A week has passed since the initial furor of the BlazeVOX incident. I am trying to continue using the event as a springboard for an analysis (a haphazard one, to be sure). As time goes on this is less about the specifics of what happened and more about the conditions that allowed it to happen (or produced the event), and an attempt to string together something productive in the aftermath. I am trying to pay my attention.
If there’s one consolation that Geoffrey Gatza (the editor/founder of BlazeVOX) can take from the whole controversy about his publishing practices, it’s that people in the small press community care about what BlazeVOX is doing, and that the press has become a major force in the scene (it actually has been for awhile now).
And of course, in the sense of “any publicity is good publicity,” even more people know about the press now.
But in the exchange we saw the cost of that high profile. It raises the bar for what people expect from a press. And it seems like the small press world, whether we like it or not, is becoming more professionalized, and the presses that operate in this world are becoming more institutionalized, more public. Sometimes, they are becoming more business-like—even if that business continues to lose money.
Changing technology has helped to increase the public profile of small presses. Websites and internet publishing and sales have been around for awhile now. Public sites where discussion is an active part, like blogs, are more recent but very widely used. Social networking sites as a means of promotion are also thoroughly integrated into how we work. Another more recent trend has been book trailers—video ads for books meant to be posted and shared. And there are ad spaces on websites as well. All of these things are good things—they help to get more books out into the world and help to bring sales to authors & presses.
Writing is generally thought of as a solitary activity, and for the most part, it is. Publishing has been, historically, always a group/public activity, utilizing different people and businesses with different areas of expertise. A press like NewLights, where I can take a book from initial concept to final distribution, is an exception, not the rule. Publishing is, in one aspect, the construction of a channel through which artworks can be disseminated—publishing is public, both in “intent” and “structure.” But at the same time, the process of bringing together a book, for a small press, is often a very intimate affair, involving a fair amount of work done in solitude, or with a very small group of collaborators. This small group is often just editor and author, as the editor tends to do most jobs at the press. The experience of bringing a book together is not that different from the experience of writing a text—it involves a closeness with the work, it is mediated by technology, the decisions made are aesthetic as well as practical, and it is done with a potential audience in mind. Publishing is a creative act, productive in and of itself, and is not simply, as stated above, “the construction of a channel through which artworks can be disseminated.”
We could say that the identity of the press is constructed within and by the interactions of the object that it produces with its audience. In this formulation the press is an always still-forming social entity. It is social and political.
We could say that the identity of the press is constructed in the process of production (before a publication’s public life), in the interactions of its constituent parts: author, editor, designer, printer, etc. In this formulation the press makes finished things that are then distributed after the fact. It is authorial.
We could say that the identity of the press is constructed in the reach of its publications, in the reputation of its authors, and in the dollar amount of its sales. It is economic.
We could add more. None will be correct.