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 –
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.