Happy weekend, everyone! It’s been one heck of a week for the industry. A number of people who commented on the previous two blog posts have raised questions or concerns, so I’m going to do my best to answer those questions here. If you have questions that aren’t addressed here, please go ahead and ask.
Disclaimer: I am a member of RWA and of SWFA.
Why are you attacking Harlequin? What did its editors ever do to you?
This isn’t about the Harlequin editors, authors, marketers, copyeditors, designers, proofreaders, or anyone else whose job is to help produce Harlequin-branded novels or novellas. This is about the Powers That Be at Harlequin Enterprises, who decided to partner with Author Solutions to launch Harlequin Horizons.
Why are so many people making such a big deal about this Harlequin Horizons thing?
A few reasons. First, Harlequin is calling this a self-publishing venue, when it’s actually a vanity press. Second, Harlequin is actively encouraging authors to use the vanity press. Third, Harlequin has given its name — its brand — to the venue, which makes it seem that Harlequin itself will be an active partner in this venue, when it’s not.
But Harlequin announced that it’s removing its name from the Horizons venue. Isn’t that enough?
Sorry, no. I think it’s an important step, because it will no longer be pulling a bait-and-switch with its brand name. But it can’t be the only step.
What do you mean, bait and switch?
Harlequin has said that the Harlequin name in Harlequin Horizons is “author-facing only,” and as such the Harlequin name would not be on Horizons books. (In fact, Harlequin stressed that its authors needn’t worry about Horizons books appearing on the shelf next to Harlequin-published books.) But by giving its name to Horizons, it sounds like Horizons authors are really Harlequin authors. And they’re not.
But with Harlequin removing its name from Horizons, why isn’t that concession enough?
By mentioning Horizons in every form rejection letter it sends out, Harlequin is encouraging authors to use Horizons. By linking to Horizons on its website, Harlequin is encouraging authors to use Horizons. Advertising Horizons in its rejection letters and its website is a huge conflict of interest.
Why is this a conflict of interest?
Authors submit their manuscripts to publishers in the hopes that they will be offered publication. (It should go without being said that the authors would then be paid for their work.) When authors are rejected, it could be for a number of reasons: (A) their manuscripts are not good enough to be published; (B) the publisher doesn’t believe the manuscript is a good fit for its line of books; or (C) the publisher doesn’t believe it could market the book effectively. But no matter the reason, the publisher is telling the author that the book is not acceptable to the publisher, period.
By adding an ad for a vanity press in that rejection letter, the publisher is encouraging authors to stop seeking publishers that would pay the authors to publish their books, and to stop working to improve their writing skills so that they could write an even better next book. Advertising the vanity press tells the author to stop thinking they should be paid by a publisher for their work, and instead the author should pay the publisher to print the book…and that it’s OK for the publisher to then get a profit for it..
What’s the big deal about Harlequin having a self-publishing option for authors? So many people are doing self-publishing now.
It’s not a self-publishing option. It’s vanity publishing, but it’s being called “self-publishing.”
What’s the difference between vanity publishing and self-publishing?
Two main differences are 1) when you self-publish, you keep 100% of the profit (this is after you pay for all of the services used to actually print the book), and 2) when you self-publish, the ISBN is yours, not the publisher’s.
But isn’t vanity publishing just another business model?
Sure, it’s a business model: one in which the publisher makes out like a bandit and the author is left with huge bills and a bunch of printed books with no strategy on how to distribute or sell them.
But publishers always see a profit! Why is this different?
Publishing is a business, and the goal of for-profit businesses is to make money. But when the publisher doesn’t actually take on any risk and instead is simply performing a service for which they are paid (in this case, printing a book), there is no legitimate reason for a publisher to then take a majority of the profit.
I still don’t see why people are coming down so hard on Harlequin for this.
It’s about misrepresentation.
If authors decide they’d rather pay a lot of money (hundreds to thousands of dollars) to get their book printed — to say nothing of how the authors would then have to market, warehouse, distribute and sell the book — instead of work to write a story that publishers would actually pay the authors for, that’s up to the authors. (This is self-publishing.)
And if authors decide that on top of all the up-front costs, they also want to sacrifice a majority of their profits and not control their ISBN, that’s also up to the authors. (This is vanity publishing.)
But authors can’t control how Harlequin is presenting its vanity press. By promoting Horizons in its rejection letters and its website, Harlequin is encouraging authors to use its vanity press. This is the same thing as an agent rejecting a manuscript but in the rejection letter encouraging authors to use an editorial service to strengthen the manuscript — and the agent actually runs that editorial service.
So self-publishing is OK, right?
There is nothing wrong with self-publishing; it’s just difficult for authors to be successful (which I define as actually making money from their work) when they self-publish hard-copy books. It’s easier for authors to self-publish e-books, because they don’t have to be concerned with warehousing and shipping copies of their books. That being said, the authors still have to market and promote those e-books.
Why was Harlequin declared an ineligible publisher by RWA and SFWA (with MWA poised to do the same in December)?
The thing to remember is that these are writer organizations. They support professional (and, for RWA, aspiring) authors. They have the authors’ best interests at stake, and they all agree that authors should be paid for their work. In other words, they all agree that authors should not have to pay publishers to print their books. Any publisher that actively promotes a vanity press to authors is not helping the author’s writing career.
If Harlequin, along with removing its name from Horizons, also stops promoting Horizons in its rejection letters and removes the ad and link from its website, would that be enough?
For me personally? Mostly. If Harlequin does all of that, and if Harlequin stops dangling the carrot that they will be monitoring Horizons for “fresh voices” as if they were going to scour Horizons for new talent, that would be enough for me. (Harlequin already has a process in place to look for new talent. It’s called the slush pile.)
So you’re not opposed to vanity publishing?
Frankly, I think vanity presses take advantage of authors by charging astronomical fees and then grabbing a huge profit after that. I would never use a vanity press, and I strongly encourage authors to think long and hard before choosing to go this route.
But if authors wish to use a vanity press rather than self-publish, then that’s their choice. There is a degree of buyer beware; of course vanity publishers are going to make their services seem extremely attractive. Authors need to make a thoughtful, careful decision before signing on the dotted line (same as they should for any contract).
If Harlequin removes its name from Horizons, stops promoting Horizons on its website and its rejection letters, and stops suggesting that Horizons authors have a shot at becoming Harlequin authors, then will you acknowledge it?
Absolutely. If Harlequin does all of this, I will shout in all caps that Harlequin has done the right thing.