Zine Fests: Meccas of Joy for Writers


Billy da Bunny and Alicia Hermanny at the ABQ Zine Fest!


Summer is almost here, and for many people that is the cue for zine fest season! All winter long writers have stayed in like hermits and written lots of great stuff, and zine fests are the perfect time to showcase all that work. Whether organizing, tabling or attending, zine fests are a great place to find inspiration. They’re like art openings for writers!

No matter where you live, chances are one is coming up soon. There’s one in Brooklyn, New York on April 21, one in Lexington, Kentucky in June, another in Portland, Oregon in August, and one in Albuquerque, New Mexico in October. Check out Stolen Sharpie Revolution’s website for more info!

I don’t mind being alone when I write. I prefer it. I need it. It’s my own time to escape into whatever reality I feel like creating. That said, it is nice to be around other people who share my passions, and one of the best places to meet other writers is at a zine fest. A zine fest is an event in which authors and artists meet to buy, sell and trade their zines, comics, books, newspapers, and so on. Whether or not you write (or even read) zines, zine fests are a great chance to meet new authors, make new friends, and find new inspiration.

There are three main types of zine fest participants: organizers, tablers and attendees. Although I’ve helped organize a few zine fests, if you’re interested in that I’d recommend other resources with better information on how to organize a zine fest. I will, however, give you some zine fest tips, whether you’re interested in tabling or attending.

Tips for Tablers

The “tablers” are the people who reserve a table at a zine event, similar to renting a booth at a farmer’s market. It is their goal to set up shop, display whatever items they have to sell, then sit there all day and sell them. It can be fun and also tiring. Here are a few tips to make the day a bit more fun, as well as profitable.

1. Make your table unique. Row after row of tables can lull a person into boredom. Make yours look different. Something as simple as a tablecloth can draw people over. Either a display board standing tall or a banner hanging down is a great way to tell people who you are and what you write. Despite the saying, people ALWAYS judge books by the covers. Stack all your zines in nice, neat piles. Make it look like a store, and people will be more likely to buy your stuff. No one wants to paw through a pile of unkempt papers.

2. Register early. Some zine fests charge a fee to reserve space to sell your stuff; some don’t. But nearly every zine fest requires you to register in advance. There will only be so many tables available, so if you are sure you want to go, make sure you reserve your table before they are all taken!

3. Have plenty of cash. Especially singles. You don’t want to lose a sale just because you can’t make change. It’s a simple tip, but an important one.

4. Be open to trades, but not pressured. One of the most wonderful things about underground literature is the chance to trade some of your work for that of someone else. Lots people will ask, “Hey, I do a zine, too! Wanna trade?” This is a great way to get your hands on new writing, for free. But, if you need money more than zines, or can tell that the other person’s zine is not your style, it’s OK to politely decline the offer.

5. Be nice. Friendly. Even if you are the secret world leader of all introverts, find a way to come out of your shell. You don’t have to be over the top obnoxious (like I usually am) but at least smile and make eye contact. If someone has a question, talk to them, and always be confident! Why would you write something unless you think it’s great? Feel free to tell people how awesome your stuff is! Call upon your inner-carnie and make people believe they can’t live another day without reading your work.

Tips for Attendees

“Attendees” are the people who wander around from table to table, taking it all in. Sometimes they are also zine writers, but sometimes not. They might be authors, artists, or just some dude who happened to be walking by and wondered what the hell was going on. Whether you have been planning on attending a zine fest for months in advance, or just happen upon one, here are a few tips for those on the other side of the tables.

1. Take your time. Don’t buy the first thing you see. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you walk in and see dozens of tables, each loaded up with dozens of titles for mere dollar bills. Walk down the rows and take it all in. There’s no rush. Pick up the items that catch your attention and read a few paragraphs. I usually make a lap or two around the place, then come back to the ones that stuck in my mind.

2. Talk to the author. Ask what kind of stuff they write. Their answer will either make you want the zine more, or less. Either way is fine, as it’s all just a process of getting the writing to people who will enjoy it. You might not get along with every single person you meet, but sooner or later you will meet someone you think is great.

3. Bring cash. Small bills preferred. Most zines sell for $1 or $2, so always have $1 or $2 ready. Makes it easier for me everyone.

4. Stay well-fed. Good advice under any circumstance, I suppose. When you get hungry, you get cranky. You know it’s true. How can you enjoy a creative environment when you’re cranky?

5. Attend the workshops and talks. Most zinefests will offer various classes, workshops or talks. Find the schedule and pick out one or two things that interest you. It’s a great chance to learn new skills or hear someone share their experiences as a writer.


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About Billy McCall

Billy has been writing and self-publishing since middle school, and isn’t about to stop now. His main realm of expertise is zines, but he has also written for various magazines and newspapers over the years, published one novel, and even writes the occasional song. Currently he is living in New Mexico with his dog and two type-writers. He considers hand-written letters to be the highest form of flattery.


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