Thursday, November 19, 2009

SFWA on Harlequin Horizons

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

SFWA has joined RWA and MWA in issuing a statement about Harlequin Horizons.

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In November, 2009, Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd. announced the launch of a new imprint, Harlequin Horizons, for aspiring romance authors. Under normal circumstances, the addition of a new imprint by a major house would be cause for celebration in the professional writing community. Unfortunately, these are not normal circumstances. Harlequin Horizons is a joint venture with Author Solutions, and it is a vanity/subsidy press that relies upon payments and income from aspiring writers to earn profit, rather than sales of books to actual readers.

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. According to their website, “Now with Harlequin Horizons, more writers have the opportunity to enter the market, hone their skills and achieve the goals that burn in their hearts.”

SFWA calls on Harlequin to openly acknowledge that Harlequin Horizon titles will not be distributed to brick-and-mortar bookstores, thus ensuring that the titles will not be breaking into the real fiction market. SFWA also asks that Harlequin acknowledge that the imprint does not represent a genuine opportunity for aspiring authors to hone their skills, as no editor will be vetting or working on the manuscripts. Further, SFWA believes that work published with Harlequin Horizons may injure writing careers by associating authors’ names with small sales levels reflected by the imprint’s lack of distribution, as well as its emphasis upon income received from writers and not readers. SFWA supports the fundamental principle that writers should be paid for their work, and even those who aspire to professional status and payment ought not to be charged for the privilege of having those aspirations.

Until such time as Harlequin changes course, and returns to a model of legitimately working with authors instead of charging authors for publishing services, SFWA has no choice but to be absolutely clear that NO titles from ANY Harlequin imprint will be counted as qualifying for membership in SFWA. Further, Harlequin should be on notice that while the rules of our annual Nebula Award do not expressly prohibit self-published titles from winning, it is highly unlikely that our membership would ever nominate or vote for a work that was published in this manner.

Already the world’s largest romance publisher, Harlequin should know better than anyone else in the industry the importance of treating authors professionally and with the respect due the craft; Harlequin should have the internal fortitude to resist the lure of easy money taken from aspiring authors who want only to see their work professionally published and may be tempted to believe that this is a legitimate avenue towards those goals.

SFWA does not believe that changing the name of the imprint, or in some other way attempting to disguise the relationship to Harlequin, changes the intention, and calls on Harlequin to do the right thing by immediately discontinuing this imprint and returning to doing business as an advance and royalty paying publisher.

For the Board of Directors,
Russell Davis
President
SFWA, Inc.

20 comments:

alleahna said...

I applaud SFWA's stance but I doubt that Harlequin will give up a potentially lucrative business model until they see what it does for their P&L. Clearly they see enough aspiring authors slipping manuscripts over the transom to make them think they can cover the fees they pay AuthorSolutions and still make a tidy sum.

The only solution is to get the word out to as many people as possible and make this a loss leader for Harlequin.

Anonymous said...

It seems that Harlequin aren't the only ones trying to cash in on rejections in the slush pile.

If you send a manuscript and query to the London literary agency Blake Friedmann, in the rejection letter you'll be offered the chance to buy a discounted copy of Carole Blake's own book about how to pitch to an agent.

In my mind this is exactly the same type of exploitation of wannabe authors as Harlequin's, and almost on a par with charging a reading fee. It's fair enough to reject manuscripts for whatever reason, but unethical in the same breath to then offer a book detailing how to pitch your manuscript, by the same person who rejected it!

Harlequin and Blake Friedmann should both sort out their ethics and clean up their acts.

Lydia Sharp said...

I've been reading about this topic all week on this and other sites, and I'm glad to see that there are still organizations out there that have the authors' best interests at heart.

Anonymous said...

I'm in two minds about this. On the one hand, I applaud the SFWA, MWA, and RWA for taking a pro-author stance and tell them how using aspiring authors to make money of rejected manuscripts is a misleading business practice. On the other hand, the sanctions may cause some authors to be disqualified from membership with publioshed books that would otherwise qualify them. Especially sad for the people who signed there before this announcement...

Anonymous said...

It's probably not relevant for most of you, but there's another story that needs to be told. The BBC has recently banned overseas submissions from their writersroom, effectively shutting out any non-British person from submitting to them without giving a single reason for the move.

Blatant discrimination that needs to be stopped. Please spread the word.

Victoria Strauss said...

Anonymous 8:24, I know what you mean. However, MWA has only threatened sanctions, and for RWA, the sanctions will affect membership in some RWA subgroups but won't affect general membership. We'll have to see what happens.

Alleahna, I agree with you--I don't think this will cause Harlequin (or Thomas Nelson) to give up their new ventures. But what it may do is to make any other commercial publisher think twice before drinking the Author Solutions Kool-Aid.

Myne Whitman said...

I'm an aspiring writer and I just found this blog. Thanks for this information, I was drooling over the Harlequin horizons offer, always wanted to publish with them.

Tsu Dho Nimh said...

If I were a Torstar (the parent company) stockholder, I would be furious about the "dilution of the image" that is going to happen.

Laura said...

Novelists, Inc. has issued a statement:
http://www.ninc.com/blog/index.php/archives/ninc-responds-publishing

K.A. Dawn said...

I have a question, and I wondered if you could answer it for me.

What is the difference between a vanity publisher and a self publisher like Harlequin Horizons?

I've always heard that a vanity publisher is any publisher that asks you to pay to see your book in print - so would that make Harlequin Horizons one, or has there, over the years, grown a new division of publishers (self publishers) that are not the same thing?

Eva Ulian said...

I am not going to defend Harlequin or Thomas Nelson but just describe what these new imprints are about. They are not Vanity Publishers because such would mean they send you thousands of unwanted books to your garage and you sell them even though they keep 50% or so of royalty. They are not Self-Publishers because that would mean you do everything, and I mean everything yourself but you get to keep, obviously, 100% of the royalty. People have tagged them as Self-Pub for convenience. But they are ASSISTED publishing, which means you ask them, in the basic package, to publish your book, exactly the way you want it, or seek advice if you want a second opinion. They then have a distribution system in which you as the author like in traditional publishing, if you have any sense, will aid to sponsor your own book since putting a book on a shelf doesn’t mean it sells. You get 20% of the royalty for soft copies. With traditional publishers you get more or less 5% of which 15% is given to your agent- who has done what? Given you access to a publisher, changed your book round so much because obviously you are not the expert that an ASSISTED publishing author is otherwise you would take the responsibility of investing in your book with real money.

The way I see it is that such publishers cannot publish in the traditional manner, give out advances that are not earned out and survive. The problem is indeed that traditional authors expect to have their book published, get a big advance, and if it doesn’t earn out hard luck for the publisher- they have to take risks. Well not anymore- you pay, and it’s only a partial amount, for the cost involved so your book is published and what replaces your advance is the increased royalty percentage, so no one loses out. I don’t see any unfairness in that at all, it’s what they have been doing in most countries, except the UK, for decades.

You pay, only a partial amount, for the cost involved for publication in Assisted Publishing. The Agent Rachelle Gardner has given a detailed breakdown of cost involved in the publication of a book in Trade Paper which comes to $58,000 and Hard Back is $90,000. See her blog here: http://cba-ramblings.blogspot.com/2009/11/is-your-book-worth-it.html As you probably know, Harlequin asks for $600 and CrossBow $1,000 for a basic package. So, perhaps now you can appreciate why I don’t think it is possible that Assisted Publishing is there to make money off writers. They are there to give an unprecedented, excellent opportunity to writers who have no access to publishers because agents have denied them that access as judging such authors not fit for publication. Finally, publishing houses are opening up the doors to us, as most agents define us, SECOND CLASS authors. And I for one, thank them.

Victoria Strauss said...

K.A. Dawn, yours is a very important question. The lines have really blurred over the past 10 years or so, and I'm planning a blog post this week discussing this.

Victoria Strauss said...

Eva Ulian, while I agree with you that services like Harlequin Horizons are a kind of hybrid between vanity publishing and self-publishing--i.e., they have all the characteristics of vanity publishing but also a few of the qualities of self-publishing--I think that calling them "assisted publishing" (this is a new term invented by Author Solutions) adds nothing to the discussion. A proliferation of terminology doesn't clarify anything; it just confuses the issue further.

You also are not correct in your description of what these services offer--for instance, they don't let you publish your book "exactly the way you want it," since they offer only pre-set packages, and their distribution doesn't reach beyond the Internet--or in your discussion of royalties. Commercial publishers pay more than 5%--a good deal more, depending on the format of the book--and they pay on cover price, while self-publishing services' 20% royalty is paid on net, which can reduce the amount on which royalties are calculated to less than 50% of cover price.

But I take issue especially with this:

You pay, only a partial amount, for the cost involved for publication in Assisted Publishing.

First, this isn't true. You pay the full cost, in two installments--once with the fee you pay upfront, and a second time with every book sold, since the self-publishing company keeps the lion's share of sales proceeds, covering both overhead and manufacturing costs.

Second, Rachelle Gardner's cost breakdown is for a commercially published book. The figures she gives include the costs of editing, designing, cover art, marketing, warehousing, sales, and the printing of thousands of copies. Self-publishing companies don't do any of this. They don't edit (unless you pay extra fees); interiors and cover art are not custom-designed, but done from templates (unless, again, you pay extra); there is no sales representation; there's no meaningful marketing (and the marketing packages self-pub companies sell--once again, at extra cost--are rarely worth the money); and there's no warehousing or volume printing, since books are produced on demand. Self-publishing companies have a lot of overhead, but the cost of actually producing the books is minimal.

This kind of publishing absolutely is there to make money off of writers. It wouldn't exist otherwise. It's big business, and it is extremely lucrative, and that's why commercial publishers like Harlequin and Thomas Nelson have gotten involved--not from any desire to open their doors to writers.

One of the things that bothers me most about vanity publishing of any stripe--from the old-fashioned vanities that shipped you boxes of books to molder away in your basement, to the print on demand self-publishing services that are trying to re-brand themselves as "indie" publishers or "assisted publishing", to the sleazy deceptive pay-to-play companies that pass themselves off as "real" publishers--is that they take advantage of authors twice: first by taking their money, second by brainwashing them into believing all the deceptive hype.

Eva Ulian said...

Victoria, what I can’t make people understand is that it seems I have a choice in this matter and that I am turning down traditional publishing in favour of another means. I HAVE NO CHOICE. I can’t get published traditionally. If agents don’t want us- what is an author to do? An author has NO choice without an agent- that is why if the influence of an agent is curtailed- the chances of some SECOND CLASS authors to shine become a reality. I have yet to deal with an agent who is OPEN to us SECOND CLASS authors- perhaps some exist, but none have been on my path- and I’ve dealt with more agents than I have seen Sunday dinners. I think Assisted publishing like WestBow is an unprecedented, excellent opportunity for us, often categorized by agents as “second class”, “inferior fodder” of the writing industry. I’m sorry that so many authors, agents and writers’ associations on the net are unable to see that, or object aggressively to me trying to find a different route to success- that’s not nice at all, from one author to another.

I enjoyed reading your arguments and you make some good sensible statements- but taken for granted that I am neither naive, or mentally retarded and I have been waiting to be published for decades why haven’t I already done so with Lulu or any other Vanity/Self-Published Press? Quite honestly, you all know the answer deep down but don’t want to face up to it. Never mind, I forgive you. However, shall we not wait to see how many legal cases are brought against CEO’s, publishers who tell lies and break contract agreements, before making a final decision on this argument?

Victoria Strauss said...

Eva, there are many decent publishers that don't require authors to be agented. Have you considered epublishing, for instance?

There are many reasons why authors choose to use self-publishing services. That's fine; everyone makes their own choices. I'd just suggest that you go into it with your eyes open. which means doing research, knowing your goals, and having realistic expectations about what you can accomplish. For instance, because of limited distribution and lack of marketing, low sales are a fact of life in this kind of publishing. You need to be prepared for this, or else prepared with a plan to beat it.

Quite honestly, you all know the answer deep down but don’t want to face up to it.

Sorry, I don't have a clue. Could you explain? If you want to shift this to email, contact me at beware@sfwa.org

Eva Ulian said...

Sorry Victoria but I've had bad experiences with email. People think that when things are not out in the open and before the eye of the public they have the right to try and intimidate me. I am not saying you would do this by any means- it is just that I am not taking chances and therefore it is best to avoid giving others the opportunity to do this.

Regarding my quote, it just refers to the statements made by Thomas Nelson- I simply believe in their integrity and those publishers would not say a pack of lies as is claimed by most blog writers and writers' associations. Further more I just ask that people in the writing world should not try to wreck my ONLY chance of being reputably published by discrediting assisted publishing by spreading half truths which obviously is being done- That, I think, is hitting below the belt and kicking a person when she is down. I hope you understand.
Eva

Victoria Strauss said...

Eva, what I say or you say isn't going to change the facts of "assisted self-publishing." As for half-truths, they are liberally employed by self-publishing services to entice writers to sign up with them.

Please, before you make a final decision, look at the Print on Demand Self-Publishing Services page of Writer Beware: it lays out both the pros and cons, and provides a wealth of helpful online resources to help you compare and research POD services.

Eva Ulian said...

Thank you for the link which I have looked at but still find WestBow is best suited to my needs.

Matt Bille said...

Eva,
I have been trying to move from modestly successful nonfiction to commercial fiction for several years now, and haven't had a novel published yet. So I feel your pain. But I don't understand your saying that you have no choice and this is the only way you can get published. If you have talent, you do have a choice. You can follow the path that I am sticking to, which is, keep working to become a better writer, and keep submitting. It's frustrating as hell at times, but that's not the same as saying you have no choice.

Mike said...

Just a question for Eva:

Through which system have you netted more money: traditional publishing or "assisted" publishing?

e.g. assuming you've not been published traditionally, your net would be $0.

If you have published, say, one book through "assisted" channels, at an upfront cost of $600, and sold twenty books, with total royalty payment of, say, $5 apiece, your net would be -$500.

In this scenario, financially you'd be better off with traditional publishing.

I'm just curious about how things have worked out for you? Which system has netted you more money?