Roll Your Own

So, You Want to Start an E-Zine?

Testing Your E-Zine

No matter what format you chose, test your zine before sending it out. In the case of an ASCII zine distributed by email, Phil Agre suggests that you label it as a DRAFT—DO NOT CIRCULATE and "send it to a dozen friends and a dozen people who already run online newsletters with low-pressure request for criticism and comment." Adds Steven Jarvis of Kudzu:

    Test, test, test! Just because something works on one platform or browser doesn't mean that it won't break on another format. The other advice I would give is to be organized. Plan ahead for everything. Study existing zines, paying careful attention to layout and design and format. Ask questions of editors. Most are willing to help.

Test your work on as many machines and with as many readers as you can. That's how the software developers test new products. It will eliminate a lot of headaches, and it's important since most of the archivists who store zines for readers to retrieve are volunteers. They don't have time or patience to upload repeated corrections or upgrades. Your readers might forgive one screw-up, but not two or three. In the case of a Webzine, view it using different browsers and with different settings.

Distributing Your E-Zine

Once you've assembled and thoroughly tested your zine, it's time to find your readers. Alex Swain of Whatever Ramblings:

    The Internet is big no matter how you slice it. It is quite possible to use the Net for 10 years and never come across something you would have enjoyed. Because of this you have to viciously plug yourself wherever you can. Chances are that people who will find your zine will happen across it when searching for other things.

If you're doing a Webzine, publicity is sometimes more work than actually creating content. See How to Publicize Your E-Zine for help. Most zine editors who create ASCII zines distribute them by email, although some also archive their back issues at Web sites or places like It's not smart to send your zine out to large numbers of people unsolicited, and for privacy's sake, either send out copies individually or configure your mail program so that the CC: list is invisible. Groups like are an easy way to establish a mailing list to distribute your e-zine. You also canpost your e-zine to Usenet groups such as alt.binaries.zines or alt.etext. And don't overlook the simple things, such as including brief instructions on how to retrieve your e-zine in your signature file (the personal info you see on the end of e-mail messages; most mail programs allow you to set one up automatically).

World Wide Web

Several great books have been written on how to create your own Web page, and many free tutorials are available online. In the simplest terms, the Web is a series of files stored through the Internet that can be read by software known as browsers. Popular browsers are Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Explorer. When a reader types in your zine's Web "address," they are taken to a page not unlike what they'd get with a paper zine. It might include color graphics, photographs, text of various sizes and "links" (in the form of highlighted words, graphics or photos) that, when clicked on with a mouse, take them to another place on the Web or another page in your online zine.
You'll often see Web files referred to as HTML files, which is the coding you need to add to ASCII files to tell the browsing software how to display them. To make a word bold, for instance, you would place a simple code before the word and a simple code after. Here's Herbert Gambill:

    Legend has that when Buster Keaton first started performing in films, he took a camera apart to see how it works. That's also how most people first learn the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML): they download the source code of a favorite page and take a look at the mysterious instructions that produce such pretty pages. There is little to learn, just a few formatting tags, learning how to add images to your document, creating hypertext links, and so forth. Sounds real complicated but all of it is stuff that once you've mastered it you're astounded at how simple it is.

It is simple. A year after I went online with my own paper zine, Chip's Closet Cleaner, I had a Web page, a Mac, a DOS and an ASCII version of my 12th issue. Recently I transformed my sold-out Spinal Tap A to Zed zine into an Acrobat file — a second printing that involved no paper and no stamps and allowed me to update and expand the text without worry about how many staples it would take to secure it. And yet, for issue 13 of CCC, I returned to the print shop. I plan to do it again for the Issue 14. Enough readers told me that they missed being able to hold the zine in their hand, worshiping it (well, they didn't actually say the worshiping part, but you get the idea). At the same time, it's hard to ignore the fact that more people read my work in a week online than have seen all the issues of my paper zine combined. I would suggest, if you have a paper zine, that you attempt some balance before abandoning traditions altogether. Experiment with online publishing as a supplement to your paper version, rather than a substitute. Herbert Gambill went full circle:

    After preparing the ASCII version, it occurred to me how easy it would be to layout a print version and so I did, adding black-and-white graphics in place of the color ones used in my web pages. I call this the "pathetic print version" of Joyce Wankable but I actually like it. However, I can only afford to make enough copies to send to computer-less friends and drop off in coffee shops for that coin-in-the-fountain thrill.

A.J. Liebling once said that "freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one." Connected to the Net, you're halfway there.

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