Creating a Collaborative Art Zine

A how to guide and cautionary tale…

As many of you know, back in June of 2015 I created fēlan.

I had been absorbing modern day zine culture for some time. Collecting, submitting to, following along with We Make Zines and Zines A Go Go, etc. I decided I wanted to make my own as a way to give artists and poets a reachable platform for their work. At the same time I wanted to keep submissions free while maintaining a professional, aesthetically pleasing print publication. As I truly believe emotion in art is so important and can be a very interesting way to relate to one another – I chose to have an emotion word as the theme of each issue.

Before going public with my new venture, I planned a few themes with corresponding colors, designed a logo, created a website, facebook, twitter and instagram (well instagram may have come later as I’ve had a difficult relationship with it in regards to felan, but my mind is not remembering the exact timeline here), chose which fonts and timeline I would work within, found places to share calls for submission, and put together a social media strategy that involved posting daily to truly get out the word of the first issue.

Since that June, in the two years to follow, I’ve released 11 issues of felan. It’s been a largely pleasant experience, through which I’ve grown and in no way do I regret doing it. That said, running something like this is a ton of work. For each issue:

  • Call for submission – post to blog, instagram, facebook, twitter, and 6 open call locations
  • 3 weeks or so later, post a 1 week reminder to all social media accounts
  • 1 week later post that submissions are closed
  • Compile all submissions in a readable, comparable format to share with the guest judge (if there is one for the current issue)
  • Set up a time with the guest judge in person, or work throughout the week over email or other communication device to determine which pieces you both agree should be in the issue (there’s typically more disagreement here than anything – art is so subjective)
  • Create a draft layout of the issue pulling together what you both agreed on, and some that each of you liked individually – align pieces by topic, etc. and send to the guest judge for approval
  • Create a full list of accepted artists and pieces
  • Send out a congratulations email to all accepted artists
  • Stress about and send out a denial email to any denied artists
  • Post list of accepted artists to blog and social media
  • Send out individual emails with contact info for review, selected pieces and interview questions – in this email request high resolution images from artists as needed
  • Within the next 1 – 2 weeks layout the whole magazine in indesign – include all accepted pieces to branding standards, bylines, theme quote, contributor page, etc.
  • If there’s time send this to the guest judge for final approval
  • Upload a test copy to blurb (the publishing/print on demand site) to check for any error messages
  • Review, edit, etc.
  • Send an email to contributors the night before official publication with free digital contributor copy, information on getting print contributor copies and interview reminder – as there will be artists with issues regarding their work, request that these issues be sent to you asap, and thus if you can send the issue to artist sooner than 1 night before do so
  • Upload the final issue to Blurb and set up for sale
  • Announce the issue release on all social media and various other platforms
  • Send out a newsletter through mailchimp announcing the new issue, the next call for submissions and upcoming artist interviews
  • Work with contributors on getting their print issues ordered – my process was to charge base printing cost, with no additional profit. I would have the artist tell me how many copies they’d want and their shipping address, I’d enter this info into blurb as if I was submitting an order to see what the cost with shipping and tax would be, send the contributor their quote for approval then send them a paypal money request, upon payment of the request I’d order their copies for them.
  • Schedule all contributor interviews to post daily on weekdays on the blog – have these auto post to facebook and twitter, post about them manually on instagram
  • 1 week after release announce the next call for submission and begin again – for the last few issues I began doing guest judge interviews as well, I’d remind the judge about their upcoming issue at the date the call opened or 1 week before

Throughout this process there are many email inquiries to handle as well. And I also held a guest judge open call at one time.

I’m very proud of how felan grew from the first few issues getting 12 – 20 submissions, to the last few receiving 50 – 80. That said, I was never as good at the marketing side and if I were to begin this venture again or start something similar, that’s something I feel I’d need to explore more.

I’ve received so many overwhelmingly rewarding messages since taking a step back from felan in the last month. But throughout the process there’s criticism and let down as well. From artists wanting the entire platform changed, not liking the themes, etc. to printing errors and mishaps on Blurbs side. As for the latter, I considered many other publishing/print on demand services. For one, I wanted a service like blurb’s so that I’d have a store front. Alternatively I could have used a service like etsy, but in trying to create high quality magazine like prints, I would have had to find a print shop and order in bulk with no guarantee of sales. Blurb allowed me to have a print on demand set up, where I only had to assure one proof order. There are other platforms like this – like Lulu and Createspace, but lulu’s print and ship cost is much higher, and Createspace’s international shipping is very limited. So, even with some errors with Blurb along the way, I never did manage to find a better alternative.

In my break announcement I said I just couldn’t keep up with felan like I once was able, and in truth I always had a hard time with it. I have a full time job, an art practice, a family and a social life, and as I said felan could be quite rewarding, it was also always overwhelming. As with everything there are pros and cons, and I think it’s important, in ventures like this, to be able to delve all in, and right now I’m just not all in.

So in all this I say, please do start a collaborative zine, you may love it more than anything, but go into it knowing what to expect, and with a plan on how to handle the mountain that’s before you.

Thank you to each of you that read, supported and submitted to felan along the way.

For those of you who are just learning about felan, you can check it out here. While I won’t be opening submissions again for the time being, all past issues are still available, and artist interviews for the most recent issue are continuing to post daily.

5 thoughts on “Creating a Collaborative Art Zine

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  1. Thanks for introducing me to Felan. I can see why it was rewarding. Also, I can feel the overwhelming mountain you had to climb. Life is about making choices and these can change through time. Wishing you peace and joyful moments, Jennifer.

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