Friday, 20 November 2009

Harlequin Horizons: An Update

Harlequin’s venture into “self-publishing” (I use the inverted commas because although that’s what they’re calling it it’s not self-publishing, it’s vanity publishing) has gathered a huge amount of criticism since I blogged about it earlier this week.

Jackie Kessler has written a very good overview of the situation here (my thanks to Janet Reid for directing me towards Jackie's thoughtful piece).

The Romance Writers of America has stated that as Harlequin is now providing vanity publishing services, Harlequin will no longer be eligible for RWA-provided conference resources (I can't provide a link to the statement, as I'm not a member of the RWA). Harlequin's response appears in full on agent Kristin Nelson's blog and includes this assurance:

"...we are changing the name of the self-publishing company from Harlequin Horizons to a designation that will not refer to Harlequin in any way. We will initiate this process immediately. We hope this allays the fears many of you have communicated to us."
It's something, I suppose: but renaming the imprint doesn't stop it being a vanity imprint, so most of the problems with it still stand.

The Science Fiction Writers of America has condemned Harlequin's new imprint (its statement also appears on the Writer Beware blog):

"The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc. (SFWA) finds it extremely disappointing that Harlequin has chosen to launch an imprint whose sole purpose appears to be the enrichment of the corporate coffers at the expense of aspiring writers."

The Mystery Writers of America has issued a statement which includes the following pointer:

"Offering these services violates long-standing MWA rules for inclusion on our Approved Publishers List."
Literary agent Rachelle Gardner sees raw submissions every day, and understands how bad many of them are: she expresses her concerns about the implications of such schemes here; literary agent Ashley Grayson voices more concerns in this blog post, and makes this rather lovely comment:

"The offer is reprehensible: For between $600 and $1,600 you can pretend to be a published author. You won’t be, really published, because no commercial publisher liked your book well enough to bring it to market. They will just pretend to offer it for sale if you pay the costs."
Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware has asked why people are getting so riled up about this particular vanity-publishing scheme when other similar schemes have barely raised a ripple.

Finally, a big gold star goes to writer Stacia Kane, who seems to have spent the whole week explaining why Harlequin Horizons is such a bad idea. I've lined up one of her many comments to appear as a blog post here in a couple of days: it's a treat. She's been absolutely inspiring, and I applaud her.

Edited to add some more linky goodness:

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

Making Light: RWA Walks The Walk

The Examiner: Harlequin Horizons to change name to appease its critics

Dawn Metcalf: What's New on the Horizon?

E-Reads: Harlequin, "Surprised and Dismayed" by RWA Action, Defends Decision But Moves to Change Program Name


Derek said...

Looking at the blogs, I see four reasons people are dismayed by Torstar's move:

(1) It smears the Harlequin brand with the "vanity" tag
(2) Vanity publishing is a suspect business to get into in the first place
(3) Referring to vanity publishing as "self-publishing" is inaccurate and misleading
(4) There are fears that Harlequin will redirect authors to its vanity services in a bait-and-switch move

Rebranding the venture deals with concern (1) but not with (2), (3), and (4).

The story is on the PW website this morning. I wonder if this will deter other publishers from going the same route.

Lexi said...

It's all rather depressing for unpublished authors like me. Increasingly we appear to be seen as desperate suckers, a potential gold mine just begging to be exploited.

It's getting annoying.

Welshcake said...

Lexi - the sad thing is that some people are desperate enough to fall for this sort of thing.

Victoria Strauss said...

The exact publishing model that Harlequin Horizons is providing--complete with misleading verbiage--has been around for more than a decade, in the form of companies like AuthorHouse. These companies have been calling what they offer "self-publishing" for all that time, and getting almost no dispute or criticism for using the term.

Now that a large contingent of people in the writing world seems to be in consensus that Harlequin Horizons is vanity publishing, not self-publishing, are they also prepared to challenge the claims of AuthorHouse et al?

Jane Smith said...

Victoria, people often aren't prepared to challenge things until they're directly affected by them--no matter how wrong those things are. Perhaps now a whole new batch of writers have seen how vanity publishing can affect them directly, we might see a few more voices raised against such publishing schemes.

I've lost count of the number of times I've pointed out that AuthorHouse etc are vanity publishers, not self-publishing services. I hope that if nothing else, the Harlequin Horizons debacle will enable other writers to talk with a little more authority about the distinctions between the two. Fingers crossed, eh?

Vanessa Gebbie said...

I can't be the only one who finds the 'change of name' response worrying. They cynic in me says that they will have a greater number of rejects accepting this route, in the belief that this is an independent business endorsed by the publisher. Not the same organisation.