Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware
Last week, RWA, MWA, and SFWA all issued official statements condemning Harlequin Enterprises' new self-publishing division, Harlequin Horizons.
(In response to criticism, Harlequin has pledged to "chang[e] the name of the self-publishing company from Harlequin Horizons to a designation that will not refer to Harlequin in any way," but as of this writing, both the name and the Harlequin Horizons website appear to be unchanged.)
Now Novelists Inc. has weighed in, with a position statement on vanity publishing and the risks that arise when brand name publishers add vanity publishing divisions.
Novelists, Inc. Responds to Disturbing Developments in Publishing:
Vanity publishing is not new, although the Internet has become a lucrative feeding ground for vanity publishers. Presented with enough enthusiastic jargon and color graphics, a hopeful author might well be convinced that he has stumbled upon a fantastic new way of bringing his stories, his voice, to the reading public.
Alas, the truth is that vanity publishing is still the same old opportunistic hag dressed up in new clothing, with the added flash and dash of savvy marketing. It still exists to part dreamers from their money, with very little hope of return. The dangled bait never changes, the creatively couched language suggesting that all these good things "could, may, might possibly, perhaps" happen for you if you choose one from column A and two from Column B on their à la carte menu of pricey services.
There is now a new, deeply disturbing twist being applied to this age-old money grab. Publishers with brand names, currently enjoying respectable reputations within the industry and with the reading public, are putting both on the chopping block in order to get a share of the vanity publishing market.
It takes years to build a respected name and reputation in this industry. Losing that respect happens much more quickly, sometimes overnight.
No authors' organization can prevent a publisher from setting up a vanity publishing division. Writers' organizations can, however, speak firmly and clearly about the sort of egregious business practices that reflect badly on our entire industry.
Ninc strongly advocates that any and all publishing houses that now operate or are in the planning stages of creating vanity publishing arms do so ethically and responsibly, while adhering to accepted standards of full disclosure. This includes not using the same or a similar name for the vanity division of their royalty-paying publishing house.
Ninc further strongly advocates that these houses either cease and desist or do not institute the practice of steering hopeful writers who are rejected by the royalty-paying divisions of their companies into the open arms of their vanity publishing offshoot.
To do otherwise demeans the publisher's brand and robs credibility from every one of its conventional, contracted authors.
For Those Considering Vanity Publishing
Novelists, Inc. (Ninc) is an international organization devoted to the needs of multi-published authors of novel-length popular fiction. Ninc has no unpublished members; all are experienced, savvy, and educated in the various perils and pitfalls that await the unwary writer in search of an audience.
So why is Ninc addressing the subject of vanity publishing? That's simple. We care about writers. All writers. And we care equally for their audiences, the book buying public.
Vanity publishing, by definition, involves bringing together a writer eager to have his work in print and a company eager to charge that writer for printing the copies. Vanity publishers don't care if the book is good or bad. Vanity publishers will print anything the writer will pay them to print. Quality and sales potential of the work are not priorities; in fact, they aren't considered at all.
Ninc's advice to hopeful authors remains what it has always been: work hard, learn your craft, and network with other writers to share knowledge and information. And remember, if an offer to publish your previously rejected novel and thus become a "real author" by handing over a check sounds too good to be true, that's because it is.
As long as there are people desperate to be published, vanity publishers will exist, and profit-motive companies, no matter the size or prior reputation, may at some point decide that if a starry-eyed dreamer and his money are soon to be parted, why not hold out a hand for their share. All Ninc and other professional writers' organizations and consumer advocates can do, and thankfully are doing, is to educate people on the subject of vanity publishing.
Please, before you open your wallet, take some time to open your eyes. Here are some places to begin educating yourself:
Writer Beware's page on vanity publishing
Preditors and Editors
Bewares and Background Check forum at the Absolute Write Water Cooler
The Price of Vanity, an article by author Moira Allen
An Easy Way to Lose Money, an article by Pan Macmillan's Barry Turner
Is the Publisher Just the Middleman? An article by author Lucy Snyder
Publishing Scams: Six Red Flags That Scream Ripoff, an article by author Karen Bledsoe