The Organization Mod Guide
This is the section which should explain how to make a zine.
The truth is, there are so many ways to go about it, that so long as you:
Pick something you feel like makes sense to YOU (or your team, if you have one; you are doing the work, after all)
Have a plan, including contingency plans; see the fundamentals section “Managing Risk”.
Don’t stop doing the work (Failure point #1); see the fundamentals section “Workload management”.
Don’t break up with your team or your contributors (Failure point #2); see the fundamentals section “Working in a Team” and “Contributor Management”
Your zine will not end horribly.
Your zine will be fine.
Earlier in this guide we mentioned we won't specifically write “the usual way” of making zines. Different types of zines have different operations. Do some thinking and research to work out what will suit your project and your mods’ timelines.
Assuming you have a mod team, it is worthwhile to discuss each stage of the zine with them so that everyone is on the same page. Contributors will be looking at your team to work out what to do next. Do you mind them seeing four mods asking basic operational questions at each other in the public channels rather than in the mod chat?
Something like contributor spotlights were barely a thing a few years ago; now they’ve become so prevalent that if a zine doesn’t have contributor spotlights, some contributors will be quite upset about it and lose trust in your ability to deliver.
Definitions of zine success will change as the ways zines change, and we expect it to continue changing.
Operational guides (How to do things)
Contains a combination of advice, instructions, and enough template information to set up a zine. Recommended for newbies or people who prefer simpler language. This guide is 3 years old. Please be warned that there are opinions on ship politics present in part #11.
This is positioned as a guide for 30+ people art zines. Covers specifications, timeline, required roles. Has lists, bullet points, a breakdown of roles, and lots of colours. Last updated in February 2021.
Carrie seems to have infodumped everything they know onto a page, and bless them. They have formal training in areas congruent to running zines and it shows. The end result is an extremely dense and comprehensive 22 page document on zine operations with scatterings of language you can put on your CV. Last updated in 2018.
Petitecreme’s guide - USD$5
An informative, illustrated guide about producing self-published zines and being a project manager in a zine with contributors. Created by someone with 10 years of experience producing zines and comics. Published in 2018.
*** A reminder that we do not cover some specifics in this website. The pre-2020 guides are still relevant from an operations standpoint, please refer to them. The rest of this site contains our additional information updated to 2021-2022.
Extra tips for applications
Inform applicants of what you expect and what they should expect so they do not get unwelcome surprises.
This can be a simple list of requirements and how judging will work.
It's not necessary, but some zines go the extra mile to write an information page for contributors:
Before the creation period tends to be the period where there is the most potential for drama. Be mindful of how you communicate to everyone.
Be mindful of how your project comes across during applications. It will affect the applicants you receive.
Averaging error can cause odd results if using a 0-3 No/Maybe/Yes point scoring system; we recommend 0-4 No/Maybe/Yes/Must Have. While this reduces errors in the first round, it’s important to ensure any mods with a strong vision towards the final product always make notes as they are voting and check the final result (to discuss).
If expecting >100 applicants, you will want your mods to start voting before apps close.
If >200 applicants, it can be more time-efficient to have one mod culling No’s in advance if some mods are yet to catch up to voting.
(These thresholds will change depending on mod voting speeds.)
If you’re familiar with mail merge tools, and want to put in some effort, it can be worthwhile to write individual notes to go in acceptance/rejection emails.
(Remember to keep in mind that people may react unexpectedly to personalised mail.)
Decide now if you will be giving assignments after acceptance.
Decide now the process contributors will use for claiming assignments and when in the timeline the claims will happen.
On one project, spreadsheet functions were used to make an auto-counter, allowing contributors to view character distribution while they were considering concepts:
D1="Furuya Rei ("&COUNTIF(D2:D,TRUE)&")"
Extra tips for creation
Make a master spreadsheet of contributor details. All information should be in this spreadsheet, and it must be kept updated. Finding information about your contributors later is not a pleasant experience and increases the risk of error.
Contributors will be weighing the zine up in the first few days; proper onboarding will improve a contributor’s overall experience. Make sure the mod team welcomes them in; first impressions are everything when it comes to who the contributors feel like they can contact later.
Remember the process for assignments? Make sure all the mods know this. Someone will ask about it when the only person online is the person who doesn’t know the answer.
Information for contributors should be easily accessible. Some zines will also make a Contributor Handbook/Guidebook with all information; sometimes as an external link to a document, or as just blocks of text in a dedicated info channel. This should contain, at a minimum:
Schedule (Check-in dates? Final submission?)
File delivery specifications (Dimensions? Filetype?)
Submission method (Shared folder? Forms? Email? WeTransfer?)
Where they can ask questions (or who to ask questions to)
What they should do if they need an extension
Similarly, make sure all the mods also know how check-ins and final submissions will work, even if they are not responsible for the process of checking.
Someone should check that the contributors’ pieces are to spec during the early stages.
Even if you have contributors check their own credits, make sure there’s also a mod checking that the icons are correct and the credits were not misspelled on graphics/the final PDF.
Extra tips for post-creation
If you designate a channel at the end of creation and put a message in it as simple as “Thank you to @everyone for submitting! We’ll use this channel to give you updates”, it helps ease contributors’ anxiety.
Being silent for more than 3 weeks, contributors anxiety will be very high. Ideally there are updates at least once every 1-2 weeks but every 3 weeks is also fine.
A mod can be assigned to remind all other mods every 2 weeks.
Ensure there’s a production schedule, even if you don’t share it.
Formatting will always take longer than you think.
Formatting will go more smoothly with other mods’ assistance - they can double check submissions, organise them into folders, run communication errands, correct spacing/highlight italics/standardise dashes, proofread, and ask if there is anything else the formatter needs.
Shipping will go more smoothly if other mods confirm addresses, collect information, anything else the shipping mod needs.
If your zine gets the bad luck where both formatting and production feels like they are encountering bumps: even if you are not the person responsible, be active and look into if there is anything that can be helped with immediately. These situations are very easy to end up in over 4 weeks delay.
In the chaos of getting things created, perhaps you haven't figured out yet what happens to extra copies, and if there are any rules around the use of digital content. Remember to answer questions of if it be possible for contributors to buy copies to resell, and what rights the contributors have with their work.
What is “fair” depends on the mods and the contributors. It may vary between different projects. Every project is different.
Since creators are done, and buyers are waiting, this is a good time to run polls to clarify the above if you haven't decided it already.
Some example phrases to get you thinking
“I’m not sure, but I can find out for you”
“Could you wait? <@Other Mod> is currently offline and they can answer when they get here”
“We received your question and will get back to you when we have an answer”
Instead of “I think”, you can say “We should” to indicate invitation to team-based discussion rather than person-based
Instead of “We think”, you can say “We discussed”, as it’s unlikely that all mods share the same thinking
Sentences can be softened or hardened by adding description, e.g. “Gentle” or “Friendly” reminders vs “Final” reminders
On a zine where the mods are not on familiar speaking terms, personal opinion can be made clear with “On a personal note,” or “A personal thought I have is that”
On a zine where the mods are familiar with contributors, mod instructions can be made clear with “From a mod perspective,” or “As a mod I have to say that”
Don't need to copy them or to do all of these (we don’t always do it...). This list is just here as items for consideration.
Other Guides (or, a mini attempt to compile a history of these modern fanzines)
Jenpenn’s guide (2015). Bit of a case study. Contains screenshots.
May’s guide (2016). Startup tips. Includes a somewhat case study for their zine.
Med (@daikonhime)’s guide, last updated in 2017. A bit larger section on production and fulfillment, shipping checklist.
Cambrasine guide (2017) - organisation and tips
gloomyhome’s thoughts and tips about zines; goes into the process of laying out book flow.
~Carrie’s guide comes out around here or thereabouts.~
atozines’s guide, zine baby. An overview-style guide with dot points.
About this point in the timeline, about 2017~2019, you begin to see in zine guides that the zine space has seen some dramatic revelations and breakdowns; red flags guides pop up, and people are trying to avoid the mistakes that inexperienced mods have made. There are also zine confessions blogs in full swing. People know what successful zines should look like. Zines start moving from various different shopfronts onto BigCartel dominance, and Carrd slowly becomes more prevalent.
We would like to reiterate not to make your zine larger than you (and your mental health) can handle.
Meta (@metaandpotatoes)’s guide (2020). Lots of templates, checklists, and quick comparison lists. Very simple, I will add to the above “operational guides” list once some of the missing operational pages are published.
ShittyHero#0800’s guide (2020) Also has templates, comparisons. Talks about who to recruit for a team. Similar to this site, it does not go into full operational details. Some shipping info seems outdated. Last updated 21 September.
Slumber (@slumberish)’s guide (2021). Rather than going into detail about operational methods, it’s a practical information repository with templates. We will link to them throughout the rest of this guide wherever they come in handy.
Recent case studies (posts explaining operations by specific zines set in 2020-)
None known yet
Yes, the above list is in roughly chronological order. Good luck on your research!
Should you know of any “how to make a zine” guides which we may have missed, or made one yourself, we would be more than happy to link to them. Please send them our way!