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.
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!