Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The BlazeVOX Mess & What it Opens for Discussion

I should begin by saying that I have no emotional involvement or personal stake in the BlazeVOX fiasco apart from the fact that they were the publisher of my friend Evan Lavender-Smith's book From Old Notebooks, which is a very good book. I'm upset about what the recent damage to BlazeVOX's reputation might do to Evan's reputation, and I'm upset about how the writers who have been caught up in this mess have been made to feel about themselves and their writing. This post will try to do several things. First, for those who don't know about what happened, I'm going to briefly explain it. Then I'm going to discuss some of the issues it raises for me as a writer, editor, and publisher.

1. BlazeVOX asked some writers to pay for their own publication.

The small press BlazeVOX, primarily a poetry press, has been sending provisional acceptance letters to a good number of writers for the last two years. These letters asked the writers to finance their own publication by giving the press a "donation" of $250. This was meant to help the press manage the expense of $2000 dollars associated with publishing a book (more on that number in a second). If the writers weren't willing to pay, then they could publish an ebook with BlazeVOX, but not a print book.

Practices like this are generally frowned on for a number of reasons, but I think the key issues are these: 1) There were two tiers of writers: those who had to pay, and those who did not. For instance, my friend Evan did not have to pay, and in fact did not even know about this practice. Unfortunately, public knowledge of the practice will now have negative effects on Evan's reputation (unless we as a community make the wise decision not to count it against him, and I hope that we will). 2) As Matt Bell has said in several places, it's extremely important for publishers to remember the power imbalance between themselves and writers. Putting writers in the position of paying for publication or watching what might feel like the opportunity of a lifetime disappear is unfair to those writers -- especially because the policy was a secret, revealed to (some) writers only in the moment of acceptance.

2. As is usually the case when presses ask for financial help from writers, the numbers didn't work.

You see a lot of people justify the practice of charging for submissions on the grounds that it makes good business sense. We've discussed this before; the fact is that it doesn't. Assuming you charge reasonable rates, you simply can't make enough money on submissions to make up for the loss of free time. Small press publishers generally make a lot more per hour in their day jobs than they can possibly make per hour of reading submissions from a pay-for-play slush pile. (We can go over the math on this one again in the comments if you'd like; you can play at home, though, by multiplying the number of stories you can read all the way through in an hour by the highest charge you feel comfortable applying to submissions minus the cut Submishmash or Paypal will ask, then comparing that to your hourly wage: the results might surprise you).

In the case of BlazeVOX, the argument was weaker than usual. Publisher Geoffrey Gatza claimed that it cost $2000 per book, and yet only asked for $250 per book from writers, with the stated aim of publishing 15 books under this model. Multiply 15 by $2000 and you get $30,000. Multiply $250 by 15 and you get $3,750. Subtract the latter from the former and you get a deficit of $26,250. If these were the real costs of publishing a book, asking people to put up $250 in order to "help" would be financially ludicrous: every time someone said yes, you would be losing $1750.

It's no great shock that the numbers don't work. My experience tells me that most of the time, when a small press talks about being financially "realistic," they are in fact most likely to be living in a fantasy: one where literature pays for itself without its publisher doing the hard work of selling it to readers. They want to be "publishers" without doing the hard work of publishing. And they are very, very bad at math. (Consider Flatmancrooked, a small press that debuted with big talk of paying writers for their work, started to take paid submissions for a Special Slushpile, and then quietly disappeared. The special slush was defended as a shrewd business move, which made it not at all shocking when the business disappeared.)

3. With a little cynicism, the numbers made more sense.

Gatza's numbers were so unreasonable that it was difficult to believe he could have misunderstood them that badly. Surely he wouldn't be secretly pushing a deal that was actually financially injurious to him and his press. And, indeed, it appears highly likely that he wasn't.

Consider this: BlazeVOX has very few expenses. They use the online print-on-demand service CreateSpace, which essentially eliminates overhead. In CreateSpace, you upload your book's files and then the book is printed every time someone orders it. The printer takes its fee out of the book's sale price. Each sale, then, is inherently profitable. They also design their own books (or, in Evan's case and probably others, the authors provide the design) and spend nothing at all on advertising or promotion (Evan purchased and mailed out his own review copies, building the reasonable amount of buzz From Old Notebooks achieved on his own dime and effort). Any book requires a little money to get it going, but it was difficult to imagine how Gatza could spend $2000 on the production of a book under such circumstances, and easy to see how $250 might even be profitable.

Gatza has since clarified that the $2000 figure does include the value he places on his own time as a designer, promoter, and publisher generally. Given how vague he has chosen to be about his numbers (and occasionally dishonest: his numbers in terms of the number of submissions he received this year have fluctuated wildly), I don't think it's unreasonable for us to do a little speculation and conclude that the publication of a book under this model would be profitable for Gatza, even before a single book was sold to a single reader. Indeed, it's hard to see how it wouldn't be profitable.

We might further speculate that the number of people who have come forward as having received the provisional acceptance and request for donation from Gatza since the news broke is not consistent with his having "only" offered the deal to 30 people, that the acceptance in fact looks like a spam letter, and that BlazeVOX has likely subsidized itself on the backs of hard-working writers without any intent to make the necessary effort to sell the books of those writers.

4. The arguments of BlazeVOX's defenders reveal how little thought they have put into the role of a publisher in the literary community of writers and readers.

There are several arguments used to defend the practices of BlazeVOX, and none of them even begin to persuade. They do, however, helpfully illustrate several points on which small press thinking seems painfully fuzzy.

Gatza's defenders most frequently resorted to the claim that he had "done so much for poetry." I genuinely don't understand this claim. If I take $250 dollars from you for the privilege of uploading a PDF to CreateSpace and not refusing the money of anyone who happens to actively pursue your book, having done no work at all to promote said book, what exactly would you say I've done for you or your poetry? I've gotten the prestige associated with being a publisher, I've got your money, I've got the money from your book's sale, and you have -- at best -- the ability to tell people I published your book. A fact that will become significantly less interesting to most people when it comes out that you paid me for the privilege. You can call this a lot of things, but I think we'd be stretching to say it's really a service.

Others pointed out that the sort of intellectually challenging work BlazeVOX published was not known for making a great deal of money -- a point on which Gatza himself has been especially petulant. ("I believe that you are misinformed about how well a book of poetry does in the markets today and what it costs to get a book into production.") Under the circumstances, they argue, it's not unreasonable to ask writers to shoulder some share of the expense of producing and promoting a book. This makes me wonder if these people know what publishing and writing are, on the most basic level.

When I write a novel, I spend hours and hours and hours and hours on the task. I put to use my seven years of formal education as a fiction writer. I put to use the hours and hours of time I have spent reading. And then there is the time used in the writing itself. I am an unusually fast writer and a novel will generally take me about 1.5 years to draft to the point where I am interested in letting a publisher see it (with another .5 years hopefully being devoted to collaborative editing and revision with the editor[s] of that press). I'm not sure what that translates to in hours, but it's definitely in the hundreds. In other words, when the book is done, I've done my job. That's the end of my obligations. And it's worth noting that if Gatza values his time to the point where typesetting some poetry in an InDesign document and uploading the resulting PDF to CreateSpace is worth $2,000 dollars, then surely the time I've invested in producing the novel is worth tens of thousands. (In neither case is the market setting our price: BlazeVOX and its defenders proceed from the assumption that the market is not interested as a rule and barely worth engaging.)

The publisher's responsibility is to bring some combination of money, editorial skill, and promotional ability to the table. If you aren't providing a reasonably attractive combination of these things, you aren't a publisher, at least as I understand the term. BlazeVOX chose not to market their books, and so lost out on opportunities (consider the relative popularity of From Old Notebooks after a very small promotional push from its author). They chose to ask writers to finance their own publication. And, according to its own defenders, BlazeVOX offered no editorial guidance at all. So in what sense would you call them a publisher? They are a website. They are a brand. But they do not really publish in any meaningful sense of the word.

Neither do a great number of small presses. We'll talk in a moment about what these small presses actually do.

Those who place great emphasis on the difficulty of making money on poetry in today's market often continue by pointing out that Gatza is in a difficult financial position. He has depended on this argument himself from the beginning of this discussion. This sounds like an extremely good reason for Gatza not to publish books. Writing benefits tremendously from the fact that it requires only negligible resources of its participants: a writing implement, a bit of light, and a medium for storage. Publishing does not enjoy the same low barrier to entry. Even in the days of print-on-demand publishing, you simply shouldn't be a publisher of printed materials unless you have a little money to burn. It would be irresponsible to start a business if you couldn't afford to pay your employees, and you aren't a hero if you start a press without the money to take care of your books. Lionizing this sort of poor decision-making is a good way of declaring that we don't want readers. Who wants to read material produced under such conditions?

This is not to suggest that writers should not contribute their own resources in order to help their books succeed: just as a publisher should be, by definition, someone who uses his or her resources to promote good writing, a writer should be, by definition, someone who uses his or her own resources to create writing worthy of promotion. This suggests that a good writer will naturally want to promote his or her own work. But we know that there are many writers who are very bad at this, and while I don't blame publishers for preferring to work with gregarious literary salespeople, nor can I take seriously anyone who claims to care only for the quality of the work who does not allow for the possibility of publishing the sort of shy, quiet, sales-incompetent person who often creates the most exciting art.

As Tracy pointed out to me in conversation, the BlazeVOX structure exactly reverses what any reasonable person should agree are the burdens in the relationship of publisher and writer: in this model, writers are expected to have the money to finance their own publication even though writing should be something available to all classes of people. The publisher, meanwhile, is responsible only for existing and silently doing its work, even though publication properly requires funding! This is an absurd, perverse outcome that diminishes everyone involved.

Still another class of BlazeVOX defender is the literary defeatist, who always appears in these moments to defend yet another measure that exploits writers by insisting that given the state of the market for literary writing, said exploitation is inevitable. These people are historically ignorant in that their argument implies that the market was once better, when the case is the opposite: more people are now reading more books than ever before, and there are more people who list their profession as author than there have ever been before. Publishing has historically been financially lucrative for writers where they wrote work with popular appeal or where they found a wealthy patron; the small press, having written off the possibility of appealing to readers, must rationally seek wealthy patrons; the defeatists refuse to do so and then express shock at the inevitable outcome. But, more to the point, if publication is really so hopeless -- if writers must actually pay hundreds of dollars to print the products of their labors, and if these books will be ignored completely, and if no one will ever read them or derive enjoyment, then why should these writers publish in the first place? What exactly is the point? If it's about the writing, then write, and post it to the Internet for free. Format it for Kindle and give it away. If it's really that bad out there, if publishing must inherently be both exploitative and pointless, then let's just not do it.

5. There is a good argument to be made that writers who believe their work is not marketable should pay for their own work's production far more often.

Most indie presses behave as if they plan to be profitable ventures, both for themselves and their writers. Most of them do not actually do anything to make this happen. Some of the presses should restructure their operations such that profiting on writing becomes a conceivable outcome of their publishing. Others should take more seriously their unspoken premise -- that their favorite writing simply cannot find a paying audience -- and consider what that implies for their operations. And the same is true for writers. Some of us should reconsider the idea that we are impossible to market. Others of us should ask themselves why they keep taking a product to market when they do not believe they are wanted there.

The stigma of self-publishing is silly. If I believe in a book to the point where I believe it's worth my time to write the book and revise it and edit it and publish it, then why shouldn't I believe it's worth my own money to see it in print? If I choose to spend my money in this way, then isn't that only further proof that I believe in my product?

The main problem with self-publishing is that it is too easy if you have the money -- or, in the age of POD, even if you don't. It's much harder to get someone else to endorse your work publicly. To read the book and then to say that it is good. Finding someone willing to do this with your novel is close to impossible. The achievement should be worth something even if that person doesn't have the money to invest in helping you print your book. So, in other words, it would make perfect sense for more small presses to serve mainly as gatekeepers: to provide their good name and reputation to books that were known publicly to be financed by their authors. Writers might even provide this service to each other without the involvement of other presses. Experienced writers might even serve as editors and mentors for younger, fresher writers, and then agree to help promote the new book -- this last model is one I find especially attractive, and one that will make more and more sense as eBooks become ubiquitous. I am not arguing that writers should never pay for the production of their own books. In fact, I suspect that they should be doing it more often.

In practice, this would only make explicit what is already happening implicitly in many small presses, which are notorious for serving as a back-scratching system wherein writer-editors finance the publication of each other's work. It's rarely as direct as critics seem to believe (you won't find a lot of people that literally mutually publish) but the back-scratching network does exist (you will find triangles, squares, hexagons, or more complicated networks that might as well be built on secret handshakes) and that it is not only common but actively encouraged for writers to buy their way into these networks with a mixture of social capital and money. The process would be simplified considerably, and become far less sketchy, if we stopped looking for complicated ways to pay for each other's books and started to simply pay for our own, utilizing the same promotional networks we currently call presses not as a way of legitimizing our relationships but as a natural extension.

To be clear, I believe that small presses could sell more books if they committed to a few relatively straightforward alterations in their practices -- alterations that would begin publishing with a stricter focus on merit and end with the conviction that their products were actually worth buying. We should focus more on being great writers and editors and trust that better products will result in more sales. (Because believe me: We could be doing so much better.) But the only thing wrong with the back-scratching community of presses is the way we use it to create the illusion that we are doing something market-oriented or in any way responsive to external pressures. When you publish with a small press, you are generally making the judgment that you know better than the market: that your book should exist whether or not it can pay for itself. And that is a fine judgment. That is one I often agree with, in some sense, though I think that the more honest answer is often that we simply do not feel like working hard enough to make something good enough to sell.

Anyway, there don't seem to be many good reasons for hiding behind a press like BlazeVOX. If you want to show the market the error of its ways, publish your own book. Find some friends who will talk it up to their friends. See what happens. This is really what the small presses are doing most of the time anyway.

6. Writers and publishers alike need to think more carefully about what they hope to accomplish.

If you choose to be a publisher, it should be because you believe in something and want to use your resources (time, money, charisma) to help more people see it. Publishing books simply to make them exist, without hope of getting them into the hands of actual readers, is a terrible waste of a life. If avant garde poetry isn't selling as much as you want it to, you can print it anyway and accept the losses without complaining, you can print it anyway and try to sell in spite of the odds, or you can publish better avant garde poetry. Any other response is masturbatory.

If you are a writer who writes things nobody will pay for, you need to remember that the size of the world's population means that a book that only appealed to 1 in 1000 people could still be a bestseller with the right promotion. You need to ask yourself what the odds are that you are so smart and so special that you are writing something no one will understand because it is good rather than because it is not very good. (The odds are not very high. Most people who believe this are lying to themselves.) If you think your book is good but you don't think that it will be an easy seller and you don't have the time or the money or the charisma to sell it to people against the odds, then you can publish it anyway and shut up about how hard it is out there (this was your decision) or you can give it away for free online. There are no other options that make any sense.

Or you can write alone in a room. You can love the writing for itself. That would make sense.

Sadly, there is never any point in publishing alone in a room. If you are a publisher, then you need to get out there and do the work required to promote your books. Otherwise you are not a publisher. Don't tell me how hard it is out there for poets. Become a better publisher of poets. Become a better poet.

I write every day though it makes me very little money because I have asked myself if I would stop if there were no money. I would not. I publish because I have asked myself if I would stop if there were no readers and my answer was yes: I would stop. Do you ask yourself often why you are doing what you are doing? And if not, how do you expect to ever become happy? I am a person who struggles often with depression. I am most days pretty happy anyway.

64 comments:

  1. the first logical and well thought out post on this whole miserable discussion. thank you.

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    1. Agreed. I've been trying to research this matter for an essay on the poetry publishing market, and this is possibly the only non-sentimental, clear response I've seen yet. Many thanks for writing this- for the first time, I think I actually understand the issue.

      For anyone else interested in someone who is neither whiny nor bitter, Chris at Vouched Books (who cited this post) also made some good points.

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  2. this whole fucking thing has made me want to disappear from the internet, but i like this, thanks

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  3. I appreciate your thoughts here Mike--very well said. The economic aspect is critical. If you cannot afford to have a press, don't have a press. It also frustrates me when the labor of writing is devalued. Like you, I've put hundreds of hours into my writing. I don't care what other writers do but I will be damned if I'm going to pay to have my novel, for example, published. If it came to that, I would just put it online for free and cut out the middle man. I had a blast writing it. I've already been paid, in that regard.

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  4. This is a really well-executed analysis of the BV situation and of the problems with small presses and the writing community. Thanks for turning this discussion into something more significant than a street fight.

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  5. enjoyed this article—i'm a huge fan of the right numbers & one of the reasons why i engage with the internet at all as a writer are the beautiful numbers. i also really agree with roxane's point in the comments, too: if the middle man doesn't cut it, cut him out & use the many available tools to get your word work out on the street.

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  6. I had been trying to articulate the difference between "publishing" and "printing." You hit it just right when you write that "The publisher's responsibility is to bring some combination of money, editorial skill, and promotional ability to the table. If you aren't providing a reasonably attractive combination of these things, you aren't a publisher, at least as I understand the term." Thanks for this piece.

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  7. Here is where you need to read some more on the subject. Your money argument is wrong in my opinion. It is not $2000 per copy, but $2000 worth of real money and time for all that is involved with publishing, which by the way is not as simple as uploading a pdf to Lulu.

    http://notellpoetry.blogspot.com/2011/09/no-tell-books-supports-blazevox.html

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  8. Refer to the portions of my post where I discuss the "time" portion of that argument. Note that no matter how much time the publisher spends, I have spent more in writing my book.

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  9. i think there's more hurt feelings and sensitivity involved than you acknowledge, mike, but overall, i totally agree. i'm not so much angered or offended by the act of asking writers to contribute to their own publishing costs (which, wouldn't they end up doing anyway, when they're buying their own books as evan did?) but much more so the lack of transparency on the blazevox website, in the submission guidelines, etc. that's just sketchy and dishonest, hands down, end of story. it does seem like gatza wasn't intentionally being sketchy and dishonest (his BV posts on this subject make him seem very out-of-the-loop, in my opinion) but i don't think that takes away from the fact that the non-nondisclosure of this publishing practice makes it problematic. even if, as many people have been arguing, it was vaguely known about for years. if you're not upfront about it, some people having some knowledge of the practice essentially means nothing.

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  10. Poets who are "bad" at promoting their own work need to learn how to get "good" at it. Their responsibility does not end when the manuscript is complete, although many writers would like to think so. We don't live in that world anymore.

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  11. Best analysis of this situation I've read. Thanks for taking the time, Mike.

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  12. I read your entire argument and that's part of why I pointed out Reb Livingston's post on the subject. It isn't just time, either. Money comes out of the editor's pocket for review copies, author copies, promotion, advertisement, lost books, stolen books, outlets who refuse to pay, travel, securing the rights for art work to use on the cover, isbn, etc., etc.

    No matter how much time you put into your book, the editor still has miles to go if your book is going to see the light of day.

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  13. Strong, clear argument, here. I especially like what you say about promotion. I'm so tired of hearing people talk about how, really, only writers can promote their work. I think you're dead on when you write that you can't "take seriously anyone who claims to care only for the quality of the work who does not allow for the possibility of publishing the sort of shy, quiet, sales-incompetent person who often creates the most exciting art." Yes, writers are often the best promoters of their work. But not always. And in those cases, I hope someone else will promote them.

    I'm not sure I understand what you mean when you write that "often we simply do not feel like working hard enough to make something good enough to sell." That seems far too simple, and seems to too directly correlate quality with sales -- though I don't think you're going for such a simple correlation. I'm just not quite clear on that.

    Thanks for this cool headed analysis.

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  14. Sam, I don't think the question is whether a writer is the best promoter of their own work, but who will do the promotion at all? With the publishing world in flux, no budgets and no time, I don't know of a single poet who isn't involved in the slog of getting their work before an audience. Who is the nebulous "someone" you speak of? I'd love to meet them.

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  15. Self-published authors: William Blake, John Milton, Virginia Woolf, Walt Whitman, William Morris, James Joyce, Stephen Crane, E. E. Cummings, Deepak Chopra, Benjamin Franklin, Zane Grey, Pat Ingoldsby, Rudyard Kipling, D. H. Lawrence, Thomas Paine, Edgar Allan Poe, Ezra Pound, Carl Sandburg, George Bernard Shaw, Upton Sinclair, Gertrude Stein, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman and Mark Twain.

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  16. Colin, I agree with you that almost all writers have to be heavily involved in the promotion of their work. What makes me so nervous about this is that some of them are really bad at that. And that's not a reflection at all on the quality of their work. The "someone" I'm referring to is anyone -- a publisher, especially, but also other writers, bloggers, journalists, readers, etc. My concern is that the work of "quiet, sales-incompetent" writers just dies without some kind of promotion. You can argue that word of mouth has always been the best kind of promotion. And that's probably true. But it makes me nervous when I hear publishers justify zero promotion based on the idea that writers are their own best promoters. And I've heard that too often lately. I know that's a reality we're dealing with. It just makes me a little nervous, especially when I consider a publisher not publishing something based on the author's sales incompetence.

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  17. Collin, sorry I misspelled your name.

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  18. "You need to ask yourself what the odds are that you are so smart and so special that you are writing something no one will understand because it is good rather than because it is not very good."

    That is hard brilliance. So well said, and so important to be said.

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  19. "I read your entire argument and that's part of why I pointed out Reb Livingston's post on the subject. It isn't just time, either. Money comes out of the editor's pocket for review copies, author copies, promotion, advertisement, lost books, stolen books, outlets who refuse to pay, travel, securing the rights for art work to use on the cover, isbn, etc., etc."

    But that's exactly my point -- some editors do pay for these things. BlazeVOX, as I understand it, pays for almost none of these things: no review copies, no author copies or very few, no outlets refusing to pay (there were no outlets), no travel, and much or maybe all of the time no artwork to pay for. They do pay for ISBNs, but as I understand it they bought in bulk -- meaning $1 per ISBN. For a good publisher not using CreateSpace, I would generally say that Gatza's estimate of $2000 seemed low. For a publisher like BlazeVOX, it seems quite high unless we spot Gatza the time, which I don't think we should, for the reasons discussed above.

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  20. Sam wrote:

    "I'm not sure I understand what you mean when you write that 'often we simply do not feel like working hard enough to make something good enough to sell.' That seems far too simple, and seems to too directly correlate quality with sales -- though I don't think you're going for such a simple correlation. I'm just not quite clear on that."

    Yes, it is too simple. It's not that quality relates directly to sales. Obviously some things are easier to sell than others and some very good things that SEEM saleable are nonetheless not going to be successful, even if you do everything right.

    On the other hand, most of the material published by small presses is, like most of the material published by large presses, not that great. And I do believe that quality and sales do potentially have a relationship, and sometimes even a strong one. You also have to be good at promoting your work, of course, and we will likely never move many books until we become collectively more professional (see Roxane Gay's comments in the past that she rarely gets a book she paid for without harrassing the small press that she paid, and sometimes still doesn't receive the books. Most buyers will quit trying the first time that happens and never buy from us again).

    Fundamentally, all we can do is make our best work, promote it as best as possible, and accept the outcome. We need to stop complaining that no one wants our shit (which is the worst advertising possible) and start making better shit, because THAT is what we can control.

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  21. This is great. Thanks for writing this, Mike. Adam

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  22. I see your points, but I am still convinced the biggest mistake BlazeVOX made is not making a disclosure of the cooperative nature for a large portion of their publications.

    Yes, many editors pay for the costs, but they get money from grants and people who may not be willing to give BlazeVOX money.

    I know several authors who have published with BV, and none of them complained about the money issue---perhaps they didn't have to pay or they were published at a time when BV was not asking for assistance, but the authors obviously made a choice.

    I read the letters and e-mails, too, and I read in plain English BV telling the author 'this is how we do it and we understand if you don't want to take us up on the offer.' Certainly not the place or time to throw a fit.

    I myself passed on an opportunity to work with a co-op model press because the balance of power was not to my liking. I certainly did not make it out to be the end of publishing as we know it in the modern world.

    It's one model. Take it or leave it.

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  23. Great post, Mike. By far the best thing I've read on the BlazeVOX mess. One correction, though: Gatza typesets in Word, not InDesign.

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  24. Great post, Mike. This is the best summary I've read to date.

    I agree with Justin above that the real mistake they made is not disclosing this policy in the first place. That makes a huge difference, in my mind at least. I was actually one of the people who argued in defense of FMC when they initiated that (admittedly kind of offputting) special slushpile. They were up front about it. There weren't any surprises, and writers had the option to either participate or not. I feel the same about Narrative. I don't submit to them, and I think it's kind of foolhardy to participate in that kind of thing, but they're forthcoming about the fees and people at least know the basics of what they're getting into. There are enough markets out there that you don't have to work with somebody whose policies don't feel right.

    But BV didn't disclose this policy. The people who were asked to subsidize their work didn't know that was even an option. They didn't have the opportunity to say, this doesn't feel right, and I'm not going to even dip my toes into that pool. I don't know that it was a bait and switch, and from what I've read, I don't really think that's how it was intended, but without prior notice in the submissions guidelines, that's how it worked for some people, or at least (from what I hear from at least one person who turned down a BV contract two years ago) how it felt.

    I've also been struck by how bad BV's math works. Either he's being misleading, or making up numbers ($2,000 per book) off the top of his head, or making a series of conscious and financially ruinous decisions one after the other. Or maybe a combination of the three. I don't want that misinterpreted as me saying that avante garde poetry is a bad way to spend your time. I just don't think you can plow forward at 15 books a year, $2,000 a book, selling maybe 15 or 30 copies of each book, and then complain that somehow, through market forces apart from your own decisions, you've found yourself in a difficult financial situation.

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  25. Thank you for this thoughtful and insightful post!

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  26. >>Self-published authors: William Blake, John Milton, Virginia Woolf, Walt Whitman, William Morris, James Joyce, Stephen Crane, E. E. Cummings, Deepak Chopra, Benjamin Franklin, Zane Grey, Pat Ingoldsby, Rudyard Kipling, D. H. Lawrence, Thomas Paine, Edgar Allan Poe, Ezra Pound, Carl Sandburg, George Bernard Shaw, Upton Sinclair, Gertrude Stein, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman and Mark Twain.

    I knew someone would trot out this irrelevant litany. The roster stops at the early twentieth century for a reason. The conditions of production have changed. Lulu isn't harboring any unsung contemporary Whitmans or Pounds, I assure you.

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  27. I'm facing a concern as a small publisher trying really hard to do things as I think they should be done (which is coherent, I think, with the "should" of this post): More and more, the gatekeepers of promotion (editors of web magazines, print publications, what-have-you) want and/or demand to hear directly from authors. On a number of occasions so far at my newborn press, I've found that those I've approached with promotion have responded only once the author followed up directly.

    As the entire system becomes more accustomed to writers promoting their own work, publishers who promote look more like ignorable lackeys, and we're back to the trouble with non-sales-adept writers getting overlooked.

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  29. Hi Victoria,
    Do you think that has to do with the backscratching that Mike is talking about above? Or is it just endemic at this point?

    I'm really very happy to hear from publishers at The Collagist, but seldom do. I don't know why that is, but I wish it were otherwise. I almost always go to the publisher for the review copy, and try to reach out when the review is published, too. When I can remember to.

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  30. Victoria, I've run into the same thing and I just ignore it and keep on persisting. It's absurd to think an outlet won't communicate with a publisher. My writers are busy enough and the whole point of going through a publisher is for that extra something you can't get on your own. I just refuse to indulge that nonsense. Sometimes this approach doesn't end well but I don't get too upset about it. There are plenty of websites out there who are interested in promoting books without playing games.

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  31. I have some real problems with this post, but I'm going to limit myself to discussing two of them. The post sets itself up as this dispassionate examination of "the facts" but starts with the disclaimer which clearly puts Meginnis on the side of Evan Lavender-Smith by saying "I'm upset about how the writers who have been caught up in this mess have been made to feel about themselves and their writing," while failing to acknowledge that some of BlazeVOX's fiercest defenders have been those very same writers. The "apart from" in that opening sentence is big enough to drive a bulldozer through.

    But what bugs me more is the attitude throughout this piece that the publisher shouldn't have the ability to earn a living doing this work. Sections 2 and 3 are the most egregious in this respect, dismissing as unimportant (and bordering on calling it fraud) Gatza's clarification that part of the $2000 per book number is for his time and effort.

    Instead, in Section 2, Meginnis writes "Assuming you charge reasonable rates, you simply can't make enough money on submissions to make up for the loss of free time. Small press publishers generally make a lot more per hour in their day jobs than they can possibly make per hour of reading submissions from a pay-for-play slush pile." Emphasis mine. This wasn't free time--this was his job. Now one can argue that the service Gatza was providing wasn't worth what he was paying himself--some will agree and other won't--but that's a far cry from suggesting that "the numbers don't work." The numbers don't work if you assume the editor/publisher/designer is doing this on the side.

    If you want a press that's going to give you a full staff of marketing people and editors and designers, then you don't want a small press, and that's fine. Good luck to you in breaking in to that market. But if you're submitting to a small press, then you should at least have some idea of what services they'll be able to reasonably provide and then decide if you're going to be satisfied with that. One thing you shouldn't expect is for a publisher to not pay themselves for the work they do, even though you seem to expect that they should be willing to lose money for their authors. That's what you basically said when you wrote "you simply shouldn't be a publisher of printed materials unless you have a little money to burn."

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  32. Hi, Mike,

    It might be useful to remind people that BV distributes their books through SPD, and state what that means. Unlike selling strictly through CreateSpace or another online-only POD outfit, this allows the books to be sold to college stores for course adoption, to indy bookstores, to be stocked on the shelf at chain stores, and to be sold easily into libraries. Because a true distribution channel reaches all these customers and more, this allows the book to have the *potential* to sell in much higher numbers than it usually can through an online POD system alone (although, indeed, most books do not fulfill this potential, and poetry books do so only rarely). I offer this as just an example of some of the hidden things you may not be considering that add to BV's costs, since the tradeoff for having a distributor is that (a) BV must pay to print physical books to send to SPD's warehouse, some of which will not sell hence will add to their per-book costs the same way review copies do, and (b) in addition they must give up a percentage cut to SPD (or any other distributor they use) that is significant, leaving them a razor thin margin to pay for shipping the books to their distributor, covering fees, etc.

    I think there are many other nuances to how small press publishing works that I could go into and that you're missing, particularly the key distinction between small press poetry publishing versus fiction publishing, but to keep things brief I'll just say that, to me, your whole argument seems to reduce to the question as to whether BV is being honest about their costs. Such a question is valid, but I think there's not an easy way to establish that honesty quantitatively. If BV were larger they might, despite the significant burden of paperwork this adds to a press, become a 501c3 and thus provide publicly available finances audited by a 3rd party--but even then, as a number of corporate entities have proved, fraud and deception is still possible. Otherwise it comes down to trust. As it happens, transparency is indeed a great way to build that trust, and even Gatza has admitted he can do more on that front and I hope he follows through. At the same time one of the benefits of the "back-scratching" coterie structure of poetry is that there's a community you can go to, and inquire about the experiences others have had directly with a given person, which is not actually a terrible system for establishing trust as it happens.

    Knowing him just a little myself, I can promise that, regardless of the figures he has released, he's not making much of a profit, if any, from the level of author donation he's requesting. If he is, I'm sure "profit" in this case boils down to keeping his overall income slightly ahead of his overall expenses, and using that extra to do things like eat. That's really the context one should look at this in. Maybe he thus shouldn't be a publisher by your rules, but if he's clear about what he's offering his authors and works towards full transparency including upholding his agreements with authors I think that that's not ultimately your call.

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  33. Gabriel & Roxane, thanks for engaging this.

    I'm new in town, so to speak, and am definitely trying to persist as best I can. It's really just something I've begun to observe. University presses have been forcing their authors to promote themselves or not get promoted throughout the ages; I think that's helped prime the perception as much as anything. And I hear stories about authors at large presses, with substantial advances, reserving 25% of their advances to hire a freelance publicist because even the presses with big publicity offices aren't doing what needs to be done, so this is not exclusively a small press issue--in fact, I'd say it's not a small press issue at all.

    If I had to say where it comes from, I don't think the backscratching has that much to do with it. I wasn't friends with any of my writer friends before I read their excellent work; those relationships are based, at least initially, on the mutual admiration of the work itself, so I don't really see them as problematic. When we lower our standards to publish our friends, that's a problem. (And I totally talked to Matt about this stuff, by the way, so y'all heard from me!)

    I think there's another dynamic at play. As a culture, we have come to expect access of all kinds. I see it as just another example of entitlement to access. Many people see us as the gatekeepers not only to publication, but to the authors themselves--when we do promote, we serve as a layer of insulation between the author and the public and/or the editors, etc. I think that we are generally less inclined to respond to a representative, rather than the author's direct plea.

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  34. Mike

    there is one element of this you haven't really considered, and that is, those of us who choose to work with BV precisely because we are tired of the mainstream small press literary model (if that isn't an oxymoron). i published my book with BV in the past year. wasn't asked for $ up front, but if i had been, i would have at least seriously considered it, knowing the realities of the small press world, being an editor and publisher myself. i could have twisted the arm of the original publisher, skanky possum, to do an expanded edition (which is really what this was; and ironically, part of my decision to go with BV hinged on the prior publication of Evan's book, since mine is a "notebook" as well). but skanky has been out of the game for a long time at this point. their ability to publish and promote would've been practically nil. conversely, i could have entered 'contests' -- which i find to be almost a total rip-off, with few exceptions -- or pursued various other presses, most of which publish at an agonizingly slow rate, between receipt of manuscript, acceptance, proof, publication, etc.

    so there were several factors that made BV attractive to me: i knew that the book could move through relatively quickly; i knew that i could be intimately involved with design; i knew that once it was done it would be available in all the places i wanted it to be (amazon, spd, the BV catalog, etc.). also, i was comfortable with the profile of the press as an edgy but well-known publisher, something that some of the OTHER small presses that use the POD model don't share.

    as your discussion of self-publishing acknowledges, the reputation of the press and the rubric under which a book enters the world is of some significance. and that is another factor here -- while evan and the others have the right to complain, i would question the way this whole thing has been presented, and the public witch hunt that's forcing others to defend their own books -- and there are literally hundreds of us -- merely by association. all this, while agreeing that i share the chagrin over the miscommunication that begat the current mess.

    finally, as the above poster points out, the horse has long left the barn on the expectation that authors in small presses shouldn't take part in promoting their books. there are some editors who do better than others; rusty morrison at omnidawn seems pretty savvy, for one. but a quick check of any of the various outlets through which reviews appear reveals that there is an utterly overwhelming glut of books constantly flooding the market. coming to them without a reviewer already in hand is tantamount to tossing your book in the trash. so while i sympathize with the hard work evan had to do himself to generate some buzz around the book, i seriously doubt it would have been any different as an unknown writer on almost any other press.

    and -- one last point -- taking all this together i feel that we are talking about some very different models and expectations as writers and publishers in the literary world. for me, i'm much more interested in the small community of souls, most of whom i know personally, with whom i want to exchange work. i was excited about BV as a way to somewhat expand that network and keep the book available. it was not at all important to me that this be a stepping stone to some misty sort of prestige or success, though of course, like anyone, i am concerned with how it's received on a peer level. at any rate, there's a lot more to say about this, but i've taken up enough bandwidth in your comments stream for now.

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  35. D Hadbawnik, if all you're interested in is exchanging your work with a small group of souls, what on earth is the point of publishing?

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  36. Roxane,
    D said this as well: "i was excited about BV as a way to somewhat expand that network and keep the book available." That strikes me as a bit more than just "exchanging your work with a small group of souls."

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  37. Anonymous, then D is contradicting him or herself. They seem to want both while pretending they don't, based on the comment.

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  38. roxanne: lemme put it this way: all of my previous, small press books, carefully handcrafted by editors (@skanky possum, interbirth, sardines) are completely sold out and out of print. therefore if i want to do a reading, or simply have a book to send to someone who's interested in my work, it's very difficult to do that. i said i wanted to be somewhat low-key, not utterly invisible. and as it happens i have made my own tiny editions of individual poems, bound and passed them out to friends. but that gets to be labor-intensive and expensive as well. there is a distinction in there, but you're choosing not to see it.

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  39. Mike writes,
    "We might further speculate that the number of people who have come forward as having received the provisional acceptance and request for donation from Gatza since the news broke is not consistent with his having "only" offered the deal to 30 people..."

    I'd argue for changing "speculate" to "start an ugly rumor".

    Of course Foetry has an enormous hard-on for this situation, so if more than 30 people were to come forward saying they'd been offered the deal on Sep. 1st, then we would likely know about that soon enough.

    Unless that happens, speculation based on cynicism won't do much but perpetuate ugly rumors. What's the value of that?

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  40. I am a small press publisher who puts a lot of work and attention into my books. The truth is that I could spend 20 hours a day promoting the books and literally prostitute myself for small donations and the books would still not sell enough to make a profit. So why do I do it? Love. Love that is consistently ridiculed by writers angry at the world for not recognizing their genius. It seems they would do better to see who is actually trying to help them....

    On another note, not a single person has mentioned one of the more serious root causes of the problem: MFA programs. They are the primary exploiters of writers and the reason for such a glut of writers who think they "deserve" a large publishing contract.

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  41. and Mike.. your argument about time spent is irrelevant. It is not a contest over time spent. The author gets credit for the book, jobs, sometimes pay... the small press publisher often gets absolutely nothing.. in fact.. they often lose a lot.

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  42. Justin Evans wrote,

    "I see your points, but I am still convinced the biggest mistake BlazeVOX made is not making a disclosure of the cooperative nature for a large portion of their publications."

    I agree with you there. I also suspect that the BlazeVOX model is at best fundamentally irresponsible (a press selling so few units should not be accepting so many books, as it clearly cannot serve them) but we can agree to disagree there.

    Brent Cunningham, you make some good points, and I'll have to think about them further. I hadn't considered that BlazeVOX might use SPD, honestly because their sales numbers are so ludicrously low (according to Gatza, only 20-30 books in some cases) that the idea he was distributing them by any means other than direct sales seemed almost inconceivable. I do see that he has a good amount of his stock on the SPD site, in decent numbers (though, it should be noted, nowhere near enough to spend $2000 at CreateSpace; I continue to strongly suspect the number is inflated, which, given that Gatza includes his own labor, a practice authors are routinely forbidden, seems very likely).

    But I disagree with you, in any case, that the heart of the problem is the question of whether Gatza was making a small profit on these "donations." (It should be noted that by his own argument, he must be: apparently he is "barely" feeding his cats and himself and helping to make rent with his proceeds from the press, which is clearly far more than any of his authors can say.) I take issue with the entire structure of the publisher, which refuses to do the actual work of publishing, and then complains that it's not making enough money, as if it were entitled to a certain return on each book. And while this particular incarnation of these tendencies has been sleazy (not telling people in advance how things would work was a really low move, and you can tell Gatza knew on some level by his desire to maintain secrecy about it) the main reason I care is that I think this particularly troubling case illustrates what is wrong with many of the publishing relationships we've formed as a community.

    As I say, though, you raise some decent points, and if you'd like to expand on your argument I would hear you out.

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  43. Anonymous: I don't understand what you're arguing. Because publishers love the books they publish, they should be excused for a) asking for money from authors to publish these books and b) failing to make any reasonable effort toward actually selling the books?

    As to your second post, it seems dead wrong. Authors occasionally get teaching jobs, sure, and sometimes they get a little bit of notoriety. But publishers get notoriety too (quick quiz: Which is more famous, Publishing Genius or David Daniel? FC2 or Brian Conn?) and they often advance their own writing careers, which leads to the benefits of authorship. (Certainly this has happened for me as a result of my publishing activities.)

    Why would a small press lose a lot? I guess if they made bad financial decisions, that would happen. And I have sympathy for people who make bad financial decisions. But I wouldn't call them heroes. I would say they made a mistake.

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  44. This editorial is pretty much spot on, and I'm glad someone put this take on the situation out there. I run a for profit literary press (no underwriters, no grant money, just good old-fashioned capitalism here) that started after the recession hit, and we primarily publish poetry (and yes, sometimes even in hardback). We come to our profits through hard ass work, because that's our job, because we love poetry, because we don't wait for the world to love us but instead go out and try to show the world what we love (btw, it almost ALWAYS works). I know the numbers back and forth, up and down. i studied business models and how the internet affected other similar industries for a long long time before I put out one title. Lots of folks I really like and admire also like and admire BlazeVOX. All I know is that a nice guy got into business when he probably shouldn't have, and he's misled writers about the work of publishing and the outlook for poetry in the market. It's exploded in such an ugly way, proving further that it was a false solution to financial problems from the get go. People argue BlazeVOX was saving poetry through the work, but because of a lack of a viable business plan, the "saving" was short-lived, at best. If you really want to save poetry, you've got to go outside of this tiny tiny bubble where this current conversation has now, officially, gotten tired in its futile back and forth about who is the bad guy. If you're serious about poetry, and the preservation of it, I'd take this instance as an excuse to learn more about how publishing poetry can be viable. All these creative people are surely bound to come up with some revolutionary ideas, no? Anything else and you're just bitching at another's expense, which doesn't make the world a very pleasant place.

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  45. For those raising SPD as a potential expense: I'm told that BlazeVOX didn't pay for this, authors did. Not sure if that was always true or how recent of a policy it was, but it does seem consistent with the general structure of the place.

    Not that BlazeVOX is really the point. I don't mind if there is a publisher out there I wouldn't want to work with. There are a lot of those.

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  46. Jen: Thanks for your comments. I agree.

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  47. "and Mike.. your argument about time spent is irrelevant. It is not a contest over time spent. The author gets credit for the book, jobs, sometimes pay... the small press publisher often gets absolutely nothing.. in fact.. they often lose a lot."

    Often the publisher gives itself a far higher share of the royalties than the writer. In some cases, this probably means they will make more money off the book than its author. In other cases, not so much. I suppose it depends on what the difference in profits is spent on. Whether it is used for expenses, the marketing of the book, for review copies or if it goes into the publisher's pocket.

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  48. This is outstanding, not just as a postmortem of the BlazeVOX thing but as an analysis of the small press scene. Thanks.

    Jen—your comment is the first heartening thing I've heard about "literary" publishing since this mess. It makes me wish I wrote poetry.

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  49. "Of course Foetry has an enormous hard-on . . . "

    Ahem. Anyway, if anyone has received one of these pay to play offers in any year from BlazeVOX, please forward it to foetry@foetry.com

    So far, according to the letters I've received, Gatza says he's lost a major donor each year for three years. Or a cynic might think he uses that line to gain sympathy and authors/donors.

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  50. Enjoyed reading this clear-headed analysis. Brent Cunningham makes some good counter-points too. Important to underline the positive, active role that a publisher SHOULD play : editorial, financial, promotional.

    But I do have a few reservations about the somewhat Darwinian-commercial implications of the tone of some of this. Yes, the author should be a wise and intelligent promoter of his/her own work, choosing venues & publishers with care, etc. But this is not always the case. The poet's main job is to write poetry ; poets are not always wise about or focused on the more practical issues. They can be dreamers, they can be bohemians, they can be space cadets, they can be impractical eccentrics, their work may lie disregarded for decades. And this should not be held against them. None of these factors have any bearing on the literary value of the writing itself. Nor should the literary quality of a work be judged IN ANY WAY by its reception : the critic's job is to evaluate its INHERENT value as poetry, as literature - the rest is irrelevant.

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  51. This is a great article, and I agree with most of it. I’ve discouraged authors to associate themselves with BlazeVOX for year now.

    Gatza published my first book of poems in 2007, before he had his POD money scheme. I never wanted to make money off that book so it didn’t matter to me. I was just happy to have it out. When I found out that he was charging people to publish with BlazeVOX, I did feel devalued in a way. People started to ask me if I had paid to be published. I would have confronted Gatza if he weren’t such a combative, and often paranoid, person.

    I know, for a fact, that Gatza never read my manuscript. The proofs came back with major flaws. He didn’t make an effort to edit it, he didn’t promote the book, and from what I was seeing, he was more obsessed with “signing” authors than publishing interesting work. Gatza also charges authors SPD fees to include their books in the SPD catalog – I remember it being about $100. I passed on the offer.

    I quickly realized that BlazeVOX had no community of creative people behind it, which is what makes a great indie press.

    I haven’t visited the BlazeVOX site in a while, but I see now that the price of my book is $16 – a bit more than it was when it was published, and way more than it should be for a 75 page book of poems and stories. $4 for shipping puts it at $20. That’s ridiculous for a POD book that costs him less than $3 to print.

    Colleagues of mine have similar stories about BlazeVOX. I don’t want to trash talk Gatza personally, I’ve heard too many nightmare stories about his emotional email breakdowns. I’ve always thought of this as a sad case of a publisher more interested in collecting authors under his umbrella than fostering innovative literature or even beautiful books. Sad indeed.

    Justin Sirois
    Narrow House

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  52. Justin, I'm incredibly relieved to finally discover another BlazeVOX author who finds this situation deeply troubling and is willing to state so in a public forum. The uniform outpouring of support for Gatza among BV authors in response to the revelation of this mess has been shocking to me. I understand and appreciate these authors' feelings of loyalty, and I deeply admire so many of them as writers and as human beings, but to be honest - and, obviously, naive - I was thinking that many of BV's 100s of authors would stand up and call foul.

    Re the SPD thing, Gatza never asked me to pay a fee to have my book listed. I hadn't heard of this practice at BV until you mentioned it here. (Apparently, I was one of his authors who received "special treatment.") It makes sense, though, and is in keeping with what appears to be an effort to reduce production/marketing/distribution costs to $0 (minus Gatza's editorial "labor," of course, your description of which would be similar to my own).

    I think it's really important for the small-press community to realize that despite the appeal of a no- or low-risk business model offered by new technologies such as POD digital printing, ebook publication, social-media marketing, etc., financial risk in publishing can also serve to encourage and pressurize editorial discernment and responsibility in very positive ways. As more and more publishers discover methods to push costs to or near $0, I worry that the absence of risk will result in more situations like the one we've found ourselves in with BlazeVOX. What incentive does an editor have to read, let alone edit, the manuscripts he's publishing if he perceives no risk associated with its publication? I can imagine someone arguing in response that love conquers risk: i.e. it's enough to love poetry, no risk is necessary. But of course it is the combination of personal devotion to what one is publishing combined with the pressure of risk that makes for a great publisher.

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  53. Just discovered that a couple comments have been in the spam folder. Not sure why, but I've restored them, and now I'll respond to one. Anonymous writes: "This wasn't free time--this was his job. Now one can argue that the service Gatza was providing wasn't worth what he was paying himself--some will agree and other won't--but that's a far cry from suggesting that 'the numbers don't work.' The numbers don't work if you assume the editor/publisher/designer is doing this on the side."

    If you really want a publisher who takes your money and takes zero risk on your manuscript such that he profits every time it sells even one book, then you are free to work with such a publisher. And I am free to call that publisher's behavior shitty. A lot of people seem to assume that editors and publishers are entitled to compensation for their labor. But what about writers? As I discussed in the post, an editor's authors have almost certainly put in much, much more time than has the editor. And by all accounts, that goes quadruple for this particular publisher. The idea that it's defensible for him to take my money in exchange for the privilege of giving him the risk-free opportunity to profit on my labor is ridiculous.

    Again, you can participate in that model if you like, but I don't know why you would choose to do so, and it doesn't meet my definition of what a publisher is or does.

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  54. Evan, I feel for ya, and I’m glad we’ve had similar experiences. Well, not glad, but glad we can come together and vent. Do you want to trade printable PDF versions of our BlazeVOX books? Heh.

    I second Mike’s last comment.

    It would be one thing if BlazeVOX published 2-3 closely read, carefully edited and designed books a year and sold them at a reasonable price, but that’s not the case. Gatza pumps out poorly designed, upload-and-enter books by great authors – by authors I know personally and love. But the authors do nearly all the work. Then the books are marked up with unreasonable shipping costs tacked on. Again, my book on the BlazeVOX site is $20 after shipping at it costs $3 to print.

    I’m not going to play the martyr card, but I’ve owned an indie press for 8 years and poured a lot of money into it. We’ve never asked authors for money, but we have accepted financial help in the form of grants, gifts, and fundraisers. When times are tough and we have no cash, we don’t publish books. Simple as that.

    A healthy and vibrant relationship between authors and their publisher is to collaborate on pre-sales, contests, and even fundraisers to generate funding for projects. Publishers work with authors on book tours and readings. They stay up all night working on your book trailer because they love you and your book and they just can’t go to sleep until that last scene or sentence is polished.

    That’s what makes a great publisher – someone who creates a community within the small circle of commerce we command.

    I think I’m profoundly lucky to be with Publishing Genius / Adam Robinson because he embodies everything a prolific publisher should be.

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  55. “I have read your manuscript and I am really taken with this text. I would like to offer you a situation with our upcoming Fall/Winter 2011 schedule. However we are still recovering from our recent crisis and working towards being better than ever. Due to the recent economic upheaval, most of our funding sources collapsed. But this does not mean we plan to stop publishing.”

    It’s also amusing to me how this canned “acceptance” letter never mentions the content of the work itself – nothing about individual poems or the manuscript – not a word about the author’s language or style. Not only that, I’ve seen multiple authors get this exact same letter.

    I’m really, really restraining myself from posting bits of emails from Gatza that I’ve saved about logging over 300 hours on publishing my book and how editing costs ruined his family’s Christmas. It’s all hilarious in hindsight, but I fear for the first time author working under those conditions.

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  56. A fascinating discussion on an important issue. Now, excuse me, I have to get back to work on the self-publishing project I'm involved in.

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  57. Collin, when you say "Poets who are 'bad' at promoting their own work need to learn how to get 'good' at it", you should consider that some can't very much afford to. I am a BlazeVOX author who had a lot of this sprung on him, and with a 2-year-old, several part-time jobs, and not a lot of time on his hands, or money, how am I supposed to "promote" myself? I can't drive to readings, sink hundreds of dollars on a gamble to send out books for reviews (which the press does not do) or set up an SPD account (which my first press did themselves), let alone finding time off and cash to drive across state lines to do readings in the hope that people will actually buy enough books to at least pay off the trip itself. I have dealt with all these things and have found it to be a disappointment. I feel, flatly, my job is to write. A press's job is to edit and sell books, which includes promoting it. Look at Sarabande Books, for one. They set up, from my understanding, their poets to do book tours, and they promote with review copies, AND they pay to have other readers come here to Kentucky to read, putting them up and buying them dinner. Not every poet can afford the $800--as Noah Eli Gordon said he pays over at HTML Giant--to buy and sell their own books.

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  58. Coming to this discussion late I know. Ha. I too had my manuscript accepted. I told BV I was interested and I was sent their "Author Information Kit" which details the process. A couple of things people may not know is that, aside from the $250, the author must pay for author copies, review copies (all plus postage), set-up fee for being distributed by SPD, and for 25 copies to be sent to SPD (although this is not mandatory, but who else distributes small press poetry publishers?). Out of pocket cost would be $370 ($250+$20 SPD fee and $100 for 25 copies@$4 each). The skies the limit beyond that.

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