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Event Horizon

I spent way too much time yesterday clicking back and forth between Dear Author and Smart Bitches, reading up on the comments after the announcement by Harlequin about their new "Harlequin Horizons" line. Even though I swore to myself that I would stop reading and get back to work, as more information came out, I couldn't resist. Clicky-refresh-clickety, repeat.

For those of you who, like me, ended up reading the hundreds of comments on each site...well, you're probably also nursing a headache now and you don't want to read anymore about it. Take some Excedrin and move on - you have all my sympathy. For those of you who haven't heard of the hoopla, thankfully, some people have taken the time to sum it up so you don't have to hurt your eyes/head reading all the comments yourself (though really, if you're an aspiring author who's ever thought about self-publishing or vanity-press publishing, take the time. Read the first 200 or so comments. They contain a goldmine of information (http://www.smartbitchestrashybooks.com/index.php/weblog/comments/want-to-self-publish-how-about-harlequin/) or (http://dearauthor.com/wordpress/2009/11/18/malle-vallik-harlequins-digital-director-answers-questions-on-harlequin-horizons/).

For those who want a calm, organized recap of what happened, Jackie Kessler did a very comprehensive recap of the events here: http://www.jackiekessler.com/blog/2009/11/19/harlequin-horizons-versus-rwa/

And an updated version from Jackie here: http://www.jackiekessler.com/blog/2009/11/20/the-day-after-harlequin-blinks/

And now, for those of you who want my take on this, which is neither calm nor organized, read on!

IMO, pitching the Harlequin brand to writers through information on the Harlequin Horizons website (and in other places) when in reality, writers under that line won't be getting the Harlequin brand after all is disingenuous. IMO, referring rejected slush pile authors who submitted to traditional publishing lines at Harlequin to Harlequin Horizons is unscrupulous. I don't say this because I think self-publishing or vanity presses don't have a right to exist (as the Harlequin Horizons spokesperson Malle seemed to dismiss all criticisms toward the new imprint), but because it appears to be a classic bait-and-switch. I feel bad for the writers who will take a world-wide publisher like Harlequin at their word that this is a way to become a Harlequin author without enduring the rigors of the slush pile. Despite Malle’s claims that the two brands are clearly separate (Quoting Malle, “Horizons books will not have Harlequin branding. Horizons is a separate brand and will carry the double-H Horizons logo on the spine only, NOT the Harlequin brand.”) it’s easy to see how a writer going to the Harlequin Horizons site wouldn’t know that. First, if the name of the imprint is Harlequin Horizons, there’s a big reason why writers might think that being published under it makes them a Harlequin author. Plus, on the Harlequin Horizons website it says “We know you love Harlequin novels…why not write your own?” (http://www.harlequinhorizons.com/harlequin.aspx ) So to me, the name, that pitch, and being referred to HH by Harlequin in their query rejection letters will lead to a lot of writers thinking they’ll be Harlequin authors through Harlequin Horizons, even though Harlequin's spokesperson seems to think it's perfectly obvious that writers will know they won't be.

To those who ask, why am I (and other authors) upset about this? I can only speak for myself, but it burns my toast because when I started on my path to publication, I had a lot of dreams but not a lot of knowledge about the industry. That combination resulted in me being ripped off when I signed with an agency that required payment for submissions. Took me paying several hundred dollars before I realized I was getting scammed and dropped them. Sites like Writers Beware and the now-defunct Miss Snark ‘s blog were the ones that educated me on the "money flows TOWARD the author" mantra that kept me from getting taken advantage of again. That’s why I have links on my website for writers here , here , and here to try and help those who, like me back then, were looking for information on the publishing process and who were directed to a lot of “pay to play” sites instead. It's lovely to assume that every writer who seeks publication has first educated themselves thoroughly on all the ins and out of the system and knows exactly what they're getting for their money, but then there's reality - and many businesses have turned a healthy profit on the reality of writers not knowing a lot about the system. Example: self-published/vanity press books seem to max out at sales of only 200 copies (source: http://howpublishingreallyworks.blogspot.com/2009/03/sales-statistics.html), so the vast, vast, vast majority of those authors never even come close to recouping their costs. One can argue that I, and other writers who paid good money for bad snake oil, had it coming because we didn't do enough research in advance, but it was still a case of companies profiting on a combination of dreams and ignorance. Call me an idealist, but while that's perfectly legal, I don't think it's necessarily laudable.

I tried to articulate that more briefly in my comment on Smart Bitches, which was in response to this statement by Malle Vallik from Harlequin on writers and self-publishing. Because I’m too lazy to find where it is and link it, I’m copying it in its entirety here:

Malle - "There are a number of reasons to select self-publishing including as a way to see their work in print – to give copies as gifts, to have a bound copy to help in finding an agent, or simply as a keepsake."

Me - *goggles* I hope all of their potential clients are rich, then. Because otherwise, spending thousands of dollars to self-publish your book just to give it as gifts to family/friends? Or keep it yourself? The same thing can be done for about twenty bucks with a printer and a nice binder folder. Plus, the idea that an author should self-pub so an agent can have a bound copy to read for query consideration makes even less sense, since that agent won't be able to sell a previously-published novel to most publishers. Just my opinion, but if that's Harlequin's take on uses for a self-published novel, THAT should be clearly stated on their website, instead of the bolded "Dare to Dream: Potential Discovery Opportunities" or "Reach the stars and prove dreams do come true."

Also, for Malle and others who scoffed at "brand dilution" being a result of this new imprint, well, it only took a day for that to happen: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2009/11/harlequin-hacks.html

I’m guessing author Carol Mortimer is not amused at having her traditionally-published novel be the poster child for an article called “Harlequin Hacks” about Harlequin Horizon’s vanity pub imprint. See how easily The New Yorker took the "HH" on Carol’s cover (which actually stood for Harlequin Historical) and confused with the new line of Harlequin Horizons that will also, when books eventually release under it, be branded with "HH"? Sure, no confusion resulting in brand dilution there /end sarcasm.

And now, I really am getting back to work :).

**ETA: After several comments from readers, The New Yorker admitted their error in showing a picture of Carol Mortimer's book as an example of the new Harlequin Horizons imprint and took it down

**ETA, 2: From agent Kristen Nelson's blog, Harlequin is "dismayed" that RWA followed their own rules and booted them out. Seems that Mystery Writers of America will follow suit in December if Harlequin doesn't change its new "pay for editorial feedback" venture that's advertised on every submissions page of their website. You can read the MWA's formal statement on Kristen's blog link above. Side note: I hadn't even heard of a pay-for-feedback program from Harlequin. Cue me vomiting.

And, the SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America) also gave Harlequin a swift kick out of their approved publishers list because of this (excerpted below, but click the link and read their whole statement. It's worth it: "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."

In response to this, Harlequin states they'll change their new vanity-press imprint (which they're still calling self-publishing, even though in self-publishing the author keeps ALL the profits in exchange for putting up all the money/taking all the risk, but in vanity publishing, the author keeps only part of the profts, as is the case with Harlequin's imprint) to where the name Harlequin isn't in it. No mention yet of whether they'll change any of the other practices that organizations such as RWA, MWA, and SFWA are calling unethical, misleading, and disreputable, to quote from some of the statements by those organizations.


( 42 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 19th, 2009 06:02 pm (UTC)
It seems to me that the publisher thinks writers only care about seeing their book in a store or given a name brand on the side of their book over the monetary value. Why should a writer care to make money when you have your book in a store or to buy on the web? Branding is so much more important than making a living.
*snort* I rather have a bunch of zeros on a paycheck that becoming a branded author.

But I guess I am sell out because I haven't sweated enough over my craft.
Nov. 19th, 2009 08:52 pm (UTC)
It's not selling out at all to want to be paid for your writing if you publish. That's the mindset of most writers pursuing publication :).
Nov. 19th, 2009 06:24 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the links.
Nov. 19th, 2009 08:52 pm (UTC)
You're welcome!
Nov. 19th, 2009 07:05 pm (UTC)
I think there is a certain misrepresentation going on over what I actually said, which was that I find VANITY presses a vile business -- NOT SELF PUBLISHING -- because they charge ridicuous and exorbitant fees for products that a good self-publishing assistance operationg can get you far cheaper, and then take a large portion of the proceeds after YOU paid to publish. HHo is acting like a vanity press.

Self publishing? I have no problem with it, and if someone wishes to self publish something, I would recommend them to several self publishing assistance companies over a vanity press, who I think fleeces them twice over.
Nov. 19th, 2009 09:06 pm (UTC)
Diana, my apologies, I wasn't referring to what you'd said about vanity presses, though looking at my wording, especially using the word "vile", I can see how you might have thought that. I'll change the wording in that sentence. My point in the original sentence was to highlight how the criticisms against HH were more than just comments from people who loathe self or vanity publishing under any circumstances, which is how Malle seemed to brush off the very legitimate concerns being raised about the imprint (even though some of those concerns were raised by people who'd been self/vanity published before).
(no subject) - dpeterfreund - Nov. 19th, 2009 09:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dpeterfreund - Nov. 19th, 2009 10:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - frost_light - Nov. 19th, 2009 09:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dpeterfreund - Nov. 19th, 2009 09:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - frost_light - Nov. 21st, 2009 02:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 19th, 2009 07:20 pm (UTC)
thank you for the advice, this is rly useful stuff.
Hugs and Loves,
Nov. 19th, 2009 09:13 pm (UTC)
Welcome. Take care!
Sorry just thought i'd ask... - bethwest - Nov. 19th, 2009 09:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Sorry just thought i'd ask... - frost_light - Nov. 19th, 2009 09:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Sorry just thought i'd ask... - bethwest - Nov. 23rd, 2009 02:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 19th, 2009 09:35 pm (UTC)
Wow thanks a bunch for this. I usually try to stay segregated from the internet until the weekend, but for you're Blogs (especially the ones that rant)I make an exception. I now I have a splitting headache and have gone cross-eyed because I, as well, flipped back and fourth between sites.

I'm going to lie down now and let it all sink in.
Thanks again!
Nov. 19th, 2009 09:42 pm (UTC)
Lol, sorry for the headache, but hope the information's worth it!
Nov. 19th, 2009 10:00 pm (UTC)
very interesting post!!!

if people just want a copy (or maybe two or three) of their novel, they can still have it - and professional looking too - if they use create-space and just order a proof of it. you can alter it, order the next proof and so on until you have the number you want. it's not really cheap, but if you just want three copies, say for yourself and family, and have no way to print/bind it yourself it might be an alternative solution. the book DOESN'T get published if you don't select that option. I guess there might be other companies out there offering something similar and I don't want to advertise create-space, it's just that I only just discovered that opportunity through Nanowrimo and haven't had time to look into the subject more thouroughly.

thank you for the whole post, it was very informative.
to me, the case is clear: harlequin does not explicitly say that you become a 'harlequin'-author that way, they just cleverly lead you to assume / misunderstand. not illegal, just immoral. if you can say 'just' in that context.
Nov. 21st, 2009 02:25 pm (UTC)
The whole thing is just depressing. You'd expect this sort of sleazy double-talk from a small start-up vanity press, not one of the biggest publishing companies worldwide.
Nov. 19th, 2009 10:06 pm (UTC)
Tell us how you really feel!
Jeaniene, you've done a great service to new writers with this blog post, and impressed some longtime readers with your frank take on the situation. Thank you.
Nov. 21st, 2009 02:26 pm (UTC)
Re: Tell us how you really feel!
Thanks. Jackie Kessler's posts have been even more informative. She lists a lot of details I left out. If you haven't already, check them out (I updated my original post with new links).
Nov. 19th, 2009 10:16 pm (UTC)
Great post! On a positive note, they took that cover off of the New Yorker article...
Nov. 21st, 2009 02:27 pm (UTC)
I saw that and updated my post. Thanks!
Nov. 19th, 2009 11:59 pm (UTC)
*sigh* I love my HQN novels. They're great for doctor offices, but now I'm not so sure I wanna give my money to the publisher. Why? Because I don't like the messing with the authors that are contracted and worked their way from the bottom of hell to get that signed document. It seems too much like Urbis deciding to offer publishing for a small price of $2000 and you to can be a poetry contest winner! And it's tainting the rather nice opinions I had for HQN. The books weren't great lit, but they fun and sometimes you need that. But I don't like predators and that's exactly what this is.

Also, $19,999 for a movie trailer? Seriously? SERIOUSLY? You could film a 3 minute fan film for that. And it makes it sound like a bargain price. You know, like selling a house for $299,999 instead of $300,000.
Nov. 21st, 2009 02:31 pm (UTC)
I have friends published with Harlequin and they're equally aghast at what's going on, so I won't be boycotting Harlequin books. That would only hurt the authors who have no control over what the parent company does.

As for the "movie trailer" prices...the mind boggles. The trailer I had made for my last book cost $1600.00 through Circle of Seven and it's gotten a ton of views. If I'm spending twenty grand on something, it's a new car, not a $&*&&Y%!!! book trailer, you know?? :)
(no subject) - veracity - Nov. 21st, 2009 11:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 20th, 2009 01:43 am (UTC)
It seems like every aspect of the entertainment industry treats their most valuable assets with contempt.

You'd think with such a long time brand name, they'd be trying to protect their image. I guess $$ are more important.

Thanks for informing us!
Nov. 21st, 2009 02:31 pm (UTC)
As I said to someone else, it's just depressing. Here's hoping other publishers learn from the huge negative fallout Harlequin's gotten and don't attempt the same thing.
Nov. 20th, 2009 04:00 am (UTC)
Hi :)
Thank you for the excellent post.
I think the RWA response letter says it all.
As does the MWA response. If Harlequin refuses to respond to the MWA they will lose their accreditation with them as well.
I am wondering if the furor will affect Angela James' new venture with Carina?
Thank you again for sharing,
All the best,
Nov. 21st, 2009 02:33 pm (UTC)
Re: Hi :)
Yep, the RWA was quick with their smackdown! MWA, too, and the SFWA's response might have been the most scathing (did you see that? I updated my post with the link). Here's hoping those organizations can make Harlequin rethink their vanity press idea.
Re: Hi :) - rkcharron - Nov. 21st, 2009 03:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 20th, 2009 08:15 am (UTC)
so THIS is what the Harlequin fuss is about. I saw headlines somewhere but didn't get around to clicking the links, & from what you've described I'm glad I missed the hair-pulling. instead I'll trust your summary of the fun.

as one of those Unpublished Writers With Big Dreams (like a mini-Jeaniene, perhaps? :P), I have to say thanks for being outspoken about things like this...especially for us Unpublished Writers who, thanks to our isolated areas, have no access to the great big publishing world except via the internet. I'm a cautious person by nature, but things like this HQN debacle & your pay-for-submissions disaster make me realize that caution is a very, very good thing.

I'm just learning the most basic of basic publishing jargon, so don't understand all of what's going on with this HQN imprint, but from what I do understand...well, let's just say I'm not eager to get on board with any publishing branch of HQN. my novel is a YA urban fantasy & I originally wanted to submit my MS to their new teen imprint, but then they closed their doors against un-agented authors, so the decision was taken from me. perhaps for the greater good? *eyebrow* I've always wanted to be a commercial writer, so I have no guilt over wanting to be paid for my efforts. but to fleece people who aren't so ambitious is just...ugh. disheartening, to say the least. I'd expect better from such a sprawling, beloved press.

and what else could they expect but that "HH" would be thought of as Harlequin Historicals & not Harlequin Horizon? I don't even read their books but *I* thought of Harlequin Historicals. brand dilution, indeed. not to be unduly suspicious, but I wouldn't be shocked if the confusion was deliberate.

anyway, thanks for sharing the info...and for writing awesome books. yeah, that too. :)
Nov. 21st, 2009 02:36 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I got all of my initial information about publishing from the internet, too. That's where a lot of new authors go looking for "how to" advice. It's scary that you have to sift through all the Pay to Play sites that pop up trying to scam authors out of their money before you get to the real information. Even scarier now that a large, respected publishing house is one of those places propagating the myth that paying to get published is the way to go to break into fiction (it isn't, of course).
Nov. 20th, 2009 07:28 pm (UTC)
Are they really that stupid?
First, I can't believe they didn't anticipate this reaction. Second, if an aspiring author has $500 plus they are willing to spend to further their writing why not spend it on on a workshop, conference, legitimate critique service or heck - go to the book store and buy a few books about writing? Seriously? I want to be published as much as the next person, but if I'm not good enough I want to know why and be given the opportunity to improve my skills as a writer. Why doesn't this publisher offer workshops on how to improve skills as a romance writer? They'd not only make money, but possibly discover/create some talented authors who's books they could actually SELL and make additional revenue on. We all can't be accepted to (or afford)Clarion, but I'd invest in a reputable workshop, with real honest feedback - even online! Stupid.
Nov. 21st, 2009 02:42 pm (UTC)
Re: Are they really that stupid?
Absolutely, if people have money to spend, a writer's conference is a MUCH better investment. Hell, a pleasure cruise where you spend one hour a day thinking about plotting would be a better writing career investment than this.
Re: Are they really that stupid? - zoe_zygmunt - Nov. 21st, 2009 03:50 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Are they really that stupid? - veracity - Nov. 22nd, 2009 12:04 am (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 21st, 2009 02:05 pm (UTC)
So... have many writers gotten work done this week?
:-| I know I haven't and this is why.

The name change was a start, but it's not enough.

If HQN really wants to dip into self-pub promo, find a real self-pub to partner with and not one that wants to claim a decent chunk of the profits AFTER the author has already fronted a big pile of cash.

If they'd find a better route, and if they had a clear separation between HQN and the self pub, and if they stop the referrals, I'd be happy.

I get the feeling that would satisfy a lot of us.
Nov. 21st, 2009 02:48 pm (UTC)
Re: So... have many writers gotten work done this week?
Lol. This has eaten away so much of my time this week, it's not even funny.

"If HQN really wants to dip into self-pub promo, find a real self-pub to partner with and not one that wants to claim a decent chunk of the profits AFTER the author has already fronted a big pile of cash.

If they'd find a better route, and if they had a clear separation between HQN and the self pub, and if they stop the referrals, I'd be happy."

Yep. That about sums it up.
Nov. 22nd, 2009 04:08 am (UTC)
Terrific post, Jeaniene. Thanks for the link.

It’s not like traditional publishers don’t have vanity press options. (Xlibris, anyone?) But other publishers* (A) don’t link their name to the vanity press, (B) don’t encourage authors to use the vanity press by promoting it in rejection letters and on their website, and (C) don’t offer false hope that by using the vanity press to print their previously rejected book, they may one day actually be published by the traditional publisher.

* [Er, not including Thomas Nelson, which RWA has also declared an ineligible publisher.]

Authors should be paid for their work. The rule of thumb is that money flows toward the writer. Getting published is not selling out. It's earning a paycheck. Period.

Self-publishing is certainly an option available to authors if they want to go that route, albeit a difficult option -- the author pays for all services, and if it's a hard-copy book, the author is also responsible for the marketing, warehousing, distribution and sales. Self-publishing an e-book takes away the physical storage and distribution, so there may be a greater chance at success electronically.

But for the life of me, I will never understand why any author who chooses to self-publish would use a **vanity press** for it — ensuring that they not only pay astronomical service fees up front but also sacrifice a majority of their profits and don’t control their own ISBN.

( 42 comments — Leave a comment )