top five things i won’t miss about running a zine distro

or, you know, things i won’t miss once these last few packages are finally mailed (72 down, ten to go)…

5) people who failed to update their paypal address information the last time they moved. so they have to e-mail me separately to give me their current address. i don’t print out postage directly from paypal, so this was always less of a big deal for me than for some other online sellers, but it still aggravated me. especially if i was really on the ball about packaging orders & didn’t get the corrected address until i’d already addressed the envelope. paypal even gives you the option of confirming your address before you submit payment, so these kinds of mistakes won’t happen! once, i had a week where i got thirteen orders. ELEVEN of them were from people who had to send e-mails with corrected addresses. that was a terrible week.

4) people who order zines one by one. this kind of orderer took two forms: the person who perused the catalogue & ordered ten zines, one at a time, over the course of an hour or two (not that common, but infuriating, because paypal takes a separate fee & percentage out of every single transaction, really eating into the meager profit point on zines), & the far more common variety of person who would order one zine at a time, maybe once a week, for months on end. i never minded small orders, not at all. but if you think you might want to pick up that other zine you’re thinking about five days down the road, JUST GET IT NOW. because every one of these orders involved separate paperwork, separate packaging, a separate trip to the post office…argh! i had one woman who ordered almost everything in the catalogue, one zine at a time, over the course of a couple of years. she finally stopped ordering from me after i wrote a zine about having an abortion & didn’t care to hear her treatises on how “in 99% of cases, abortion is the wrong choice.” i told her she probably wouldn’t enjoy my zine if that’s how she feels, & i didn’t care to be her 1% exception to her woman-hating anti-choice rule, & she never ordered again. i felt relieved.

3) people who e-mail me to ask if i received their order, &/or if i shipped their order. this is totally acceptable in those very rare situations when an order has gotten lost in the mail (either en route to me, or en route to the orderer), but this is why i have a TRACKING PAGE. & this is why the tracking page is linked from the main page of the distro site! if people would just peruse the tracking page, they would see, “oh, great, she did receive my order on thursday.” it would save them the effort of writing me panicked e-mails, & it would save me the effort of saying, “look at the tracking page.” & nothing is more obnoxious than getting a breathless e-mail from someone who wants to know where their package is when the tracking page clearly states that it was just mailed yesterday. mail sometimes goes missing, but for the love of god, be patient! at least give it a chance to go missing before bombarding me with e-mails!

2) answering stupid questions, non-stop, constantly, with no end in sight. examples include, “do you have this zine in stock?” (answer: is it on the website & does it have a paypal button? then it’s in stock.) “i want to write this zinester a letter. this is the address on their zine. is that the right address?” (answer: write them the letter & find out. i’m not their keeper. you could even try googling them before bothering me.) “do you know if such & such a zinester is working on anything new?” (answer: ask them yourself. how am i supposed to know?) “i ordered zines from this other distro & i haven’t gotten them yet. do you know what’s going on with them?” (answer: now i have to answer for OTHER DISTROS taking too long to mail orders? are you kidding me?) “i really want to to order $75 worth of zines. but is there any way you could sell them to me for like $20? because i’m really strapped for cash.” (answer: hell to the no.) “i’m putting together this art show & i was wondering if you have any zines you could donate? like maybe one of everything in the catalogue? for free?” (answer: hell to the NO.) “i sent you a PDF of my zine. did you want to distribute it?” (answer: HELL TO THE NO.)

an aside: obviously, one of the things i hated most about running the distro was all the time that was devoted to answering unnecessary e-mails. you don’t even realize how much time it eats up until you sit down at your computer one morning & suddenly it occurs that you have spent an hour & a half answering unnecessary e-mails from people who easily could have answered their own questions, every single morning, for the last three years, for no pay or recognition. & then you want to die. (or in my case, shut down your zine distro.)

1) receiving e-mails from people whose zines i had rejected, asking me if i wanted to distribute said zines, & if there was any way they could possibly talk me into it. i used to receive A LOT of zine for distro consideration. i actually picked up maybe 10% of what i received–probably a little less. i had a well-deserved reputation for being exceptionally choosy. most of what i carried were zines by long-time zine friends, or zines i had sought out on my own. i relied a lot of recommendations from zinesters i already carried. occasionally i’d stumble across a gem that was sent to me for consideration, that i hadn’t otherwise heard about, & that was always awesome. but more often than not, i wasn’t too excited about what i received for consideration. a big chunk of it was stuff that just wasn’t right for the distro–comics, poetry, music zines. the kinds of zines i specify as not appropriate for the distro in my submissions info. most people who sent it in were people who sent copies to every distro they could find, without reading the submission info. most of those people never bothered me again, but the ones that did were the most tenacious. they seemed to think they could browbeat me into sending them money for twenty copies if they just tried hard enough. i don’t like being mean to people & having to cut them down & say no in an ice cold way…but sometimes, that’s all that works. i had to do that a few times.

then there are people whose zines are perhaps topically apppopriate for the distro, but weren’t really all that appealing to me. i got a lot of these kinds of zines from people who actually ordered a lot from the distro, & for that reason, it always broke my heart a little to have to reject them, but…if i carried every zine by someone who ordered from the distro, i would have had a 2000-item catalogue (at least). mostly i turned them down because the writing didn’t grab me, or the layout was sloppy, or the zinester was still finding their voice–very subjective taste issues. most of these people were very understanding & didn’t bug me to reconsider. a lot of them also sent me later issues, which i did distribute.

& then there were the folks whose zines were completely wrong for the distro, but they had sought the distro out anyway. it was always distressing to get a painstakingly hand-written letter that had my name spelled properly & everything, with a sales pitch about how they thought my distro & their zines were going to make a great team, & it was obvious to me that the zine could not have been more wrong for paper trail. these folks were the most pernicious & absolutely devoted to establishing a zine partnership. a few of them even went so far as to just mail me a stack of unsolicited copies & then ask for payment. hell no!

rejecting zines is one of the worst parts of running a zine distro, but rejecting people who won’t take no for an answer is even worse. & then you have your fall-out–the people who then feel the need to blog about being rejected, or malign you (directly or indirectly) on the internet. even after you have provided them with as clear, concise, & respectful a rejection as you can muster (even in cases where they really don’t serve that kind of care & consideration), they’ll find some way to elude responsibility for their own shortcomings. i’ve seen zinesters who were barely literate insist that they were unfairly rejected because of “a few typos” or because i’m a “grammar nazi” (nothing wins an argument like minimizing the holocaust). there are folks who insist that their writing was too “edgy” & “transgressive” for me to handle, when the truth is that it was sloppy, boring, & poorly-executed, full of retrogressive political ideas & uninspired rhetoric. i think there is an upswing in the tendency of people to perceive of zine distros as some kind of zine scene authority figure, & to rail against them, which would be a lot more convincing if folks weren’t getting so obviously defensive & uptight about being rejected.

anyway. there are other things i disliked about running a zine distro, & maybe i’ll write about those things eventually. mostly today i am just really pleased that that chapter of my life is behind me. i’m totally going to make a cross-stitch of a sea monster holding a letter in a bottle, & the letter is going to say, “haters gonna hate,” because it’s totally true. (& i say that as a semi-professional hater myself.)

Published by Ciara

Ciara Xyerra wrote zines for the better part of two decades. She has a brilliant & adorable preschooler named Ramona & sews as much as she possibly can. She lives in Lawrence, Kansas with her boyfriend. She enjoys catching up on "The New Yorker", meatball subs, keeping it cranky, intersectional post-third wave feminism, dinosaurs, & monsters. If you have nothing nice to say, she recommends that you come sit here by her, so you can say not-nice things together.

15 thoughts on “top five things i won’t miss about running a zine distro

  1. 5, 4, 3 & 2 are already some of my pet peeves at work. who knows how annoyed i’ll be once the distro gets busier.. though i’ve already experienced a bit of 1.

    i love that cross stich idea. it sounds awesome, as the kids say.

  2. i am thinking of using the cross-stitch as the cover for a future zine. color copies would be pricy, but it would be nice to save myself the work of hand-coloring the covers. & i’d love to write a whole zine about being a hater.

  3. well, at least the colour would only be on the cover and not double sided, that shouldn’t be too much, copies seems to be way cheaper in us than here. one of me & carl’s art zines actually had a page i’d cross-stitched on brown paper and it photocopied pretty cool. i may have to do this again sometime.

    by the way, are you still going to be using the same email address now that the distro is closed.. i assume you’ve got a personal one too? i’d like to keep sending you my zines anyway.


    1. i am still using the same address for now, & will probably continue to check it at least every now & again even if i get a new address at some point. jared offered to send me a gmail invite. maybe it’s time to upgrade a bit.

  4. Was the art show that one in California where the guy was trying to charge something like $35-40 for every zine submission last year or in 2008? And he then lowered it after a lot of people said no?

    Cos that was total bullshit.

    1. oh yeah, i remember that. i was actually thinking of a more recent e-mail i got from someone attempting to solicit donations for an art show. they said that they were specifically contacting distros because they thought it was more likely that distros would have extra zines laying around, looking for places that need donations. which doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. i’d understand a zinester donating their own zine to an event like that, because it could potentially raise the profile of their zine. & zinesters send out a decent chunk of free copies anyway, as trades, for distro consideration, for review. but distros have to pay for every single copy of every zine they have, & nothing is gained by a distro when they give away free copies to be spotlighted somewhere. it’s not like it makes people rush to order from the distro. it just makes people think that distros will give them free stuff. which isn’t true!

      i had forgotten about that crazy dude in california. that WAS total bullshit. i love how he insisted that the money was going to some fancypants art catalogue in the style of a sotheby’s auction book or something, like that’s anything that is useful or appealing to zinesters & what zinesters do. chalk another one up to people not in the zine scene failing to understand that the rules of their communities can’t just be imposed on zines in a utilitarian fashion. just like the teacher dude in alabama thinking he was somehow doing distros a favor by sending his students to harass us via obnoxious e-mails about their dumb zine ideas.

  5. Lately I’ve been toying with the idea of reopening the distro I closed back in 2005/2006 (Sew True), mainly out of nostalgia and some vague, ill-informed desire to help myself feel better about the state of the zine community. (Like, maybe I wouldn’t spend so much time hating on it and not wanting to be involved if I was doing something productive and cool again instead of lurking around WMZ and getting angry at people.)

    But wow, reading this has brought back a whole host of memories that I had filed away re: Why I Shut Down My Distro and reminded me that, no, I do not miss people getting mad at me for not picking up their zines when they know that they for sure produce a “better” zine than some of the other people I distro, nor do I miss people getting mad at me for not wanting to pay to copy their zine AND send them the proceeds from each sale, or people getting upset about me closing sign-ups for my birthday registry — dude, I am already sending 200+ people a free zine on their birthday (a great way to get rid of submission copies, unsold stock, whatever), I am AT CAPACITY.

    Sometimes I feel like there is a fine line between “hating” and “telling it like it is.” The stuff you’ve listed is totally the truth about running a distro and all the suck that comes along with it. (Not to suggest that it’s all bad, but after a few years of responding to inane “has my order been sent out yet?” e-mails, it can sure start to feel that way.)

  6. i know, right? i was at this little potluck thing the other day, meeting people for the first time, & a bunch of them were like, “oh, you’re the zine girl! you run a distro, right?” & i was like, “no, i closed it down a week or two ago.” & everyone was shocked & wanted to know why. & i said, “it’s an unbelievable amount of shit work for pretty much no payment, recognition, or reward.” & everyone looked at me like i was a monster or something, calling zine distribution “shit work”. but it is! it’s stuffing envelopes & ferrying packages to the post office, answering annoying e-mails (i forgot about the plague of people who want you to photocopy their zines & also send them the proceeds–are they not thinking?), maintaining a website (which is as far away from what i enjoy about zines as possible), & worst of all for me, struggling to stay connected to the larger zine world but remain diplomatic. i actually think i am quite diplomatic person…in a forthright & blunt kind of way. too many people see forthrightness & bluntness as rudeness, meanness, “drama,” etc. i never really cared because i knew paper trail was awesome & that what i did with the project was more important than petty personal problems people have with me, but i do think it’s important for someone who wants people to give them money (which is what a distro amounts to) to meet people halfway in the niceness department, & i really struggle to do that. when i shut it down, it was like, “thank god, i don’t have to bite my tongue & be nice ever again! it doesn’t matter if some knucklehead decides to punish me by not ordering from me because i am no longer responsible for distributing zines written by 75 other people!”

    there were times when i enjoyed running the distro–all the shit work aspects of it–a lot. & the small glimmers of recognition, like “zine world” naming paper a trail a recommended distro, or getting a really nice e-mail from an orderer, made me really happy. but i hit the wall one day. it’s definitely not something you can do in the long-term. i mean, maybe i could have if i’d been working with someone else–maybe an intern to answer the e-mail or something. but i just couldn’t manage it anymore alone & maintain my sanity.

    1. there were times when i enjoyed running the distro–all the shit work aspects of it–a lot.

      Same here, every once in awhile I would get a really sweet letter or e-mail from someone or I would run into someone at a zine fest who would say something really kind, even the menial labor tasks like stuffing envelopes occasionally gave me a sense of satisfaction. On good days, I even loved the walk or bike ride to the post office (maybe not so much in the middle of an Ohio winter, but in the spring or fall, definitely.)

      I feel like this makes me sound like a huge crab, but it was basically bad interactions with people that was #1 in getting me to finally close my distro. I was tired of the fact that the constant work was met with total thanklessness and, at times, self-righteous aggression — not like I wanted someone to throw me a ticker tape parade or something, but it would have been nice if the amount of friendly, purposeful e-mails I got even came close to matching the amount of indignant, garbage-y ones.

      re: Sarah’s comments below, I need to quit lurking WMZ in a serious way. Even though I rarely actively participate in a discussion, just logging in and scanning subject lines like “why don’t distros like music zines????” and “is a blog an online zine????” is enough to get me in a pretty bad mood for no good reason.

      It does seem like a lot of people mistakenly think of running a distro or organizing a zine fest as a glamorous job. I think that there is, to some extent, for some people, a desire to be somehow more visible and that by running a distro or organizing a zine fest they can be “zine famous.” (At least, that’s the vibe I get from some of the people whose posts I’ve seen on WMZ.) All I have to say about that is: being “zine famous” is probably not worth all of the BS you likely have to put up with. (I mean, I know I got my share of inane e-mails, but I can’t imagine the volume of junk that people working on much higher-profile distros and zines put up with.)

  7. I used to look up my old distro site at the site to pull CSS codes when I still did the zine fest website, and I had pages and pages of info mostly borne out of sheer frustration of what I would take for consideration, how to order (and this was before Paypal shopping carts became a big deal) – the page count was about 2 dozen webpages in all, with only 10 devoted to the catalog. Never again.

    I was told by one person when I wouldn’t accept zine pitches over AIM that it was people like me who were ruining zines.

    I was warned by a local friend before I started my distro that it was thankless work. Running a distro is thankless, time-consuming work. Running a zine fest is thankless, time-consuming work with it’s own bullshit, especially in Richmond. Yet every once in awhile, some people get it in their heads that doing either is glamourous. It’s mostly just a lot of crap work if you want to do either right. It tends to pay off more or less on the day of the zine fest, but 2-3 months later, it’s back to the fucking drawing board again.

    1. yeah, ericka from pander warned me when i started that i would eventually never want to see a zine again. i am just about there. i mean, i’m sure i won’t quit zines altogether, but i definitely don’t feel the spark i used to feel.

      people really do have this weird idea that running a zine distro is glamorous, that people do it for cool points. the only “cool points” or positives i ever felt i got from it, aside from all that “satisfaction from a job well done” crap, was my sense that people could hate me personally all they wanted, but they couldn’t deny that i ran a good distro. even if they personally didn’t care for the types of zines i carried, no one could deny that i ran the distro very responsibly & very ethically. people received their orders quickly, no one ever had to badger me for payment, i was quick at answering e-mails. in that sense, i contributed in a concrete way to the larger zine community, regardless of whether people liked my zines or whatever. but you know, that’s work. it doesn’t come magically just from running a distro.

      the big difference between running a distro & organizing an event is, like you said, at least there’s a pay-off the day of the event. as much i hated organizing the skillshare sometimes, it was so satisfying when people would start showing up to register, or when i’d duck into a workshop & see forty people there, or when i’d look around at lunchtime & realize that everyone i knew in the city was there, plus another couple hundred people, eating food & chatting. you don’t get that same shot of adrenaline with a distro. it’s just work work work. even attending zine fests is work. sometimes you read an especially great zine & you’re like, “i’m so glad i run a distro because i really want to give this zine a platform.” but that doesn’t happen often.

  8. PS – Never start a zine fest in your city out of K’s similar feelings about restarting a distro, especially if you recognize in the slightest way that you’re likely on your way out of zines and zining. The only comforting thing about zine fests is that most people who come to table at them consist of people who could not give a shit about WMZ and other sites like it. Too bad that for the other 363-364 days of the year, you still end up looking at WMZ.

    1. i don’t know if i am really on my way out of zines. just yesterday, i started thinking about ideas i had for a couple of new zines. but i do want to break myself of my WMZ habit. i think it’s going to have to be like quitting smoking–it’s best to do it cold turkey, & give yourself a little reward for every day that you avoid it. & sure, maybe you’ll relapse every now & again. maybe it will even seem like fun sometimes. but you’ll wake up the next morning feeling like crap, back at square one. there should be a WMZ quitter support group.

  9. K & Ciara, if you use Firefox as your main web browser, download the Leechblock add-on, and hit the option to be blocked out of WMZ (and any other painful sites) 24-7. You can even replace the weird automatic Leechblock page with a website that makes you way happier.

    Granted, there are ways around it if you’re particularly computer savvy, but there are ways to get out of WMZ’s hold, even if I’m still working on it myself (it’s 75% of the reason why I deactivated my FB profile, cos it’s hard to not look at WMZ when people post about WMZ drama). Maybe in a few months I can come up with the 12-step program.

Leave a Reply to K. Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: