I never thought doing my zine for eight years was going to get me published. It was just something I did because I enjoyed it. “Getting published” —that was why I went to college, sent my stuff to literary journals, took community classes, got my MFA and studied “the craft.” So it’s kind of ironic that now, doing the thing that most mainstream writers advise against—self publishing in any form—that’s what was noticed by a publisher.
So I thought now that I have my first book out, I’d talk a little about my path as a writer.
I first started my zine, Somnambulist, in 2003, because it was so easy and I had already been making immediate, performance-driven work. At the time, I was fresh on the heels of a trip to Chicago performing as a member of the Eugene slam team. But then I decided I didn’t want to do spoken word anymore. Naturally, I gravitated towards zines; I could write something, print, copy and staple it in one day if I wanted to. I’ve always been the kind of person who wants and needs a lot of feedback. “What do you think?” was and is my favorite question. Whether that feedback is applause and praise or criticism, I want it all and a lot of it.
Also, because there is little-to-no money involved, when I make a zine, I have complete creative control. Both the ease and control are two things most people outside of the zine community can relate to; it’s why many people compare zines to blogs. But one thing that might be invisible to non-zinesters is the community that zines create. I have personally corresponded with countless readers, zinesters and pen pals over the years, and no one knows about the details of those correspondences besides me.
One of the reasons that this community is invisible is because it’s not on TV, it’s not on the radio and, most importantly, it’s not on the Internet! We’ve become so accustomed to all media being public and easily accessible that we forget that there are still (relatively) hidden subcultures out there quietly doing their thing.
Every year or so it seems like there’s another article that appears in mainstream media about the “resurgence” of zines. As if, just because this reporter suddenly noticed that they’re still around, there’s been a resurgence. Zinesters have never stopped making zines; the mainstream media just hasn’t been paying any attention.
At the same time that I feel qualified to make statements about the world of zines, I also must say that I am not your typical zinester, if such a thing exists. Therefore I feel slightly timid in speaking on behalf of zinesters. I’m one of a large community about which I care very much. Nevertheless I believe that most zinesters don’t think of themselves as writers, at least not in the traditional, I-want-to-be-in-the-canon kind of way; I’ve just graduated from grad school for creative writing and many of my classmates hadn’t written a zine, read a zine, or known any one who did. The traditional path to becoming a “writer” or getting published doesn’t have a phase called “make your own zine,” (or make your own zine for eight years, in my case.) Self-publishing in any form is generally looked down upon. But I’ve always believed that most of my writer friends are missing the point. Because, in other words, most zinesters don’t make their zines because they want to be famous writers, thinking that somehow their zines will catapult them into the publishing world. They make their zines because they want to be zinesters, which is a VERY different animal altogether.
Being a zinester means that your mailbox is never empty. It means corresponding with people that you actually get to know—long-term and offline. It means being able, once you’ve done it long enough, to look up people in any state who are also zinesters. Of course, being a zinester also means that your very identity is not even recognized by spell-checking software. It means that when you call up bookstores and ask if they carry zines you will often be met by confusion and requests that you spell the word “zine.” Being a zinester often means being met with scorn by “real” writers. But in the cost/benefit analysis that is life, I choose to remain a zinester.
All of this is only a backdrop to what I really wanted to write about today. People ask what it’s like to “finally be published,” and I can answer that it feels the same as it has for the last eight years of publishing Somnambulist—except that this time the end product is more respected, better edited and more beautiful. I am excited to have my work available to a wider audience and look forward to their responses be they positive or negative. Whatever they are, I want it all and a lot of it.
Martha Grover grew up in Oregon with her seven siblings. She got her MFA from the California College of Arts. Her work has been published in The Raven Chronicles, Coachella Review, Switchback Journal, Tom Tom Magazine and Never Have Paris Zine. Her zine, Somnambulist, is available all over. Her first book, One More For the People, was published by Perfect Day Publishing in December.