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Friday, November 20, 2009

Swami Maria on Harlequin Horizons

I've been reading with interest as the Harlequin saga unfolded and I even discussed it with a few of my online friends, but mostly I'm sitting back with my popcorn and Milk Duds to see how this plays out.

While everyone is demonizing Harlequin, it's quite possible that it's a logical and lucrative move.

What?! Are you crazy Swami Maria?

Well, that's always possible, but let me finish.

Do I think Harlequin creating a vanity press is unethical?

Yeah, I do. But only when they were going to name the subsidiary Harlequin Horizons. The name Harlequin implies a respectable company. Publishing virgins and those desperate to see their names in print aren't going to care that it's self-publishing, they've got that Harlequin pennant to hang on to. They can squee to all their friends that they were published by Harlequin Horizons.

Do I think it's going to hurt their brand?

Nope. The average Harlequin reader is not a writer. They don't know squat about self publishing or why it's a stigma. And they don't care. They're never going to see a Harlequin Horizons book (or whatever they end up calling it) unless a family member shoves it at them.

It matters to us, but we're not the majority of the readership.

But Swami Maria, why is this a logical move on Harlequin's part?

Because it makes them MONEY. I've been studying Harlequin's business moves for several years and they've been alarmingly intuitive about where the industry has been headed. Most notably, they were the first major publisher to embrace digital. Now all the other big houses are playing catch up.

Do I like this business model?

Absolutely not. It sucks.

Money flows to the author. We were weaned on this. It was hammered into our heads. Money flows to the author.

Yet all it takes is one giant company to make one tiny move and that philosophy falls by the wayside.

This is one business model I hope does not work. But knowing human nature as I do, I have a feeling I'm clinging to false hope. Not only will it will work, I'm afraid it will become especially lucrative. There are just too many people out there with a "book idea". Frustrated with the traditional route, they just as soon pay for the privilege and hope for the best.

Harlequin wouldn't have gone this route if there wasn't a demand for it. And I will bet dollars to donuts, they're not the only ones with this plan on their drawing boards.

To add insult to injury, it's been reported that Thomas Nelson of WestBow Press offered a finder's fee to agents who refer new authors to his company. While most agents seem appalled with the advent of major players owning vanity presses, I've no doubt some will be lured to the dark side by way of kickbacks for services rendered. How many take their thirty pieces of silver is yet to be ascertained.

Take a look around. Self publishing companies haven't dwindled despite all the education and advice we give newbies. On the contrary, they're growing, and now the big boys want to play too.

How do you stop an entire population of wannabe authors?


Marianne Arkins said...

I think what disturbed me most about this is twofold:

1. Harlequin using their name and influence to entice people to publish, especially (!!) that they will refer their REJECTED authors to HH (or whatever they're going to call it -- because they've said they're renaming it due to all the hullaballo). That's just utterly unethical, IMHO


2. The fact they keep calling it self-publishing. It ISN'T. It's a vanity press. When you self-publish, you pay a fee to print your book(s) and then YOU -- the author -- keep ALL of the income when you sell a copy of your book. With HH (or whatever), they keep 50% of all income from sales and this is AFTER they charge you to publish the book.

It's just plain crazy and I'm unbelievably sad, disenchanted and disappointed.

Not that HQ cares what I think, lol.

Maria Zannini said...

I don't think it's over yet. We'll see if the other shoe drops.

catie james said...

How do you stop an entire population of wannabe authors?

(You should have inserted: "many of whom feel entitled to publication by virtue of their very existence," at the end of that sentence.)

Oh and in answer to your question? You don't.

Maria Zannini said...

That's a good point, Catie. I've critiqued more than a few writers who were insulted when I pointed out some really fixable problems.

Sometimes people just want cheerleaders, someone to stroke their egos.

Carol A. Strickland said...

I, too, am incredibly appalled that people keep calling this "self-publishing" when it's vanity press. I plan to self-publish a few books over the next year, books that are too oddball for a regular publisher to consider but that I want around as an available backlist if any of my readers want to see something more from me.

Vanity press is an okay idea as long as it doesn't become a money-grubbing scam that takes advantage of a proto-writer with stars in their eyes. The pricing that I've seen for HqHo (as some have called it) is as outrageous as that of credit card companies who are trying to cash in before all the new laws go into effect next year. It's a system that makes me wonder how the people involved on the business end will be able to sleep at night. Then again, they've probably got soft, expensive, new beds bought with the hard-earned money of the folks they fleece.

I'm boycotting Harlequin. (Unfortunately it won't hit them hard, as I've never been a keen HQ reader.)

Maria Zannini said...

Ref: ...I want around as an available backlist if any of my readers want to see something more from me.

That's an excellent idea, Carol. I never thought about self-publishing in that vein.

Ref: boycott
I'm afraid a boycott will most likely hurt the authors more than the company.

I think the huge angry rebuttal has helped a little since they're changing the name. Perhaps the best thing we can do is guide the newbies when we can.

Kaz Augustin said...

I self-published my blog posts for the year (conceited, much?) so the kids would have some rants to remember mama by, but Ha-Ho is something else again. And I agree with Catie. While more established authors are gnashing their teeth and declaring, "Think of the poor li'l unpubbed author chums", it's well to remember that a fair fraction of them honestly believe the universe owes them some kind of publication kudos, just because they managed to string 50K words (coherent or otherwise) together. Rather like this comment, really.

And you bet the numbers were crunched on this. And it came out looking pretty black, which is a nice colour for a publisher. ("Please tell me my bottom line looks fat in this!")

Having said all that, I still think tacking the name "Harlequin" on the venture is a tad reprehensible. And RWA's FTL (faster than light) response a tad knee-jerk-ish. Like you, I've stocked up on popcorn and many fizzy drinks. Roll on!

Maria Zannini said...

Ref: ("Please tell me my bottom line looks fat in this!")

That's priceless! LOL.