Friday, February 08, 2013

Blast From The Past: How To Write Your Own Fanzine...

Good Afternoon, All:

I've been dealing with a sick child this week, and the rumors are taking a little longer to come up with than I anticipated. When I'm done, there's going to be a very cool table (I hope), but I'm not quite there yet. Still, I didn't want to leave my readers without something to enjoy. That's when I remembered an article I posted on the Citizens of the Imperium board back in the early days of the Stellar Reaches fanzine. The article was on what I considered would be necessary to write your own Traveller fanzine, but I'm sure it could be useful for considering other genres as well. Remember, this was written probably four or five years ago, so some of the tech references are quite dated. (Honestly, some of them were dated even then.) With that in mind, I present to you the following:

How To Write Your Own Fanzine
by Jason "Flynn" Kemp

The process of creating and producing your own fanzine can be very rewarding, in a creative sense. You won't make money off of it, but you'll discover a lot of new skills and make a few new friends along the way.

Below are a collection of thoughts on the subject of creating your own fanzine, based on my own personal experiences with Stellar Reaches.

First, and most importantly, keep things in perspective. The fanzine is not your life, and it shouldn't get in the way of your family or your job. If you are concerned about the time it takes, then either look to the long-term or find people that can help you out. Perspective is very important, because if you don't keep it, you'll end up like most people out there, with great intentions and no follow-through because Life is guaranteed to get in your way once you start a project like this.

Out of the four efforts I've seen announced in the last three years or so, only Stellar Reaches actually produced a first issue. I attribute my success in those regards to one thing and one thing only: I didn't tell anyone what I was doing until I was ready to release the first issue. That way, I wouldn't be another false hope. For those of you with aspirations of producing a fanzine, this may be something to consider.

Now that you are ready to begin, pick a concept to center your fanzine around. For me, I aimed for general support for the fans of CT and T20 primarily, and wanted to capture the feel of the old 80's fanzines as a type of nostalgia production. Other than that, I had no other goals or themes. On the other hand, DGP produced the Traveller Digest, an excellent themed fanzine focusing on developing the Imperium over the course of a Grand Tour from Regina to Capital to Terra to Kusyu and back to Regina. In a similar vein, a 1248 fanzine could focus on the Great Rescue (as has been suggested elsewhere).

For Stellar Reaches, I looked at what I considered to be good examples of fanzines from the period: Third Imperium, High Passage, Far Traveller and Security Leak, for example. I looked for similarities, for things that interested me, and things that I thought would contribute to the Traveller fanbase in general. Here's a brief list of the things I figured would be in most issues, give or take a bit:

  • Editor's Note
  • An interesting article
  • An astrography article
  • An Adventure
  • A second interesting article
  • Something starship related (like a new ship or system additions)
  • A Patron Encounter
  • A Wildlife Encounter

There were a lot of other things that could be added, but I figured the above would be something I could continue if I had to do all the work myself. That leads us to the Second Rule: don't do anything that you can't pick up the slack for if others suddenly have Real Life (tm) moments and can't deliver. In the end, it's your magazine, so if you want it to succeed, you shouldn't plan on anything you can't do yourself, just in case.

Fortunately, there are some great people out there with a drive and willingness to contribute to such ventures, and Stellar Reaches became a community project long before I had to do all the work to carry it. Still, if need be, I know that I can write enough to deliver at least 20 pages per issue, though I like it better when it's a bit of everyone's contributions.

Okay, so you've got some ideas and some material. What next? Well, you actually have to create the product. There are several ways to do it, either using a word processor or a desktop layout publisher. You can get acceptable results with a word processor, so long as you are careful with it, but you'll get better results (IMO) with a desktop layout publisher. Issues #1-3 of Stellar Reaches were done in MS Publisher. Issue #4 was done in MS Word as an experiment. Both work well, but there are other options that will make for a more professional document, if you have the cash to pick it up and the time to learn how to use it. (Also, the layout skills may serve you well with the small D20 publishers out there, who are looking for people to pay a small pittance in order to get a nice product to sell. It'll at least pay for your gaming book habit, if you can build up a reputation for good work.)

Once you have a master document, you'll need to practice on your PDF creation abilities. Usually, that's pretty easy. I use Adobe Acrobat 5 (and I'd love to move up to AA7, but that's more money than I have right now.) However, you can use free solutions like PDF995 or OpenOffice and get good results, with practice. There are a lot of websites out there to help with learning how to do layout, and include good advice on fonts, margins, artwork, etc.

Speaking of artwork, you should try to get at least one good piece an issue, for your cover. There are plenty of volunteers, so long as you give credit where credit is due, and if all else fails, there's public domain or royalty free imagery out there if you dig hard enough. (See Wikipedia for some great, and not so great, examples.)

In the end, though, it'll be your own personal drive that really makes or breaks your fanzine. If this is something you want to do, make a realistic plan and go for it. Start small, take it a step at a time, seek help when you need it, and you'll be amazed at how well things come together.

I hope this helps, and if nothing else, maybe it might give you some insight into the level of work that goes into making a fanzine. In the end, you have to be a writer, a layout designer, an artist (of sorts), an editor, a salesman, a spokesman, a dreamer and a diehard fan with realistic perceptions. Remember, in the long run, you're doing it for the dream, not just yours, but everyone else's, too.

I wrote the article above because someone asked me yesterday for pointers, as they were thinking of creating their own fanzine. The question inspired me to write the above. There's a lot more to add here, but this was what first came out as I started writing.

Obviously, SR has taken on a life beyond what I posted above, with the Empty Quarter Echo and the Alternate Universes column, as well as the CT system enhancements and such. I am very thankful for the contributions of other Traveller fans, and I honestly think that the fanzine wouldn't have made it this far without their support. In that way, it is as much their baby as it is mine.

Another good thing I forgot to point out above is that I would encourage any prospective fanzine editor to check out the various forums on PDF publications, whether for D20 or non-D20 systems. There's a lot of basic information that can be gleaned from those, if you take the time to read and ask questions of those with more experience. I've learned a lot about what to do and what not to do from those boards, and I admit I'm just an amateur compared to many of these guys.

Honestly, I don't know if anyone else will find this of use, but I figure that if one person asks, there may be more that want to know.


I hope that you enjoyed this brief trip down memory lane. On Monday, I'll have the Rumor Table put together for your review. Until then, enjoy your weekend.

In Service,

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