Been There, Zine That

Absolute Blank

By Stephanie Lenz (Baker)

Looking for something fun and different as a spring project? Feel crafty? Want someone to read your stuff? Why not create a zine?

A zine? What’s a zine?

edenzine cover

Physically, a zine (pronounced like the end of “magazine”) is handmade publication, a small journal, that averages about $0.50-$3.00 to buy but that you could have acquired through a trade or from a pass-it-along. It is, above all, a labor of love. A kind of craft project with greater purpose. Art within art, so to speak.

Think of craft and art projects you did in elementary school. I attended a lot of different elementary schools and at all of them we made our own books from scratch. Covers, content, photos and all. Condense those to about half or a quarter their size and you have a zine.

Anyone with a passion she wants to share can do so with a zine. The most popular topics of zines are writing, photography, and art. As Toasted Cheese is a writing site, this article approaches zine creation from the point of view of a writer. You can always add other media, like photos, to your zine but a writer’s zine concentrates on the written word.

The best way to discover what a zine can be is to read some. The zine community is open and welcoming. You can order (or trade) zines for next to nothing. Check out the sources at the end of the article for “distros” or distributors of zines and the section “How do I get my zine out there?” for possible sources in your town.

There is no set of rules for a zine. Zines can be done entirely by one person or they can be made by a collective. You can have a theme to your zine, a theme for each issue or no theme at all. You can collect your fiction and your travelogues into an issue. You could have nothing but poetry cover-to-cover. Just do original material, which is what you want to put out there anyway—being the creative person you are, and you can’t go wrong.

There is no age limit for creating a zine. The “zine scene” is not reserved for “young hipsters” nor is it something exclusive for “established” artists to create. All you really need is something to write on, something to write with, and something to write.

Been There, Zine That

Can I read zines online?

Technically an online publication, like Toasted Cheese, is an e-zine. A zine is tangible. Some zines may have an online version as well or the author/creator may have a website that is a separate creation from the zine. Many zines, like Artitude have a website from which you may order copies or view the most recent content. The website does not replace the zine.

I think what defines a zine is that it is a physical, one-of-a-kind tangible item. Some zinesters might disagree and that’s what makes a zine a great project: it’s what you decide it should be.

edenzine inside

What do I put in my zine?

Zines are all about content so this should come first, not what kind of cover you want or how much money you think you’ll make off your zine.

Let’s go through the process with an imaginary wannabe-zinester named Cindy Jones who will show us what one person might do.

Cindy asks herself, “What would I like to publish? Short stories? Poems? Essays? Rants? Reprints of my blog entries? Recipes? How-to articles? Political opinion?” She decides to publish some of her short fiction-writing exercises that read like complete stories. She thinks they’re entertaining but maybe not what she wants to send out for publication credits.

What else is in the zine besides stories/poems?

Besides the entertainment content of her zine, Cindy might wants to include contact information about herself—be smart when deciding what kind of info to include in your zine. Since Cindy intends to produce several more zines and to try to make a small profit, she rents a P.O. Box to use for her contact address. In the zine, she includes an e-mail address she intends to use for a long time. Cindy also adopts a pen name, “Cinda Smith,” for fun and for privacy reasons.

Include a table of contents, an issue and volume number, a title and a copyright date. There is nothing special you need to do to copyright your zine or anything you write. Once you’ve created it, the copyright is yours. You might want to steer clear of using copyrighted images in your zine. When in doubt, use clipart, “public domain” images or images you’ve created. If you have questions about copyright, check out our links section.

Everything is ready for printing… or is it?

Use online communities like Toasted Cheese or one that is zine-specific to get ideas for your content if you’re not sure where to start or what to include. Post a couple of stories and ask what people think. In general, zinesters are open to constructive critique. There are zine review resources (also great for publicity) and zine events open to anyone in every part of the world, many of which are listed online.

It sounds like fun, but I could use a couple of ideas

Okay, how about starting with a topic or a theme that links the content? Here are some possible topics and/or themes for your zine:

Union Change Elements Seeds
Pink Hometown Market Pets
Family Names Sin Envy

Anything can be a theme or a topic. Consider grabbing some existing pieces you want to include and see if they have a common thread; if you don’t see anything in common, ask a friend for an opinion. Of course, you don’t need to have a theme or a topic for your zine but it can be a good way to get started.

How do I physically create the zine?

Once she’s selected and edited her stories, Cindy gathers them together and arranges them in Word, deciding which stories best follow others and how they fill the pages, using a template to lay out her e-zine. She picks up her copy of Stolen Sharpie Revolution by Alex Wrekk and checks out these templates:

Stolen Sharpie Revolution

Most of Cindy’s stories are flash, so she uses a quarter-size template, with some clip art and doodles to fill in the spaces. She edits the stories and tweaks them until she gets them how she wants. She prints them out on her computer printer.

Cindy has her friend Ellie glance over the manuscript for typos and other quick-edit help. She includes her contact info and prices her zine at $0.65. She bases her price on her production cost and on the length of her zine. The highest-quality and/or most popular publications fetch more than $2.

Cindy finds a deal on pink copy paper at her local office supply store and uses it for her cover. On white paper, she creates a cover with the title, issue and volume numbers, her pen name and a photo and copies it onto the pink. Then she assembles 20 copies of her zine, with Ellie’s help and a large stapler. She adds a colorful rubber stamped image to each cover, adding another layer of personality.

How much does it cost to make a zine?

As Cindy discovered, you can copy your pages for less than $.05 per page at places like Kinko’s, Staples, Office Max, or any local copy shop. It’s easy to go crazy with making your covers (and envelopes) and spend more than you intend to on the presentation but if you’re doing a zine for the physical creation as well as the content, it can be a fun hobby. Check out scrapbook stores for some interesting papers and for design help, including templates, stickers, diecuts, dimensional pens, and all kinds of goodies. Even a drop or swipe of your trademark nail polish (or a lip print in a favorite color) can add a “bit o’ something” to a zine cover.

How do I get my zine out there?

Never comfortable approaching strangers, Cindy decides to go the “distro” route. A “distro” is a distributor. They work kind of like clearing houses or middlemen in the zine chain. How did Cindy get her zine to the distro? Like this:

  • Same as she would with a journal she would submit a story to, she checks to see that the distro is accepting submissions. If so, she follows all the guidelines for submitting her zine.
  • Cindy noted whether the distro sends zines to prisoners. That’s not something she’s comfortable with, so she told her distro (there is more information about this in Stolen Sharpie Revolution, a must-read for anyone considering doing a zine).
  • She set a wholesale rate, for distros or stores buying several copies of her zine. This should be around 50% of the cover price.

Ellie was so inspired that she also creates a zine but she decides to use her people skills to go straight to the sellers in her town. She takes her zine to independent bookstores, music stores, the place where she buys her incense, anyplace that seems to have a clientele interested in her zine’s content.

A small bookstore agrees to take ten copies on consignment. This means that they take the zines and pay Ellie nothing. She gets paid if/when a copy of the zine sells.

Ellie writes up an invoice for the store which says that she will check back every thirty days for any sales. She and the shop owner agree to a 60/40 split with Ellie getting 60% of the cover price of any sales of her zine. Other selling options might be payment upfront (you get $X and the store/distro gets the zines to pass along), trade or credit.

There is a lot of work involved with the business end of your zine. To go over all of it would take a separate article. Consult the resources at the end of the article for more “how-to” about marketing your zine.


That’s exactly what Cindy and Ellie said. As a writer, you’re familiar with the idea that difficult work can be highly rewarding and enjoyable. You’re also a creative person. Putting your skills together to create a zine is one way you can express yourself while trying something new.


DIY, the Zine Community and Etiquette:


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