Having been involved with the small press scene for a number of years, it is not unusual to receive emails from people who are just getting into the field themselves. They have questions about how to start, how to distribute, how to manufacture, and so on. Below are several sample questions that come up a lot, as well as my answers. Since this column is appearing in a Toronto magazine, I have molded the answers specifically to this city when possible.
Q. I am starting a small press zine and don’t really know where to start.
A. Getting in touch with other zines is a good start. Most zines are very willing to share information with each other. Also, contact Word, published by Insomniac Press. Word is a literary newspaper that publishers a literary event calendar, reviews, ads and calls for submissions. We received many submissions through our listing in Word. They can be found on the web at http://www.insomniacpress.com/word/inde
Q. Where do I sell my zine?
A. We found that trying to sell a zine in a book store on consignment (where they only pay you for what they sell) is pretty much hopeless. The zine ends up getting buried behind other merchandise, and no one can even find it. However, many comic shops, small book stores, and even large chain stores will carry it if that’s the way you want to go. In Toronto your best bet are music stores, comic stores (like Silver Snail), head shops and Pages Books and Magazines. Pages is an alternative book store which sells many hard to find titles. They also have a whole display rack dedicated to the small press. This is your best bet in Toronto, if you want to sell through a store. They are located at 256 Queen St W, Toronto, ON M5V 1Z8, and their phone number is (416) 598-1447.
Q. So if you don’t sell through stores, how do you move your product?
A. We sell most of our publications either through distribution agencies or our website. Distributors can work in one of two ways. They'll either advertise your publication, and then place an order with you if someone places an order with them, or they will buy a bunch upfront. For the publisher, the second method is preferred, as those copies are now sold; if the distributor can't sell them, they are stuck with them. The downside to that is if they don't move, the distributor may not order more. You have to find distributors that deal with publications of your genre. Below is the contact information for three distributors we have had many dealings with over the years. If they are not interested in the genre of your zine, they may be able to direct you to someone who is.
5879 Darlington Road
Pittsburgh, PA 15217
c/o Mythos Books
218 Hickory Meadow Lane
Poplar Bluff, MO 63901 USA
c/o Project Pulp
All three of these distributors work differently. For Stuff, we send Paul one issue of our publication which is then reviewed within the pages of Stuff (basically, it’s a catalogue). People then read Stuff over, contact Paul and he places an order with us. This way he is only buying issues he knows he can sell.
Mythos Books (which carries horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and mystery items) buys in bulk and then sells the purchased items through their webpage and infrequently printed catalogue. David generally orders in amounts ranging from 2 to 10 at a time, and orders more when they sell out. Mythos Books is one of the best distributors I’ve ever worked with. David is punctual and reliable and pays quickly for ordered items.
Similar to Stuff, Project Pulp will advertise publications on its website, and place orders with the publisher when clients contact them. There’s less overhead for them (since they have no print catalogue) and the website is constantly being updated. Project Pulp is a class act distributor, very professional and punctual with their payments. I definitely advise everyone interested in selling a zine to get in touch with Jon.
Q. So what does it cost me to sell through a store or distributor?
A. Generally, distributors and stores keep 40-60% of the cover price. We always avoided the places that wanted 60%, but would take the 50%. (I just don’t think its fair for the producer of a product to make less than the seller.) Take this into consideration when you price your zine. If you’re selling it for $4, you’ll likely only get between $2 and $2.50 per issue sold.
Q. How do I make my zine more well known?
A. Get in contact with other zines, and arrange ad swaps with them. This is something that I do constantly, and it gives your publication wide exposure. Also, send out as many review copies as you can afford, as this will also give you good exposure. You won't know how, but word will begin to spread. Though I never received any orders from Italy, one of my zines was wonderfully reviewed on an Italian webzine. Ad swaps and reviews will spread awareness of your publication around the world (I now have contacts in the Netherlands, Portugal, the UK, Scotland, the US, Brazil and so on). If you can, go to small press shows in your area. (For Toronto small press fairs, see last month’s column.)