Writers’ Organizations to Harlequin: If You’re Not Going to Act Like a Real Publisher, We’re Not Going to Treat You Like One

Someone at Harlequin, the big publisher of romance novels, figured out there was money to be made from all the people who so desperately want to say that they’re being published by Harlequin that they’d be willing to pay for it. Thus has the company started its own vanity publishing arm: It’s called Harlequin Horizons, where, if one is to judge from the Web site, lots of stock art women will be thrilled at the idea of paying between $600 and $3,500 to see their name in print. To further sucker entice yearnful unpublished romance writers, the site also notes “Harlequin will monitor sales of books published through Harlequin Horizons for possible pick-up by its traditional imprints.”

Or in other words: Hey, prospective writers! Harlequin cordially invites you to take nearly as much money as the company gives its first-time romance writers as an advance and give it to them instead, in the foolish and ill-advised hope that by doing all the work the publisher is supposed to do for you, you might get the attention of the company who is already putatively publishing your work. At which point the publisher will reach down from its lofty perch in the clouds, wave its magic wand at your wooden toy of a novel and make it a real boy, and then say to you, “yes, you actually are a writer, not just some foolish chump who has just spent hundreds or thousands of dollars to slap the word ‘Harlequin’ on your self-published work.”

This is basically a skeezy, cynical and horribly demeaning thing Harlequin is doing, padding its bottom line by suckering a bunch of folks who don’t know better into thinking that paying for publication is a legitimate path into the publishing world. In a stroke, they’ve become the sort of scumbag publisher that writer’s organizations warn their members (and their aspiring members) about. But apparently the folks at Harlequin thought that the response would be different with them, because, after all, they’re Harlequin, and they’re too big to fail.

I’m happy to say Harlequin thought wrong. The Romance Writers of America, the Mystery Writers of America and (I’m delighted to note) the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America have all announced sanctions against Harlequin. SFWA and MWA have either chosen or threatened to remove Harlequin from the list of publishers which qualify writers for membership, and whose books are eligible for its awards, while RWA has removed Harlequin from the list of publishers that are eligible for free space and resources at its annual conference. Of the three, it’s obviously the latter which is the big deal. MWA and SFWA are tangential to Harlequin’s market space, but when the largest association of romance writers on the planet says Harlequin is in effect not a real publisher anymore, that’s a pretty important statement.

And it’s worked, of a fashion: Harlequin has announced that it’ll be changing the name of Harlequin Horizons in response to the backlash. However, it fully intends to keep its new vanity arm in order to gull the desperate, and in a press release, Harlequin’s Publisher and CEO Donna Hayes is frankly miffed at RWA for being upset that Harlequin has decided to become the PublishAmerica of the romance genre. After mentioning all the ways Harlequin has helped the RWA conference in the past (read: “you are nothing without us!!!!”), Hayes writes:

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

Let me translate that last paragraph for you:

It is disappointing that the RWA has not recognized that in a recession, our company’s commitment to its bottom line trumps any ethical or moral consideration when it comes to the treatment of writers who haven’t figured out that we’re supposed to be paying them, not the other way around. Harlequin’s intention is to suck money off these rubes in every way possible, so there.

Which is to say that it’s funny how publishers like to trumpet the inevitability of “changing models” when those “changing models” mean the publishers don’t actually have to pay the writer.

Hey, Ms. Hayes: Putting lipstick on a con job doesn’t make it any less of a con job. Changing the name of Harlequin Horizons doesn’t change the fact that you’ve just made Harlequin into the largest vanity press on the planet, and if you’re still planning to insinuate on your vanity press Web site that authors might get picked up by Harlequin if they sell well enough through your vanity arm, you’re still using your company’s brand identity to pry cash off the gullible and insensibly hopeful. Which is a predatory, scumbaggish thing to do.

If you’re a writer or a reader, be sure to take some time to give respect to RWA for moving quickly to stomp on Harlequin’s stupidity, and to MWA and SFWA for, in effect, backing its play. What would be nice is if Harlequin simply dropped this stupid, deceptive, money-grubbing ploy and rejoined the ranks of actual publishers. But if it won’t, I don’t see why anyone, and particularly writers’ organizations, should pretend it’s anything but what it is: the planet’s latest and greatest vanity publisher.

290 thoughts on “Writers’ Organizations to Harlequin: If You’re Not Going to Act Like a Real Publisher, We’re Not Going to Treat You Like One

  1. The main thing that surprised me about all this was how _fast_ it happened. None of the writers’ associations wasted a minute in responding professionally but strongly. I was gratified to see that, although I’m still faintly depressed that vanity imprints associated with legitimate publishers seem to be the Wave of the Future (or at least the Trend of the Moment).

    My fiance suggests that eventually this market will have to tap out (there can’t be an inexhaustible supply of people who want to be authors, and they can’t all stay gullible forever), ending the likes of PA, and I hope that he is correct, but I’m not so sure.

  2. A last gasp as the business model for all publishers implodes. The book publishers are just as clueless as the music publishers on how to adjust to new technology and changing consumer patterns.

  3. So, some time ago, I posted on Scalzi’s blog saying that I had a hard time taking romance novels as seriously as sci-fi and other genres. I don’t think I did a good job explaining why, and a few other posters, including published writers, took umbrage.

    But as an unsophisticated consumer of romance novels-meaning I rarely read novels marketed as romance-this move by Harlequin is a perfect example of why I have a hard time taking romance novels seriously. I don’t want to paint with too broad a brush. However, I think that readers like me will see this move by Harlequin and think that the mass market romance paperbacks coming out of the big publishers are only there to fleece readers for as much money as possible. That said, I am proud of the reaction of the writer’s organizations.

  4. Okay, someone more familiar than I am with romance novel cliches needs to do a send-up of this behavior by Harlequin. Seduction, betrayal, rescue, a shallow attempt at reform in order to win her back, …

  5. Is “skeezy” a new (to me) word, or just a typo/braino for “sleazy”? The latter term seems applicable to this situation, even though it’s a bit shopworn from being regularly used in the context of Vanity Publishing.

    And yup, Bravo! to the Writers’ Organizations that have quickly taken a firm (and professional) stance on the matter. Not that this is surprising — it’s an open-and-shut case: money flows from respectable Publishers to Writers, not the other way around. Sometimes not much money, or not enough of it, but….

  6. I know nothing about the book/writing business so some questions.
    Are the writer associations something like a union? Do they require dues from member writers, etc?

    Doesnt this in some way provide hope or opportunity for those authors who believe they have written the next best seller but are constantly rejected by publishers?

  7. Hmm. Is there a sub-genre of romance novels that are targeted at male readers? I mean, I’m sure there are men out there who read romance novels. But my impression — perhaps incorrect — is that authors and publishers of romance novels tend to assume that the readership is largely women.

  8. Bearpaw@4:

    Harlequin in this scenario is (at the moment) the bad-guy-who-at-first-looks-like-a-good-guy. He charms the heroine, and at first we think he’s supposed to be the hero of the book, but somewhere in the middle of the novel we discover that he’s actually the mysterious figure who is trying to swindle away the heroine’s inheritance.

  9. Given the lambasting Harlequin is getting, how do you feel about various other self-publishing ventures like InstantPublisher and Lulu? Is it the -presentation- of the idea that you’re so against?

    I would think if Tor or Random House decided to open up a self-publishing arm and I was writing science fiction, or fantasy, I’d be more inclined to go with them over Lulu just for name recognition, etc.

  10. While I’m not a reader of romance novels, I can’t speak highly enough of RWA for taking its principled stand. MWA and SFWA have less to lose by doing so, but their statements are quite forceful and also deserving of praise.

    If I ever take up writing romances, I would be proud to join RWA. I’m more comfortable at the prospect of joining SFWA (someday, when I get my lazy ass in gear and start finishing stories) than I have been since the whole…well, let’s not bring up fiascos of the past. They’re very much in my good graces for this.

    Let me quote Yog’s Law: money flows toward the writer. Anything else is a scam. Real publishers pay the writer. Real agents take part of the publisher’s pay to the writer, never fees from the writer. Those of us who know this should tell it to every aspiring writer we know at every opportunity, and then scams like this new Harlequin venture will (eventually) become impossible.

    Don, I think it’s a portmanteau of ‘sleazy’ and ‘skeevy’. The latter, this page suggests, is “Derived from the Italian ‘schifoso’/’schifosa’, meaning disgusting, filty, rotten.” It’s in use wherever there are Italian-Americans.

  11. You mean people actually want to see their names published under Harlequin’s marque?

    I actually know several authors (a couple of them SF authors) who are published with Harlequin. Every single one of them publishes under a pseudnymn. A couple of them won’t even reveal what their nome de plume is for fear tha they won’t be taken seriously as a writer if it gets out.

  12. Having reviewed the website, I see nothing in principle wrong with the concept of “Assisted self-publishing”. The author gets to tap into an existing pool of editors, have someone hold their hand through the book design, use their print-on-demand services, and take advantage of existing distribution channells that the publisher already has. This might compare favorably to other types of self-publishing so far as cost and access to a prospective market.

    (The website stresses that the author retains all rights to the book.)

    I am leery about one thing, though. On the process overview page it says “Before your book finally goes to the printer you will work with your publishing team to determine the price of your book, your royalties and other post-printing details.” It seems to me that an author who retains ownership of their work shouldn’t get royalties, they should get “profits after the costs of printing and distributing are subtracted” and those costs of printing and distribution should be fairly set, though they might scale in a non-linear fashion. If other costs of book production are going to be hidden in this final negotiation of royalties, that’s… well, what’s that word you used?

    skeezy.

  13. Burke, you’ve fallen into the trap that Harlequin is trying to set for aspiring writers in their genre. If your work is rejected by legitimate publishers, there’s a reason for that. It could be that it’s not good enough, or that it’s not good enough YET; it could be that it’s not saleable in its current form (which is not the same as not being good). In any of those cases self-publishing is a mistake. You’ll spend lots of money, and never sell a copy to anyone who isn’t a relative or close friend.

    Outfits like PublishAmerica try to claim that they will get your book into bookstores, but they’re lying. It will not happen. They also say your book will be available on Amazon, but anyone can sell a book on Amazon. (I’ve sung at Carnegie Hall, but the chorus I was with simply rented it on a weeknight. It’s not as impressive as it sounds.)

    Self-publishing is not a path to legit publishing. Appropriate uses of it include books intended only for very small audiences, like the book my brother self-pubbed, consisting of the cute things the kids in our family said as children, and the outrageous things we’ve said and done as teenagers and adults. Of interest only to our family, an appropriate gift for my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, and the right target for self-publishing.

    Tor would never put their name on such a thing. Even Harlequin wasn’t going to put “Harlequin” on the finished books; they were only using the name to draw in victims authors. They know it would hurt their brand to have it on a bunch of not-ready-for-prime-time books. It’s pure skeeve, and they know it (or should and should have).

  14. Burke:

    “how do you feel about various other self-publishing ventures like InstantPublisher and Lulu?”

    I use Lulu all the time to run off personal copies of manuscripts, and I think it’s ideal for self-publishing because it doesn’t charge the writer to publish; it takes its profit off the sale. It does have services you can pay for, but the basic tier of service is free.

    Nor does Lulu (as far as I can see) make any suggestion that by putting your work out through that service, that you’ll be in a better position to get published by a “traditional” publisher, that publisher being Lulu’s corporate parent. Nor does it present its service as anything other than “self-publishing,” which as Xopher notes above, is its own niche.

    I do think that if one is going to self-publish, Lulu’s model really is not a bad one.

    I don’t know anything about InstantPublisher.

  15. LeftField@7:

    Writers’ organizations are simply that: organizations of writers. They are often organized around genres because that focuses their resources in areas of common interest. I’ll let someone else enumerate the many benefits of such an organization, but in this particular instance the function is clear: the are a collective voice of many authors at once saying, “Do not treat authors like this.”

    Goliaths may occasionally get taken down by individual Davids, but the better money is placed on an army of Davids.

    Part II of your post:
    Doesnt this in some way provide hope or opportunity for those authors who believe they have written the next best seller but are constantly rejected by publishers?

    –>I assume the “this” in your question refers to the publishing model that Harlequin (and others) are offering in this scenario.

    The exact opposite is true. This scheme plays on the hopes of aspiring authors by offering a fake opportunity. It pretends that vanity publishing is real publishing, and people who don’t know any better and can’t tell the difference end up spending a lot of money for nothing.

    Real publishers provide editorial guidance, copy editing, book and cover design, typesetting, printing, sales channels, marketing and promotion, warehousing, and, oh yes, CASH.

    Real publishers take all the risk. They spend the money. They pay the author before they’ve even sold one copy of the book. They pay the printer, the sales force (who sell directly to bookbuyers, i.e., the folks who order the stock for B&N, Borders, and independent bookstores), the production staff, etc. etc. For this privilege, the real publisher keeps approx 40% of the cover price of the book.

    Vanity publishing, OTOH, is a screw to the author. The author spends all the money on the printer and production services (if any–editing is optional!), pays extra for a “marketing package” with untested value, and doesn’t have a sales force going into every bookseller in the country touting their book.

    In addition to taking the author’s up-front money (which is typically more than the author would spend if he simply went to Lulu or other POD printers), the vanity publisher also keeps a piece of the action of every book sold. The HH deal is, apparently, 50% of the cover price.

    Add in that a book from a real publisher is almost certain to sell several thousand copies, whereas a book from a vanity press is almost certain to sell fewer than 100 copies, and the whole thing becomes more obviously a scam.

    There is no opportunity here. It is just greed taking advantage of the desperate.

  16. Todd Stullon @ 3:

    I don’t want to paint with too broad a brush. However, I think that readers like me will see this move by Harlequin and think that the mass market romance paperbacks coming out of the big publishers are only there to fleece readers for as much money as possible.

    Well, you know, big publishers — romance or otherwise — are generally in it for the bottom line. If they find a lucrative vein, they’re going to suck on it and not worry themselves overmuch about whether they’re leaving bite marks on readers or writers. My understanding FWIW is that writer’s associations exist in part to push back against that. (And to whatever extent there are Good People on the publishers’ side of things is no doubt largely due to successful pushback.)

    Sturgeon’s Law does seem to apply universally, and the mass market is certainly inundated with the literary equivalent of corn syrup. Not being a romance fan, I don’t know whether the Sturgeon Number for that genre is higher than 90 or not.

  17. The fact that some people would self publish with Tor or Random House if they had a vanity arm shows exactly why this is all so skeezy. Aspring romance writer sees “Harlequin” and gets taken in.

    Skeezy.

  18. @10

    Beat me to it. I was gonna say Urban Fantasy, but its a generalizable joke.

    With this move, Harlequin joins the ranks of Longaberger, Amway, and every other bottom feeding company that makes it’s dubious profits by charging their alleged employees for the privilege of working for them.

  19. They keep saying “changing models” and “traditional business model” as though vanity presses were something new they invented.

  20. There’s an importance difference for “self-publishers” like Lulu: you don’t actually pay up front, and they don’t dance around the fact that to sell some books you have to first write something worth buying. Their business model is built on proceeds from book sales, not from sucking people into forking over enough for a print run. There’s not the same lying to the customer going on – Lulu’s going on about how easy it is to publish a book with their service, not proclaiming you a beautiful butterfly ready to soar as soon as The Man lets you out of your cocoon.

    Unless you look at their “Services” page, where they pretty much do that.

  21. If a business tells you it “might” provide a service for you (like coming down from on high and scooping up your self published novel) this should be heard as “shall not”

    Always nice to see professional organizations stand up to such obvious professional asshattery.

  22. @5: When I was in high school, “skeezer” was a euphemism for what the Victorians used to call “an individual of loose virtue,” so… yeah.

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

    Yeah, and it’s disappointing to me that as a leading publisher of women’s fiction, Harlequin’s intention is NOT to continue to be a leading publisher of women’s fiction.

    That being said, I’m appalled by the prejudice already being displayed in this comment thread. Guess there’s no genre that another genre doesn’t think they are better than, huh? RWA, a group of professional writers, takes an incredibly ballsya nd strong stance, given that a majority of their published members are published with Harlequin (which by the way IS the largest publisher of women’s fiction int eh world and is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year), and int his comment thread people are saying htey take romance authors and their novels LESS seriously because their publisher (who they have denounced) made a stupid move that damages their books’ reputation?

    Um, the disconnect is astounding.

    Mark Horning @13, MANY writers want to see their names printed on a Harlequin book because for millions of readers throughout the world, the Harlequin (or Mills & Boon) name means romance. To sell to Harlequin, especially the category romance lines, means a guaranteed readership of subscribers who are going to buy x number of Harlequins every month, regardless of author or title or any other marketing effort. Harlequin name ALONE.

    This is why putting out a vanity pub arm is so damaging to that brand.

    Many of the writers on the top of the bestseller lists started out writing for Harlequin. Linda Howard, Suzanne Brockmann, Nora Roberts. In fact, Nora Roberts still wrote Harlequin category romances until a few years ago. I think Suzanne still does, from time to time.

  24. I’m also incredulous over the digital director’s claim that having a bound copy of your manuscript (as produced by Harlequin Horizons for a minimum fee of $600) will be useful in finding an agent:

    “Many authors are choosing to self-publish. 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.”

    Malle Vallik (on Dear Author’s blog)

    Since when did agents prefer “a bound copy” of your manuscript? As agent Janet Reid said, back in June:

    “A copy of your novel, printed and bound, with an ISBN.

    Do I really need to explain this? These [requests] are deleted without a response.”

    http://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com/2009/06/whats-not-query-letter.html

  25. Diana Peterfreund:

    Agreed. Romance is a genre like any other; there’s good stuff in it, there’s bad stuff in it, and there’s stuff in the middle, just like any other genre, and in roughly the same percentages.

    That said, let’s not make this thread about the standing of romance as a genre. On that path lies derailment, and the topic here (a major publisher acting unethically) is meaty enough to discuss for itself.

  26. Diana @ 25

    Hey, you know what, if you don’t want to hear the opinions of potential romance readers, and how they might perceive moves like Harlequin, don’t read the comments.

    For anyone else, ignore it at your own peril. I’m not saying I am the target audience for romance novels, but I can say this is the kind of stuff that turns me off from novels marketed as romance.

  27. Other Bill @23:

    If a business tells you it “might” provide a service for you (like coming down from on high and scooping up your self published novel) this should be heard as “shall not”

    So. True. There are a few things about this whole business that upset me. That’s one of the big ones: vague ‘promises’ and ‘maybes’ that are very likely to amount to nothing.

  28. One of the big problems, as far as I see it, is that so few publishing professionals (and I’m talking here about mainstream publishing people) know much about the real implications of vanity or self-publishing–few even know enough to tell the two fields apart. And this means that when a vanity publisher rocks up to them and says, “Guess what! Here’s a way you can make money out of your slush-pile,” and, “Self-publishing is the way of the future!” then those mainstream folks are easily taken in.

    Not that I’m excusing Harlequin in any way: just saying that I suspect that the Harlequin people who signed up to this idea really didn’t realise the full implications of the scheme. I’ve seen this confusion in action loads of times, and bet I’ll see it again.

    Great post, by the way.

  29. Several people posting here need to learn the different between self-publishing and using a vanity press.

    There’s nothing wrong with self-publishing. Services like Lulu exist to help you easily design and manufacture books which you’re then free to sell any way you like. They’re basically analogous to going to an old-fashioned printing and binding firm.

    Vanity presses are a different and more noxious animal. From everything I’ve seen, Harlequin Horizons looks like a classic vanity-press pitch, in which the marks are led to believe that their books will not only be printed but published, which is to say, made known to the public. Sold. Marketed. Publicized. And in fact, they won’t, unless “line-listed in the Ingram database” is your idea of a marketing plan.

    Also, what Diana Peterfreund said. Anyone who doesn’t get that this whole story demonstrates that ROMANCE WRITERS HAVE STONES is really not paying attention.

  30. John, I think you misread my post. Because the reason RWA is taking such a hardline stance on this move of Harlequin’s is not just because a vanity publisher is crap, and referring rejected writers to a vanity publisher is double crap, it’s because slapping the name HARLEQUIN on the book does, as Todd is illustrating, damage the *brand* of Harlequin, which, despite the comments here, is actually one of the most recognizable and highly profitable brand of books in the world. The name “Harlequin” is responsible for putting food on a lot of pro writers tables, and RWA, in the interest of the pro writers it represents, cannot afford to allow that brand to get trashed.

    As an RWA member, the two practices I want to see stopped is the usage of the harlequin brand (Which they’ve already done) and the monetization of the slush pile by referring rejected writers to the vanity press. That there IS a vanity press bothers me less, since it has nothing to do with pro writers and their books. Random House, one of mypublishers, owns a minority stock in Xlibris, another vanity press run by Author Solutions (Which is doing this HqHor venture), but the words Random House are not involved, and there is no connection or referral service going on.

    SFWA wants the vanity wing of Hq shut down entirely, I wonder if SFWA takes the same stance with Authonomy, a division of Harper Collins, or Xlibris.

  31. Jane Smith: As I’ve heard it, Harlequin’s editorial staff were as surprised–and thunderstruck–by the whole “Harlequin Horizons” initiative as everyone else in the romance-novel industry. I’m also pretty sure than all of them are quite clear on the difference between self-publishing and vanity publishing. This brainstorm appears to have been imposed on them.

  32. I think RWA should’ve given Harlequin a chance to correct a few mistakes.

    One, remove “Harlequin” from “Harlequin Horizons”.

    Two, remove all mention of HH from the submission page and rejection letters.

    Three, make sure all advertisements for HH is clearly marked advertisement.

    Four, demand HH stop calling it self-publishing. In self-publishing, the author gets 100% of net sales.

    There should’ve been a deadline given to Harlequin from RWA to correct these things before revoking their Approved Publisher rank and announcing it to the world. Yes, Harlequin did some unethical things and needed to be called out. I feel like the punishment happened before any attempt at communication.

  33. “The HH deal is, apparently, 50% of the cover price.”

    No. It is 50% of net–not retail.

    and…

    “Not being a romance fan, I don’t know whether the Sturgeon Number for that genre is higher than 90 or not.”

    As a romance author (and an author for one of Harlequin’s single title arms) and as a reader (and also an avid sf/f reader), I think romance’s Sturgeon number is about the same as sci-fi and fantasy.

  34. Patrick: I’m sure you’re right–you’re far more clued-in to the US publishing side than I am here in the UK. But I was talking to a UK publisher (a publisher, not an editor…) about Harlequin this morning and he didn’t get the differences between vanity and self-publication, and he was by no means the first publishing pro I’ve had that conversastion with.

    Anyway. I’m very glad not to be one of those Harlequin editors. And if they didn’t know the difference between vanity and self-publishing before, you can bet that they do now.

  35. Laura, unless you also think Harlequin ought to have consulted all its writers before making this move at all, I don’t think you have much of a point. Harlequin presented it as a fait accompli, and its very announcement hurts all Harlequin authors; RWA was under no obligation to wheedle them, and in fact made the best move possible under the circumstances.

    I also don’t think your measures are adequate. If Harlequin runs a vanity press, that taints their brand no matter how they try to dissociate from it.

  36. Laura @#34. Why? Why should the organization’s disapproval be noted only in backdoor dealings? RWA has already said they disapprove, now Harlequin has a chance to fix it — long before any conference travel plans are booked or the issue of contest eligibility for next year’s RITA comes into play.

    Patrick NH @#33: Not all the editors are against it, though. This is a Hq editor’s blog: http://stacyboyd.wordpress.com/2009/11/19/omg-rwa/

    Personally, I would not like to be an editor forced to sign my name on a rejection letter referring a well meaning pro writer to a vanity press.

  37. Diana @ 32 –

    “The name “Harlequin” is responsible for putting food on a lot of pro writers tables, and RWA, in the interest of the pro writers it represents, cannot afford to allow that brand to get trashed.”

    I agree that brand protection is important, but wouldn’t this be a case of an outside organization trying to protect a brand from its owners? I’m not sure that’s appropriate.

    Writers organization can, and have in this case, cajole, threaten or punish businesses that fail to meet certain ethical standards. Preying on aspiring writers for some petty cash is one.

    A fringe benefit of this is that when successful it can preserve a lucrative brand name. But, that can’t be the driving factor in RWAs actions. They don’t own the brand. And businesses are free to kill their own brand.

  38. Torstar, the parent company/owner of Harlequin, is bleeding money through its every other traditional print venture — they posted a $200 million dollar loss for the year recently. Harlequin is *literally* their only profitable venture and this is nothing more or less than a cynical attempt to further monetize Harlequin’s not-insubstantial yearly slush pile.

    That being said, you really need to read the price tags on some of these packages to appreciate the breathtaking scope of the high douchebaggery in action here. Add that to the fact that they are blatantly lying to unsophisticated aspirant authors about those little things called “First Publication rights” and, well…Let’s just say that I appreciate the swift, firm reaction of the RWA, the MWA, and the SFWA at both a personal and a professional level.

  39. # Xopher @37

    RWA’s annoucement also hurts Harlequin writers. They can no longer participate in the RITAs, a pretigious award for romance writers.

    Other publishers run vanity presses, but keep that line of business far away from the traditional publishing side.

    It’s the preying on slush pile writers that is unethical and should be stopped. I think RWA should’ve tried to work it out with Harlequin first. They are one of the largest romance publishers in the world.

  40. @ 6. Becca: It’s “portmanteau”, and “skeezy” is perfectly ok modern slang, synonymous to “sleazy” (at least in my neck of the woods).

    Love it when writers feel the need to get petty over the spelling and use of words. And yes, I’m perfectly aware of the irony ;D

    John – excellent analysis as always!

  41. Diana and Xopher, I read that editor’s blog post too. My eyebrows got so high that they almost disappeared down the back of my head. There’s not getting it and Not Getting It.

  42. # Diana Peterfreund @38
    I’m not advocating backdoor dealings, but RWA did more than disapprove. They revoked Harlequin’s approved publisher status. That hurts so many published authors with Harlequin, who are members of RWA.

    RWA didn’t overreact, but they could’ve sent a demand letter first, saying if you don’t correct this HH situation by December 1st, you are revoked.

  43. Other Bill @#40. Yes, they are “free to” as they in fact have, but people whose livelihood depend on the strength of the brand are going to try to convince them to stop. Which is what RWA (and the other orgs) are doing.

  44. There have been times over the years when I’ve considered not renewing my RWA membership. Seeing this organization stand up to the publisher who dominates our genre in such an immediate and definite way has made me very proud to be a member.

    That other writers’ advocacy organizations have also stepped up and treated this as not just an issue facing “those” writers, but all of us has been heartening and I think it will, in the end, make the difference here.

    I’m a romance writer and one of my publishers is Harlequin. I’m proud of that and I know they can do better than this. I’m damned glad RWA stood up to say they need to do just that.

  45. @42 Laura Herbertson: Yes, the RWA stance may -initially- hurt Harlequin writers since it excludes them from many of the beneficial activities that comes with RWA membership, but this is part of why it is so powerful. With RWA (and the other WAs) pushing on one side, and the Harlequin writers (hopefully) raging (at Harlequin) from the other, the pressure will increase on Harlequin to rethink this new imprint of theirs and consider the -actual- consequences. Someone did -not- do a proper damage analysis before they voted this one through…

    You have to take some pain and a few losses to win a war. Sometimes, the good have to suffer for the sake of the collective.

  46. But Laura, you’re missing my point: why should RWA try to work things out with Harlequin in private when Harlequin made no attempt to work it out with RWA in private? Why does the writers’ organization owe privacy to the publisher, but not the other way around?

    Because big corporations are The Boss, that’s why. It’s the way we automatically think. RWA has made it clear that they aren’t bulliable by Harlequin. That’s what makes it a gutsy stand.

    But I just thought of something else. How do you actually know that RWA did not talk to Harlequin privately first? Maybe they had all the conversations you think they should have had, or were even notified in advance by Harlequin, and all their cajoling availed them nothing. I don’t know, and neither do you.

    And btw Harlequin’s protestations of surprise carry no weight. Might be true, but would be a very typical corporate lie in this kind of scenario.

  47. Laura @#46, I don’t know how it’s hurting Hq writers right this minute, and I am hopeful (esp. judging from their quick response already) that the entire issue will be resolved before there is a chance for it to hurt anyone. (Before Nationals, before next year’s Rita, before Courtney, for example, has her Provisional PAN membership revoked.)

  48. “They don’t own the brand. And businesses are free to kill their own brand.”

    Of course they are. And people who are affiliated with that brand are free to complain when they do so, and to take steps to preserve their own interests.

    If Lexus starts producing cheap lemons, that’s their prerogative, but you can bet that Lexus dealers around the world are going to bitch up a storm.

  49. I’ve been scammed by something similar in the realm of poetry. When I finally figured it out, it really hit me hard emotionally.

    It’s sort of like being invited into a high-school clique only to find out they just want you around to make fun of you and bring them drinks.

  50. Oh, Laura, I see now. You mean you think they should have done what MWA has done, which is issue an ultimatum.

    I personally disapprove of that tactic, because it smacks of extortionate manipulation to me. I think it’s better to have consequences applied as soon as the crime is committed, so to speak (that sts means I know they haven’t done anything illegal).

    RWA pointed out that Harlequin no longer meets their eligibility requirements, by their existing definition. They didn’t “impose sanctions,” they simply interpreted their existing rules. I think they did it exactly right, but I understand why someone else might prefer the MWA approach.

  51. Many of the writers on the top of the bestseller lists started out writing for Harlequin. Linda Howard, Suzanne Brockmann, Nora Roberts.

    Tess Gerritsen.

    I used to mock romance, too, until I met some of the people who’ve written it and crossed over to crime fiction. Those ladies work HARD.

  52. Oh, Laura, I see now. You mean you think they should have done what MWA has done, which is issue an ultimatum.

    I personally disapprove of that tactic, because it smacks of extortionate manipulation to me. I think it’s better to have consequences applied as soon as the crime is committed, so to speak (that sts means I know they haven’t done anything illegal).

    I didn’t see MWA’s communique as an ultimatum, but as an attempt to see if this can be settled to everyone’s satisfaction.

    MWA has a number of writers who’re published by MIRA, which is Harlequin’s thriller imprint. They don’t, however, have nearly as many members published by Harlequin as RWA does. MWA isn’t swinging quite as big a hammer as RWA, so it makes sense they’d at least try for a peaceful solution first.

  53. Kudos to RWA for taking a decisive stand on this in favor of ethics and professionalism. I’ve been on the fence about joining that organization (I write SFF with romance elements, not pure romance), and now I think I will join, if only because they are awesome.

    As for Harlequin, boy, they sure shot themselves in the foot. But maybe this will open the door for another publisher to take their place. One that respects authors instead of trying to scam them.

  54. This is just a suckers play by a really large company. If they were going to be really honest they would have their imprint picture be a person bent over grabbing their toes.

    I am very glad that the reaction was quick and am disappointed that they didn’t back off but merely changed the name.

    It is very sad.

  55. As for Harlequin, boy, they sure shot themselves in the foot.

    Have they? As I’ve mentioned elsewhere everyone I know who’s written for Harlequin says they’re very very good at making money. Has anyone considered that they’ve already calculated that they can afford to piss off RWA? I mean, if Harlequin offers a romance writer a contract, are they going to say, “oh, sorry, RWA doesn’t like you, I’d rather stay unpublished?”

  56. Diana @ 47 –

    I absolutely think the RWA has every right to assert itself as possible. In fact, I’d say, regarding whether the initial dealing should have been in private, I cant see anyway for the RWA to assert itself without pulling the trigger publically.

    I can’t seem to find a way to say this that feels like hitting it straight on.

    Brand protection happens by never failing to provide the highest quality of service. Outside organizations can’t do anything about this. Even their cannon fire can be used unethically by the business to hold up and say “well done we surrender” while continuing much more stealthily.

    But what the RWA can do is hang a lantern on a behavior likely to hurt a lot of prospective members and the field itself by publically punishing the business. It may as a fringe benefit protect currently published authors, but I feel like they aren’t the RWAs only focus, nor the more appropriate impetus for the RWAs actions. Rubes need protection.

  57. Myranda @ #41 – Harlequin is *literally* their only profitable venture and this is nothing more or less than a cynical attempt to further monetize Harlequin’s not-insubstantial yearly slush pile.

    The reaction from Harlequin flacks about this has been that they’re “very surprised and dismayed”. I’m with Kyle Cassidy on this:

    “They were surprised?? Who vetted this decision for them? Winos? Kangaroos?”

    I’m betting that there were people at Harlequin who voiced objections, but we won’t hear form them because once a decision like this has been made, upper management will have made sure there’s a lockdown on any evidence of dissent. I’ve been through this myself. The company I was working for decided to do something hinky with account activation procedures – basically activating an account as paid based on a user action that could well have been made by an easily understandable mistake. We told them left and right this would be bad for retaining customers. But lifetime customers aren’t an issue. They needed a jump in quarterly profits, and that was the fastest way to get there.

    I have no clue what the decision making motivation was on Torstar or Harlequin’s part, but I’ve seen really bad decisions made based on a short term need for cash before.

  58. @35 Courtney Milan: What’s a Sturgeon Number?

    Once I removed all the google links about fish or dams, your post shows up on the front page, but there’s no definition to be found.

  59. Has anyone considered that they’ve already calculated that they can afford to piss off RWA? I mean, if Harlequin offers a romance writer a contract, are they going to say, “oh, sorry, RWA doesn’t like you, I’d rather stay unpublished?”

    It’s the authors that have a choice where to publish that Harlequin can least afford to lose–the Debbie Macombers, the Susan Mallerys, the Gena Showalters–who are hitting high on the NYT list on a regular basis. If Harlequin loses, say, Debbie Macomber over this, they’ve just tossed away more in profit than they could possibly make from this dubious venture.

    The authors who don’t have a choice are the ones whose commercial potential isn’t as recognized. The ones who do have a choice… they can walk.

  60. @62 Matt LeVan: Sturgeon’s Law says a large % of books published are crap. Sturgeon’s Number sets that percentage–it’s usually quoted as around 90.

    My assertion was that romance was neither more nor less crapful than other genres. :)

  61. J.D. Rhoades @ 59 – Romance readers are actually a pretty tight knit community. Word gets around fast online these days, and no romance blogs I’ve seen have come out on the side of Harlequin. The decision may garner Harlequin a lot of cash by referral bonuses, but it will turn people of from working with them long term, and might well turn off a number of readers too.

    “Let’s cut a deal with some scammers and piss everyone else off because we can afford to from the profits we make with the scammers” is actually a bad business model, long term.

  62. Matt, Sturgeon’s Law is “90% of everything is crap.” This came from a conversation where someone told Theodore Sturgeon that they didn’t see why Science Fiction should be taken seriously, because “90% of it is crap.”

    Sturgeon replied “Well, yes, but 90% of everything is crap.”

    The Sturgeon Number is a way of recognizing that in different genres/subgenres the percentage may be higher or, less likely, lower. For example, in the field of “YA post-Raptural Christian Dominionist fiction” the Sturgeon Number is 100%.

  63. The ones who do have a choice… they can walk.

    But will they, given the current publishing environment? I honestly don’t know.

    it will turn people of from working with them long term, and might well turn off a number of readers too.

    Maybe. Has any writer said “I won’t write for Harlequin if they do this?” Has any reader on those blogs said “No more HQ for me?”

  64. A Harlequin Author @ 63 – Not just authors, agencies as well. I’ve seen a number of good sized, respectable agencies being horrified by Harlequin’s decision. What I’d *like* to see is some of them taking a real stand on this and going elsewhere with their authors. I’m not sure if it’s going to happen, though. Cutting off a paying client based on ethics is a hard decision. Of course, the big fish can afford to do that, and get a reasonable deal elsewhere.

  65. @ Laura 42:

    Yes, having HQN dropped from RWA’s eligible pubs is going to hurt HQN authors.

    But that isn’t on RWA. It’s on HQN. HQN was aware of the guidelines.

    More, I suspect they felt they could do as they wished, because, after all, they ARE HQN.

    I don’t think they expected this backlash.

    It does suck for the authors, but if RWA hadn’t taken this stand, it would suck even more, I suspect.

    I don’t think HQN consulted with their authors before taking this step. There was no reason to expect RWA to consult with HQN before taking what I believe was the appropriate action.

  66. New authors desperate to break in probably won’t walk. But established, big-name authors, who have a choice of which publisher to work with and who bring in the lion’s share of profits, just might.

  67. Other Bill #40: You say:
    And businesses are free to kill their own brand.

    While that may be true – this is not the same situation. Writers retain ownership – we sell First North American Rights (or more), but we still own it. When the biggest imprint in the business does something that trashes that name, you could argue we just stand up and leave – except that they’re a virtual monopoly in the genre and there’s really no other place *to* go for anyone who’s not Barbara Cartland (and the like). This is more like a member of a credit union getting irritated at the group they are a part owner in than a person with a bank account expecting the bank to listen.

    This is more like an association of credit union members saying “don’t trash the brand we have a stake in” – and frankly, I”m unexpectedly impressed with RWA/MWA/SFWA for taking such a strong stand so quickly.

  68. How is Amazon’s Booksurge any different? And what about Lightning Source? A state-of-the-art printing and binding company, of course. But I’ve grown tired of watching all these self-published books dropping in the Amazon rankings. I’d like to see one, just one, actually stay in the top 100,000 for more than a month. But it’s always the same. Self-published writer opens and account with LS, comes up with a nifty name for a publishing company, hires freelance editors and graphic designers to make the book appear real, then throwing it on Amazon. It almost never works! After the author runs out of credit and can’t afford to adjust his Amazon rankings, the book plummets to the book graveyard.

    There are now millions of books in the Amazon Book Graveyard. The bottom now stands around 7,000,000, by the way (I know because my two sf novels have been dragging themselves around there like L4D zombies, and deservedly so. There are literally millions of self-published books stinking up Amazon, with thousands more arriving each month.

    I took a leap of faith a few years ago and ordered the top-selling sf book from Lulu. It was Mark Jeffrey’s The Pocket and the Pendant. It’s arguably the worst best-selling science fiction book ever published. Not only are there were 100s of typos and grammatical mistakes, but the text wasn’t right-justified. He couldn’t string together a coherent thought. He was imaginative, of course, but so are eight-year-olds with their crayons. I was painfully obvious that he hadn’t done his dues in the trenches (at least get a philosophy degree, for heaven’s sake), hadn’t spent a good chunk of his life leaning the craft, the art of writing. I couldn’t believe how such a poorly written book got so much hype, that is until I discovered the ugly truth of the self-publishing and vanity-publishing marketplaces. I discovered (through fiddling with self-publishing myself, of course) that Mark wasn’t the best author at Lulu. He was just the one who’d spent the most, given Lulu the most money. I figure he must have purchased a bulk order of around 500 books, maybe $3000-4000 USD, and worked out an agreement with the Lulu’s marketing department. They exploited the heck out of this book for years.

    Then, the unimaginable happened . . .

    I discovered recently that Mark Jeffrey was signed with HarperCollins. This is bad, this is an omen . . . something wicked this way comes. The end of our beloved publishing world (the one with the SASE fetish) is drawing near, bookworms.

  69. Matt LeVanon @ 62

    @35 Courtney Milan: What’s a Sturgeon Number?

    Once I removed all the google links about fish or dams, your post shows up on the front page, but there’s no definition to be found.

    Sturgeon’s Law: “Ninety percent of everything is crud.”

    Which is from a famous response Theodore Sturgeon made to the question of why 90% of SF was crud.

    While this is no doubt generally true, I suspect that it might not be specifically true. In other words, in some subsets of “everything”, the percentage of crud may be higher or lower than 90%. So the given Sturgeon Number — which I won’t dispute — for both “SF” and “everything” is 90, but it may be higher or lower for romance fiction.

    I am unqualified to have an opinion, not having read any of that genre. (Aside from some of the subset of SF that arguably overlaps with romance — i.e. nearly anything by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller.)

    I just invented the term “Sturgeon Number”, BTW, but I’d be stunned if it hasn’t been used that way before. Sturgeon’s Law is several decades old.

  70. @ Mark #13

    You said:

    “You mean people actually want to see their names published under Harlequin’s marque?

    I actually know several authors (a couple of them SF authors) who are published with Harlequin. Every single one of them publishes under a pseudnymn. A couple of them won’t even reveal what their nome de plume is for fear tha they won’t be taken seriously as a writer if it gets out.”

    Considering how prevalent this sort of attitude is, I can see why.

    After all, with the opening comment, you make it pretty clear you find romance laughable. Do you really think the authors who also write for HQN under different names want the more ‘serious’ writers mocking them?

    Of course not.

    Romance gets mocked on a regular basis, and many romance writers are used to it. Many of us couldn’t care less.

    But it’s hard work-writing is hard work period. Whether one approves of the genre or not, that hard work is deserving of some respect.

  71. I have to agree with almost everything in this article, except for one.

    I have to take exception to the “biggest vanity publisher on the planet” label. Harlequin Enterprises Limited sold $117.9 million last year. In contrast, Reed-Elsevier Ltd did 5.3 billion pounds of business last year, or US$8.869 billion.

    Who is Reed-Elsevier, you ask? One of the biggest scientific publishers on the planet. Scientists are routinely asked to fork over up to hundreds of dollars per page for publication in the most prestigious journals (and I’ve forked over the equivalent of 10 cents a word to publish). Scientists do this, because they have to publish to get tenure, and if they’re lucky, you can take the cost out of a grant or from their institutions, which is paid by (wait for it) our tax dollars!

    I’m still trying to figure out what the difference between an out-and-out vanity press and a scientific journal is, and they look the same, except that there’s a bit more quality control in the scientific journals. Maybe.

    Now I realize that we may be comparing apples and oranges, but fiction writers NEED to look at what’s going on in the science journals. Let’s see: the scientist pays to publish, pays a massive annual subscription fee to get the journal (Science cut it’s annual subscription in half, to about $200 recently, and most journals are around $90/year). If you don’t have a subscription and can’t get the journal at your library, you can pay $25 for a pdf of the article, with free downloads for one month.

    Oh, and many journals carry ads.

    Where does that money go? See Reed Elsevier’s bottom line above. While editors get paid for their time, the people who do peer review do it gratis, and it takes time too.

    Why bring this up? Well, Ladies and Gentlemen, here’s a profitable publishing model. Hit up the taxpayers and private granting agencies (as well as grad students and beginning scientists at smaller institutions) to pay for the small-scale publications of scientists, which will get read by less than 100 people on average.

    It can get much worse than Harlequin. Trust me.

    Personally, I wish that SFWA and the other author’s groups would reach out to scientists, who are authors too, and who accept their system because it’s the about the only game in town (except for PLoS, but that’s another story). Many scientists have comparable pay rates to authors too (average postdoc pay with a PhD is around the average state pay, with no job security and <10% chance of getting a tenure track job).

    What authors really don't want is for the mainstream publishing industry to follow the model of the scientific publishing industry, where we have something that looks a lot like a publicly financed vanity press system. It sounds seductive (have everyone pay for the arts!), but so far as I can tell, the only people profiting are the publishers.

  72. Both Random House and Harper Collins have vanity publishing arms.

    Not true.

    At one time, Bertelsmann Media Group, Random House’s parent company, owned a large minority stake in vanity publisher Xlibris. They no longer own that stake—it was purchased by Author Solutions, the company that HQ is partnering with for this vanity publishing effort.

    The HarperCollins thing I can’t speak to; if they own a stake in a vanity publisher, I’m not aware of it.

    I highly doubt that any of this would have happened if TorStar, HQ’s parent company, had launched a vanity publishing operation that was unconnected to Harlequin. The issue here is capitalizing on the Harlequin brand and steering submitters to the vanity publisher with an implied (and false) promise that this is a way to get into the trade Harlequin lines.

    While Bertelsmann owned Xlibris, there was no connection between them and Random House or any of the other publishers they owned; if you submitted a MS to Random House, you weren’t advised to pay Xlibris to vanity-publish your book in your rejection letter, and nor were Xlibris books called “Random House Horizons” books.

    Harlequin, on the other hand, set up a vanity-publishing partnership with Author Solutions that depended for its success on rejected submissions being steered to a vanity-publishing endeavor that was positioned as a kind of “minor league” Harlequin imprint.

    If you don’t see the difference between those two scenarios, gwen, I don’t know what to say.

  73. Sturgeon’s Law: 90% of everything is crap. (Or “crud”, depending whom you read.)

    Sullivan’s Corollary: Sturgeon was an optimist.

  74. I don’t typically read Harlequin’s category romance novels. But I have purchased quite a few of their Mira novels, and several of their Luna imprint novels–in no small part due to Luna being the line that publishes C.E. Murphy, whose work is excellent. Sure, Harlequin automatically may make most non-romance-readers think “cheesy bodice ripper”, but that’s hardly all that they do. For me, this is why it was important for MWA and SFWA to speak up as well as RWA, since Harlequin’s imprints touch the mystery and SF genres as well as just straight romance.

    And for that matter, I’d like to also note that even some of the category romances can be excellent if you know what to look for. The sadly now defunct Bombshell line was action-oriented and just happened to feature females in the lead roles, with far less emphasis on romance (although it was certainly still there). The aforementioned C.E. Murphy did a lovely little trilogy for the Bombshell line under the name of Cate Dermody, and she said at the time that several male readers read them, blinked, and were stunned that they actually liked them. ;) She liked to call them pretty much James Bond novels, except about a girl.

  75. I love how some people are trying to defend this with the line, “well publishing models are changing and you should just get used to that.”
    Publishing models are changing, huh? Well, the “serious publisher directing their rejects to their vanity press across the hall” model has been around since at least when Umberto Eco wrote “Foucault’s Pendulum”, and I can’t imagine he made it up there.

  76. @ twilight – There are other publishers out there, and this might just be a good chance for upstart romance publishers to poach, uh… reach out to midlist authors with an established following. Beginning authors who just got an HQ contract are not going to leave.

  77. Hmpf. Being beaten to the punch, er, explanation is the price of being long-winded, I suppose.

    It’s (barely) worth noting that a Google turns up very few references to the term “Sturgeon Number”, though it doesn’t seem to have been used in quite the same way I do.

    I will, however, gleefully point out that a certain Live Journal commenter by the handle “kerr_avon” pointed out that if the Sturgeon Number is 95%, then anything in the remaining 5% is … caviar.

    I hereby propose that 100-[Sturgeon Number] should from now on be referred to as the “Caviar Number”.

  78. Harper Collins no longer pays advances to authors.
    As reported in the Wall Street Journal, marking a radical departure from traditional book-publishing practices, HarperCollins Publishers says it will launch a new book imprint that won’t accept returns from retailers and will pay little or no advances to authors.

    This further erodes the differences between traditional publishing and small, indie presses like Elderberry. The distinctions are blurring so fast the mind boggles. Inquiring minds want to know: Will HarperCollins now be branded a vanity press?

  79. @Julia I appreciate you setting me straight regarding me other houses with vanity arms. Apparently, I got misinformation elsewhere and am glad you corrected me. I could have done without the condescension of the last line, but that’s a personal thing. I’m still glad for the information.

  80. DWH, sounds like one to me, except for the part where they get their money from the authors. Probably just left out of that story or your excerpt (do you have a link?), because otherwise I don’t see how they can possibly make a profit on that line. They put up all the production costs, then try to sell a no-return book to retailers? Sounds like a dead loss to me.

  81. Twight @ 71 –

    “I’m unexpectedly impressed with RWA/MWA/SFWA for taking such a strong stand so quickly.”

    Just to be clear, I’m definitely not opposed to RWA taking a public as strong an action as available to them.

    I’m not arguing that it is easy to just leave harlequinn for all the authors printed there. I recognize it’s a real problem for them if their sales decline because buyers feel they can’t trust that brand anymore. While the spread of news seems to be a flash burn in this community, I imagine the deine in sales that may result from this will be a fairly slow burn.

    I agree that published authors of harlequin have a decided interest in maintaining the brand. And I do agree that it the relationship is slightly different because they issue a jointly owned product. But, the part of the product that the author owns isn’t tarnished by haequin brand degredation. Though the value they can realize with their product is. And it is hard to find a new publisher. That said, authors with work of a publishable quality can find work elsewhere. It may be difficult, but it is most certainly doable. A query letter filled with an idea backed up by sales statistics on prior works is certainly more eye catching than their first query letter was.

    However, the people vanity publishing will prey on have no recourse and ability to recoup their money and no where to go to sell their works. They are literally victims of a con.

    Which is why I’m drawing a distinction between the two. RWA is doing it’s professional responsibility by hanging a lantern on that con and punishing it by not listing it on their site as a professional organization so as not to add luster in the eyes of the aspirants to it’s vanity publishing scam.

    A fringe benefit is that that company may then elect of it’s own accord not to tarnish it’s brand.

  82. Regarding HarperCollins’ supposed ownership of a vanity publisher: that’s not quite right.

    HarperCollins runs Authonomy, a UK-based display site for writers.

    Earlier this year Authonomy partnered with Blurb.com to offer POD services to its members. As I understand it that partnership is now ended, and a new one with CreateSpace has taken its place. CreateSpace advertises on Authonomy, but I’m not sure if it receives any kickbacks from HarperCollins for any referrals which are made.

  83. #81 – one could hope you’re right – but HQN is still the 800 lb gorilla in the room for romance novels – and getting published elsewhere isn’t as easy as one might think.

    that said – if other publishers pick up where HQN is leaving off, that can only be a good thing :>

  84. I could have done without the condescension of the last line, but that’s a personal thing.

    Well, Gwen, I was mirroring the condescending tone of your post. Sorry you didn’t enjoy it from the receiving end; neither did I.

    This isn’t an intellectual exercise to me. It’s my livelihood. Therefore, I can get pretty testy about it.

    If the folks who administer the Certified Professional Accountant exams, for which people invest beaucoup bucks on education and immense time on studying, announced that they were now adding a new qualification called the “Certified Participating Accountant” for which all you had to do was pay $600 to $20,000, actual accountants would be pretty damned upset, yes?

  85. Harlequin has been offering paid editing services for years, this would seem to be an extension of that. Additionally, the prices appear to be competitive with the prices that Amazon’s publishing arm charges.

    Personally, I don’t see what is skeezy. Software developers have to pay for development kits and memberships on several platforms. If they don’t like it, they move to one where they don’t have to pay. Heck, there are a lot of big name developers leaving iPhone because the approval process (editing) is so opaque.

  86. I’ve given up the notion of self-publishing my sff novels now. It’s time to stick to my guns, take a couple in the gut, like the others. I’ve submitted a novel and a novella this year: the novel to TorUK (the “War of the Words” novel context last summer) and recently a novella to Panverse. I can tell you from experience, my first four novels weren’t publishable. I knew they weren’t. I was led to believe that they were by charlatans, the same breed of swindler that brought American down to her knees. My novella is a step in the right direction. There is only ONE way to publish sf, and that’s through the trade publishing houses in New York, end stop

  87. That said, authors with work of a publishable quality can find work elsewhere.

    This isn’t actually true.

    Harlequin is, in the US and Canada at least (and I think the same thing is true for Mills and Boon in the UK), the overwhelmingly dominant mass-market trade publisher putting out 50,000- to 60,000-word category romances. They have long-standing distribution contracts that guarantee exposure for their titles—end cap deals, tie-ins, the works.

    I honestly have no idea where else I would send a 55,000-word category romance, and if I did find someone else who was publishing that form, I can’t imagine that the sales would be even a tenth of a similar length and subgenre title published by Harlequin.

    Let’s say that I live in the US and play Major League Soccer. It’s not a huge living unless you’re David Beckham, but I love soccer and have been working my ass off since I was a little kid to achieve my dream of being a professional soccer player.

    Now, let’s imagine that MLS announces that it’s going to give soccer devotees a chance to buy a spot on the team. They won’t get any actual playing time, but they can now tell everyone they’re Major Leaguish Soccer players.

    This cheapens my achievement and threatens my livelihood, because once word gets out that you can buy a space on an MLS team, the already marginal reputation of pro soccer in the US is only going to get worse. But where else can I go if I want to stay in the US and continue to play soccer for a living?

    That’s bad enough. Now, let’s assume that, like many pro athletes in non-mainstream-in-the-US sports, I make a bunch of my living doing coaching, workshops, etc.

    Now I’m competing for that work against other people who have “MLS” on their resume, even though they can’t actually play soccer at the professional level.

    That metaphor maps pretty directly onto the “Harlequin Horizons” scenario for writers. If I’ve published three novels with, say, Harlequin Historicals, that’s a credential that shows that I understand how to create and deliver professional-level fiction. So I foreground that on my CV when I apply for a gig teaching “How to Write and Publish Romance” at my local adult education center.

    And I lose the job to someone who’s published six novels with Harlequin Horizons, a credential that looks more impressive than mine unless you know that all it means is that someone had at least $3600 to spend on Writer: The Roleplaying Game.

  88. Dirty Wizard Hunter #85–I believe you’re talking about HarperStudio. http://theharperstudio.com/

    They offer 50% royalties and lower advances, as opposed to the 7%-15% traditional royalties and higher advances (which are, after all, advances against royalties), and are looking at non-traditional marketing, publicity, etc. along with more traditional marketing and publicity.

    They’re not taking money from unknown, unproven writers that are hoping to become successes and are willing to pay for it. Nor are the authors paying to be published–they’re accepting a lower initial advance for greater profit-sharing later, as numerous movie stars do with their films.

    HarperStudio authors include Howard Bloom, Roy Blount Jr, Emeril, Erica Jong, Mollie Katzen, Emeril Lagasse, Leornard Maltin, Brad Meltzer, Toni Morrison editing an anthology, and many more. They’ve already had their first NYT bestseller with Emeril Lagasse.

    I’m not affiliated with HarperStudio beyond also working at HarperCollins, but while this is not the traditional payment structure, it’s also not a vanity press by any means whatsoever.

  89. Where did you hear that RH has sold it {Xlibris}?

    Here.

    I also don’t think Bertelsmann/Random House Ventures ever owned more than 49% of Xlibris, which was the stake they acquired in 2000. But I could certainly be wrong about that.

  90. DWH @85, I believe you’re referring to HarperStudio (link to the New York Times article that outlines it: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/04/business/04harper.html?_r=4&ref=books&oref=slogin )

    I have to disagree with the idea of it being a vanity press. It’s an imprint of HarperCollins, and while authors get low or no advances, neither do they pay to get published or have to sell their books themselves. Their titles still get edited, copyedited and marketed the same way other HarperCollins books are. They have the support of the publisher behind the books.

    When Harper’s sales reps go in and sell their season catalogs to book buyers, they have one for HarperStudio, unlike vanity presses who don’t sell to bookstores at all. I don’t know what their discount to bookstores is, but a standard returnable discount from publishers is in the ballpark of 44-47%. Non-returnable discounts are usually higher, because publishers understand that buyers are taking a risk on carrying a book that they can’t send back.

    I was digging around on the Harlequin Horizons site yesterday trying to find their bookseller discounts, but if it’s there, it’s well-hidden. However, Hh books are non-returnable by default. If Hh authors want, they can pay $839 to make their books returnable — something they’d have to renew on a yearly basis to the tune of $360. Hh calls this “Bookseller Return Insurance,” which in my 15 years of bookselling is a term I’ve never heard. I’m pretty sure they made it up. Especially since when you google the phrase, only Hh and West Bow come up. Curious, that.

  91. I can’t wait until the Sisters in Crime chapter I belong to meets next, to see what’s being said about this among the mystery writers in the group, especially since some of them self-publish (as opposed to patronizing vanity publishers), and more especially since some of them also belong to the local RWA chapter.

    The other thing that pisses me off, aside from the instant controversy, is part of that Donna Hayes quote:

    “As a leading publisher of women’s fiction…”

    What? Because I’m a woman I’m, by definition, supposed to be reading Harlequin books? Well, I’m sorry. I hardly ever read romance novels, at least the formulaic ones, and I have never to my knowledge read any book published by Harlequin. I didn’t even buy the idea of books for males and other books for females back when I was a kid and read Hardy Boys mysteries as readily as I read Nancy Drew mysteries.

    Then again, my father brought me up to be a science fiction fan back in the 1960s, when many people still insisted (and, yes, I know, some still do, but they are idiots) that science fiction was just for men.

  92. The other thing that pisses me off, aside from the instant controversy, is part of that Donna Hayes quote:

    “As a leading publisher of women’s fiction…”

    What? Because I’m a woman I’m, by definition, supposed to be reading Harlequin books?

    “Women’s fiction” is a term of art/genre identifier in the publishing world, and I can’t imagine Hayes was using it any other way.

    I agree with you that it’s emblematic of a legacy of sexism in publishing that “romances and family sagas” have been given the genre identifier “women’s fiction” (just as food and lifestyle pages of newspapers used to be called “women’s pages”), but that’s not Hayes’s fault.

  93. RE #46:

    RWA’s reaction was totally correct. Harlequin attempted to take control and preempt RWA by stating that RWA should have approached Harlequin first before reacting. Well, why didn’t Harlequin approach RWA to begin with in discussing their idea? RWA had no obligation to do so because Harlequin had already taken the first shot across RWA’s bow. RWA might not sink Harlequin but they were centainly entitled to shoot back and they did, bless them and MWA and SFWA.

  94. More on the “Does BMG still own shares in Xlibris?” question—I’ve been reading really boring corporate documents (some in German, which makes them even more soporific!) and still can’t figure it out. Maybe they do, Diana; it’s awfully confusing.

    Even if that’s still the case, “Bertelsmann Digital Media owns shares in Xlibris” is awfully different from “Harlequin and Nelson are launching co-branded vanity publishing projects.”

    The Nelson one has the additional ick factor of using a former trade imprint name for the vanity books. If I were someone who had published a Thomas Nelson/Westbow book back when it was a real imprint, I’d be beside myself.

  95. Julia, I absolutely agree with you regarding HarHor and Xlibris being two differnt kinds of beasts (see my comment way back at #32), and I also agree it’s super confusing. I read that WSJ article you linked to, and it may be a factor of how poorly written the article is, but it’s unclear whether:

    Investors in Xlibris include Bertelsmann AG’s Bertelsmann Digital Media Investments, which holds a significant stake in the business. “We’re very pleased with the sale,” said Richard Sarnoff, president of the investment arm.

    weans that Sarnoff is happy with selling Bertelsmann’s investment portion of Xlibris, or whether he is happy with the location other investors sold to. The fact that the article writer uses the present-tense of “include” makes it even more confusing.

    Either way, it’s certainly different than the Harlequin and Nelson actions, due to the branding and the fact that there is only ONE deeply, depply buried mention of Xlibris on the Random House page, and that’s to say they have NOTHING to do with it.

  96. The really sad thing is that Harlequin will probably get enough who are willing to pay that it won’t make a bit of difference that they’ve just fallen off the approved lists for RWA, SFWA, and MWA.

    It’s even sadder that there are writers out there who are willing to pay to be published without realizing the implications of what they’ve done.

  97. @ Julia

    I am very sorry if you read condescension in my original post. I never meant it to read that way. I am a member of RWA, I am completely behind the stance the BOD took yesterday, and I am very anti-vanity publishing.

    My point was, are the writing organizations going to treat the other houses the same way…not that it wasn’t justified. I was surprised by the tone of your reply to me, which is why I commented back to you. I am sorry if you thought I was not on the same side of this issue as you are. This is a heated discussion, for sure. I just wasn’t sure why it was directed at me.

  98. Jane Smith @36: “I was talking to a UK publisher (a publisher, not an editor…) about Harlequin this morning and he didn’t get the differences between vanity and self-publication, and he was by no means the first publishing pro I’ve had that conversation with”

    ….and if you needed a good example of why the publishing business as it stands today is going the way of the dinosaur, there ya go.

    Being unwilling to adapt to new-media realities, and the changes that are occurring to consumption and consumer models? I can almost understand that — the inertia of the corporate monolith.

    But it’s all exacerbated by an almost willful ignorance of anything that’s happened outside of the echo chamber of NY and London publishing offices.

  99. Bearpaw @ 8: (yeah, I’m coming late to the party :))
    Surprisingly enough, there are several male authors of romance books for men: the one I remember off the top of my head is Mike Gayle, several of whose books I had read and enjoyed.

  100. @heteromeles (75)
    I completely agree with you that Reed-Elsevier makes Harlequin look positively angelic. But what you describe about scientific publishing doesn’t square with my experience (and although I’m pretty junior, I’ve published a couple dozen papers). When I have to pay to publish, it’s for open access articles like PLoS or BMC that don’t have subscription or pay-per-download costs–that’s the point. When I don’t pay to publish, I have our library negotiate for the best possible terms in terms of open access (this is, admittedly, a huge advantage of working for a major research institution, although even then it isn’t winning me any friends with journal editors). And on any NIH-funded project, which in my case is most of them, the law says that the journal must allow the paper to be open access after a year, and the journal’s desire to sell subscriptions or copies of my paper isn’t relevant. I think this is a great policy, and it directly addresses the complaint that taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for the same research twice–once for someone to do it is fine, but having to then pay some private publisher to read it is not fine.

    Personally I don’t think that non-scientific writers have much in common with scientific writers, because as a scientific writer I have zero desire to be paid per article or restrict access to my writing. Writing (and reviewing) is part of my day job, as is teaching and service. I want my papers to be free to all comers because citations of my work are just as important as publishing it in the first place. This is one of the reasons that I do my university service with our library, which has, for example, recently negotiated terms with a major publisher that guarantee that everyone from this university who publishes with them has their papers automatically classified as open access.

    Finally, the scientific review process for journals, in my experience, is far more stringent than it was on the occasions I’ve written what is called “popular nonfiction” for conventional presses (and for which I was paid). And vanity presses have no standards at all. I mean, seriously, even though Elsevier is made of evil, Science is a more reliable source than Harlequin, let alone Harlequin Horizons.

  101. The posting and many of the comments presuppose that the “real” publishing business is viable and good for authors. But how many authors do I know, who’ve published extraordinarily good books (even award-winners) and seen them totally mishandled by big publishing houses, who really are looking for best-sellers. 95% of published authors didn’t make a living even when the publishing houses were flush; now it’s getting even worse. Vanity presses have been around for quite a while and will continue to suck in the gullible, and it’s kind of disgusting to watch a big-time publisher like Harlequin join the scam, but the fact is, new models of publishing are going to be required, and to pretend that getting an agent and signing up with an established publishing house is going to solve the problem, is only possible with your head buried fairly far into the sand. Things are changing in publishing, whether books, or whatever.

    For example, take my friend who signed up with one of the very best publishing houses recently because he had a great book, which has won several awards. But sales? Hah. The marketing department at the publishing house, well, what marketing department?

    Look at these numbers: book sells 20,000 copies (top, what 1 or 2% of what’s published) at average of $17.50 each (paper / hardback mix). Total revenue, $350,000 Print / distribution cost, maybe $4 each for 25,000 copies (assuming a reasonable rate of book returns) Just to make it easy, let’s say 50% publisher discount. Author’s royalties, 10%. Cost of publisher’s overhead, editing, design, etc. $20,000. This leaves a profit to the publisher of $20,000. Razor thin margin, no room for spending money on stuff like marketing campaigns.

    Meanwhile, if people haven’t noticed, there are now several million public domain books available online for free. This means, you could have enough great reading on any subject you want, I mean, really great reading, and never run out. Not to say people won’t buy new books; of course they will. But the economics of publishing ain’t what they used to be, my friends.

    So, companies like Harlequin are desperate, and if they can find some revenue in self publishing, well, I’m not so sure it’s worse than watching them collapse. There are lots and lots of places for people who are susceptible to the self-publishing scam to spend their money foolishly. It’s not going away. It might offend professional writers that people have this need to publish books that publishers won’t touch, but if the revenue from this unsavory but permanent side of the book biz goes into the hands of non-publisher scam artists, rather than helping the bottom line of publishers, would you really be better off?

  102. Jane Smith @89 and Diana Peterfreund,

    I know of at least one author who, after a rejection from Harper, received a recommendation from them that she try Authonomy. It was implied, if not actually stated (I didn’t see the actual e-mail, this is secondhand) that this was a way to bring her work to the attention of the right people and increase her odds of selling a book to them, as well as a way to get her MS published even though they were rejecting it. Since it was a form letter, followed up by others, I think it’s fair to assume this is a regular practice.

    Not as blatant as HQN, but still troubling to me.

  103. Isaiah Thomas the Younger:

    “But the economics of publishing ain’t what they used to be”

    The economics of publishing are never “what they used to be,” for values of that phrase which mean “when everything was better.” Which is to say that every era of the publishing industry has its own sets of publishing challenges, panics and collapses, and so on. So the suggestion that the current situation is somehow different in that respect is a) not particularly persuasive and b) still not an excuse to screw writers.

  104. Why is this a bad thing? They’re up front about their charges and they’re supplying a service which some people might be willing to pay for. My guess is that if one of these pay-for-publish books does sell really well, Harlequin would pay a lot more attention to the author.

    Seems to me like they’ve come up with a great business model. They’ve taken the whole filtering of manuscripts process that used to cost them a fair amount of money and turned it into a profit center. Now they don’t have to bother with that part and they can get paid to test produce books while only paying attention to the ones that sell well. That’s great!

    Just because you don’t like it doesn’t make it unethical.

  105. I have to cast my votes with the contrarians here. Harlequin certainly deserves no awards for its conduct, but seems to be behaving within its rights. These seem to be the two primary arguments against:

    #1 Diana says the Harlequin brand name generates sales on name alone, and by introducing HarHor this brand name will be dilluted, the brand damaged, and the authors who use that brand will be impacted accordingly. Yes, that seems to be true, but that is solely Harlequin’s concern. It is their brand, they can do with it as they see fit based on the (presumably financial) needs of the company. Arguing that you don’t like what they are doing to their brand is like ticket scalpers arguing that a team shouldn’t fire their star QB. Yeah, it will hurt you, but if you don’t have stock then you don’t have a vote. Making money off their brand does not give you a vote. I think Harelquin is calculating that the brand dillution will be small compared to the income generated by HarHor, otherwise they wouldn’t be making this move. Lets assume they are not stupid.

    #2 Scalzi says that Harlequin is being unethical, duping deluded authors into throwing money away to pay to have a successful career as an author. And if there was clear evidence that Harlequin was actively deceiving these poor writers, that would be true. But the actual text cited above doesn’t lie about what HarHor is offering to the writers. Unless someone can offer some convincing proof that HarHor is promising to do something and then not delivering on that promise, this argument seems to be baseless as well.

    Frankly, I think Sclazi was implying that the RWA went after Harlequin because of reason #2 (the ethical reason), when in reality they did it because of reason #1 (the monetary reason).

    And as for the poor dupes willing to pay HarHor? “A fool and their money are soon parted.” You can’t protect foolish people from themselves. All you can do is keep repeating the worthlessness of vanity press and hope that these aspiring authors read a few blogs before they write a check to HarHor.

  106. Alonon @ 109

    Bearpaw @ 8: (yeah, I’m coming late to the party :))
    Surprisingly enough, there are several male authors of romance books for men: the one I remember off the top of my head is Mike Gayle, several of whose books I had read and enjoyed.

    Better late than never. I (ahem) appreciated others’ joking answers, though of course they weren’t really answers.

    So thanks, I’ll take a look at Mike Gayle.

    Follow-up questions, if you’re willing: What makes them romance books? What makes them for men?

    Bonus question: Are they at least sometimes funny? Because I suspect that I’d feel the same way about romance fiction as I do about real-life romance. If there aren’t funny bits, it ain’t for me.

  107. GalJ:

    “Just because you don’t like it doesn’t make it unethical.”

    Conversely, just because you like it doesn’t make it ethical, Gal J.

    As for “They’re up front about their charges and they’re supplying a service which some people might be willing to pay for,” so’s the guy down the road for me who’s brewing up crystal meth in a bathtub in his garage, and yet it’s still possible I might have issues with his business plan.

    Matthew in Austin:

    “You can’t protect foolish people from themselves.”

    Well, but this is wrong. Many of the people Harlequin is hoping to prey on here are not foolish, they are merely ignorant of the actual business practices of the industry, and Harlequin is hoping to exploit that knowledge gap for its own benefit. Writers and their organizations are entirely correct to loudly and forcefully call attention to it and use the leverage they have to back the company away from exploiting these newer and less informed authors.

  108. Questions for the subset of the crowd who reads/writes romance fiction: Is there any romance fiction out there from a specifically feminist perspective? Ditto from a GLBT perspective.

  109. Bearpaw:

    That’s drifting away from the main topic and I’d prefer not to do that. If you want people to e-mail you their answers, that’s fine, but let’s not otherwise go down that path.

  110. Sigh. Some people will never get it no matter how many times you explain. And others think it’s OK to do anything that makes money as long as you don’t break any actual laws.

    Some people need to read the thread; others need to advance their ethics beyond the sandbox.

  111. Sure, just because I like it doesn’t mean it’s ethical. However, I said nothing about their ethics, I just said it seemed like a good business model. In general, I try not to comment about something being ethical or unethical since ethics are very subjective.

    Also, the guy down the road from you is doing something illegal and potentially putting you and your family in direct physical danger. I think that’s a little different from a publisher trying out a new business model so I’m not sure where you’re going with this comparison.

    Are you worried that their new business model might endanger your revenue stream?

  112. GalJ@114: because you can get essentially the same thing by using Lulu and a $15/month website for promotion, without having to front thousands of dollars.

  113. Mike Gayle’s books are romance books because… Well… They’re about relationships, and about people looking for True Love(TM), etc… But the heroes are the guys. And they’re not the guy who always gets any girl he wants, just regular blokes.
    And yes, they are sometimes funny–even hilarious :) Worth a read, IMO.

  114. Scalzi said:

    “Well, but this is wrong. Many of the people Harlequin is hoping to prey on here are not foolish, they are merely ignorant of the actual business practices of the industry, and Harlequin is hoping to exploit that knowledge gap for its own benefit.”

    You’ve just described most business transactions. People make profits because they know something the other person does not. That’s true in the stock market, the real estate market and the publishing market. Do your homework or someone is going to eat your lunch.

  115. “Writers and their organizations are entirely correct to loudly and forcefully call attention to it and use the leverage they have to back the company away from exploiting these newer and less informed authors.”

    I suppose if you look at the RWA’s action as an effort to publicize and educate, then your position is stronger. It is certainly a noble cause to try to make sure the authors that do sign up for HarHor have realistic expectations on what they should expect. And a major post on a prominent blog such as yours does help that cause along. So that is good.

    But Diana’s point was very interesting. The RWA has a self-serving desire to protect the Harlequin brand, which is its gravy train. Do you think that the RWA might be a little more interested in protecting the brand for the established writers than in protecting aspiring authors for HarHor?

    I think Tor is great and all, but you have to admit that when it comes to selling boatloads of books on brand alone, Harlequin is king of the mountain.

  116. No, GalJ, most business transactions involve people who value things differently for legitimate reasons. I value a block of cheese more than the money the store wants for it, and the store values the money more. They make a profit, I get my cheese.

    You’re saying that most business transactions are swindles, which is far from the case. And in the stock market, if you trade based on information that isn’t publically available, that’s a crime (at least in America). (That’s not the same as the other party not having done their homework, I recognize.) And in the real estate market, if you sell me a house without disclosing the black mold in the basement, I can sue you for much more than the price of the house.

    You think it’s OK to exploit the ignorant. Most people have a less Randian outlook than that, thank gods.

  117. GalJ:

    “You’ve just described most business transactions.”

    Perhaps I’ve just described most of your business transactions, GalJ; most of mine turn out differently. I’m not sure what alternate universe you live in, in which everyone who conducts business acts in an overtly predatory manner, but I’m glad I don’t live there.

    “Are you worried that their new business model might endanger your revenue stream?”

    You clearly know very little about publishing, or about how I do my business.

    Their business model doesn’t threaten me in the slightest; however, their business model preys on other writers, which I find offensive. I don’t mind telling people so.

    Matthew in Austin:

    “Do you think that the RWA might be a little more interested in protecting the brand for the established writers than in protecting aspiring authors for HarHor?”

    I’m not sure I understand this question. This axiomatic that organizations by and for professional writers will generally act in the interests of professional writers. That said, I don’t suspect most current members of RWA are going to be gulled by a vanity press, so the immediate benefit of RWA’s action accrues to nonmembers and aspiring writers. Moreover, of course, I see nothing wrong with both populations receiving benefit.

  118. Bearpaw @ #118: Yes, there is romance to be found from queer perspectives, although this is a lot more common in e-book markets than in print. Ellora’s Cave and Samhain Press are probably good places to start looking for GBLT romance, although mind you, I personally am aware of more m/m romance out there than I am f/f.

    Romance from a feminist perspective I think is a lot more indistinct a question. If what you mean by this is, “are there romances where the woman and the man don’t fall into the stereotypical gender traps and function a lot more as equals”, then yes, absolutely. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that a lot of the romance genre these days is a lot more feminist than people who don’t read it think it is. Yes, a big chunk of it still indulges in the “bodice ripper” stereotypes. But a lot of it doesn’t.

    Please feel free to email me at annathepiper(at)gmail(dot)com if you’d like more specific recommendations. :)

  119. Whoops I posted my comment before John advised against topic drift. Sorry about that. *^_^*;; But I do point at the invitation to email me for further yakking on that side topic.

  120. John Scalzi @ 117:

    Many of the people Harlequin is hoping to prey on here are not foolish, they are merely ignorant of the actual business practices of the industry, and Harlequin is hoping to exploit that knowledge gap for its own benefit.

    A-frakking-men.

    Maybe I’m just getting old(er) and grumpy(er), but it seems like more and more business plans boil down to ever-more-complicated ways of taking advantage of knowledge gaps.

    As a consumer it’s certainly in my own self-interest to educate myself about the basics of a particular product or service, in rough proportion to how much it costs and how dangerous it is. But it is simply not possible nor realistic to expect me to be expert enough in, say, financial arcana to protect myself from some MegaMoneyCorp with a whole department of ethically-challenged people writing fine print and another department devoted to “explaining” why that fine print is actually there to benefit me, really it is.

  121. Galj – Why is this a bad thing? They’re up front about their charges and they’re supplying a service which some people might be willing to pay for. My guess is that if one of these pay-for-publish books does sell really well, Harlequin would pay a lot more attention to the author.

    The problem is the real data anymore needs is not at all up front – how many people who use this service make any money at it at all, and if so how much do they make? If 99% of clients loose money, and .01% ever get picked up by HQ, we have NO DATA on whether those .01% might have simply gotten picked up after a few minor revisions that any competent agent could have suggested they make.

    Simply put, this sort of publishing is a lottery for the gullible. Just because one person wins the lottery does not mean you should consider playing the lottery as a career path.

    Seems to me like they’ve come up with a great business model. They’ve taken the whole filtering of manuscripts process that used to cost them a fair amount of money and turned it into a profit center.

    By preying on the hopes of the people submitting them that they have a good chance of making money, which is blatantly false. If your business model is based on an ever increasing supply of hardcore suckers, you’ll drive whatever credibility your non-sucker based business has into the basement. Eventually, people will wise up, and your investors will be stuck wondering when the next profit increase is going to come from.

    Fleecing suckers is only a sustainable model if you’re PT Barnum.

    Just because you don’t like it doesn’t make it unethical.

    No, it’s the part where they hold out an unreasonable hope that almost anyone can make it as an author if they send money that makes it unethical. If they were upfront about people’s chances, no one would sign on.

    But if you think fleecing suckers is ethical, which you seem to, then I can see why you don’t have a problem with it.

    People make profits because they know something the other person does not. That’s true in the stock market, the real estate market and the publishing market.

    By which you mean it’s ethical to have a business that makes it’s profits, not by providing a service people need, and get value from, but by one that costs them more than they get back, and holds out the hope that they will “win”. Three card monte is not an ethical business model.

  122. Well, I am still not convinced it actually IS a swindle. But seeing how there are a bunch of experienced authors posting in this thread saying it is a swindle, and seeing how I am not in said category, then I suppose I need to yield this point to Scalzi and co.

    But Xopher, lets not have “Randian outlook” mean “lack of business ethics”. The industrialist heroes in her novels were exceptionally ethical, driven to make best product at lowest price while paying highest wage. Their enemy was government regulation, not the consumer. I’d rather not put Harlequin Horizons on the same level as Rearden Steel.

  123. @110 Dorothy: I think you are lucky, and I congratulate you on it. My experience has been with NSF funded or lesser projects, including work I’ve paid for out of my own pocket. NSF did not have the journal requirements when I worked on that grant, and I’ve had to pay to be published out of my own pocket.
    The thing to realize is that you, Dorothy, have very wealthy, powerful patrons, and as a result, you are living in a world of comparative privilege. If you talk to, say, ecologists, you will get a very different message about the resources available.
    Now, I’m coming from the conservation side of biology, and that may well explain our different experiences. I will also add that I’m no longer in an academic institution, it being much harder to get a job not associated with NIH funding. As for the cost of papers, again, if you do not have a connection to a major research institution, you have to pay $20-$30 for access to most articles. That was as of August 2009, the last time I downloaded something for a job. My cheap shot about the quality of peer review is simply sour grapes from the last few articles I reviewed. I assume that vanity presses are worse in terms of quality control, but I’ve seen some extremely good self-published work as well.

    In any case, this is peripheral to the Harlequin story, but it’s worth examining as an example of what we really, really don’t want Harlequin or any other major publishing house doing. It’s also an interesting example of what happens when you have publicly-funded writing, which is what science (via NIH and other bodies) basically is.

  124. I can see additional issues if some one uses this vanity service to publish copyright violating or plagiarism material and Harlequin is pocketing money from “assisting in self publishing” of it. A lawsuit waiting to happen.

  125. I was actually talking about the selfish, ethics-free asshole Ayn Rand herself. But I suspect that may be a topic drift as well.

    But Matthew, I guess my point is that preying on the foolish or ignorant is not ethically better than preying on the physically weak. The fact that vanity publishing as practiced by the likes of PublishAmerica (and comparably by the described business model of HarHor) is legal says more about how dysfunctional our legal system is than about its ethicality.

  126. Matthew: “Do you think that the RWA might be a little more interested in protecting the brand for the established writers than in protecting aspiring authors for HarHor?”

    John: “I’m not sure I understand this question.”

    I was going back to Diana’s earlier point (post #32), where completely separately from the “swindle” aspect of all this Diana was also concerned about the brand dillution that will occur if a bunch of second-rate romance novels flood the market under the brand name “Harlequin Horizons”. That the brand itself will be come less good, and authors will stop getting as many guarenteed sales purely from the brand-name. Seeing that she was an active RWA member, I took her at her word that this was a serious concern.

  127. GalJ @ 114,
    “They’re up front about their charges…”

    and Matthew in Austin @ 115,

    “And if there was clear evidence that Harlequin was actively deceiving these poor writers, that would be true. But the actual text cited above doesn’t lie about what HarHor is offering to the writers. Unless someone can offer some convincing proof that HarHor is promising to do something and then not delivering on that promise, this argument seems to be baseless as well.”

    They’re not entirely up front about what they’re offering, though. Yes, everything is broken out, and if you click through all the links, you see what exactly your package buys. But how many first-time authors actually *understand* what every detail means?

    One of the offerings is the “editorial review” — sounds pretty sweet, doesn’t it? But look closer: you get a critique of the first 1700 words of your book. That’s it. If you want more, you need to dig deeper into your pockets, which even for a full line-edit (not content, just spelling/grammar/capitalization) is going to run you a couple of thousand dollars. Even at the highest editorial offering, it looks like you only get one pass at editing, then you’re on to the layout phase. So an editor might make some suggestions to you, sure, but do writers who go with this option get someone to read their revisions? Or do they have to pay all over again?

    Their “Standard Publicity Plan” is a press release that gets sent to “100 targeted media outlets.” You can pay more to bump that up to 300, where they suggest you will “pique the interest of editors across the country with a professionally scripted press release about you and your book.”

    What kind of editors? Because that definitely leads you to believe they mean editors at publishing houses, wouldn’t you say? When I read blogs written by agents and editors, most of them say that emails sent to hundreds of people at once go straight to the recycle bin, and quite often the sender gets blocked. How is that useful?

    If they mean newspaper editors, do authors understand that just because someone sends out a press release, it might not ever actually get printed?

    It’s not so much what they say, it’s what they don’t say. What are the average prices for books published through Harlequin Horizons going to be? They’re offering mass market formats, but books published through POD presses are usually quite a bit more expensive than the $6.99 paperbacks we’re used to seeing. The Hh authors get to set their own prices, sure. They get 50% of the net profits (which, by the way, I had to find in the comments of the Dear Author blog yesterday — if it’s mentioned on the Hh site, I have yet to find it). How many new writers understand the difference between retail price and net price?

    How does Hh handle author orders? I notice there’s a category for “Author Volume Book Order Discounts” — what is that, exactly? Do the authors pay shipping on those orders? Do they get a discount off of the net price when ordering for themselves, or if the discount is off of the retail price, do author orders count towards their royalties? (I’m pretty sure that if Mr. Scalzi ordered copies of Old Man’s War from Tor, that order wouldn’t count towards his royalties, but I could be wrong on that.)

    Do author orders count towards these sales that Harlequin claims they’re going to track, or will they only count sales that come in through Ingram/Amazon/their own online bookstore?

    While no, they don’t flat-out lie about anything on their site, there’s a lot of information there that’s missing that first-time authors don’t know to ask. That’s the worrying thing. Reading all the sunshine on the Harlequin Horizons site, it sure makes it sound like people who go with them are getting peachy-keen support from their publisher.

  128. Matthew, as far as I know HarHor was never going to print “Harlequin” on the covers of the books. They were being marketed to authors under that name, but Harlequin has backed away even from that. I think the danger of brand erosion in an “outside baseball” (i.e. general public) context is minimal given those facts, but I’m not an expert.

  129. Xopher:

    “But I suspect that may be a topic drift as well.”

    Well, yes.

    But aside from that, it is a good point you make that not everything that is legal is ethical. Certainly Harlequin can create a vanity press arm and whomp up verbiage designed to suggest that using it is a legitimate and useful way to get started in publishing. But anyone who knows the publishing industry knows that it’s really not, and that suggesting so is disingenuous at best, and thus unethical to a greater or lesser extent.

    Matthew in Austin:

    Ah. Okay. Well, I certainly think brand dilution is an issue. If the market is flooded with low-value product bearing the imprimatur of a valued brand, that brand will suffer, and that’s a legitimate concern for authors associated with the brand.

    It does seem that Harlequin see this as the only major concern of RWA, which is why it’s changing the name of the vanity imprint but otherwise proceeding with the imprint.

  130. My own thought is that HarHor is at BEST a bait and switch. As a writer, when I submit something to a publisher I’m trying to sell it; which is where they get my product and I get their money. With HarHor they get my product and my money.

    This is, as many others have said, bad.

    As a former bookstore manager, I liked Harlequin – I didn’t read many – I like reading “boy meets gun” much more than “boy meets girl” – but I sure sold a bunch. As for the Sturgeon Number, I do think that there are more bad romance novels in absolute numbers than other genres – but that’s because there are more romance novels out there. The proportion is about the same, it’s just that market share makes the numbers bigger.

    Good for the RWA.

  131. I just have to pipe up on this, it’s distressing me slightly: Can we all be a little more specific when referring to Bertelsmann and Random House as “Bertelsmann/Random House”? Bertelsmann is a parent company (a private and family-run German conglomerate) that owns Random House as well as several other subsidiaries. None of these subsidiaries necessarily has anything to do with the other.

    (Full disclosure — at the start of this century, I worked for a (former) subsidiary of Bertelsmann that was not Random House. Different industry, even. More specifically, I worked for a subdivision of a subsidiary — the subdivisions had little to nothing to do with one another either, and a couple titles were in direct competition with one another. If the parent company Bertelsmann owns a vanity press, unless the Random House name is affixed to said press, it does not necessarily follow that Random House is affiliated with or has any control over or even contact with said press.)

    (I enjoy saying “at the start of this century.” Oh, and the company I worked at no longer exists.)

  132. Not only will I give the RWA respect for having the balls to stand up for writers, but I’ll give you a hug for effectively deconstructing and tearing apart the pure idiocy that is Harlequin’s new venture.

    *hug*

    I guess the massive recession wasn’t enough writer-screwing for the holidays…

  133. After reading Lauren at #139, you may now slide my name over to the “HarHor Sucks” side of the board.

  134. The more you find out, the sleazier this looks.

    Anything that depends on the ignorance of the other side doesn’t set too well with me.

  135. Scalzi:

    “Perhaps I’ve just described most of your business transactions, GalJ; most of mine turn out differently. I’m not sure what alternate universe you live in, in which everyone who conducts business acts in an overtly predatory manner, but I’m glad I don’t live there.”

    Really? So in every transaction of yours you reveal every single bit of information to the other person? If you sell a stock, do you tell the other person why you think the stock is going to go down? If you sell a book, do you tell the publisher what’s the lowest amount you’re willing to accept and the worst possible terms you’d still be willing to sign up under? My guess is no, or else you’re going to get some pretty poor bargains.

    How is this predatory? How is this unethical? Personally, and this is clearly subjective, unethical would be to lie and mislead, to actively hide information. However, in no way do I have to do your homework for you. That’s why it’s called your homework.

    “You clearly know very little about publishing, or about how I do my business.”

    An interesting assumption.

    “Their business model doesn’t threaten me in the slightest; however, their business model preys on other writers, which I find offensive. I don’t mind telling people so.”

    Great. So you’re putting information out there which people can find if they’re interested in doing their homework.

  136. Lauren @139

    So in a few minutes of reading you were able to come up with details on what they offer and also some follow up questions on additional information you would need before you can make a decision. Wonderful. You’re doing your homework!

    Was that really so hard?

  137. Just on the topic of “what does RWA care about?” I can’t speak for RWA as a whole, and when I was stating my two issues with HarHor above, it was just that — my issues the issues I think most concern RWA and the issues I listed in my own personal letter of concern to my representative board members. Other RWA members (or the board) might have an entirely different take on the subject.

    On the topic of branding, absolutely I care, and I’m sure that contracted Harlequin authors probably wouldn’t appreciated being referred to as “ticket scalpers.” Much closer to employees.

    However, most of the members of RWA can be classed under the “aspiring authors” umbrella. RWA, unlike SFWA, does not require publishing credits for membership.

    I was a member of RWA for many years before I sold my first book to Random House, and I received several rejection letters from Harlequin (as it turns out, writing romance novels was not my strength). These were submissions that I made as a professional writer seeking publication and payment for my work, and when they were rejected, they were written to a professional writer seeking publication and payment for the work.

    I was not there to get a sales pitch, especially one for such a skeezy operation.

    Now, if I’d gotten a letter referring me to their vanity wing? Yeah, get out of my way. “Sorry, you’re not good enough for us to pay you, but you can pay US.”

    RWA is also very interested in the needs of its aspiring writer members, and those needs do not include being pressured to pay for publishing in rejection letters, nor the obvious slippery slope that if more money can be made from monetizing the slush pile, why would they actually go through the slush pile to find the publishable gems they’d pay for? Where, now, is the incentive to allow editors to comb through their slush, or write revision letters for works that need a little work before they can be contracted? Just pawn them all off on HarHor.

    There are issues for the published, for the soon to be published, and for those who are still a long way from being published. RWA is telling its own members who are aspiring authors that this is NOT acceptable.

  138. GalJ @ Look A Day @ 150

    Once, after a few minutes of observation, I realized that some people were playing a variant of Three-card Monte. After a few more minutes, I was pretty sure I had figured out who was the shill and who was the mark.

    Therefore, I guess what they were doing was ethical.

  139. >>James Bond!!!! That’s the male-reader equivalent of romance novels!!!!<<

    Nah…Mack Bolan is the male-reader equivalent of romance novels.

    Published by Gold Eagle Books.

    Which = Harlequin.

    But shh…wouldn't want anybody to find that out.

  140. @152 Bearpaw

    After a few minutes of observation, I realized that there are statistically no chances of me winning at Vegas. I guess the whole gambling industry should be shut down as being unethical. Also, statistically, you will never win at insurance so we should shut that down too.

    Also, last week my coworker was able to find a better deal on a used car because he took his time and did more research. Darn that guy who I bought from for not doing that research for me! His unethical business practices will be the end of him!

  141. GalJ, you’re just not going to get it. You are ignoring the information about publishing that Lauren already had when she looked at the HarHor site, and the questions she knew to ask that a prospective HarHor customer (=victim) would not.

    You’re also ignoring everything I said about the stock market and the housing market, and how not everything that’s legal is ethical (or the other way around, for that matter, but that’s offtopic). That’s fine, you’re allowed to ignore my posts if you want.

    All I can say is, if your standards of ethics are as you describe them, I certainly would avoid having any business dealings with you.

  142. I guess the whole gambling industry should be shut down as being unethical.

    You’re conflating two different things. “It’s unethical” is different than “it should be shut down.” And I certainly think casinos are unethical. I vote against legalized gambling when it comes up, but as long as it’s legal I don’t think it should be shut down.

    I think vanity publishing (as opposed to self-publishing, which as discussed at length above is a different animal) should be outlawed, because it’s fundamentally deceitful and an unethical business practice. Until it is, I’m not calling for the FBI to raid HarHor.

  143. @JD Rhoades #59–Has anyone considered that they’ve already calculated that they can afford to piss off RWA?

    But can they? RWA has nearly 10,000 members who are published and aspiring romance writers. The organization’s mission is to educate its membership about the industry, and steer them away from predators in the marketplace.

    I think the question here is whether Harlequin can afford to alienate RWA, knowing they are going to be very clear and consistent in their warnings about HQ’s vanity arm. Couple that with landing themselves on Writers Beware and Preditors and Editors, factor in MWA and SFWA who will also be warning *their* members away…and what you have is an ill-conceived miscalculation on Harlequin’s part.

    This isn’t so surprising, as they are extremely arrogant about their accomplishments and brand. So I have to take a bit of humor in the tone of Hayes’ letter in the HQ response. This is one time when their focus group should have been comprised of writers.

  144. @155 Xopher
    My apologies, I did not intend to ignore your messages. There are quite a few here and I do have a few things to do other than answer messages on this thread so… :)

    Sure, Lauren had information about publishing before she went there. That’s great. That’s why when I go into any kind of transaction I do a bit of research and I try to consult with experts. For example, before buying my home, I talked to a friend who did real estate. Before signing a legal document, I talked to a friend who’s a lawyer. I also tried to read up on these subjects to educate myself. The more money in question, the more effort I’ll spend on the research because I consider that my responsibility.

    Also, the problem with arguing ethics is that they’re subjective, not objective. When you start arguing about what a business should do or not based on ethics, you’re imposing your own version of ethics on other people and I happen to think that’s bad business. That’s sort of like imposing your own morality on others, something that Mr. Scalzi has railed against in the past (gay marriage for example) and it’s something I happen to agree with him about. You cannot make rules and laws based on subjective points of view.

    So perhaps we should argue the merits of the business model and not the ethics. In that case, I hold that it’s a perfectly sound business model, at least to try out.

    By the way, if you ask me what I believe is unethical, I believe I already answered that. Deliberately lying to people would be unethical to me. Deliberately misleading them would be lying. Deliberately hiding information so that it could not be found would be unethical. Presenting yourself in the best possible light, that’s just marketing.

  145. # GalJ @ Look A Day, for the most part no one here is calling for Harlequin to stop their plans. What they’re doing is legal and will probably in the short term be very profitable for Harlequin and its parent company.

    What commenters here are doing is more like watching a disreputable car salesman mislead potential car buyers into buying a shoddy product, and trying to warn those buyers while loudly pointing out the problems with the shoddy car in question. And they’re feeling sorry for the car manufacturer and its employees, because those buyers may never trust that brand again. All of which is also legal.

    Your philosophy seems to be that anything goes, let the buyer beware, and that’s fine. So you should also support anything that helps the buyer to be aware, such as the disapproval of professional literary organizations and the warnings of professional writers.

  146. GalJ:

    “So in every transaction of yours you reveal every single bit of information to the other person?”

    Leaving aside the fact that I’m waiting to hear how such is required in order to conduct business transactions in a manner that is not predatory and unethical, the strawman examples you pose aren’t particularly smart ones, I’m afraid.

    For example, if I were selling a stock, it’s highly unlikely I’ll be selling it to a particular person; my broker would be handling the sale, and again it would be unlikely he would know the specific buyer. Certainly I wouldn’t have a problem telling my broker why I was selling; likewise, to the extent I discuss my finances at all in a public manner, I’d have no problem discussing why I sold a particular stock.

    Likewise, if I’m put in the position of quoting a price to a publisher for my work (which in itself would be unusual; they generally make the first offer), I would have no problem letting them know what my lowest price and worse terms are, because those terms will be ones that I would be satisfied getting or I wouldn’t quote them. So your guess is wrong, as is your guess that I would be getting “pretty bad deals” that way, because for one, I have an excellent agent and am pretty competent in my business dealing in a general, and two, you don’t seem to know much about how I do my business.

    This does suggest that you seem to think that the least amount one would accept for doing business is inherently a bad deal, which might explain why you appear to think every business transaction is based on someone taking advantage of someone else. That’s on you, I’m afraid.

    But again, this is neither here nor there as to whether I’m conducting my business ethically and in a non-predatory fashion.

    “unethical would be to lie and mislead, to actively hide information.”

    Not sharing information about the customary practices of an industry to people wishing to enter that industry, in order to take financial advantage of that ignorance, can be unethical as well.

  147. I’m really curious about why Harlequin would be desperate for a new business line when their existing one is the only publishing growth story of the last year. Their numbers are up when everyone else is suffering. I wondered if this means they are changing their acquisition process. Bring in the hopefuls, have them do all the work and if you get a sales winner, you acquire a sure thing.

    I haven’t heard much reaction from the existing Harlequin writers. It’s not all that easy to become one, and suddenly there would be self-published folks calling themselves “Harlequin” writers too. I guess overall, the entire idea demeans their brand. I just don’t get what it is they’re hoping to gain that was worth it.

    By the way, proud romance writer here and like many, not writing to the lowest common denominator or intending to “rip off” the reader. Anyone who believes that the genre can’t produce literary, quality books hasn’t read the right ones.

  148. @159 C. A. Bridgeson 20 Nov 2009 at 6:00 pm

    “for the most part no one here is calling for Harlequin to stop their plans. What they’re doing is legal and will probably in the short term be very profitable for Harlequin and its parent company.”

    Actually, the original post contained this:

    “What would be nice is if Harlequin simply dropped this stupid, deceptive, money-grubbing ploy and rejoined the ranks of actual publishers.”

    and I’ve seen other posts claiming this practice should be illegal. So yes, I do see people calling for Harlequin to stop or for someone to force them to stop.

    “What commenters here are doing is more like watching a disreputable car salesman mislead potential car buyers into buying a shoddy product, and trying to warn those buyers while loudly pointing out the problems with the shoddy car in question. And they’re feeling sorry for the car manufacturer and its employees, because those buyers may never trust that brand again. All of which is also legal.”

    They’re saying the salesperson is unethical, which is completely within their right. I’m saying I disagree, which is within my right for as long as Mr. Scalzi allows me to post here.

    “Your philosophy seems to be that anything goes, let the buyer beware, and that’s fine.”

    Within reason, yes.

    “So you should also support anything that helps the buyer to be aware, such as the disapproval of professional literary organizations and the warnings of professional writers.”

    Absolutely. As a prospective vanity author (is that even a term?) I can now do a quick search and come up with some facts on their new policy. It’s then my choice as to whether or not to believe those facts and what decision to make based on them.

    In other words, posting up Lauren’s comment would have been a far better response to Harlequin’s policy than this entire thread. In general, I find posting up detailed facts to be far more useful than rants claiming someone is unethical. Ethics rants are completely subjective and usually end up with the inevitable Nazi reference.

    On the flip side, rants are far more entertaining and this site is bookmarked in my “entertainment” section of iGoogle and not the “research” section so perhaps I’m the sucker who should have done more research before he posted.

  149. heteromeles @75: Science does not charge authors for publication of peer-reviewed research, although there are fees if the author wants to order reprints or wants to include color figures. (Nor is there any such thing as a subscription to Science per se; it’s a benefit of AAAS membership, and many components of its website are free to non-members. Non-discounted membership is about $140 per year, for which you get 51 print issues and unlimited online access.)

    Get the facts! (as L. Long would have said, or will say, perhaps.)

  150. @ 161 Karin

    Harlequin isn’t hurting financially, but its parent Torstar is–in fact, Harlequin is the only one of its holdings to be operating in the black. A lot of people are speculating that HqHo was imposed on Harlequin by Torstar as a way to increase profits further. Since it seems that the editors at H/S weren’t told about HqHo until just prior to the public announcements, I’ll bet that’s the case.

    To hear from H/S writers on this, go to the Smart Bitches Trashy Books blog and read the 675+ comments there: http://www.smartbitchestrashybooks.com/index.php/weblog/comments/want-to-self-publish-how-about-harlequin/

  151. “So yes, I do see people calling for Harlequin to stop or for someone to force them to stop.”

    I did say “for the most part.”

    And actually I would use sites like this if I were researching self-publishing/vanity presses. I don’t want to hear what the site itself says about its product, I want to hear what people who have used that site, or similar sites, have to say about it. In that regard, rants are far more useful to me than company FAQ pages.

    If people tell me a person or company is acting unethically, yes, it’s a subjective opinion. But often they will then tell me why they believe such a charge and I can decide if I agree. Here, I do. I’m not commanding you to do likewise, only presenting my views which you are welcome to dismiss.

    (Psst: no one has yet referenced Nazis or anything even close. Well, except for you, of course.)

  152. @165 # C. A. Bridgeson 20 Nov 2009 at 6:32 pm

    “I did say “for the most part.””

    Understood, but when the very post that started the thread makes that call, it’s hard to ignore.

    “And actually I would use sites like this if I were researching self-publishing/vanity presses. I don’t want to hear what the site itself says about its product, I want to hear what people who have used that site, or similar sites, have to say about it. In that regard, rants are far more useful to me than company FAQ pages.”

    Same here. However, I was not suggesting that you rely on the company FAQ page and ignore rants. I was suggesting that well thought out 3rd party reviews like Laurens are far more useful than 3rd party rants. So if you’re trying to get people to not use a certain service or product, a detailed review is better than rant, although again, the rant is far more entertaining.

    “If people tell me a person or company is acting unethically, yes, it’s a subjective opinion. But often they will then tell me why they believe such a charge and I can decide if I agree. Here, I do. I’m not commanding you to do likewise, only presenting my views which you are welcome to dismiss.”

    So we agree I think, the why is far more important than the opinion on ethics.

    “(Psst: no one has yet referenced Nazis or anything even close. Well, except for you, of course.)”

    True, mea culpa, self fulfilling prophecies are a weakness of mine it seems.

  153. What Galj is missing is that trust is a commodity that, once you loose, you can’t just go out and buy. Harlequin is selling it’s ability to be trusted for a shiny bag of loot. On the other side of the equation is the trust they lost from everyone else in the industry, so far as I can see.

    After about a year of separating suckers from their money, you’ll see a lot of these people realize they they spent several hundreds (possibly thousands) of dollars on a product they hoped would make them a success as an author, and failed abysmally. This isn’t like a dollar lottery ticket. It’s something people think is an investment, but in reality is a gamble on something that has horribly bad odds.

  154. After a few minutes of observation, I realized that there are statistically no chances of me winning at Vegas. I guess the whole gambling industry should be shut down as being unethical.

    Interesting choice of analogies. Maybe you want to choose an activity that is, you know, actually legal in most states before you proceed to run with that one?

  155. @164 # Marissa Doyle – Thank you for the information at the parent company and yes, it sounds like the policy was perhaps forced down. And I should have realized the Smart Bitches site would have plenty to say.

  156. Ultimately, it bothers me not a bit that Harlequin has a vanity press line. There’s a market, they can fill it, business occurs. I think their rates are abominably high and their promises misleading, but I think that about most of what I see advertised on TV as well.

    The implication that HH-published authors are now Harlequin authors is merely a brand shooting itself in the foot, and again that doesn’t bother me much. The market will handle that, eventually, and I can only hope that would-be authors read threads like this to discover just how outrageous those prices and promises are.

    Where it becomes unethical, to me, is the promotion of this service on Harlequin’s site and in their rejection letters. That smacks of conflict of interest and immediately makes me distrust their entire manuscript-approval procedure. It’s not that the vanity press itself is unethical — although it’s damn sure a bright and shiny ripoff compared to just about every other self-publisher/subsidy/vanity press out there — but that now the original publishing arm’s policy is suspect. Their slush pile is now a profit center, and how do I know my possibly-worth-publishing-with-a-little-work manuscript won’t get bumped automatically because the vanity press fees are more certain?

  157. Lauren @ 139

    Their “Standard Publicity Plan” is a press release that gets sent to “100 targeted media outlets.” You can pay more to bump that up to 300, where they suggest you will “pique the interest of editors across the country with a professionally scripted press release about you and your book.”

    Here at my day job I sit by the fax machine. Occasionally, a junk fax in the form of a press release from XLibris comes in. They get thrown out unless I find them first. I read them because they’re generally hilarious (i.e., not professionally written at all). Then I throw them out.

    The publisher I work for, incidentally, pretty much only publishes manga and novels in translation from the Japanese. The chances of anyone here being interested at all in one’s memoir of raising a child with autism, or one’s We-The-People manifesto about taking back America, or a novel about two boys on a rowboat and what happens to them is zero.

    I wonder if Harlequin will be distributing their “professional” press releases to the same fax numbers.

  158. Julia @ 97 –

    “This cheapens my achievement and threatens my livelihood, because once word gets out that you can buy a space on an MLS team, the already marginal reputation of pro soccer in the US is only going to get worse. But where else can I go if I want to stay in the US and continue to play soccer for a living?”

    It isn’t that I disagree that it is a challenge to have to address. But, there comes a point in every job when one has to prove their merit. The rubes in this case can’t. Not to mention, they won’t have the sales statistics for that conversation. ‘what were the sales figures for those six books?’ ‘well, there was pawpaw who bought twelve copies, my sister bought six for her friends…’ or in the case of soccer coaches, skill displays become painful instead of bonito.

    Also, if there truly is only harlequin for that particular length, if their sales decline someone else will move in to pick that profit up. But, it is the same in any other job. You move to a new work environment your skills transfer with you, even though you might be creating a different product. Adapt to the market. If harlequin doesn’t bankrupt themselves now, they sure seem determined to.

    But, that isn’t to say it was hard. If it was easy, authors would have been able to flit away immediately and it wouldn’t have mattered if harlequin wanted to dilute their brand.

  159. Given Yog’s Law: Money should flow from the publisher to the author.

    I propose Yog’s Corollary: If money flows in the other direction, they are neither “publisher” nor “author”.

  160. 46 # Laura Herbertson:

    I don’t think RWA had room to do that. Their bylaws are specific: no vanity publisher will be recognized. There’s no waiting period; that’s that. HQ is well aware that RWA does not recognize vanity or self-publishing. It’s been stated many times. RWA’s stance on these types of publishing does not reflect on the author or the quality of the books, it reflects the fact that vanity and self-publishing is a high-risk venture, and as an author advocate, RWA is not going to approve those routes–or the publishers that push them–for career-focused writers. It’d be going against their stated mission.

    As for their current Harlequin authors, well, they’re still eligible for RWA benefits, since they contracted before Harlequin got into their vanity publishing scheme.

  161. Different publishing models work for different authors, so the shame here isn’t in who is paying whom, but rather that Harlequin is being so misleading about what they can do for the author.

    Interesting, though, that Thomas Nelson recently launched the same type of partnership with AuthorHouse under the “WestBow” imprint and nobody even noticed. I guess it’s the RWA reaction that’s attracting attention.

  162. Gen X:

    “Thomas Nelson recently launched the same type of partnership with AuthorHouse under the ‘WestBow’ imprint and nobody even noticed.”

    It was noticed and there was a fair amount of discussion about it. However, among other things, TN was smart enough not to make a direct association to its core brand.

  163. And you gotta admit, the drama factor rocked. ;)

    That’s the main reason everybody’s talking about it. Did RWA do that on purpose? Dunno, but they hit it out of the park.

    It has given not only RWA but every writer leverage, and put other pubs on notice. Do this, and you will Look Bad. Very Very Bad.

    That would not have been the case if RWA hadn’t acted precisely as they did. Now the discussion of who *pays* to publish in these “new models” will be a prominent factor in the discussions. There’s more at stake even than RWA and the Harlequin authors (bless every courageous one of ‘em.) The other orgs to their credit recognized the stakes right away and piled on.

    Here’s The Message: There may be “new publishing models” for professional writers, but this will not be one of them.

  164. @ Gaj 158

    “Sure, Lauren had information about publishing before she went there. That’s great. That’s why when I go into any kind of transaction I do a bit of research and I try to consult with experts.”

    http://www.google.com/search?q=how+to+publish+a+book&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a

    First three sponsored links are not so good. :)
    Clicking on the first real link results in a page that again advertises Xlibris. Second link and third link and fourth link – none of them state that you shouldn’t pay the publisher to publish your work. And most of them bring up self-publishing.

    I’ve looked through enough adds right now just browsing in twenty minutes that Xlibris is beginning to sound good. And most people, when they start out, are not jaded enough to expect to be scammed or taken advantage of. Adding a respected established publisher’s name to a vanity press or worse, submitting to said publisher and being instructed to try that publisher’s vanity press line, is sleazy.

  165. GregLondon @175 Yes! This corollary, although not stated in those exact terms, is the reason that the various writers’ associations have standards for “legitimate” or “eligible” publishers that exclude vanity presses. It is exactly why RWA, MWA and SFWA have taken the positions they have. They are acting in the best interests of their members.

  166. @ Other Bill

    “It isn’t that I disagree that it is a challenge to have to address. But, there comes a point in every job when one has to prove their merit. The rubes in this case can’t. Not to mention, they won’t have the sales statistics for that conversation. ‘what were the sales figures for those six books?’”

    Someone brought a really good point at another post, so this is not mine and I am paraphrasing someone a lot smarter.

    Suppose Author A and Author B both apply to teach a creative writing class at a community center or some other similar venue. Author A says, “I’m a professional author, I write for Harlequin.” Author B says, “I’m a professional author, I write for Harlequin, as well.”

    Both are articulate, nicely dressed, and are likeable. Both have brought in “real” books. One writes for HQN Nocturnes. One writes for HQN Horizons. Now there is competition, and there shouldn’t be any.

    These HH books will be available on Amazon and HQN is extremely brand focused, to the point of selling all new books in a particular imprint in a monthly bundle. Someone new to the marketplace may order one of these vanity books and walk away from the entire brand. :(

  167. #67 J.D. Rhodes
    “But will they, given the current publishing environment? I honestly don’t know. ”

    Trust me, if Debbie Macomber decided to walk away from Harlequin, there would be other publishers very, very eager to take her in. You don’t turn aside an author who is not only marketing-savvy, but consistently pulls in millions a year, (and is also a sweetheart). She’s also the one who informed me, decades ago, that no, I do not pay money to publish books, publishers pay me, and to join RWA. Otherwise I might have looked at HQ Horizons equivalent of my day and done something stupid.

    Plus, the romance genre has seen an increase in sales during the recession, pretty much across the board. There’s a good reason why Harlequin is the only Torstar company that’s seeing a profit.

  168. GalJ @ 150:
    “So in a few minutes of reading you were able to come up with details on what they offer and also some follow up questions on additional information you would need before you can make a decision. Wonderful. You’re doing your homework!”

    Actually, I spent much more than a few minutes perusing their offerings and coming up with questions — a good chunk of that was trying to give them the benefit of the doubt that the answers I was looking for would be on their site and searching around fruitlessly trying to find them.

    But more important is what Xopher says at 155:
    “You are ignoring the information about publishing that Lauren already had when she looked at the HarHor site, and the questions she knew to ask that a prospective HarHor customer (=victim) would not.”

    In my post up at #100, I mentioned that I’ve been in bookselling for 15 years, some of that at a bookstore, some of that at a publisher. I also fancy myself a writer, and therefore pay attention to a lot of industry blogs — editors, agents, writers, others — so that I can be prepared when I am finally ready to submit something. The questions I came up with, I knew to ask because of the smart people who’ve taught me to look for them (John Scalzi right here at the Whatever, James D. MacDonald and too many wonderful regulars to name posting on Absolute Write’s Bewares and Background Checks forum, Victoria Strauss and Ann Crispin at Writer Beware, the Nielsen Haydens at Making Light, so many more…)

    I’ve been lurking at these sites and learning from them for years. The people posting on them are constantly looking out for new writers, and making sure they learn Yog’s Law, as stated by Greg London at #174-5.

    Unfortunately, someone who’s just finished a manuscript and hasn’t started doing his or her research yet might not make it to those sites before they find something like Harlequin Horizons. They’re so excited at the idea of being “published” that they don’t know there are questions like those to ask before reciting their credit card number to the person on the other end of the line.

    So, yes, I knew what questions to ask, but only because my experience and the experiences of other, far savvier people have taught me to look for them in the first place.

  169. As an RWA member, I was shocked at how fast this decision came down. But I’m also proud. RWA’s bylaws state clearly that RWA does not recognize vanity publishers. Harlequin is not only launching a vanity line, they’re using rejection letters to promote it. There is no gray area. There is no room to negotiate. Wrong is wrong.

    Yes, there will be fallout. It won’t be fun. Doing the right thing isn’t always a barrel of laughs. I haven’t talked to a Harlequin author yet who doesn’t support RWA’s stance. These are talented writers and they deserve better than what Harlequin is doing to the brand.

    I don’t know about the other published writers here, but I get enough questions like, “Who did you hire to do your cover? Your books are in real stores? Do you sell a lot of books/have one on you to sell?” Answer: the publisher does that, the publisher better do that, and I’m a NY Times bestseller so yes I sell books and no I’m not selling them out of the back of my car.

    There are a boatload of misunderstandings about how an author should be treated. This new venture by Harlequin plays into every one of them. On purpose. To make a quick buck.

    I don’t know if Harlequin will back off. But even if they don’t, I hope any aspiring author who Googles Harlequin Horizons will get to read all of the controversy and think twice before they part with their hard-earned money.

  170. Ilona @ 182 –

    I agree that it is possible prospective employers might not be able to tell the two publishing houses apart at the outset. But the more those qualifications are relevant to the job being applied for the more likely the employer is to know the difference.

  171. Ilona @ 182 –

    apologies, I missed this portion.

    “Someone new to the marketplace may order one of these vanity books and walk away from the entire brand.”

    Again, I find myself agreeing with you. and this is a very good reason for authors to be motivated to protest vanity press scams.

    But I think what is more likely is that book will be printed, publicized only in the sense tha it is listed, and then disappear forever. Meaning, the *most* likely to be hurt by harlequins vanity press are the poor bastards who pay to get published.

    It isn’t so much that I disagree that it is bad for authors, it’s more that I see the purpose of the RWAs action to protect unknowing aspiring authors from being taken advantage of.

  172. Late to the party on this thread, per usual.

    All I can say is… Holy smokes! Harlequin done lost its corporate sanity.

    Reminds me of the line from Carlito’s Way, “You ‘aint a lawyer anymore, Dave, you a gangsta now.”

    One suspects that even if Harlequin recants, the self-smear from this affrontery will linger for a long, long time.

    I don’t care how much the “model” of publishing evolves, the rule is the rule: money flows to the writer. This is true for established pros and us upstarts, equally.

    The minute we forget this, we fuck ourselves.

  173. I think the real point to (so far) RWA, SFWA, and MWA making their statements is much simpler than what’s being argued here.

    These professionally-oriented writing organizations, like every other professionally-oriented writing org that I can think of, have always specified in their written policies that vanity/subsidy companies aren’t recognized by their organizations as publishers and/or that books “published” by vanity/subsidy presses don’t qualify applicants for membership in these organizations (or in the professional subgroups of these organizations, such as RWA’s PAN) and/or don’t qualify for the book awards given by these orgs.

    The status of vanity/subsidy press in these orgs has in no way changed. These are consistent policies which, in most cases, have been in place for many years.

    What’s suddenly new is the entry of an until-now qualifying publishing house into the vanity/subsidy “business.” And that has consequently changed this publisher’s status viz these organizations. And that is being addressed publicly.

    It’s also being addressed swiftly and emphatically because this is a HUGE and VERY PROMINENT publisher, which makes this incident very high profile. And very high profile incidents get faster attention and louder treatment. If this were a very small, obscure house, there probably wouldn’t be public announcements, and the issue probably wouldn’t be discussed by most orgs until the nexy official Board meeting. Hq’s immense size and very high profile are specifically what’s causing such loud and quick public position statements from writing orgs.

    Harlequin’s national and international publishing programs include romance, fantasy, chicklit, suspense, male action-adventure, YA, mainstream, Christian fiction, and so on (defining Harlequin as “just a romance publisher” is like saying that all IBM makes are photocopiers). So this huge publisher’s high-profile entry into vanity/subsidy press intersects with longstanding anti-vanity/subsidy policies in virtually every commercial fiction org in existence.

    That’s really the point, and why they’re acting swiftly and loudly. In the context of already existing standards, rules, and relationships, this is a VERY BIG DEAL to these organizations.

    LauraR

  174. Playing with some of the ideas tossed about in the thread, one possibility seems conspicuously absent:

    If one accepts that the nature of publishing has shifted into a higher gear, how long until a lean & mean startup emerges to unite both the writing talent which no longer wish to do business with Harlequin and the (hypothetical) staff of Harlequin who opposed this very poor business decision and form a new publishing house? [1]

    Also, how do employment terms in publishing compare to other fields regarding non-competition agreements? (I think the derogatory term would be “yellow-dog contract” – a stipulation that one will refrain from working for a direct competitor for a given period after leaving one’s employer.)

    ____
    [1] Why aren’t there more businesses with names such as ATS Books[2] or Serious Competitor, Ink in existence?

    [2] → across the street

  175. I initially thought the RWA had gone off the deep end because Harlequin makes up the lion’s share of the category romance market. That was, however, before I learned more details about how the Horizon operation would be handled, which certainly makes it from a self-publishing arm into something unethical.

    But there is a question I’m not finding an answer to yet, so perhaps someone in the RWA can answer it for me here — what happens to writers who publish with Harlequin’s regular non-vanity romance lines and who were members of the RWA due to those publications? Is the RWA proposing to kick them out because those publications no longer qualify? Or, if not, and the writers want to keep publishing with Harlequin, what happens? What about their aspiring members who get the chance to publish with Harlequin’s regular lines, which would in the past have qualified them for published membership and all the benefits thereof, but now it doesn’t? Are the RWA, the SFFWA and the MWA stating that if you do business with Harlequin, you can’t be a member or published member?

    Because in romance fiction terms at least, this is essentially the equivalent of saying no one can do business with Random House. As has been explained, RWA is not a union. So declaring the strike line and saying nobody gets to cross the pickets may be very complicated. I’d like more information about how the organizations are planning to handle their decision in this area.

  176. Also, how do employment terms in publishing compare to other fields regarding non-competition agreements

    Same as other employers, I think.

    Writers, however, are a different matter, since they aren’t employees.

  177. heteromeles @ 135:

    It’s interesting to compare scientific publishing with the more general forms of commercial publishing, but I think it’s like comparing apples and oranges. Bear in mind that as a professional writer, you make money from selling what you publish – this may be your main or only source of income. Professional scientists make their money differently. You have to publish, but you don’t have to sell x copies of what is published to put food on the table. Paying for publishing always sucks, but it sucks double when you are supposed to be making money off of the publication.

    Speaking as a romance reader, I’m very disturbed by what Harlequin is trying to do. The Harlequin brand is huge in romance. I’ve never heard of anyone calling themselves a romance reader who has never read a Harlequin. You can’t get away from them – or you could, but that means cutting out a huge chunck of quality romance books from your reading diet.

    Reading a Harlequin, especially category lines, in many ways, is like eating a McD hamburger. Not in terms of quality, but in terms of expectation. You have certain expectations of what it will taste like, how much it will cost, and the pay-off you, as the consumer, will get from that. So to slap their name on a vanity press would destroy that, because the quality control drops to zero.

    Removing their name from this venture helps, but only a little. The bad taste in my mouth lingers. The Harlquin brand was built not just by their marketing department. It’s long-time readers like me who have helped – and continue to help – make their brand a publishing powerhouse. So for them to capitalize on the brand that loyal readers have helped build to pull off something so unethical? That feels dirty and manipulative. Yeah, I don’t own the brand. But if not for people like me, they wouldn’t *have* a brand worth capitalizing on. For them to use such a well-loved brand to trap the unsuspecting feels very much like a betrayal.

    I would be boycotting Harlquin right now if not for the knowledge that it would hurt writers a lot more than the sleazy executives who came up with this stupid idea.

  178. what happens to writers who publish with Harlequin’s regular non-vanity romance lines and who were members of the RWA due to those publications? Is the RWA proposing to kick them out because those publications no longer qualify? Or, if not, and the writers want to keep publishing with Harlequin, what happens? What about their aspiring members who get the chance to publish with Harlequin’s regular lines, which would in the past have qualified them for published membership and all the benefits thereof, but now it doesn’t? Are the RWA, the SFFWA and the MWA stating that if you do business with Harlequin, you can’t be a member or published member?

    I can speak about RWA: Not much, at the moment. RWA does not require publishing credits to be a member, so you CAN be vanity pressed adn a member of RWA, and people who qualified for their published wing (PAN) by publishing (according to rules) “with a non-subsidy/non-vanity press and making at least $1000 in advance and/or royalties” (which Harlequin was until yesterday) remain in PAN if their qualifying work was published by Harlequin. RITA rules this year were set in 2009, so their Harlequin books are still eligible for the RITA. Who this affects are members who might sell their first books to Harlequin’s traditional lines tomorrow and not be eligible to enter PAN, and, possibly (not sure about this one) the members who have contracted their first books with Harlequin who are “provisional” PAN members (Which means they are contracted, but their book isn’t out yet).

    Since a handful of debut writers in RWA sell to Harlequin every year (to judge by the announcements I see) we’ll soon find out how this works in practice.

    I assume a similar situation with the other orgs. Old members who qualified thru Hq remain qualified. It’s the new members whose status is up in the air.

    RWA, at least, has not told its members NOT to sell to Hq, nor to not finish their contracts. I know a writer who sold a series to MIRA yesterday.

  179. Shiloh @ 73.

    I know three people who are published Harlequin Authors with multiple titles. Every one of them says the same thing:

    Harlequin pays well, and you are guaranteed to sell a certain number simply because of the Harlequin Marque. All of them are also keenly aware that using their real name rather than a pseudonym could damage their “brand” in SF.

    So frankly it doesn’t matter if I think that Romance is a less worthy category or not. These people are my friends (some of them at least) The authors themselves know that there is a stigma attached if they want to publish in other fields.

    That’s not the issue here. The issue is that Harlequin is acting unethically, and the authors associations are properly reacting.

    I applaud the RWA MWA and SFWA for their quick and firm response.

  180. Diana @195 and katg @ 192 –

    I think this is a very important of the conversation. If harlequin goes forward with this to cover the business’ bottom line, I wonder how much of an industry standard that will set. It will certainly be a moneymaker. If being published (meaning printed to those likely to opt for it) is near and dear it’s a remarkably low priced entry barrier that will surely see a lot of interest.

    Writers orgs will have to find some way to deal with it that doesn’t involve blackballing every new author legitimately published by major houses that also engage in using their brand name on a vanity press.

    Is it impossible for the orgs to draw a distinction? I guess I’m curious why they wouldn’t be able to discern between, in this example, harlequin and harlequin vanity press.

    I agree at the moment the engaging nuclear option is the best way to send a message. But bottom line arguments are pretty compelling for senior management. Although, I suppose that’s a pretty big what if. But, what if? Leaving aside the obviously heinously predatory nature of this sort of vanity press. I suppose this isn’t a matter of readers not buying any author from a particular publisher. At least, I’ve never read a bad auhor and thought whoa, that house has no idea what they’re doing and never bought from them again.

    In that vein, unless tthe house make a minimum purchase requirement of their vanity presses as part of a distribution contract with book sellers, is this really an industry destroying motion?

  181. So sorry. I know this is OT. But this really raised my eyebrows:

    GalJ@158:”You cannot make rules and laws based on subjective points of view.”

    Really? Just what exactly else is there besides philosophy, i.e. subjective worldview, from which to formulate rules and law? God’s law? Murphy’s Law? The third law of thermodynamics? I’m just sayin’…

    Um, so back on topic. Am I totally off base thinking this thing looked more like a corporate sponsorship by Harlequin than a bona fide division? It looked like ASI bought the right to put the HQN name on a specifically romance-oriented vanity-pub created and serviced by ASI, thus gaining some credibility for itself. HQN agreed to advertise the ASI services (which it called HH, not ASI) to its wannabe authors in return for a piece of the profits from ASI should said wannabes choose to vanity publish. Without the HQN brand and applicant pool attached to this, I don’t see any benefits to ASI from this “partnership” at all. This makes it particularly unlikely that HQN can or will back away from the rejection letter referrals or some similar monetizing of its slush pile, which is one of the least savory aspects of this whole story, too. If they did, they’d defeat the whole purpose of the deal, which it seems to me was the cynical use of a respected brand to legitimize a business model which has long been associated with predatory tactics, in the guise of inventing a shiny new business model for those brave enough to dream big. And pay through the nose, presumably.

  182. Other Bill @ 197: “But bottom line arguments are pretty compelling for senior management.”

    Eh. If the short-term profits are more important than long-term brand degradation (and therefore, profits), it depends on the intended longevity of subject senior management.

    As an aside, I do find it a bit disconcerting that the genre of writing known as ‘romance’ is so generally disparaged. Profitability and market share aside, unless you were fortunate enough to achieve (score) a committed relationship as that of our host and his lovely Krissy, I tend to question the value of such negative comments. Seriously, what’s wrong with Romance?

  183. Actually, givne what the economy is like… is this ACTUALLY going to be profitable for Harlequin? How many people in their slushpile can actually PAY for the, er, “services” that their new vanity press is offering?

    It’s true there’s a sucker born every minute, and so on… but these days, how many suckers have a few thousand dollars of mad money in their pockets? Is it really so many that Harlequin expects this to be lucrative?

    LauraR,
    back to searching the couch for spare coins, like everyone else I know these days

  184. Cyan –

    “Eh. If the short-term profits are more important than long-term brand degradation (and therefore, profits), it depends on the intended longevity of subject senior management.”

    Agreed. If I were running things, I would not elect to murder my brand. Particularly since it seems to be the constant argument from all that harlequin is a cash machine based primarily on the publishers brand name. (to which I would add that I hope my comments were not included in your concern about those running down romance; not at all my intention.)

    I was trying to get more at the notionthat once you are removed from the value of the brand and report to someone based primarily on the bottom line, it’s a hard thing to say no to. This is how I assume their corporate structure must be for them to have plunged into the murky waters of conning their way back to the black.

  185. Other Bill @ 202: “I was trying to get more at the notion that once you are removed from the value of the brand and report to someone based primarily on the bottom line, it’s a hard thing to say no to.”

    Seems to me, problem here is ‘those being reported to’ are exactly those who are ‘removed from the value of the brand’.

  186. And no, Other Bill, I wasn’t pointing at you when I was forming my comment about the seemingly negative perception of the ‘romance’ genre… That was an unrelated general impression/expression on my part, having read all of the comments on this thread of discussion.

  187. The brand dilution thing is interesting because it sounds as though given the conditions mentioned in above posts, that the average HQ’s reader’s chances of actually finding one of these vanity press books in the wild isn’t going to be all that great. It *sounds* like the average HQ reader is probably going to be unaware of the alternate line because it sounds as though unless there is significant investment on the part of the mark/”prospective author”, their book will be minimally distributed. HQ gets the fee from the mark/”prospective author” and brand dilution is minimized because very few people actually see the less than stellar content. It isn’t that the boffins in the accounting department aren’t aware of the risks of brand dilution – it is just that they assess the impact of it as minimal.

    Even if every mark/”prospective author” this is targeted at read all the warnings in this thread, a good deal of them will still go through with it because the desire to be a published author overrides a lot of other things like good sense.

  188. CA Bridges @ 170

    “— but that now the original publishing arm’s policy is suspect. Their slush pile is now a profit center, and how do I know my possibly-worth-publishing-with-a-little-work manuscript won’t get bumped automatically because the vanity press fees are more certain?”

    This is very well put.

    ilona @ 182

    “Someone new to the marketplace may order one of these vanity books and walk away from the entire brand. :(”

    And as the conversation turns and turns, can Harlequin really afford that if it happens often enough?

    Even if the poor vanity books sink rapidly to the bottom of the lake, word-of-mouth is still a killer.

    Lauren at 184

    “Unfortunately, someone who’s just finished a manuscript and hasn’t started doing his or her research yet might not make it to those sites before they find something like Harlequin Horizons. They’re so excited at the idea of being “published” that they don’t know there are questions like those to ask before reciting their credit card number to the person on the other end of the line.”

    A good point to illustrate that we don’t forget these are the people HH are targeting, just like any vanity press. They are counting on them not to know what questions to ask and try as we might, there will ALWAYS be people who get stars in their eyes when poetry.com approaches them about their poem and how good it was to land a spot in their upcoming anthology.

    I mean, what do those stupid publishing people know, rejecting their ms like that? Their friends told them it was the best book they’d read ALL YEAR!

    In general: I’m glad this issue has come up. It certainly has given me a better understanding of the differences between self-publishing and vanity presses and a greater appreciation of those who decide on self-publishing.

  189. I think brand dilution is beside the point. The point is that a major commercial publisher has entered the vanity/subsidy business and will scam the most gullible writers in its slushpile with this venture.

    However, in this particular case, the subject of brand dilution is nonetheless interesting, primarily because it’s very hard to think of any publishing house in modern American publishing that has worked nearly as hard or successful as Harlequin as achieving brand recognition.

    They succeeded brilliantly with their Harlequin, Silhouette, and Mills & Boon programs, which established an unusual consumer pattern of buying novels on the basis of publisher/imprint in an industry where, otherwise, readers almost always buy fiction on the basis of author, titles, or series, and pay little (usually NO) attention to who the publisher is.

    It worked -so- well for them that they’ve repeatedly tried to repeat the pattern of creating brand-loyalty to the -publisher- among readers in their various other programs (Red Dress, Luna, Steeple Hill, Bombshell, etc.), but it has never again worked nearly as well as it did for those original programs. But they do keep trying.

    Which makes it surprising, though not an issue I care about, that they evidently didn’t consider the prospect of brand diluation with regard to this plan. Because it would be hard to think of a publisher that’s MORE invested in consumer perception of its brand.

  190. Mark @ 196

    Of course there is a stigma-but it’s a stigma that’s perpetuated in part by authors.

    It’s perpetuated in part by people who feel they have to hide the romances they read like a dirty little secret.

    If more people will acknowledge the hard word that goes into them, and if more people are open to hearing about the great stories found in the romance genre, perhaps that stigma would lessen. Perhaps fewer people would feel so inclined to hide it. Not to mention that serious cross-over readership. Romance readers cross-read genres an awful lot.

    No… this isn’t the issue. Had that initial pot shot not been taken, I wouldn’t have said a thing.

    And I agree, RWA, MWA and SFWA did a fantastic job. I plan on joining SFWA in the next few weeks, just on the basis of how they handled this. If I qualify for MWA, I’m probably going to join there, too.

    The writer orgs have done a bang-up job supporting the writers. I just want writers in general to do the same…preferably without the jibes at romance. We take enough of those.

  191. But there is a question I’m not finding an answer to yet, so perhaps someone in the RWA can answer it for me here — what happens to writers who publish with Harlequin’s regular non-vanity romance lines and who were members of the RWA due to those publications? Is the RWA proposing to kick them out because those publications no longer qualify? Or, if not, and the writers want to keep publishing with Harlequin, what happens? What about their aspiring members who get the chance to publish with Harlequin’s regular lines, which would in the past have qualified them for published membership and all the benefits thereof, but now it doesn’t? Are the RWA, the SFFWA and the MWA stating that if you do business with Harlequin, you can’t be a member or published member?

    Can’t speak for RWA or SFWA, but as I understand MWA’s position, if Harlequin doesn’t back off, current members are “grandfathered” in and can stay members even if they’re with MIRA, but MIRA books won’t be eligible for the Edgar. (I haven’t thought to ask if MIRA books that came out before the Harlequin Hullabaloo would still be eligible to submit). Prospective new members who are published with MIRA will have their applications turned down.

    I know at least one of the people who helped draft the MWA communique is lurking here, so they can correct me if I’m wrong.

  192. I actually know several authors (a couple of them SF authors) who are published with Harlequin. Every single one of them publishes under a pseudnymn. A couple of them won’t even reveal what their nome de plume is for fear that they won’t be taken seriously as a writer if it gets out.”

    Well,it’s possible that they’re using a pseudonymn becuase what they’re writing outside of Harlequin is so different from their other writing that they don’t want to alienate one set of fans. Tess Gerritsen used to write romance and now writes terrific and quite bloody crime fiction. Some of her romance fans got VERY UPSET with her, as did some of her crime fiction fans, when they picked up some of her other work.

  193. As an gluttonous reader, and someone who has no interest in writing fiction, I am more concerned that Harlequin is eating its seed corn.

    I don’t read Harlequin category releases, except from occasionally glomming the backlist of a writer who started writing for Harlequin, and then went on to other imprints. A lot of my favorite romance writers started writing for Harlequin or Silhouette. And most report that they submitted multiple manuscripts before making a sale.

    Writers are already investing a lot in the form of time to become a better writer. Now, they are going to told they have to spend non-trivial amounts of money to get “published?”

    “Don’t quit your day job” becomes “and get a part-time job to support your hobby.”

  194. @ Laura Resnick 201

    I think the problem is that uninformed people may not see it as mad money but as an investment in their writing career. And for the effort involved by the publisher, it’s a fair profit – at best (worst?) few hours of proofreading by some junior editor and then a bit of time on a printing on a press that’s already more than paid for itself isn’t going to cost them even a few hundred dollars, let alone a few thousand. It may be *slightly* more involved than that, but I can see why they think there’s profit to be made in this.

    Plus, with the level of disrespect given to the genre by society in general, I wouldn’t be surprised if those involved in the creation of Harlequin Horizons didn’t have a lot of respect for their readers either. Plenty of businesses have no respect for their customer base. (“Those idiots will read almost anything.”) If that’s the case, then they’ll expect this all to blow over soon without any noticable impact on their sales. Let’s be honest, the stereotypical suburban housewife who reads Harlequin romance isn’t going to hear about all this brouhaha. (Especially since we know she doesn’t really exist anymore.) The actual women who read Harlequin romance and could be anything from doctors to mechanics to millionaire entrepreneurs, are still less than likely to hear about all this. Most readers, in general, aren’t reading author’s blogs or writers’ association memos.

    From what little I know of the genre, I see subdivisions of romance published under different series names. Readers would just have learned to avoid Harlequin Horizons books as “a bit rubbish” and buy other Harlequin novels instead. However, that’s a moot point now.

  195. Shiloh @208: and some of the stigma, of course, is from the fact that romance novels are “women’s fiction”. Cf. “chick flicks”. Women like it, so it must be stupid, insipid and formulaic, not worth reading, unlike the latest Tom Clancy/Robert Ludlum clone novel which is okay, because it’s stupid, insipid and formulaic but without all that icky estrogen ew cooties!

  196. “Can’t speak for RWA or SFWA, but as I understand MWA’s position, if Harlequin doesn’t back off, current members are “grandfathered” in and can stay members even if they’re with MIRA, but MIRA books won’t be eligible for the Edgar. (I haven’t thought to ask if MIRA books that came out before the Harlequin Hullabaloo would still be eligible to submit). Prospective new members who are published with MIRA will have their applications turned down. I know at least one of the people who helped draft the MWA communique is lurking here, so they can correct me if I’m wrong.”

    That’s not good, though it’s less of an impact for mystery than for the romance market. Clearly what Harlequin is doing is unethical, but my hope is that the writers groups will team up with organizations like the National Writers Union, the Authors Guild and the Association of Authors’ Representatives — organizations that have brought pressure to bear on large publishers before on contractual and legal issues — and make legal challenges toward Harlequin for predatory business practices, rather than punish authors for the situation. If the romance field were not so concentrated around Harlequin, the issue would have less impact, but it is, and so it does. I’m concerned that in the eagerness to take a stand about this, there may be a lot of complications that have not been well worked out.

  197. Nicely stated, Scalzi.

    As someone who’s represented both authors and traditional publishers in a legal capacity for over ten years, I agree with everything you’ve said. The upsurge in writing generally (possibly a result of the blog/Internet revolution, or possibly just evidence that the Internet brought everyone out of their caves) means more rejections, but also more people who don’t have the chops to write – yet think they will someday “make it” just because they managed to pay someone to publish their work. I can’t say I thought much of Harlequin before this, but I definitely think less of them now. And Kudos to the industry groups for taking a stand. It’s obvious Harlequin just learned the lesson backyard bullies have been learning (*cough* sometimes in its own novels…*cough*) for years:

    Sometimes you gotta look out for that skinny kid with the slingshot.

  198. Their slush pile is now a profit center, and how do I know my possibly-worth-publishing-with-a-little-work manuscript won’t get bumped automatically because the vanity press fees are more certain?

    I’m actually not worried about close-to-publication manuscripts for one very simple reason: Harlequin makes a lot more money on their traditionally published manuscripts than they stand to make off of shunting them elsewhere. If you look at Brenda Hiatt’s awesome (but not randomly sampled) “Show me the money” survey here http://www.brendahiatt.com/id2.html you can get an idea how much individual Harlequin authors make from a book.

    It’s a good bet that the publisher makes at least as much as the author, especially for the books from the imprints, where the authors have less (e.g., close to zero) bargaining power.

    Someone with a publishable-quality book stands to earn Harlequin way more money than the couple hundred bucks they could get off the referral; in addition, one hopes they publish more than one book (and usually contracts for more).

    This is why Yog’s law makes sense: a legitimate publisher pays money because the legitimate publisher knows it will get more money selling a good book to lots and lots of readers than selling its services to a handful of authors, and every good publisher knows this.

    So I’m not worried that Harlequin will start rejecting good books. I doubt it would make economic sense to do so.

    I am worried that the people who are in the very beginning stages of their career–the ones who need to persevere and learn their craft and grow–will be shunted from traditional publishing by this move and will become bitter in the future towards Harlequin in specific and writing in general.

  199. and make legal challenges toward Harlequin for predatory business practices

    Maybe one of the folks who specializes in this area of law can weigh in, but I don’t know what legal challenge they could actually make. RWA doesn’t have standing to bring a claim. There would have to be somebody actually harmed by Harlequin’s new game, which would be hard to prove.

  200. @ 216 Courtney Milan

    “So I’m not worried that Harlequin will start rejecting good books. I doubt it would make economic sense to do so.”

    My point is not so much that they might do so — I agree, the financial benefits from a successful book would outweigh vanity press fees, even inflated ones such as these — but as soon as that possibility is there the process becomes suspect. They are, I believe, trading their integrity to grab some low-hanging fruit.

  201. @217 mythago:

    You’re right, legal challenges for predatory practices are virtually impossible under the facts as stated – and as likely to occur. You can’t have a legal challenge without a violation of law, and if a publishing house as big as Harlequin hasn’t got top-notch legal representatives advising them – in advance – on every business decision they’re making, then I’m a talking squirrel.

    That’s not to say Harlequin might not violate a law somewhere, but it would surprise me a great deal if they did. Even the smaller publishers in my client base tend to contact me before they make major business decisions, to make sure they have the formalities in line. Harlequin’s counsel will almost certainly ensure that all disclosures are made, made well, and made up front, and that the new venture complies with applicable law.

    That said, the bigger problem is that people in this country (can’t speak to others) rarely let legal disclosures stand in the way of their dreams. A person who really, really, really wants to become “a published author” and doesn’t take the time to educate him or herself about the difference between traditional publishing and a vanity press could easily be suckered in by this kind of thing. That’s particularly true where the vanity press bears the imprint of a famous house like Harlequin – and I have to admit, changing the imprint to remove the Harlequin name was probably a smart legal decision. I doubt the courts would have much time for people crying “but I didn’t know it wasn’t the REAL Harlequin!” and yet removal of the Harlequin name from the imprint prevents even this type of legal challenge.

    Granted, I’m a transactional type and not a litigation attorney, but for what it’s worth, I’m guessing Harlequin’s new venture will have high-end legal verbage, and plenty of it, designed specifically to shield the parent company against a variety of legal challenges. Good publishers don’t act without attorneys in the wings (and if my experience is any indication, many authors don’t either).

  202. I can’t see how this won’t dilute the Harlequin brand, no matter how Harlequin claim it can’t, just because the books won’t be branded Harlequin (in that case, the use of the Harlequin name to sell the service to writers seems a little disingenuous, but that’s a whole other story).

    The Harlequin Horizons website states that for a fee, emails can be sent to up to 10,000,000 opted in email recipients. It says “your campaign is not unsolicited Spam. Instead, e-mails will be sent to readers who have already indicated their interest in receiving messages and, by opting-in to receive book marketing e-mails, have given us permission to reach them”.

    Who else can these campaigns be targeting but readers who have opted-in to Harlequin’s e-newsletters about soon to be released books. And how can readers not link the Horizons books to Harlequin, when the emails must be sent from Harlequin for the opt-in to be valid?

  203. All of this is fascinating and also horrifying. I say that as a reader of romance novels (I love Laura Kinsale’s work, so it’s neat to see her pop up here), and also as an editor.

    I’ve been thinking about a particular category of submission that all editors get: writers whose ms aren’t successful, but which show tremendous promise. What happens in this case? If I were an editor at one of the Harlequin lines, I would want to encourage that writer to submit to me again in the future, but it would be a terrible idea to encourage them to send that ms to Harlequin Horizons — not just for the writer, but for the sake of any future publishing relationship (I’m thinking of mutual trust, audience building, long-term career building, pretty much every aspect) that they might go on to have with me, their potential future editor. If you see promise in someone’s work, you don’t say, “This doesn’t work for me, but I’d like to see more work from you” and then send them down a dark alley to get mugged by HH.

    So I’m guessing that Harlequin editors would probably have to come up with a tiered system of rejections in which the most promising of the writers who are getting a rejection letter will be warned not to submit to HH. The writers that Harlequin will send to HH will be the ones that don’t show much potential, and whose work the Harlequin slush reader would be happy never to encounter again in the slushpile.

  204. I’ve been scammed by something similar in the realm of poetry. When I finally figured it out, it really hit me hard emotionally.

    It’s sort of like being invited into a high-school clique only to find out they just want you around to make fun of you and bring them drinks.

    That’s an insightful analogy. I bet there are few people out there who haven’t, at some point in their lives, been scammed or tricked in such a way, whether it was by that oily used-car salesman, the popular kids at school, or a vanity press. And it feels awful. Dealing with rejection is bad enough. But it’s much, much worse to first be fed false hope and then realize that whoever it was had so little respect for you they wouldn’t even treat you honestly–instead they took advantage. Rejection is a simple “no thanks;” sane people can handle that. But scamming people is more than unethical; it’s cruel. It may not be personal to the scammer, who’s just after money or a laugh or whatever, but it’s very very personal to the victim.

    Harlequin used to be in the business of making people happy. That’s what romance novels do, if you’re the sort who likes them (I do). You read them, and they make you happy. It’s a good, sustainable business model.

    Now Harlequin wants to be in the business of feeding people false hope and then crushing them. Some people who publish with them may be so delusional they think they’re successful authors despite selling only 75 copies, all to themselves. But most people are more self-aware than that. They’re going to catch on eventually that they’ve been duped by a company they trusted, and it’s going to be a horrible feeling for them when they do.

    And as a side note, I wonder if an author so scammed will ever buy a Harlequin novel again.

  205. Should probably follow up that comment to make it clear that I think an editor at Harlequin who sends a writer to HH is doing something unethical. But an editor at Harlequin who sends a writer who might have a career to HH is also doing something stupid. It hurts the writer, the community, the industry, and yeah, it means the editor loses out too.

  206. My guess is that the editors are having this imposed on them from higher up. The initial reports seemed to suggest that all rejections would carry a note about Hh.

    I’m hoping that they’ve been able to reconsider that, in the same way the ads for Harlequin Horizons that appeared on the writer’s guideline pages at eHarlequin were removed.

    The vanity press in itself isn’t as unethical as the way it’s being marketed to writers.

    Sadly, there will always be people who are willing to try to buy the dream, despite all evidence to the contrary. A collegue paid a couple of month’s salary back in 1983 to a well known “subsidy press”. Thought I was just jealous and trying to stomp on her dream when I showed her articles from writer’s magazines warning against this set-up. What she got for her money was 25 badly printed books. Amazingly, she still thought she’d got a good deal.

    I’m sure there will be some people who will feel the same about Hh. Doesn’t make it a good thing though.

  207. Unfortunately it looks like this could be a continuing trend. There were many writers on the Thomas Nelson blogs who were excited about the chance to “self-publish” under that arrangement, and you imagine that the hopes of aspiring romance writers would also be fanned by this HH creation.

    In truth, none of these schemes are actual self-publishing, and Lulu, for all its charms, doesn’t offer self-publishing either, since to self-publish you need to control the ISBN of your own book.

    I think the money grab part of all this is evident in their prices. A giant sucking sound…

  208. Why is nobody crediting writers with half an ounce of sense? Anyone who has done five minutes research on the book market via Google can figure out that vanity publishing is NOT going to help your career. It ain’t rocket science.

    If people want to pay to print hardcopies, why shouldn’t they be able to use a familiar name like Harlequin? And if you are writing something obscure and non-commercial (and these days it’s all about appealing to the mass market), but want to make it accessible in print rather than on the internet, and you have the money to pay for it, why not?

    And looking at it from another angle, the younger generation who’ve been raised to believe that they are all creative genii who are never wrong think that a rejection slip means that an editor just ‘doesn’t get’ their fabulousness. Let Harlequin give them an outlet for their unrecognized literary brilliance, and they can leave the editors in peace for those who can actually write.

    Massive knee-jerk over-reaction, anyone?

  209. Anyone who has done five minutes research on the book market via Google can figure out that vanity publishing is NOT going to help your career.

    Five minutes of market research tells me that vanity publishing has plenty of customers, at least some of whom believe that it will help their careers. (And some tiny fraction of those people are even correct.)

    If people want to pay to print hardcopies, why shouldn’t they be able to use a familiar name like Harlequin?

    I’d like to soak my feet in warm water for a few hours, them dump in some vanilla and food dye and call it Coca-Cola too. If only the Coca-Cola company would let me! But they won’t. I blame corporate fascism.

  210. Massive knee-jerk over-reaction, anyone?

    Massive hand-waving faux-free-market-hugging Caveat Emptor The Bastards blather, anyone?

    The two heads of that particular ugly beast are 1) the talentless idiots deserve it for falling for the scam and 2) but nobody would fall for it so why are you upset? (Helen’s comment at @227 is an example of the latter.) It’s defensive attribution and not much more.

    People with actual empathy, and/or people who care about the craft of writing, may be just a teeny bit concerned that a major publishing house is trying to lure in customers with the pretense that maybe you will be the one plucked from the vanity-press masses. So no, no overreaction.

  211. Lauren @139 said:
    ‘Their “Standard Publicity Plan” is a press release that gets sent to “100 targeted media outlets.”’

    A few years ago, when I was an overworked journalist who’d not yet written a novel, I didn’t belong to these organizations or read these blogs. If I’d gotten a press release that someone in my readership area had published a book with Harlequin Horizons, I’d have pitched this to my editor as worth a story because of HQN’s size and rep. It kills me to think that a lot of other writers and editors at small & medium-sized papers will make the same mistake.

  212. Yep. Gotta protect the idiots from themselves. You’d better start a campaign to stop these writers from using a computer, in case they click one of those popups that says ‘you have a virus’, or get an email from Nigeria.

    And God forbid that we should expect a journalist to know what they are writing about.

    If it’s such a big deal, why aren’t people in a similar uproar about the dozens of vanity presses already in existence?

  213. I wanted to add: I agree that the WAY that Harlequin is promoting HH is unethical: as noted, the promise of being monitored and possibly picked up, and the refrain of ‘published author’ is deceptive. THAT is something to get upset about, and I agree wholeheartedly that they need to rethink how they are presenting this.

    Vanity publishing in itself – not an issue.

  214. Helen @ 231:

    Yep. Gotta protect the idiots from themselves.

    I’ve never belived in letting people learn by falling flat on their faces if I – by nothing more strenuous than imparting a bit of information, no less – could help them scale a particular hurdle.

    Being uneducated about something doesn’t equate being an idiot, and publishing isn’t a particularly transparent industry.

  215. Helen @131

    “Yep. Gotta protect the idiots from themselves.”

    Yes, we do. Which is why we have consumer reports, why we have the Better Business Bureau, why we have Carfax reports, why so many news shows do pieces on shady businesses, and why we post on pages such as this.

    Seriously, we shouldn’t warn people? Ever? How will they go online and learn about the pitfalls if there aren’t pages like this talking about them?

  216. Helen S.:

    “If it’s such a big deal, why aren’t people in a similar uproar about the dozens of vanity presses already in existence?”

    You are apparently not aware that lots of energy is in fact expended warning people off of other vanity presses and other scams, and that making noise about this new one is part of a continuing process.

    You should be aware this makes you look a) ignorant on the subject and b) like a troll for deriding both the people who may not yet know information about the publishing industry and those who would like to help them learn.

  217. What this really sounds like is that they’re cutting their slush-pile skimmers and just going ahead and publishing everything to see what sticks.

    If I was going to self-publish and pay costs, I wouldn’t go for a deal with “royalties” though. I own the f-ing book and you guys are just print and marketing contractors. I pay _you_ royalties.

  218. Author Solutions published 13,000 titles last year. Titles that vary in content and quality. Titles that perhaps didn’t quite fit a publisher’s existing lines. Those books already exist, but are the readers buying them?

    And if not, why?

    Those books are no different than the products they will receive through Harlequin Horizons. Because these are Author Solutions products, not Harlequin products. These are products for writers, not readers.

  219. C.A. Bridges @234: yes, because if people are tricked they’re stupid and deserve it, and there’s nothing wrong with ripping people off; after all, if they were sufficiently clever and worthy, like us, they’d have seen right through that scam! And if you are horrible enough to suggest that maybe spreading information or boycotts are a way to limit scamosity, why, you’re clearly a worshipper of the Nanny State. It’s every man and his Googling skills for himself, you liberal patsy.

  220. It’s every man and his Googling skills for himself

    But…but…google for what, exactly? Warnings that no one bothered to put up?

    The logic, she is not sound :-)

  221. Helen @231 & 232

    You got it in your second post. The problem with vanity presses is that they sell to the customer a dream that they just can’t fulfil. Not just this one, all of them.

    What the customer gets is a handful of books. What they’ve been sold is the hope of being a “real” published author, respected, seen, maybe even picking up a genuine publishing contract. If they pay enough money for the right marketing package, that is…

    People who have a desperate neediness look for easy answers, and want to believe what the slick sale pitch tells them. Saying they should know better is blaming the victim.

    What I hear as the subtext to your post is a question- why all this reaction, now, to this one vanity press?

    I think the answer is one that someone outside the romance community (especially some of the posters deriding romance as a genre) wouldn’t see. To romance readers and aspiring romance writers, Harlequin is a trusted name, the Holy Grail of romance publishing. We are used to believing that Harlequin keeps it’s promises. It’s part of what has helped them build such a strong brand loyalty. Now they are making promises that nearly everyone knows can’t be kept, and that hurts us all.

  222. Setting up a self-publishing arm is not an illegal practice, no, but deceptive advertising is, and it those practices that the writing organizations are chiefly objecting to — specifically, that Harlequin is using the lure that authors in Horizons may be published at Harlequin and that Harlequin is offering Horizons as an option to writers it rejects.

    These are both instances of fraud, and indeed are very similar to the free-lance editorial scam in which con-artist agents and publishers rejected authors, suggested they go to con-artist free-lance editors and would then have a better chance of getting representation or published, and then received kickbacks from those editors’ large fees.

    A number of those people and companies were legally prosecuted, and while Harlequin would not be under the same risk, they are under considerable danger on several fronts for committing fraud, namely lawsuits from authors and a lot of bad publicity. Someone mentioned that the average romance reader isn’t going to know anything about Horizons and so it won’t effect Harlequin’s operations. But a lot of bad press about how Harlequin is committing fraud will come to readers’ attention. That’s in part why the writers group protests so far have had some effect on what Harlequin is planning. If Harlequin does not publish any Horizon author in its regular lines — as they pitch that they will do — they are making a serious problem for themselves.

    By legal challenges, I do not mean solely taking Harlequin to court. The Authors Guild, NWU and AAR have been able to get publishers to change contractual terms and business practices in response to legal challenges without actual lawsuits. A lot of the contractual terms authors can get now on electronic and audio rights came from those efforts, for instance. Above all, the RWA, MWA, and SFFWA are advocacy and support groups for writers, and so the effort, I would feel, needs to be stopping Harlequin from committing fraudulent business practices, not just telling them that they’ve been a very bad publisher and are now going to be called by a bad word. The brand dilution issue has already been settled about as well as you’re going to get — they took Harlequin’s name off the self-publishing arm.

    Likewise, the writers groups are also exposing themselves to the possibilities of lawsuits from authors who publish with Harlequin’s regular lines and who will then be denied membership or types of memberships and access to awards. It is not a policy that particularly effects Harlequin, which has thousands and thousands of potential authors to chose from, but it does effect writers’ careers. Therefore, while I understand what the groups were doing, I don’t think it’s the best approach.

    Harlequin is not a vanity press. They are the behemoth of romance publishing and a major force in paperback publishing, the majority of which is still made up of romances. Trying to give them that status is a symbolic protest only, to which Harlequin can claim an overreaction and in part ignore on claims of “new media.” And more to the point, vanity presses are not illegal. But accusing them of fraud brings pressure on them to end those particular objectionable practices, both in dealing with authors, the media, etc. And no matter how lawyered up they may be, they don’t want that. They were not expecting this protest as it’s been so far, and are now trying to shrug it off and placate folks.

    But if you accuse them formally of fraud, which this is, then the writers groups will have a great deal more leverage, and without punishing authors and exposing themselves to legal problems from authors. I’m hoping Harlequin backs down some more and does negotiations. But if they don’t, going after them for fraud, not vanity, is the best option, it seems to me, and gives the groups much more ability to meet their goals.

    Vanity publishing, much as people may not like it, is not the main issue. Fraud is. This fraud also came up with Harper’s Authonomy, although since authors are not asked for money, there’s not much of a way to pressure them about it. But they also offer the lure of possible Harper publication for the winners of the contests. One winner got reviewed by an editor who told him that Harper didn’t publish his kind of novel and therefore they were passing. But that fact was not put up on the site, stating that this type of fiction — comic SF — should not be submitted. It’s unethical and its fraudulent, even if they aren’t cheating these authors out of money. I don’t think Harper intentionally set out to do this, but it’s a problem.

    I don’t know what Thomas Nelson’s policies are about their self-publishing arm. But if publishers are going to proceed with these operations and tie them into their regular operations, then they need to stop these unethical practices, because they are going to be eventually facing legal problems the size of Nebraska. There is already a lot of similar fighting going on over e-books, a far more potentially lucrative market than running self-publishing companies. And this is the sort of issue on which authors and agents groups can bring a lot of leverage to bear. But doing so by punishing some of the authors (while others are safely “grandfathered” in,) is not likely to get extensive support from authors for fighting Harlequin on the issue.

  223. The Harper Studio author payment plan described by Diana Gill @98 and Lauren @100 is actually a very old form of contract known as “revenue sharing” that has occasionally been used by publishers for financially risky but very profitable books. The author gets no advance, and no royalties until the book has earned out its cost. But if it does so, after that the author gets an exceedingly high royalty, often 50%. The publisher thus takes less of a risk on investing in the book, but if the book becomes a best-seller, the author earns vastly more than on a standard royalty.

    One novel in the sf/f field that was published under a revenue-sharing contract and turned out to be very successful for its author was a little number called The Lord of the Rings.

  224. @waitingforthecall and katg, very informative and helpful comments.

    So why didn’t RWA say anything like “Harlequin is being unethical in its presentation of this program which potentially defrauds both writers and readers” but rather a bland statement that it “no longer meets the requirements to be eligible for RWA-provided conference resources.”

    Their vague ‘not making a comment on the business model’ doesn’t count.

    I guess, I’m not surprised by Harlequin’s behavior because its something I see everywhere. Media and corporations run as close to fraud as they can get away with, and it does seem to me that anyone who is sucked in by this would have real problems in the modern world. Saying its stupidity was unkind of me. Heck who hasn’t been sucked in by the promises of a clever copywriter or a convoluted contract?. It’s a pity that Harlequin have stooped to that too.

  225. Kat @241, in what way are RWA et al exposing them to lawsuits from authors? (That’s an actual question, not a rhetorical one; creative rights aren’t my area of practice.)

  226. Helen @ 243

    I would guess that making that type of “judgement” statement would leave the RWA wide open to challenge. Who defines what is unethical?

    I wouldn’t think it could be called fraud, either, though I’m no legal expert, unless it can be proved that a Hh writer did sell fantastic numbers of books but wasn’t picked up by Harlequin for one of the traditional Harlequin lines. But again, as no definition of what constitutes “good enough sales” for that to happen is known, it can’t be easily challenged. Given that a typical Harlequin print run and what is considered just adequate sales is 20,000 books, an extremely unlikely figure for a self-published writer to achive, let alone one published by a vanity press, it would be difficult to prove fraud. They can set the required figure where they like.

    What the RWA did was state that based on their eligibility criteria (which are pretty much set in stone), Harlequin no longer met their definition of an eligible publisher. That’s something that is clear, unambiguous, and can’t be challenged, as their definitions are well known and rule out any organisation asking writers to pay for publication. People may argue that they need to change their definition, but that’s another thing entirely and for the RWA membership to decide.

  227. I think the best way to deal with Harlequin Horizons is for a group of romance writers (perhaps aided and abetted by mystery and SF writers) to get together and submit a really bad manuscript (and I mean REALLY bad), and see if it gets accepted.

    In other words, ATLANTA NIGHTS, anyone?

  228. #243: “So why didn’t RWA say anything like “Harlequin is being unethical in its presentation of this program which potentially defrauds both writers and readers” but rather a bland statement that it “no longer meets the requirements to be eligible for RWA-provided conference resources.””

    My guess would be that 1) they didn’t have time, as they wanted to jump on it right away; 2) they probably didn’t have all the info about what Harlequin was doing right away; and 3) the RWA taking a stand against Harlequin is delicate, given Harlequin’s position, so they may have been focused on trying to show Harlequin that there are consequences, rather than calling fraud. RWA was also concerned with brand dilution and what that would mean for its authors publishing with Harlequin, which was certainly a major concern. I’m not sure they’re completely happy with Harlequin’s gesture on that point, but like I said, I think that’s all they’re going to get.

    But the two other major points — the promise at a shot at the main lines as part of the pitch for Horizon and the directing of rejected authors to Horizon — these are egregious and really stupid. So in proceeding, that’s where they are going to have to focus their attention. They can’t say to Harlequin, “don’t have a self-publishing arm,” it’s just not going to work. But they can get rid of the practices that make it not only a vanity press operation but a fraudulent/potentially fraudulent one.

    Harlequin — or rather Harlequin’s parent company — would also be smart to look ahead. Romances have been the most successful fiction sector for e-publishing and there are a number of companies doing them. And the mystery writers and SFF writers, etc., while that’s an additional market for them, don’t strictly need them. So that market dominance Harlequin has may not hold, and really pissing off the bestselling romance authors is maybe not a great idea. But I think RWA is counting on that being a factor a little bit more than it actually is for Harlequin right now.

    “Kat @241, in what way are RWA et al exposing them to lawsuits from authors? (That’s an actual question, not a rhetorical one; creative rights aren’t my area of practice.)”

    Harlequin is a legitimate, major publisher, especially for romance. But RWA is saying that they will treat it as not a real publisher. Romance writers need to eat. Awards like the Rita and the Edgar are valuable for writers’ careers. Membership in these groups and published member status have benefits to the authors — resources, conferences, legitimacy, promotional assistance, etc. That’s why authors join. So you’re a new writer who has a shot at publishing with Harlequin’s established lines. Writers who already published with Harlequin are exempt from the ban, but you are not allowed to qualify for the organization or be up for awards, even though you are with a major publisher. Such writers can charge RWA with sabatoging their careers by denying them proper membership, etc., on specious grounds. Unless you disqualify all Harlequin authors, it’s discriminatory. (This is similar to the RWA saying that Harlequin is potentially sabatoging their authors by diluting the brand.)

    Even if the RWA doesn’t get sued for it, it doesn’t exactly create good will, and may make many authors decide not to be part of the RWA and even form another organization. (After all, even if you are with another publisher, what happens if that publisher starts doing a self-publishing operation too?) The problem with their current strategy is that it doesn’t target Harlequin or have many consequences for Harlequin; it targets authors. And since they’re trying to protect authors, not cause them more problems, I think it would be a better idea to go after Harlequin and on terms that are more important to them or their parent company — their reputation in the media and its sales consequences.

    Right now, that the RWA, etc. are saying that Harlequin’s vanity operation makes it all a vanity press may sound an awful lot like insecure authors expressing sour grapes. (And that seems to be how Harlequin is somewhat treating it.) Raising the question not of vanity but of fraud may be more effective and give the writers’ groups more support.

    I’m guessing here. There may be more details involved than we know. But it’s what makes sense to me.

  229. John, apologies for the pisstake/comment drift:

    Seeing that Harlequin have ushered in a Quantum Shiny New Singularity in Publishing we have decided to follow suit*. After all, there are many marks, er, writers out there who might not like the Harlequin Horizons … deal. So, without further ado (as it deserves none) welcome to Small Beer Press … Horizons: http://smallbeerpress.com/not-a-journal/2009/11/22/small-beer-press-horizons/

    * Sharkskin, of course.

  230. I am a multipublished writer who has published many books with several Harlequin lines. I will not be selling to Harlequin again. I do not wish to be associated with a vanity press in any way, shape or form. I belong to RWA, Ninc, and other authors’ organizations, and those that have spoken speak for me: This Harlequin move is inexcusable, demeaning, and sleazy. I’m good enough to sell to other houses (I have in the past). I will take myself and my work elsewhere.

  231. I’m not a lawyer but seriously doubt that RWA can be successfully sued for policies that have been around for years and applied evenly now that some big publisher created an imprint that matches RWA’s pre-existing policy.

  232. #251: “I’m not a lawyer but seriously doubt that RWA can be successfully sued for policies that have been around for years and applied evenly now that some big publisher created an imprint that matches RWA’s pre-existing policy.’

    Again, it’s not purely a matter of whether someone can have a successful lawsuit, but of lawsuits at all, bad press and fights between authors and the RWA. If Harlequin was some medium-sized mystery publisher, it would not be as much of an issue because it’s one small part of the market, but Harlequin publishes the majority of romance writers. As I said, they are the equivalent of Random House. You cannot, given the small size of the publishing industry, tell romance writers that they can’t sell to Harlequin or will face penalties. That isn’t helping them. NomoreHarlequin may be able to go off somewhere else, but a lot of writers starting out — who put groceries on the table, etc., with that writing money — can’t.

    And while Harlequin may find Rita awards useful, mostly they don’t give a damn if their authors are in the RWA or not. And the ones who are already members of RWA are grandfathered in, so it’s not even an issue. So it’s not punishing them, it’s punishing the authors and a lot of them won’t be happy about it.

    Which is why targeting Harlequin over fraudulent or potentially fraudulent practices makes more sense to me. Harlequin is the problem, go deal with Harlequin. When the NWA, etc., went after publishers about how they prepared royalty statements, demanding more information for authors, going so far as to audit random authors’ accounts — and finding mistakes, it wasn’t so much that they could take the publishers down in court as that they caused a shitstorm of trouble for the publishers that could eventually have legal repercussions and caused a lot of media attention. So the publishers did improve their royalty statements, accounting practices, etc. This is a similar situation.

    Screaming, good. Punishing authors as part of your screaming, not so good.

  233. KatG – Every Harlequin writer I’ve heard from has been pleased by RWA’s action, and would rather that they kicked out Harlequin than didn’t. And of course, doing nothing would require RWA to ignore it’s own rules. That would have been worse. It would have made RWA a laughingstock.

  234. “You cannot, given the small size of the publishing industry, tell romance writers that they can’t sell to Harlequin or will face penalties.”

    The publishing industry isn’t all that small.

    Also, I’m not aware of the RWA saying to anyone that they can’t sell to Harlequin or anyone else. They can, and have, said that Harlequin has become a vanity publisher and as such is not eligible for certain considerations RWA offers non-vanity publishers.

    Your logic here suggests that one should be able to get away with just about anything if one is a large enough publisher, which is a logic that I’m sure Harlequin would subscribe to, but which I would be happy for no one else to buy.

  235. KatG, just wanted to point out that membership in RWA is not limited to published writers; anyone actively engaged in pursuing a career in romance writing may be a member, so no one will be excluded by RWA’s naming of HQ as a non-eligible publisher. RWA’s by-laws, as voted on by the membership, set the rules about non-vanity, non-subsidy publishers; all the RWA has done is abide by their by-laws. And ditto to what Josh Jasper said–I don’t think I’ve heard an RWA member yet (and I am one) oppose RWA’s decision.

  236. I thought they just have this one line thats vanity – not the whole company. They still do the standard book deals. They aren’t a vanity-publisher-full-stop.

    They didn’t kick them out for doing some e-pub, did they, and that’s against their rules as well, isn’t it? or am I getting muddled.

  237. KatG, anyone who is that worried about unsuccessful lawsuits, should probably go live in a cave and avoid the public sphere entirely.

    The whole point of a writer’s association is to deal with large publishing companies because individual authors have a relatively weak position.

  238. Helen S@256:

    I thought they just have this one line thats vanity – not the whole company. They still do the standard book deals. They aren’t a vanity-publisher-full-stop.

    Yes, but they’re also trading on Harelquin’s brand — which even a non-romance reader like me knows is a major player in the field.

    Let me put it this way: I’m not blowing smoke up out host’s arse in saying he’s part of a very impressive roster of talent at Tor Books. Tom Doherty built up that list not only because of the very high editorial and production standards but (I presume) because authors respect and trust that Tor won’t try and screw its authors like a truck stop whore at a frat house gang bang. That credibility has been built up over thirty years by TD and many others, and I can’t see how it wouldn’t be damaged by Tor opening a vanity imprint that’s way too close to a Ponzi scheme for my liking.

  239. #253: “Every Harlequin writer I’ve heard from has been pleased by RWA’s action…”

    But they aren’t going to be kept out or demoted to unpublished member, like new writers for Harlequin. New writers, who aren’t yet members or qualified published members for RWA, who are trying to publish and trying to qualify for published member status in the RWA or membership at all in the MWA and SFWA, are being asked to make a choice and will be prevented from joining the MWA or SFWA or being at the same level of membership in the RWA, while authors who already published with Harlequin and qualified for membership by doing so don’t face the same situation.

    #253: “And of course, doing nothing would require RWA to ignore it’s own rules.”

    Which is a very good point. If it’s the rules, it’s the rules, even if the publisher is large. But the RWA has to accept that doing so will have a punishing effect on a group of newer authors who haven’t done anything wrong. If, however, they can get Harlequin to change its practices so that Horizons is simply a self-publishing arm, not a vanity with predatory practices, then those authors don’t have to suffer the consequences.

    #254: “The publishing industry isn’t all that small.”

    Beg to differ. It’s much smaller than many industries and in romance particularly the field is a limited number of legitimate publishers. Declaring the biggest of them illegitimate does have an impact on authors.

    #254: “They can, and have, said that Harlequin has become a vanity publisher and as such is not eligible for certain considerations RWA offers non-vanity publishers.”

    But that also means that new authors who sell to Harlequin cannot qualify for published membership status and awards in the RWA. Which again impacts on their careers. And they can’t join SFWA or MWA at all.

    #254: “Your logic here suggests that one should be able to get away with just about anything if one is a large enough publisher,”

    With all due respect, John, that’s not at all what I have been saying. I’m saying that the RWA’s current strategy has been effective so far — it got Harlequin to drop their name off of Horizons — but that they actually need to be tougher in their campaign against Harlequin, it seems to me, and work to get Harlequin to drop its predatory practices.

    The decision to make Harlequin a vanity press and grandfather in writers already publishing with Harlequin may fit their by-laws. But to pretend it’s not going to impact on new writers — who now even if they get their work bought by Harlequin are considered vanity press authors by these groups while their more established colleagues are not — is being a little callous. The RWA is going to have to deal with the effects of this restriction on new authors. I’d rather see them go after Harlequin full throttle. They might not have a choice because of their by-laws, but it has consequences not just to Harlequin but to authors who want to publish with Harlequin.

    If you can prove to me that this is not the case, then great, I’d be happy to hear it. But so far, the only argument I’ve gotten is that I shouldn’t worry about these authors.

    #255: “anyone actively engaged in pursuing a career in romance writing may be a member, so no one will be excluded by RWA’s naming of HQ as a non-eligible publisher.”

    They are excluded from published author membership. They are excluded from having their books considered for the Rita and other awards. And they can’t join the MWA or the SFWA at all, so they’re excluded from that.

    #257: “The whole point of a writer’s association is to deal with large publishing companies because individual authors have a relatively weak position.”

    Right, which is why punishing weak individual authors who have done nothing wrong by saying they don’t qualify as real authors and have to stay Pinnochio isn’t ideal. It may be a situation that the RWA has to live with. But I would rather see them go after the publishing company further and try to resolve, change, improve the situation to change Harlequin’s status back from vanity press to real boy so that these authors don’t have to suffer too.

    I don’t think anyone here wants to help just some authors and not all. Riding Harlequin down and getting it to quit these unethical practices is critical. But again, you can’t pretend that this has no impact on new writers trying to come into the field, join writers organizations and have a career.

  240. RWA isn’t going to sue Harlequin. There’s nothing to sue them for. The only issue here is that RWA members will not be allowed to submit their Harlequin Horizons pubbed books to the RITA contests because the contest rules prohibit vanity-published books from inclusion in the contest.
    I am an RWA member.

  241. @Helen S, yes, you’re getting muddled, but that’s okay. :) E-published work is not “against the rules” in RWA. “The rules” allowing an author to join the published authors network are that a book be published by a non-vanity, non-subsidy publisher and that it earn a minimum of $1000 in advances, royalties, or a combination of both. RWA is trying to evolve as e-publishing does, but it’s hard for a large (10K members) organization to move as nimbly as one would wish. I think they’re trying to strike a balance between responding to some members’ wants and maintain the organizational mission to protect the interests of all career romance writers…it isn’t easy, but I think they’re trying. And now I’ll stop being off-topic.

    KatG, I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree. Most of the conversation I’ve seen within the RWA is that members are saddened by Harlequin’s demotion, but they’re not about to sue. And Harlequin books are a go for the upcoming 2009 Ritas…I think we’re all hoping this situation will be worked out before the 2010 award season rolls around.

  242. KatG:

    “Beg to differ. It’s much smaller than many industries”

    Which does not mean that it is small. The AAP reported $25 billion in book sales in 2007 in the United States; that’s a nice market size. Trade and paperbacks were roughly $10 billion of that, which tracks with the annual domestic box office for film.

    “But that also means that new authors who sell to Harlequin cannot qualify for published membership status and awards in the RWA.”

    Well, that’s life when you publish with a vanity publisher. RWA didn’t change its bylaws to exclude Harlequin; Harlequin changed its business plan. I feel sorry for authors who are blindsided by Harlequin’s actions, but RWA did the right thing, first by its own bylaws, which I believe they are legally obliged to follow, and then both in the short term and for the long-term health of writers withing the publishing industry.

    “With all due respect, John, that’s not at all what I have been saying.”

    With equal due respect, it is what you’re saying, although you may not be aware of it. As noted, RWA is obliged to follow its own bylaws; it can’t make exceptions for a publisher just because it’s the largest publisher in the market, and beyond that you appear to be under the impression that RWA has an arsenal of options available to deal with this. It really doesn’t. What Harlequin is doing is scummy, but it’s not illegal and aside from that even if Harlequin engages in fraud, the RWA is not likely to have standing to bring a legal case.

    What RWA can and is doing is enforcing its own rules and applying them equally, regardless of the size of the publisher. Yes, some authors will be affected by this, but they are no different than any other author published by a vanity publisher.

  243. KatG – The decision to make Harlequin a vanity press and grandfather in writers already publishing with Harlequin may fit their by-laws. But to pretend it’s not going to impact on new writers — who now even if they get their work bought by Harlequin are considered vanity press authors by these groups while their more established colleagues are not — is being a little callous.

    Who is pretending that? Can you point to where the RWA sneers at prospective Harlequin authors, twirls a mustache and nya-ha-has?

  244. John @ 262 –

    “and beyond that you appear to be under the impression that RWA has an arsenal of options available to deal with this. It really doesn’t.”

    I think the RWA has exercised it’s only option here. And, as I’ve said I think appropriately. But the question remains, if it isn’t enough of a deterant what options will remain if it becomes an industry standard?

    Or is that just hyperventilating? (serious, not snarky). Vanity press, particularly redirection of the slush pile, seems to be emphatically not popular to one side. But, are writers org boycotts really enough to stop major houses if profits can be realized?

    Based on a lot of the comments, the published writers seem to be mostly worried about brand dilution. If/once that proves to be an unnecessary worry, will there be a strong enough will to butt heads with an entire industry?

    It seems that you had better start stockpiling the coke zero. Or is it more likely that concerns of nuclear fallout will ebb and awareness campaigns will start teaching aspiring writers that anything other than money flowing to the author is a scam/scheme/dishonest/not a productive option? Even if the scam comes from a major publisher.

  245. JS: “I feel sorry for authors who are blindsided by Harlequin’s actions, but RWA did the right thing, first by its own bylaws, which I believe they are legally obliged to follow, and then both in the short term and for the long-term health of writers withing the publishing industry.”

    Agreed, but in the medium-term, it’s going to be very difficult for those authors — who are getting advances, royalties and not paying for their pubs, and who, unlike more established romance writers, have limited options for getting published in romance elsewhere. It’s a bad by-product that no one is going to be happy about. I did not know RWA’s by-laws initially and I understand they have to follow them. But I am sympathetic also to new writers who won’t feel they have a lot of choice in the matter and may not be as happy about RWA’s policies.

    “and beyond that you appear to be under the impression that RWA has an arsenal of options available to deal with this. It really doesn’t. What Harlequin is doing is scummy, but it’s not illegal and aside from that even if Harlequin engages in fraud, the RWA is not likely to have standing to bring a legal case.”

    No, I don’t. I think RWA has very little they can bring against Harlequin, which is why I think they need to team up with the Authors Guild, the NWA and AAR — who have effectively together gone up against publishers for fraud and for disadvantageous business practices. I think they need to generate as much bad press for Harlequin as possible, and I’m sure that’s already in the works. Even so, they can’t make Harlequin stop what they are doing. But they might — only might — be able to influence Harlequin on the predatory business practices and it might discourage other publishers from trying the same thing.

    #263: “Who is pretending that? Can you point to where the RWA sneers at prospective Harlequin authors, twirls a mustache and nya-ha-has?”

    I wasn’t talking about the RWA there, I was talking about John. :) I think the RWA has nothing but sympathy for all prospective romance authors, including the ones who might be tempted to publish with Horizons. But authors who sold to Harlequin’s legitimate lines after the deadline might not see it that way. It’s collateral damage and it’s not RWA’s fault. But I think we need to be able to talk about it without this being seen as accusing RWA of being some sort of villain.

    What the RWA did was very brave and what Harlequin (or their parent company) is doing is very scummy and bordering on if not outright fraud. It’s definitely a major problem facing the publishing industry. And it may mean unfortunately that authors and authors groups are going to have to get very creative about dealing with it.

  246. This may have been stated above (I skimmed through a lot of the comments), but my feeling is that HQN and vanities in general can be as upfront about what they offer as they like, but they are duping/fleecing writers by a fact of omission. They will always fail to inform the writer that they will lose money.

    Vanities only work when they can draw upon a pool of uninformed, unsuspecting consumers. They can tout choice and professional services until they are blue in the face, but they will sell the writer on the possibility of success. That’s it. The entire vanity pub industry works on the premise that their services will give the writer a chance to achieve their publishing dreams (I’m excluding the writer who just wants a printed version of their book for family, friends, local institutions, etc.) They will point to the authors who have found traditional publication, whose book sold thousands or even those who achieved modest successes, i.e. not losing money. They will grease those wheels of hope on a model that likely can’t even boast a .1% success rate. The vast majority of writers who pursue publication on their own, vanity and otherwise, lose money. Ok, but regardless, you can reach readers you say. The average number of copies sold via this independent route is about 200 copies. If this enough for you to call it success, and you don’t mind losing money to do it, by all means. As long as you are going into it with eyes wide open.

    If however, you are like most aspiring writers, and success means more than having a few readers and losing money, then the vanities are there to take advantage. Your chances are slim and none of making money, finding readers, or catching the attention of traditional publishers. Most writers are seeking one or more of these things when they seek publication. Are the vanities going to inform you of this fact? Not if they can help it. They will continue to point to the rare exception as the reason you should spend your hard earned money. What sort of business is it that charges premium fees for almost no chance of return on the investment? Would any smart person do this? Writers, for the most part are smart people and would run the other way IF they knew. The vanities count on them not knowing and hyping the almost lottery type odds of success. This is why they are unethical and deserve to be shot down in flames.

  247. Two minutes worth of research would have shown that almost ALL other publishers have done this EXACT same thing. The ONLY thing Harlequin did differently was to incorporate their name into the new division. They were actually LATE in getting into this side of the biz…

  248. See: Have they? This exact thing? Sending rejections that include promos for their vanity business? Offering scam services for outrageous prices? Pretending that you could get into the legitimate lines of the publisher by paying thousands of dollars for their vanity service?

    Name five other formerly-legit publishers who have done that, and give links to the details, please. Shouldn’t take you more than two minutes. I’ll give you ten, since it takes a bit more time to put together a post with links embedded.

    Otherwise, I’ll ask this question: How long have you worked for Harlequin?

  249. Xopher – if See works for Harlequin, they ought to fire him/her

    KatG – I wasn’t talking about the RWA there, I was talking about John. :) I think the RWA has nothing but sympathy for all prospective romance authors, including the ones who might be tempted to publish with Horizons. But authors who sold to Harlequin’s legitimate lines after the deadline might not see it that way.

    So who was it you were accusing of being callous?

  250. Yes, Josh. And also See’s time is up. Obviously two minutes of research wouldn’t do it.

    So, See, who do you work for?

  251. #270: “So who was it you were accusing of being callous?”

    I sort of answered that, playfully, right there in the quote, Josh: “I wasn’t talking about the RWA there, I was talking about John. :)”

    But really what I was talking about is that if we, as in the collective we, ignore the collateral damage of these legitimate authors, then we are being a bit callous, that my raising the subject was to make sure that aspect didn’t get ignored, even if it perhaps cannot be helped, because it’s going to have a further ripple effect. But evidently, talking about this aspect of the situation is a sore subject, so I’m going to bow out of it now.

    #267: Two minutes of knowledge about publishing tells you that notion is ridiculous.

  252. See@267:

    Not only a fact fail going on there, but I really hope you’re not arguing that if everyone acts like a leaky douche-bag then it’s OK. Seriously — really hope I misread your point.

  253. I’d also note that taxpayers across the globe are still picking up the tab for that kind of epic ethics fail in the financial sector…

  254. I thought I’d weigh in on one point in greater depth.

    Yog’s Rule “money flows toward the writer” codifies the fact that when a publisher gives the writer money (or in the case of a smaller press, a promise of royalties on sale), their interests are then aligned. The writer and publisher both gain if the publisher does what they contract to do: sell the writer’s book to readers.

    In a vanity press transaction, the publisher has no incentive to sell the writer’s book. They gain financially without having to lift a finger to sell a single copy. They have no incentive to do so. It’s no longer a win-win. The publisher has a serious incentive to simply become a “talent trap.” Many promising writers’ works will never see the readership they might have, because most readers will never sort through the acreage of crap to find their work. And many aspiring writers who suffer at the hands of such a scam will grow discouraged and give up, because watching enough book length efforts sink beneath the waves of obscurity is enough to squelch the hardiest spirit.

    What’s more, the publisher must rely on falsehood and obfuscation to make their model work, because if aspiring writers truly knew how much they were spending simply to sink into the publisher’s slush maw, they wouldn’t waste their hard earned dollars that way.

    Any business transaction is an exchange that furthers the interests of all interested parties. You give me a dollar, I’ll give you today’s fresh catch from the harbor. Implicit is an understanding that the exchange is a win-win: I get fresh fish, and you get authentic coin of the realm. If I get bad fish, or give you counterfeit coin, the transaction is fouled — no longer a win-win. That is a bad transaction, and we should all point and make rude noises at the stinky fish (or in this case, book) monger. HqHor is a very stinky fish.

  255. I realized once again today that I’ve been naive and insular.

    There’s SO MUCH good information available about the publishing business from self-evidently reputable sources (such as major writing orgs, advocacy groups like Writer Beware and Preditors & Editors, professional writers with recognizable names and well-established careers, and blogging agents whose websites list recognizable names on their client lists and recognizable major houses on their “recent deals” pages, etc.)… that I keep thinking, “Come on, is there ANYBODY out there who hasn’t accessed this stuff, ANYBODY left out there who’d ACTUALLY FALL for the self-evident scam that a vanity press is?”

    And then I look around and discover that, er, oops, YES. Lots of such people, in fact.

    So far, writer info-and-advocacy groups like RWA, SFWA, HWA, MWA, NINC, SinC, Writer Beware, and a number of professional writers (with recognizable names) and agents (with recognizable client lists and sales) have made public statements about the Ha Ho venture; and they’re all saying more or less the same thing about it, and about vanity/subsidy “publishing.” Namely, they’re pointing out that vanity presses operate to empty the pockets of aspiring writers, NOT to sell books to readers.

    And yet I’m seeing comments from some aspiring writers responding to this credible, valid, detailed, and oft-repeated information from reputable sources… by saying, in effect, “Oh, there’s actually a good side to vanity press, and every writer needs to make his own decisions about how he wants to be published,” and even, “You just don’t want me to be published,” or “You’re just scared of new technology and the way it’ll level out the playing field.”

    And I realized once again… … you can lead a horse to water, but some of them are going to die of thirst ANYHOW.

    It’s important to get good information out there for people who will use it and benefit from it… but a percentage of people will NEVER use or benefit from it, not even if you try to walk them through it personally while holding their hand and baiting them with chocolate truffles.

    And Ha Ho will make money, precisely because there are enough people out there who–for reasons which will forever elude me–will be convinced that RWA, HWA, SFWA, NINC, SinC, MWA, Writer Beware, Preditors and Editors, Hugo winner John Scalzi, bestseller Nora Roberts, longtime agent Richard Curtis, novelist Jackie Kesseler, writer Lee Goldberg, etc., etc., etc., etc….. all don’t know what they’re talking about, and it is actually a really good idea to spend thousands of dollars to pay Harlequin to print a book that they’re unwilling to pay YOU for.

  256. I bumped into Russell Davis (SFWA President) at the annual SFWA Mill & Swill, and boy howdy does he have a serious mad on about Harlequin’s behavior.

    I’ll report more on it when I hear from him about the new Nebula rules.

  257. Me, I think the oddest aspect of Harlequin’s “behavior” is that they’re declaring themselves shocked, surprised, and dismayed by the negative reception of their Ha Ho announcement.

    Considering that every major writers organizations has for -decades- now, in all their written policies, excluded vanity “publishers” from qualifying as legitimate publishing markets, and excluded vanity books from qualifying writers for awards, or membership or “published member” status…

    Is Harlequin’s “surprise” about the widespread condemnation among writers groups a stunningly silly affectation that they planned in advance?

    Or are they actually as ignorant as a bag of rocks and GENUINELY surprised?

    I keep vacillating between the two possibilities and can’t make up my mind.

  258. Well again, I think some writers are very confused about vanity press and self-publishing. Scalzi put up a post about it, but there is also print self-publishing — which was the dominant part of the movement until the late 1990’s — where an author will prepare the book using desktop publishing, pay a printer/binder to produce the physical books, and then sell the books, sometimes through a distributor who they also pay, sometimes through something like Amazon, and sometimes just at book festivals and out of the trunk of their car. And that does cost money, but it’s the author essentially functioning as a publisher. I’ve had several friends who’ve done this, mostly in non-fiction but it can be done in fiction, and some of them have been quite successful at it, a couple have turned it into a full-fledged small press doing other people’s stuff as well. And in those forms of self-publishing, Lulu sort of stuff included, there is sometimes the possibility — rare but does occur, especially in non-fiction — of getting a reprint deal with a publisher if your self-published edition sells well.

    And so I think a lot of authors look at a vanity press operation and assume that’s essentially the same thing — you’re paying the publisher for services, to essentially act as a printer/distributor. But the problem is that a vanity press offers services it then does not provide, such as distribution and fulfillment, promotion, etc., and a lot of these operations overcharge for things that would cost a lot less if the author did it himself and just paid a printer or e-pub formatting.

    And when the vanity press is paired with an otherwise legitimate press, the situation becomes rather egregious if again the publisher is promising that the Pinnochio’s of their vanity operation will have a shot at being a real boy on the legitimate side, and if their legitimate lines are telling rejected authors to go try the vanity arm and then maybe they’ll get in eventually. It becomes even more than a vanity press; it becomes a scam.

    I think Harlequin assumed, or rather its parent company and executives assumed, seeing Random House own a self-publishing company, etc., that Horizons would be seen as purely a self-publishing operation. So their shock and dismay is that their “self-publishing to help writers” is seen as a predatory vanity operation. But the way they’ve set it up is not a printer operation and it’s not a distributor operation. It’s vanity and bordering on illegal vanity to boot.

    At the least, let’s hope this is going to serve as a cautionary tale to other publishers that if you are going to try something like this, to do it as actual self-publishing services. I’d like to see Harlequin get as much bad press as possible for this. I actually like the legitimate part of the company and have worked with some of its authors, and that’s why I hope bad press might encourage them to scrap the operation or at least modify it.

    As for authors, there’s a lot of anger out there, a lot of mistaken belief that publishers, agents and, yes, published authors and their groups are deliberately trying to keep them out of publishing. So yeah, they aren’t necessarily going to listen to the information that’s coming out about this because it comes from the “Man.”

  259. I doubt anyone can change HQ’s endeavour in this. Though I wish if they’d wanted to try something new, they’d have not only put their name on it, but their personnel.

    Because while I will not switch my position and tell new writers this type of model is the way to go, I will have to tell them, if you insist on going with it, don’t use Harlequin Horizons.

    Something along the lines of:

    In this list of names, which would you consider a self-publishing model versus a vanity- sorry- assisted self-publishing model? Word Clay, Trafford, Author House, Xlibris, IUniverse, Westbow or Harlequin Horizons?

    I ask, because they are all the same, except the pricing. Pricing for the EXACT same services. Why do I question the difference in pricing? Because you get the services from the EXACT same parent company, AUTHOR SOLUTIONS. That guy making your cover for IUniverse could be the same guy working on your Harlequin Horizons cover, only for a different price charged to you.

    Legal, sure. But don’t expect to get better quality just because of the moniker. Auto mechanics have known this little trick for years. The same replacement part will fit two different models, but one car has a sticker price of 15K while the other a sticker price of 30K. The smart mechanic always names the lower value car when requesting the item. Why? Because it’s half the cost doing it that way. For the SAME darn part.

  260. I believe the etymology of Skeezy is a portmanteau of skanky and sleezy.

    I think that there needs to be an abolition of the term “Self-published”, which has become vague and useless. I think, for this discussion, and for the sake of clarity, it would be better to use the terms “Vanity Publisher” to describe any publisher which one pays to publish, and “POD” or “Publish-On-Demand” to describe, for example, Lulu, which is paid by sales, or publishing.

    The basic editing described as buyable from HarHor sounds to me like the equivalent of running a spellcheck program, whereas the most useful editing one receives from a publisher is NOT grammer/spellcheck proofreading, but a content/context proofread that checks for story continuity, as well as word flow and readability.

  261. News update. HHz is now http://www.dellartepress.com – a play on the Harlequin theme.

    Any reference to HQ and any tracking of sales for future contract has been scrubbed from the site. There is now a very extensive FAQ section that you can link to from the bottom of the home page. Plus, there are now eight different package options were previously there were just five (if I remember correctly).

    Regarding the FAQs, I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts that ASI execs were gnawing on nails at having to divulge some of that info up front, meaning before one of their sales reps could get hold of an author and hardsell.

  262. THE FAQ is hardly in-depth. As far as I can tell, there’s no information on how many ASI authors get paid more than they spend on even the most basic package (selling at least 360 books). That’s sort of the most important information anyone considering giving them money should have.

  263. Yeah, but Josh, I doubt you will find on any traditional pubs site where they list the percentage of authors who earned out their advances. That’s pretty much business as normal.

    At least there is now much more information on that site so that people can do the math before having to face a sales-person.

  264. Anon76 – Yeah, but Josh, I doubt you will find on any traditional pubs site where they list the percentage of authors who earned out their advances. That’s pretty much business as normal.

    If you don’t earn out your advance, you don’t give that money back, you just might not get another contract is all. So in that sense, it really isn’t relevant how many other authors earn out an advance, because the answer is “enough of them, or we’d be out of business”. Everyone knows that, or if they don’t, they can stop and think about it for a second and deduce it. Unless it’s a company like Regnery press that exists to hyperinflate sales of conservative books. Publishers dearly want an author to earn out an advance. They take a loss otherwise.

    In the case of ASI, there’s no such common knowledge. ASI is depending on authors writing books that earn out what the author pays in, because that fee never comes out of ASI’s bottom line. Quite the opposite, it creates the bottom line. ASI going on to charge those authors a huge percentage of the book’s value in order to distribute (ha ha) and market (ho ho) it is just gravy.

    At least there is now much more information on that site so that people can do the math before having to face a sales-person.

    The only important bit of math is “how many ASI authors make back more than what they put in, and by how much”. If that’s not important, then authors are vastly better off going to lulu.com

  265. MWA Delists Harlequin

    The Board of Mystery Writers of America voted unanimously on Wednesday to remove Harlequin and all of its imprints from our list of Approved Publishers, effective immediately. We did not take this action lightly. We did it because Harlequin remains in violation of our rules regarding the relationship between a traditional publisher and its various for-pay services.

    What does this mean for current and future MWA members?

    Any author who signs with Harlequin or any of its imprints from this date onward may not use their Harlequin books as the basis for active status membership nor will such books be eligible for Edgar® Award consideration. However books published by Harlequin under contracts signed before December 2, 2009 may still be the basis for Active Status membership and will still be eligible for Edgar® Award consideration (you may find the full text of the decision at the end of this bulletin).

    Although Harlequin no longer offers its eHarlequin Critique Service and has changed the name of its pay-to-publish service, Harlequin still remains in violation of MWA rules regarding the relationship between a traditional publisher and its various for-pay services.

    MWA does not object to Harlequin operating a pay-to-publish program or other for-pay services. The problem is HOW those pay-to-publish programs and other for-pay services are integrated into Harlequin’s traditional publishing business. MWA’s rules for publishers state:

    “The publisher, within the past five years, may not have charged a fee to consider, read, submit, or comment on manuscripts; nor may the publisher, or any of the executives or editors under its employ, have offered authors self-publishing services, literary representation, paid editorial services, or paid promotional services.

    If the publisher is affiliated with an entity that provides self-publishing, for-pay editorial services, or for-pay promotional services, the entities must be wholly separate and isolated from the publishing entity. They must not share employees, manuscripts, or authors or interact in any way. For example, the publishing entity must not refer authors to any of the for-pay entities nor give preferential treatment to manuscripts submitted that were edited, published, or promoted by the for-pay entity.

    To avoid misleading authors, mentions and/or advertisements for the for-pay entities shall not be included with information on manuscript submission to the publishing company. Advertising by the publisher’s for-pay editorial, self-publishing or promotional services, whether affiliated with the publisher or not, must include a disclaimer that it is advertising and that use of those services offered by an affiliate of the publisher will not affect consideration of manuscripts submitted for publication.”

    Harlequin’s Publisher and CEO Donna Hayes responded to our November 9 letter, and a follow up that we sent on November 30. In her response, which we have posted on the MWA website, Ms. Hayes states that Harlequin intends as standard practice to steer the authors that it rejects from its traditional publishing imprints to DellArte and its other affiliated, for-pay services. In addition, Harlequin mentions on the DellArte site that editors from its traditional publishing imprints will be monitoring DellArte titles for possible acquisition. It is this sort of integration that violates MWA rules.

    MWA has a long-standing regard for the Harlequin publishing house and hopes that our continuing conversations will result in a change in their policies and the reinstatement of the Harlequin imprints to our approved list of publishers.

    Frankie Y. Bailey,
    Executive Vice President, MWA

    MWA’s Official Decision: That because Harlequin’s for pay publishing business violates MWA’s rules for approved publishers, MWA takes the following action: First, Harlequin shall be removed from MWA’s list of approved publishers upon the adoption of this motion; Second, that all current active status members of MWA whose status is based upon books published by Harlequin shall remain active status members; Third, that MWA decline applications for active membership based upon books published by Harlequin pursuant to contracts entered into after the effective date of this motion; Fourth, that books published by Harlequin pursuant to contracts entered into prior to the adoption of this motion shall be eligible for the Edgar® Awards, except that books published by DellArte Press shall not be eligible for the Edgar® Awards regardless of when such contract was entered into; and Fifth that books published by Harlequin pursuant to contracts entered into after the adoption of this motion shall not be eligible for the Edgar® Awards.

    MWA’s Executive Vice-President, and her or his designates, are directed to continue discussions with Harlequin in an effort to reach an agreement that would allow for Harlequin to be an approved publisher according to MWA’s rules.

  266. Well, according to Absolute Write the first product of Harlequin’s innovative approach which, as we all know, is going to destroy the buggy whip, sorry, publishing industry, is on sale at Amazon.com.

    And since we all also know how difficult it can be to get the audience we deserve I thought it would nice to help the author out and bring his/her blurb to a wider audience:

    ‘Wren is marrying the man of her dreams just as soon as she returns from her trip to the Carolinas-on the first night there, all is changed in an instant.
    Why? Because the hero of my recently completed novel, Dargan’s Desire, has mistakenly taken her virginity. Set in South Carolina in 1826 this fun and sensual, the book is woven with love and deceit. Teaching two people the ultimate meaning of honesty, passion, and devotion.

    Charming, spirited, full of excitement and exquisitely beautiful, Wren is forced into a loveless marriage when a beast of a man who takes her innocence. Worldly and influential, Dargan Knight, feels as if he has been trapped by this sprite of a girl into a loveless marriage he will never be able to get out of. Then fate steps in to shake up both their lives when Wren realizes she is with child.’

    I must concede that I’m totally clueless as to how somebody could have ‘mistakenly taken her virginity’ but it can be yours for a mere $13.99.

    The book, that is…

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