sf Fanzines

The major thing to note about fanzines is that one is not dealing here with the Time-Life Corporation. Fanzines are published by enthusiasts in their spare time on a shoe-string budget for the pure love of it. This means they are generally a lot more fun to read or produce than Time, but they are also a lot less reliable. Don't believe anything any editor ever tells you about deadlines, schedules, the content of upcoming issues, or editorial policy. All are subject to change without notice, as real-world pressures sidetrack their editors. Although fanzine editors are all honest, well-intended folks, their best laid plans oft gang astray and the next thing you know it's three years between issues. So Rule Number One is: Be Patient.

A corollary is that any list of addresses I could provide would be out of date before I finished typing it. Fortunately, clubzines are an exception to this rule since they can shift editors whenever the current one burns out. A clubzine generally publishes news about the club; a list of upcoming conventions; reviews of current fanzines; and articles, stories or art showcasing it's members' talents. One clubzine a with long unbroken publishing schedules is BCsfAzine.

A second type of fanzine is the newszine, which as the name suggests, provides news about conventions, clubs, sf Awards, scandals, other fanzines, and so on. Canada's current national newszine is Under the Ozone Hole (UTOH) by John W. Herbert and Karl Johanson.. The American newszine is File 770, by Mike Glyer, P.O. Box 5828 Woodman Ave. #2, Van Nuys, CA 91401 $5US/5. (There are also two professional sf newszines which may be of interest: Locus, P.O. Box 13305, Oakland CA 94661, USA.; and Science Fiction Chronicle, Algol Press, P.O. Box 2730, Brooklyn, NY 11202-0056.)

The mainstay of fanzine fandom, however, is the genzine. A genzine is a general content, general circulation publication. While it is assumed that editor and readers share a background in sf, the content of genzines ranges far and wide. A typical genzine may include a humorous essay on the editor's summer vacation; an analysis of current political events; a review of a recent convention; an essay on childbirth; a satirical version of Star Wars 27; a book review column; a day in the life of a South American village written by a South American subscriber; another reader's account of his job driving a dynamite truck; a critical essay on the works of a particular author, though not necessarily sf; lots of cartoons; an ongoing fan feud; fanzine reviews; and a great many letters from readers. Continuity is provided solely by the private tastes and interests of the editor, and each genzine generates its own loyal following of like-minded readers. Even choosing carefully on the basis of fanzine reviews in other fanzines, it is likely that you will have to try several dozen before finding the ones most to your own liking.

Even more idiosyncratic are personalzines (or "perzines"). These are one person productions, often autobiographical, and usually have very limited circulations. Many perzines are of interest only to those who know the author through previous correspondence, from conventions, or elsewhere, but some prominent fanzine writers manage to build up a fair size audience for anything they produce.

There are also a host of specialized fanzines devoted to a particular subgenre or topic. There are any number of Star Trek, Star Wars and Dr. Who fanzines; a half dozen devoted to the works of particular authors, such as Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover series, and Jacqueline Lichtenburg's Sime/Gen universe; a number dealing with sf in particular countries; and separate fandoms dealing with comics, role-playing games, and so on.

Fanzines which publish fiction are now rare. The exceptions are the specialized zines mentioned above which focus on copyrighted universes (Star Wars, Darkover, Beatuy and the Beast etc.) and which publish stories for the insatiable fan market. Similarly, the economics of Quebec's relatively small commercial market have produced several semi-pro zines which publish Francophone fiction.

The second key to fanzine fandom, as mentioned earlier, is two-way communication. Most (but not all) fanzines will take cash in lieu of feedback, but it is generally expected that readers will respond with letters, editorial submissions (writing or artwork), or a fanzine of their own in trade.

Most people start by writing letters of comment (locs) on previous issues. Most fanzines devote substantial portions of each issue to the letter column, and many fans (such as the legendary Harry Warner Jr.) build their entire reputations on their ability as "letterhacks". Even a hastily scribbled postcard, however, is often sufficient to indicate your continued interest in receiving future issues and, if interspersed with cheques or the occasional longer letter, enough to keep you on the mailing list. (An important warning here: Anything you write to an editor of a fanzine will be interpreted as a loc, unless clearly labelled otherwise. If you wish to correspond on other matters, label your letter "DNP" (for Do Not Print). Ignoring this simple precaution could lead to embarrassment all round as your speculations about various fans' love affairs turn up unexpectedly (and libellously) in someone's fanzine.)

Writing book, movie or fanzine reviews for the local clubzine is another good way to get your feet wet in fanzine fandom. Once you've become hooked on writing, feel free to submit essays, articles, humour bits, or whatever to those fanzines you enjoy reading. Chances are you will find someone whose taste is sufficiently similar to your own that they will publish your material. And there is nothing quite like seeing your own stuff in print.

Two cautions here, however. Be prepared to see your stuff edited. This is why the people who produce fanzines are called "editors". And be prepared to have some of your fellow readers take exception to even your most innocuous comments.

Sooner or later, everybody in fanzine fandom writes something that gives offence, whether intended or not. Written communication isn't perfect and crucial elements (such as tone of voice) are difficult to convey in print. From experience I can guarantee that anything you write can be misinterpreted, and you can find yourself embroiled in controversy in spite of your best intentions to the contrary. For example, when "...And the Canadian Way?" was originally published it was widely misinterpreted as (1) demanding that all Canadian sf follow the formulas set out; and (2) claiming that Canadian sf is better than American sf. In fact it says nothing of the kind: Christine was simply speculating about the sort of sf Canadians would write if more Canadians wrote sf. (As an aside, it's interesting to note how close to the mark Christine's predictions turned out to be.) Nevertheless, many American fans pronounced themselves deeply offended and the resulting controversy went on for years.

Don't let this discourage you. All fanzine fans know this sort of misunderstanding is inevitable, and as long as you don't take it personally or overreact, it's all just fodder for the letter columns. Fans love to argue, and the table thumping that goes on in fanzines seldom translates as real animosity. British fans in particular are famous for slagging each other off in the fan press, and to read their zines you'd think many of them likely to murder each other on sight. Instead, they buy each other pints. So relax, don't take yourself or others too seriously. Chances are a lot more people like your stuff than otherwise.

Producing Your Own Fanzine

Eventually you may get tired of relying on the uncertain publishing schedules of others, and decide to edit your own fanzine. My advice is to rethink this decision carefully. Fanzines always lose money, they always take more time and energy than you thought possible, and they always get less feedback than you hope. None of your friends or relatives will understand why you are wasting your time and money this way, and sooner or later, neither will you.

Of course none of this will deter you if your muse seizes on fanzines as a creative outlet. And there certainly is something to be said for the joys of mastering not only writing, but the layout, printing, and people skills necessary to put together a first class fanzine.

By way of general advice, there are two principles you need to follow in starting your own fanzine.

First, build up some experience and contacts by writing for other fanzines before trying it yourself. That way when you write to other fans soliciting articles or art, they will know who you are and whether they are likely to want to appear in your zine.

Second, use your local club or contacts at a convention to build up a support group. Submissions from the great names in fandom are all very well, but you need new and local people to really pull it off. After all, the great fan writers are already writing for their favorite zines, and it is only the calibre of your own writing and that of the new people you can bring in, that will entice them to add your zine to their list. It also helps if your local fandom has a few experienced fans who can provide advice on the finer points of layout, printing, etc. .

Traditionally, editors give complimentary copies to anyone who provided articles or artwork, helped with the printing or collation, or otherwise contributed to the project. You will also want to send off copies in trade for other fanzines you enjoy, to zines which carry a fanzine review column, and to writers and artists you hope will contribute material in the future. Whatever copies are left over can then be sent to potential readers in hopes that they will respond or subscribe.

You find these potential readers by looking through other people's zines for the names of fans who seem to have the same tastes as yourself. (Most fanzines include the addresses of contributors precisely for this purpose.) You can also try distributing copies to members of your local club or interested people at a convention. (I would avoid distributing first issues at a convention, however. In my experience fans are too busy to read it, and after the con it gets put aside and forgotten. In contrast, when a new zine arrives in the mail, by the time they've figured out who it's from, they're already reading it. On the other hand, in-person distribution does save on postage, and it does allow you to find out if the person is uninterested before you waste a copy. ) In either case, it is unlikely that you will be able to sell many copies, particularly of a first issue. What's worse, the response rate to free copies will be between 10-20%, unless you are well known and have selected your mailing list very carefully. By eliminating people from your mailing list who don't respond after a couple of issues, and adding new people as their names crop up, you may be able to slowly build a loyal readership.

Even then, of course, only a small percentage will be cash subscribers. Most will be responding with letters, articles, artwork or their own fanzines in trade. Considering the cost of printing and mailing an issue, all these free copies make this an expensive proposition. Remember, fanzines always lose money. (If nothing else, by definition, since a fanzine which makes a profit is called a "semi-pro" zine.) Fan publishing can be a creative outlet, can provide something to trade for other fanzines, or can even make you famous in our microcosm, but a way to make money it isn't.

[To read about amateur press associations, a particular type of zine, use the "next" button below.]

"sf Fanzines" is part of an article on sf Fandom by Robert Runté, but may be read independently. If you wish to begin at the beginning, start here.

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This page last updated:
March, 2003

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This page last updated: March, 2003

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