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SHAKING STILL 

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The advent of low-cost printing and the widespread use of the internet have radically democratized the publishing process and it’s now easier than ever to self-publish and find yourself an audience.

I’ve been self-publishing zines of my photography and writing for years and I’ve always found the process rewarding.

The DIY ethos of zine-making has translated into my other creative works and I’ve done a number of other projects in a similar way. I run a gallery called B Rad out of the hallway of my house and I’ve curated a number of shows in there and elsewhere.

Recently, in collaboration with Iklect, I curated the Grip Thumb show in London, which was an exhibition of art on grip; an often overlooked art within skate culture.

I also run a skate zine called Radulthood, which I started as a reaction to traditional skate media. Instead of having a magazine filled with images of the biggest, hardest new trick at a notorious spot, I wanted to create a zine which was tethered to the philosophy of skateboarding and in particular the relationship between the skater and his local skate park. All the collaborators, whether visual or written, had strong ties to skateboarding and instead of having glossy photos of tricks at the park, I chose to feature illustrations inspired by the skate park space instead.

As well as that, I’ve also recently released my first photography book, Second Adolescence, which launched at Doomed Gallery in April. I released the book through a publisher called Blue Monday Press that I set up. I’m hoping I can use it as a platform to publish mine and other artists work in the future. As I write this, I’m in a Blue Monday Press hosted pop up shop in Brighton which is selling a variety of zines, books, tees, and prints, and hopefully this will be the first of many more.

That’s enough background on me, back to the original question. Why self publish? Well, there’s a lot of reasons really.

Firstly, it’s easy. The hardest part of self publishing something is the actual content inside and making sure it’s something you’re happy with. The steps you take once you have your content are very simple.

Next, you’re able to work at your own pace and to your own schedule. There are no deadlines, except the ones you set yourself, and no-one is telling you this needs to be done by a certain time. You are free to release it when you are happy with your final product and it’s ready as soon as you say it is.

You don’t need any approval to self-publish something. You don’t have to wait around for a publisher to give you a green light or edit your work to someone else’s standards. It can look exactly how you want it and you can put whatever you want into it.

You set your own budget. This means you can decide how big your print run is and how much you think your project is worth. Not only that, if you’re fronting the money to get something made, you know you’re going to really have to be desperate to put it out and you won’t waste your time and money making a half-arsed project.

Also having a physical project makes you more likely to find your audience. A physical object is easier to appreciate and a much nicer way to experience a project than as a digital file on a computer screen. A physical product is much more memorable too, unlike the constant array of digital images we’re exposed to every day. An object is likelier to stick in the mind.

Moreover, you will learn how to create a body of work as opposed to a great single image. Often in art, the emphasis is placed on one singular great image but people are not taught how to construct a coherent body of work. If you’re working within the confines of the book structure, you will need to create a central theme or narrative that will run through-out and tie everything together.

Finally, and very importantly, self-publishing will make you into a do-er as opposed to a talker. There’s no point talking about that project you wish you could do if you had the money if you never plan to back it yourself. Figure out your budget and do it as best as you can within that. At least you’ll have done something.

Now, you’ve decided that you want to self-publish a project. What do you do? Well, there’s no limit to it.

You should make something you want to see that will combine your passion and your craft. My first zine was called Concrete Canvas and combined my passion for skateboarding with my craft, photography. I wanted to publish my skate photography with an essay setting the context for the images so they could be understood by a wider audience than only skateboarders. I wrote an essay laying out my theories on skateboarding in relationship to the urban environment, to explain my view of skateboarding as an art of movement in reaction to the urban space. Combine your craft with your passion to make something you would be excited to see. If you love poetry and nature, write yourself an anthology of nature poems.

You should make something difficult. I’m by no means a natural writer and I found it hard to write the essay in Concrete Canvas but it’s important that you earn your project. If you’re not excited by what you’ve made, why would anyone else be? Don’t just put out a zine of some drawings you did, set yourself a hard project that you will be proud to finish and share.

With regards to my photography, I have two rules for photo projects. I want each individual photo to have an implicit narrative and I want there to be a narrative built into the zine or book so you take the audience on some kind of journey from beginning to end.

The narrative implied in the photo is very important to me. I like photographs that have a mysterious past and future. The photo on this slide is of an almost gladitorial scene. The lone skater facing a huge crowd about to take his run. You don’t know how the scence arose and you don’t know what happened afterwards but your imagination can conjure up both. I like that in a photo.

Narrative within a project is important for me to. I dislike books or zines which are simply a ‘best of’ album of a photographer’s work. It’s much more exciting to see a photo book which reads like a book and you can see characters evolve from beginning to end, even if it’s simply the photographer’s journey from a to b. I find it also sticks with me more if I read a book with a narrative. I find it easier to describe it to someone else, as opposed to simply saying I liked a certain single picture.

So, you’ve decided to self-publish, you’ve got all your content ready, now what? There’s a few different ways to do it.

The traditional way to make a zine is to stick your text and images onto a piece of A4 paper, make as many pages as you like, then photocopy it, fold it, and staple it. There you go, you’ve got a zine.

I like to use Indesign to make mine because I like having the ability to easily change the structure and images within a zine. Indesign is a simple programme to learn and I’d recommend it for all prospective book or zine makers. I will lay all my images out in spreads, export as a pdf, then send that file to a printer.

Alot of people print their own zines and I respect that a lot. I’m not a very precise or patient person when it comes to doing repetitive tasks so I don’t mind paying a little extra to have someone print and fold my zines. When ready to print, always make sure you shop around. Email a number of printers with your details (20 pages, color, 160gsm stock) and see which ones give you a good price. I’d also always recommend getting a proof. You don’t want to order 50 copies of your zine only to find you spelt something wrong on the first page.

For your first zine or self-published project, I’d definitely recommend funding it all yourself. With a budget of £50 you can still get a bunch of nicely printed black and white zines. I used Kickstarter for my Second Adolescence project because I knew my budget, knew I could deliver a nice product to my deadline, it was a project I had worked on for a year and was proud of, and I knew I had an audience who would be willing to back me. Fund yourself and make things until you get to that big project that you’re excited to give to people, and consider crowdfunding then but don’t do it until you’re ready.

Then what? You’ve published your first zine, you’ve got a box full of copies by your bed, what do you do now?

Do some trades! Find people who are in the same boat as you, they’ve made a few things, but they’re at a similar level to you creatively. It’s awesome to swap your art for other people’s art and it’s lovely when someone who’s work you like is excited to exchange it for your work. Coming home to a trade in the post is a great feeling.

Set up an online shop for your creation. You might not sell much at first but it’ll give people an option to support your art financially. People can’t buy something that isn’t for sale so give them that option.

You also should contact lots of blogs and magazines. People won’t know that you’ve made something unless you tell them. You’ll build contacts, build an audience, and spread the word about your work. Be careful who you send your stuff to though and know their audience. There’s no point sending a gritty street photography project to a high end fashion magazine. Accept that your work isn’t for everywhere and find the places that you fit.

Lastly and most importantly, get rejected and get better. If you want to make things and keep making things, you’re going to need to learn to handle rejection. People will say no, simply not like your work, and there will be a lot of sent emails that never receive a response. If someone doesn’t like your project, find out why and grow from that. When I first started making zines I tried to get them in shops. The paper was low quality, the images weren’t great and they said no. I took that on board and I’ve been more considered with the stock of my zines and the images featured.

It’s a long and steep learning curve to get better at your art but appreciate the journey and your next project will be your best yet.

Good luck!

Ben