I released my first zine in September and since then I have received a ton of questions from fellow photographers who are interested in doing the same thing.
My first piece of advice is this: Don’t expect to make a lot of money, just hope to come out even. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get into the basics.
If you’re struggling to decide on what you want to put together, think of some of the work you’re most excited about. Maybe it’s your favorite roll of film or your newest collection. It could even be as simple of finding images with a theme, such as abandoned buildings or pay phones (just rattling off ideas here). Put together a game plan of what you want ahead of time so that you know what you’re looking for. Research zines from other photographers. Reach out to photographers who have experience making a zine. You can even ask if they’d be willing to do an exchange or trade on good faith that you will mail them a copy of your zine once you’ve completed it.
A quick Google search will pull up a large list of printers who can do a variety of different things. I recommend seeing if there are any printers locally who can produce your zine for you. Sadly there weren’t any local options for me, despite living in a fairly large city.
Instead, I decided to go with Blurb. I knew I wanted something that was similar to a book and Blurb’s Trade Book was the perfection option for me. They offer three different sizes, two options for paper, and three options for the cover. I’m on a budget, so I decided the best option for me was to go with a 5x8 inch (or 13x20 centimeters) trade book and upgrade the paper to the ‘standard color’. If your images are heavy on color, I would not recommend the economy paper as it’s flimsy and the ink bled through. The difference between the two paper options is $.13 and it’s well worth the upgrade. Your next option will be to decide how many pages you want in your zine. The standard trade book comes with 24 pages and each additional page is $.14. Keep in mind that people are buying your zine because they are interested in seeing your work. It’s a no brainer to choose the upgraded paper even if it means you have to sacrifice something else (like the number of pages).
Blurb recommends that you do not print on the last page of your book, so take that into consideration when creating your layout.
Blurb offers pricing discounts based on volume, so the more you order the cheaper your overall cost will be. They have also created a pricing chart and calculator that helps you better understand what your costs will be. Blurb is great about offering coupons on a regular basis that can help keep costs down as well. You can subscribe to their email list or check their Facebook page for the most up to date coupon codes. Side note: their discount codes for trade books usually tap out at 25% which is the same deal you’ll get if you order 50+ books at a time.
I setup my zine for preorders through Etsy. This allows you to collect the funds up front, cover all costs ahead of time, and ensures everyone who wants a copy will receive one. The downside to this is that it leaves people waiting for a period of time to receive their copy of your zine. I chose to release my zine through preorder because I had anxiety (silly, but true) about ordering too many or not ordering enough. If you decide to go this route, I recommend being extremely clear that you are offering a preorder and set a realistic timeline. When setting a timeline, be sure to factor in the amount of time it takes for the printer to produce and ship your zine to you. You’ll also want to be sure you are factoring in the amount of time it takes for you to package and mail the zine. In my experience, it took three weeks total.
I’m a perfectionist and my own worst critic, which meant I spent a lot of time finding flaws in my zine despite trusting people who insisted what I already had was great. This also meant I spent a lot of time questioning myself, making revisions, and getting new ‘test zines’ made. After all was said and done, I spent $40 in shipping fees just to get a new copy of my zine made every time I made an update.