Friday, November 20, 2009

C'mon Harlequin, don't try to blow smoke up our asterisk

Donna Hayes, CEO of Harlequin, sent a press release yesterday that I picked up from Kristin Nelson's blog. It says in part:

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.


Ms. Hayes, I wonder if you know how AuthorSolutions, your new partner in publishing models, actually works? It's not a publisher, if by publisher you mean a company (like Harlequin) that licenses intellectual property (ie pays for), adds value in terms of editorial expertise, design and production expertise, and then offers the product to their wholesale and retail accounts.

AuthorSolutions prints books. That's pretty much all they do. They don't license intellectual property. They don't add value with editorial input, design and production expertise, and they sure as hell don't make the product available to their wholesale and retail accounts (do they have any?) Their accounts are by and large the authors- the very people who pay to produce the book. A nice tidy circle of pay-to-play.


And to add insult to injury by saying they are the new publishing model, let's just remember they AREN'T. They're employing a new form of PRODUCTION. They don't actually change anything about the publishing model for vanity presses: authors pay to get books printed. The only thing that has changed is how many books get printed at one time, and in what format.

Ms. Hayes, I think I know what happened here. A very smart sales team from AuthorSolutions showed up and said "We can get you money, and a lot of it, with no capital investment, and not much expense to you. We can make your bottom line look a whole lot better."

What puzzles me is you agreed.

I understand budgets are tight. I understand the siren song of "money for nothing" in hard times. But I also know you've run a tight ship over there for a long time, and you're making money. Are you worried that will end, and the spigot of POD can help you alleviate that pressure?

I believe, and I hope you do too, some things are more important than money. Things like being honest with people who do business with you. This new venture is the ultimate in dishonesty. It's exactly the reason I loathe AuthorSolutions and their ilk with a passion: they (and now you) present it as a publishing model, and boost writers hopes and dreams at their expense to enrich yours.

As an agent a human being, that sickens me.

I'm glad you're taking the Harlequin name off this project.

Now, how about you just take it off your corporate website and leave the vultures to prey on other people.

You're better than this Harlequin.

48 comments:

Aimee said...

*standing ovation*

R.J. Mangahas said...

I agree, Janet. And it's sad that a reputable publisher such as Harlequin has taken this route.

As one who is trying to get my book into the hands of readers, I still believe in going about it the way it's been done for a long time. Write the best book I can, then get out there and query (and make connections along the way).

S.D. said...

Have to admit, it floors me that they'd put everything on the line like this. Now their traditionally-published authors are excluded from the RITAs, etc.

An excellent post.

Laurel said...

Of everything about the entire scheme what bothers me the most is that an inexperienced author with a decent book might go this route. What happens if it beats the odds and takes off? Harlequin gets more than their fair cut because the author has already made the Faustian deal. If they don't? First rights are gone. The book will languish in obscurity. Again, Harlequin wins because their competition never got a shot at that title.

And don't tell me that they aren't targeting people who don't know better. "A bound copy to send to agents."

BnB Paulson said...

ugh, Harlequin should change their name to Harlot. How else to describe the whoring of their previously good name to desperate authors who so badly want to be published... even for a fee. Sad. Sad. Sad.

Hayes. Mark that name. I can't help but wonder if this is going to be a venture that many readers (if the word gets out) will turn from. There are a great number of terrific publishers out there... Avon, Dell, etc. Let's help build them up to greater heights now.

Janet, I love your info!

Tena Russ said...

Bulls-eye!

Becky Mushko said...

Let me weigh in here as someone who has vanity-pubbed collections of my previously published columns and stories for a VERY SMALL niche market—friends and the readers of my column.

I had no pretensions that these books would become major sellers (they're sold mainly at local gift shops); they were vanity-pubbed only because I knew I already had a local readership and these books were mainly of local interest. (FYI—sales have been modest—the best-selling one has sold 500 copies—but I've made a little money.)

Would I vanity-pub a novel or any work that I wanted a lot of readers to buy? NO.

Vanity-publishing is NOT the way to break in as an author. It is NOT a "publishing opportunity." When querying agents about my novel, I do not mention these vanity-pubbed collections because they're NOT REALLY published.

Those thinking that the Harlequin Horizons imprint will lead to greater things had better think again. Vanity-publishing is not the way to go for fiction.

BJ said...

Actually, I think this is what happened:

David Holland Formally Named Torstar President & CEO http://bit.ly/2oswYP

How else do you explain a sudden shift like Harlequin's, if not because of a new big boss? (for those who don't know, Torstar owns Harlequin)

Ya know, I don't write romance. I doubt if I ever will. But somehow this mess with Harlequin is doing a number on my soon-to-be-formed ulcer...

green_knight said...

This isn't about changing publishing models. 'Publishing' means taking content, enhancing it, and putting it before the public in a manner that entices people to buy. What Author Solutions is selling is a service to writers. Not a very good service, and a service at a considerable markup compared to a POD provider like Lightning Source (who will also get you into the Ingram catalogue) - but they sell a completely different product to a completely different market.

There's a considerable conflict of interest between the two models. I also don't believe that it's in a publisher's interest to encourage not-quite-there-yet writers to print and distribute the book themselves, with the predictable lack of success, instead of encouraging them to polish it and/or write a better book and submit again.

The income potential from writers is limited - most will self/vanity publish a single title. Readers, on the other hand, go and buy books every week, and will do it over years.

suzie townsend said...

Well said!

Tina Lynn said...

I wonder if they'll stoop to send letters to authors who've filed with the eCo, too. Yuck!

Ellen said...

This mess makes me feel bad for authors who have already published with Harlequin, before the company made this (rather poor) decision. If the company continues to drag their formerly good name through the mud, the authors are going to suffer because of it.

Amanda Brice said...

Brava!

Welshcake said...

Bitchiness and bitterness taints the writing community at times, but the way everyone has (mostly) stood together and said “enough” to this is brilliant.

Way to go, Janet, and everyone else.

Skeptic said...

In terms of evolution and innovation, this move by Harlequin does not qualify as either. It is disheartening to see a major publishing house devalue books by lending their brand to a vanity press. No matter how they spin it, that's what they've done. It devalues authors who are published and books in general. Good month for writers. First the Walmart/Target/Sears blow, now this.

And yeah, I'm one of the crazies who would gladly pay HC price for e-format. It is the CONTENT I value, the electronic format is mere convenience.

Travener said...

Hey, Janet, tell us what you *really* think. ;) Seriously, you have justifiably eviscerated Harlequin's disingenuous, odious, self-serving nonsense.

JS said...

Of everything about the entire scheme what bothers me the most is that an inexperienced author with a decent book might go this route. What happens if it beats the odds and takes off?

Self-published books that "take off" only do so because of intense investment of time and money by the author. I mean, months if not years of hard work, often full-time, and tens of thousands of dollars of investment. This is the common factor among the self-publishing success stories like Christopher Paolini, Brunonia Barry, E. Lynn Harris, and Zane.

For ever self-publishing success story (and note that "success" here is defined as "getting a lucrative reprint deal with a large trade publisher"), there are literally hundreds of unknown first-time writers who have attained success the regular way---by writing a good book, querying agents, and finding the right agent who matches the book with the right publisher and editor.

So the sanest and easiest thing, for most people (except for folks like Barry and Harris, who came to this with a strong background in marketing and a nest egg to invest in the gamble) is to follow the agent-querying route---the one which worked for J.K. Rowling and Dan Brown and Stephenie Meyer.

But this isn't even self-publishing. It's vanity publishing. And no vanity-published book has EVER "taken off" to date. Not one.

Rebecca Knight said...

My husband and I were talking about this last night, and came up with the exact same theory on how this went down in the first place.

It's shocking that Harlequin would buy it! It's probably one of those ventures that looks amazing on paper, but in real life has all sorts of *fun* consequences.

It will be fascinating to see how this all shakes out.

Josin L. McQuein said...

Harlequin's surprise at the speed of this information spreading is proof enough that they're the ones not adapting to new technologies. There's no longer time for something like this to slip through unnoticed for a while while the company reaps the financial benefits.

If they really understood how connected everything and everyone was, they'd have known that a sweeping change in policy would make the rounds at rocket speed, and they would have been ready in advance.

Their response is too reactionary for them to have anticipated the results of their actions. That doesn't show much competence on the part of whichever exec. signed off on it.

Michelle Witte said...

All I have to say is, Bravo, Janet!

Maya Reynolds said...

Atta, girl!!!

You rock, Janet.

Maureen said...

Amen, Sista!

Aimless Writer said...

Yay Janet! Saying what we're all thinking.
I'm very afraid Harlequin will go down hill from here. Sad.

ryan field said...

"But this isn't even self-publishing. It's vanity publishing. And no vanity-published book has EVER "taken off" to date. Not one."

I glad you said this. I agree. But I once said something just like it on another comment thread and I was brutally attacked. There are people, growing in numbers, who will argue this point until their last breath.

I've said it before: it kills me to see authors getting the wrong information.

Laurel said...

JS: I agree with you. My position is that for the sake of argument, the way Harlequin is presenting this, assume you "make your dream of becoming a published author" come true and some bizarre constellation of events come together in your favor. A blogger with a huge readership stumbled over it and recommended it, your husband is "joe the plumber" of the next election and all of a sudden you have 15 minutes of exposure, whatever.

Even in the extremely unlikely event that one of these vanity pressed books sells well Harlequin is holding all the cards. This is set up for every eventuality in favor of Harlequin. There is no possible circumstance where an author who gets slurped into this will be treated fairly.

It is absolutely predatory.

Jourdan Alexandra said...

Bravo Janet, excellent post.

David Edgerley Gates said...

Interesting to see that MWA has taken the gloves off, too. Harlequin appears to have stepped in a very large, steaming pile of shit.

Mrs. Parker said...

Go Janet!

I hope someone takes your blog and slaps some since into Harlequin.

Laura in Texas said...

Well said. As a reader and lover of books, I hope they get the message.

Joni Rodgers said...

Testify!

Haste yee back ;-) said...

HOLD ON HERE!

I'm taking this opportunity to send my very first romance off to Horizons... It's a love story 'tween a Balloon and a Porkypine!

And -- for the price of admission, I don't get porkypine changed to porcupine... God, I love silver linings!


Haste yee back ;-)

Kay Theodoratus said...

I'm glad Harlequin's been taken to the woodshed. Granted in this climate lots of business are squeezing bucks wherever they can. But ...

Was Harlequin Horizon any worse than major publishers (including "P" rated ones) who have "adult fiction" divisions under different names?

Unfortunately, it's those who know the least about the publishing industry who stand to get hurt the most.

Lara said...

YEA!!!! Go Janet! So true! Bite 'em shark!

TJ Bennett said...

Didn't I read (I can't seem to find the link, but yes, I believe I did) that the Christian book publisher Thomas Nelson recently signed the same deal with AuthorSolutions?

I would assume, if that is true, since RWA has now deemed Harlequin as no longer "RWA eligible," they would also be. I haven't seen their deal brought up or mentioned since this whole kerfluffle over HQN went global.

Was I dreaming when I read that?

TJB

Chumplet - Sandra Cormier said...

Since I work for Torstar, I can't really say much, but I'll stick my neck out and say this smacks of PA.

I brought the subject up to my manager & she hadn't heard about the situation. Apparently, nobody at yesterday's managers' meeting brought it up.

I'm sure she'll be Googling up a storm tonight.

T. Anne said...

This writer humbly thanks you.

JS said...

Was Harlequin Horizon any worse than major publishers (including "P" rated ones) who have "adult fiction" divisions under different names?

I don't see any similarity at all.

"Adult fiction," if by that you mean "erotica and sexually explicit fiction," is commercial trade publishing, and the people who are publishing in those lines get advances, royalties, and the usual publishing contracts.

If you send a squeaky-clean MS about two young people who fall in love in a church study group to Kensington's Aphrodisia, they don't steer you in the direction of vanity publishing: they tell you that it's not appropriate for their erotica line.

I'm kind of confused about what similarities you're seeing in the two situations. Kensington publishes both romance and erotica. Ballantine publishes both romance and diet books. It's not like Kensington's romance imprints are "tainted" by their erotica lines any more than Ballantine's romance books are "tainted" by their diet books.

Suzanne said...

It is incredibly surpirsing that an industry heavyweight like Harlequin would go this route. The easy buck yes, but somehow I think this eventually cuts into higher profit margin businesses that they are already in. I think they will regret it sooner than later.

Vacuum Queen said...

My friend self pubs his educational books and I wonder if people realize what this involves. He has 5,000 printed at once, which are then delivered to his home (garage). He then has worked VERY hard to find sales reps who cover different states, but still not all are covered. He has to keep "on top" of the reps to see if they need another 6 books for the mom and pop store in Anytown, USA or it they're doing their job in general. He daily goes to the post office to send out copies of the book to his reps, maintains the paperwork involved, spends hours on the phone, and continues to work on new books.

All the while, he keeps his full time teaching job.
And continues to park outside.

It's not easy to self pub. And he's successful in that he actually can sell the books. What happens to those who DON'T???

Self pubbing is not the end of the work.

Claude Forthomme said...

I'm new to your blog and deeply impressed by the way you've "socked it to them!" Some time back, I fell into the vanity press trap and I have learned my lesson: NEVER AGAIN!But I was young and new to the game and I didn't know anything, so I guess such a mistake on my part is understandable...

But it is surprising that Harlequin Press that should be filled with "people in the know" fell for it. Wonder why they did it...

laughingwolf said...

torstar [toronto star] still own it? for shame, regardless! GRRRRRRRRRRRRR

Toby said...

You hear the siren song, but what about the mantra: "if they don't do it, someone else will"?

As more established publishers either by in or sell out, the more credible self-publishing (vanity or not) becomes.

Change ain't coming, it's here. We might as well offer it some tea and get to know it better.

Adrienne said...

Toby - here's an excellent post by another agent (sorry Janet, you are all kinds of awesome too!), Rachelle Gardener, about this brave new self-publishing world you think is here: http://cba-ramblings.blogspot.com/2009/11/self-publishing-rant-and-q4u.html


As to the idea that self-publishing is the new model, I've yet to actually see proof that it is here (as you claim). I've seen a lot of new self publishing outlets come along since POD was invented and the internet and computers made anyone an "author". But I have yet to see self-publishing as a viable means of income on a consistent basis. It exists, what's more, has always existed, but it still does not exist as a legitimate model for producing books that sell.

Just because some greedy publisher wants to make some quick bucks off of recommending rejected authors self publish their work (instead of recommending that authors go back to their work and try to improve) so that said publisher can make some money off of them - doesn't mean that self publishing is still anything more than a quick means to an unsatisfying end.

RobinR said...

http://www.harlequinhorizons.com/Default.aspx

The HH website is insidious.
There are all those happy models posing as writers realizing their dreams of being "published".
And clearly they didn't change the name. At least not on the website. Only in the press releases.

inthewritemind said...

I'm upset at all of this but especially over the fact that now well-established authors pubbed by other imprints of Harlequin are now being punished. I also have a friend who recently had her MS bought by a "legitimate" branch of Harlequin long before this...and is now wondering if her career will be tainted because of it.

My question: will it?

I guess I'm just upset about the whole thing...and I'm mad that certain organizations are now punishing those authors who went the traditional route and just happen to be pubbed by a Harlequin imprint because of it :( Yes, it's a matter of principle but good grief, could they at least think about those that they're decision will affect?

Ok, my silly little rant has ended :P

Terri said...

Harlequin, I am ashamed of you. A powerhouse for decades, you've lowered yourself to the ranks of Publish America . . . .

KylieBrant said...

For those wondering about a perceived 'lack of response' to the Thomas Nelson venture: RWA board was meeting at the time that news broke so the board members likely didn't know about it until they got home and heard the whole Harlequin uproar. They responded swiftly, according to their policy and procedures. Thomas Nelson has also been dropped from RWA's list of eligible publishers.

Kiyote said...

thank you