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The value of writing: BlazeVOX, surfeits, aesthetics and capitalism.

September 7, 2011 \am\30 9:56 am

Two things this lit community of ours has heard a lot of noise about recently: BlazeVOX’s seemingly unpublicized co-operative publishing model and the wonderful Mudluscious novel(la) I Am A Very Productive Entrepreneur by Mathias Svalina.

I’m not going to add my two cents to the multitude of commentary Geoffrey Gatza’s decisions have already garnered. You have Google, go for it. Largely I’m refraining from comment because outside of my initial reactions of ‘Holy fuck that doesn’t seem ethical’ and ‘awww shit, BlazeVOX is one of my favourite indie presses’ I am still not entirely sure how I feel about the situation.

What I will say, is that the whole furore definitely has elements of being a “good thing”. Isn’t it about time us artist types dropped the bullshit and affected disdain/ ignorance of the M word (money) and the E word (economics)?

In the days since The Bark broke the story, small presses have come forward to talk about their own business models, to tease out definitions from the deluge of mud surrounding the terms ‘vanity publishing,’ ‘DIY,’ ‘co-operative,’ and ‘self-publishing.’ Writers everywhere, I imagine are having the same pub discussion as me with other writers, namely ‘Would you pay?’.

So the positive side of the whole thing is that there seems to be a more open discourse about the financial side of writing opening up. It’s easy to laugh it off and joke that there just isn’t any money in publishing indie lit, either as an author or an editor, but that just isn’t true.

This writing life of ours produces. We produce a lot. The objects that we produce are produced from valuable materials. As a result they have a monetary value.

Where should the money for these materials come from? Is the writer somehow ‘purer’ than the editor for not being mixed up for something as vulgar as cash?

What’s struck me through this whole situation is how we are finally getting to a point where we are asking about the writer’s responsibility in this financial situation. Roxane Gay has a great post up at HTMLGIANT that examines just how overstuffed we are as a community. We produce so much surfeit to a narrow demand. I am also guilty. I think about how much time I spend on my own work as opposed to reading. How much money do I put where I want my mouth to be? Sure I read a good amount, but how much of that is review copies, gifts, browsing?

The surfeit of product, or at least the continuously pumping machine is key to the wonderful I Am A Very Productive Entrepreneur. I was blown away by this book. I bet you probably will be too. Every piece in the book begins with ‘I once started this one business…’. These businesses fill seemingly unwanted niches. The book asks the value of product, and asks the reader to really consider who is fulfilled by what we constantly create. It’s blurbed as a critique of capitalism. I think it is also a critique of indie lit.

Over at Big Other, Tadd Adcox has just started a series of posts on aesthetics. This is excellent timing. I am guilty of throwing around the term ‘aesthetics’ without really considering what it means or what it has meant. Aesthetics are not so far away from value. Tadd considers the purpose of creation. Perhaps that is a key to our surfeit. Are we (writers) guilty of simply producing too much without considering the essential aesthetic value of our product?

So if anyone has any answers, I’d really, really appreciate them.

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8 Comments
  1. September 7, 2011 \am\30 10:48 am 10:48 am

    Nice post. Ideally, we continue this discussion of how to fund presses and what we consider acceptable models for such financing. The co-op or contributing model seems like a good one — as long as the terms are made clear up front and the writer receives benefits of being an investor (like cheaper copies or higher royalties). But I agree that there’s a lot of mud surrounding terms like “vanity,” and there might also be a lot of sort of old, tired ideas about what’s okay in publishing and what’s not. So if new funding models become available as we reconsider the way we think about such models, that all seems good.

  2. September 7, 2011 \am\30 11:02 am 11:02 am

    Hi Caroline, thank you, this is great and exactly what I’m thinking about, too. I’m not sure if this will answer any questions but it may be helpful: back in July I started posting about Versal’s work with business strategy consultants to try to unravel some of this. The posts started here:

    http://versaljournal.blogspot.com/2011/07/why-1-to-100-was-always-going-to-fail.html

    Roxanne at HTML picked it up after that and I continued to post about it throughout August on our own blog (“Summary of Advice”). Maybe no slam dunks in there but at least some perspective, and dialogue that started before the BlazeVOX explosion…

  3. Caroline Crew permalink
    September 7, 2011 \am\30 11:16 am 11:16 am

    Thanks Megan! Those are some excellent places to start looking and getting my head around this.

    I think we all need to talk it out before we hug it out.

  4. September 7, 2011 \am\30 11:31 am 11:31 am

    I’m totally looking forward to the hug part.

  5. September 7, 2011 \am\30 11:44 am 11:44 am

    This might be hugely idealistic on my part, but for me the BlazeVOX issue was always one of transparency and levelling out, rather than being simply about money.
    Yes, we as writers are hesitant to talk $$$. I shy away from competitions and fee-charging submission calls because I’m broke, and I get defensive when my father tries to turn writing into a money-making enterprise. Though I can’t disguise the fact that I’ll gladly shell out significant sums of money for good literature. Texts are objects of desire as well as pieces of art, and they have to exist in terms of both aesthetic and monetary value if they (and their authors) are to survive.
    We all want to live our claim that it’s about ART not money. But capitalism is a sad pervasive fact, and I think it’s unfair that small presses (and the authors willing to pay them) should be vilified for embracing this.
    If BV embark on a universal and open system of paid co-operation, more power to them. I’m still hazy on whether or not I’d pay, because I am a sensitive poetic soul and I’d hate to feel like I ‘bought’ publication, especially of a debut. However, as long as presses are maintaining a commitment to excellent writing (one that BV have certainly made in the past), then the stigma of the m word is really down to the author’s own sense of principle. If I had the money and was convinced a press wanted me for the quality of my work, I’d probably be willing to assist in the costs of what can, for them, be a risky venture. The more I think about it the more it strikes me that what’s being brought out here is not editorial greed / deceit, but writers’ insecurity about what their art is worth, in all senses.

  6. Aberdeen Witherspoon permalink
    September 8, 2011 \am\30 5:35 am 5:35 am

    Almost all writers/artists are guilty of producing too much without considering the essential aesthetic value of their products. Subscribe to a few lit mailing lists, listen to most of the authors on PennSound for example, or take a look at most lit journals. 95% percent of most artists’ output should be trashed. Artists need to practice good sense as well as their craft, and before they surrender themselves to the will of editors, curators etc. they should submit to their own good judgement if they have any.

  7. Harrison Wiley permalink
    September 8, 2011 \am\30 5:43 am 5:43 am

    There is no right way or wrong way to publish. This submitting to editors who accept work for publication and pay all the bills is a very antiquated notion. The world is wide open and we are free to do what we want how we want. I would love to see more self publishing and self promotion, because we all know in the submission process it’s always who you know and who you blow. And don’t forget WC Williams’ advice to young poets, “If you want to eat, get a job.”

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  1. so this whole BlazeVOX thing, huh? « FLOTSAM: A blog of poetry and all sorts

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