Monday, September 5, 2011
I went to Geoffrey's Facebook page and saw that Evan Lavender Smith, an author who Blazevox discovered, had accused Geoffrey of "unethical" publishing practices, and was therefore leaving the press. Mr. Lavender Smith said he would soon write an open letter to Geoffrey, but in the meantime substituted a link to a blog post by a disgruntled author who felt like he'd been cheated because Geoffrey had asked him to cover a portion of the cost of the publication of his book.
This author, Brett Ortler, wrote a hysterical denunciation of Geoffrey's business practices, accusing him of scamming unsuspecting young authors into paying for publication and -- horror of horrors -- subjecting them to the demoralizing stigma of vanity publishing. In a later post, the blood still dripping from his mouth, he announced that he had begun an investigation into their finances and that he'd discovered that Blazevox was not even a not-for-profit organization!
Hysteria aside, the implicit threat in this announcement was heard loud and clear. Within a short period of time, Geoffrey announced that he had had enough and that he would shut down his press.
After gloating over this, Mr. Ortler then went on to say that he never intended to close the press down, that he only wanted transparent submissions guidelines. Well, Brett, the damage is done. I hope you feel better. I am sure the university presses will be lining up to make you a poetry star. And if not, there's always the comment section of your blog to keep your poetry company.
Before Mr. Lavender Smith publishes his open letter, it should be noted that the successful discovery and publication of his book led him to, shall we say, seek higher ground and sell off the rights to his book to another small press. When Geoffrey objected, loudly, about this, Smith backed down. Seems he was looking for an excuse to pack his bags and conveniently found one in Brett Ortler.
But that is not what I came to talk to you about...I came to talk about Geoffrey Gatza and Blazevox Books and why their visionary (if poorly articulated) business model is important to poetry.
Let me begin by saying that Blazevox was the first small press publisher that I am aware of to have embraced the possibilities of print-on-demand. Geoffrey recognized two things that many in the poetry world have still not accepted:
1. No one reads poetry and it is too damned expensive to publish.
2. Many people write good poetry despite number 1 and wouldn't it be nice to find a cost effective way to usher their work into the world.
Now, when this technology came online more than ten years ago, the first thing out of every literary mouth was something like the following: O, that's just vanity publishing. Now everyone can have their own book and the quality of literary production will go down the toilet. There will be no more gatekeepers! How will we know if it is any good?
The answer to the last question is simple: READ THE FUCKING BOOK! If you like it, then it is good. If not, not.
Which brings me to the point. Geoffrey made the bold step of saying that the point of publishing is not to give authority or legitimacy to writers and their work, but to bring work that HE likes into the world. If the world likes it, then Hurray, as he would say. If not, well, there's always tomorrow.
The work that he does in producing and distributing these books is a gift to the authors he publishes. Authors like Ortler think it is the other way around: that their work is a gift to the world and that publishers should get down on their knees and thank them for writing it. Well, go fuck yourself.
The great crime that Geoffrey has committed in the eyes of these people is not a lack of concern for their work or a desire to scam young authors out of their money (both false charges), it is that they thought he was going to give them legitimacy and authority and all he gave them was a lousy, beautiful book, a worldwide distribution network and some marketing support. He even gave them his logo, telling the whole world that he personally liked their work and thought others should read it, too.
How dare he?
I would like all of the Brett Ortlers and Lavender Smiths of the world, before they go fuck themselves, to understand the following. Geoffrey Gatza has devoted his life to publishing them. He has no job. No source of income. He lives entirely on the very, very modest amount of money he has leftover after he publishes their books. He has no health insurance, no dental insurance, and no independent income. He is not a non-profit, which means he cannot receive grants. He is dependent for his meagre livelihood on book sales and the small fees he charges to offset costs to publish them.
And he publishes more quality books per year than most other presses in the country.
As a two-time Blazevox author, I am proud to be a part of this vain endeavor. I am proud to market my own books. I am proud to contribute what I can to their publication and distribution. Geoffrey is not my servant, he is my collaborator.
I owe him a lot and I refuse to sit quietly by as some MFA's hissy fit puts him out of business.
We love you Geoffrey -- don't stop!