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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 it.
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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