In other sections, we refer to requiring leadership in your team if your project has no guaranteed funding source. We also mention that social media in the current zine space is something that can be solved when more people are involved.
If you are reading this, chances are that you have had a horrible group work experience. It feels awful. People don't know what they should do. There are clashes of opinion and ego. Microaggression. Someone is feeling excluded. Nobody wants to be there. Low quality of work. The worst enemy of the team is the team itself.
We cover the basic theory of how teams operate in “Working in a Team,” which contains information drawn from professional project management training. Please consider reading it. This section also contains information from notes taken in “anti-toxicity” culture presentations.
The fact is, there are ways to not only try and avoid negative team culture, but also actions that can be taken to mitigate it. People who have been surrounded by good managers and well-working teams will do it naturally wherever they go; this is the whole secret of many “superstar mods”. Others who have not, you might find it harder to get these concepts. So please consider properly putting in some time to look into project management and leadership tutorials the same way you might look for art tutorials or writing help. Be mindful, open, honest. I would say, “ask more questions,” but don’t settle for that. Listen and be curious. Work out how to ask the types of questions that open you to learning more than you could ever imagine.
What, Where, Who, Why, When and How will all give different answers. (It’s also been personally observed that some people might respond better to a specific type.)
If you don’t know what to ask, you can always ask “What should I be asking?”...
When an effective mod team runs, contributors are able to also feel like they are a part of the project. They’ll have more investment. They will be more likely to turn pieces in on time, make better pieces, be more willing to do extras, and more likely to help promote.
If your contributors are self-managed, then the mod team has more time and energy to put into promotion and making more assets.
And there are many types of contributors. Some are more free to engage. Others might be going through things. Some are quicker to jump while others are slower starters. People who have done fandom events might be more experienced with dealing with fandom creatives than some zine mods! Everyone works at their own pace.
Here is a non-exhaustive list of what contributors appreciate, pulled from some of our feedback surveys, in alphabetical order:
This collection of survey responses is from a section with 181 respondents in The Fanzine Survey 2020, and appears to support this at:
What does this mean?
The way you respond to criticism is crucial.
There should be processes that you can fall back on as a failsafe.
The team should be able to provide external value and offer internal support.
This can happen through discussion with everyone, but in reality, free discussion does not exist until the team has developed maturity and trust. To get to this stage takes time and work by multiple people over a span of at least six weeks to three months. Unfortunately, holding zine mod apps in the current zine space, accepted mods are almost expected to integrate seamlessly from day 0.
It’s possible to learn to work with new people instantly. The kind of activities which will teach this experience are things like captaincy roles or anything involving demonstrating personal leadership. If you are without this experience, you can consider if it’s a skill you’d like to develop for yourself.
* It was hard to narrow a list down into those 3 points. But the above reasoning is why we think those 3 points are the most crucial. And, it’s why this guide is structured like this.
It should be obvious
But zines are passion projects, and passions don’t always align, and then egos getting in the way makes it not.
Why keep trying?
Dunno. You ask yourself.
When people are in a place they feel like they are valued and supported, they will do more.
If you aren’t feeling valued or supported now, sorry to hear it. Just remember that you can ask for help, your schedule can change if you need a break, and contributors are always watching. They can tell who is active, who seems to be doing more work than others, and who seems to be more talk than substance.
If the mod does their job and does it well, they get a positive reputation because they have proved themselves. When mods prove themselves with contributors, contributors will follow “superstar mods” across different projects - all for another chance to work with them or purchase from them again.
Working on projects like these will teach transferrable skills like nothing else. If you want, you can choose to play the long game, for life isn't short.
Take care of each others' health.
Sometimes being responsible is to tell another mod to take a break.
This doesn't mean you will pick up the work. You can find someone else or make it into a discussion about alternatives that can be done while the overworked mod is resting.
As a reminder, it’s important to do this tactfully. Stress causes people to act unlike themselves. If you’re not sure you can do that - is there another mod you might be able to go to who might be able to raise this within the mod team? (Be careful. In the limited communication medium of text chat, and with moderators who are strangers, there is a thin line between being genuinely concerned and accidentally coming off as negative manipulation and/or triangulating.)
Drama is part of being human
We said earlier, zines are passion projects. De-escalation and conflict resolution skills should be part of the package.
If it was easy, we would have solved all zine dramas out there already.
Section: Working in a Team
Individual guide: Head Mod (Leadership)
How to Mod a Zine - Advice from tumblr users compiled by Fanzine Watch in 2020
How to Moderate a Panel Discussion (via Toastmasters) - not quite a zine, but there is a crossover of skills between zine moderation and moderating a panel:
When you are the speaker, the spotlight is on you. When you are the moderator, you become the spotlight operator. It’s your job to make the panelists look good and you should fade away into the background.
For some, moderating a panel is terrifying. “You have no control over what people are going to say,” Vaden says. “You have to spontaneously navigate an infinite number of dynamics that are perpetually changing at any given moment. It’s difficult to weave together points, create value for the audience and shine an uplifting spotlight on panelists, all while keeping it entertaining!”
An example of different cultural behaviours:
Some mod teams are OK with being transparent before contributors about how to contact mods, specifying very clear lines of communication, that some mods should always be tagged, etc. Others might be more wary of “losing face”, where an active mod would instead directly message another mod or tag them privately so that the mod is able to respond to the contributor as if they were present always. These are two extremes that are just a result of whoever is in the team. Both are valid and can also exist in the same project simultaneously.
An example of team play:
Even when Ray is not Head Mod, they spend a lot of time keeping the team together as 1. they know they have skills in this area, and 2. they know they’ll rarely be directly asked. If the rest of their mod team demonstrates interest, they’ll also exercise personal leadership by instructing some quieter, less experienced mods to make announcements and organise micro-projects by themselves (Giving them these responsibilities gives the new mod more experience and allows contributors to see more mods visibly doing work).
A final note:
In addition to people who make surveys for zine mods, we would love to see more contributor-centric research. (Hint.)