Small presses of course are rarely in tip-top financial shape. They're not big for many reasons, among them is niche publishing that bigger publishers can't and won't publish. Want gay lit? Go to, say, Lethe. Urban, street lit? You can go to Triple Crown Publications and have an unhappy black woman on the cover too!
Avant garde and experimental? BlazeVox has been a home for this for a while. It's reputable and publishes good shit.
So it was with surprise when Brett Ortler recieved a "half hearted" acceptance letter. In the email, editor, Geoffrey Gatza, congratulates Ortler on his work. But then makes the unusual request of a $250 donation to help print the book. The reason: bad economic times:
"Due to the recent economic upheaval, most of our funding sources collapsed. But this does not mean we plan to stop publishing.
In the spirit of cooperation, we are asking you to help fund the production of your book. We have done this for the past two years and it seems to be working out very positively. Over $2000 goes into the production of a book with BlazeVOX and we are hoping you will donate $250 to the press to help meet the costs of our budgeted year."
Paying for publication is not too unusual. Contests, on the one hand. Vanity presses on the other.
Everyone knows vanity press, or at least, Publish America, known to many in publishing as a scam for their poorly edited work, their willingness to publish crap, and asking writers to pay for their own books.
On the surface, BlazeVox's proposal is like that. You pay $250, they publish your book.
But what makes the situation unique is the culture of small presses--in particular the "indie press."
Indie press are radical. It's because they care about the art. It's not about money. It's about publishing the radical. Sometimes trying to fuck over capitalist systems. AK Press is a perfect example of a small press trying to stick with their values (in this case, anarchy). Gatza calls the proposal a "co-op," which writer Tim Jones-Yelvington thinks is quite the idea: "I think it is perfectly fine, is actually desirable, for small presses to create innovative alternative models, i.e., 'cooperative” publishing.'" It's in the spirit, he argues. It's also necessary. A capitalist system cannot support the indie industry. It doesn't turn profit, not usually. It must be creative.
But in the case of BlazeVox, the creativity got out of hand. That is, Gatza was being schemey. There was no transparency.
Seeing all these attacks, Gatza quickly tried to explain himself, then declared BlazaVox dead:
This was later rescinded, reiterating:
"But our art form is not about sales. If it were, we would start printing and selling the literally hundreds of Christian-themed manuscripts we receive each year which, for some reason, do sell. If we sold Christian-oriented poetry, we would be rolling in money. We do not choose to do this."This leaves the question of: what's next for BlazeVox?: How will they continue funding their program?
Tim Jones-Yelvington writes:
"I have seen far too much bad management and fundraising practices justified by good ideology — organizations that in the name of rejecting the dominant norms of the “nonprofit industrial complex,” for instance, move forward with a complete lack of oversight mechanisms that ultimately just means the organizations are unsustainable, their workers are vulnerable or exploited, and their financial practices not accountable to the community they claim to support."What options do small presses have when they're failing, yet do not want to compromise their ideologies?...when they obviously don't have resources? How can we reject a capitalist system when we live in one? What alternative models do we have for the successful distrubution of art?
What other options did BlazeVox have?
It's a question that many small presses have to answer. But now they have something to guide them: don't do what BlazeVox did. Really! The peeps at HTMLGiant will be all over your poetic ass!