1. Write something people actually want to read
Many zines thrive on obscurity; like collages that depict what the maker ate for breakfast one week or a hand-drawn depiction of all six seasons of Glee. While you mustn’t lose what makes your zine unique, try to make something that people can relate to so someone other than your best friend ends up reading the thing. A recent, local zine that tackled this balance well was Macarons Are Not Macaroons – it’s part cookbook, part journal recounting the zine-maker’s frustration over how hard it is to make those fluffy little devils.
2. Work out your goals
Ask yourself why you’re self-publishing. If you’re trying to make some moolah (first of all, good luck), you’ll need to make something that looks a little glossier than your average zine so it can be sold at a higher price. If it’s simply for fun or to get people reading something you wrote, aim for low production costs so make a lot of copies. You is a free, weekly zine that has been running for ten years and takes the form of a brown tuck-shop bag filled with photocopied content. Either way, you may want to learn how to use Adobe inDesign to make a more professional looking product.
3. Surround yourself by a small, reliable team
Many zines are a solo effort, and that’s fine. Much worse is to turn it into a monstrous ordeal with eight editors and associate administrative advisors fussing over a 24-page read. Getting a range of contributors is cool, but when it comes to decision-making, find one or two people who are solid: you’re making a zine not a Communist state.
4. Get acquainted with the Sticky Institute photocopiers (and staff)
At least for an afternoon or two, the poky little The Sticky Institute in the Degraves underground will become your home. An art collective entirely dedicated to producing and selling zines, Sticky makes things affordable (3c per page for black and white photocopying and 45c per page for colour, after a $20 yearly membership). The helpful staff will show you nifty tricks on the photocopier, such as ‘booklet mode’ that does the folding and stapling for you. The photocopier is ripe for the picking anytime Sticky’s doors are open, but try to get there close to the opening hour so you don’t get stuck behind some so-and-so printing 500 copies of his spell book zine.
5. Find local, independent bookshops willing to stock your product
This is not as hard as you think. It makes the bookshop look cool and they don’t have to pay distribution costs. Some of the most zine-friendly book retailers include Brunswick Bound, Polyester Books, Hares & Hyenas and, of course, the Sticky Institute.
6. Attend other zine launches
Not all zine-makers deem a launch party necessary, but it’s a good idea if you’re trying to make your zine a well-known entity. By checking out other launches and talking to the makers about how they produced their zine, it will help you become clearer about how you want yours to be received. Keep your eyes peeled for details about launch parties on fliers at Sticky, on Melbourne culture websites and online zine forums such as We Make Zines.
7. Hold your launch party at a bar that doesn’t charge
Having your launch at some mate’s Brunswick share-house will quickly dissolve into just-another-piss up. Instead, launch in a public space. This will make it seem like more of a professional enterprise and many bars will gladly provide you with a space on a Wednesday or Thursday early evening if you’re going to bring in more customers than they would normally have at this time. The most you should have to pay is fifty bucks on some food for the bar’s liquor license.
8. Find a way to distribute your zine
The hardest part of launching a zine is getting it read. Even if you throw an awesome launch party, that will get your zine into the hands of a couple of hundred people at best. When placing your zines on the shelves of Sticky aim to have them at eye-level so they don’t get lost in the paper and cardboard jungle. Website Smells Like Zines has created an online shop for Australian zines to be bought and sold. Another strategy is guerilla dropping – leaving piles in pubic places to be enjoyed by whoever finds them.
9. Network at zine fairs and events
Zine events and zine-inclusive art fairs are great places to do zine-for-zine trades that could see your publication gaining readership in a faraway Australian town. Every February, Sticky holds their Festival of the Photocopier and 2013's Emerging Writer’s Festival held a zine-sharing event called Page Parlour.
10. Promote your zine anyway you can
Shamelessly self plug your zine. If no one knows what you’re up to, zine-making is just some creepy hobby, but if it actually gets read, it’s the most satisfying thing ever. While we’re on this point, let me plug my paper baby. In 2014 I published the first two issues of Talking Trash, a zine filled with the experiences and opinions of young people. Each issue has a theme that contributors approach in any way they like, so long as it’s not cultural criticism. Essentially it’s about life, not culture. Talking Trash can be purchased at Sticky or Polyester or instantly devoured on their website.