Horizons on the Harlequin Front

In case you haven’t heard the news by now, Harlequin is into the vanity publishing game now.  Check out it out here and here.  And if you’re into the uproar, check it out here.  Pay special attention to what Dave Kuzminski says.  If you don’t know him, he runs Preditors and Editors, which is a writer’s best friend when it comes to finding out who’s legit and who’s not.  He’s listing Harlequin Enterprises as a vanity press.  ❗

The fallout.  Harlequin authors are worried that the name has been tainted by this move.  I can’t help but agree with them…to an extent.  Yes, Harlequin is selling their name to anyone with $599 to $1599 to spare.  Several of the authors on the Smart Bitches website have brought up a good point.  They’ve spent years trying to get into Harlequin and now it sickens them that others can simply buy the name with three clicks of the mouse.  It’s not fair.  And as someone else pointed out, this gives Harlequin more incentive to pass up a book that’s “almost there”, but they don’t want to spend their money to find out for sure.  Let the writer do it and if the book takes off, then we’ll pull them into the other imprint fold…for probably less money, too.

However, if their vanity press is any different from anyone else’s, writers will be lucky if they sell 50 copies of their book.  More important than that, those books won’t be sold on the shelf with the other imprints.  That’s the promise.  That’s what Malle Vallak said in the comment section of Smart Bitches.  By the way, read her post because I found it somewhat puzzling and it didn’t put to sleep all of the questions floating around my head. 

What does it mean for authors?  For the non-pubbed authors who are trying to get in with Harlequin, not much.  If they have agents, then those agents will pitch to Harlequin regardless.  For now, they’re still the cream-of-the-romance-publishing crop.  Not only that, but it’s good money.  As for their current stable of authors, not much.  Their books will still end up on the shelves at Targat, B&N, Walmart, etc.  The biggest problem I see is author branding and misleading aspiring authors who think they’re going to be picked up by the legit side of Harlequin.  Anyone who goes with Harlequin Horizons can pretty much say they’re published with the big boy.  How does that distinguish them from authors who’ve spent years getting their foot in the Harlequin door the old-fashioned way?  And as a rule of thumb that I’ve heard time and time again, money should flow toward the author.  Not from them.  Sure, this might sound like an ego trip on the part of the published authors, but it’s a legit argument, if you ask me.  Suppose you spent years saving up to get the house of your dreams, only to learn that the guy next door got his for free with the same credit score and history as you? 

I wouldn’t be surprised if authors start looking for other publishers because they don’t want to be associated with a vanity press.  I don’t blame them in the least.  And trust me, those other publishers would be more than happy to snag some good writers to saturate their bottom line, since publishing is still hurting.

What does this mean for readers?  It depends.  From a reader’s prospective, I’ve read both self-published and vanity press books.  While there were some I liked, there were a vast majority that I didn’t.  Some have left such a bad taste in my mouth that I could’ve thrown up red ink on the pages to single out all of the grammar mistakes.  It’ll take a LOT for me to pick up another self/vanity pubbed book again.  So, if you’re a reader, you have an idea of what I’m taking about.  Vanity presses are bad news because you’re not going to get the quality of a professionally pubbed book.  I don’t care if the book is e-pubbed, small press, or NY.  It doesn’t matter.  No editing is bad.  Period.  If I’m going to spend $20 for a book, then I expect a whole lot of quality to go into it.  I don’t care who published it or whose brand is slapped on the spine.  Based on personal experience, vanity presses and self-published books rarely have it.  I’d like to be proven wrong, but so far, it’s a no go.

The magic question.  So if someone offered me a Harlequin contract today, would I take it?  Of course.  I’d be a fool not to.  Harlequin is a NY publishing house and one of the best in the business.  Any author in their right mind would still want to publish with them.  Despite this black mark on their record, a publishing cred from Harlequin is worth something…assuming it’s not from Harlequin Horizons. 

My biggest question is how will RWA react to this news?  I speculate that they’ll be looking at imprints as part of their recognized publisher listing now, if they want to keep Harlequin in the fold…and their board of directors in tact.  And given what I know about how much Harlequin seems to be entangled with RWA, they’ll want to do that.  Personally, and sadly, I’d chuck them off the listing because those are the rules.  No vanity presses allowed.  RWA is for the writer’s best interest.  Not the publisher’s. 

And you probably thought Carina Press was going to send RWA into a tizzy.  🙂

Your thoughts?

***UPDATE***

I could be wrong, but if I just read my RWA Alert correctly, Harlequin just got delisted as a recognized publisher.  I’ve even checked the list of eligible pubs on the website and I don’t see them .  Kudos for RWA for promptly standing up for their members for a change.  But damn if I don’t feel bad for all of those authors who have no other publishing creds under their name other than Harlequin.  They’re officially–according to RWA’s standards–vanity-pressed authors now.  😦  Interestingly enough, that means Samhain and all of the other publishers who are listed as non-subsidy/non-vanity are a step above Harlequin.  Never thought I’d see the day.

***UPDATE 11/19/09***

Looks like Mystery Writers of America and Sci-fi Fantasy Writers of Amercia have also followed suit.  They’re knocking Harlequin off their list of acceptable publishers.  Let’s face it.  When a publisher is rejecting authors and then sending them to their vanity press services, that pretty much amounts to scam artist.  That’s no different from an agent sending a rejected author to a book doctoring service, which they happen to own.   I say bravo to RWA, MWA, and SFWA!

Now, I have one question.  What about Thomas Nelson?  They’re also doing what Harlequin is doing (with Author Solutions, Inc only calling it something else) and are still on the list of RWA’s eligible publishers.  I bet anything, they slipped by because RWA doesn’t have as much incentive to keep them on their radar.  Well, you can bet they’re on the radar now.  But the question still remains, why?  Don’t be surprised if they get tossed too.

***UPDATE 11/20/09***

I stand corrected.  Perhaps RWA is in the process of removing Thomas Nelson too.  While I see them still listed on the chart for eligible publishers, I don’t see any submission information about them on the Eligible Publisher Market Update page.  🙂

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19 thoughts on “Horizons on the Harlequin Front

  1. It’s unsettling to me. The Horizons venture doesn’t pass the vanity publishing smell test. That said, I entered the Presents contest, and I still hope I get some interest. Like you said, I would not turn down an offer from them.

    • Good for you, Edie. 🙂 I wouldn’t let something like this stop me either. Keep in mind, it’s in the early stages. Six months down the road, Harlequin might actually take what authors are saying to heart and pull Horizons from their line-up all together. Even if they don’t, Harlequin books will still reach the stores via their usual means and Horizon authors will still have to struggle to get their fair shake. I’m no poking fun or anything. It’s just a well-known fact of vanity presses.

  2. Oh, lordy … this whole thing is stinky and smelling up the entire internet. Personally, I cannot see anything good coming of this EXCEPT for Harlequin. They’ve just removed all the risk from themselves, piled it on the potential author, and is making a tidy little profit for themselves at the expense of wanna be authors who are just desperate enough to take them up on their offer.

    Would I publish with Harlequin? Sure … even though I think they’ve just given themselves a bad name. This is a move that’s going to come back to bite them in the butt.

    Would I go the self-pub route? No way in hell.

    • Amen, Liz. The part that struck me the most was them giving up their critiquing service at the same time they decided to embark on this venture. They’re going to be offering up their vanity press as an option to publishing with Harlequin, which gives them more incentive to turn authors away. I wonder if they’ll be pushing this toward their mid-list authors once they lose their contracts. I just don’t like it. Stinky doesn’t begin to cut it.

      I agree. This is going to bite them hard. They’re going to lose a lot of good authors who don’t want to be associated with a vanity press. Good new for Penguin, St. Martins, Harper Collins, Avon, etc. While they’re making more money than anyone else, we’ll see if the same holds come a year from now.

  3. Kudos to RWA for de-listing HQN, but where does that leave the RWA members published with HQN?

    My thoughts: I’ve never been a huge fan of most HQN books, nor would I ever want a contract with them simply because some of their lines promote unrealistic gender roles. Nothing against the HQN authors. But, some readers are in tune with that sort of fantasy, so whatever.

    However, it blows what their choice to add a self-pub is doing to the reputation of their corral of seasoned authors. Those people struggled to get their foot in the damn door of HQN, and now they’re associated with, as Liz K. put it, “wanna be authors.” F**K that sha-zit.

    P.S. If they’re charging those prices for self-pubbed, they better offer better advances.

    • That is the big question. I’d like to know if the HQN authors are going to be allowed to sign at the literacy signing now. What happens to all of those authors who are solely published by Harlequin who hold offices across RWA now?

      Regardless of how this turns out, I commend RWA for standing up for ALL of their authors best interests. They did the right thing by taking a no-holds-barred stance against the romance giant. HQN broke the rules. Period. Any publisher who breaks the rules should be banished from RWA’s list of eligible and non-sudsidy/non-vanity publishers listing. That includes my own.

      Now that doesn’t mean it’s over. I’m sure the board members are on the phones trying to salvage whatever they can from this debacle in a way that won’t cause more damage than it already has to their current stable of seasoned authors.

  4. Stupid. It’s all stupid. The only one I don’t blame is Harlequin. Why shouldn’t they offer such a service? There’s a million websites about self-publishing, including the pros and cons and where you can get it done for free. People aren’t dumb. They make decisions, and their choice is their choice. But there are people that want this service. Plenty of people are pleased with what they got from Author House. So more power to them. That’s great. Why shouldn’t Harlequin get a piece of the pie.

    I just don’t care. I wish RWA would stop segregating their authors, then they could judge publishers as they please without causing furors.

    Now if Harlequin spends all that profit on marketing for their authors, I will stand up and cheer.

    • Personally, I’d rather have seen Harlequin put that money in Carina Press.

      And I have no doubts that you’re right, Spy. There are people out there who are thrilled that this happened. They’re getting their books ready to submit to HH as we speak. And, I bet Harlequin Horizons will be more than happy to take them under their wing with whatever pricetag an author can afford. They’re watching their bottom line just like all of the other publishers. That’s expected.

      My problem is they’re doing at the detriment of their current authors who have more than proven their worth, and that’s not right. Not only that, but they’re making promises everyone knows they aren’t going to keep. Unless an author sells a couple thousand copies of their book, they’ll never get picked up by Harlequin. That’s just one of the rubs. Not only that, but they’re going to be “suggesting” to rejected authors that they check out their vanity press services. That gives them more incentive to reject more writers because there’s a chance that they’ll get paid instead of the other way around. I’m crossing my fingers that authors are smart enough to not fall into that money-guzzling trap.

      As for RWA, I’m with you 100%. They shouldn’t be segregating anyone. Not their authors or their publishers. They should give us the information and let us decide for ourselves. Period. They’re setting standards that aren’t realisitic to everyone’s situation. This one has finally bit them in the ass and forced them to make a tough decision regarding their pride and glory of the romance-publishing industry.

    • From what I understand Thomas Nelson also joined with Author Solutions, which is the company partnered with Harlequin to form Horizons. The only difference is Thomas Nelson did it a few weeks ago.

      Also, Random House owes a significant share in Xilbris (sp?), but at least they don’t go around “suggesting” to rejected authors that they take their business there. Nor do they treat it like an arm of their business. The last time I checked, and it’s been a while, they don’t make any references to it. They treat it like a seperate entity all together and pretty much like a red-headed stepchild.

      I understand that companies want to make money. However, this is not the way to go about it. It stinks of greed.

  5. Not to beat a dead horse, but I can’t see who else to blame but Harlequin in this situation. They are acting exactly like any other large corporation in that they’re making their workers, in this case, their authors, the victims in their attempts to make a buck. For instance, if one of their proliferate HQN authors has a new idea for a story line, but HQN rejects it, will HQN offer this author the chance to self-pub it with them? I’m wondering how many authors, albeit having made some sort of money with HQN, would be willing to shell out the uber-dollars just so their idea can see fruition.

    I don’t take issue with RWA’s stance. They had their policy etched in granite since day one, and let’s not forget that RWA’s roots are with HQN, if I’m not mistaken. Sure, they categorize, same as publishers, but they draw the line with vanity presses. If they had allowed HQN to remain with their vanity line, then they would have set a precedent to allow in ALL vanity presses. That would run the risk of promoting books written by people who are getting their name out the easy way, and putting books out there that are un-edited, written by people who just want to see their name in print.

    I wouldn’t feel so hostile if not a protector of literacy. Badly written books promote lazy writing, as well as ridicule grammar, spelling and plain old great writing. I’m not saying that all self-pubs are badly written, but I think everyone who has ever read one will admit they’ve seen more bad than good.

    • Exactly, Kath. Harlequin made this decision on their own. I don’t have a problem with them wanting to make money. After all, that’s what large corporations do. But when they do it at the expense of unknowledgable writers, that smells of slime. HH isn’t acknowledging the truth of vanity presses. Instead, they’re hiding behind a bunch of marketing goop that pretty much says there’s a sucker born every minute and we’ll be happy to give them a pair of rainbow-colored glasses to go with their publishing option. The good name in romance that they once stood for is on the chopping block now.

      For once, I’m glad RWA stuck to their guns to protect their authors. Sure, it’s going to hurt a lot of people, but I have the feeling that won’t last. If RWA wants to keep vetting publishers, then they’re going to have to revisit their rules again. That’s their problem. Not mine. But at least they’re being consistant and not going back on those bylaws that they’ve etched in stone. Otherwise, as you’ve stated, Kath, they’re going to have to let all vanity press publishers in and they won’t waste time to slap a logo on their websites that says, “RWA Approved.”

      I’m not saying that all self-pubs are badly written, but I think everyone who has ever read one will admit they’ve seen more bad than good.

      I wholeheartedly agree!

  6. Nasty, huh? I can’t believe that this has happened and well what all these organizations have done in order to show their distaste is impressive. I had no idea that publishing suffered as much to stoop so low as to push their rejections to vanity publisher. Did you read Jackie Kessler’s post on this? It was quite informative.

    • Oh man! Jackie Kessler has the best breakdown of what this whole thing means and how shady it is across the board. If anyone else hasn’t read it, check it out here: http://www.jackiekessler.com/blog/. It’s well worth the read.

      What kills me about this is Harlequin was never hurting for money. Of all the publishers who have reported their earnings last year, they came out on top of the heap and in great standing. One thing is certain. Next year’s sales report will be VERY interesting.

      But I do have one question. Where is the Authors Guild while all of this is going donw? Or are they still too busy with the whole Google thing that’s ancient news now?

  7. Yeah, she did have the best breakdown, which also funny on top of everything, which is always a major strength to have, when everyone else is freaking out.

    I can’t wait for the sales report. 🙂 I need to know about these things from now. I am a bit oblivious. Plus it’s going to be quite the outcome for Harlequin. It’s like they dug out their own grave and laid down their coffin to be ready 24/7 with that move and they seem generally surprised.

    What’s the Google thing? It must have slipped my radar with the commotion going on on my end.

    • The Google Settlement thing has to do with Google posting books on the internet via their book search program. Many called it copyright infringement, which it was. Anyway, they lost the lawsuit that Author’s Guild had have to pay out money to authors who’s works were published by them. It’s a mess and I probably have some of the facts wrong, but that’s how I understand it.

      As for Harlequin’s sales report, yes, I agree. It’ll be very interesting to see what their sales look like next year. I can’t help think they’ve done some damage to them. But that’s also dependant upon how mnay people jumped at their Horizons program. If it’s enough to offset the loss of legit authors, then they’re bound to see it as a success. But given those Horizons authors aren’t going to sell enough of their books to recoop the losses, it could still mean a huge loss for Harlequin if they lose their heavy-hitter authors because of this.

  8. Good coverage. This has really blown up all over the web. Personally, I’m terrified to see a big NY publisher make a move like this. I hope the general outcry of horror is reaching the suits in the boardrooms, and they will realize preying on the gullible is a bad idea.

    • I’m with you. Preying on authors who don’t know any better and whose heads are filled with empty promises isn’t going to do anyone any good. It’s bad for writers and bad when it comes to the reputation of the publishers who think this is an easy way to some residual cash. What the big wigs don’t realize is that this is going to hurt their bottom line–readers–too.

  9. MWA Delists Harlequin

    From the MWA:

    The Board of Mystery Writers of America voted unanimously on Wednesday to remove Harlequin and all of its imprints from our list of Approved Publishers, effective immediately. We did not take this action lightly. We did it because Harlequin remains in violation of our rules regarding the relationship between a traditional publisher and its various for-pay services.

    What does this mean for current and future MWA members?

    Any author who signs with Harlequin or any of its imprints from this date onward may not use their Harlequin books as the basis for active status membership nor will such books be eligible for Edgar® Award consideration. However books published by Harlequin under contracts signed before December 2, 2009 may still be the basis for Active Status membership and will still be eligible for Edgar® Award consideration (you may find the full text of the decision at the end of this bulletin).

    Although Harlequin no longer offers its eHarlequin Critique Service and has changed the name of its pay-to-publish service, Harlequin still remains in violation of MWA rules regarding the relationship between a traditional publisher and its various for-pay services.

    MWA does not object to Harlequin operating a pay-to-publish program or other for-pay services. The problem is HOW those pay-to-publish programs and other for-pay services are integrated into Harlequin’s traditional publishing business. MWA’s rules for publishers state:

    “The publisher, within the past five years, may not have charged a fee to consider, read, submit, or comment on manuscripts; nor may the publisher, or any of the executives or editors under its employ, have offered authors self-publishing services, literary representation, paid editorial services, or paid promotional services.

    If the publisher is affiliated with an entity that provides self-publishing, for-pay editorial services, or for-pay promotional services, the entities must be wholly separate and isolated from the publishing entity. They must not share employees, manuscripts, or authors or interact in any way. For example, the publishing entity must not refer authors to any of the for-pay entities nor give preferential treatment to manuscripts submitted that were edited, published, or promoted by the for-pay entity.

    To avoid misleading authors, mentions and/or advertisements for the for-pay entities shall not be included with information on manuscript submission to the publishing company. Advertising by the publisher’s for-pay editorial, self-publishing or promotional services, whether affiliated with the publisher or not, must include a disclaimer that it is advertising and that use of those services offered by an affiliate of the publisher will not affect consideration of manuscripts submitted for publication.”

    Harlequin’s Publisher and CEO Donna Hayes responded to our November 9 letter, and a follow up that we sent on November 30. In her response, which we have posted on the MWA website, Ms. Hayes states that Harlequin intends as standard practice to steer the authors that it rejects from its traditional publishing imprints to DellArte and its other affiliated, for-pay services. In addition, Harlequin mentions on the DellArte site that editors from its traditional publishing imprints will be monitoring DellArte titles for possible acquisition. It is this sort of integration that violates MWA rules.

    MWA has a long-standing regard for the Harlequin publishing house and hopes that our continuing conversations will result in a change in their policies and the reinstatement of the Harlequin imprints to our approved list of publishers.

    Frankie Y. Bailey,
    Executive Vice President, MWA

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