Poet Brett Ortler thought he’d received good news. BlazeVox wanted to publish his manuscript. However, one element of the acceptance was unusual – editor Geoffrey Gatza, citing publication costs of $2000 per title, requested a contribution of$250 as a condition of acceptance. Without the $250, Ortler’s book would only be released as an ebook. 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. It takes$2000 to make a book and I am asking a few folks whose books are very, very good to help in the publication cost of that book. So I am asking folks to help out in the publication costs. Of the 928 manuscripts I received I choose 30 books to publish to finish out the year. There was a real system in choosing these texts and in my opinion this is better than holding a contest.

Ortler wrote a blog post entitled “The Half-Hearted Acceptance Letter” revealing Gatza’s request. Poets reacted with outrage. Some comments:

As for the state of books in general, I think we all know of the decline, but is it fair to throw the burden onto us? Just because books are failing, we now have to pay to get published in a book that even BV knows won’t sell?

The e-mail might have well as been sent from a “Nigerian prince” who publishes books using his family fortune, and who has fallen on difficult times. All he needs is your writing and some re-start-up capital! It’s outrageous.

In response to the criticism, Gatza has announced that BlazeVox is closing.

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. 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.

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. There have only $200 donated through out the year to help the press in printing and the total was less than$1000. It is very hard to run this press and this method gathered up only a very small amount to help our production costs. Our prices have gone up and book sales numbers are very small.

Best, Geoffrey Gatza

In my eyes, Gatza’s only real wrongdoing was trying to have it both ways. He wanted to split costs with poets, but didn’t want the publishing world to know, lest BlazeVox become known as a vanity press. Similarly, he didn’t provide potential contributors with a full accounting of his production expenses (BlazeVox is a POD press, so some found the stated publication cost of \$2000 surprising). And it appears that he may have wanted to reserve the right to publish some books without a contribution from the author, arguably reducing the contributors to second-class status among BlazeVox authors.

That said, BlazeVox is a very small press with an impressive back catalog but very low sales. If we want small poetry presses to exist and publish our work, poets are either going to have to

a) buy tons of their books to keep them flush;

b) acquiesce to entering contests with high entry fees;

c) help them secure funding from foundations and other charitable organizations; or

d) take on some of the financial risk of publication.

I assume it’s pressure from academia that sends poets running at the sound of the words “self-publishing” or “vanity press” or even “ebook.” But a refusal among poets to accept that poetry book sales are infinitesimal has brought us to the current small press paradigm, in which Small Press is founded; poets are excited; Small Press is deluged with submissions but not orders; Small Press fights the good fight; Small Press wins praise; Small Press loses money; Small Press shuts down.