, and in tune with the IC’s vision, they pretty much can be counted on for anything I give them. That’s not to say that we couldn’t tighten up a couple spots and maybe add a few more staff, but right now, we’re thrilled.
And that’s the five steps to rocking a zine. Whether it be punk, metal, emo, grind, folk, indie-pop, electronica, guitar, bass, drums, whatever floats your boat, you can make a zine work if you know what to do. And now you know. So go do it.