The Bigger They Come: The Trials and Tribulations of Megazines

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Title: The Bigger They Come: The Trials and Tribulations of Megazines
Creator: Jeanine Hennig
Date(s): mid to late 1986
Medium: print
Fandom: multifandom
External Links:
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The Bigger They Come: The Trials and Tribulations of Megazines is a 1986 essay by Jeanine Hennig.

It was printed in Blue Pencil #4.

Some Topics Discussed

  • the Star Wars zine Far Realms
  • bigger zines cost more money to produce, and the risks are all larger, too
  • much, much practical advice on binding, collating, using a homemade lightbox, editing, tribbing, artists, and postage
  • fans getting their money's worth

From the Essay

I didn't start out to run a big zine. No, truly! FAR REALMS started out with a first issue of about eighty pages. Then, just like the guinea pigs in the story, it bred and bred...*sigh*. Now FAR REALMS is called cheerfully by others — cursingly by myself, the SW phone book. It is also a good booster chair for toddlers — I know; I've used it as such.

But a big zine (megazines as they're called now) has to be more than just impressive in size. Perhaps it has more rigid standards set for it than any smaller zine. Why? Riddle me this. Batman. Would you pay almost $20 for a zine that had nothing more going for it than sheer bulk? I sure as heck wouldn't.

So we've come to the number one requirement/problem in running a consistently large zine — quality. (And by "consistently", I mean a magazine that comes out on a regular schedule. One-shot biggies have problems, too, but it's much easier to pull out all the stops for a one-shot when you know you won't have to do it again.). Quality is the singularly most important factor in the game of magazines. Sure, it's the single most important thing in smaller zines, too. But with megazines you have to be better. For example, let's say you're a zine buyer. One table has a large zine that suffers from what I call "garbage layout", the artwork is the pits and the stories are fair — not good, not bad, just fair. This biggie costs $17. Then next to it is a smaller zine of much the same quality. Now, if the person decides that she wants one of the zines (assuming that she doesn't walk away), she's going to be more willing to take a gamble on the smaller one that only costs $7.

See what you're up against? Quality is it. Now what it quality? Quality is not just something that looks good; it's something that is good. I have seen zines that were very plain looking but oozed quality just because of the care taken in putting them together, because of the good material inside. Quality speaks for itself with a cleanliness that cannot be faked. So literally, before you even start, you have two strikes against you. You have to be sharp and you're going to be higher priced. Ah, yes. Money. Be prepared. This is perhaps the touchiest subject about zines in general, but in megazines it is a reality. Most of the readers of fanzines have no idea what printing costs these days. And they let you know, in great detail, what they think of your high price. Well, the pat answer is that nothing good comes free. Also, you can hit them up with the 'you get what you pay for'. But you'd better be darn ready to back up those statements with the quality I discussed. Better yet, be armed with the truth.

The truth is, contrary to popular belief, eds of large zines don't mark up their zines just because they want to! Where other zine eds pay anywhere from $600-1500 (ED NOTE: the national average printing price is $1200 for a 100 page zine, 500 copies, no color) for printing, you will be paying up to $3000—depending on, of course, your size. That in itself is another good reason to start off small, build your capital, see if you've got what people want and what it takes to tackle a biggie. A huge zine can mean a HUGE loss. A good thing to know, though, is that because of the size of the job, if you do some smart shopping for a printer, it can end up costing less per page than a smaller zine just because of sheer bulk rates.

First off, you have to edit the manuscripts. (No, when you edit a fanzine you don't just put nice little stories together — go to the back of the class I) Then you have discussions with the author, via letter or phone. Then you have to find artists who can meet your deadline. You have to fix yourself an absolute break-off point in page count. It is all too easy when doing a megazine to forget that you have to have a limit somewhere — I know from first-hand experience! Contributors copies alone can break you, so work out a system for it. Some editors give credit toward purchasing a zine for filler work. I have mixed feelings about that even with a large zine, so I made it a rule — and stick to it — that people who send in shorts/poetry need to send me at least three contributions. That way no one gets burned.

Collating time. You invite your friends over, promise them a meal, and half of them faint when they see the massive stacks of pages awaiting them. Over a period of two-three days, you finally get the copies together. Sure, it was only supposed to take a day, but half the people fainted, remember? Not to mention the ones who fell asleep from lack of rest and the one who had to put methiolate on their hands from the paper cuts (ED NOTE; Or the ones who were busy until Christmas or suddenly heard their mother's calling when you said the words "collating party" to begin with or)... Binding time, you can't staple this sucker. It be too big. Two volumes? You don't have two covers. You basically have two choices — 'perfect binding' or 'GBC (plastic spiral bound). Perfect binding looks really sharp. Depending upon your printer or binder, it can be less or more expensive than GBC. The issues I had perfect bound, FAR REALMS 4/5 & 6, were done by a very capable bindery and did not suffer from having pages fall out like some perfect-bound zines have. But you do have the problem of people finding them hard to read simply because you can't lay them flat.

Another choice is simply buying a GBC, hand-operated binder, sure, you'll have sore arm muscles for a couple of days after you tackle punching holes in the darn thing, but you obviously think pain is fun or you wouldn't be steadily doing megazines. (Who needs Nautilus when you've got a GBC binder?) We recently broke down and bought one, when we found that we could buy two for the price it takes the printers to do all the work. And you can exchange labor/dollars/whatever to let other editors use it.

Megazine publishing is not fun. Thos who think it is don't often come out with quality zines. It is work, hard work. Around publishing time I'll guarantee you that you won't want to do another one. You'll threaten your mate or family or roomie with hari-kari, threaten to sell yourself for enough money to do the darn thing — it's like a disease. And, like a disease, it gets into your blood and won't let go. So why do one?

Well, there are several reasons. "Mount Everest Syndrome" is one of them — "because it's there". Every reason is different for every editor I'm sure. My reasons are varied. I tend to write tomes, so I have a soft spot in my heart for writers who do the same. I like to give those writers a forum to publish their work in its entirety, without breaking it up into parts. A friend of mine once told me that I was the only editor who didn't faint when she walked up and mentioned a 100+ page manuscript. I took without a whimper. But that's not the only reason. I hold firm to FAR REALMS because most of the 'old generation' magazines, of which it is a part, are no longer publishing. FR is almost the only one left. I never want for material and never have—I must be doing something right I And as long as that keeps up, I'll keep up.

So call me a masochist...