Where the Zoo Press contest entry fees went

Zoo Press accepted entry fees and submissions for two fiction contests but never awarded prizes, refunded the money, or even delivered manuscripts to the judge for consideration. Its poetry contests fared slightly better at first: Zoo issued awards and put out a few chapbooks. But the press soon failed to deliver on poetry publication promises, too, although it continued to accept fees for contests co-sponsored (but since repudiated) by The Kenyon Review and the Paris Review.

In the current Poets & Writers, Tom Hopkins digs still deeper into the debacle and discovers, among other things, that publisher Neil Azevedo treated the contest fees as “the lion’s share” of the press’s operating budget. And then there was the matter of his salary.

In a recent telephone conversation, Azevedo admitted that, historically, more than half of Zoo Press’s annual budget was derived from entry fees; the remainder came from book sales. Azevedo insists, however, that the press never “generate[d] the kind of income that you get rich on — or even get by on. I really want to bust the myth that somehow I’m sitting here in Omaha on a gold throne that’s been paid for by the contest entries,” he says. “It’s so not like that.” Zoo Press paid him an “insignificant” salary, Azevedo says. “I probably made like two dollars an hour.” By 2005, he was putting his own money into the press — going, he says, “into the toilet” financially. “For everybody who felt like they lost something, I certainly lost more,” says Azevedo, who claims he lost “tens of thousands of dollars — personally,” in both credit card debt and personal savings.

Unbelievable. Nice that he’s able to cast himself as the victim, though. (See also “‘What’s saddest to me,’ Azevedo says, ‘is that in the event that I [became] incapacitated — which, I guess, I kinda did — nobody really cared.'”)


You might want to subscribe to my free Substack newsletter, Ancestor Trouble, if the name makes intuitive sense to you.