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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Why Almost Everyone Is Pissed About Harlequin

It seems there's some confusion about why just about everyone in the professional world of writing is up in arms about Harlequin's decision to create a vanity press imprint (Harlequin Horizons). I thought the reasons were fairly clearly spelled out by the RWA (Romance Writers Association), the MWA (Mystery Writers Association), and the SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association). Seems I was wrong (a lot of really idiotic, ignorant stuff is being said in support of Harlequin right now, which will shock most people with a conscience).

So, I'm going to spell it out for you to make it damned clear, with a few curse words for effect.

The Scam
First off, Harlequin is starting what is called vanity publishing, which is even worse than self-publishing because it gets the whole production model wrong: the author pays someone else to put together and print their work, then the printer keeps a part of the profits. There's a reason why vanity publishers are so hated by almost everyone except the naive and the stupid. They are perpetual liars on a scale that most politicians would be astonished by, and they have to be, because they essentially are selling services to people that don't need them, and fucking people out of their hard-earned money. Likewise, vanity presses often can't meet the quality that professional third parties or traditional publishers put out. So they lie. A lot. They flower up everything they say about their services and wannabe-writers flock in and drop off their money to be handed a mediocre product that they can't even sell enough of to make back what they put into it.

This is what Harlequin is doing, right down to the lying and flowering bits. Does it seem logical why the RWA, MWA, SWFA, authors, et. al. are pissed off? Here we have a major publisher joining in on the author scamming, and thinking that somehow it's right.

The Lie and the Corporate Mindfuck
Harlequin has really sold themselves on the idea that they're doing something wonderful. After all, publishing is changing, right? All them blasted writers organizations who are there to make sure authors don't get fucked over by scam agents, etc. are just part of some out-of-date old people's cling to the past, right? Wrong. They exist to protect writers on numerous levels.

But Harlequin thinks otherwise. They think that vanity publishing is the wave of the future. That's right. They think something that has been around longer than POD, that has been scamming and fucking people over for decades is the wave of the future. Something sound fishy? It should, because we've heard similar BS before. The difference between what Lulu does and what Harlequin is going to do is that Lulu doesn't lie to you. It tells you right up front: you're self-publishing, and you can do it for free, or buy some of our packages, and we keep a little cut (a real little cut, actually). Harlequin is saying this: you'll pay us shitloads of money and we'll print your book, and, oh, by the way, maybe we'll pick it up for the regular imprints too (we won't really), the ones that get in bookstores and sell lots of books, oh, and you'll have the Harlequin brand on it (but it will be worth crap), so it'll be worth moneys, and, oh, we won't tell you that your book won't be edited by our professional editors (because it probably won't), so we'll just let you pretend it does. To be fair, they changed one of those, now, since the new imprint won't say Harlequin in the name, but that's really irrelevant at this point. Harlequin is doing everything they can to paint this whole thing up like it's the golden beacon of publishing wonders, when it isn't. The closest you can get to that are POD services like Lulu or Createspace, who do a damned good job not pretending to be what they are: places that profit off selling a few copies of a lot of different books, while still giving you a cut and not charging you up the ass for services. Lulu and Createspace have latched onto a brilliant method of printing books that traditionally publishers (with exception to many small presses) have yet to see value in. But that's not what we're here to talk about...

The SFWA and friends are pissed about this because it's damn obvious what's going on: Harlequin is trying to make a profit off of its slush pile at the expense of a whole lot of innocent authors who don't know any better, all while doing very little to make clear what all of that entails. Which is this:
--You'll pay a lot to get it printed.
--It won't be in bookstores.
--It won't sell many copies.
--Unless you're the luckiest damned person alive, it won't get picked up by a major publisher because most, if not all, publishers won't touch it with a 200 mile pole.
--You'll be broke.
--Nobody will actually edit your work, and if someone does, it won't be edited very well.
--You'll be raped by the stigma associated with self-publishing in general, and more specifically the kind attached to vanity publishing (a much less lovable version of the anti-self-publishing vitriol).

Harlequin is literally like healthcare companies who profit off of sick people, making the whole thing super shiny with a nice bow and a whole lot of B.S. to sell it to the masses. The SFWA and friends have rightly called them out for it. They're pissed because they believe that authors should be paid, and not the other way around. And it's a good thing to be pissed about. They don't like seeing authors getting screwed any more than the rest of us. Harlequin's attempts to do everything it can to screw authors is getting everything it deserves for it.

These are the reasons why the SFWA, RWA, MWA, and most anyone with a conscience are pissed off. It's not because Harlequin is cashing in on a self-publishing idea, it's that they're going a route that has traditionally screwed people over for profit. That's what they're pissed about. If Harlequin were trying to pull off a Lulu, the talk wouldn't be so bad. But they're not. They're devaluing the publishing model by allowing something as traditionally respected as the Harlequin brand to be tainted by a horrible practice. This, in turn, fucks everybody, no matter who you are in Harlequin (author, editor, whatever), because slowly, but surely, the Harlequin brand loses value and anyone published by them, traditionally or otherwise, effectively falls into the chasm of crap that some of the worst self-published books currently sit in.

The question for me, now, is why aren't self-publishers of the POD/Lulu/Createspace vein not pissed off as well? Are they just oblivious, or are they just glad to see another beacon of traditional publishing fall into disarray and insanity?

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  1. I am a member of RWA and I appreciate them trying to protect us writers and aspiring to be published writers but this is assuming we are stupid which no we are not. We know vanity press those who do vanity press are willing to put out that money because they want to see their name in lights, so to speak. It is called vanity publishing for a reason. Im not knocking it I am a self published writer myself. But I know better than to PAY anyone to do it.

  2. Casse: Harlequin resorting to vanity publishing damages even those who are legitimately published by Harlequin's non-vanity imprints precisely because the brand becomes devalued.

    But, I agree that most published writers are not stupid enough to fall for this, but there are a lot of people who don't know any better...Harlequin is taking advantage of that, and the RWA and others have every reason to take that as a very bad thing. Traditional publishers are not supposed to take advantage of authors. There's supposed to be a symbiotic relationship between them...kinda.

  3. Does it really devalue published Harlequin writers? I think it shouldn't because it is different branches of the company. Maybe you are correct. I can imagine an author being rejected and then being pointed to their vanity pub service. That would be wrong because it plays at the raw emotions and insecurities of us at the moment we are vulnerable hearing we weren't good enough. Im on the fence still.

  4. Whether it shouldn't is irrelevant. When you have a major publisher producing work with its brand (or a brand associated with it) that is subpar, and consumers read these things, you see the devaluation of the brand by consumers. Harlequin is one of the few publishers that can actually lose value in its brand, because it is so easily associated with specific genre (romance). Honestly, I think it should devalue the brand just so Harlequin will learn a lesson from thing (i.e. not to prey on authors just to feed its bottom line), but that's me, and it's not because I dislike authors published by the legitimate publishing arm of Harlequin.