Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Economics of the Zone 3 Press CNF Award

Thanks, Ander, for the invitation to make public the accounting of Zone 3 Press's recent book prize. I am just home from a movement to support economic transparency of corporations, so it makes sense to at least make this process as clear as I can.

I occupy the same position as most contemporary small press publisher/editors in that I am also a writer. I also submit to press contests. The buoyant optimism I felt after reading about Lewis Hyde's gift economy faded when my first vigilant round of entries netted no prize winner--causing me to recognize that whatever I told myself when I licked those envelopes, I had expected something for my effort and fees, not to mention the dedication that keeps me at my desk writing in the first place. I'll leave aside the obvious question of whether transaction mindset is healthy or useful, just to note that, justified or not, it results in a sense of entitlement.

Which is to say, it helps me to know how at least one press spends their fees.

At Zone 3 Press we were lucky enough to receive 69 entries for our first Creative Nonfiction Book Award, after being a poetry press since 2006, and I am grateful for every submission--though as much for the attention as the $25 fees. The $1725 it totals--and that assumes all payments went through, and we had several issues with check payments--is not even enough to cover printing, which is approximately $2500 for 1000 books and postcards. Other expenses are the finalist judge's honorarium, an honorarium for the semi-finalist judges (who all read off-site and are unaffiliated with our institution), advertisements announcing the original contest and the contest winner, travel expenses and promotion of the winner's reading, and fees for book tables at festivals. There are also time donations by faculty and staff at Austin Peay State University who oversee the process--including making the books available on Small Press Distribution and responding to queries from contest entrants, and managing information as it passes through multiple hands. We are fortunate at our institution to have the Center of Creative Excellence, which provides compensatory funding, without which we would not be able to publish.

I hope my post demonstrates more than anything that I believe in the value of small presses, which are operating on well-monitored accounts--at the very least if the accounts are smaller they are also more closely examined--and that neither I nor my colleagues are milking cash cows when we are coming into the office on weekends and nights and summer days to help another manuscript into the world.


  1. Thanks Amy for posting this. I was one of the 69 essayists to enter the Zone 3 Press contest and was one of the finalists. In the past I have paid to have my work assessed and those days are now history. I am over-subscribed to journals because of the for-fee contests and none the wiser about my work reading the journals I accumulate as a consequence. I have sworn off paying for my work to be read after working three months on a contest-specific essay for a writer I admired; the week I submitted my work electronically, and I mean within the week, I was sent a form reply email beginning "Dear Writer," telling me I had not won the contest. "Dear Writer," speak volumes, doesn't it? My money was taken and that was that. How well had my entry been read I don't know. I can appreciate the economies of literary journals having founded and ran a few of my own, but I appreciate to a greater degree the economy of writers who compose for little to no money, must purchase the journals to get into them so that no one can read them, and stare daily at a growing pile of journals I have earned by paying for the privilege.

  2. Sorry, Dr. Purple--just noticed that these comments had to be approved.