A bit of a rant about some recent publishing news (and it has nothing to do with vampires)

As a member of RWA (Romance Writers of America should you not know) I would be remiss in not addressing some rather big news put forth in the industry last week.  Publishing giant Harlequin announced the formation of a company named Harlequin Horizons.  Now, you might be asking, “Why is that big news?”

Here’s why: Harlequin Horizons is a vanity publishing firm.  Vanity publishing, for those who don’t want to look it up, is not self-publishing but rather a company who makes profits beyond what they charge for printing, etc.  Unfortunately to untangle many of the charges on Harlequin Horizons you would have to be “in the game” already- or at least a laymen with some notion of what’s “the norm”.  Unable to untangle how much of a cut they would take on “profits” directly from them I can not say positively they do so, however, there was mention on this blog (and a few others) that Horizons will be taking a 50% net cut.  And for what?  Well, check out their $1599 “Bookseller” package.  Do you see editing anywhere listed?  No?  Well, that’s because there’s a per word charge which varies depending upon what editing service you picked.

If I wanted the “premium” editing I would be paying $8330 in addition to the $1599 package (my completed manuscript is about 119000 words).  Awesome, eh?  Now, who is going to be editing my work to justify that charge?  You don’t know?  Well, neither do I.  It is alluded to that the editors will be “professional” but apparently we must take them on faith it is a professional editor, and not a professional maid/secretary/health aid/waitress/synchronized swimmer,because Harlequin is associated with it.  There is no confirmation of course, but it’s easy enough to surmise.

Now, the site is relatively predatory.  While I’m not in the position of getting all uppity about other people and thinking it’s my job to hold their hands to make sure they don’t do something as not good as as go to such a seemingly smarmy entity- I must say the site is well done.  For one brief moment my heart palpated in my chest and I thought “I could be an author with just a click of a mouse!” Then, my head hit the keyboard, drool slimed it up and, well… let’s just say it wasn’t pretty.  Back to my point- as someone who does research the industry by following all sorts of agents blogs, the RWA forums and all that shtuff I must say I had difficulty ascertaining what was amiss with this place I just knew that something was.  [All the frothing at the mouth of a great many people in the industry might have clued me in to that fact as well.]

If you want to publish your book I have no problem with it.  Really.  I know a few great people who are self-pubs and think it’s great what they’re doing.  It works for them.  But that site gave me the heebie jeebies and the angry wangries (hmmm- that didn’t quite work the way I would have liked.  Oh, well- moving on)- to posture as though you might have an “in” with Harlequin from doing this is absurd.  To imply this venture, which will cost you money, is somehow better than traditional publishing (all those submissions, queries, rejections) is disturbing.  That Harlequin itself is going to include IN ITS REJECTION LETTERS referrals to Horizons just plain pisses me off.  Nothing like smacking someone in the face with a form letter and saying “it’s not good enough for us to pay you, but it’s good enough for you to pay us”- it just reaks of class, doesn’t it?

I have no qualm whatsoever with putting your money where your mouth is- to self publish your work does just that.  But here’s two of the little problems with vanity publishing then, I promise, onto the big ones I foresee: most bookstores will not ever put a vanity published book on its shelves.  It drastically limits your saleability.  That isn’t to say you can’t do this in other ways, but that bit of “we can help you” from Horizons is really quite a load of hooey from what I’ve found.  (Not to mention you don’t get 100% of the profits… but I said that already.)

The bigger problems, however, arise in a few ways.  First: The publishing industry is already having issues what with epub and book sales generally being down-to see one of the big publishing houses promoting something like this leads one to think rather concernedly about the profitability of the venture as well as if other houses will follow suit.

Now, if other houses follow suit, what would happen to the books available?  Do you honestly think more money would be spent on authors signed on by the traditional publishers?  Or, perhaps, do you think they might stick with their true money makers and just get people to pay them for printing books which won’t be housed on the shelves of Borders or Barnes & Noble?  Offering advances, royalties and printing costs money and, hopefully, all that investment will pay off with a profitable book but, it’s a gamble isn’t it?  You wanna take the risk away you just market yourself to people who have both the means and desire to pay for their books to be in print (books which might have already been rejected by agents/publishers) and there you have made a profit with NO RISK.

So, if the only books which wind up being published (a bit far fetched and apocalyptic I understand, but bear with me) are by people whom can afford to spend anywhere from $600 to $20000 to do so- what quality book are you getting?  What will be your author demographic?

To address this more fully:  I am not saying self-pubs are not talented, there are several who are and just didn’t want to deal with the aggravation of getting rejection letters, ignored or generally didn’t give a rat’s patootie if they got that work published by a traditional house.  I am also not saying the industry automatically vets each piece of material for quality control- there’s a LOT of crap out there (and it sells).

As flawed as this system is it at least kind of allows for diversity in authorship on some level.  Truly.  One can submit queries and synopsis electronically as well as through snail mail which costs nothing more than time and postage (if applicable).

Now let’s get on with some other stuff about the RWA and their reaction to this mess.  Harlequin, for all intents and purposes, is a ROMANCE publishing house making it a big company which employs a great many members of RWA.  This organization has a tough rule about non-subsidy/non-vanity publishers being on the approved list as well as who gets free space at the annual national conference, editors getting comped, book signing space- you get the idea.  One would think with some board members being Harlequin authors it would have dug in its heals and maybe cut Harlequin a break.  You know, just saying “well, only your new venture is a vanity so… the rest of the company will be okay.”

They didn’t.  Really.

As a member I accessed the resources on RWA’s site and took a gander at the publishers listed and Harlequin has already been removed and its status at the conference foresaken.  I think RWA did the right thing here.  (Interestingly enough the MWA and SFWA have also had a few bones to pick with Harlequin for doing this)

For Harlequin to be linked so closely with a vanity press it has the unfortunate possibility of tainting the authors whom work for the tried and traditional Harlequin.  And there are lots of them.  If people start thinking about Harlequin as being a “self-pub” firm will this negatively impact the readership?  I really don’t think so- not right away.  Honestly this angers me so much that if I did buy Harlequin books I wouldn’t after reading about this AND would feel bad about it because it isn’t just the company getting screwed but the authors who work for them.  I really hate collateral damage when the collateral is comprised of good people doing their jobs.  In the words of Vonnegut, “So it goes.”


One response to “A bit of a rant about some recent publishing news (and it has nothing to do with vampires)

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