Monday, September 2, 2019

It Feels Good To Have Made Something

Late last Sunday I put Dirge of Urazya, my recent rpg 'zine, up for sale. By Tuesday afternoon I was sold out of them. They went quick, which is pretty flattering.

I want to thank everybody who bought a copy. I hope yours arrives safe and sound, and I hope you enjoy it immensely. I worked hard on it, I'm very pleased with the results, and I'll work even harder on the next thing I do. That's the deal.

Note: it's sold out for now. I have some copies in reserve to take care of anyone whose copy goes missing in the mail and that sort of thing. Which means that once copies are all accounted for, I will have a handful to offer up to anyone who missed the initial announcement. Best way to make sure you don't miss the next batch is to send an email at totgad AT gmail DOT com and ask to be put on the notification list. (Also, if you bought a copy and forgot to give me your DriveThru address for a free pdf, hit me up.)

Barring that, there's always the pdf. (Here's a thing worth pointing out: making a 'zine does not mean turning your back on digital formats. I put mine out in print and as a pdf. Both. At the same time!)

I want to talk a bit about the 'zine making process and why you should definitely give it a try if you feel like that's something you are interesting in doing. The barriers to entry are low; lower than you think, actually.

I generally used the method and tools that Julia Gfrorer outlines in her 'zine publishing guide and that Jim Rugg demonstrates in this video

Note, however, that my process was not entirely analog. I created the interior pages using LibreOffice--a free word processor. Here's how I did it:

  • I set up a template that was in 8.5x11 landscape format, with with .50 margins.
  • The page is set up to have two columns. There is 1" of spacing between the columns. This space accounts for where the page will be folded once it is printed. (Half of an inch is .50, so it's consistent with our margins.)
  • Note that although you might want to type out your pages like this was any other document (I did because that's how I'm accustomed to working) you WILL need to re-order the pages when you've finalized your content so that they print in the correct order for a booklet.
  • There's a formula for your page numbers, so when you start moving pages to work as a booklet make sure you're following the numbering here.

These were the costs to make my 'zine, with some notes:
  • Printing 50 b&w duplex copies of a 24 page interior (1) - $47
  • Envelopes for mailing (2) - $8
  • Longarm stapler (3) - $10
  • Black cardstock for the cover (4) - $1
  • White acrylic craft paint for the cover - .50
  • Foam brushes for the cover - $1

(1) - You should shop around for the best deal on your copies. Kinkos and Staples were both quite a bit more expensive than the online place I went with (it's the one Jim Rugg recommends in the video above) even when accounting for having them shipped to my house. I could have gotten my pages for even cheaper, but I opted for thicker paper rather than normal weight copier paper. You don't need to do that, especially if you're just testing the waters on your first 'zine project! If you have the time and inclination, standing at a copier and doing it yourself may be the cheapest option; again, shop around.

(2) - I got 100 of these envelopes from Amazon and let me steer you the fuck away from them! The adhesive on flap sucks; I ended up having to reinforce the closure on every envelope with clear packing tape just to be sure because those fuckers were not staying closed. Find different envelopes than the ones I got.

(3) - I can, however, endorse this cheap longarm stapler I got. I made a pile of 50 'zines, two staples per book, and it didn't jam once. No crooked staples either. Even though I'm counting the stapler as something I had to buy to do this project, it's an investment that I can use every time I make a batch of 'zines. I think it's identical to this stapler, which oddly might be what I got anyway because mine says "Business Source" instead of "Sparco" on it. Weird. Anyway, buy whichever of those is cheapest at the time.

(4) - Your 'zine doesn't need to have a hand-stenciled cover like mine did; it did it that way purely because I wanted to and knew I would enjoy making it. Your 'zine doesn't really need a cover at all! The first page can be the cover; that's totally fine. 

Other materials that went into the 'zine's production that I had lying around that I haven't taken into account regarding the cost of production: 
  • I needed a palette for my acrylic paint when making the cover, so I pulled the pane of glass out of an unused picture frame and used that. A paper plate would also have worked.
  • To make the stencil for the cover I cut the shapes I wanted out of a comic book backing board with an X-Acto knife.
  • I didn't have a bone folder to make a strong crease in each booklet, but I did find a sturdy plastic knife in the cutlery drawer that did the job.
  • My point is that you probably have a lot of materials you can use already hanging out in your house. All you need to do is get creative with what you already have.

I ended up spending about $30 on shipping, so the grand total I spent making and sending Dirge of Urazya is ~$100.

My profits, after costs, were ~$230.

Now, that isn't life-changing money for me, but it's a nice chunk of change to make over the course of the two days the 'zine was on sale. The takeaway is that you are unlikely to get rich by making a 'zine.

But that's okay because it's hard to put a price on things like "Man, that was a fun project to put together and I'm really excited for people to get their copies!" And who knows, you might end up with a tidy little sum of extra income.

("But I don't have access to a way to sell them!" someone in the back cries. If you're reading this, you have the internet, so you do. I made a free Big Cartel page and would be happy to show you how too. You DO NOT need to "know people in the 'zine scene," you do not need to get a bookshop to pick up your title on consignment, and do not need to send your 'zine to Factsheet Five. Does that...even exist anymore?)

'Zines will not replace all other kinds of artistic production. My POD books remain perpetually in print because I don't have to worry about assembling them myself; they stumble along, continuing to generate a profit after my involvement in their creation is over. I can say, though, that working on each 'zine by hand was a much more fulfilling feeling that uploading my pdf to DriveThru and then...having it be out of my hands and kinda weirdly impersonal at that point.

So yeah, give making a 'zine a try if the idea at all appeals to you. I highly recommend 'zines as a first project in the rpg or comics hobby because the stakes are so low: they don't cost much, you don't need specialized equipment, and there are so few limits that even discussing them feels like blowing smoke and wasting each other's time.

Even if your 'zine doesn't pan out the way you had hoped, at least you didn't trap yourself in a Kickstarter for a big project that will hang around your neck like an albatross.

In closing, I am not an expert in making 'zines. This is the first one I have made completely on my own since the 90s. Even so, if you have questions, want advice, or anything else, drop a comment below. I will try to sort you out to the best of my ability because I would love to see you make something.