Chapter 1: Why Publish?
by Mike Gunderloy
from "How to Publish a Fanzine"
Maybe you picked
this book up because you're already convinced that small-scale
publishing is the thing for you, and you just want a few hints
on how to get ahead. If so, great! The chapters ahead should
hold a lot of useful information to get you started on the road
to fanzine success.
On the other hand, maybe you don't even
know what a "fanzine" is. (If that's the case, fear
not: there's a Glossary of unusual terms in the back of the book.)
Or maybe you're firmly convinced that we small publishers are
all crazy. In that case, we'd better start from the start.
Why do people spend all their spare time
and money publishing something that, in the great majority of
cases, will bring them nothing but hate mail and big bills? I
think the reasons break down pretty neatly into three classes:
Fun, Fame and Fortune.
Fun (and its corollary, Friends) is an
almost certain outcome of self-publishing. There's very little
to match the feeling of pride that comes from actually watching
your own creation go out in the mail, just like a "real"
magazine. There comes a time, about two weeks before each issue
comes out, that I am completely sick of my own fanzine, Factsheet
Five. But, two weeks later, after the last copy has been
thrown in the mail sack, I start smiling again. The hard work
is worth it, just to see the finished product. And a few weeks
later, when letters start rolling in, I realize that other people
are getting fun out of this project, too. Along with this fun
comes the contact with people across the country and around the
world I get more letters than I can answer any more, and I love
Fame is a bit more unlikely. If you start
small and I think you should maybe only ten or fifty or a hundred
people will read your first effort at publishing. If you keep
at it for a couple of years, this might get up to a thousand
or two. Let's face it, even 2,000 happy readers are not going
to get you the Nobel Prize for literature or a mention in the
New York Post (although the Village Voice or Rolling
stone is not out of the question). In some areas of the zine
field, there are less grandiose awards. Science fiction has the
Hugo and FAAN awards. Poets have a number of competitions to
enter their work in (although as far as I can tell, many of these
competitions exist only to separate the budding poet from an
entry fee). But newcomers don't win the Hugo award. In fact,
to aspire to that level of fame you probably have to know exactly
what you're doing right from the start, and concentrate on getting
your zine into the hands of the People Who Count, pumping up
your circulation tO reach more potential award voters, and so
on. That's not my idea of fun.
On the other hand, perseverance and hard
work will bring you at least a bit of fame in limited circles.
Just about everyone who publishes poetry probably recognizes
Merritt Clifton's name, thanks to his long-running review-zine
Samisdat. Many punk rockers would be able to tell you
that Flipside is published by Al and Hudley. In my own
case, after five years of writing reviews I seem to be turning
into an authority on the underground and alternative press. I've
done interviews for newspapers and radio (though alas, the story
for The Wall Street Journal got killed), written invited
articles for other magazines, and given a few lectures. But I
don't expect to make the front cover of Time at this rate.
Fortune is nearly impossible. There are
indeed fanzines out there that support their editors, though
not in style. But the vast majority lose money. If you can steal
your copying at the office and your stamps from your father,
you can avoid this. But that's no way to get rich. To take a
concrete example, Factsheet Five just about broke even
in 1986. In 1985, on about half the circulation, it lost about
$800. (The current circulation is hovering around the 2000 mark:
large enough to be a hell of a lot of work, too small to make
a lot of money.) In the first half of 1987, though, I lost another
$800 or so, mainly due to stocking up on supplies and more careful
accounting. I'm sure not laughing all the way to the bank. I
expect to be making some minuscule amount of money off of Factsheet
Five some time over the next few years, but I have no intention
of dropping out of school and letting the zine support me. Well,
I have the intention, but so far the zine doesn't have the funds.
But who cares? I'm firmly convinced that
fanzines are for fun, not for profit. (I'm not as rabid about
this as the hardcore SF fans, who refuse to admit that anything
available for money could ever be a "real" fanzine.
I could get out of this hobby and take up skiing and spend a
lot more money for less fun. For something that keeps me off
the streets, helps me meet new friends, and brings me hundreds
of interesting things to read, fanzine publishing is dirt cheap.
I have one word of warning to offer budding
publishers, despite my devotion to the hobby, and that is Time.
You won't have any left if you get seriously involved in putting
out a fanzine. I have missed the deadline on term papers, taken
incompletes in graduate courses, and done my Christmas shopping
on December 24th, all because of the time that Factsheet Five
soaks up from my everyday schedule. The temptation
to do just a bit better, to write just one more page, to send
out just ten more sample copies, is irresistible even after one
has already spent hours collating and folding and stapling. In
fact, this manuscript is over a year late getting to the publisher,
in large part because of my fanzine commitments.
Copyright 1988 Mike
Gunderloy. Posted with permission. To download "How to Publish
a Fanzine," click here.
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