OMG, RWA!

[Update, 11/22/09: It was pointed out to me this weekend that this page did not originally include the disclaimer found on my home page. The template now includes the disclaimer, and in case you don't want to look to the sidebar: This post does not necessarily represent the opinions of Harlequin.]

My computer crashed on Tuesday, and I have been culling together random moments of very slow access via the public library and the handmade-by-my-brother-in-law, Linux-run, back-up machine that doesn’t allow me to do anything I normally do on-screen.

I’m about to gnaw my fingers off in frustration!

What a week for my little laptop to go belly-up. First, I come back to the office on Wednesday (not having been able to check my email on Tuesday, see above) to find an announcement about Harlequin Horizons, Harlequin’s new self-publishing initiative. All well and good.

(I haven’t yet posted all of the info I’ve been collecting about self-publishing and POD, but these kinds of new and changing publishing models are a current passion of mine. My initial reaction to the release, as someone working in a completely different HQ division who had no access to the information about Horizons until yesterday, was unadulterated excitement.)

But then I received emails about author reactions. I received some phone calls laced with disappointment. My Google alerts went crazy. One author called the announcement of Horizons a “Harlequin s**tstorm.”

Now, this morning, I log on to an ancient public library computer–on which I’m about to run out of time–and find that RWA has officially pulled Harlequin’s eligible publisher status. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you!

I have so much to say, and yet the clock is running out. Two things, quickly:

First, the press release makes this venture sound, to me, much like a licensing agreement. Harlequin provides the “Harlequin” and Author Solutions provides the service and maintenance. As a separate division run by a partner company and distributed on a wholly separate model, Horizons is sort-of like (at least to my MBA-less mind) GE’s ownership of NBC. Related, but not by much. As such, RWA’s decision to equate Horizons with all of the thousands of Harlequin’s traditionally published books seems sort-of like deciding not to buy that nice new fridge because you don’t like Leno in prime time.

That said, Harlequin as a brand is beloved by many and known around the world. Harlequin has history; it’s part of people’s intimate lives; Harlequin–at least for me and many readers I know–was there when boys went from being icky to delicious and when love and sex were first lighting up the hormones. So, it makes me tear up a little to read the heartfelt emotions on some author blogs. There is an honest sense of betrayal here that has nothing to do with the future of publishing and everything to do with a love of reading, romance novels and the (paid) writing life.

When I can get my darned computer back together–or hack out a little more time from the public library–let’s discuss some of the issues others’ have raised:

What does Harlequin the company, which may or may not be synonymous with the Harlequin brand, already include?

MIRA and HQN, imprints that many non-category readers don’t associate with Harlequin when they see them on the shelves; manga and overseas sales that many North Americans don’t have contact with; a variety of category romances that are often misrepresented as being all one type of read (ex: everyone thinks all romance is like Presents, or that Harlequin Romance the series is the same as Harlequin romance the brand); and lots of other initiatives that have come and gone. Will a new company under the Harlequin umbrella change how readers see the brand?

Where does self-publishing stand today as an alternative to traditional publishing?

It’s growing. Lulu.com; Amazon’s self-publishing option, which they monitor for “best picks” that they then publish more traditionally in their Encore imprint; Greenleaf Book Group, which has some stellar books out now and several more in my TBR pile, calls themselves a publishing “incubator” but basically charges the author money for publishing and distribution services; Smashwords; West Bow Press–really the list keeps going.

Those watching the industry closely cannot help but see these kinds of services as a part of publishing’s future. (As a consumer, I find this very exciting. No longer are the books I want to read hemmed in by marketing guidelines. If I want it, I can probably find it published by someone.) Beyond the obvious differences in money (author advance vs. author fee), there is a huge rights difference. Authors keep all or most of the rights in self-publishing, which can offer unlimited opportunities for the right person. (The kinds of unlimited opportunities that might not happen in traditional publishing.)

Does Horizons offer false hope to aspiring authors?

This is the most eye-roll-worthy comment I’ve seen so far. Some have pointed to Horizons’ web copy, which mentions that Harlequin will monitor sales and hopefully find new authors through this program, and called it misleading. To me, the claim seems delightfully honest. Harlequin wants more bestselling authors; here’s a new way to find them. Most, if not all, of the self-publishing services I’ve seen (Author Solutions’ companies, Smashwords, Amazon, etc.) monitor sales and give special attention to the books that sell best. Harlequin is simply stating up front the hope that a few strong new voices will rise above the many. (New voices, I should add, that probably wouldn’t find an audience if forced to stay within the strict marketing plans and editorial submissions processes of traditional publishing.)

Also, when authors pay to use a service, I believe they are smart enough to do due diligence. Self-publishing is very different from traditional publishing, and anyone who chooses to pay good money for their book to be published will know the difference.

What does the rise of self-publishing in general say about the role of editors or the curation of book and author lists?

Editing is an apprenticeship skill: a little creativity, a little diplomacy, a little marketing, a little problem-solving. If everyone can publish anything they want, any time they want, is there a role for those of us who can make stories go from good to great? For those who relish the difference between a cleanly written manuscript and one that makes us laugh and cry? For those who want our favorite books in the hands of as many readers as possible? Maybe yes, maybe no. Sometimes the crowd’s choice can be much better than what is selected by the traditional model.

As an editor, as a former aspiring writer, as a voracious consumer of content in many forms, this brouhaha excites me.

It makes for a good story.

Now it’s the bozo-behind-me’s turn to use the computer. *Sigh.*

95 Responses to “OMG, RWA!”


  1. 1 PG November 19, 2009 at 4:36 pm

    I don’t think your analysis properly distinguishes between self-publishing (in which the author retains all profits) and what Harlequin Horizons is offering. Moreover, Harlequin must be pretty distrustful of its ability to pick out good work if it thinks that books it considers unworthy of publication will end up being so popular — without Harlequin’s distribution channels, branding or any of the other promotional benefits of being a genuine Harlequin author — that Harlequin would want to publish them with the Harlequin name on them.

    When a company licenses its name for other product lines, that name goes on the product. Harlequin has told its existing authors that the Horizons published books will not bear the Harlequin brand. Thus the comparison to brand licensing is not valid.

  2. 2 Janis Susan May November 19, 2009 at 5:40 pm

    HqHo is not self-publishing. HqHo is, by definition, a vanity press. RWA has rules against eligible publishers being part of a vanity press operation.

    Plus, soliciting for customers in a rejection letter is just plain sleazy. The manuscript wasn’t good enough for publishing under the traditional imprints, but they’ll look at the same manuscript again after the writer pays them lots of money?

    Plus, the prices are unreal. $100 to get the copyright? You can do that yourself online for around $40. $20,000 for a book trailer? Come on!

    Plus, the author – after having paid to have the book printed – has no guarantee of distribution, will not be shelved next to traditional HQ imprints and will only get 50% royalty? True self-publishing authors get 100% royalty, and can get all the ‘services’ HqHo offers much more cheaply.

    Plus, very very few bookstores will even stock a vanity press book. Where is the author going to sell? Out of her car trunk?

    HQ thinks they have found a way to make money out of their slush pile. The whole deal reeks.

  3. 4 Maisey November 19, 2009 at 10:11 pm

    Much appreciate your thoughts. It’s been a scary, dramatic couple days on the web in regards, let me tell you. Nice to see someone taking the news in stride.

  4. 6 Alessia Brio November 20, 2009 at 8:50 am

    Good morning, Susan. I’m sorry to hear about your computer woes. That sucketh muchly.

    I agree with PG that this venture (whatever it will be called) is vanity publishing. To continue to avoid that label is insulting to our intelligence. Savvy self-publishers know that there are quite a few legitimate venues for hosting our work. Ones that charge NO upfront fee and only take a percentage of the sales. (Smashwords, All Romance eBooks, Amazon’s Digital Text Platform, etc.) And, there are editing services that cost far less as well.

    I am only an RWA member until the membership expires, because the organization considers me a hobbyist. (My paychecks beg to differ.) As much as I disapprove of the organization’s position on non-traditional publishing and non-traditional publishers, I do wholeheartedly approve of it following its own rules with regard to Harlequin’s status. To do otherwise would be hypocritical in the extreme.

    As someone standing on the sidelines, I have found the entire sh*tstorm fascinating. It will be interesting to see what both RWA and “Harlequin Horizons” look like when the dust settles.

    Thanks for providing your perspective. I appreciate it.

    Happy Holidays to you & yours,

    ~ Alessia

    • 7 Stacy Boyd November 21, 2009 at 12:08 am

      Alessia,

      I appreciate your perspective. I’m curious about why RWA considers you a hobbyist if your “paychecks beg to differ”?

      Savvy self-publishers know that there are quite a few legitimate venues for hosting our work. Ones that charge NO upfront fee and only take a percentage of the sales. (Smashwords, All Romance eBooks, Amazon’s Digital Text Platform, etc.) And, there are editing services that cost far less as well.

      You’re right. There are plenty of places that don’t charge a fee, but there are also plenty of places that do. One of my personal favorites is Greenleaf Book Group. I’ve read one or two of their books and enjoyed them. I have several of their upcoming books on my TBR pile. Publishing Perspectives did a piece on them recently and their fees can go up to $250,000! They have a more traditional print-books-in-bookstores distribution model.

      • 8 Alessia Brio November 21, 2009 at 8:09 am

        Thanks for your reply, Stacy. I imagine the comments on this blog post have consumed a large chunk of your time!

        To answer your question: RWA considers me a hobbyist because I do not publish through venues RWA deems legitimate for “serious” authors. In other words, I publish through small press publishers like Phaze Books and Torquere Press. Instead of an advance, which RWA considers an absolute must, I get 40-50% of my royalties. That’s a trade-off I’m HAPPY to make.

        I also self-publish. I pay no upfront fees, and the hosting venues take a percentage of the sales — just like they do to every other publisher (including Harlequin) who uses them. I’m just cutting out one layer between me & my readers. I like being involved in every aspect of my work’s publication — from cover art to formatting to marketing. I consider each creatively rewarding, and I retain all my rights.

        Lastly, I don’t have — or want — an agent. I’m all about removing layers, not adding more of them. I will either have wild success or dismal failure. Either way, I’ll have no one to blame for it but myself. :-) So far, so good!

        Unlike some repeated comments I’ve read on other blogs from very successful, traditionally-published, NYTimes bestselling authors, self-publishing does not require the author to spend money in order to make money. It requires “only” planning, creativity, a diverse skill set, and determination.

        I could go on and on *blush* about the benefits of digital/PoD/self-publishing, but I’ll stop now. :-) Thanks for your interest.

        Warmly,

        ~ Alessia

      • 9 Stacy Boyd November 22, 2009 at 9:57 pm

        Alessia,

        You are absolutely right that it takes a diverse skill set, determination and a lot of work to publish your own books, whether you delegate some tasks (like cover and editing) or not. I know some authors, like you, relish taking on all the aspects of the books. (Your Web site looks really interesting by the way.) And some DIY authors have no interest in cover design, or don’t know the artists to contact. I think for the folks who prefer to delegate some tasks, vanity presses might free them up to do more of what they prefer to do.

  5. 10 Alessia Brio November 20, 2009 at 8:53 am

    Dear Lord. Stacy, I’m sorry. I blame caffeine (as in: LACK thereof).

  6. 11 Disgusted Author November 20, 2009 at 9:01 am

    Wow. I am appalled an HQ editor not only believes this but is touting it on a blog. I (like many) had held out the hope that you all felt the same way as your authors about all of this. Just wow.

    “To me, the claim seems delightfully honest. Harlequin wants more bestselling authors; here’s a new way to find them.”

    Oh please – just stop with this altruistic BS! You and I both know if it was best selling material, Harlequin would have offered to BUY the manuscript when it first crossed their desk. They wouldn’t reject it with a note, telling the author to they were THIS close – and if they merely took all the monetary risk of getting their book on the market and proved (in the most impossible fashion and market possible btw) the book could do well, only THEN will HQ step in and help them. When really that “help” is HQ wanting yet another piece of a pie they had already gotten paid an outrageous amount of money to eat in the first place.

    It’s sick. I’m still disgusted. No matter how much happy sunshine delusional smoke you and the other HQ staffers have had blow up your @sses and try to pass along. I’m not inhaling it and neither is RWA, MWA, SFWA or anyone with half a brain! This venture is NOT good for authors or prospects – only HQ’s bank account. Own that fact and maybe then HQ – a company “beloved by many and known around the world” will gain back some of the respect it’s globally lost.

    • 12 Stacy Boyd November 21, 2009 at 12:11 am

      Disgusted Author,

      I really have so much to say about this, but as I mentioned in my latest post, I have put a gag order on myself. I tried to find something in here that I could pull out and address…

      Hmm. Let’s see.

      Nope. Sorry.

  7. 13 Selah March November 20, 2009 at 9:12 am

    I have to concur with most of the other comments here. There is a vast difference between legitimate self-publishing and the vanity press shenanigans we’re seeing here. The copy on the Horizons website implies the author who buys a package will be a Harlequin author, yet Harlequin’s representative insists that’s not the case. That’s deceptive, and intended to capitalize on the Harlequin name to lure unsuspecting newbies. Add to that the flogging of the Horizons venture in rejection letters to authors, and you’ve got something that really, really reeks.

    Plus? ASI/Author House is one of the least reputable vanity presses in the business.

    Vanity presses make their money in selling packaging to authors — NOT in selling books. They therefore have no incentive to do anything close to a good job in editing or packaging. Authors who pub with vanity presses rarely sell above 75 units. Five hundred units is considered a barn-burner. True self-publishing is a different ball of wax, and a viable alternative for the right author and the right book. THIS is not THAT.

    In any event, Harlequin blinked first. They’ll be removing their name from the endeavor. It remains to be seen if the deceptive language on the website and the execrable idea of soliciting packaging sales through rejection letters will go as well. Until it does, I’ll continue to view this episode for what it is — a company (in this case Torstar) willing to whore out the brand of its only money-making division (Harlequin) and thereby ruin that division’s reputation among authors and readers alike.

    That said, thanks for the link to my blog. I enjoyed reading your angle on the story. As I said, I do think self-publishing is a viable alternative for the right author and the right book. :)

    • 14 Stacy Boyd November 21, 2009 at 12:17 am

      Selah,

      I really enjoyed your post. It moved me.

      True self-publishing is a different ball of wax, and a viable alternative for the right author and the right book.

      I’m seeing quite a few comments like this one, claiming that true self-publishing is different from vanity publishing. I know that one is supposedly 100% royalty to the author and the other is any fee paid up front. But the many, many different places to publish a book make the line between the two murky for me. I’ll work on a post about it so I can put it in perspective for myself. IMO, self/vanity publishing is less about up-front fees and more about the rights that the author gets to keep.

  8. 15 Eva Gale November 20, 2009 at 9:27 am

    I’m starting to think there is a chasm of misunderstanding here -perhaps on both sides?

    There are writers who are reading your post and saying, “Of COURSE she’s going to support HQ, she needs a paycheck!” And, while I think that’s a viable motivation, I don’t think it’s yours-or at least I’m not going to assume so.

    I think you honestly see this HH decision as a good one, not as a vanity press, and I’d like to ask you where you see the separation between what HQ is saying is a self publisher and what authors are saying is a vanity publisher?

    • 16 Stacy Boyd November 21, 2009 at 12:20 am

      Eva,

      Like what I said to Selah, the difference between self-publishing and vanity presses seems murky due to the many legitimate options out there. I will post about it, if I can ever make my way through the comments. Stay tuned.

  9. 17 Rhonda Stapleton November 20, 2009 at 9:30 am

    I echo everything Janis Susan May said.

    I’m dismayed Harlequin has created a vanity press, and that’s exactly what this is. Self-publishing is a perfectly valid business model for some people, and I have absolutely nothing against it. But Harlequin Horizons is most certainly NOT self-publishing.

    I’m very disappointed in the response that has come from Harlequin so far regarding this matter, and I hope to see them address that issues that not only RWA, but MWA and SFWA have called them out on (as well as many of Harlequin’s own authors!).

    When three major writers organizations, as well as a legion of authors and readers, take such a firm stance against a practice, I would think that would make Harlequin take a good, honest look at what they’re doing and come up with a business model that reflects true self-publishing, should they continue with this endeavor.

    As always, just my opinion.

    • 18 Stacy Boyd November 21, 2009 at 12:21 am

      Rhonda,

      Thanks for your opinion. I appreciate you chiming in. If I was still talking about Harlequin, I would agree with you on some points. But since I’m not, I’ll leave it at that.

  10. 19 Shiloh Walker November 20, 2009 at 9:57 am

    “Talk about biting the hand that feeds you!”

    Actually, RWA would have been biting the hands of the authors if they hadn’t stood up to this.

    I’m sorry, but RWA is a WRITER’S organization. They stand up for the needs of the authors.

    They have criteria, guidelines. Vanity presses and self pubbed presses make any pub ineligible. HQN no longer meets the criteria.

    HQN is NOT RWA. The authors, HQN and non-HQN, authors are RWA.

    RWA did the right thing.

    • 20 Stacy Boyd November 21, 2009 at 12:26 am

      Shiloh,

      I’m sorry, but RWA is a WRITER’S organization. They stand up for the needs of the authors.

      Let’s see if I can respond to this without mentioning Harlequin. (This restriction is much harder to deal with than I’d anticipated!)

      I can say, I agree with you that RWA is a wonderful advocacy group for romance writers. My statement about biting and hands and feeding was only a reference to the symbiosis between RWA/authors and publishers.

  11. 21 jim duncan November 20, 2009 at 10:50 am

    I’m not sure why you’re jazzed about HQN getting into the vanity/subsidy publishing business. Money is suppose to flow to the writer, not away from them. It also confuses me why HQN keeps attempting to tout this as self-publishing, when it isn’t. Self published authors keep the profits and own the isbn. This isn’t happening with Horizons. Getting paid 50% of net yields almost nothing if you look at numbers (like getting printed through Lightning Source and selling to Amazon at discount). 99% of self-pubbed/vanity authors sell about 100 copies give or take. So, if Harlequin is indicating this venture as a way for potential notice and getting picked up, I would have to say it’s very misleading. Odds are, maybe 1 in a 1000 that the ridiculous investment of money will yield anything more than the joy of seeing a printed version of the book.

    As for RWA’s reaction, it’s right there in their by-laws. You can’t be eligible and be in the vanity/subsidy publishing business. However peripherally associated with the project (I don’t agree with the analogy you made btw), the fact is, Harlequin is setting this up to make money. You can’t say “It’s not really us,” and be raking in cash from it. It was set up by HQN or rather as I am guessing, TorStar, who probably forcefed this down Harlequin’s throat because HQN is their cashcow and they’re bleeding money out by the bucketfull otherwise. If I were to make another guess, I’d bet they looked at Westbow Press, which fleeces writers even worse than Horizons purports to do, and said, “Cash opportunity, we need to get in on this.”

    Self-publishing is a viable option for a few writers. An established author with a readership base can leverage it for other writing (Konrath has shown this works). Niche, non-fiction can work. Genre fiction on the otherhand is almost impossible as an unknown. The markets are so flooded with material that making a name for oneself from scratch, using one’s own money is a herculean task at best. To offer up the opportunity to “make your publishing dreams come true” is an insult from HQN, when the harsh realities of trying it on your own are laid bare. I’m most incensed by the fact mention of Horizons will accompany HQN rejection letters. This isn’t a message they should be sending. I mean, really? You aren’t good enough for us, but if you pay us a crapload of money you can have you inferior ms printed, and if you achieve any success, which admittedly is almost impossible, we might give you another shot.

    I think folks should be appalled by this. It’s nothing short of fleecing writers who don’t know about or understand the realities of publishing. The sad thing is, HQN could have probably set up a self-publishing arm that would have been exciting and useful to writers. They have a lot of leverage in the romance market. As always though, money has gotten in the way of doing anything worthwhile. All ranting aside though, I’m not upset with the folks at HQN. They are in this business for the love of books. I think this boils down to corporate greed taking advantage of unsuspecting writers.

    • 22 Stacy Boyd November 21, 2009 at 12:30 am

      Jim,

      Self-publishing is a viable option for a few writers. An established author with a readership base can leverage it for other writing (Konrath has shown this works). Niche, non-fiction can work. Genre fiction on the otherhand is almost impossible as an unknown. The markets are so flooded with material that making a name for oneself from scratch, using one’s own money is a herculean task at best.

      Not having looked at the numbers for genre fiction and just going on anecdotal accounts, I’d say you’re probably right here about genre/commercial fiction for an unknown being a hard sell. But it is not impossible. E. Lynn Harris is a good example.

      • 23 Nei November 21, 2009 at 11:23 pm

        As for self-publish vs vanity press, I’m not anti-self-publishing if it’s truly self-publishing. As others have said, there are times when that may be the best option. My understanding of the difference vs vanity publishing involves the issue of royalties. Self-published authors have to spend money upfront to the printer/binder, etc, but none of those people keep any royalites. They’ve already been paid by said upfront money to do their part in the production. Vanity presses both take money upfront and keep a cut of the royalty pie (and also sometimes pressure authors to go on expensive tours they say they’ll put together, but the author has to pay the full cost). What puzzles me is why Torstar didn’t follow Harper Collins lead and model Horizons after Xlibris. A vanity press, but one that makes no nod to or mention of HC, nor does HC suggest to authors that they try Xlibris if their ms. isn’t bought by an editor. The twain are separate, ne’er to meet, and it keeps HC’s nose clean.

        There are rare — rare — success stories post-World War II who were either self- or vanity published. That, however, usually happens when the mainstream market is not otherwise providing that type of reading material. E Lynn Harris broke ground by writing about the lives of Black gay men. Beyond Toni Morrison, general fiction topics from Black authors weren’t hotly bought in the early 90’s. Heck, there were genre guides at that time that said Black romance fiction was scarce because of a belief that Blacks didn’t read such things. On the other hand, trying to self- or vanity publish a Regency-set historical romance won’t make many waves in a market in which there’s a glut already on the shelves.

      • 24 Stacy Boyd November 22, 2009 at 10:14 pm

        Nei,

        Great points. Xlibris is owned partly by Author Solutions, as you probably know. I, in fact, didn’t know that Random House owned the other half of Xlibris until this week. I can see why folks who were promised a no-cost tour, and then forced to pay for it, would be rightly upset. But just as no industry is all good or all bad, I don’t believe all vanity presses are out to fleece the author for every penny they can.

        I also think you’re right that some of the most popular self-published titles are ones that fill underserved niches that traditional publishers may not feel they can “sell”–whether due to marketing bias or the fact that booksellers don’t want to place orders.

  12. 25 Sean Cummings November 20, 2009 at 11:38 am

    It is reprehensible on the part of Harlequin and make no mistake, this is vanity publishing at its worst. Literary Agent Ashley Grayson sums it up best on his blog where he writes:

    “The offer is reprehensible: For between $600 and $1,600 you can pretend to be a published author. You won’t be, really published, because no commercial publisher liked your book well enough to bring it to market. They will just pretend to offer it for sale if you pay the costs.”

    This is Harlequin’s “new coke”.

  13. 27 Ezmeralda November 20, 2009 at 11:44 am

    Stacy,
    thanks for elbowing people out of the way at the library to get this post up. it’s been a freaky few days in Harlequin Land. Personally, I think too many people have freaked way too far out over this before getting the punch line. This situation is far from over.
    After reading the H response that they were disappointed that RWA didn’t even TRY to contact them or offer any feedback TO them about the situation, I have to agree with that statement. Doesn’t mean I agree with a vanity press having equal shelf space or me having to do book signings with vanity press authors because someone took my “officially published author” sticker away.
    That said, could someone give a really, really good definition of the difference between self-published and vanity published? I think there is a hair’s breadth of difference here.
    Ezmeralda

    • 28 Stacy Boyd November 21, 2009 at 12:36 am

      Ezmeralda,

      I know! I feel the same. IMO, self-published just means you publish your own book, whether you chose to pay a publishing services company (vanity press?) to provide editing, marketing, etc. or not.

      That said, could someone give a really, really good definition of the difference between self-published and vanity published? I think there is a hair’s breadth of difference here.

  14. 29 A Harlequin Author November 20, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    Dear Stacy,

    Authors and Harlequin feed each other.

    And yes, we authors are smart: we’re smart enough to notice that Harlequin’s new “venture” doesn’t provide authors anything new. Everything offered through this service was already offered through AuthorHouse.

    Compare:

    http://www.harlequinhorizons.com/Packages/StandardPackages/PackageCompare.aspx

    and

    http://www.authorhouse.com/ServicesStore/ChoosePackage.asp

    It’s not surprising these are the same, because Author Solutions owns AuthorHouse, and they’re providing all the grunt work here. Of course, there are package differences–the Harlequin version doesn’t register your copyright until you hit the maximum price paid, but the AuthorHouse one registers copyright starting at $799, so authors are paying the same price under Harlequin for less.

    Don’t fool yourself. Harlequin is not offering anyone a new “choice.” They are not expanding the boundaries of print publishing. This choice was already there; it has been around for ever and a day. Harlequin isn’t adding anything new or exciting to the mix–all it’s managed to do is instantly devalue its brand among authors.

    And that makes me really, really sad.

  15. 31 linnetbird November 20, 2009 at 1:07 pm

    Stacy, sorry about your computer troubles! I hope you’re back online at home soon.

    But all these posts and releases from Harlequin read like coverups because they all talk about “self-publishing” as if that’s what’s going on here. I’ve done both traditional publishing and self-publishing, and I’ve signed lots of literary contracts, and I do know the difference between self-publishing and the vanity variety, and I can’t believe you and your colleagues at Harlequin are more ignorant than I.

    But just in case– Here’s how the self-publishing worked. I did my own research. I chose a printer for quality and value. I designed the content and cover. I stored the books. I built the website. I retained all rights. I made all the profit (not bad, so far– but this is non-fiction in a niche market that I know well… I don’t think I would have made any profit self-pubbing fiction, though some have).

    Now I could have contracted out any one of those tasks (and should have, esp. the cover), but I would not have paid a markup more than made sense to me. And I would not have given up my rights (I would have insisted, for example, that I owned the copyright to the cover), and once the book was published and the profits rolled in, I wouldn’t owe anything to those sub-contractors. There are already businesses that do a lot of self-publishers’ tasks for them, charging a relatively reasonable markup for their time and expertise– but none of them expect a cut of the royalties.

    But here Harlequin is not just planning to get an excessive markup (and yes, it’s excessive– with vanity presses, it’s always that way). They are also planning to take 50% of the net AFTER the author has paid all (and more) of the expenses of putting the book out and marketing it. What exactly does Hqn DO for that cut?

    As for Hqn “monitoring” sales for missed diamonds, you know, that’s always been done. E Lynn Harris sold his self-pubbed books and sold a lot, and told publishers about it, and what do you know. He didn’t have to pay the publisher big bucks on the off-chance the publisher might notice. This is part of what publishers DO. They don’t have to be paid for it– they get paid when they buy the previously self-pubbed book and make their usual profit off selling it to readers.

    I also am sort of troubled by an editor who thinks her company is rejecting books that are wonderful and will be beloved by readers, and that the only solution to that is for the author– who has already done the work of writing the book– to pay big bucks to the rejecting publisher to maybe get noticed by… the editors who didn’t notice its wonderfulness in the first place?

    I actually have a wonderful book that hasn’t sold, so I know it’s possible. But if Hqn’s aim here was actually to find diamonds, why not free editors a bit from those “marketing guidelines”? Wasn’t that the whole point of the new lines?

    And if I were a Carina editor or writer, btw, I’d be furious 1) to have the launch totally stepped on by this stupid venture, and 2) to be officially associated with a completely different and disreputable publishing model in press releases, as if Carina is “self-publishing” at all– and it’s certainly not vanity publishing, but the Harlequin press releases sure act like the two ventures are the same.

    I do wonder if anyone at Hqn ever thought this through. Or was it all thought up by the near-bankrupt parent company’s business managers, and foisted on Hqn? I actually prefer that to believing that Harlequin editors and publishers have so little understanding of their own industry.

    • 32 Stacy Boyd November 21, 2009 at 12:44 am

      Linnetbird,

      Thanks for sharing your process!

      Here’s how the self-publishing worked. I did my own research. I chose a printer for quality and value. I designed the content and cover. I stored the books. I built the website. I retained all rights. I made all the profit (not bad, so far– but this is non-fiction in a niche market that I know well… I don’t think I would have made any profit self-pubbing fiction, though some have).

      Now I could have contracted out any one of those tasks (and should have, esp. the cover), but I would not have paid a markup more than made sense to me. And I would not have given up my rights (I would have insisted, for example, that I owned the copyright to the cover), and once the book was published and the profits rolled in, I wouldn’t owe anything to those sub-contractors. There are already businesses that do a lot of self-publishers’ tasks for them, charging a relatively reasonable markup for their time and expertise– but none of them expect a cut of the royalties.

      It sounds like you took the DIY route. I think the confusion between self-publishing, as you’ve described it, and vanity presses, in my mind is that some publishing services companies are offering many different services. Maybe it is at a mark-up, but hopefully that extra fee is there because 1) the company has expertise in publishing and 2) they are saving time for the author who wants to delegate tasks such as cover design, finding an artist, navigating distribution outlets, etc.

  16. 33 AnonAuthor November 20, 2009 at 1:07 pm

    Stacy, I believe I’m one of the few RWA members who didn’t approve of RWA’s handling of this situation. Not that I think they should pander to the money from publishers, but I do believe they owed Harlequin some communication before making such a blunt statement. Harlequin has always been a big supporter of RWA, and that support should have at least warranted a conversation prior to the decision being made public.

    RWA just seemed a little too quick on the trigger in making this call, so to ME, it came across as “setting an example”, not doing what’s ultimately best for members. Because truthfully I don’t see how taking away access to the largest romance publisher in the US is a GOOD thing for members. Educating them on their options is. But like I said, I seem to be in a very, very small minority of members here.

    I have my issues with vanity presses, which is what Horizons is. I think Harlequin would have been much better served offering a TRUE self-publishing model and offering writers who chose to go that route access to editors, cover artists and providing a print house, and the other elements that Harlequin has to offer — but with ALL rights going to the author. That means rights over the cover they pay for, the digital file created to print the book from, AND the royalties. 50% of royalties is awful. Truly awful.

    Harlequin could have gone about this in a very different way and likely received a lot of support for it.

    • 34 Stacy Boyd November 21, 2009 at 12:48 am

      AnonAuthor,

      …TRUE self-publishing model and offering writers who chose to go that route access to editors, cover artists and providing a print house…but with ALL rights going to the author. That means rights over the cover they pay for, the digital file created to print the book from, AND the royalties.

      I have never had access to a contract from any of the self-publishers I’ve read about (Amazon, Lulu, Greenleaf, etc.); I’m not sure what type of rights they keep and which they leave with the author. I was under the impression that most, if not all, pub services companies that charge a fee leave the rights with the author. Have you had a different experience?

  17. 35 Elizabeth November 20, 2009 at 1:09 pm

    There have been times, in defending vanity publishing, Harlequin representatives such as yourself, have made it very hard to tell whether they, themselves, are ignorant, or if they just think I am. Really hard to tell.

    First, let’s call this “self-publishing” venture what it really is–vanity publishing. And secondly, let’s also get on board with the fact that vanity publishing schemes are not new. In fact, I received my first “contract” with Trafford Publishing when I was twelve years old. They have become so ubiquitous, in fact, that websites were put in place to out them for what they truly were. Since I find it hard to believe anyone immersed in the publishing industry would be so naive on the subject, I can only assume Harlequin’s stance across the board is to play dumb in hopes they’ll dredge up sympathy and shirk any and all responsibility. And that is infuriating.

    Now, this morning, I log on to an ancient public library computer–on which I’m about to run out of time–and find that RWA has officially pulled Harlequin’s eligible publisher status. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you!

    How long has Harlequin been involved with the RWA? Long enough to know its by-laws, I would think. Long enough to have seen the issue of vanity presses and other pay-to-play ventures shot down, I would think. The implication, from you and from Harlequin’s CEO, that Harlequin is somehow exempt from RWA’s qualifying standards is shortsighted arrogance, pure and simple. Organizations like RWA, MWA, and SFWA are not in place to keep Harlequin in business, but to protect its writers, their works, and their careers, from predatory business practices such as vanity publishing. Perverting the facts and playing dumb on the subject in order to extort sympathy and/or preferential treatment has only proved to taint Harlequin’s already-tarnished reputation, and that is very, very sad.

    First, the press release makes this venture sound, to me, much like a licensing agreement.

    “Licensing” a corporation and business module that has time and time again proven detrimental to both an author’s wallet and career in no way makes it “new”, nor does it lend a disreputable business credibility. Imagine if Sesame Workshop licensed the name and character of Elmo to crack cocaine dealers across the world. Would crack cocaine suddenly be a safe and healthy alternative for children? Or would the Elmo brand, and the Sesame Workshop brand by proxy, lose its credibility, damage its reputation, and therefore its worth? You don’t have to be an economics genius to understand that if you lend your good name to someone else’s bad product or service, you run the risk of tarnishing your own reputation. And in the case of Harlequin, that reputation-be it good or bad-is shared amongst its authors and its readers. The fact of the matter is, Harlequin pissed on its brand, and in turn, pissed on its authors, it’s potential authors, it’s readers, and the organizations set in place to protect them. Ignoring that, in favor of martyrdom, will make you and those like you look good to your higher ups, I’m sure, but it does little to resolve the issues at hand, or to restore anyone’s faith in Harlequin’s brand.

    Where does self-publishing stand today as an alternative to traditional publishing?
    It’s growing. Lulu.com; Amazon’s self-publishing option, which they monitor for “best picks” that they then publish more traditionally in their Encore imprint; Greenleaf Book Group…..

    I like how you try to confuse people by listing actual self-publishing ventures, as opposed to vanity press modules similar to the Horizons one. Really, well-played.

    Also, when authors pay to use a service, I believe they are smart enough to do due diligence. Self-publishing is very different from traditional publishing, and anyone who chooses to pay good money for their book to be published will know the difference.

    How can you be so certain of that when Harlequin, who is in business with Author Solutions, has apparently done little research on the subject, themselves? In fact, the more I hear from Harlequin representatives, the more I question wither they know much about publishing at all. Bound copies to send to agents? Not knowing what first rights are? Repeatedly confusing self-publishing with vanity publishing? Encouraging rejected authors to pay-to-play in hopes of being picked up by the same traditional imprints that rejected them, probably with good reason? Using the Harlequin brand to sell a product it claims it isn’t associated with? Willingly participating in unethical behavior resulting in a conflict of interest, then defending such behavior when called out on it? There is a reason Author Solutions takes on so many imprints, and it isn’t to save the world from the closed-minded and elitist publishing world. It’s because sooner or later, word gets out about how self-serving and criminal their services really are, and as that happens, names are changed to give the appearance of newer, untainted services. If Harlequin had done its research, as you state potential Horizons authors are sure to do, it would have known this, and could have predicted the fallout that has occurred and avoided it.

    And that is probably the most beautiful thing about this whole mess, the fact that, like many who have dealt with Author Solutions brands in the past, Harlequin fell for their sales pitch, their “wave of the future” promises, and now has to deal with the repercussions. It’s more bitter than sweet, though.

    • 36 Stacy Boyd November 21, 2009 at 1:34 am

      Elizabeth,

      Thanks for the well-thought-out comment. Like I said in my latest blog post, this is my personal blog and I’m not writing as a representative of Harlequin. Hopefully I can make that clearer in the future.

  18. 37 Anon November 20, 2009 at 1:10 pm

    A better GE analogy would be this:

    GE sells appliances and locomotives designed/made by outsiders, but tweaked with the help of their in-house engineers. They reject a lot of these appliances because they’re just not quite up-to-snuff.

    Someone at GE realizes that there is a HUGE market in all of these wanna-be appliance makers. So, they partner with another company who is already doing this type of thing.

    They call the new venture GE Dreams. Now, when a wanna-be appliance maker submits their not-quite-up-to-snuff appliance, when GE rejects their fridge/washing machine/locomotive, they will refer the appliance maker to GE Dreams. “Dear WannaBe, We’re sorry to inform you that your appliance wasn’t quite right for us at this time. However, we know how important your dream to be an appliance maker is. Please consider submitting your appliance to our GE Dream program.”

    Oh, happy day! The appliance maker’s dream is coming true! For the low, low cost of just $599.00 (for the basic package, everything else extra) he, too, will now be a GE appliance maker! His fridge will say GE Dream on it. And he can tell everyone that he’s made it. He’s a GE appliance maker now.

    So what that he paid to play. So what that his fridge’s door doesn’t quite close, and it uses 20 times more electricty than it should, and sometimes it gives you a shock when you open the door. (Fatal flaws that the engineers at GE deemed unfixable with revisions/tweaking.)

    So what that his design isn’t going to show up at Sears, or WalMart, or Home Depot.

    Meanwhile, at GE, the money is rolling in, and they’re doing the happy dance.

    But then…Consumer Reports accidentally gets ahold of one of these subpar appliances. Needless to say, when compared to “real” appliances, those vetted and strengthened by proper engineers, the GE Dream model doesn’t fare very well.

    Suddenly, it’s all over the internet. People are tweeting. And Facebooking. The NYTimes is writing about it. You can’t trust GE appliances anymore. They’ve taken a trusted brand name, and let it get tarnished. More than that, they’ve cashed in on the dreams of all those hopeful appliance makers who’ve been submitting their designs to them for years.

    There. Now that’s a better comparison if you want to use GE.

  19. 40 Carolyn Jewel November 20, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    I do agree with some of what you say. And I would certainly agree that publishers need to be forward looking about how technology is changing the game of traditional publishing. Carina Press, for example, is a good example of that.

    I don’t have an issue with Harlequin Horizons, per se. But I agree with those who feel there’s something innately wrong with Harlequin sending rejected writers to a Self-Publishing company owned by them. That referral should, at the very least, come with a full disclosure of the conflict. If a literary agent did that, they’d be kicked out of AAR and end up on all kinds of disapproved lists.

    Also, when authors pay to use a service, I believe they are smart enough to do due diligence. Self-publishing is very different from traditional publishing, and anyone who chooses to pay good money for their book to be published will know the difference.

    Well, you’d think so. But spend some time on Google and you’ll find out that’s just not the case. There is, apparently, quite a large subset of people who DON’T know this. They know NOTHING about publishing. They fall prey to scamming (fake) agents and think that PublishAmerica and its ilk make them a professional writer just like Steven King.

    And you know what? There’s no BBB for aspiring authors such that anyone who isn’t already informed will know how to get educated on the business.

    The concern isn’t for the people who do their due diligence. Harlequin has a duty, I think, to make sure they’re not taking advantage of the people who haven’t — whether because they’re currently clueless or simply unable to figure out they should do such a thing.

    • 41 Stacy Boyd November 21, 2009 at 1:32 am

      Carolyn,

      I think you’re somewhat right.

      There is, apparently, quite a large subset of people who…know NOTHING about publishing. They fall prey to scamming (fake) agents and think that PublishAmerica and its ilk make them a professional writer just like Steven King.

      When I was writing as a freelancer, learning about the business, one of the first lessons was “don’t pay to have an agent read your book and don’t pay to have it published.” But a lot has changed in more than a decade, and I’ve seen some really interesting publishing models that do involve money from the author. Maybe I’ll get to write about them here someday. *sigh*

  20. 42 Kelly November 20, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    So, I know this isn’t the topic you were emphasizing, but aren’t you happy that you at least were able to access a computer at your library? I know they tend to be older and never enough of them and a source for obtaining illnesses, but the library does the best it can with the limited funding it has to help those who can’t do it for themselves at the time. It disheartens me how many local and state governments are cutting funding to libraries as if they are luxuries.

    • 43 Stacy Boyd November 21, 2009 at 1:29 am

      Kelly,
      ABSOLUTELY! I love my libraries. I use NYPL when I’m at work or in the city and the Brooklyn system when I’m at home. Without a library back-up what would I do?!? Also, I could never afford all of the books I want to read. The hold system is on my gratitude list.

  21. 44 AnotherAnonymous November 20, 2009 at 2:12 pm

    Now that Harlequin has found a way to monetize the slush pile, why not takefurther and monetize human resources, as well? From now on, when Harlequin rejects a candidate for an editorial position, they can include a referral the new Harlequin Heavens program, where, for the low-low price of $995, they can prove their mettle by editing a vanity-published book. And hey, if that books sells well (although we won’t tell you HOW well) despite not being in Harlequin’s regular distribution chain, Harlequin might offer you a real job! Isn’t it great?

    And I’m sure Stacy and all the editorial staff at Harlequin will be completely on board with this plan because, hey, it’s a great opportunity for new editors and NO ONE with any sense is going to be snookered into thinking it might ACTUALLY lead to a job offer.

    • 45 Stacy Boyd November 21, 2009 at 1:28 am

      AnotherAnonymous,

      Alternate pay structures for editors is another thing I’ve seen lately. One e-press offered no salary, but gave the editor a small royalty. Perhaps there is a way for vanity editing to work…

      • 46 AnotherAnonymous November 22, 2009 at 12:28 pm

        I work for a epublisher as an editor. I am paid 10% of the sale price of the books I edit. But the key is, I am PAID for my services (even if the amount I get depends on the book’s sales and is therefore not guaranteed). That’s a far cry from the press expecting ME to pay THEM to line THEIR pockets.

      • 47 Stacy Boyd November 22, 2009 at 10:25 pm

        AnotherAnonymous,

        I wish you weren’t anonymous! I’d so love to find out more about the pay system you describe. I think it is a really interesting idea to give editors ownership of the titles they acquire/edit. (Although I know some editors would balk at losing their salaries in favor of royalties.) If you’re interested in discussing editor pay structures, I’d love to find out more. You can email me at sboyd99 AT gmail DOT com.

    • 48 Kelly Jamieson November 22, 2009 at 8:40 pm

      I have had similar thoughts. Here is a small portion of my blog post from last week:

      Call me cynical but if I was an editorial assistant or less senior editor at Harlequin, I’d be worried about my job. Looking to the future, I can envision Harlequin reducing editorial staff and picking up fewer books from slush pile submissions, and relying more on the Horizons line to provide their next releases. And it makes me wonder if other publishers will do the same.

      Publishers are already reducing editorial staff and are apparently reluctant to take on anything that isn’t “big”. They’re afraid to take risks with new authors, and rumour has it they’re even hesitant to take on proven mid-list authors. This is a way for them to reduce their risk. Let’s face it, every book they decide to publish is a guess. Editors are using their best judgment, but it’s subjective and they’re just guessing. Mistakes are made, and it goes both ways – authors who get huge advances that never get earned out; manuscripts that are rejected and go on to become bestsellers with other publishers; books that you read and say, “how the heck did this get published?” and books with few expectations that go on to sell big numbers. This kind of model would take the guesswork out of it, take the risk out of it, and save publishers a ton of money on one side of the business, while making them money on the other side.

      http://building-castles.blogspot.com/2009/11/is-this-future-of-publishing.html

      • 49 Stacy Boyd November 22, 2009 at 10:33 pm

        Kelly,

        Fabulous post on your blog! (Anyone who reads her comment, click to Kelly’s blog.) I have all the same questions, and more. I may quote you on some of those questions in a later post. The future of publishing is changing, and it really is both threatening AND exciting.

  22. 50 Chrissy November 20, 2009 at 2:56 pm

    “Talk about biting the hand that feeds you.”

    Thank you for absolutely, without question, confirming the overwhelming response.

    Yep. You thought you bought unquestioned immunity.

    Guess again.

  23. 51 Donna November 20, 2009 at 3:00 pm

    Esmeralda, there is quite a bit more than a hair’s breadth of difference between self-publishing and vanity publishing. The two terms, in fact, say a lot. Vanity presses are always pitching “We will make your dreams come true.” Harlequin is making the “dreams” pitch — authors will be fulfilled and happy simply by seeing their book in print — while it charges substantial fees to the would-be author to “publish” a book which they do not intend to market or place in stores. Basically, HH will take on anyone who pays, and HH’s purpose is to take that money. The books will not be good, and HH doesn’t expect them to be. It won’t matter to Harlequin, who will be making money from the authors, not book sales.

    For a definition, see http://www.sfwa.org/for-authors/writer-beware/vanity/

  24. 52 Jen November 20, 2009 at 3:02 pm

    To answer some of the questions here.
    One: There isn’t a “hairsbreadth difference” between “self-publishing” and “Vanity Press”. Self-publishing allows an author to retain all rights, keep all royalties. A Vanity Press keeps all rights and takes money from the author for the privilege.

    Two: The statement has been made the RWA should have “discussed” their response with HQN before releasing such a “blunt” statement. A better question might be, why didn’t HQN discuss this with RWA first? Easy. Because HQN did not care what RWA’s response would be.

    The truth is that HQN made this decision and the by-laws were quite clear. Any other decision would have been pandering to a publisher rather than its authors.

    If this were any other publisher…ANY OTHER PUBLISHER…the outcry would not be this loud about RWA’s response. It would be applauded by editors and authors alike.

  25. 53 Sara Thacker November 20, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    RWA has always had the stance that self-publishing does not fit with RWA’s values. They have spent years blocking vanity publishers from members and from events. If RWA hadn’t of reacted this way then they would be forced to recognize other vanity publishes.

    As far as Harlequin is conserned they are a business. They will do what they have to to make money.

    • 54 Stacy Boyd November 21, 2009 at 12:54 am

      Sara,

      RWA has always had the stance that self-publishing does not fit with RWA’s values.

      I remember this from when I was a member of RWA as a writer, very long ago. Their mandate rests on the traditional publishing model of houses paying authors an advance for their work. But there are options out there now that don’t rest on the traditional model for success. No advance and pay-for-pub models may be viable for some people.

      • 55 Annie November 22, 2009 at 12:34 am

        “No advance and pay-for-pub models may be viable for some people.”

        Very true. They may be. What RWA is saying, loud and clear, is that they are not and never have been viable for RWA members.

        As for RWA’s “blunt” statement, suppose the RWA board had instead sent a polite letter to HQN, pointing out that Harlequin Horizons put HQN in violation of RWA by-laws and listing changes that HQN must make to avoid being in violation. Would that not have been seen as RWA attempting to dictate to HQN? Holding RWA hostage?

        Another disadvantage of such a course is that it might have created the impression that RWA was trying to open negotiations. Instead, RWA has said, “We’re enforcing our own rules. You know them, and if you don’t, they’re public. Get back to us if you decide to follow them.”

      • 56 Stacy Boyd November 22, 2009 at 10:15 pm

        Annie,

        “No advance and pay-for-pub models may be viable for some people.”

        Very true. They may be. What RWA is saying, loud and clear, is that they are not and never have been viable for RWA members.

        Well said.

  26. 57 Sia November 20, 2009 at 4:17 pm

    @ Linnet Bird

    Well put and explained. I know authors that have gone both ways, a small well respected independent press and published their book and at no real cost to them (except they have a choice to let the pub do the covers or subcontract out that task). I’ve known those that have done LuLu type presses with some outlay of cost to them. Great for Granny’s memoirs, or her cookbook, or special stories of your child growing up to give as a gift. Not for fiction you want to make a career out of and a profit on. I appreciated your thoughts as you outlined them here.

    Stacy,

    Bottom line, if you have to pay (exorbitant prices or no) to get your book published, it’s a vanity press and probably on the Preditors watch list. Writers should steer clear of them as in aWIDE berth. There is a reason they are on the P&E list. They are taking advantage of writers and profiting at their expense.

    What Harlequin is doing here with Horizon is so obviously Vanity Press that no matter how pretty the bows, it can’t be disguised. THAT is what the hoopla is over. Not about HQ looking for ways to expand their business platform in this era of Print on Demand technology–which HQ already does with e-books, but about taking advantage of writers to HQ’s profit and benefit, even with ASI doing the dirty work. THAT is what sticks in the craw. THAT isn’t ethical. THAT tarnishes HQ’s reputation. THAT is why RWA SFWA have to step in and say, this isn’t right and we, our writers, aren’t going to stand for blatant fleecing of writers with dreams.

    RWA looks out for their authors, as they should. They ring the warning bell when something is bad for their writers. Authors/Writers, my dear, make RWA, NOT corporate HQ.

    I love the books MIRA, HQ, Noturne put out and I’m a faithful reader. I’m also a writer who has done an enormous amount of research on pubbing in today’s market and the sh*t holes laid out like lovely traps for the unwary writers with dreams. I DO know the difference between Vanity Press and independent publisher using POD technology.

    With all due respect for HQ and for you, this is wrong. There are better ways.

    • 58 Stacy Boyd November 21, 2009 at 1:01 am

      Sia,

      I’ve known those that have done LuLu type presses with some outlay of cost to them. Great for Granny’s memoirs, or her cookbook, or special stories of your child growing up to give as a gift. Not for fiction you want to make a career out of and a profit on.

      I think Lulu-type presses can work really well for some career writers. Will Hindmarchis a blogger, writer and designer and I loved his free book of poetry, which he published himself on Lulu.com. I don’t know him personally and have just started reading his blog, but I think he is a professional writer.

  27. 59 HQReader November 20, 2009 at 4:23 pm

    but I do believe they owed Harlequin some communication before making such a blunt statement. Harlequin has always been a big supporter of RWA, and that support should have at least warranted a conversation prior to the decision being made public.

    RWA just seemed a little too quick on the trigger in making this call, so to ME, it came across as “setting an example”, not doing what’s ultimately best for members.

    Sorry, but HQ didn’t bother to notify RWA of it’s business decisions PRIOR to announcing. And in business one doesn’t ask approval from another business on how to manage their affairs.

    Ms. Boyd, I’ve been a lover of HQ since I was 12 years. The first romance book I ever bought was a HQ. If you’re touting party line to keep your job, I can understand that. But if you seriously believe that this new venture is a good one, I think you and Torstar will be the end of HQ. Not in the next year or so, but the rock solid financial arm of Torstar is creaking

    I don’t need HQ— YOU need me the READER, and when HQ sends a reject letter with a reference to a “self-publishing” entity that oh my, just happens to be OWNED by HQ/Torstar, then that indicates to me, the READER, that HQ is willing to sacrifice it’s 60yrs of quality (40 of which I’ve been a reader) by putting it’s name on books HQ themselves said didn’t meet their standard of quality. This seems like an oxymoron to me. Either it’s good enough for HQ or it isn’t. Period.

    Preying on the hopes of writers who dream of being part of the HQ brand is unethical, but then few successful businesses are ethical. Nonetheless, when enough vanity/self-published (call it what you will) HQ books are published the brand will suffer. Because Josephine Q Reader will finally grow disgusted with reading HQ’s substandard quality of romance.

    Yes, publishing is changing, but that doesn’t mean standards have to be lowered. That’s clearly been shown with publishers like Samhain, Loose-ID and others whose business model has been enhanced by their quality standards. I think it’s a frigging shame when HQ, the brand I’ve loved for so long, has sunk so low that even I, a READER, am disgusted by this obvious grab for more money. I’m all for making a profit, but the US economy tanked a year ago because GREED got in the way of ethics. I expect HQ will be gone in a few years along with my comfort reads.

    • 60 Stacy Boyd November 21, 2009 at 1:08 am

      HQReader,
      Good point: “Yes, publishing is changing, but that doesn’t mean standards have to be lowered.”

      IMO, standards are something to be discussed. Who makes those standards? I know that what I love to read isn’t necessarily what others love to read. Traditionally, editors and publishers were the gateway to what was “the best.” With the rise of self-publishing (and by this I mean vanity or DIY) and other models like the ones you mentioned, the gateway opens to a floodgate. When the production costs are lowered, or the author fronts the fees for a book they believe in, what becomes “marketable” opens widely, allowing niche readers to find good stories via the Internet’s long tail.

      Of course then the problem becomes, how does a reader find the good books they want to read amid all of the ones being published (by authors, by publishers, online, etc.)?

  28. 61 Patty November 20, 2009 at 5:40 pm

    I LOVE that GE analogy, Anon! Perfection. Right on the money. HQN HAS tarnished their brand, and they should be ashamed of themselves.

  29. 62 Another AnonAuthor November 20, 2009 at 5:40 pm

    Thanks for your pov, Stacy.
    I’d like to agree with AnonAuthor (1:07)…

    I understand that rules are rules, I understand that RWA is accountable to writers not publishing houses, and I agree with their stand on the matter
    BUT… I’d like to believe this entire mess could have been handled with more diplomacy. Harlequin is unargueably the biggest publisher of Romance Novels (capped on purpose!), and should have been given the respect of a quiet phone call or email before the relationship turned hostile.
    Harlequin is a business. Of course their bottom line is of utmost importance and to think otherwise is naive.
    RWA is a not-for-profit that supports career writers (that would be us!)
    We need them and they need us.
    So to create this winner/loser situation is not a good thing – for any of us. Wouldn’t it be much better to come up with a creative solution that makes all parties involved winners?

  30. 64 Laura Resnick November 21, 2009 at 2:07 am

    The plans described for Harlequin Horizons demonstrate clearly that it is a vanity/subsidy press, not a self-publishing venture. And the business model of a vanity/subsidy press is to empty an aspiring writer’s pockets by preying on that individual’s ignorance of legitimate publishing practices and fervent desire to be ‘published.”

    It is a very lucrative business model. This is precisely why it is so attractive to con artists. See Writer Beware and Preditors-and-Editors for more information.

    To describe a vanity/subsidy program such as Harlequin Horizons as an example of the changing business model of modern publishing is similar to describing copyright infringement the exact same way. Simply because new technologies have made copyright infringement easier and more prevalent than it was 20 years ago doesn’t make it (a) a new practice nor (b) a suddenly legitimate one.

    Every major fiction organization and watchdog group has long condemned vanity/subsidy publishing and continues to do so. Not because these groups are behind-the-times, but because changing times don’t make cons, scams, and swindles more legitimate or acceptable now than they were when these organizations first wrote these policies.

    I refer readers of this blog to current posts which you can find on the blogs of professional novelists such as Jackie Kessler, Lee Goldberg, and John Scalzi, as well as Writer Beware’s blog, and also SFWA’s official statement at http://www.sfwa.org. These posts all explain what is unscrupulous (rather than “new”) about Harlequin Horizons.

  31. 65 Elizabeth Jennings November 21, 2009 at 2:22 am

    Oh man, this is just so wrong on so many levels! One–what Harlequin Horizons is is a VANITY PRESS, not a self publisher. Huge difference and I’m surprised the editor doesn’t understand that. it is a SCAM, detrimental in all ways to writers, whether ready for prime time or not. it is a blatant attempt to cash in on a huge slush pile. The Harlequin brand will be diluted very quickly and right now? I’ll bet any Harlequin writer worth her salt, who had planned to stay with Harlequin for many years is now planning on jumping ship.
    this move has corporate nonsense all over it. Sell out the future for more profits now.
    it is so disgusting i need to stop writing otherwise my head will explode. Elizabeth Jennings

  32. 66 linnetbird November 21, 2009 at 2:27 am

    Stacy, I know editors who have edited for a few points of the royalties of vanity-pubbed book. They make about $5 a book (not a copy… a book). No, I’m not kidding. They don’t do it for long. And of course, there’s nothing like getting that dribbled out over 3 years of “sales”.

    Don’t quit your day job. :) All those editors are envious!

    • 67 Stacy Boyd November 22, 2009 at 9:42 pm

      linnetbird,

      $5 a book, huh? Talk about the big money. The only thing similar would probably be what EAs receive doing an assistant’s work by day and doing their editing on their free time.

      I still think there could be some merit to royalty pay for editors, in the right circumstances. But I have yet to see one that would make me jump ship.

  33. 68 Laura Resnick November 21, 2009 at 2:33 am

    “”ut I do believe they owed Harlequin some communication before making such a blunt statement.””

    Condemnation and rejection of the unscrupulous field of vanity/subsidy “publishing” has been a written and well-known policy of every major fiction organization, including RWA, for decades, as well as the suject of numerous warnings and investigations by watchdog groups such as Writer Beware and Preditors-and-Editors.

    It strains credulity to suppose that Harlequin was unaware of these longstanding, public anti-vanity/subsidy policies, and thus unaware of what the inevitable repercussions would be when it went announced it was becoming a vanity/subsidy publisher.

    You can be a legitimate publisher recognized by all major writing organizations; or you can be a vanity/subsidy press and recognized by none. Harlequin apparently wants to be BOTH things, and the writing orgs–go figure–don’t seem amenable to rewriting their londstanding anti-vanity/subsidy policies to accommodate Hq’s plans to empty the pockets of gullible aspiring writers.

  34. 69 Laura Resnick November 21, 2009 at 3:41 am

    For a good set of definitions of “self-publishing” and “vanity/subsidy” publishing, which are not the same thing, you can go to:

    http://www.sfwa.org/for-authors/writer-beware/vanity/

    On that page, as you read down, you’ll also see a discussion of the key, crucial point about vanity/subsidy publishers like Harlequin Horizons, which is that they’re set up to make all their money from selling services and products to aspiring writers, =not= to make money from selling books to readers.

  35. 70 Anonymous Pedant November 21, 2009 at 8:19 am

    “If I was discussing Harlequin, I might agree with several of your points!”

    If I were discussing….

  36. 72 linnetbird November 21, 2009 at 11:47 am

    Pedant, yes, I see you’re right, but the subjunctive is for situations contrary to fact. So… maybe the “was discussing” indicates that the discussion of H isn’t contrary to fact? :)

    I know, I know.

  37. 73 waitingforthecall November 21, 2009 at 1:36 pm

    Stacey, someone else may well have said this further up, so excuse me if I’ve missed someone else’s comment.

    My main issue is with the way Hh is being marketed. Though it’s true that some of the more objectionable items seem to have been removed- for example the “Become an author” ads on eHarlequin. But are the plans to market this on rejection letters still going ahead? To hold out to desperate aspiring writers the promise that Horizon sales figures will be monitored and books selling well enough will be considered for the traditional Harlequin lines, seems just plain wrong, when chances are that same book has already been submitted via traditional routes and rejected. It sounds just a little too, “Your writing isn’t good enough for us. But pay us enough money, and you might just persuade us it is.” Surely if a book isn’t good enough or isn’t a good enough fit to be published in one of the mainstream lines, that doesn’t change.

    Also, all the writer facing materials trade heavily on the Harlequin name, yet it’s stated that the reader will not see the Harlequin connection, so it won’t dilute the Hralequin name. This seems duplicitous- it appears to be selling something to the writer considering buying into Hh that is not actually for sale.

    I love reading Harlequin and would love to write for Harlequin. But this is a very bad and very badly marketed move.

    • 74 Stacy Boyd November 22, 2009 at 10:03 pm

      Waitingforthecall,

      Thanks for weighing in. You raise some good points. I’m still not comfortable discussing the specifics of Harlequin’s positions, as I don’t want to cause any more confusion. But I hope your questions will be answered in the upcoming weeks as Harlequin works out the details.

  38. 75 waitingforthecall November 21, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    Sorry Stacey, no need to reply- I came here from a link and saw neither your follow-on posts or your sidebar disclaimer (it doesn’t appear at all unless I click on the blog name at the top of the page- weird, huh?) until after I wrote this.
    Hope your computer stuff gets sorted soon, and that this whole Hh issue is dropped.

  39. 77 Annie November 22, 2009 at 12:49 am

    “No advance and pay-for-pub models may be viable for some people.”

    Very true. They may be. What RWA is saying, loud and clear, is that they are not and never have been viable for RWA mwembers.

    As for RWA’s “blunt” statement, suppose the board of directors had sent a letter to HQN pointing out that HH put them in violation of the bylaws and listing changes HQN must make to become eligible. Would this not have been seen as RWA trying to dictate to HQN? Might it not be taken as an offer to open negotiation on the topic?

    I think it disengenuous of HQN to be surprised at this. RWA bylaws are not arcane secret documents, after all. If no one at the management level at which this was approved knew those bylaws, then they are clearly out of touch with both their market and their major suppliers.

  40. 78 teresawilde November 22, 2009 at 8:52 pm

    @Alessia Brio

    > Instead of an advance, which RWA considers an absolute must…

    That’s not true. Here are the requirements for PAN:

    “Any General or Honorary member who has earned at least $1,000 in the form of royalties or a combination of advance plus royalties on a single published romance novel or novella published by a non-subsidy, non-vanity publisher may join PAN as a full member following the publication of the title.”

    If you publish with a small press or epublisher where you’re not paying, and you make $1000, then you qualify for PAN.

    Teresa

  41. 79 atsiko November 23, 2009 at 3:48 am

    I think the idea that the RWA owes Harlequin a “quiet phone call” is somewhat disturbing. I’ve been following this discussion quite closely, and a lot of the argument in favor of Harlequin’s move asserts that Hh is ethical because authors are capable of “doing their homework.” It’s interesting to note that Harlequin doesn’t feel the need to do their own homework in regards to the response of the RWA, with whom it has been in quite intimate contact for a long time.

    I’m not going to get into a big discussion over whether or not Harlequin has done something wrong. My opinion is very simple:

    1. Vanity publishing is generally unethical. I have never come across a vanity publisher I could judge as honest, transparent, and beneficial to the writer.

    2. Hh is vanity publishing, no question about it. Many others have provided informative links to the distinction between vanity and self-publishing. I agree with those links. Many others in many places have also explained the ethical issues involved with vanity publishing, and so I will forego that indulgence.

    I support the decisions of the RWA, the SFWA, and the MWA. I think they were honest, up-front, and appropriate.

    Whether or not certain public faces of Harlequin are simply toeing the party line is not my concern. I have no issue with any individual in the employment of Harlequin. But I do feel that as a member of the informed reading and writing community, I have the responsibility to address what I percieve to be mis-information about various publishing practices and their manifestations.

    I’ve greatly enjoyed reading the discussion on this blog, and appreciate how fairly it has been handled.

    • 80 Stacy Boyd November 23, 2009 at 3:30 pm

      Atsiko,

      I’ve greatly enjoyed reading the discussion on this blog, and appreciate how fairly it has been handled.

      Thanks for this. I, too, have been impressed at the lack of flaming–on all the blogs–concerning this topic.

      1. Vanity publishing is generally unethical. I have never come across a vanity publisher I could judge as honest, transparent, and beneficial to the writer.

      I’m just curious. Have you published with a vanity press in the past or known someone who has? Care to share the dishonest, or non-transparent, story?

  42. 81 Ben November 23, 2009 at 6:07 am

    Sure POD is hot, but by partnering with Author Solutions Harlequin made the single biggest mistake in the entire idea.
    You talked about the history and name of Harlequin, but you don’t appear to be aware of the reputation Author Solutions has. Read up about them, and see if you still feel this way afterwards.

    • 82 Stacy Boyd November 23, 2009 at 3:31 pm

      Ben,

      I will take your suggestion and read up on Author Solutions. I probably won’t be able to comment about them, but it would be helpful to understand why so many people have such strong feelings against them.

  43. 83 Tsu Dho Nimh November 24, 2009 at 8:30 pm

    Stacy –
    One of the main purposes of a publisher is to filter the crap out so I don’t have to. They are doing some quality control, which in the long run saves me time.

    I have no desire to dredge through the “long tail” of the self and vanity-pubbed authors looking for gems … we all know what accumulates under tails, right?

    Harlequin has announced that it’s willing to let anyone with $699+ bypass their filtering process, and even worse, is willing to label it as “Harlequin” as though it is the same product.

    I’ve done enough publishing of technical works, and know enough people in the publishing business to read what Harlequin Horizons is offering and see the crock of manure dressed up in fancy paint.

    It’s like finding out that your university is now sending e-mails offering master’s degrees for $699.

    • 84 Stacy Boyd December 3, 2009 at 1:38 pm

      Tsu Do Nimh,
      You’re right that one of the functions of a traditional publisher is providing a filter for the consumer.

      One of the main purposes of a publisher is to filter the crap out so I don’t have to. They are doing some quality control, which in the long run saves me time. I have no desire to dredge through the “long tail” of the self and vanity-pubbed authors looking for gems

      However, sometimes that filtration process doesn’t work as it should. Instead of sifting through crap and pulling out only the good stuff, publishers must sometimes pull out the books that will sell. Those can be–though are not always–different from the books that are the most interesting, or well-written, or that tell the best story.

  44. 85 CC November 26, 2009 at 5:31 pm

    Stacy,
    Re: Random House XLibris

    Investors in Xlibris include Bertelsmann AG’s Bertelsmann Digital Media Investments, which holds a significant stake in the business. “We’re very pleased with the sale,” said Richard Sarnoff, president of the investment arm.
    Bertelsmann bought Random House in 1998. His company also bought shares in XLibris on 5/1/00. The company sold the shares in XLibris to ASI on 1/8/09. It isn’t the same situation as HQ. For a more detailed discussion of Bertelsmann by James D Macdonald see Absolute Write here http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=162391&page=29 post #720, with a subsequent post 727 on http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=162391&page=30 detailing the change in Warner ownership.

  45. 86 Maybe April 1, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    Stacy, now that a few months have passed and you have presumably educated yourself further on the differences between self-publishing and vanity, how do you feel about the situation?

    Do you better understand the reasons for the uproar or not? Do you understand why even fans of non-traditional publishing models (self-publishing, epublishing) still saw/see this as being an underhanded move on Harlequin’s part?

    I couldn’t help noticing that you ignored Laura Resnick’s posts – I’d have liked to have seen your thoughts on the matter.

    • 87 Stacy Boyd April 11, 2010 at 11:57 am

      Maybe,
      Thanks for commenting so long after the event. This post just keeps lurking.

      I would have liked to respond to Laura’s well-written posts, but I honestly couldn’t–and still can’t–think of a way to address her concerns without bringing the specifics of the Harlequin situation into the mix.

      Your comment reminded me that I’ve been meaning to write something about my thoughts on self-publishing vs. vanity publishing vs. subsidy publishing vs. digital-only publishing (with low/no advance and high royalties) for a while now. I still believe there is a place for all of the above.

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  1. 1 Tweets that mention OMG, RWA! « Stacy Boyd's Blog -- Topsy.com Trackback on November 19, 2009 at 4:24 pm
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  4. 4 The Harlequin Fiasco « Embrace the Shadows Trackback on November 24, 2009 at 8:28 am

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