Thursday, November 19, 2009


Posted by: Genene Valleau
Current Project: Nine-book series
Status: Developing nicely!

My sincere apologies for this late blog post and I will also apologize if it seems rambling. Both of my older doggies are going through some tough times right now and my sleep has been sporadic at best. 

However, I have a ready topic thanks to Harlequin's announcement that it is establishing a vanity publishing arm and RWA's decision to remove Harlequin from its list of eligible publishers.

Many of the loops I am on are jumping with opinions on this topic. If you'd like to share your thoughts about this please, as always on our loop, be respectful of the feelings and opinions of others. 

I'm going to toss out some thoughts that I haven't seen expressed (but I haven't read the loops yet today). I'm sure there will be more news about this in the days to come.

THESE ARE MY THOUGHTS ONLY and don't reflect the any stance the chapter may wish to take. I've tried to keep these as thoughts only and not make a judgment on what's right or wrong or somewhere in between. Here we go:

For decades, RWA has done an excellent job of teaching people how to write as well as inspiring those same people to follow their dream of being published. 

Yet the number of RWA members has long exceeded the number of romance books published per year. 

So if only one out of every five or ten (or whatever the number is) RWA members become published by a traditional print publisher, what happens to the dreams of those writers who aren't yet published? 

Sure, some of their work isn't up to the standard we'd like to think all published books should be. Though we've probably all read or tried to read published books while wondering how in the world it ever got published.

I think we all know writers whose work is excellent and they haven't been published. 

Electronic book companies have filled the desire to be published for many authors. Stories that don't fit the mold of print publishers have found a happy home as e-books. Yes, early e-books got a reputation of not being "as good" as printed books. However, I think their quality has steadily improved--as has their market share. 

Of course, print publishers have noticed that market share of e-books, especially as they have experienced losses for many months (or years?). How are they going to stay in business? Perhaps by tapping into e-books and, ohbytheway, have you seen what vanity publishers are doing? People are actually paying to have their books printed. For a business whose priority is making money, I can see where this would be quite a temptation. 

If a print publisher goes out of business, where would all their established authors find a home for their stories?

I'm going to stop there as I need to dash off for a couple hours. I'm looking forward to reading your thoughts when I return.


Genene Valleau said...

Hi, all! Wanted to let you know my blog post was up and apologize for it being so late.

Elisabeth Naughton said...

Genene, I think the big issue here - and why RWA took the stand they did - is because Harlequin's new Horizons line is not simply a self-publishing arm of the company. There are lots of arguments out there as to the roll self publishing plays in the publishing model, and I'm not arguing that and I don't think RWA is either. But Harlequin Horizons is not simply a self publishing line. This is a vanity press arm of the company. Malle Vallik, Harlequin's Digital Editor answered questions over at Dear author the other day and this was her answer to this question:

Question: Will Harlequin Horizons hold the ISBNs and pay out royalties from the sales, if any? How does this differ from the “vanity press” model? How does it compare to the “self-publishing” model, in which the author holds the ISBNs and keeps all money from any sales?

Malle: The content is completely owned by the author. Royalties are 50% net from both eBooks and print.

This is important because in self publishing, the author keeps all the money after paying expenses.

In vanity publishing, the publisher keeps majority of the money and the writer pays all the expenses.

The argument here is not simply print/epub vs. self publishing and what options an author has to see their book in print. It's that this particular line takes everything from the author and gives them nothing. Here you go, YOU pay to print your own book and then WE get 50% of the net. How does that make sense? And how is that good for authors? RWA is an organization for WRITERS, not PUBLISHERS. If it were for publishers it would be RPA. They're looking out for what's best for all writers, unpublished AND published. Vanity presses are not good for authors and I applaud them for taking this stand against the giant in the industry.

Piper Lee said...

Genene- I didn't have an opinion on this until Elisabeth explained it so that it's very clear. Also, I haven't been reading anything about it so I've been very uninformed up to this minute.

My opinion, now, is that RWA did the right thing and is standing by the writers, not the industry. Yay for RWA!!! Thanks Eli, for making this make sense for me. :)

I am curious as to how it will affect/effect things in the publishing world and the writing world. Both because RWA dropped them and because of what the Horizon's line has that people will get pulled into. It sounds like they're not offering anything but an author's name in "lights" so to speak. And how is that ever worth paying for out of pocket? I guess that's why they call it, VANITY. Maybe this is a reflection of the mentality of our culture right now. That 15 minutes of fame at any cost reality show lifestyle. *shrugs shoulders*

Looking forward to reading what everyone else thinks.

Paty Jager said...

I've just been glancing at the comments, not even reading all of them except those expressed in the staff at TWRP. Which have mainly just been clarifying what Harlequin Horizons does- what Eli said- and how it makes us look even better. ;)

I hope RWA doesn't bow to the pressure of HQ if they decide to make a stink. Only because RWA is an organization for the writer. And I say this as a person who has gone from general member and all the benefits of the organization to an associate and few benefits. I'm not happy, but I believe in the organization and what it does for aspiring writers and published authors.

Deborah Wright said...

Eli -- thanks for the concise spelling out of the difference between Vanity publishing and Self publishing.

It's disappointing to see Harlequin take this path. To me (my opinion only!), it feels sleazy -- like they're sharks who see the unpublished authors out there as a pool of naive groupers, just ready to be eaten (er, taken advantage of).

If you're looking for more on this topic, Jackie Kessler explains in detail how Harlequin Horizons is a vanity press, not a self-publishing service on her blog: Harlequin Horizons versus the RWA.

I have to wonder if Harlequin didn't think there'd be a backlash from their decision, or if they just don't care.

Elisabeth Naughton said...

Becky, aside from the whole self pub vs. vanity pub issue here, I think what has really struck a chord with me in all of this is that with this new endeavor, Harlequin is really taking advantage of aspiring writers. Anyone who has submitted work to an agent or publisher knows how gut-wrenching it is to get a rejection letter. Rejection hurts, even when you're prepared for it. Get enough rejections and it's amazing what happens to your resolve. I know this to be true because I went through it. I submitted for years and have a whole file full of rejections. And I can honestly tell you that there were times where I was so frustrated I considered submitting to XYZ publisher just to see my books in print. These weren't self-pubs, granted, but they weren't where I had set my sights originally. I even went so far as to put a "package" together per their websites, then at the last minute didn't send. So I know how hard it is to stick with your dream when fellow writers are getting published here and there and you're not.

In that same Dear Author Q&A session Malle Vallik gave yesterday (and here's the link if anyone wants it: this question:

Question: Will rejected submissions to Harlequin indeed be “informed” that they can “opt-in” to Horizons? How do you assuage the stated concerns that this is a predatory process?

Malle: A writer receiving a standard reject letter will find a line included about self publishing. The writer, if she wants, can then contact HH. The writer will never be cold-called or contacted unless she has opted in.

Why does this bug me? Because the name Harlequin is like the gold standard in romance publishing. Almost every rejection letter I received started with, "There was much to love here but..." That's a canned form rejection, though it amazes me how many writers read that and think, "OMG! The loved it. It just doesn't fit in with their line right now!" Now combine that with a writer who desperately wants to be published with Harlequin and who then sees this line in that same rejection: While we don't have a place for your novel in our current schedule, we want to make you aware of our self-publishing line, Harlequin Horizons. Suddenly, self-publishing, which might not have been enticing to a writer before, becomes a viable option. Because, after all, how bad can it be? It has Harlequin's name on it!

I also don't like the fact they've also stated that editors will monitor the Horizons line and if a writer's "sales" look good, may offer a legitimate publishing contract. That's providing false hope. Here you go, we don't want to publish this, but you can pay to pub it in our vanity line and if you do, there's always a *chance* we might want to pick it up after that.

Not cool in my book. That's taking total advantage of a writer's hopes and dreams for profit, as far as I'm concerned.

If there's one thing I tell unpublished writers it's this: STICK WITH YOUR DREAM. If you want it bad enough, you'll find a way to make it happen. And that means writing, writing, writing and improving your craft until you land that contract. It doesn't mean making rash decisions out of desperation and a "desire" to see your name on a book. Unfortunately, with this line, that's what Harlequin is hoping aspiring writers will do.

Linda Rader said...

As I understand it RWA hasn't "dropped" Harlequin. It just will now charge them for conference attendance like they do everyone else.

Traditional publishing houses, not self-publish or vanity presses, are given preferential treatment in not being charged for conference space to meet with writers,etc.

It seems fair to me if Harlequin is going to charge writers for publishing their books, then writer's should charge Harlequin for attending their professional conference to meet their members.

Also Harlequin Horizon has not set well with some of the editors of Harlequin's other lines. There maybe some internal discussion going on over there as well.

We'll see how well this business decision plays out.

Deborah Wright said...

And, as of 11/17, Preditors & Editors is listing Harlequin Enterprises as a Vanity Publisher: Book Publisher and Distributor Listings - H.

The quote: "Though they call it self-publishing, it will be under their Harlequin Horizons imprint and hence qualifies as vanity."

Elisabeth Naughton said...

Mystery Writers of America has also expressed concern over the new Harlequin Horizons line (fromr Smart Bitches):

It is common for disreputable publishers to try to profit from aspiring writers by steering them to their own for-pay editorial, marketing, and publishing services. The implication is that by paying for those services, the writer is more likely to sell his manuscript to the publisher. Harlequin recommends the “eHarlequin Manuscript Critique Service” in the text of its manuscript submission guidelines for all of its imprints and include a link to “Harlequin Horizons,” its new self-publishing arm, without any indication that these are advertisements.

That, coupled with the fact that these businesses share the Harlequin name, may mislead writers into believing they can enhance their chances of being published by Harlequin by paying for these services. Offering these services violates long-standing MWA rules for inclusion on our Approved Publishers List.

On November 9, Mystery Writers of America sent a letter to Harlequin about the “eHarlequin Manuscript Critique Service,” notifying Harlequin that it is in violation of our rules and suggesting steps that Harlequin could take to remain on our Approved Publishers list. The steps outlined at that time included removing mention of this for-pay service entirely from its manuscript submission guidelines, clearly identifying any mention of this program as paid advertisement, and, adding prominent disclaimers that this venture was totally unaffiliated with the editorial side of Harlequin, and that paying for this service is not a factor in the consideration of manuscripts. Since that letter went out, Harlequin has launched “Harlequin Horizons,” a self-publishing program.

MWA’s November 9 letter asks that Harlequin respond to our concerns and recommendations by December 15. We look forward to receiving their response and working with them to protect the interests of aspiring writers. If MWA and Harlequin are unable to reach an agreement, MWA will take appropriate action which may include removing Harlequin from the list of MWA approved publishers, declining future membership applications from authors published by Harlequin and declaring that books published by Harlequin will not be eligible for the Edgar Awards.

Genene Valleau said...

Sorry for being off line most of the day!

Eli, you raise a big issue about Harlequin Horizons. To charge an author to publish their book and THEN keep 50 percent of the royalties is something I haven't heard of other vanity/self-publishing presses doing. As you said, usually there's an upfront fee and the author keeps anything else they make.

As with any decision on how to publish your work (or not) it pays to compare publishers and options--from big print publishers to self-publishing and everything in between.

Genene Valleau said...

Hi, Piper! I too am very curious as to what will come next in the publishing world. This latest development has sure been a surprise to me.

Genene Valleau said...

Hi, Paty! I'm wondering if Harlequin's latest move will also encourage an open and respectful discussion within RWA about all publishing options and the fact authors may wear more than one hat, so to speak, as that process grows with technology.

Genene Valleau said...

Hey, Debbie!

Thank you for the link to Jackie Kessler's blog. It adds more details to what Eli said in her earlier comment.

Genene Valleau said...

Hi, Linda! Thanks for stopping by!

Wouldn't it be interesting to hear those internal discussions at Harlequin? I definitely agree with you: there will be more to come!

Genene Valleau said...

Hi, Eli!

Thanks for adding the concerns from Mystery Writers of America about the Harlequin Horizons line. It sounds like MWA makes some viable suggestions for Harlequin to consider.