How to Start Your Own Zine Fest By Maira McDermott

I started making zines in late 2013, after visiting a handful of zine fests (the first I ever went to was Portland Zine Symposium) and realizing that I could definitely make my own. I was intimidated at first, but soon fell into an exciting new world of self-publishing my thoughts and feelings. After making my first perzine, I was smitten. I tabled my first zine fest in December 2014 at the East Bay Alternative Book and Zine Fest, which I would later start helping organize two years later. In August of 2016, I saw a Facebook post calling for organizing help for EBABZ, which was across the bridge from me and I loved attending/tabling at. When I signed up to help, I had no idea the course of my life was about to change.

EBABZ 2016 was a very special and strange experience for me. A week before the fest, our lead organizer tragically passed away in a disaster that rocked the entire Bay Area. At this time, the organizing team found out that our venue had not been secured. We had to pivot incredibly last minute, all while grieving this huge loss to our community. Thanks to another organizer’s work hookup, we secured a beautiful venue a few days before the fest was scheduled to occur. Now it was time to get the word out, and fast! A handful of folks still showed up to the venue that had been previously advertised, but we had so many people come through to the new event space that we actually had to limit capacity and we had a line out the door (unfortunately it was also pouring rain – belated thank you to everyone who waited)!

A few weeks later, I sat in my bedroom in San Francisco and thought, “What if we took EBABZ but made it queer?” This was the first spark of what would quickly become Bay Area Queer Zine Fest. I was amazed that the Bay Area didn’t have its own queer zine fest, given its rich queer history. So, I took to social media and started to recruit a team. While it’s absolutely imperative that you have a good idea of what kind of event you’d like to put on, a good organizing committee is also essential – you don’t want to end up doing all the work yourself!

At the beginning of January, I felt impulsive and created an Instagram account for the fest – @baqzf. And I started posting that it was “coming soon.” Putting things out into the world is my favorite way to motivate myself, because once people know about it, I feel bad going back on my ideas. And so, the seed for BAQZF was sown. Our team came together, and we started meeting, scheming, and dreaming up what this first fest would look like.

When you’re assembling a team, make sure you get at least one person who is good at PR and communications. We got a lot of really great media hits our first year and people were really, really excited about what was to come. Getting people stoked about your idea is CRUCIAL, because if no one is excited, no one will show up or apply to table. We ended up getting way more applications than we could feasibly handle and had to turn some people away. We also learned the very, very valuable lesson of always bcc’ing when communicating with tablers. The team also started fundraising – we threw a benefit show at a local queer bar and did a few zine readings to raise money for the fest – and soon we had money to secure a venue.

Choosing the right venue is an important part of any event planning process. You want to make sure it’s accessible: is it close to public transportation? Is it wheelchair accessible? Are service animals allowed? Have you considered other access needs, like being scent-free? Does it have enough room to move comfortably in? The venue we held our first fest in touted itself as wheelchair accessible but ended up not being ADA-compliant once we got there on the actual day of the fest, which was a huge bummer! No one using a wheelchair came to the fest, but we still wanted the option to be available.

Day-of operations can feel really stressful as an event host. Make sure you’re drinking water, taking breaks, and stretching, and advise everyone tabling to do the same! It’s a great idea to periodically check in with all the vendors to make sure they’re doing okay and not encountering any issues. Step outside if you can and get some fresh air!

After the fest is over for the day, thank everyone profusely, clean up, go home and maybe (probably) cry because you did it! Rest up after what I’m sure was an exhausting few months of planning. In a few days, follow up with everyone via email and ask for feedback. First year fests are hard, but there’s nowhere to go but up, so it’s important to get any feedback you can to make your fest better.

To this day, Bay Area Queer Zine Fest has not had the bandwidth to host panels or workshops, but we’re hoping that we can eventually. Our organizing team numbers have dwindled significantly and it’s really hard to find committed individuals during such uncertain times. I feel incredibly lucky to have two friends that I’ve been working with since the beginning still with me on this weird and wild journey. We’ve had to pivot to virtual festivities due to the pandemic, which has lowered our participation numbers significantly, because a lot of people simply don’t have the capacity to be online all the time, which I totally understand.

TL;DR – love zines, go to other fests and get inspired, pull what you like from them, round up some homies, start planning, and do the damn thing! Make sure you’re having fun, too, because if it’s not fun, it’s not worth it.

Maira McDermott is a zinester living in the Bay Area, CA. They make zines and produce a podcast about zines under the name Long Arm Stapler. You can find more of their work on Instagram (@lngrmstplr), on their linktree (http://linktr.ee/lngrmstplr), and their podcast is available most places you can find podcasts. They used to organize the East Bay Alternative Book and Zine Fest (http://ebabz.org), founded and currently organize the Bay Area Queer Zine Fest (http://bayareaqueerzinefest.com), and help out the Rock Paper Scissors Collective Zine Committee (http://rpscollective.org).

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