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Synonyms: Amateur Press Association, APA, APA zine
See also: circuit zine, FAPAzine, letterzine
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APA stands for Amateur Press Association, and an apazine (also APA zine) is a kind of fan publication in which all the materials, generally letters, would be sent to a central person, who would simply copy the entire packet in the cheapest possible way (e.g. mimeograph, spirit duplicating, xerography, offset printing; APAs far predate the photocopy machine.)[1] Sometimes each of the contributors sends as many copies of their submission as there are subscribers to the central mailer of the zine, who then collates and mails these, and does not have to take care of the printing.

APAs were, and are, important media for fannish conversation, discussion, and interaction: sort of a fannish mailing list or LiveJournal in print sent by snail mail.

Many apazines require a minimal amount of submissions from their members, like the dues some mailing lists such as for example the Sentinel Angst List have for membership, so that no lurking is allowed.


Fans' contributions had a variety of nicknames or slang words; most common were "trib" (contribution, a contributor was a "tribber") and "zine." A less common use was "distie" (short for "distribution") [2]


The amateur press is an important part of American subculture, dating back to the 1860s. The closest modern analogy is blogging. There were many amateur press associations, with the National Amateur Press Association[3] and the United Amateur Press Association among the most enduring.[4] H.P. Lovecraft, a longtime member of the UAPA, describes the history and origins:

Amateur journalism, or the composition and circulation of small, privately printed magazines, is an instructive diversion which has existed in the United States for over half a century. In the decade of 1866-1876 this practice first became an organized institution; a short-lived society of amateur journalists, including the now famous publisher, Charles Scribner, having existed from 1869 to 1874. In 1876 a more lasting society was formed, which exists to this day as an exponent of light dilettantism. Not until 1895, however, was amateur journalism established as a serious branch of educational endeavour.[5]

Amateur publications covered a myriad of topics. Lovecraft said a typical publication might have "verses, fictional thrillers, puzzles, jests, philately, numismatics, curiosities, and bits of general information." S.T. Joshi, Lovecraft's biographer, says:

The literature produced by members varied widely in both content and quality: poetry, essays, fiction, reviews, news items, polemics, and every other form of writing that can fit into a small compass. If it is generally true that most of this material is the work of tyros -- "amateurs" in the pejorative sense -- then it only means that amateur journalism was performing a perfectly sound if humble function as a proving-ground for writers.[6]

Members of every age, gender and race participated; many women were involved in amateur publishing, and Afro-Americans served in leadership positions in some associations, although this could cause racist members to flounce out and start segregated societies. There were several Afro-American amateur press associations, some run by women.[7] Children and teens also put out amateur publications and some served in administrative positions. Since materials were inexpensive, the printing quality could be quite high.[8] Unlike modern APAs, members who printed their own publications mailed copies to whomever they chose. Members could also submit writings to central bureaus for distribution to papers looking for material. Amateur publications devoted solely to science fiction and fantasy fandom began in the 1930s. Press associations for these were more loosely organized.

The Subject

Letter columns, critiques and reviews were extremely important in the early amateur press, but as APAs evolved they became less about publishing your own newspaper and more about discussion. Fantasy and science fiction apas were usually subject-specific and primarily discussion-oriented.

Such small-scale publishing was nothing new to the independent SF community; SF fans are notoriously among the most active, self-aware, creative, and critical readerships, and have been so since long before the Internet. As rich brown[note 1] and Bernadette Bosky[note 2] have described, since the 1940s amateur press associations (“apas”) had provided a forum for SF fans to share their thoughts on writers, books, the genre, and the scene in general. Usually this would be accomplished by each participant mailing his or her work to a single editor, who would then disseminate all the responses back to the group (Bosky 181), but there were various ways for amateurs to contribute to the scene. Between this kind of reflective letter-writing and the small publishing companies described by Robert Weinberg in his article on “The Fan Presses” was a whole gamut of what rich brown calls "CRAP" -- the "Carbon-Reproduced Amateur Press" (the SF fan’s love of technical-sounding acronyms and straight-faced silliness shines through here). Maintaining running feedback and commentary on each other’s critical and creative work was an integral part of the apa process, and of CRAP in general for SF readers. This was a highly participatory model of readership that reinforced the fan’s position in the writer/reader/publisher cycle, building loyalty and encouraging him or her to build an encyclopaedic body of knowledge surrounding SF authors, themes, titles, and texts. It is not surprising, therefore, that SF began to get its first bibliographers, editors, and reprint series in the age of the fan presses.[9]

"In theory, topical apas focus on a particular subject. Final Frontier was a Star Trek apa, Galactus is a Marvel comics apa, and A Woman's Apa is a feminist apa. In my experience, however, apas tend to wander off topic after a couple of years. For example, I was Central Mailer of Galactus for a while, but I don't read comics, and I certainly wouldn't read Marvel comics if I did. I joined the apa because I had friends who were members and with whom I wanted to stay in touch. I never talked about comics, ignored their discussions on the topic, and still managed to contribute meaningfully to the apa and have a good time." [10]

The Use of the Term "Zine"

"The object collated by the Official Editor and sent to the members of the APA has been termed in standard fanspeak as a 'Mailing' not a 'zine.' The reason for this distinction is to avoid confusion, since the publishers of the individual contributions consider these to be 'zines' or 'apazines.' 'Bundle' or 'Distribution' are sometimes used to describe subsets of mailing. 'Bundle' is sometimes used for those which are not stapled together -- this is in the tradition of the mundane Amateur Journalist Press Printing groups, whose productions may vary in size from posters to calling cards. The 200th quarterly mailing of fandom's FAPA a year or so ago contained over 700 pages (400 pages is the average), ranging from folded 8.5 x11 through Australian, British and Swedish standard sizes, obviously impossible to staple. And many independent members design their zines as independent entities and wish them to remain so. Distribution' was decided on by either APA F (the Fanaclasts in NYC) or APA L (Los Angeles SF Society) as most copies were handed out at club meetings and calling them 'Mailings' was inaccurate." [11]

How Does an APA Differ from a Letterzine?

One fan in Spectrum #35 explains the difference between the two types of zines.

"For those of you sitting out there, asking yourself, 'Well, what the hell is an APA?"... First, try to imagine a letterzine, except the membership is limited as far as how many people can write to to the apa (it's not usually over a few dozen). You don't just write to the editor of the apazine whenever you feel like it, you belong to the apa like you belong to a club, and you are required to submit X number of letters per year to be printed in the apazine. If you don't meet this quota, you can be expelled for 'lacktivity.' The editor of the apazine collects together the letters he receives and prints the zine every so often. It's like a big chain letter between 20 of your best friends."

In 1993, Sandy Herrold explained the difference between an APA and a letterzine, in the context of the Virgule-L slash mailing list:

"Apas are run almost as collectives. All of the members are known (at least address and background) to each other. Apas have 'minimum activity levels' (usually abbreviated minac). Members who don't send in a contribution according to the apa's schedule, are eventually dropped from the apa. The editor works mostly as a collator and treasurer, making sure that issues get mailed on time, and that people send in their postage money. Letterzines usually have a small number that write frequently, and larger number of people who just read--and subscribers of a lz don't necessarily know who the other subscribers are."[12]

In 1992, on the Blake's 7 mailing list Lysator:

"The long answer is that in the case of apas, the title of "editor" is usually courteous rather than descriptive. The functions performed are collation and general administration rather than editing. In the case of letterzines, I've personally heard of editors editing content for the following personal objections on the part of the editor: 1) libel, 2) personal attacks, 3) references to the late unlamented fan-pro controversy that effectively killed both of the then-current American B7 letterzines, 4) "slash,"* and 5) any X-rated material. Far more typical for hard-copy letterzines, though, has been editing for space so as to save on photocopying and postage costs, constraints that don't apply to the electronic medium. No editing need be done at all if we all agree we don't want it."[13]

How Does an APA Differ from a Round Robin?

Members of an APA send a copy of their contribution to a central mailer who then mails it to members. In a Round Robin, a fan writes a letter, sends it to the next fan, who adds a letter, who sends it to the next fan, and so on.


External links


  1. ^ Rich Brown: Co-author with Joe L. Sanders of the "Glossary of Fanspeak", and author of "Dr. Gafia's Fan Terms" based on an earlier list by Katie Rathslag.
  2. ^ Bernadette Lynn Bosky (MA, Duke), according to her entry on Fancyclopedia "a teacher and writer ... known for criticism of fantasy and horror fiction, she has been published on topics from seventeenth-century alchemy to self-esteem of serial killers." Dr. Bosky's current blog on Medium discusses cultural subjects. Author of "Amateur Press Associations: Intellectual Society and Social Intellectualism" in Joe Sanders, ed., Science Fiction Fandom: Contributions to the Study of Science Fiction & Fantasy 62 (Westport: Greenwood Press 1994)


  1. ^ Francesca Coppa, "A Brief History of Media Fandom." In: K. Hellekson, K. Busse (eds.) Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet. New Essays McFarland, 2006. p 43.
  2. ^ used in Strange Bedfellows.
  3. ^ Truman Spencer, A History of the National Amateur Press Association. From his book History of Amateur Journalism, published through the good offices of The Fossils and Sheldon Wesson.
  4. ^ Maria Popova, Happy Birthday, United Amateur Press Association: H. P. Lovecraft on the Early Spirit of “Blogging”. The Marginalian, undated article.
  5. ^ H.P. Lovecraft, "United Amateur Press Association: Exponent of Amateur Journalism." Recruiting pamphlet for the United Amateur Press Association, published September 1915. In H.P. Lovecraft, Writings in the United Amateur, 1915-1922. Project Gutenberg (various formats available including Kindle). Entire text also online at archive.org. Also in Collected Essays, Volume 1: Amateur Journalism, ed. by S.T. Joshi.
  6. ^ S. T. Joshi, I Am Providence: The Life & Times of H.P. Lovecraft. Hippocampus, 2013. The chapter "A Renewed Will to Live" gives a very detailed account of how the amateur press worked.
  7. ^ Jonathan Daniel Wells, Women Writers and Journalists in the Nineteenth-Century South. Cambridge, 2011.
  8. ^ See Truman Spencer's "The Advent of the Low-Cost Press" in his book The History of Amateur Journalism (The Fossils, 1957).
  9. ^ Yuri Cowan, "Recovering the Barbarians: Reprinting 'Forgotten Fantasy' in the 1970s". In érudit, January 14, 2011. archive.org link.
  10. ^ "NCF Guide". Archived from the original on 2012-10-03. Retrieved March 11, 2010.
  11. ^ from a LoC in Comlink #40
  12. ^ Sandy's post to the Virgule-L mailing list in August 1993, quoted with permission.
  13. ^ Subject: Digest Format; Advertising; Actor Credits; Transcript Requests post dated Nov 22, 1992 (publicly accessible).