Harlequin creates Vanity Publishing division

The romance world was abuzz with the news that Harlequin has created a new vanity publishing wing, Harlequin Horizons. So far, the reaction in the romance world has been overwhelmingly negative--with good reason.

Vanity publishing has long been a scourge among the writing and publishing community. Its business model is to charge for a book's publication rather than paying for it to be published--something directly opposite of the traditional publishing model. And vanity publishers have also been considered on the shady side of ethical because they tend to promise rose-colored visions of a successful publishing career when the reality is that most authors who choose the vanity published route never make a profit.

Essentially, an author pays the vanity publisher (in this case Harlequin Horizons ) a fee for them to produce a book. Depending on which options the buyer chooses, this can result in thousands of dollars in expenses prior to publication. And the author is still wholly responsible for marketing their book without any of the support a traditionally published author has: bookstore placement being an important one.

There are legitimate reasons for an author to choose the vanity or self publishing route. Often, a good writer has written a book that doesn't fit in with any current publisher. Or it has a tiny niche that can't justify a larger publisher's investment. Cookbooks or local histories are good examples. But a romance novel?
Added to the disgust is the fact that Harlequin is marketing their vanity press to those they have rejected. Many new authors are ignorant of how publishing SHOULD work, and to have the world's largest romance publisher directing their rejections towards self publishing creates an ethical problem for me. The hints that Harlequin *may* cull from the self published books for possible contracts makes it even more unpalatable.

Those who are defending this move by Harlequin have taken on two distinct arguments.

  1.  Harlequin is a for-profit business and are allowed to make money from their slush pile.   Very few are arguing that they shouldn't be allowed to do this. But putting the Harlequin name on the imprint is misleading. As is sending a referral to this wing via rejection letters. And putting links from their main website to their new venture. It dilutes the brand, potentially confuses new writers, and has the potential to tarnish the romance genre as a whole.  The whole caveat emptor thing doesn't work for me here because we're talking about a well known name in the romance world. The "leader" in an industry shouldn't be doing anything of which new writers need to beware.
  2. The reaction from authors, readers, and publishers is so strong because there is a snobbery that exists against self publishing. And these people also dislike change. It's true that there is a snobbery of sorts about self publishing. But most of that is directed towards the less than honest business practices of these publishers. Most of those who take this approach are rabidly pro-ebook and are still smarting from the stigma often attached to that format. It's a completely different issue. One is an undeserved stigma attached to readers and a specific format. This is about the relationship between writers and their publishers. No one likes change, but in this case this isn't change for the better or a step towards progress. It's about the leader in the publishing world using their market share to dupe would-be writers into shelling out thousands of dollars in the hopes of being a published author.
To read more about both sides of the issue, there are lengthy discussion on Dear Author  and Smart Bitches, Trashy Books .

1 comment:

  1. That's it. Exactly. Going the self-publishing route can work - but in select circumstances and the writers need to understand what they're getting themselves into. The self-publishing success stories out there (street lit, M.J. Rose) were successes because they hustled their asses off. They literally pounded the pavement, took the 'Net, sold themselves and their books. But these successes are few and very far between. It's a tiny minority swimming upstream.