September 5th, 2011 / 9:37 pm

BlazeVOX Update

Geoffrey Gatza, the editor of BlazeVOX, has issued a statement. In it he writes:

BlazeVOX is not closing its doors.

That said, I feel like I should explain a bit further the co-operative nature of our business model. I am not going to change what we do, but I do acknowledge that perhaps I could communicate what we do a little better.

I, for one, am glad to hear that BlazeVox will not be closing down, and that Gatza has decided to work toward a more transparent policy.

Conversation abounds: Johannes Göransson, Shanna Compton, Michael Kelleher, Craig Santos Perez, Reb Livingston, Collin Kelley, Justin Evans, and Christopher Janke are among the voices to have weighed in on the subject.


  1. Sarah Sarai

      I am sorry they had their name muddied. Sure, it’s good to improve the process but not by way of unexamined blogging.  I’m a BlazeVOX author.  Not to be self-righteous, which is easy enough in this kind of quick cultural exchange we’ve fallen into, but I handled things differently–and for me it wasn’t a moral issue–I had no problem with Geoffrey asking for help.  I simply didn’t have money.  We got my book out.  I talked it over with a friend.

  2. Chris Gaton

      Hmm, so this is what a post on this looks like without the reactionary sensationalism, huh, Chris?

  3. MFBomb

      You should man up and apologize for muckraking instead of acting passive-aggressive. 

      Whoever runs this “blog”–the one with quite a large audience, the one that sells advertising space–should institute some sort of standard for contributors, beyond giving them free reign to post any damn thing they want.  

  4. Guestypoo

      They should also a) send you some valium and a dog to walk to relax and b) ban your butt for being overblown, self-righteous, and active-aggressive. Just sayin’.

  5. MFBomb

      1) Valium is way too addicting.  No thanks. 

      2) I’m more of a cat person. Dogs are too dependent and servile. I prefer the honesty of cats. 

      3) It wouldn’t surprise me if they banned me for butting heads with contributors, so what exactly does that say? Just sayin’.

      4) You’ve been pretty aggressive in your only two posts ever written on this site–both directed at me–so maybe you should take your own advice and chill.

  6. Guestypoo

      Ha! Fair enough. Chill I will.

      And I, being way more a cat person than a dog person (though I do like dogs), have just bonded with you against my better wishes over the fact that you’re a cat person too. Yay cats! I’m going to see if mine wants to play with some string I just found. Ciao.

  7. MFBomb

      Awesome! I responded to your inane post on the other post. You might want to read it.  Lay off the Judge Judy and Perry Mason would be my advice. 

  8. Blake Butler
  9. Literary Roundup | Colophon

      […] its doors at the end of the year. Then just yesterday, Gatza appeared to rescind that statement here. In any case, these are dark days for independent publishers. Maybe it’s time to go back to […]

  10. alexisorgera

      This was great. The crux: “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.”

  11. Sarah Sarai

      I note that traffic is being driven to the “BlazeVox Goes Vanity Press” posting
      under Popular Posts. I guess that works for HTMLgiant. On my blog, I am able to
      change how “popular” is assessed (past week, past 30 days, all time).  So if I
      felt a frisson of uncomfortability about the slander that has hurt so many, I
      would recalibrate what is popular.  I realize no one will respond to a word I
      write here.  Fuck man, I have 2 first names and they’re both chick names.   But
      a poet can have her dreams.

  12. John Sakkis

      are you drunk?

  13. Kent Johnson
  14. Kent Johnson
  15. Sarasoo

      So Christopher Higgs and Matt Bell are Teabaggers?

  16. Kent Johnson

      No, I’m not saying that, that’s silly. I just thought it was kind of fun in a “Whose Side Are You On Boys?” sort of way. I mean, that the Tea Party, through its official organ, has taken sides in the BlazeVOX controversy is worth a note, no? 

  17. deadgod

      That’s a strongly worded recommendation for a strongly worded contribution.

      I don’t know much about the business of publishing, but I can read a bit, and I have some questions – for anybody – about publishing and Mike’s discussion of “this retarded bullshit”.

      Assuming you charge reasonable rates, you simply can’t make enough money on submissions to make up for the loss of free time.  […  For BlazeVOX to ask] people to put up $250 in order to “help” would be financially ludicrous[.]

      Is a submission fee, a reading fee, or a ‘publication fee’ supposed to make up for the cost of reading or publishing something? or is a fee meant – from the get-go – to be a partial defrayment–which it certainly would be?  (As “fees” (and tuition) for a year at university don’t “make up for” the cost of educating one person for one year at at that university.) 

      I mean that Gatza isn’t saying that the “help” will cover his costs, right?  He’s asking for the same thing a mag with reading fees is asking for:  cooperation in partial terms.  That’s not so “financially” obtuse, is it?

      The printer takes its fee out of the book’s sale price.  Each sale, then, is inherently profitable.

      Is that really the correct relationship of “printer’s fee” to “sale price”?  Doesn’t the printer have a price per unit printed, which the sale price per unit takes into account–rather than the other way around?  If the price of something that sells is higher than the total cost to the seller of the thing, then that difference is ‘profit’.  What is inherent profit??  (–other than a glamorously ominous phrase.)


  18. Guest

      [cont.]? please, no

  19. deadgod

      if Gatza values his time to the point where typesetting […] and uploading […] is worth $2000

      The “$2000” figure is all-in, right?–not just for ‘labor’.  It’s also not the “help” Gatza is asking for, which is $250, which Gatza isn’t asking for for epublication (just print), which (I’ve read) Gatza can be bargained down from, and which isn’t actually a final ‘publication fee’ (but rather a ‘fee’ for, what, expedited publication).

      Are no publishers, on whose side the power imbalance with writers tips so decisively, ready to argue against this sneer at the inconsequentiality of what publishers do?

      BlazeVOX chose not to market their own books[.]

      Is this true??  No pictures/blurbs/descriptions of the books at a website? no table at AWP? no ‘tables’ anywhere else? nothing in any format, forum, or venue that could reasonably be called ‘marketing’??  If that’s so, it would be a fatal delinquency.

      And according to its own defenders, BlazeVOX offered no editorial guidance at all.

      That’s not what I read on the other thread here, is it?  –Someone reported 20+ editorial hours with Gatza on (as I recall) her book, which, divided by that objectionable $250 ‘publication fee’, amounts to, say, ten bucks an hour.


  20. Cremistress

      shut up kent johnson

  21. deadgod

      I don’t know if it’s righteous for a writer to pay a publisher to edit/publish her or his book.  I do think that editing and publishing are work, and that the work is being ‘consumed’ by readers but also by writers.  Is it fair that a writer, selling books from a stall in a flea market, should have to pay ‘rent’ for the stall?  Is any rent just??

      In that spirit of political-economic critique, look again at the question of a writer paying a publisher some fraction of the cost of editing/publishing her or his book:  isn’t the money a publisher eventually makes for putting out a book – all of it – money that the writer is ‘paying’ the publisher to edit/publish the book?

      I also wonder at writers throwing ‘crazy love of literature’ in the teeth of a small-time availor of literature.  ‘If you can’t get by without “cooperation”, then get the fuck outta town, fucker.’  –Really?

      –and this whole thing of writers complaining that the guy is trying to publish too many books . . .  –definitely evidence of a “glut”.

  22. Guest


  23. deadgod

      “Guest”?  please, no dirty diapers in the indoor place

  24. deadgod

      [Writing] books simply to make them exist, without hope of getting them into the hands of actual readers, is a terrible waste of a life.

      That would be an odd thing for a writer to assert, and for a writer to repeat with approval, of Emily Dickinson.

      Alexis, it sounds like you agree with this outraged demand that publishers be better yuppies or get out of town–which spasms of righteous outrage – that I’ve seen – are so many issueless wet dreams.

  25. deadgod

      What do you think about the issue, John?  Is BlazeVOX actually more exploitative than FSG?

  26. Kent Johnson

      Actually, and not making this up, I’m about to finish a manuscript of poems (in perfect and rhyming iambic tetrameter, including tons of footnotes) that is titled Doggerel for the Masses: A Post-BlazeVOX Scandal Mash-Up. It has some essays in it, too. I’m hoping BlazeVOX will publish it. I’m going to offer to cover some of the costs, to make sure the book is as “illegitimate” as possible! Maybe it will be ready for AWP. We’ll see…

  27. deadgod

      if you really want the book and everybody who looks at its cover to be illegitimate, pay Cordle to blurb it for you

      here’s my blurb:

      An ugly book for beautiful people:  it’s jizmet!!

  28. mimi

      no kent!
      ‘cafe press’ it!

  29. Kent Johnson

      The manuscript already carries a two-page introduction by Charles Bernstein, so I don’t think I need any blurbs.

  30. Joe Milazzo

      I’m probably being obtuse (in addition to being late to the party) here, but, as some have hinted, aren’t there greater economic concerns at issue in the BlazeVOX dispute? More and more MFA-ed writers (and I am among that number) = more demand for a limited number of teaching positions at colleges and universities. As competition for those positions increases, hiring and tenure committees, which already place a high — and one might argue, inflated — value on publications, will only consider candidates with extensive publication records. And books much more so than periodical publications. A book of experimental poems issued by a dedicated small press may only sell 30 copies, or it might sell 300, but, for many writers in this culture, the real economic benefit of publishing is that it issues to you a currency that you may be able to exchange for full-time employment in your field (again, debatable) and all that accrues to it: health insurance, sabbaticals, etc. Suddenly, $250 seems like not so much of an expense.

      I’m certainly not arguing that every small press author teaches at a college / university or aspires to. Nor am I arguing that every small press willingly or consciously props up an economic system in which social capital and a certain class of reader — shall we call them “more legitimate”? — matter more than revenues which can be invested in future publications or a wide audience for work of merit. And I certainly don’t mean to imply that there are “academic authors” and “authentic authors” and the former are aesthetically and morally inferior to the latter. But literature exists outside / beyond both the real and ideal relationships that connect authors and books and readers; literature means something entirely different depending upon which market floor you are trading. It is not just ego that is at stake in “getting published” (syntactically, publishing is something that happens to you, like winning the lottery, or having a piano plunge right on your head just as you are dashing down the street privately celebrating what that scratch-off has just disclosed to you about your future). Livelihoods are at stake as well.

      In addition to increased across-the-board transparency in publishing, small press and otherwise, and besides the need for writers and publishers to cooperate on cultivating a readership, what is needed are more opportunities for writers to support themselves and their literary endeavors outside of the academy and the human economy in and upon which it operates.

  31. deadgod

      ha ha well then I’ll read a free copy

  32. deadgod

      A book of experimental poems […] issues to you a currency[.]

      Yes, that’s the nub, from a macro perspective.

      A vanity-press publication is less (or not) legitimate because a publisher has not edited and printed the thing because that publisher thought the thing would have – or deserved to have – an audience.  ‘The writer by-passed – or was rejected by –  the industrial filter that, for whatever its many and extensive faults, nevertheless vets books at a minimum of quality (depending on the sometimes-deserved, sometimes-not-so-much reputation of the publisher).’  –is the perspective of this delegitimation.

      Is BlazeVOX doing this:  publishing work that other publishers – by the criteria of quality – will not?  Is BlazeVOX exploiting the desperation of ‘its’ writers to the tune of a comfortable living for its operator?  Is BlazeVOX in fact not a “publisher”, but rather, a merely fancily-named middleman to the printer?

      I think ‘yes to these questions’ is what Mike Meginnis (and many others) are arguing. 

      –but each of these three questions has been openly answered “NO” the last couple of days.  ???

  33. Joe Milazzo

      Just to be clear: as far as I’m concerned, BlazeVOX meets the definition of a publisher. As I understand it, the questions surrounding the perceived (il)legitimacy of BlazeVOX’s practices and products has much more to do what I’ll term “payola” and less to do with a sense of what editors do and how they function. At the risk of revealing myself to be incredibly ignorant, I would be willing to bet that BlazeVOX exercises more editorial oversight on the books they publish than a number of other small or independent presses.

      Ultimately, I’m most interested in how both the rise of the MFA (and, now, PhD) program in creative writing and the proliferation of small presses over the past 15 – 20 years has altered our notions of literature, literary production, and literary value. This debate has offered some insight, but it has also raised a number of questions I’d not previously considered.

  34. Cremistress

      that’s what the world needs, more of your ambulance-chaser poetry. SHUT UP

  35. Cremistress

      This was a two-bit scam operation. One need only look at the wording (and grammar) of the letters. It wasn’t a “co-op”- please- it was parasitic capitalism. True, there are worse crimes against humanity. Although the aesthetic crimes against humanity perpetrated in the form of ‘the Blazevox book’ will not be soon forgotten. That you want to defend this scammy publisher who, with the exception of a very few,  preys on the desperate, jaded, bad, or just young writers-such as the ones here getting pissed…I don’t know, man.

      This is why the old gods need to die.

  36. Guest

      this nigga gettin trolled hard by kent johnson lmao

  37. mimi

      dogs are honest too
      just sayin’

  38. deadgod

      if FSG edits and publishes your novel, and you make a million dollars, and FSG makes a million dollars, you will have paid FSG a million dollars to publish your two-million dollar novel

      all capitalism is parasitic

      nobody paid BlazeVOX a dime unwillingly

      springing a deal in the middle of a deal is no soap

      –but no writer was silenced by the deal BlazeVOX sprang on them, right?

      if it dies, it was never a god

  39. Cremistress

      You’re being a sophist.

      I don’t have time to discredit all your faulty logic; I’m half out the door.

      I do just want to say that just because someone wasn’t forced to do something by gunpoint doesn’t mean that the something wasn’t unethically handled. 

  40. Anonymous

      Sarah, do you happen to know…is this how Evan Lavender-Smith got on the map, so to speak.  Too bad, if so, as he seems a cut above.

  41. deadgod

      springing a deal in the middle of a deal is no soap, is my view

      we also agree that you don’t have time to discredit my logic

  42. Bradley Sands

      This seems appropriate, although it’s titled “Pay the Writer” rather than “Pay the Publisher”:

  43. Guest
  44. Guest

      Figuring this is probably the most appropriate venue to weigh in on this discussion, I’d like to offer the perspective of a BlazeVOX author. My book was accepted in June of 2010, and went through a long, somewhat arduous process on its way to publication this past spring. As many have said, I had no clue as to the $250 “donation,” but I did keep in mind that Neruda sold about everything he had to publish his first book (this was not my first) and that many of my artist friends have been involved in co-ops. I was apprehensive, likely foolish.

      Noah Eli Gordon posted here on HTML some facts of publishing and being published, and I was nearly astounded at the amount of money he talked about: buying $800 worth of his own book? investing $5,000 a year in his press? Unbelievable. I’m not in any way judging this, but it brings up a point I’m considering in this discussion.

      The point is money. As for me, I am a part-time teacher with a 2-year-old. Which means I drive a car with failing electronics to a job teaching nursing students grammar, or across the Ohio River to teach freshman. There is no way in hell I can either devote a large sum of money to buying my own books. I must say that as far as having that kind of money goes, it must be nice. It took me nearly half the year to make $5,000.

      The $250 donation came as a surprise, but what came as more of a surprise followed. My concern, which I addressed clearly in negotiations, was promotion. I was told that the press had “standing orders” with Iowa Review and Jacket for reviewing, and there was the Small Press Distribution angle, too. What was not made clear was that I would have to buy my own books and send them out to those same reviewers; for some, this is probably obvious, but it was the wording of the original language that made it seem like the press did that. Indeed, I assumed that is a press’s job to do so, with hardly any skin off their backs (and of course, as any writer and reviewer knows, just because you send a book doesn’t mean it will actually be reviewed).

      Worse is the SPD issue. My first book sold a good amount of copies through SPD, but the small press that published it took care of all of that. For BX, I would have had to pay the $20 to get the book on there, then pay for and send 25 copies, with shipping on top and an additional $15 tax for, I presume, California. All together, this number quickly approaches $200, far short of what other people are willing to pay–or can. For me, honestly, it’s unthinkable. Of course, there would be some royalties–if it sold.

      Thus, to get my book out there would have amounted to somewhere around, let’s say, $500, or more, considering I haven’t adequately factored in buying books to sell at readings I have to drive across state lines to get to, hoping people will actually buy the things. By way of example, I once went all the way to Boston for a reading to have many a kind person say they loved my poems before leaving without buying a book. Some did buy it, of course. I, too, have bought many books from readings–or at the very least, traded.

      Again, I’m sure all this sounds like common sense, but what I’m pointing out is that, for some of us as poets, we simply can’t afford all this self-promotion, and that’s the problem with the publication model. For some, $500 is nothing. For my family, it’s significant. People assume that a poet can–even should!–do all the promotion, schedule readings, pay for travel, buy and resell your own books (independent bookstores, I’ve learned, sometimes offer deals that makes the writer nothing on the investment but “free publicity,” whatever that is), and so on. But with a child, a part-time job, an exhausting schedule I pull off to make ends meet, it’s not a level playing field by any means.

      So what’s happened is that I’ve given up on my book, largely. I can’t afford, really, to get the thing out there. My costs are prohibitive in all the other areas of life, and I just don’t have the time or the energy to do anything other than write. I hope things will turn around, but it would be a great justice if presses–any press–threw in the scant dollars in printing and postage to promote the books they sell. I’d think it’s the least they can do for the writers out of respect for their contribution of writing, and for the poetry culture at large.

  45. Noah Eli Gordon

      Hello Guest,

      I think you’re
      misconstruing some of what I’d said regarding money, as well as taking a sort
      of rhetorical potshot via the phrase “must be nice.” Just to address this momentarily,
      since it’s something that irks me to no end—that is, when one makes some sort
      of unfounded assumption and rolls with it: I live in a certain way, within certain
      means that allow me to run a press the way I’d envision. For example, you
      mention the dilapidated state of your car as a kind of badge here, but, dear
      guest, I do not even own a car, have not owned a car for years now. 

      this is not a contest, and, in all honesty, I think we’d agree that economic privilege
      can and does play a role not only in the world at large but also in the
      potential for those who freely wield it to influence the direction of culture,
      even (especially?) literary culture. As I’d said, I continue to juggle
      thousands of dollars of debt in order to keep the press I co-run functioning in
      a way that’s ethically aligned with our vision of what a press should do,
      something, in fact, closer to what you yourself are calling for publishers to

      Letter Machine sends out 100 review/promo copies of each of our titles, but
      this is done at HUGE loss for us. We believe in the book as an art object, and
      refuse to utilize digital printing. Regardless, when you say “scant dollars”
      that it costs a press to do this sort of work, that’s just not the case; it’s
      expensive, but we do it because we believe in it. And yes, of course it’s not a
      level playing field…that’s the reality of global capitalism, a reality I hate as
      much as I’m assuming you do. 

      But I think each of us who feels invested in the
      art form, in furthering, honoring, and celebrating it, should do something, no
      matter the scale, in order to manifest that investment as real world action.
      Otherwise, the poetry world just begins to replicate the inane celebrity culture
      of privilege and entitlement.