Read or Die: Make Your Own Zine


While the Read or Die column is mostly about yours truly reviewing certain magazines (and namedropping others for which I have paid actual money), this instalment will show you what it takes to create your own underground metal magazine. DIY or die, if you will.

While creating your own zine will inevitably suck you dry of energy, it is — above all — tremendously fun to do. If you manage to create a product you’re satisfied with, you will not only experience the rush that goes with seeing your own words on paper; perhaps even more importantly, you will have become a better and more responsible writer and editor.

Feel like giving it a shot? As Dr. Phil used to say (to the point of nausea): here’s what ya gotta do.

1. Determine your angle

Metal magazines have been around for decades and come in as much shapes and sizes as the music they document. On that note, starting a metal magazine is much like starting a band: the biggest challenge is finding your own voice in a medium that crunches under the weight of oversaturation. Without delving too profoundly into New Age ‘be yourself’ platitudes, it is important that your own small print publication is the ultimate platform from which to hurl your thoughts into the world unfiltered. You won’t have a pesky editor breathing down your neck, and readers will invest more time in a physical publication (for which they paid with their own, hard-earned allowance) than the umpteenth discontinued WordPress blog they stumble upon. With this breathing space, you can and should focus fully on what you want to say, and not on what others would like to hear. In other words: leave your nuance at the door and be an obnoxious loudmouth if you must, lest your voice drown in a vanilla-flavoured sea of mediocrity.

2. Get an editor – or a meticulous friend

The single biggest drawback of underground print media is the prevalence of sloppiness. It is all too rare for an independent metal zine to be relatively free of grammar and spelling cock-ups. Sure, any publication will contain at least a few mistakes, but when you keep mixing up ‘its’ and it’s’, all the while calling things ‘unnecesarily rediculous and unacceptible’, readers WILL call your knowledge into question, no matter how solid your argument may be. The devil may be in the music, but it sure as *hell* is in the detail, as well.

To avoid this pitfall into editorial purgatory, get a linguistically gifted friend to go through all of your texts before publication. No matter how good of a writer you are, in the maelstrom of zine creation, you are bound to lose focus eventually, allowing more and more mistakes to slip under your otherwise superb radar. All it takes to unearth them is a fresh pair of eyes.

3. Clear your schedule

If you’re not careful, zine-making can devolve into a Catch 22 of resources. You need lots and lots of time to dedicate to your project if you want to make it at all worth anyone’s while. But you also need quite a bit of money to finance the printing and cover any other expenses, such as commissioned artwork. You need work to get money, but you also need time to get things done. As such, juggling these priorities can be frustrating at times, and especially if you’re flying solo, you have to make a long-time commitment to yourself if you ever want to see your own words emerge from that shiny paper.

4. Set some money aside

If you’re planning on handling the printing and distribution all by yourself, approach the financing as follows: consider all the money you put into it lost, and every step towards regaining your expenses a bonus. No, you won’t actually lose all your money, but neither are you likely to break even with your first attempt at zine creation. This is why it is best to only invest money into this project that is not strictly necessary for your survival, because you really don’t want your rent to depend on zine sales. You can try to cut costs by, for example, printing the magazines yourself. But even if you do manage to save some money this way (and there is no guarantee it will, because ink is damn expensive), it will severely affect the quality of the final product, not to mention you are burderning yourself with additional work.

5. Sell your zines

Once you’ve printed your magazines, you of course need to do everything in your power to sell them to anyone who might be interested. How you should approach this depends on your contacts in the metal scene. Know a distributor who might be interested? Get in touch. Do you have famous friends who can plug your work? Maybe you can help each other out. In any case, make sure to be active on multiple fronts. Social media, metal forums and even your local scene can all act as pathways towards buyers. Especially if this is your first go at making a zine, prepare to give away a lot of free copies to people in exchange for promotion, cooperation, artwork and goodwill.

An alternative to investing tons of your own moolah without knowing how much of that you will ever get back is financing the magazine through pre-orders. War On All Fronts zine did this once, so it is not an alien concept. Still, such a strategy is only recommended once your zine has acquired a reliable audience across multiple editions, or you have in some other way built a network that is big enough to support your endeavour.

6. Delegate, but only where necessary

If you’re starting your own zine, odds are you are a writer. Still, there are several other key tasks that come into play before you can start sending out copies. With each task, ask yourself if you could handle it yourself. And if not, the next question is whether the best option is to learn how to do it, or to simply hand over the responsibility to someone else. Tasks you should consider are:

  • Design
  • Editing
  • Copy-editing
  • Illustrations
  • Distribution

When I was writing my first zine, I had no idea how to handle design, but was able to teach myself relatively quickly. Editing and copy-editing go hand-in-hand with writing, but you still at least get another person involved if only for the fresh pair of eyes they can provide (see point 2). Illustration is ideally something you will want to outsource, unless you just happen to be a gifted artist. Finally, distribution depends on the opportunities available through network and your general disposition towards the prospect of playing mailman for a couple of months.

7. Stand by your mag

No matter how accurately you follow the aforementioned steps, if you aren’t fully convinced by your own creation, it might still wind up being a dud. Keeping up your hard work even when only a hundred people might taste the fruits of your labour is just a lot easier when you know what you’re doing is going to result in something special. Because you really don’t want to blow several months of your life on something that you are only moderately satisfied with. Zine creation is a crazy hobby, and you have to be a bit of a zealot to do it in the first place, so you might as well indulge in the madness in full.

And if you don’t feel like making your own zine, there are plenty of underground print publications that deserve your support as a reader. There is a little column titled ‘Read or Die’ over at Nine Circles that will keep you updated on that.

– Jesse

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