The summer morning started with a frenzy of packing paper goods, dashing to the ATM for change, and unloading one suitcase and two plastic bins worth of wares. Now came the quiet. Fifteen minutes after arriving, we had only to await our customers, from the tattooed anarchists to the curious grandmothers. So we huddled behind our half of a six-foot long table, sweltering but smiling in a church basement.
It was our second time at the DC Zinefest, though by no means our first zine fest. We had already relished Brooklyn Zine Fest, Richmond Zine Fest, Philly Zine Fest, Philly Feminist Zine Fest, and other alternative publishing events. My art director, Kristen Rebelo, and I sat like queens surveying our kingdom. Zine after zine, book after book, and print after print populated our modest territory. That territory brimmed with new and old titles alike, a pleasure to behold and a pleasure to devour. Some projects were perfect-bound, others saddle-stitched. Some were color, others black and white. We had produced a veritable and varied bounty of cool reads.
And no, that was no humble-brag, just a pure brag. We had worked hard. I wrote and edited; she illustrated and designed. Both of us had input on business matters because Quail Bell Press & Productions, parent company to our main endeavor, Quail Bell Magazine, is exactly that: a business.
The idea of making money off of zines sounds contradictory. After all, zines spawned from the punk scene and punks, in theory, spit big ol’ loogies on capitalism. But guess what? Punks have bills to pay, too. Though you will never get rich making zines (unless, of course, your zines are attached to a larger and more successful entrepreneurial venture, like a popular blog or band), it is possible to make a profit from your scribblings. How? Writers, illustrators, cartoonists, photographers, printmakers, and other paper-mongers, take note:
- Develop a solid concept. Like an art or writing project, your zine should have a clear focus. Maybe your zine is about an excerpt from your diary. Maybe it’s full of recipes. No matter what, make sure that you can explain your zine to potential customers quickly and simply. Come up with a catchy summary or slogan to save yourself angst the day of the fest.
- Consider the pairing of words and image. Don’t think that because your zine isn’t commercially published you can get away with producing garbage. Do your best work and customers will notice. Proofread carefully and always choose the best art possible.
- Always go for the highest production value you can afford. Quick and dirty jobs at the copy shop an hour before the fest might pass and even sell a few copies, but the most fetching pieces definitely get more attention. Whether you go with cardstock or construction paper, your aesthetic choices should match the concept.
- Price fairly and smartly. Keep track of your spending so you’re aware of how much it actually costs to produce your zines. Then price accordingly. Remember that many zine festivals charge a tabling fee and, depending on where you live, you may have to travel. Zine fest organizers often reach out to tablers about carpooling and couch-surfing opportunities. However, remember to make SAFE choices if these opportunities arise!
Have fun and be proud. No matter what, zine festivals should be about celebrating zines first. This is a chance for you to find new zines, get inspired as a creative person, meet other artists and writers, and maybe even befriend a few folks. You will learn from trial and error until you’ve found your formula for profit-making. Even then, never lose sight of why you create zines in the first place: to tell stories. Take pride in your creations.
Now go forth and make zines (and maybe money). Good luck, zinesters!
Christine Stoddard is a Puffin Foundation emerging artist, Southeast Review featured artist, Cyberpunk Apocalypse visiting writer, and the founding editor of Quail Bell Magazine. Quail Bell has been featured in Time Out New York and Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and had two publications released by Brandylane Publishers – The Nest: An Anthology of The Unreal and Airborne: An Anthology of The Real. Most recently Christine co-authored Images of America: Richmond Cemeteries (Arcadia Publishing) with Misty Thomas. Christine’s next documentary film is a follow-up to The Persistence of Poe, called Richmond’s Dead and Buried, and comes out this fall.