Pocket Miscellanies — a guide for contributors

The very first ten zines released as a collection. Photo (c) Ana Hine

So, you’ve seen the awesome Miscellany zines. They are great, aren’t they? Have you heard that they received the British Library Labs award for Teaching and Learning? That you can share them as zines, as well as online with direct links to the source manuscripts? That they benefit from the fact that, unlike academic publications, you get 8 full-colour medieval images to tell a story that you are working on RIGHT NOW? No waiting for editors and crowdfunding for printing costs; no liaising with imaging services or going through year-long peer reviews. You want to make one that reflects your own research? THAT IS A FABULOUS IDEA! Contact me so that I can send you a batch of back issues, and refine a topic further more.

But first, let me walk you through my process of creating these zines, so that you can get a feel of how curating and editing the individual issues works. After that, you’ll see two sections about what to do next — whether you have only an idea of a topic, or you’ve already got a text that I could curate.

My independent curation process

I usually start with around 20 images and cut down to 8 (maybe 10 if I really struggle to choose) visually striking and diverse images that cover all the individual topics I want to highlight. I select this starting imageset carefully, from repositories that allow reproduction and derivation of the images.

Once I pare down to a set of 8–10 images that are diverse enough, I start thinking about the order these images will go, and think about the coherent story that the final 8 text pages will tell. The images and descriptions need to be varied enough to be semi-comprehensive in covering the topic, while still having elements in common so that the text can flow easily across the zine. Most of the times I will move the chosen images around a fair bit, getting rid of extra images or substituting a chosen image for a better one from the spare set, before settling on an order and starting to flesh out the text.

The text accompanying each image is constrained by the small size of the printed zines; it therefore has to be concise and precise. There can only be 55–65 words (350–370 characters including spaces) for each page (because of the small format of the printed zines) so succinctness is key. The first page sets out the topic in broad strokes, without touching on specific imagery from the zine. Eight page of text relating to each one of the eight images have to form a coherent and comprehensive overview of a historical visual motif. The last page is reserved for 3–4 reading recommendations — again, chosen for diversity of topics rather than depth in one specific element.

Finally, from the spare set of images I choose a cover miniature which will not have text attached to it (so it should not add new information or themes to the content of the zine), This is usually a visually striking since it prominently features on the cover, back of the cover, and top fold of the recto, as well as setting up the colour theme of the zine (issues are distinguishable by background colours as well as by numbers and titles).

Here is where your expertise comes handy

All of this may sound like a gruelling experience; it is, if you have no idea about the respective field of studies and have to research a lot of new material to present it to non-specialist audiences. Fortunately, you are here to offer your expertise, and I am here to facilitate that by offering the format, platform and curation/editing services.

What I’ve described above is my process, but you may experience a different creative flow. The process of transforming your expertise in a Pocket Miscellany is pretty simple — you choose 8 images from the multiple ones I dump in a Powerpoint slides file sent to you via email; you arrange them in a way that you’d think would make sense, and then add short blurbs about what each image illustrates and (if you want) a short list of recommended reading; before sending it back to me to add covers, image captions and format it in printable files. I will obviously look over and edit your text if necessary, to keep it concise and flowing.

How do you choose so few images from the big selection I send you? I recommend going straight for the 8 that you find interesting or odd, the ones that grab your attention immediately, and worry where they go in the narrative later. As I said before, I find myself switching the order and replacing images to suit what I want to communicate quite often — this is why I recommend not deleting the slides with extra images, but making them invisible or separate them with a blank slide.

You can find a constantly updated file with planned topics — you’ll also see some ECR name attached to some topics that I’m already collaborating on — but feel free to come up with something else you’d be more excited about if there’s nothing that jumps out to you.

If you already have a comprehensive teaching text (e.g., a Twitter thread or a blog post)

Well done! You have much more than what the usual collaborator does, which is, you’ve got a full script and some images already as a thread or blog post. I usually provide the specialists with images onto which they create a story from scratch. This collaboration (assuming you want to base it on the thread/blog, rather than create a new script) will flip the process: you can refine your text down to 9 soundbites of around 50 words each, and after you send that to me I attach images that are within copyright bounds, add covers etc.

What I do after you contact me about transforming your script into a zine (or, more often, after I contact you telling you NEED to make this into a shareable tangible artifact) is I send you a template file that you can use to drop in your text. There will be two types of slides: red and blue. The slides in red are examples of real text blocks used with the source template (the example is built off of my zine on people of colour). You can remove the red template slides if you want after you’ve got the gist of how long the text should be; they are there to give you a better understanding of how the text works.

Big batch of printed, folded and cut zines, ready to be sent out.

The blue slides are the ones you’ll need to edit — delete text prompt and add your own text in. There will be one intro slide (p.4), eight individual shorter text slides (pp. 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 17, 19, 21) and a bibliography slide (p.23) that you are responsible for. The image descriptions and sources are my job, but you can send me hints as to what images would make sense for the text in the image title e.g. ‘woman reading at home’.

After you’ve sectioned off your text and sent it to me as nine slides, I curate the images, add covers etc. You will get the last word on the final proofs, before I send it to the printers. At the end of the process, you will have not only a batch of freshly printed zines in the post from me, but also the original print files (for you to print at home and freely and non-commercially distribute them among your students, friends and colleagues).

And hey. Thanks

Final printed product. Photo (c) Eleanor May Baker

I hope this guide is comprehensive enough, but if it is not you know how to reach me. If you have any difficulties with the images or the text, or if you want to add an image that I did not include in the original set, please let me know — the images are carefully curated from images in the public domain, so adding your own recommendations can be done if they are clear of copyright issues.

[pron. Ko-mahn] // Dr of queer medieval theology // Gender outlaw written for the stage // Dazzle and confuse // Greyhound sidekick