What the heck is a 'zine' anyway?" you may be asking. Well, in its simplest terms, a zine is a self-published magazine. But ask anyone who has any experience in zines what they're all about and the word "passion" is likely to come up: "A zine is a publication done for passion rather than profit," says Chip Rowe, Zine advisory board member and overseer of Zinebook.com; "Today's zines are an extension of the passions of their creators," says the editor of The Amateur Poetry Journal, Judy Gripton, also a zine board member. These definitions incorporate the central element that distinguishes the zine as a publishing medium.
The zine itself
The zine, in appearance can take on many forms. A print zine (on actual paper) can resemble anything from a chapbook to a brochure to a pamphlet to a newsletter. An e-zine (electronically based) can operate as a regularly updated Web site or as an e-mail newsletter.
In both mediums though, little rules apply. There may be a strong graphic element or none, an additional print or Web accompaniment or not, an open submissions policy or a writing staff of one, and the updates for each new issue may happen anywhere from weekly to annually. However, regardless of frequency, it's a universal characteristic of the zine that it is a periodical; it is created and concepted with the intention of continual publication.
Now that you have a basic understanding of how zines operate, it is time to understand the driving force behind them—the zinester. "Zinester" is a catch-all term to describe creators of a zine whether they be electronic or print. A zinester is an individual who has such a strong desire to publish that they forgo financial gain for the love of creation.
Rowe puts it like this: "A zinester is an independent-minded person who is driven to create. They can't explain why they do it, but it's not a fad to them. They will always publish in some form or another."
Publishing is the passion for the zinester. But another passion seems to also arise, a passion (sometimes bordering on obsession) for the zine's subject or topic.
What they're about
At the Zine Scene, we have had the pleasure of receiving countless zines and e-zines sent by zinesters in hopes of review (WD features zine reviews every other month in this column). What is most surprising about all these publications is the variety and creativity that shows itself in the subject matter.
There are literary zines that focus on a particular genre of literature (horror, science fiction, fiction), but often times, zinesters will take this narrow field and hone in further (horror poetry only, science fiction involving UFOs) and dedicate the whole publication to that niche.
There are also zines that revolve around a love for a particular subject. We've seen zines on Polka, lighter collections, Star Trek and even zines themselves. The possibilities are endless, (but probably being published about somewhere by some zinester).
Limitations on subject matter, like most else with these publications, are set by the only rule that ultimately applies: your passion.
This article appeared in the January 2001 issue of Writer's Digest.