[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.*