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Paper Abstract

Transparency Statement:

Milwaukee Zine Fest Lottery Process


Milwaukee Zine Fest runs an audited lottery each year to determine its final vendorship. This process has evolved over time, with great care and insight from our team of volunteers. We have continually sought vendor feedback for nearly 20 years of running the fest, and the lottery process you see today is a result of this ongoing and intentional work.


As a team we want to be clear about how this lottery functions—not only logistically—but also why it runs as it does, and the core goals that have led it to emerge in its current form. This transparency statement is meant to provide public insight into the behind-the-scenes administration of this essential part of MZF.


We want the vendor lottery process at Milwaukee Zine Fest to be:


  1. Open to all

  2. Fair and as accessible as possible

  3. Built to proactively prioritize marginalized voices


We’ve created a vendor selection process that we feel best aligns with these important goals, and have spent years tweaking the process as necessary to build an event that is now recognized as one of the most diverse zine fests in the country. We know it’s not perfect: it never will be. We will continue to allow it to evolve with time. The Milwaukee Zine Team welcomes constructive feedback, but also encourages involvement! Reach out to join the team and help us change the process for the better.

Why does Milwaukee Zine Fest run a lottery?


MZF is one of the nation’s most popular zine fests, attracting potential vendors from all over the country. Historically MZF was a small fest that could accommodate everyone who wanted to table at it. As it grew in popularity, however, this changed: today Milwaukee Zine Fest only has enough table space for roughly 50% of zinesters who want to vend with us.


Despite doubling the capacity of the fest in recent years, and continuing to expand our footprint within the beautiful Milwaukee Central Library, this is still the case: we cannot accommodate everyone we wish we could.


How does a fest “decide” who gets in and who doesn’t? It’s a hard question and one we grapple with. Some fests have applications for a jury to hand-select vendors each year. Some fests are first-come-first served with strict “open periods” and deadlines to makes the cut. Some fests have tiered access with different price points… and some fests have lotteries. No one way is perfect—trust us, we’ve tried several—but our current audited lottery has been in place for a few seasons and works as well as we feel it can.  We reassess every year to be sure.


What is an “audited” lottery? How is it different from a “random” lottery?

(And why does MZF intentionally choose to audit theirs?)


Milwaukee Zine Fest’s lottery is audited for diversity and inclusion purposes. This is critical to the fest’s core mission of uplifting and showcasing marginalized voices in print. What does this mean and how do we do we accomplish it? Read on:

  • A random lottery is what most people associate with the word: it is 100% luck of the draw. A zine fest with a random lottery would toss everyone’s name in a hat, pull out enough to fill their tables, and that would be that. On the surface, a random lottery appears to be to be the most “fair” because everyone has the “exact same chance of winning” as anyone else.

    At Milwaukee Zine Fest, though, we recognize that randomized fairness is not representative of the reality of the culture, systems, and political world zinesters face in today’s America. Certain zinesters have less access to resources/platforms for their work due to historic systems of oppression targeting People of Color, Indigenous People, the Queer/Trans Community, People with Disabilities, and those who are economically disadvantaged.

    It isn’t random and it isn’t fair. Milwaukee Zine Fest’s audited lottery is intentionally set up to attempt to counteract this by recognizing that our zinester vendorship cannot just represent the “luck of the draw.” We need to better represent those who are most commonly marginalized within the other systems they encounter daily.  An audited lottery helps even the playing field and allows our fest to better showcase the voices that are so often left unheard.


  • An audited lottery works similarly to a random one, with the key difference being that the random results are then closely inspected to ensure diversity goals are met within the resulting group.  If they are not, the lottery is adjusted with segments rerun to meet these goals.  The final vendorship thus represents a mostly randomized set of zinesters, but a set that is weighted toward the inclusion of traditionally marginalized voices.

    The Milwaukee Zine Fest Zine Team are real humans, not robots, who carefully perform this audited process annually. You can learn more about them here and reach out if you would like more details about joining the team yourself.


What goals is MZF attempting to meet with its audited lottery process?


People creating zines live in a world where those who are white, male, straight, cisgendered, able-bodied, and wealthy have more opportunities than those that aren’t. Milwaukee Zine Fest wishes to be a resource to those that are underserved.  Our audited lottery works to ensure the following goals are met with each season's accepted group of vendors (with the understanding that often any one vendor may fall into multiple target-groups):


  1. At least one third of Milwaukee Zine Fest’s accepted vendors self-identify as either BIPOC, People of Color, Black, Brown, Indigenous, Latina/o/x, Non-White, or any combination thereof.

  2. At least one third of Milwaukee Zine Fest’s accepted vendors self-identify as any letter in the LGBTQ+ Community with the “+” representing any number of identities commonly included within the Queer and/or Trans community. This includes but is not limited to Non-Binary, Genderfluid, Two-Spirit, Intersex, Asexual, Homoflexible, non-straight, etc.

  3. At least one half of Milwaukee Zine Fest’s accepted vendors are local (which we define as “living within the boundaries of the state of Wisconsin; the traditional territory of the Menominee, Fox, Mascouten, Sauk, Potawatomi, Ojibwe, and Ho-Chunk tribes”). We recognize that many folks do not have the financial means to travel to other large fests beyond these bounds.

  4. Of any remaining vendors who do not fit within any/all categories above, the Zine Team reviews results to ensure fair representation of those historically marginalized in traditional print media including: People with Disabilities, women, non-Christians, people over the age of 50, people on the neurodiversity spectrum, and people who are unhoused/experiencing homelessness.


* Note 1: Milwaukee Zine Fest recognizes and celebrates intersectionality and allows potential vendors to self-identify in any way they see fit including any/all of the above. Please see our notes on process below.


* Note 2: no given socio-economic status, gender, sexuality, nor religious or cultural identity is guaranteed a vendor spot at Milwaukee Zine Fest. The first step in our process is still a randomized lottery, with an audit in place to then follow and check for the above. Please see our notes on process below.


How is the audited lottery performed?


Milwaukee Zine Fest’s goals surrounding diversity and inclusion start with an open, free call for vendors, and end in our team performing a lottery and auditing the results. The process works as follows:


  1. We open a lottery for several days online in late winter. Anyone may join from anywhere in the world by filling out a simple online form. No payment is needed, no portfolio, no zine experience, no formal identification or legal name is required. Those who cannot use or access the form online are welcome to call The Bindery at 414-482-3630 to join the lottery over the phone. Non-English speakers are welcome at Milwaukee Zine Fest and may have an English-speaker apply on their behalf.

  2. The form asks each vendor if they would like to submit a diversity statement. This is a text box in which a vendor may write whatever they choose—or nothing at all. We leave this up to each zinester, but we do note that this text box is what we use to perform the audit and make diversity decisions when necessary.

  3. When the lottery closes, each person in the vendor pool is assigned a random number.  We use this number to then meet as a team and carefully perform the lottery process. This implements a series of algorithmic steps and standard tools used in an audited lottery: a combination of a random number generator, Microsoft Excel, a good-old fashioned calculator, pencil, and a team of thoughtful brains to run the lottery audit the same way each season. (See above for MZF’s audit goals).

  4. The resulting group of vendors is notified that they got in and they proceed with payment to secure their table at the fest. Those who did not get in are waitlisted in the same randomized, audited order to ensure that even if folks give up their spot, incoming wait-listers are still in keeping with the set goals for the vendorship as a whole.  


Beyond an audited lottery, how else does MZF work to provide a diverse and inclusive environment for vendors and festival guests?


Milwaukee Zine Fest recognizes that hosting a lottery and hoping a diverse group just happens to join it, is not a proactive form of inclusion. Our team thus works throughout the year to do/provide the following in relation to the lottery and otherwise. If you’d like to join us, we always need more volunteers: please reach out at any time to help us meet our diversity goals!


Our ongoing efforts include:


  • Sending targeted and personalized lottery invites to local organizations that center care and services on marginalized groups.

  • Sending targeted and personalized lottery invites to local artisans, writers, and zinesters of Color.

  • Providing five free vendor spaces each year to area organizations that center care and services on marginalized groups.

  • Providing free, pre-fest zine making experiences to underserved youth groups, hosted on site at The Bindery.

  • Planning programs/speakers at Milwaukee Zine Fest that represent diverse backgrounds and topics.

  • Keeping the Milwaukee Zine Fest vendor fee low and not turning anyone away from lack of funds.

  • Collecting feedback from vendors after the fest each year so that we can forever improve in years to come.


We are dedicated to providing a festival environment that:


  • Is always and forever free for the public to attend

  • Is fully ADA compliant (including ASL interpretation when requested in advance)

  • Has all-gender, welcoming restrooms

  • Is a guaranteed safe(r) space: please see our safer space policy here

  • Is staffed by friendly, knowledgeable professionals and volunteers with various backgrounds of their own!

The Milwaukee Zine Fest Zine Team welcomes constructive feedback and invites you to join our volunteer effort to make MZF the best it can be.  Please reach out to our core leadership team at or call The Bindery at 414-482-3630 with thoughts or questions.


We can’t wait to see you at the next fest!

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