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How to Create a Fanzine

Introduction
Get Focused
Pick a Format
Production Tasks
Six Sexy Proofing Tips

Production Tasks

There’s two broad tasks to be done when it comes to the actual creation of your zine:

1) Getting, and manipulating, the stuff
2) Presenting the stuff

These two tasks require very different skills. You may well be much better at one of those than the other.

The first task requires working with people, encouraging contributions from them, and also strict organisational skills. A certain balance of, say, articles and fiction might need to be maintained in your zine, and it’s your responsibility, not your contributers’, to enable this. Combining specific needs with deadlines can be a tricky business!

(Of course, you may be one of those special people who naturally create masses of material — if so, and if you can keep it up, that first task just became much easier!)

My #1 tip here is never lose a contributor. Make them regular contributors and they they will keep you sane, ensure you always have enough material, and indeed will have the opportunity to pluck out the better stuff. The point is that you have taken from random chance the control over what will be available come deadline time. Once you’ve done that, everything else will come so much easier.

The second task is often seen as the more "glamorous" side, where you can let your imagination flow a bit more and put your mark on the various contributions. It’s what you can actually show people when they ask what you do. Taste in this area is obviously very personal, but a key point to remember is that you liking what something looks like is no guarentee your readers will. Philosophical arguments aside, you have to please and keep your readers or you’re just talking to yourself. A common example is using a font that you find beautiful but everyone else finds unreadable, or forgetting that the eyes of others may not be as sharp as yours when it comes to tiny type.

I’m not going to give a long lesson on clarity and getting the message across — I’d recommend you look at, say, useit.com for a zillion articles in that area. Some of the key lessons I’ve learned over time, though, are:

Simple is better than complicated (unless the issue of the item involved is complicated clutter!)

Be consistent. However you choose to do things, just make sure you do them consistently. People do pick up on consistency (mainly subconsciously).

Empty, or white, space is not evil — in fact, it can be used to point your user’s attention quite effectively. Generally, it’s better to have white space at the top of pages, not the bottom. While white space can be costly in a paper format, it’s important to realise that it basically becomes free in electronic formats.

I hope some of these principles come through in this website. It’s mainly text-based, so I’ve got a "soft" background to relieve eye strain; I’ve left the font size up to my readers (my monitor is at 1600 by 1200 pixels, and what suits me will obviously be inappropriate for a smaller monitor); and I restrict the width of the text column to make for easier pick-up of the next line (newspapers don’t use narrow columns for nothing, you know!).

Seriously, had you thought about any of those issues? Unfortunately, all too often, "flashy" and "new" comes in direct conflict with "readable". (I’ll stop ranting now!)

The actual mechanics of creating your zine are really up to personal preference — you don’t need anything fancy like Quark Xpress until you get to professional colour printing (which isn’t too many of us!). Grab a whole lot of magazines and newspapers, pick your favourite looks and then try to break down what makes them work:

What fonts do they use? (Don’t use too many, by the way). Have they perhaps put some extra space ("leading") between lines for a more elegant and readable look? Do they ensure that two columns next to each other have their respective lines of text aligned at the same positions? (If you’re working with HTML, you can do some of this stuff — for example, I have extra leading applied using Cascading Style Sheets — but you must give up the wish to control everything done to a pixel level. Different browsers, different operating systems and different preference settings will, and should, always take precedence.)

Do they have special symbols or techniques that they use regularly, such as "end of article" icons?

How do they use graphics? Do they go for photos or drawings? What style of drawings? If they use photos, do they go for soft edges or stay with simple squares? How do these choices change the immediate impression you get of the magazine or newspaper?

Do they accentuate headings, bylines or highlight particular quotes? How do they break up pages? If a piece goes over more than one page, how do they ensure you follow it naturally?

Having picked up on all that, then go do whatever suits you!

Six Sexy Proofing Tips


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This page last updated by David J Richardson on Sat, 11 Jan 2003.