A to Zine: The "How-To" of Fan Publishing

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Title: A to Zine: The 'How-To' of Fan Publishing
Publisher: boojums Press
Editor(s): Paula Smith
Date(s): March 1982, republished in May 1984
Medium: print
Size: digest-sized
Fandom: Starsky and Hutch & multimedia
Language: English
External Links:
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front cover of first edition (1981)
back cover of first edition
later edition (1984) -- on the cover: "... And a cyanide capsule in case you're captured by the post office"

A to Zine is 16 pages long. It is subtitled "the How-to of Fan Publishing" and it focuses on the practical applications of publishing a print zine. Some of the information on copyright was adapted from Melinda Snodgrasse's article on the subject in Pegasus #5 published in 1981.

There are at least two editions of "A to Zine," one of which was published in March 1982. That one has a cover called "Phobia" by Gordon Carleton and interior illos by Jan Lindner.

The other edition was issued in May 1984, and has a cover with a cartoon and the caption: "... And a cyanide capsule in case you're captured by the post office."

This zine was preceded by Communication the Hard Way.

Zine Production has more information related to the contents of "A to Zine."


  • Contents (items to put into a zine such as fiction, poetry, book reviews, interviews, scripts, cartoon, puzzles, etc.) (1/2 page)
  • Editing (story editing, copy editing, proofreading and publishing) (2 pages)
  • Preparing The Masters—Offset, Xerox or Photocopy, Mimeo and Ditto
  • Layout (spacing, table of contents and binding) (2 pages)
  • Contributors (receipt of submissions and returning art originals) (1 page)
  • Copyrights (1 page)
  • Figuring the Zine’s Cost (expenses, printrun and money to print the zine) (1 page)
  • Copying (mail orders and reviews) (1/2 page)


Doing a fanzine is as easy as falling in front of a bus, and has the advantage of being somewhat less dangerous, though not much. Doing a fanzine well is rather more complicated. The methods and suggestions compiled herein are the result of eight years of zine editing and seven years of zine reviewing. For every how-to in this booklet, I have seen or committed half a dozen mistakes myself so do feel bad if you have put a mimeo stencil on backward and run off 50 pages printed mirrorwise. These thins happen. The point of this booklet is to help you avoid some common problems, and to offer hand hints on creating the Great American (or British or Aussie or Tralfamadorian) Zine. This booklet was written primarily for the edification of Starsky & Hutch fandom editors, but the basic info applies to any fandom -- Star Trek, Star Wars, science fiction. If it puts you off to read 'Starsky' and 'Hutch,' substitute 'Kirk' and 'Spock' or 'Luke' and 'Han' or whatever names bring the sense home to you. There's no intention to discriminate, merely to clarify. Good luck, Mr. Phelps.


Now that you have several hundred issues of U.N.C.L.E. TREKWARS' GUIDE TO THE DOCTOR In your basement, how do you unload them? Again, put an ad in one of the newszines; trade ads with another editor; mail or piggyback flyers listing the zine's name, contents, price, postage, and ordering address to as much of fandom as you can afford (get a mailing list from an editor or con chairman); buy a dealer's table at the next media con or sf con; get an agent to deal for you. If you expect to do much overseas business, consider getting an agent to handle sales for you in that country -- she can take care of the local ads and cons better than you can, plus it's cheaper on a per-issue basis to make one large shipping and one large money exchange, than many smaller ones. A 10% commission to the agent for her services is standard in fandom. Be sure in general to offer a range of routes and rates for mailing your orders -- first class, third class, fourth class, UPS, overseas air and sea, itinerant brush salesmen. Postage can run a quarter to a half of your asking price, no insignificant caveat for your reader.

Don't let the mail orders pile up. You'll wind up with a stack that threatens the life of your cat, and you'll be more reluctant than before to process them. Tackle orders as they come in -- every day, or at least twice a week. If you get a rubber or uncashable check, and you've already sent the order, write and ask for a good replacement. There may simply have been a mistake. If there had been no mistake, then fuck 'em and alert fandom. Keep your books for the taxman.

If you get a bad review, first consider the comments given. Is the review on target? Should you have passed on that story about Indiana Jones on the Moon? What can you learn from the criticism? Sure, it hurts to see your zine dissected, and it's embarrassing to see its flaws spotlighted, and it's disappointing to see its best points unappreciated, but if you learn not to repeat the mistakes, then the reviewers can never object to them again. You will be a wiser and abler editor. If you still can't buy the bad news, or not all of it, then consider the reviewer. Is she generally right or wrong? If right, give it hard thought; if wrong, don't let it bug you. Remember Smith's Law: nothing can be so good that somebody somewhere won't hate it. Don't let it make you afraid to try again. We need you. Most of all, enjoy your good reviews and the letters that say, "Gee -- I really liked your zineI"

Raising the money to print the zine is another tightrope. It is a known practice, but a poor idea, to take prepublication payments (aka "reservations" or "deposits") for a first-time zine. Especially if you don't have all your contributors lined up yet, there's the danger that your zine will fall through, and you'll have to return all the money. This is nasty if you've already spent a lot of it. It's far better to save up your own dough, or borrow from your sister, or rob the church poorbox, but if you must go the subscription route, put all the money away in a special account and DON'T TOUCH IT till you are actually just about to print the zine.

If, through some conjunction of Venus and Jupiter, you manage to make money on the zine, there are several things you can do with it. Spend it on riotous living in Bucyrua, Ohio. Buy your husband a steak dinner and a massage for being patient. Save it as seed money for your next issue. Or you can give the surplus to a Fan Fund, or use it to pay for a special treat at next year's con -- the money came from fandom, it ought to go back into fandom. It will make you feel good and improve your karma. You don't want to come back in your next life as Khan, do you?

It's always a good idea to keep your contributors happy, unless you never want to deal with them again. The standard payoff for a contribution -- any contribution, no matter how small—is a freecopy of the zine. Sometimes this gets sticky, if the zine is a monster and the contribution was a haiku. In such a case, you might see if you can strike some sort of percent-off deal with the contributor. But don't be chintz.

Contributors don't like to be diddled with. Writers don't appreciate having extra "rewrites" sprung on them after their piece has been okayed. Artists have a pronounced distaste for seeing their originals clipped, trimmed, redrawn, or cut into pieces. If you must edit the art, never mutilate the originals. Go make a xerox of it, or trace the piece onto a sheet of onion skin, or copy it with carbon paper and a stylus. You can treat xerox burn by inking in the faded areas with a black pen. If you have last-minute thoughts about something in a story, give the writer a call. If you can't come to an agreement, be big -- concede. If it took you this long to notice it, maybe no one else will either.

Acknowledge receipt of submissions within a reasonable length of time -- two weeks is plenty. Say "No," "Yes," or "Yes, if you're willing to rewrite," not "Make these changes, let me see it again, and I'll think about it." What if a piece you accepted six months ago, in your first flush of editorhood, now makes you urp to look at it? Call the author and explain gently your change of heart. See if there's some way of fixing the piece so you still want It. Realize that the piece hasn't changed, just your attitude toward it. If you liked it once, some of your audience might still. Keep your contributors posted on the progress of the zine and the condition of their items. You should not take forever to get the zine out; too often you'll find stories similar to yours coming out in other zines, stealing your thunder. If it should take you two years to whomp your zine into shape, send out postcard bulletins periodically, lest you find your contributors withdrawing their work. And then where would you be?

Return all art originals, unless the artist specifically tells you to keep them, Writers don't usually care whether they get their manuscripts back -- unless it was their only copy, and in that case they're dumb—but it doesn't hurt to ask. Send out your contributors' copies fairly quickly, within a week or two of publication, and preferably via first class or UPS. There's nothing more frustrating to a contributor than to get compliments (or carps) from friends on a zine she doesn't see for three months.

Sample Interior Pages

Reactions and Reviews

'A to Zine' is the best source of information about putting together fanzines, or newsletters, clubzines, convention program books, or any type of fan publishing that I would advise anyone who is just getting into fan publishing to get it. The book is only 14 pages long, but it covers editing, producing masters, reduction, layouts, printing, reproduction, typesetting, mimeographs, art and illustrations how to treat your contributors, copyright laws, and even how to figure out what to charge. It is a good guide for anyone to have.[1]
It gives lots of helpful advice and suggestions, even though it doesn't deal with the troublesome aspects of setting up and running an editorial staff when the zine becomes so "big" that the editor can't possibly do everything by himself/herself. Aside from these limitations, it's a useful booklet, especially for the editors who are under fire for the first time.[2]
This handy booklet provides a thorough overview and introduction to fanzine publishing. Prom CONTENTS to COPING with one of the best mimeo directions I've found in fandom. Mel White's cartoons capture the spirit perfectly while Paula Smith, editor of the long-lived and loved MENAGERIE & Warped Space's inhouse zine reviewer (until recently), gives neos what they need to start and old-timers a quick review of what they may have forgotten on the road to the FanQs. Especially useful for fans trying mimeo.[3]


  1. from Treklink #9
  2. from Southern Enclave #28
  3. from Blue Pencil #1