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Letterzines were non-fiction zines that allowed discussion and chat among groups of fans before email, mailing lists, and the Internet were available. These zines printed letters of comment (called LOCs) from subscribers so they could carry out meta discussions, conversations, and what we would now call flame wars, as well as news about the source text and the fan community. Even non-letterzines often had letter columns filled with LOCs.
The earliest use of the term documented in Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction is 1950.
Letterzines were often digest-sized, center-stapled, and averaged between 10 to 50 pages. Some letterzines contained black and white line art, jokes, small bits of fiction, and cartoons, but most were text. The production of a letterzine in the first few decades was a labor intensive process as the editors had to retype every letter before running it through the mimeograph machine. You would often see pleas from editors asking writers to write legibly and correct their own typos. Because the circulation of most letterzines was small, the zines were hand stapled or simply folded as editors did not find it cost effective to have them professionally bound.
Subscription costs varied. One example: in 1979, the premiere issue of S&H, the Starsky & Hutch letterzine was free with an SASE, but the cost for additional issues was .50 cents plus a .28 cent legal sized SASE. By 1981, the 40+ page letterzine cost $1.50 per issue. Subscription was capped at 150. Interstat, a Star Trek letterzine similar in size but with a larger subscriber base began charging .50 cents per issue which then increased to $1 per issue by 1983.
A fan in 2016 wrote:
Back then we had something called letterzines, which were named and numbered just like regular zines, but existed as a way for fans to discuss things about Star Trek and fandom. They typically came out every month or two. They were like pre-internet discussion boards, and of course, were a much slower means of communicating. But the system worked! And they were very popular. 
List of Letterzines
For a list, see List of Letterzines.
A History of Letterzines
These were the days when the written letter was usually typed, but still often hand-written was the backbone of fannish activity, and letterzines were the means by which large numbers of fans from all areas of the country correspond. The letter columns of science fiction (SF) fanzines had always been filled with gossip, with necessary information about fannish activities, and more important, with lively debate about books, stories, and issues of the day. The letters were called LoCs, letters of comment, and few have ever agreed on how to pronounce the term. Some say "loke," others, "lahk"; and some even speak out the letters, "el-oh-see". (A situation very similar to the current controversy over how to say ".gif". Is it gif as in "gift" or jif after the peanut butter? I've heard both sides claim that the inventor supports their interpretation.) Letterzines were fannish publications dedicated to LoCs. Internet bulletin boards and communities like Yahoo Groups are their descendants. LoCs were the comlink for fannish society. In STAR TREK fandom, the letters column of WARPED SPACE, one of media fandom's crucial early fanzines, was alive with debate over stories and current notions about the ST universe. HALKAN COUNCIL was the first Trek letterzine, morphing eventually into INTERSTAT, which published monthly for over 10 years. 
And More History
From K. Langley:
Before online discussion lists, there were letterzines, APAs (both of which formats still exist today), and lettercols in zines. Some fans were "letterhacks," whose primary fannish activity was writing LoCs. Letterzines were produced by an editor/publisher and contained letters of comment, zine reviews, essays, columns, con reports, zine and con ads, etc. (some letterzines also published short pieces of fiction. It was standard practice for many letterzines to include a Topic of the Month in each issue, to focus discussion in the next issue. Publication might be monthly, bimonthly, or quarterly. While most APAs (and a few letterzines) collated or compiled LoCs for distribution "as is," letterzine editors usually retyped every contribution and laid out the zine for printing.
When the latest issue of a letterzine arrived, the deadline for the next issue was weeks (or months) away. There was time to read, reread, digest all the letters and topics raised, discuss them with fan friends, and then sit down to pen or type a response for the next issue. Writing LoCs was a more involved process then, with no way to make corrections easily, to revise, edit, cut and paste quotes, etc., as is possible on a computer and with email. Even the mechanics of submitting LoCs—addressing and stamping envelopes, taking them to the mailbox or post office—required more than simply hitting "send." As a result, fans generally wrote when they felt they had something significant to say. And, although letterzines certainly have had their share of heated debates, disagreements, and even feuds (such is human nature, within fandom or without), the publication deadlines allowed everyone more time for reflection and exercise of temperance before responding to a volatile issue.Not every contribution to a letterzine or lettercol might make it to print, if the deadline wasn't met, or if the editor had budgetary issues that restricted the number of pages. (It was common to list the names of letter-writers who didn't get printed under the heading of "WAHF"—We Also Heard From.) It also was much more likely for letterzine contributions to be edited. Editing might be done for grammar and spelling, repetition and length, perhaps even for content (although some eds stated a policy of printing anything they received). Letters perceived as attacks usually were returned without printing. 
Letterzines vs Apazines
Letterzines are different from apazines in how they are collected and dispersed. "An apa is a private letter-writing club. The members send their letters to the editor, who collates them and sends everyone a copy in the form of a little zine. Only those who participate regularly (there's usually a specific rule about how often you have to contribute) get a copy. A letterzine, by contrast, is available to everyone and not just the contributors." 
A fan in 1984 wrote:
The difference between an APA and a closed subscription letterzine is that in letterzines, the editor would presumably have the right, as in all fanzines, to edit the letters or refuse to print a letter. In an APA, you are the sole editor. No one else can edit you or refuse to print what you have to say. Sometimes in some APAs this means that a lot of garbage gets printed, but it also means that people an viewpoints that might not otherwise get heard are getting a hearing. 
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.
Some fans also distinguished between letterzines and APAs by limiting how much of their contents could be made public. This distinction was not so much a legal one (certainly principles of fair use could allow subscribers of both to quote excerpts), but rather a social one. In the 2007 fanzine Legacy documenting Star Trek fandom history, the editors and some of the participants made the decision to quote, using a fan's first name and last name initial, or sometimes just a first name, from letterzines, but to not quote from APAs:
One thing is certain—Star Trek fans love to communicate! Long before the existence of personal computers, the Internet and newsgroups, there were...lettercols, letterzines and APAs!....
Letterzines: Soon, fans started producing stand-alone letterzines. They were compilations of fan-written LoCs, reviewing not only stories and zines, but discussing every aspect of the original series, including rumors about its possible return to TV, each movie as it was being made, the doings of the actors, etc. Of course, each film was critiqued as soon as it debuted, and not always entirely favorably. An important part of most letterzines was the section devoted to announcements of newly published zines and a listing of available zines, with contact information for ordering them. Editors looking for stories and art for new zines would place announcements in a section for proposed zines.APA (Amateur Press Association): A correspondence group of like-minded fans who put out a print publication on a fairly regular basis. Although much of the subject matter was about Trek, often far-ranging or personal topics came up and were thoroughly discussed. Members made as many copies of their trib as there were members and sent them to a Central Mailer who compiled them and mailed a compilation to each member. APAs were considered personal correspondence and were not to be sold or distributed outside the group. For that reason, Legacy will not quote from APAs. 
Some Places to Find Letterzines Now
A few letterzines were later put up on the web (typed or scanned); for example, Cousins, a Robin of Sherwood lz devoted to discussing the show from a Wiccan/pagan point of view. Southern Enclave, a Star Wars letterzine also has many issues scanned online.
Some Notable letterzines
For a list of media letterzines, see List of Letterzines.
- Southern Enclave, the longest running Star Wars letterzine
- Interstat, a Star Trek letterzine that lasted over a hundred and fifty issues
- Jundland Wastes, an early, influential Star Wars letterzine.
- Halkan Council, an early and hugely important Star Trek lz, that sponsored the first Star Trek Fan Fund and started the Fan Q awards.
- Not Tonight, Spock!, a K/S lz and reviewzine from 1984.
- Quantum Quarterly, a Quantum Leap lz, edited by Christine Mavroudis
- The Neutral Arbiter, a Blake's 7 lz, edited by Sherri Fillingham & Pat Nussman
- The Horizon Letterzine, also a Blake's 7 lz, ran for at least 21 issues from 1992.
- S and H, a Starsky and Hutch letterzine by boojums Press & PJ Press that went for thirty-eight issues between 1979-1983. It pretty much documents the birth of this fandom.
- | S&H letterzine issue #10 (1981)
- from Fandom Grandma at Spockslash
- a complete copy of Maggie's history of Star Wars letterzines can be found here as a pdf file
- Fanfic Symposium, "The Times They are a Changin'
- from Judith Proctor's site
- from K/S & K.S. (Kindred Spirits) #11
- Sandy's post to the Virgule-L mailing list in August 1993, quoted with permission.
- from The Legacy of K/S in Letterzines, an article in Legacy #1 (2007)