Hello, world. I’m back to the world of the written page, after a wonderful break from teaching and editing. Let’s just say there was sand and warm water. There were giant sea turtles that swam around my ankles. It was very good to take a bit of time off and to spend long days with my husband, and to take an enforced time out from the literary world. Much as I love being engaged with other writers, readers, and editors, sometimes it’s a good idea to remember that literature is a component of life–an important one–but not life itself. One has to breathe from time to time. One has to look up, and look around.
As I was heading back to life, tanned, relaxed, and not a little more portly for all the delicious things I’d eaten on vacation, I couldn’t help but be fascinated by the most recent literary kerfuffle. I may have been the last person in the publishing world to hear about the flap over BlazeVox Books’ latest fundraising efforts (if you, too, were living under a rock and had not heard the fuss, here’s a glimpse at the issue, and the high emotions it called up. A short version: BlazeVox is accepting manuscripts, and, upon acceptance, asking authors to make donations to the press. A host of authors are speaking up, arguing that this practice makes BlazeVox, a bastion of small press publishing, a vanity press, up there with concerns like Publish America.) But as you may have noticed, I can’t help but rattle my two cents around, even if I’m a little late.
I stumbled on the news about BlazeVox on the same day that I got a Los Angeles Review-related email I’d classify in the second of my three categories: “normal mail,” “snippy and strange mail,” and “hate mail” (the last of which we’ve dealt with here in past blog posts). This snippy email was from a writer who chastised me/the magazine for not offering our issues free online (we’re a print-only magazine). He informed me that, while he’d like to send work to us for publication, he he wanted to read what we’ve done before. And he thought he should be able to do that for free.
This guy’s email seemed to be a little encapsulation of everything that’s wrong with trying to run a small press or trying to publish a literary magazine: people want publication, but they don’t buy books. They want to get something that costs a publisher money–a book deal, a publication credit, and award–but they don’t want to contribute money to that effort.
Okay. I get it. We writers don’t have endless cash to spend on literary journals we send work to. I mean, I’m an ESL teacher. I’m not exactly rolling in giant piles of money. I will be the first to admit that I haven’t subscribed to every publication that’s printed my work, or donated to every press to whom I’ve sent a manuscript. But I do open my wallet for a good number of them. And sometimes, like any journal editor who isn’t financed by a university, I open my wallet for LAR; I think that, if I can back LAR with my own cash when I have to, those who want to publish in LAR might be able to kick in $15 bucks to read the magazine, or at least refrain from demanding that it be given to them for free.
Okay, back to BlazeVox. I don’t know if it’s a great idea to require new authors to donate to the press. It rubs me as much the wrong way as it rubs many other writers. But I don’t think the press is attempting to be predatory. I think they’re trying to do something–maybe an ill-advised something–to ease the extreme financial burden that running a press puts on an individual or a group of individuals who are trying to be good literary citizens by bringing fine writing to market. The issue, as I see it, isn’t that a press is financially strapped enough to try a fundraising method that seems so questionable to many. I see the issue as the fact that a press was allowed–by readers and writers, the people it serves–to get to the point at which it needs to dun authors for money.
Buy books, guys. Buy books.