Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Publishers reveal themselves as greedy beasts; chaos ensues

Harlequin announced it was in league with Satan AuthorSolutions today, and that writers can participate in a program to self-publish their books with "Harlequin Horizon" as the printer publisher.

Needless to say a lot of people went batshit.
Some were calmer.

And just to add fuel to the raging storm, let's all remember that authors are required to sign contracts that include a clause forbidding them from publishing, or arranging to publish, distribute or sell any work which will diminish the value of the work covered in the contract.

Gander, meet sauce.

In one fell swoop Harlequin just diminished the Harlequin brand name.

And worse, what they're telling unagented authors is the only way to get noticed in the slush pile is to pay $600+ to get your book printed first.

Yup, this one's going to be fun to watch.

26 comments:

Paul Neuhardt said...

Not that I would be writing romance (because I'm pretty sure I would suck at it), but I'm very glad I'm not a Harlequin writer right now.

I would be in whatever form of anger lies on the far side of "livid."

Susan at Stony River said...

Love those strikeouts LOL.

It's been an interesting day on the blogs and lists all right; I'm looking forward to seeing where it goes.

Wendy Sparrow said...

It's sort of boldly despicable.

So, the fueled comment regarding contracts--is that a contract with an agent or with a publisher or both?

CKHB said...

Holy monkey. They're also offering services like a "Hollywood quality book trailer" which will be emailed to 1 million people and MIGHT get shown to someone in the film industry ($19,999)... or just keep it simple with US copyright registration for $204. Excuse me, but doesn't that in fact cost only $30 to do yourself?

Aimee said...

Tis a very bad year...

Sharon Mayhew said...

That's really a shame. I wonder what this will do to their current "bank" of authors.

Lydia Sharp said...

I was somewhat shocked by this as well. And it also amazes me how quickly the news spread. This has definitely been THE hot topic today.

CKHB said...

Ohmygod. Harlequin's Digital Director answers questions:

"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."

Suzan Harden said...

The RWA Board had to remove Harlequin from their eligible publisher list because of the "non-vanity, non-subsidy" clause. Harlequin's move is going to have some serious repercussions for both the company and their writers.

Furious D said...

They've pretty much cut themselves off from getting any fresh blood into their system. Which I think is pretty necessary considering they need to grind those books out in bulk.

Margaret Yang said...

Does their rejection letter look like this? "We're rejecting you, but if you pay us lots of money, we'll publish you anyway."

Excuse me, but ick.

Bernie said...

Janet
I think you got the edit over-strikes just right. You don't want the FTC thinking that you are overly opinionated.

jjdebenedictis said...

I'm making popcorn. It goes so well with shadenfreude.

Josin L. McQuein said...

I've been following this all day on Absolute Write.

Harlequin just shot itself in the foot. RWA has already jerked their status because putting their name on a vanity press took them outside the RWA regulations. And they're going to stamp Harlequin with the stigma of being a vanity press, even though they say that HH won't be distributed like regular Harlequin novels. The average reader won't know that this isn't just another "imprint" like any other Harlequin line.

Their "representative" who has been making the rounds to the different blogs, doesn't know enough to answer the questions that have been posed to her. (Like which rights the writers own and which rights are used up in the deal.) She keeps calling it "self-publishing" when the model is that of a vanity publisher (pay upfront and the ISBN's are owned by HH, not the author as they would be with true self-publishing.)

They suggest publishing with HH to get a "bound copy to send to agents" in order to get an agent to then sell the already published book to a publisher as though that's the way it's normally done. And they present the "pay-to-play" option as the norm for new writers.

This opens the door for any and all HH authors to claim they've been "published by Harlequin" because the Harlequin name is right there in the Horizon's logo.

If they were upfront about the chances of a vanity pubbed book's chances of being commercially viable (or even marginally profitable for the writer), it would be a case of buyer beware, but they're not.

I don't even write romance, and this annoys me, as you can probably tell from the rant.

Jill James said...

This all is so one-sided for Harlequin. Now they can send all the "pretty good" writers to Horizon, let them build up a readership, then harvest them at no cost (actually money to them) to Harlequin. Bad form Harlequin.

Elizabeth Lynd said...

Forgive my presumption, quoting Ms. Reid on her own blog, but reading this, I'm flabbergasted. From a post on this blog on June 17 of this year (What's NOT a query letter) :

"5. A copy of your novel, printed and bound, with an ISBN.
Do I really need to explain this?"

Well, no, you don't to most of us. But maybe Harlequin needs to hear it. And more to the point, the people who use the "imprint" thinking it will garner them representation.

I don't write romance either, but I feel for people who do, and especially for their authors who are now out of the running for some prestigious awards.

Joyce said...

Unbelievable.

This would be a good time for a publisher thinking of adding a romance line. I don't think they'd have any trouble getting current Harlequin authors to jump ship.

lynnrush said...

Yikes. I watched all this unfold yesterday through the RWA message boards, ACFW message boards, and among me and fellow RWA writers.

It's crazy-insane.

Welshcake said...

I have this nightmare scenario going around my head.

What if other publishers decide this is a good idea? (Harper Collins seems to be dipping a toe in this particular swamp –
www.authonomy.com/Forum/Posts.aspx?threadId=39280 -)

Could it become the norm for all publishers to have a vanity arm, which aspiring debut authors are required to publish with before they can be considered for "real" publishing? The publisher then take up the successful books?

I expect it’s my over active imagination…

Chris Eldin said...

I *knew* the polite one would be Kristin! :-)

I can't talk about this right now. Just. Can't.

Aetheric said...

How exactly are authors going to build up a readership? Vanity presses have no actual distribution, i.e. getting books on shelves, and very little incentive to do so because they have their money already.

Authors will be left with selling their books out of their cars or something, and that may work for people who have a platform - think speaking engagements on a narrow topic where you can buy the speaker's book afterwards - but all I can see is hopeful writers getting burned on this.

Only time will tell, I guess, but I don't see the outlook as being all that positive so far.

Tena Russ said...

You can hear the lid of the trashcan closing on a well-respected brand name.

JoAnn said...

Welshcake, my thoughts exactly. Because if this makes HQ a boatload of cash, you can bet the farm that every other publishing house will jump on the bandwagon. (Did I use enough cliches? haha!)

AM said...

I understand everyone thinking Harlequin has accidently stepped into a big pile of.. ugh.. controversy, but certainly Harlequin’s management considered that the initial press would be bad and that authors and agents would be furious when they made the decision to create an ePub and a self-publishing division.

Perhaps they didn't expect to be dropped by organizations, but maybe they did.

If this backlash wasn't in their planning then I'd be shocked, and if it was, then I’m worried about what publishing will look like in five years.

Marissa Doyle said...

I don't know, AM...I have to wonder how well thought-out this was. After all, they made the mistake of stating on their website that HH authors would be able to advertise in Romance Sells...and then had to back-pedal when RWA slapped 'em upside the head and said, "no they can't." Not an encouraging sign that they did their homework.

Bernie said...

I agree with AM. Harlequin didn't do this without thinking it through. That's what makes it all the more troubling. This is business and they looked at it and concluded the move makes business sense. Publishers used to be able to take chances with new authors because of the margins they made on established ones. With the monster distributors squeezing margins I'm thinking that more and more unpublished novelists are likely to stay that way.