Some thoughts on feedback in the zine scene.

Posted by blatantblithe on August 11, 2011 Blog posts | Personal | Zines | | 7 comments

I’ve been thinking recently about feedback in the zine community.  I’ve released two zines since May – issues #8 and #9 of my perzine Here. In My Head. –  and have had no real feedback for either, apart from my zinester friends telling me they enjoyed reading it (which is lovely and greatly appreciated, of course, but it’s not necessarily constructive).

As someone who used to be incredibly sensitive, I was terrified of any sort of feedback.  No news is good news, I figured.  It’s my personal little thing, I don’t want anyone poking holes in my silly little writings (though some zinesters did anyway, but that’s another story).  But now that I’ve got my spark back, I’m feeling more ambitious and have grown a slightly thicker skin, and I want to improve my art.  I know that my zines are still not as good as they could be – perhaps they never will be – so I’d like to know what’s missing, which bits are interesting and which bits aren’t, which aspects of the visual style work and which don’t, why my zine is or isn’t listed among readers’ favourites, why some distros order my zines without ‘sampling’ a copy first and why some still turn me down – basically, how I can improve as a zine writer.

That’s the main reason why I started Spill the Zines – there seem to be a lot of people around who are enthusiastic about zines, who devour piles of stock from their favourite distros, who order zines by their favourite zinesters as soon as they’re released, and who trawl the internet for zine reviews (that’d be me!)… and yet, there isn’t much discussion of zines online – not many websites dedicated to zines that stay active for too long.  Of course I can think of a few overseas that are (Broken Pencil, Zineworld, and Hello Amber spring to mind), but most of them seem to be paper-based (which is a pain when you’re from a different country, and skint like I am), or dying out a little (e.g. We Make Zines).  I also hear from many zinesters that they don’t get much written feedback from their readers anymore, and that they miss that connection.

Some people are reluctant to be too critical for fear of offending the writer.  I know that us zinesters tend to pour ourselves into our work, so much so that you can’t detach yourself entirely from your zines, and the subsequent criticism.  We’re also often perfectionistic, and rarely have a great deal of self-esteem.

There’s another argument that I’ve heard with regard to feedback – zines are meant to be a mode of self-expression, not academic essays, so being critical is uncalled for.  A zine isn’t something to be improved upon, it’s just the outpouring of your mind.  And I definitely think that many zinesters write zines because they need to share their stories.  Nonetheless, feedback is still good to hear, even if you want to avoid the critical route and just write something like “I identified with this part in particular”.  It’s good from a writers’ perspective as we like to know what our readers like and dislike.  It’s also good from a personal point of view, to know which parts of our stories resonate deeply with others, and to know that we’re not alone.

Having said that, I think it would be naive to think that people who write zines don’t care what people think of them.  There’s always a certain element of pride involved in creating your own little bit of art. Who wouldn’t want to know what people liked and didn’t like about it?

Maybe there should be a disclaimer in one’s zine – “I like feedback, positive and negative”, or “I write this for me, I don’t care if I’ve made mistakes or it’s messy or whatever”.  I don’t know.  I haven’t really reached much of a conclusion with this ramble… I never was any good at providing answers to the questions that float around in my head.  Still, some things to think about.  And of course, I’d love to know what you all think.  Do comment on this blog entry and let me know your thoughts – even if you think I’ve got it all wrong and am just not looking hard enough for people to write about my zines.

Also, I’m tabling at two upcoming zine fests – Sheffield Zine Fair and Camden Zine Fest.  If you see me at either, do come over and say hello, and let me know what you think of my zines, or just zines in general!  I love talking about zines – let’s do it together.

Note: I’ve also been struggling with these feelings with regard to my music career – why I rarely get any feedback or enthusiasm for my music. But I am, unfortunately, putting far more effort into my zine career than my music career at the moment (mostly due to confidence issues, but also because making zines is easier and cheaper than making music) so at least I can hope that if I were to put more effort into my music, then I’d get a little more attention.  That’ll change as soon as I get a job and can afford to buy the supplies needed to gig!

On an unrelated note, I’ve been writing in a few different places recently –

The F Word: review of Lady Gaga’s album Born this Way
I’m on the F Word! Yay!

Spill the Zines: Zine Resources
Where I discuss the benefits of using Zine Wiki, We Make Zines, and other online resources.

Spill the Zines: Birmingham Zine Festival, From Behind the Table
A review of BZF as a zinester tabling at the event.

Electric City: Review! Porcelain Black – This is What Rock and Roll Looks Like
Formerly of Porcelain and the Tramps fame, I review Black’s latest single.


  • said on Aug 11, 2011 12:47 pm

    This is an interesting post and I’m very much with the crowd that would say perzines are a personal expression and so criticism of the actual process (the aesthetic quality in particular) doesn’t seem relevant to me, obviously just my opinion but there it is. However in terms of content I think it’s always nice when people contact each other to say for example that they were inspired by a story, or they could relate to an experience.

    I think zinesters are a nice, respectful bunch and if I didn’t have anything nice to say about a zine I would be less likely to tell the creator than if I did have nice things to say. Still if you’re asking for negative feedback then maybe people should be braver about giving it.

    I read a lot of zines and I often like them but don’t get the chance to say anything or actually forget, so that’s another possibility as to why you’re not getting any feedback. 🙂 I found your last two zines interesting but I’m not at all well versed on the issues you were discussing so didn’t really feel about to judge them. Oh one thing I remember thinking when I read one of them was that you seemed ashamed of your past beliefs in terms of religion and I don’t think that needs to be a wholly negative thing, I bet there are positive things you have taken from that part of your life even if your beliefs have changed. 🙂 I hope you don’t mind me saying all this on here!x

    • Catherine said on Aug 11, 2011 12:56 pm

      No, course I don’t, thanks for your thoughts!

      I’m not trying to be wholly negative about the whole thing, I know people are also busy and forgetful, etc. Especially since zines are things that people often do alongside full-time jobs, so it’s not always a priority.

  • hadass420 said on Aug 11, 2011 2:22 pm

    I don’t know if you may feel the same, but when I make a zine, or even write a blog, although I like to get feedback on it from time to time, I don’t really care much about feedback. The act of creation is an end in itself, if people have something to say about my creations, that’s fine, but I don’t give that too much importance… I write zines and blogs because I enjoy it, and I know you do too. It definitely comes across in your writing. And I think the main focus should be on that. That’s just my two shekels.
    Sorry if that doesn’t help you much :-/

  • Sarah-Beth said on Aug 11, 2011 2:32 pm

    It’s quite hard for me to comment on this as I’ve only made one issue of my perzine. I do think that self esteem has a lot to do with it though in both soliciting comment AND offering them. I’ve really related to a ton of stuff I’ve read in the past but rarely bothered to write because I’ve assumed that person is popular/gets loads of feedback/wouldn’t be arsed with hearing from someone like me who is maybe a bit older than the average zine reader.

    The same goes for me seeing views/critique with my zine – I kinda feel like my first issue is fairly ‘fluffy’ for want of a better term and also would feel shy about asking people to review/tell me what they think for reasons mentioned above.

    • Hannah said on Aug 28, 2011 4:55 pm

      I used to email people quite regularly if I enjoyed their zine/could relate to it, but now I tend to write about it on my zine blog instead. That said, I have only once or maybe twice had feedback on my zine from people who I don’t already know, and I would love to hear from anyone else who has read it and (hopefully) enjoyed it – I shift quite a few copies (100+) of each issue so know there are quite a few people out there reading who never contact me, which feels a little strange!

  • Persephone said on Aug 12, 2011 11:11 am

    I’m one of those people who do recommendations instead of reviews on my blog because I don’t want to discourage anyone. I feel like with zines, particularly perzines, criticism can hit really close to home blurring the lines between creative criticism and personal criticism.

    • Hannah said on Aug 28, 2011 4:53 pm

      I do the same. I think there is a place for reviews, but particularly as I write about zines without people asking me to do so, I feel it would be rude to write anything critical. I don’t think anyone will mind me (or you) recommending their zine, though.

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