Thursday, November 19, 2009

Harlequin Vanity

When Harlequin recently announced they were opening an e-pub only division, I was cautiously optimistic, even if they've indicated they'll only pay royalties twice a year. (Most e-pubs pay at least quarterly. I don't know anyone who can budget effectively with just 2 paychecks a year...) However, and it's a big however, Harlequin has also just announced their partnership with Author Solutions, a vanity press. EVERY author whose manuscript Harlequin rejects will receive a letter pointing them toward Harlequin Horizons, a vanity press (i.e., self-publishing). According to the press release, it's "an accessible opportunity for emerging authors to bring themselves to the attention of the reading public."

Can I just say WTF?!? I have been telling everyone I know that in this business the money should flow TO the author, not FROM the author. Yet here's Harlequin, the largest publisher of women's fiction, with their sharp spoons out, ready to dig into the unwary and desperate-to-be-published author. And it's more than just "suggesting" Horizons to rejected authors. They're also holding out this carrot: "Harlequin will monitor sales of books published through the self-publisher for possible pickup by its traditional imprints."

So, not good enough to be published with the Harlequin logo on the spine of your book? Just wait and hope. Spend the money and maybe, just maybe, someone at Harlequin will take notice and pick up your book for one of their traditional imprints.

On their website they tout that as a self-published author you retain the rights to your book, unlike the traditional publishing route. But along with retaining your rights to the book, you also are the one responsible for marketing, distribution and sales of your book. Then start piling on the fees. Want an ISBN assigned to your book? Be ready to fork over $2300. (Now, granted, there are other "perks" included in this price--the lowest one, by the way--25 author copies of the book, formatting in e-book format, U.S. copyright registration, and author website set-up, to name a few.) But my point is, that's $2300 the AUTHOR has to pay out, upfront, with no guarantee of future income, let alone a guarantee he/she will recoup their investment.

It's just wrong. It's predatory publishing at it's finest. Or worst. I'm disappointed and disheartened that Harlequin chose to go this route. And not that it probably makes any difference to them (this move by Harlequin is about the bottom line, pure and simple), but Romance Writers of America (RWA) has quickly and bravely taken the stance that Harlequin Enterprises no longer qualifies as an eligible publisher. That means nothing to most of the book-buying world, but it's a huge thing within the romance writing industry.

Now I'm not naive here. I understand that publishing is a business, and publishers are here to make their shareholders money. But that they're now willing to do it from the hide of the author is what I have a problem with.

Edited to Add (6:11 p.m.): Apparently Harlequin has not been unaware of the furor this has caused in the author community. Check out Kristin Nelson's blog today, in which Harlequin sent her an email that states, in part:

Most importantly, however, we have heard the concerns that you, our authors, have expressed regarding the potential confusion between this venture and our traditional business. As such, we are changing the name of the self-publishing company from Harlequin Horizons to a designation that will not refer to Harlequin in any way. We will initiate this process immediately. We hope this allays the fears many of you have communicated to us.

I'm very glad to hear this, and surprised that they seem so, well, surprised at the outrage this caused. (And I'm surprised that they seem so very surprised that RWA took the stance it did to remove them as a recognized publisher. I mean, come on. If every single rejection letter is going to point authors to your vanity press, what did you expect?!?) The letter states also that Harlequin's intention is to provide authors access to publishing opportunities, traditional or otherwise. Which I have no problem with. But when the "otherwise" is vanity publishing?

No freaking way.

ETA (6:48 p.m.): Mystery Writers of America has also put Harlequin on notice that they are "breaking the rules" of being an eligible publisher with their organization.


Colleen Love said...


Okay, the pieces are all starting to fall into place now. I knew it was too good to be true. First I saw a post questioning the RWA status of HQ after this move, and named them as a vanity press type situation. I thought to myself that maybe there had been a misunderstanding, that ebooks with editors and royalties paid out are not vanity, someone had simply made an error, it happens. BUT HOLY CRAP! It's true! I weep. Thank you so much for posting this because I was considering sending something to them, but now that is in the bin with a big 'hell no' attached!
I'm just glad I waited, I knew it would all come out in the wash, and as usual it's too good to be true. *sigh*

That's alright, I have a game plan for the project just finished. It was either, or, and 'or' just crapped out. 'Either' is trying for EC and I'm going for it.

Thank you, once again, for clearing the muddy water for me.


Tori Lennox said...

It's a huge mess and I give RWA major props for revoking Harlequin's "preferred publisher" (or whatever it's called) status.

Jamie D. said...

I've been struggling to make sense of this for the last couple of days - specifically what it means for the plans I'd made to start submitting to HQ early next year, and whether or not that's the smartest business decision for me to make now that all this has happened. I'll be watching carefully to see how everything keeps playing out.

I'd never use a vanity publisher...I'm all for self-publishing if one wants to, but not paying to publish. I'm surprised that a company so close to the RWA would do such a thing. Interesting, to say the least.

I was/am pretty excited about Carina press though. Like the no DRM thing.

Sherrill Quinn said...

Lots and lots of confusion and outrage over this announcement, but it looks like Harlequin may be changing *part* of its business model, but I don't know if they'll still point authors of rejected manuscripts toward their vanity press.