As I am sure you are aware by now, I have been in the process of releasing my first zine ‘All We Have Is Now’ recently. I figured I might as well share my experiences and tips with you in case it is helpful to anyone else who’s thinking of releasing a zine of their own. I have a feeling this will be a fairly long post, so let’s get down to business.
If you’re new to ‘zines’ then this wikipedia article gives a pretty good description on what they’re all about.
Set a deadline for completion
You already know I’m a procrastinator. For example, I haven’t written a proper blog since June this year, and it’s now November. I have been wanting to make a zine for a couple of years now, and I have tried and failed on several occasions to finalise it. This time I set a deadline for a release date and that spurred me on to get it finished. Jack Simon recommended this as a motivational technique when I interviewed him about his zine.
I was asked to do a takeover on the Our Streets instagram account and after speaking to my buddy Joe Brazil who runs that feed and we both decided that would be the perfect time to launch something as I could use the platform to promote the release and use the opportunity to make a few sales. This left me with just a couple of weeks to put it together and get it out there. I think without Joe’s encouragement and the impending deadline I would have reverted to procrastination again and it would end up being shelved for the umpteenth time.
Decide what it is about
You may decide you want to start a specific project with your zine being based around that theme or subject matter. Obviously, if you’re gonna start a new project you need to set yourself a realistic release deadline and put in the work to make sure you meet it. If like me you already have a bunch of photos and an idea on how you want to put them together, then that’s cool too. Just don’t expect a bunch of random images you’ve shot in the last month to make a good photography zine. These things take time.
Editing & Sequencing
For those of you that are new to this, editing is picking your best images and ditching the shitty ones. Sequencing is the order in which you’re gonna present them in the final zine.
I hate editing on the computer. I just can’t get my head around it. I do, however, use Lightroom to get me to a decent starting point. I opened up my catalogue of photos from the last few years and made a new collection set called ‘zine edit rough’. I set this as the target collection (right click the collection > set as target collection). I then went through all my photos in the grid view and any images that I thought might work as part of my theme I just hit the B key on the keyboard to add them to the collection. Once I was done with that I pulled up all the images in the collection; at this point there was about 180 of them. I went through them all again and hit the B key again on any I felt weren’t strong enough or didn’t really work well as part of the theme (this removes them from the collection). By the end of this process I had a rough edit of 100 images.
This is where I find it starts to get tricky using a computer. I find it much better to print the remaining photos on 6x4s. I use Truprint here in the UK, they are cheap enough and often run 25-30% discounts and free shipping. The quality is pretty good and they mail out the prints pretty fast. (Note: I am not sponsored by them or anything, just my personal recommendation, if you’re trying to keep costs down and you’re in the UK then check this link).
I got the prints and laid them out on the floor and just started shuffling them around, picking images I thought worked well together as a spread. I started to get a good feel for how the book was going to turn out. This is when I enlisted the help of Joe again. I find it much easier to edit with the help of someone else. They have no emotional attachment to the images and can look at it more subjectively than you. You can talk it through and riff ideas off one another. I also find it helps if you try to do this quite quickly, otherwise it’s easy to become despondent and lose steam. Luckily having the prints on the floor in front of you makes it super easy to shuffle things around as the edit progresses. What you want is for the sequence to have a nice flow to it. You’ll know when it’s right cos it’ll feel right. It’s hard to explain. Study your favourite photo books for ideas. I ended up having to cull some of my better images simply because they didn’t fit well anywhere in the sequence. Just set them aside; maybe you can use them in your next photo zine. The whole editing and sequencing process was pretty much done in an hour on Joe’s living room floor. We left the images there and went to the pub for a few beers (it was definitely more than a few). When we came back we both agreed it still worked well for the both of us. And so that was that.
When I got home I stuck them up on my office wall with blu tack, this way I could live with them for a while and keep taking a look every now and then. I used this opportunity to check the colours and exposure for consistency across the sequence. I ended up using photos from several different cameras and some film shots, so I just wanted to make sure they all looked right when viewed next to each other. I kept the rejected shots out of sight. You don’t really want to start looking at these again if you can help it, otherwise you’ll start second guessing yourself. Fortunately for me, the tight deadline I had set myself meant that I couldn’t really go back to the drawing board even if I wanted to.
Printing & Pricing
Next you’ve gotta start putting the layout together ready to send the book off to the printer. This is where the learning curve steepens if you don’t have any prior experience of graphic design.
I’ll try and break it down for you. First thing to do is to find a printer, and decide on a size and format. Many printers use standard paper sizes etc and will have an online calculator to let you work out how much it’ll cost to produce.
Another thing to consider is whether you want to use a print-on-demand service like Blurb UK or Blurb USA – I believe they have websites based in most local territories so just google ‘blurb’ and I’m sure you’ll find the one you need. There’s a few other print-on-demand services out there depending on your country. These services mean that you don’t have to shell out any money up front for the printing. The printer only prints a copy when someone orders one. So if you’re worried about not making many sales, or if money is tight, then this could be a good way to go. There are cons to this though – you’re often limited on the paper choices and sizes you can choose from. You will find the production costs quite high and if you’re anything like me you’ll want to keep the cost to your customers as low as possible. Blurb’s shipping costs are also extortionate considering they are a huge company that must ship several thousand books a day. I appreciate they are taking on extra costs by only printing one zine at a time, but still.
When you’re deciding on a print spec, picking paper for your inner pages and cover it’s a good idea to look at your favourite zines and photography books and figure out what you like and don’t like about them and take it from there. There aren’t any rules, just go with what you think is best for your style of photography.
The other option is to go completely DIY and print and assemble your zine yourself. This is time consuming but it can be a good way to keep costs really low. There is a ton of guides online if this is the route you want to go down. Google is your friend. Of course, you will lose some money making test copies and experimenting to get things looking right. And you may need to purchase some supplies, like a long-arm stapler. To be honest though, this is the true essence of zine making, that’s how it started. Sticking and pasting images and text onto paper and then photocopying it. Hell, use the photocopier at work if needs be (I am not condoning this of course, I am not liable if you get fired!). It all depends on what you are looking for in terms of the finished product quality and what sale price you’re aiming for. It’s a punk-as-fuck way to make a zine and I like it for that but it’s just not for me. I’m too anal about colour reproduction, consistency and quality.
It all comes down to how you want to do things. I decided to put my money where my mouth is and pay for 50 zines out of my own pocket and just hope and pray that they sold. This way I could control the quality, the print spec and the format myself. I also ran a pre-order, so if nobody bought it then I could just pull out and not worry about it. Thankfully that didn’t happen!
For anyone in the UK that’s interested I am using a company called Mixam to print my zine. They do international shipping too, but you have to contact them to get a price (see update at bottom of post re: mixam’s quality control).
Once you’ve picked a format you’ll need to start designing your layout. If you chose the print-on-demand route from a well-known printer then they may offer a simple software package to help you design your layout. You’ll have to learn how to use it though and the layouts may be limited.
If you decide to use a commercial printing company like I did, then you’re gonna have to learn how to use Adobe InDesign. Fortunately for me I used to be a graphic designer so it’s something I am familiar with. InDesign is the industry standard for designing brochures, booklets, books, and in our case: zines. You’ll need to look into how your printer wants you setup your print files. They’ll normally have an FAQ on their website, but if not, just call them up and ask. You’re gonna need to google a lot of stuff here. I’m not going to give you an InDesign tutorial. There is plenty out there online if that’s the route you want to go down. My recommendation is to keep the layout simple, less is more when it comes to design as far as I’m concerned. You can make this part as complicated or as simple as you like. If you’ve not done anything like this before, then this will probably be the most frustrating part. Don’t aim for perfection. That’s not in the spirit of zine-making anyway.
If you’re a control freak like me, then you might want to make a test print of your zine. I ordered a single copy of my zine from Mixam (see update at bottom of post re: mixam’s quality control). This is not really something you want to make a habit of, because one-offs aren’t cheap. Mine cost like £30. If you have a huge following and you anticipate selling a thousand copies then maybe they will do you one for free, but in my case I needed to pay. It was worth it though just to check out the quality and check that everything was ok before I went to print on the full production run.
I guess there is a thousand ways to do this part, but I’m guessing you’d like some people to actually buy your zine and so this is where you need to put in some work. Talk about it on facebook and make the post public so that people can share it. Make a reference to it on instagram in your image captions. Post stuff in your instagram stories about how you’re getting on with the production. Show some sample spreads. Ask your friends to promote it on their profiles. Make a nuisance of yourself and basically just plug the shit out of it. I made my photo zine a limited edition of 50 copies, signed and numbered and I am also including a signed and numbered print of the cover image as a sweetener – that’s another idea I totally stole from Jack Simon. You may also want to get a few spare copies printed so that you can send them to your friends, galleries, photographers you admire and photo book publishers and ask for feedback and critique – Rammy Narula gave me this tip and I already have a feeling it will be a good one to follow up on.
Selling & Shipping
Don’t forget to factor in the cost of international shipping when you’re figuring out how to price your zine. Most of my buyers were outside of the UK and fortunately I prepared for that. In my case international postage from the UK is quite expensive; it ended up accounting for roughly a third of the retail price. You also need to figure out how you’re gonna sell your zine. I setup a big cartel site which I linked to from my own website. With their free account you can have up to 5 products live. Note the free account there has no stock control. I limited my sales to 50 zines. I haven’t quite sold them all yet, but when it hits the 50 mark it is down to me to close the sales and prevent any more sales being made. You can upgrade to a pro account and get some of these features but it costs money and so you’ll need to factor this into your selling price. Don’t forget that packaging also costs money. Don’t expect to make a boat load of cash from selling photography zines. Be realistic, you’re doing this for the fun of it, not to make a living.
Anyway, I think that pretty much covers all the bases. If you have any more questions don’t hesitate to leave a comment below, or contact me here or on instagram. Best of luck! Oh, and since you’re here you should BUY MY ZINE RIGHT NOW. Wink wink.
Update: The zine has now SOLD OUT. Thanks guys. Also, I am not sure I would use Mixam Print again in the future – they screwed up the crop on a bunch of the zines so the pages were wonky. Luckily I had enough good copies to make sure everyone who ordered one got it (I’d ordered a few extras thankfully). After I emailed them, they did offer to do a full re-print though, so I cant fault their customer service.