How to run a zine event

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(crowd at Brighton Zine­fest 2010)

For 3 years I was part of the group that ran the Brighton Zine­fest. We star­ted just with the idea it would be fun to have a zine event in Brighton and managed to build a success­ful and fun event. Sadly we don’t run it any more because some of the origin­al organ­isers live in Brighton any more, the others were too busy, and nobody new appeared to take over, and so it just wasn’t prac­tic­al to hold anoth­er.

People have occa­sion­ally asked or emailed me for tips about how to do these things, and rather than repeat myself I thought I might as well write this, and just refer people to it. Most of the info is from my exper­i­ence of being part of running some­thing myself, and from obser­va­tions about other zine events I have atten­ded over the years. I might come across as some kind of table-meas­ur­ing organ­isa­tion obsess­ive here, but all this prepar­a­tion stuff makes the final event far less stress­ful. I’m sorry if some of this is very obvi­ous advice, but some­times it’s easy to ignore the obvi­ous when you’re caught up in some­thing. I focused on basic tips about prac­tic­al things, because I think topics like the ethos, philo­soph­ic­al policies etc of events is some­thing to leave to the organ­isers. Hope­fully I haven’t missed anything import­ant myself. I should also add that there is no 100% right way to do these things, but I hope these are prac­tic­al tips that will save people stress

Before you start:

Here are my tips

  • You are not going to make any money from hold­ing a zine event.
  • Only run a small-scale event by your­self. If you want to hold a bigger event, it’s best to be part of a group. Other­wise you are likely to die of stress.
  • If you have a group, you need to decide from the outset how it will be run. For the Brighton Zine­fest we oper­ated as a collect­ive (with 5-7 per year), where each member had equal say (ie there was no lead­er) and decisions were made by consensus. We recog­nised that people had lives outside of the event, and kept minutes of our meet­ings and emailed them to people if they couldn’t make it that month, and the members increased and decreased their involve­ment week to week to fit in around their lives. Things ran very well because we respec­ted each other and worked co-oper­at­ively. Bring­ing office polit­ics and power struggles into organ­ising an event that’s supposed to be fun is point­less.
  • Don’t over-commit your­self. It’s unreal­ist­ic to think that you will live, eat and breathe organ­ising this event, and unreal­ist­ic to expect anyone else to. You also have a life, don’t forget about that.
  • On the other hand, don’t expect to be able to skip out on all the tedi­ous organ­ising stuff before the event and expect it to run smoothly.
  • Use people’s strengths and work round their weak­nesses. For instance if you’re someone who tends to panic, get someone with a cool­er head to deal with things that go wrong last minute and so on. Make use of people’s contacts and real-life jobs and so on as well. For instance, one of our organ­isers was very involved with music and putting on bands, so he was able to organ­ise a fund-rais­ing gig much more easily than any of the other members of the group.
  • Make a spread­sheet to keep track of finances from the outset and be dili­gent about it. Don’t sink much of your own money into an event, espe­cially if it’s your first. You’re better off hold­ing some­thing small in a cheap/​free venue to start out with.
  • Be prompt and organ­ised about answer­ing emails, and if you work in a group make sure people share their inform­a­tion so every­one knows what’s happen­ing and who’s deal­ing with what.
  • Don’t under­es­tim­ate how much time it takes to organ­ise things. Trying to organ­ise a huge event in a month is just going to be pain­ful. If you don’t have much time to spare, keep it small.


The first step is find­ing a venue and choose a date and time to book it. It’s unlikely you have much of a budget, espe­cially if it’s your first event. There’s not much money in selling zines, so the stall­hold­ers won’t be will­ing to spend much for stall fees, and visit­ors don’t really want to pay much of an entrance fee, so you need to find some­where cheap. Hold­ing a fund-raiser before hand is often better than trying to get stall-hold­ers to pay more for stalls. Community halls, schools, univer­sit­ies and librar­ies often have suit­able rooms avail­able for low prices, and are quite likely to give you a heavy discount or even let you use it for free for a non-profit thing like a zine fair, espe­cially if there are going to be free work­shops. They also have tables and chairs already there, which is very import­ant.

Week­ends tend to be best, because people are more likely to be free to visit then. In the UK after­noon fairs 12-5 seem to work the best, but you should choose what works the best in your country/​culture. It’s also import­ant to consider access­ib­il­ity. It’s very likely that people with wheel­chairs, walk­ing sticks, buggies and other things that don’t go very well with lots of stairs will want to come. This is anoth­er reas­on why places like community centres, schools, etc are a good venue to choose, because they tend to be required by law in most coun­tries to be equipped with step free entrances, lifts, disabled toilets and so on. Places like univer­sit­ies also often have things like induc­tion loops for hear­ing aids.

Find out what the venue’s policies/​facilities are regard­ing food. They might have a café in the build­ing and not allow separ­ate sales of cake, refresh­ments etc, they might not allow home-cooked food that’s not from a certi­fied kitchen or they might have a kitchen you can use for whatever you want as long as it’s left clean (this is the most common thing in the UK). In the UK (I don’t know about other coun­tries) it’s very popu­lar for people to bring cakes to either sell from their stall or to donate to the event as a fund-raiser, and it’s import­ant to know if the venue allows this.

The ideal venue is access­ible without stairs (so either is on the ground floor, or has ramps or lifts), has a gener­ously sized main room for stalls, plenty of tables and chairs, anoth­er smal­ler room for work­shops, facil­it­ies to make drinks, decent toilet facil­it­ies, a quieter area over to one side to let people relax and chat (a craft table or library box of zines to browse is also nice in this area), is easy to get to and has park­ing. A lot of people appre­ci­ate unisex/non-gendered toilets too. Of course it’s not so easy to always find such a perfect place. In our first year we used a local hall that we were offered for free. It was access­ible, had a kitchen, a stage, tables, a car park, clean unisex toilets, and was in the town centre. The down­side was that there was no separ­ate room for work­shops (we ended up having them at a local café/​social club place), the hall was quite small, so it got very crowded, and to get to the kitchen you had to walk over the stage.

The second and third years we moved to a simil­ar but larger hall, which offered us a very cheap rate. It had a kitchen with a serving counter onto the main room and separ­ate rooms for work­shops, but we didn’t get to use all of the avail­able space, because some of the extra rooms were up steep stairs, and it didn’t seem fair to put too much up there (it’s a very old build­ing run on a low budget, and I think they’re trying to get money for a stair lift). In the end we ended up putting six or so stalls up there, because there was liter­ally no-where else to put them on the ground floor, and were prepared to ferry a tray of things down for anyone who couldn’t get up there but wanted to browse, but we preferred to keep as much as possible down­stairs. The other disad­vant­age was that it was in more of a resid­en­tial area, and on a steep hill, which makes it less likely to get curi­ous pass­ers-by pop in.

If you can, try to have a sitting down area with some kind of craft activ­ity. It can be some­thing as simple as some old magazines and pictures for making collages and some paper and colour­ing things on a small table in a corner. Anxious people and those with chil­dren will thank you for this. A popu­lar thing to do is provide pre-cut sheets of paper for people to make a page for a collect­ive zine, and a box to leave them in with a sign up sheet for contact details if you’d like to see the finished zine from the day.

Alloc­at­ing stalls:

Before you go advert­ising or alloc­at­ing any stalls you need to go to the venue and have a phys­ic­al “dress rehears­al” with the tables and chairs. The inventories/​floor plans venues will give you are often out of date or inac­cur­ate. It’s best to have 2 sizes of stall, small and large. Usually these are done as full or half tables on the typic­al large paint­ing tables that most venues have. I’ve been to events before where they try to cram in 1/​3 tables and it just gets cramped and messy. In my opin­ion you’re better off having fewer stalls fitted in better. It’s very import­ant to know how many tables you actu­ally have and how they fit into the room. I once went to a zine event and there weren’t actu­ally enough tables or chairs for all the people they’d given stalls to. I was running late due to a trans­port prob­lem, and I got there all flustered and hot only to find I didn’t even have a stall any more, and would have to stand at the bar instead and decided to not both­er with the fair. Luck­ily I hadn’t trav­elled very far to get there.

Large stalls are for people with lots of stock: distros and people with lots of back issues. It annoys the stall­hold­ers to get to an event and find that they have been given half a table for 15 differ­ent issues of a zine or a whole distro, and there’s someone with a full table for 2 differ­ent issues.

Lay out the tables with plenty of room for people to walk and a wheel­chair to pass between, at least 6ft5 /​ 2m if possible, and try to avoid creat­ing areas where people can get cornered once the event gets busy. Having a gap between tables for stall­hold­ers to get out is also help­ful. Make sure to put out enough chairs: bare minim­um is one chair per small stall and two per large stall. Also make sure that space alloc­a­tion is fair, meas­ure all the tables and give a set amount of space for large and small stalls. It’s not fair to just go “half tables!” when all the tables are differ­ent sizes. Mark out your stall bound­ar­ies with mask­ing tape and make a care­ful floor plan. This might seem excess­ive or pernick­ety, but it comes in very useful on the actu­al day, and means you don’t acci­dent­ally over-alloc­ate stalls, and you know where everything is meant to go. You should also alloc­ate a large table for people to bring indi­vidu­al zines to sell, and a table for free­bies.

For alloc­at­ing stalls I think it’s best to set a dead­line for applic­a­tions rather than doing first come, first served, because it stops people with great zines miss­ing out on a stall because they didn’t hear about the event. When you ask for applic­a­tions you need to have clear policies on what people can have on their stalls spelled out in the info. For instance we said crafts are welcome, but stalls must be 75% zine, and we don’t accept zines with bigoted mater­i­al (racist, sexist, homo­phobic, etc, etc). In the applic­a­tion ask people what size stall they want, if they are a distro or indi­vidu­als, and to describe what their zine(s) is/​are about and provide a link to their website or Etsy. If you are clear about these things on the outset you’re far less likely to suddenly find on the day that you’ve given a stall to someone who runs a Klu Klux Klan zine or some­thing. If you don’t specify tables must be major­ity zine, some­times it can turn into more of a craft fair with the odd zine. We also came up with a sugges­ted price guide after visit­ing an event where people were trying to sell stand­ard photo­copied b/​w zines for ludicrously inflated prices.

If someone writes in and says “I don’t have any zines yet, but I plan to have made one by the event”, don’t give them a table. Who knows if they will actu­ally follow through. If they finish it in time, they can always put their zine on the indi­vidu­al zine table.

When you have chosen what people to give stalls to, remem­ber to send a polite email to the people you turned down. Don’t leave noti­fy­ing people too late. Often people travel long distances to get to zine events, and if you leave it too long they might not be able to come, because they often rely on cheap advance tick­ets for travel. Give the stall­hold­ers plenty of info weeks in advance: travel direc­tions, the time they should arrive, and a phone number to call on the day if they have prob­lems getting to the venue or find­ing it. Make sure the phone number you give will actu­ally be answered.

Work­shops and volun­teers:

Work­shops at zine events are always really popu­lar, and quite easy to organ­ise at very low cost. You can usually get volun­teers to give them. Popu­lar things include zine read­ings, talks, discus­sion panels and demon­stra­tions of DIY skills (we had over the years: screen-print­ing, basics of zine layout, vegan cook­ing, basics of comics and book­bind­ing). Make sure to have a set timetable for work­shops, display it on your website/​blog, and have it prin­ted large and displayed very prom­in­ently at your zine event so people know what’s happen­ing, when, and where. Having your work­shops in the same room as stalls is a bad idea because it’s very easy for people’s voices to get drowned out by the bustle of the stalls. Having volun­teers to help with the running on the day will also make it less stress­ful for you. Volun­teers can help set up the tables right at the start, and put them away after­wards. It’s good to have someone to mind the indi­vidu­al zines table and a dona­tion buck­et if you have one, and to do tea and coffee if you have the facil­it­ies.


I think the most import­ant thing to do here is not start too late. It’s a good idea to set up a website/​blog as soon as you have a venue confirmed. On the website/​blog at least have a summary of what will happen at the event, contact details for the organ­isers, how to apply for a stall and travel direc­tions to the venue. You can also appeal for volun­teers to help out on the day.Get an artistic/​designy friend to do you an attract­ive flyer with the date, time, website/​blog, loca­tion and full address of the venue. If your flyer looks boring or scrappy and doesn’t have the full info it’s not going to help you get people to come.

Print lots of quarter-sized flyers cheaply. Black and white photo­cop­ies are abso­lutely fine, you don’t need to bank­rupt your­self with glossy colour print­ing. Using coloured paper can make them look nice on the cheap. Send flyers to distros months before the event for them to send out with zine orders, and hand out flyers and chat to people at other zine events and other things where you think people might be inter­ested in zines (gigs, craft/​diy events etc). If you’re shy, maybe get an outgo­ing friend to help you with this.

The person­al touch of talk­ing to someone or receiv­ing a flyer with some zines makes far more of an impact than an email or Face­book mail­ing list. Having a coloured-in digit­al version of the flyer avail­able on your website/​blog for people to post on their own blogs also helps you spread the word. Make sure to contact your local list­ings magazine well in advance, they usually require you to send details a month before each issue comes out. Local news­pa­pers are also quite often keen to cover these types of events too, espe­cially if you don’t live in a big city, so try to contact them. A few weeks before the event, go round local shops to leave flyers. Places like inde­pend­ent coffee shops, clothes shops and record shops are usually enthu­si­ast­ic. Chain places usually won’t let you. Be polite when you ask. If you have left flyers, return once a week to check up on the levels and replace them if possible.

Don’t rely on Face­book events to help you promote. A lot of people get so heav­ily spammed with events that don’t interest them and are happen­ing 3,000 miles away that they barely pay atten­tion to their Face­book invites. There’s plenty of people who don’t use Face­book or have an account but don’t really both­er with it too.

On the day:

Get to the venue sever­al hours in advance to set everything up. If you aren’t going to get in trouble for it, it’s a good idea to fix up paper signs with arrows point­ing the way from places like the local bus or train station. Make sure to have a clear sign outside the venue, this will also attract pass­ers-by. Fix a sign on the door visit­ors should come in by too. If your venue has multiple rooms, fix up signs inside point­ing to the other rooms so people don’t miss them. If there are other things going on in the same build­ing make sure to have signs show­ing where your event ends. Simple computer prin­ted sheets of paper are fine for all this. If you have work­shops, have large prin­ted timetables of them pinned up every­where. If your country/​region uses multiple languages, try to have signs in all the languages, checked by a competent/​native speak­er if possible. You want the whole place to be easy to find and to look welcom­ing.

The stall-hold­ers are usually told to arrive an hour before doors open to the public. All the tables and chairs should be set up before the stall-hold­ers arrive, and I strongly suggest mark­ing out the stall bound­ar­ies with tape and putting the stall-holder’s name on the space. People tend to spread their stuff out to fill space, and if there’s no bound­ar­ies marked it’s easy to go over your space and not real­ise until your neigh­bour arrives and you have to move all your stuff again, which makes set-up take much longer. Having the stalls marked out and named also has the advant­age that people can swap stalls to be near a friend without mess­ing up the layout much, because all they have to do is swap the name labels on two same-sized stalls.

Stall-hold­ers always arrive late or get lost, so don’t freak out about it, they will get there even­tu­ally, and everything will work out fine. This is why giving them your phone number well in advance is a good idea. Having the stalls marked out and named means that if someone does arrive really late they can just be calmly direc­ted to their space, and it hasn’t been taken over by someone else, caus­ing a big reshuffle. Have someone at the door with a list of stall-hold­ers, check­ing them off as you arrive. Once the public start arriv­ing, it’s also a good idea to get someone with a microphone/​loud voice to announce upcom­ing work­shops.

Hope­fully everything should be fun through­out the day, and if things do go wrong, don’t worry too much, it’s unlikely anyone will die because the zine read­ing star­ted 20 minutes late. Make sure the person running the indi­vidu­al zine table keeps care­ful track of how many issues people left, how many sold, and the money made so there are no argu­ments at the end of the day when people come back to claim their unsold issues and money. When every­one has gone, put the tables away and clean up, and you’re done.

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