So you may have heard about this thing called Harlequin Horizons, and RWA’s response. But if you’re not in the publishing industry, you may not see why this is a big deal — and why RWA did the best possible thing any author organization could do.
Basically, Harlequin Enterprises has opened a vanity publishing division called Harlequin Horizons, and RWA has taken away Harlequin Enterprise’s eligibility as an RWA-approved publisher. (I’m not going to link to Horizons because I don’t support it, but if you’re curious, you can go ahead and Google it.)
Ready for the crash course?
Yesterday, the following was sent out by Harlequin, about Harlequin Horizons:
In the last few days we’ve heard concerns from many of you about two new initiatives, Carina Press and Harlequin Horizons. We would like you, our authors, to have the correct information about these programs, and help you understand that these programs are in no way intended to compromise the integrity of Harlequin brand or the quality editorial we publish under that brand.
Okay, off to a good start, right?
Harlequin has a long history of being the first choice destination for aspiring romance authors. Our programs have a stellar author base with the result that the bar is exceptionally high for new entrants.
Yep, okay, rah rah Harlequin, it’s tough to break in, etc. This is all cool.
The two new platforms that have been announced in the last week provide exposure to a growing stream of self-published new talent and give both Harlequin and romance readers the opportunity to evaluate new voices in the genre. Historically Harlequin, and other publishers, acted as a gateway for aspiring authors. Carina Press and Harlequin Horizons are 21st century vehicles for expanding these types of selection pools.
Okay, stop right there. First, I’m not going to get into Carina Press, the digital publishing house that Harlequin has launched. Second, see how Harlequin is linking Horizons with self-publishing? So you’re starting to think that Horizons is a press that will let people self-publish, right? Thing is, this is incorrect.
Our editors remain committed to developing new talent through our regular submission procedures and dedicated to ensuring our published authors remain the global gold standard for romance writing. We also want our current authors to know that the books self-published through Harlequin Horizons will NOT be branded Harlequin, nor will they be distributed by Harlequin or appear in stores next to your books.
A-ha! Here’s a big clue that aspiring authors better have their eyes open. Yes, the press has the name “Harlequin” on it. But even though you may think this means you’re a legitimate Harlequin author, you’re not. Oh, and Harlequin won’t distribute Horizon books. Horizon books won’t appear “in stores next to your books.” Well, gosh, if you’ve written a romance, and you get it printed through Horizon, it won’t be shelved in romance! Want to know where it will be shelved? Simple: It won’t. That’s right: Horizon books don’t make it to the bookstores, folks. But wait, there’s more!
*** HARLEQUIN HORIZONS FAQ ***
For the first time since figures have been kept, print-on-demand titles outpaced traditionally-published titles in 2008 according to Bowker. Self-published print-on-demand titles make up a large portion of this expanding sector. This is not traditional vanity press publishing; self-publishing is a large and vibrant part of the publishing industry today.
This is correct: self-publishing is an option for authors. It’s an important option. Self-publishing successfully is extremely difficult, and I respect authors who go this route. But note: Harlequin Horizons is **not** offering self-publishing. Read on.
Horizons books will not be distributed by Harlequin. They will not appear in stores next to your book. Self-published books are generally distributed through large online catalogs.
Okay, see how they’re lumping two ideas together here to make it sound like Horizons is offering self-publishing? They do point out that Horizon-printed books will not be available in bookstores. Wonder where those catalogs they’re referring to will be.
Horizons books will not have Harlequin branding. Horizons is a separate brand and will carry the double-H Horizons logo on the spine only, NOT the Harlequin brand.
So even though they’re taking pains to call themselves “Harlequin Horizons,” they’re saying the book itself won’t have the important Harlequin name or brand. This looks like a bait and switch.
Readers will not be confused. Harlequin is the gold standard for romance. Readers purchase Harlequin because they trust Harlequin to provide a great story. There will be no â€˜dilutionâ€™ of quality. Horizons is a separate imprint with no Harlequin branding.
See the subtle dig here? Harlequin offers top-notch stories…and Horizons isn’t that. So if you choose to go the Horizons route, Harlequin has already said your story isn’t up to par. Despite the “Harlequin” name in Harlequin Horizons, you would not be a Harlequin author. And what’s more, Harlequin itself is saying that if you choose to print your book with Horizons, your story **isn’t good enough to be published by Harlequin.** So rather than encouraging authors to sharpen their skills and become better writers, they’re instead offering a way for aspiring authors to pay to print a story that isn’t ready for prime time. Yes, this is pay to play.
Weâ€™ve taken care to be very transparent. The website is very clear that this is self-publishing; we make no promises that Harlequin will in any way publish and distribute Horizons books in the traditional sense. The Harlequin Horizons author keeps her copyright.
But is this self-publishing? Read on…
Weâ€™re doing this to support aspiring romance authors who choose to self-publish. Although we do not promise this, we will in fact be monitoring sales/editorial for new voices.
Hey, look at that: Harlequin is going to be “monitoring” Horizons books for “new voices” — that were not good enough to be published by Harlequin. So they’re offering false hope that if you print your book with Horizons, someone from Harlequin may actually decide to help you break in. Uh huh.
1. What is Harlequin Horizons?
Self-publishing is one of a suite of publishing options an aspiring author can choose from these days; with the launch of Carina Press we can provide the flexibility of a digital-only press, and Horizons offers a self-publishing option.
It is a partnership with Author Solutions â€“ they provide the self-publishing services, we provide our brand name and we make authors we have rejected aware of this service.
WHOA. Stop right there! The two things Harlequin is bringing to the Horizons venture is its brand name — which it also says will not be on the actual books, so it’s providing its name to this press only — AND Harlequin is going to insert a line into its rejection letters that will point these unhappy authors toward Horizons. Why is this a big deal? Read on…
It is a publishing service in which authors pay for their work to be published in print and/or eBook formats. Authors purchase publishing â€œpackagesâ€ with varying levels of service options including (but not limited to) editing, cover design, and a certain number of print copies of their work.
Competitive examples include Cross Books and West Bow Press from Thomas Nelson.
This is a big deal because authors have to pony up money — a lot of money; between $600 and $1,600 just for the book production — to get their manuscripts printed. So Harlequin is going to encourage authors who they have rejected to go ahead and pay Horizons to print their book. In other words, Harlequin has come up with a way to make money off its slush pile.
Do you see the conflict of interest here? What is the difference between what Harlequin is doing here and what scammer agents do when they reject an author but then steer them to Papa Jack’s Editorial to pay a lot of money to “clean up” their submissions…and Papa Jack is another business owned by that agent? Easy: none.
2. How is this related to Harlequin?
Horizons will be a division of Harlequin, operated by Author Solutions.
Authors published with Harlequin Horizons are not published by Harlequin. The books will carry the double-H Horizons logo on the spine.
So it’s a branch of Harlequin, but the Horizon author gets none of the Harlequin benefit.
3. Why is Harlequin launching a self-publishing business?
Many aspiring authors choose self-publishing as a way to see their work in print â€“ to give copies as gifts, to have a bound copy to help in finding an agent, or simply as a keepsake.
WHOA, STOP AGAIN. How many legitimate agents would actually read a bound copy/printed book and decide to offer representation for that book that has already been printed? Simple: none.
Horizons will make it possible for thousands of authors, whose manuscripts Harlequin or other traditional publisher cannot publish, to see their books in print.
In other words: that manuscript that isn’t good enough to be published by Harlequin can still be printed up and turned into books. Which you will then have to figure out how to market and distribute.
This offers aspiring authors an opportunity not only to be published, but to grow and develop as writers and refine their personal brand.
Not published. Printed. And how the hell are you supposed to grow and develop as writers if you don’t work with an editor to make your story as strong as possible? And **what** personal brand does an aspiring author have?
4. Why is this branded Harlequin?
Weâ€™re proud to offer this option to those who choose to self-publish, and for aspiring romance authors, an association with the Harlequin brand makes sense.
But but but…the Harlequin name won’t appear on the spine, right?
The brand, however, is only author-facing; Harlequin will not be branded on the books or in any of the metadata or sales information accompanying the book.
So, right: the only association the Horizons author has with Harlequin is that’s who’s going to pocket the author’s money: Harlequin. That’s it. No other benefit. Not other association. No other nothing.
We hope to discover new authors through this service and welcome them into the Harlequin brand family proper.
Hey, look: it’s false hope again!
5. Isnâ€™t this misleading for aspiring authors?
We are not misleading people, but simply offering a Harlequin-approved option for those authors who choose to self-publish.
This does not change our commitment to finding, publishing, and developing new authors through our series and imprints.
Our partnership with Author Solutions is not an endorsement of self-publishing over submitting to a publisher or press; but if you choose to self-publish, we endorse Author Solutions through our partnership with them.
OK, everyone got that? Harlequin is offering this service for people who choose to pay out the nose to get their books printed, with no marketing and no distribution channel. But again, is this really self-publishing? Read on…
6. Why would authors submit slush to us if this is a better option for them?
For the same reasons they have always submitted slush â€“ not just for the chance to be published by Harlequin, but with the hope of beginning long and fulfilling career as a Harlequin author.
And because Harlequin books are actually edited, revised, copy edited, proofed, marketed and distributed to all the primary channels. Oh, and because the author **doesn’t pay for any of this to happen.** In fact, **the author is paid to have this happen.**
7. Will Harlequin and Author Solutions work together?
Yes and no. The self-publishing house is a separate business with separate staff, website, contract, etc.
However, if a title sells very well, Harlequin can acquire the title for future print publication.
So once again, False Hope rears its head.
8. Whatâ€™s going to happen with the slush Harlequin currently receives?
We will continue to welcome unsolicited manuscripts from aspiring authors.
All standard/form/template rejection letters will include a short note about Harlequin Horizons as a self-publishing option for the aspiring author.
Author Solutions will not have access to the author contact information in our eHERS database.
No one from Author Solutions will contact any aspiring authors unless they opt-in through the website (www.harlequinhorizons.com).
To reiterate: if your work isn’t good enough for Harlequin to pay you to publish your book, you can still pay Harlequin to print your not-good-enough book and then not distribute it. And hey, to make it easy, you can do this through Harlequin’s website. So they won’t brand these books, they won’t edit them, they won’t market or distribute them, but they sure as hell will point authors there and take their money. Again I call foul: conflict of interest.
9. Will eHarlequin.com sell these self-published books?
Gosh, so I wonder where that fabled catalog is that Horizons authors can point people to to purchase their books.
I’m going to repeat what I said above: according to the Horizons website, the cost for you to print your book with them? $600 – $1,600.
So…is this really self-publishing, as Harlequin claims?
No. This is vanity publishing.
Unlike real self-publishing ventures, Harlequin actually pockets money — according Malle Vallik, Harlequin’s digital director, who showed up at Dear Author (see specifically comment #18) yesterday, the author would get 50% of net. And this is AFTER the author has already paid for everything up front.
Keep in mind:
– Self-publishing: author keeps all the money after paying expenses.
– Vanity publishing: publisher keeps majority of the money and the writer pays all the expenses.
Oh, there’s lots of ways Harlequin Horizons would be happy to take your money. Like this gem, for example: Harlequin would charge each author $11,995.00 to have their book advert-blurb emailed to people who signed up for HQ newsletters and email alerts and agreed to receive book marketing e-mails.
Yeah, Harlequin Horizons is a vanity publisher. P&E even says so: it labels Harlequin “vanity publisher” starting 11/17.
OK. Everyone still with me?
Yesterday, RWA responded with the following:
With the launch of Harlequin Horizons, Harlequin Enterprises no longer meets the requirements to be eligible for RWA-provided conference resources. This does not mean that Harlequin Enterprises cannot attend the conference. Like all non-eligible publishers, they are welcome to attend. However, as a non-eligible publisher, they would fund their own conference fees and they would not be provided with conference resources by RWA to publicize or promote the company or its imprints.
So Harlequin is no longer an RWA-approved publisher. This is a big deal for romance authors; the Romance Writers of America is the main author organization, much like SFWA is for SF/F authors. This is RWA standing by its ethical guns, even at what is sure to be great cost to the organization.
To which I say bravo.
Vanity presses hurt authors. The rule of thumb is money flows **toward** the author. Period. Authors should not have to pay to get their books published — they should be paid for their work. If authors choose to self-publish, they damn well should get 100% of the profits, because they have paid for everything up front.
I strongly disagree with Harlequin Enterprises’ choice to create Harlequin Horizons. Yes, some other publishers have vanity presses, but they don’t add their brand name to those ventures. And they don’t encourage authors whose works aren’t good enough for traditional publishing to go get printed by those vanity presses.
This has nothing to do with the Harlequin editors or Harlequin authors. My heart goes out to those authors who are getting caught in the Harlequin Horizons/RWA backlash. I hope that RWA will do what it can for those authors — allow them, for example, to retain their “PAN” status as published authors. I’m sure there will be more about this in the days to come.
But I firmly believe that RWA did the right thing. I’m glad to see the organization standing by its principles:
Romance Writers of America’s mission and purpose is to advocate for the professional interests of career-focused romance writers and, despite recent changes within Harlequin Enterprise, we have not wavered from that mission.
Rock on, RWA.