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Well, That Was Quick [Nov. 20th, 2009|10:45 am]
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The saga of Harlequin Horizons continues to unfold like the world's most compelling soap opera!

After the Romance Writers of America (RWA) applied an almost instantaneous smackdown yesterday, the Mystery Writers of America (MWA) came down hard and fast too, sending Harlequin a strongly worded letter and detailing in a public statement the consequences that might befall Harlequin if they continue down this road:

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.

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) also released a strongly worded statement, saying in part:

SFWA calls on Harlequin to openly acknowledge that Harlequin Horizon titles will not be distributed to brick-and-mortar bookstores, thus ensuring that the titles will not be breaking into the real fiction market. SFWA also asks that Harlequin acknowledge that the imprint does not represent a genuine opportunity for aspiring authors to hone their skills, as no editor will be vetting or working on the manuscripts. Further, SFWA believes that work published with Harlequin Horizons may injure writing careers by associating authors’ names with small sales levels reflected by the imprint’s lack of distribution, as well as its emphasis upon income received from writers and not readers. SFWA supports the fundamental principle that writers should be paid for their work, and even those who aspire to professional status and payment ought not to be charged for the privilege of having those aspirations.

Until such time as Harlequin changes course, and returns to a model of legitimately working with authors instead of charging authors for publishing services, SFWA has no choice but to be absolutely clear that NO titles from ANY Harlequin imprint will be counted as qualifying for membership in SFWA. Further, Harlequin should be on notice that while the rules of our annual Nebula Award do not expressly prohibit self-published titles from winning, it is highly unlikely that our membership would ever nominate or vote for a work that was published in this manner.


I didn't see a statement from the Horror Writers Association (HWA) on the matter, but I'm no longer a member and might have missed any internal memos sent to the membership. (Through a technical oversight, I still have access to HWA's message board, but I didn't see anything there about it.)

Yesterday, just two days after Harlequin Horizons was announced, Donna Hayes, the CEO of Harlequin, released a statement basically giving in to the pressure, mostly RWA's, though the cumulative effect of MWA's and SFWA's public stances shouldn't be discounted. But when I say they gave in, I mean they only sort of did. Here is the statement Hayes released, with some commentary on my part:

Harlequin was very surprised and dismayed to receive notice late yesterday that the RWA has decided that Harlequin is no longer eligible for RWA-provided conference resources. We were even more surprised to discover that the RWA sent a notice to its membership announcing this decision, before allowing Harlequin to respond or engage in a discussion about it with the RWA board.

And what would those private discussions have accomplished? Very little, I suspect, other than Harlequin asking RWA to reconsider and RWA either standing its ground or caving to the biggest and arguably most powerful publisher of their genre. It's sad but true that public shaming often results in swifter and more appropriate action than internal dialogue does in these kinds of situations.

Harlequin has been a significant supporter of the RWA for many years in several ways, including:

• financial sponsorships at the annual conference
• sending editors to the national and regional chapter conferences throughout the year to meet with and advise aspiring authors and participate in panel discussions on writing
• celebrating our authors, most of whom are RWA members, annually with the largest publisher party at the conference.

It is disappointing that the RWA has not recognized that publishing models have and will continue to change.


This is bullshit. Vanity publishing is not an emerging business paradigm within the industry. Instead, it's an age-old scam that preys on the hopes and dreams of aspiring writers, and does nothing for them in return but cause heartbreak, grief and the arrested development of their careers. When a writer pays a company to publish his or her book, it's not publishing, it's printing, and that's only a sliver of what real publishers provide. Also important are things like distribution, promotion and advertising, things vanity publishers will only do if you pay them extra. It's not a publishing model, it's a get-rich-quick scheme on behalf of everyone involved--except the author. For the author, it's a lose-money-fast scheme.

As a leading publisher of women's fiction in a rapidly changing environment, Harlequin's intention is to provide authors access to all publishing opportunities, traditional or otherwise.

Again I call bullshit--vanity presses are not publishing opportunities, they're money-draining traps--but this is clearly Harlequin just trying to save face after making a boneheaded decision.

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.

It's a start, but I don't know how happy RWA or others will be with this development. SFWA has already said they won't accept a simple name change in lieu of ending the program altogether. And I think they're right to do so. Changing the name doesn't change the practice. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, the personal decision to call it a pig doesn't change the fact that it's a duck. Harlequin will still be in the vanity press business, only it won't use the Harlequin name for that particular arm of its enterprise. Luckily, without the Harlequin name attached I suspect a lot fewer aspiring authors will be tempted to partake, which means the program won't be as fruitful as they'd hoped, which in turn means it might get shut down rather quickly. And, if I may posit a conspiracy theory, that might be exactly what Harlequin is hoping for. Citing a lack of business in shutting the program down, rather than citing the displeasure of writers' organizations, might be just the face-saving excuse they're looking for to put this mess behind them.

We are committed to connecting with our authors and aspiring authors in a significant way and encourage you to continue to share your thoughts with us.

Sincerely

Donna Hayes
Publisher and Chief Executive Officer
Harlequin Enterprises Limited


Here, Hayes and I agree. I encourage people to continue sharing their thoughts about this stupid vanity publishing program with Harlequin too!
LinkReply

Comments:
[User Picture]From: glamberson
2009-11-20 03:52 pm (UTC)

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It's just a matter of seconds before another writers organization takes a stand. :)
[User Picture]From: nick_kaufmann
2009-11-20 03:58 pm (UTC)

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Any day now!

Amazingly, I didn't see any statements from the Authors Guild or the National Writers Union on this topic.
[User Picture]From: jonquil
2009-11-20 04:31 pm (UTC)

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I doubt Harlequin cares much about SFWA's opinion. Dunno bout MWa. The question is, will Rwa cave?
[User Picture]From: nick_kaufmann
2009-11-20 04:34 pm (UTC)

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We'll know soon!
[User Picture]From: sinboy
2009-11-20 04:34 pm (UTC)

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It is disappointing that the RWA has not recognized that publishing models have and will continue to change.


"Author Solutions" isn't a publishing model, it's a way to get people who want to be writers but can't sell a novel to pay for the privilege based on a vain hope that they'll buck the trend and make enough profit in books (with heavy kickbacks to AS on every copy sold) to make back what they spent. In short, it's a scam.

Here's what a Harlequin flack had to say.

First, why is Harlequin launching a self-publishing business? Bowker reported in 2008 that more titles were published through self-publishing than traditional publishers. Self-publishing is a fast growing and vibrant part of the publishing industry today.

Yes. There is a large supply of suckers. Basing a business model on fleecing them is lucrative.

And as part of the marketing program, HH is offering to spam ten million people for only $11,995

And here's more by dear Malle

as the conversation seems to be going around in a circle with those who believe self-publishing/vanity publishing is evil and should be outlawed and others who see it as another choice for writers. You know where Harlequin stands!

Nice hyperbole there. You can tell Harlequin is circling the wagons. The bit about them providing financing for RWA? That's a threat. It's "back down or we'll pull out on you." I hope RWA chucks them out on their ear.
[User Picture]From: nick_kaufmann
2009-11-20 04:42 pm (UTC)

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I hope so too, but certain business realities might get in the way of that. I'd like to see them stand strong, though.
[User Picture]From: sinboy
2009-11-20 04:45 pm (UTC)

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RWA isn't a corporation with shareholders to answer to. If Harlequin started trying to bully SFWA, for example, I know some of the people on the board there, as well as many members. They'd hit back as hard as they could. I don't know that RWA will back down, but if they do, the people responsible can be called to account by the membership.
[User Picture]From: kylecassidy
2009-11-20 04:51 pm (UTC)

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"Harlequin was very surprised and dismayed"

They were surprised?? Who vetted this decision for them? Winos? Kangaroos?
[User Picture]From: nick_kaufmann
2009-11-20 05:00 pm (UTC)

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Torstar needs more money, so corporate thinks, "How can we make money off of the slush pile? Oh, I know, we'll start changing authors to publish their silly little novels! Bwahahahahahaha!" And because corporate is so far removed from the day to day realities of publishing and what the reaction will be to such a decision, they hand it down from on high and make the lowly editors, who probably don't support the decision, field all the angry phone calls.

So yes, winos.
[User Picture]From: kylecassidy
2009-11-20 06:46 pm (UTC)

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I know that what you are saying is true. It bothers me that there are plenty of legitimate ways to make money off of slush pile authors, from seminars, classes, "how to write for our genre" books, reviews, paid editorial assitance, a real Harlequin mentor/penpal, secret areas of the web site, whatever. This idea is just So Freaking Dumb I can't believe that a room full of people weren't shouting "ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR GODDAMN MIND?! WE'LL BE LAUGHED OUT OF THE PUBLHSING INDUSTRY!?" when the first fool brought it up.
[User Picture]From: desuvan
2009-11-20 08:38 pm (UTC)

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After some thought, I'm kind of wondering whether or not this is actually a symptom of financial desperation. Maybe they simply got this idea because they saw the bloated self-publishing market and wanted in on the money?

It's just plain wrong, regardless.
[User Picture]From: kylecassidy
2009-11-20 04:55 pm (UTC)

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If they wanted to start a vanity press, it's slimy, but go ahead. The stupid move was trying to attach their name to it. Like "The New York Times, now printing any story anybody sends us!"

Brain seizure. How could they not see this coming?


Vanity publishing is not an emerging business paradigm within the industry. Instead, it's an age-old scam that preys on the hopes and dreams of aspiring writers, and does nothing for them in return but cause heartbreak, grief and the arrested development of their careers. When a writer pays a company to publish his or her book, it's not publishing, it's printing, and that's only a sliver of what real publishers provide.


Someone should spraypaint this in the street in front of their offices, so they can see it from the top of the lonely tower.
[User Picture]From: ferragus
2009-11-20 05:04 pm (UTC)

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When a writer pays a company to publish his or her book, it's not publishing, it's printing, and that's only a sliver of what real publishers provide.

Great followup to Yog's law:
"Money should flow towards the author"
[User Picture]From: nick_kaufmann
2009-11-20 05:27 pm (UTC)

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Or Yog-Sothoth's law:

"I am the doorway!"
[User Picture]From: sgiron
2009-11-20 05:59 pm (UTC)

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Authors Solutions does have professional editors, developmental editors,ghost writers, book doctors, proof readers, copy editors, and line editors. The author can choose these services or not. Borderline books can become very good books under the tutelage of professional editors. Yes, the author pays for these services but no one is forcing them to. There is no reason though that an author who publishes with Author Solutions has to have a shitty book unless they choose to ignore all the professional advice they can choose to receive for a price.

I think of it as "cheaper than going to university with one on one attention and advice."

Ignoring the Harlequin stuff, there are lots of books that SHOULD be published as vanity or self-published because the subject matter is so limited that a big house would never pick it up.

Just my two cents worth.

I didn't know you weren't in the HWA anymore!
[User Picture]From: nick_kaufmann
2009-11-20 07:05 pm (UTC)

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With all due respect, you cannot ignore the Harlequin stuff. It's kind of the point. Harlequin's idea was to tell its rejected authors that they could essentially still be Harlequin authors under a different imprint if they paid serious money for the honor. And no reputable publishing house should, or would, ever do such a thing.
[User Picture]From: barbarienne
2009-11-20 07:15 pm (UTC)

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AS may, for all I know, do a very honorable and honest job. That they are rather expensive is a bit of an eyebrow-raiser for me, but in a capitalist society, I'm not going to begrudge someone charging what the market will bear.

The problem here is that HQ is channeling authors to them. Instead of saying, "Sorry, your book is not appropriate for our needs, best of luck to you," HQ is saying, "Sorry, your book is not appropriate for our needs, and by the way, you could just go print it yourself with this outfit that will give a portion of the proceeds to us as thank-you for the referral."

HQ has a clear and obvious conflict of interest. Professional publishers make money from consumers by working in partnership with writers. HQ is treating writers as revenue sources, but pretending it's a partnership.

...there are lots of books that SHOULD be published as vanity or self-published because the subject matter is so limited that a big house would never pick it up.

-->Absolutely. However, precious little of this is fiction.
[User Picture]From: silviamg
2009-11-20 06:54 pm (UTC)

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"It is disappointing that the RWA has not recognized that publishing models have and will continue to change"

A friend of my family self-published a science fiction novel and sold it out of the trunk of his car at the university. Thirty-years ago. In Mexico. What's new and cutting edge about that? There's been printers willing to do the job for ages. Hell, I have a copy of a friend's thesis at my house, hard-cover bound and everything.
[User Picture]From: jeffpalmatier
2009-11-20 07:19 pm (UTC)

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Sometimes I see this commercial late at night from a self-publishing firm. What's really bizarre about the commercial is how dated it is. It looks like it was filmed in the 80s, including a guy with those huge glasses you used to see back then.
[User Picture]From: jeffpalmatier
2009-11-20 07:30 pm (UTC)

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Donna Hayes says, "It is disappointing that the RWA has not recognized that publishing models have and will continue to change."

Donna Hayes gets caught doing something wrong and seedy and is rightfully getting yelled at. Instead of showing contrition, her response basically is, "I'm sorry you feel that way." What chutzpah!
[User Picture]From: tnh
2009-11-21 08:20 am (UTC)

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I think Nick's right: "Torstar needs money" is the basis of the decision.

Within its own area of expertise, Harlequin usually knows what it's doing. Torstar, on the other hand, is run by newspaper people, most of whom have no bleeping idea how book publishing works, but are unaware of their own ignorance.

"A remarkable degree of ignorance about how publishing works" is pretty much what it would take to think this is a good idea.

===

I'll grant that ASolutions markets the services of people whose job titles include "professional editors, developmental editors, ghost writers, book doctors, proof readers, copy editors, and line editors." If the author pays market rates for them, the total can exceed the advance the book would get if it sold to a conventional publishing house.

It's no use saying that no one's forcing the authors to purchase these services. Authors in the acute stages of rejection and desire have impaired judgement. They also don't have enough background knowledge and experience to figure out what a bad deal they're being offered.
[User Picture]From: jonquil
2009-11-21 04:14 pm (UTC)

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I don't think you have to diminish the agency ("impaired judgement") of rejected authors to agree they're being scammed. Anybody can be scammed if they (A) want something and (B) have inadequate information.

People want badly to be published. People want badly to be Hollywood stars. People want badly to get rich running their own businesses. That doesn't mean they have impaired judgment, that means they've got (possibly unrealistic) passionate dreams.
From: ap_fuchs
2009-11-22 08:09 pm (UTC)

A rose by any other name . . . in this case a thorn

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Even with Harlequin changing the name of their subsidy imprint (it's not a self-publishing one), it's still theirs, so the heat and restrictions from the RWA and SFWA and whoever else should still apply. They're just sneaking into doing it in a different way.

Horrible.
[User Picture]From: anywherebeyond
2009-11-23 06:45 pm (UTC)

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The HWA just stepped in as well:

HWA asks that Harlequin acknowledge that the imprint does not represent a genuine opportunity for aspiring authors to hone their skills, because no editors will be vying for or editing the manuscripts. HWA supports the basic principal that writers should be paid for their work, not pay because they aspire to write.

The HWA does not believe that changing the name of the imprint in an attempt to disguise the relationship with Harlequin, changes the intent. We call on Harlequin to discontinue this imprint immediately. If this matter does not find a positive resolution, the HWA will take appropriate action, which may include removing Harlequin from the list of HWA approved publishers, declining future membership applications from authors published by Harlequin and declaring that books published by Harlequin will not be eligible for the Stoker Award.

Deborah LeBlanc
President
The Horror Writers Association


Edited at 2009-11-23 06:45 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]From: jonquil
2009-11-23 06:49 pm (UTC)

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It's extremely embarrassing, or should be, that HWA can't spell an important public announcement. "The basic principal" indeed. And their threat "If this goes on...." is significantly less meaningful than RWA's, MWA's, and SFWA's "You're a vanity press until you change your policy."
[User Picture]From: nick_kaufmann
2009-11-23 07:26 pm (UTC)

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It's good that HWA is releasing a statement on the matter, even if it's several days after everyone else did. However, I'm confused as to the threats HWA is making. They don't have a list of approved publishers (though I'm told one may be in the works, which I think is a good idea) and they've never before disqualified vanity press titles from Bram Stoker Award eligibility. In fact, I find the wording of HWA's statement to be suspiciously similar to those of SFWA and MWA, as if HWA used theirs as a boilerplate. Which is fine, I guess, but probably not the best way to go about it, in my opinion.
[User Picture]From: jonquil
2009-11-23 07:30 pm (UTC)

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" and they've never before disqualified vanity press titles from Bram Stoker Award eligibility. In fact, I find the wording of HWA's statement to be suspiciously similar to those of SFWA and MWA,"

Good catch.