BlazeVOX will not close amid criticism

A day after announcing that BlazeVOX Books would close at the end of the year, founder Geoffrey Gatza has announced that the press will remain open and will be more transparent about its business model. The announcement follows recent criticism of a BlazeVOX editorial process that involves asking poets to help fund the publication of their books once their manuscripts have been “accepted.”

“I am very disappointed in how things have turned out. I am very sorry for the troubles this has caused and we will close down the press,” Gatza stated in a blog post Sunday. “It has been a good run but with the turning tide against us, and with no money coming in, what else is there to do, but stop.”

But as the issue played out, Gatza seemed to receive as much support as he did criticism, and apparently changed his mind.

“I have learned from this discussion and will strive to be ever more effectively transparent about publication arrangements,” he stated Monday. “I want [to] make a statement after the fact. BlazeVOX is not closing its doors.”

It is not unheard of for a press to ask its writers to help with financing. For example, Off the Grid Press in Somerville, MA used to follow a “co-op model” that asked accepted poets to help fund production costs. Off the Grid outlined this model in its submission guidelines, and abandoned it upon becoming a non-profit organization.

The chief complaint against BlazeVOX is that it was not up front about what would be expected of poets whose work was accepted. The chief complainant, Brett Ortler, published a lengthy critique of Gatza and BlazeVOX on Saturday, September 3. According to an e-mail exchange that Ortler published on, Gatza accepted Ortler’s manuscript, but with conditions:

In the spirit of cooperation, we are asking you to help fund the production of your book. We have done this for the past two years and it seems to be working out very positively. Over $2000 goes into the production of a book with BlazeVOX and we are hoping you will donate $250 to the press to help meet the costs of our budgeted year. To briefly explain, we just lost another major donor this year and I want to publish books, but it takes some money to do so.

In the exchange, Gatza said that he asked 30 writers to contribute with the hope that at least 15 would do so. Ortler said that Gatza’s letter to him “implied that not all of the authors had to pay for their work,” suggesting a hierarchy among accepted manuscripts.

Gatza ultimately indicated he would not fund the book’s publication without the donation. Ortler said that if he had known about the donation, he would not have submitted in the first place. He also said that Gatza kept giving him different numbers with regard to how many submissions he had received.

“If a monetary contribution is required for publication, it’s not a donation, it’s a payment,” he said.

In his original farewell address on the BlazeVOX blog, Gatza stated, “Many have found our arrangement to co-operative in spirit and a bold and decisive measure in these tough financial times, thus why I chose to do this…It is very hard to run this press and this method gathered up only a very small amount to help our production costs.”

BlazeVOX has published many well-received books over the years, including Amy King’s Slaves to Do These Things and I’m the Man Who Loves You, Nate Pritts’s Big Bright Sun and Sensational Spectacular, Chad Sweeney’s An Architecture, Michael Kelleher’s Human Scale, and more. (Read Coldfront reviews of BlazeVOX titles here.)

Ortler was clear that his complaint was against Gatza’s policies, not against the poetry he publishes.

“To be sure, BlazeVOX’s editor, Geoffrey Gatza, publishes some fine poetry, including work by Tom Holmes and Stacia Fleegal, both writers whom I admire,” he stated. “The books are absolutely beautiful. It’s quite clear he knows what he’s doing. And I really wanted my book to be issued by BlazeVOX.”

In a later post, Ortler said he does not want the press to close over the issue.

“I don’t want Blazevox to go under, as this is the worst possible outcome,” he said.

The issue has elicited a variety of responses from poets and publishers. In numerous blog, Twitter and Facebook feeds, some have rushed to Gatza’s defense, while others have heavily criticized the lack of transparency in Gatza’s policy.

In a comment on Ortler’s blog post, Foetry founder Alan Cordle states, “I’m interested to see if Gatza really did limit his solicitation to 30 people. I will keep a count and let everyone know.”

Christopher Higgs at HTMLGiant suggests the process might mean BlazeVOX should be labeled a “vanity press,” a term for print-on-demand companies like Lulu, where anyone can pay to have their manuscript duplicated in book form.

“I admit that BlazeVOX has published a few books I’ve loved (and written about or run promos for here), but this sort of pay-to-publish policy seriously threatens to diminish the press’s legitimacy in my eyes,” he says.

Christopher Janke is among those defending Gatza. In an open letter published on the Slope Editions blog, Janke states, “I have no idea where the money ‘should’ come from for obscure important work. And for those who complain about your method, I wonder what method they prefer. Tax-supported grant-based publishers (where politics often encroaches), private donors (where funding and editorial influence can be erratic or worse), contest-supported presses (like Slope Editions, where contest fees go towards printing costs), big houses (where poetry is often only by the already famous and seems preferable if by the already dead).”

Janke continues, “The fact is, Blazevox provides editorial insight. That already is different than a poet on the street selling his or her xeroxed tome. That said, I’ve loved a xeroxed poem for a dollar. Vanity? Solomon had an opinion on vanity that seems to suit many pursuits; artistic endeavors easily fit the bill.”

Shanna Compton also defends Gatza on her blog, and says that the term “vanity press” is something of a slur.

“A neutral and more accurate term than ‘vanity press’ would be ‘subsidy press,'” she says. “But BlazeVOX is neither.”

On Monday, Gatza offered a lengthy explanation of his editorial process at the BlazeVOX blog, and stated that he has “not gained wealth from this method of asking for donations.”

“I am not a teacher or associated with any college or university,” he said. “It is just us and a love of strange poetry that keeps me going.”

–John Deming