Sigh…it was Harley’s to lose…

While my stance hasn’t changed regarding Harley adding a vanity imprint, no matter how oily it is, I always believed this decision was theirs to screw up in a rather deliciously grand manner. And they seem to be trying – which surprises me because they’re a big conglomerate and they, ostensibly, know better, right? After all, they thought this all out with the precision of a NASA team readying the shuttle for outer space. They know the ins and the outs.

Or is this just an ill-conceived seat-of-the-pants plan that birthed itself on the corporate tables one dark and stormy night while corporate weenies’ faces streamed sweat while the Powers That Be screeched, “We need some freaking capital!”

Alas, the information coming from their spokesholes is fingernails-to-chalkboard stuff, and this makes me think they are either completely clueless to the vanity world, publishing in general, or just loosy with the truthy. They appear to have also underestimated the authorial reaction.

In order to attract the biggest amount of “booty” – meaning authors willing to fork over big money to help get Harley’s parent company, Torstar, out of their financial crisis – they’re saying some silly things.

A bound copy makes you more attractive to agents and editors

Ach, I’ve seen this reoccurring theme with many other authors who published via vanity, and it makes me want to scream. I can’t tell you how many iUniverse, AuthorHouse, Publish America books I’ve gotten as a form of submission.

[big flashy lights and sirens] NOTE: Do not EVER send a bound book to an agent or editor.

Do you know where they go? Right into the recycle bin. I don’t even crack the cover. Well, that’s not entirely true. I have a couple of times, and instantly regretted it. Some of these guys don’t even bother learning how to format the layout. If you were unwise enough to write your manuscript like an email [meaning you used an extra carriage return to denote a new paragraph instead of using indentations], then that is exactly how they will print it. And the worst part is the author paid a lot of money for it. If you want a bound galley, go to Kinko’s or Lulu.com.

I repeat; we will not read a bound book unless we ask for it. So Harley is lying to you – which is shameless.

HARLEQUIN HORIZONS ASSISTED SELF-PUBLISHING

Ach, et tu, Brute? This is not self publishing. It’s vanity. Oh, these pesky terms that people use to muddy the waters.

Self publishing is when you, the author, are the publisher and you pay and control every aspect of production. You buy and own the ISBN; it is your name on the copyright page.

Vanity is pay to play, and they control every aspect of production and its eventual disposition. For example, you can’t tell them to do a 1,000 unit print run unless you pay for it. Never ever forget who’s in charge with a vanity operation. Clue: it ain’t you.

This is an outright lie, and this makes me cranky. Yes, I realize that and a fiver will get you an overpriced Starbuck’s.

Payback

RWA has decided that Harlequin is no longer eligible for RWA-provided conference resources and SFWA has removed Harley from their list of approved venues as of 11/2009.

Now this is what I mean by allowing the free market to work. If Harley wants to take this route, they have the honor of experiencing the up and downside. Only when payback hurts enough does change happen, and it’ll be interesting to see how, or if, this hurts. They will be forced to weigh the consequences of being removed from two very influential groups against huge profits. They will most certainly suffer the wrath of their own mainstream authors. On the “upside” Harley is to romance what California is to tax hikes.

More than likely Torstar – Harley’s parent company – won’t care one bit. Harley has their chestnuts hovering over very hot fire. What to do? What are they allowed to do? It’s times like this that I adore being an indie trade press. We may have far fewer decimal points in our bottom line, but the only ones who tell me what to do are the beagle, the accountant, the sales teams, and the readers.

Mistaken Identity

If Harley wants – needs – to do this in order to keep Torstar’s lights on, that’s their business. I have no doubt they’ll make a pile of money. I think it’s sad that a lot of authors will take this route because the first thing they’ll think is, “Wow, Harley? They’re BIG, so how bad can it be? They wouldn’t screw us.”

Weelllll…if it keeps the heat on, yes they will. But this falls under “Author Beware.” We can’t outlaw stupid, as I said before, so the best thing anyone can do for themselves is to keep their ears close to the ground. Read the blogs, learn, consider all the ramifications.

It’ll be interesting to watch the reverberations throughout the industry and how this will affect other publishers who want to add a vanity imprint to help their own bottom lines. Long live the free marketplace. They are the ultimate boss.

Having said all that, I still believe this is still a non-event and Harley will remain untouched within the reading community [where it really counts!] because the vanity books won’t see the light of day. Readers will continue to buy their books in bookstores – as it should be. The world will continue to turn, the beagle will continue to imbibe. For the most part, all will stay right with the world.

Unless we have a law banning tequila…

8 Responses to Sigh…it was Harley’s to lose…

  1. Voidwalker says:

    I’m so glad that experience professionals, like yourself, have been taking the time to shed some light on these things. Noob (pardon the game speak) authors or aspiring authors such as myself are easily persuaded by big names and lofty promises, riddled with delusions of grandeur.

    I will keep my ears sharper and appreciate your point of view on this issue.

  2. Lissa Lander says:

    But isn’t it possible that the book industry is changing and headed down the same dark path as the music biz?

  3. Who’s to say, Lissa? It could be that the trade indies become a stronger voice within the industry. We’re able to take on works that the big houses won’t because they answer to a lot of conflicting voices and need the big blockbusters. We don’t have those constraints.

    In the end, it’s the marketplace that sets the tone. It’s been an interesting ride so far, and I see no reason for it to be anything but.

  4. NinjaFingers says:

    According to Writer’s Beware, they have also seriously pissed off the MWA:

    http://accrispin.blogspot.com/2009/11/mwa-weighs-in-on-harlequin-horizons.html

    It seems THEY are less displeased by Horizons than by the professional critiqueing service, but either way…

  5. Aston West says:

    I almost wonder if someone who may have worked for the upper echelons of a certain Maryland publisher somehow found a job inside the management of Harlequin…

    :-\

  6. Tom West says:

    Having said all that, I still believe this is still a non-event and Harley will remain untouched within the reading community [where it really counts!]

    If Harlequin’s business practices rely on predatory business practices where the victims are the desperate and uninformed, they will find it *much* harder to attract qualified writers and editors.

    I can tell you that most of the editors at Harlequin are (obviously) already shocked and dismayed by this action. While it will probably not result in many leaving right away, especially in this economic climate, it will certainly be a lodestone that anyone working at Harlequin or *considering* working at Harlequin will weigh when choosing to stay or apply.

    Remember, this is not an industry that pays a lot. If you’ve lost both satisfaction (I’m now a scammer) and the prestige in the community (you end up shunned by others in the same industry), you’ve lost the main reason to be an editor. Harlequin will have to pay a lot more for the same quality editor.

    From a submitting writer’s perspective, even devoid of the RWA decision, would you want to submit to a company you know will eagerly be complicit in defrauding (in all but legal definition) you of thousands of dollars if it can get away with it?

    Unless you are one of those who no longer believes that editor and author quality has any relation to the bottom line, this is a bad *corporate* decision, as well as completely unethical one.

    I have dealt, on odd occasion, with the “count your fingers after the handshake” organizations. But they are certainly my *last* choice and I will take a moderate financial hit to avoid doing so. I suspect that there are a lot of people who feel similarly.

    One other word of advice. You can do yourself reputational harm by espousing the “caveat emptor” school of business. If you do not disapprove of the others swindling those that they can, then it is a strong indicator that you too will will not be stopped by ethical considerations from taking financial advantage of any that are foolish enough to trust your judgment.

    That may or may not be true, but that’s not something you want to wave around to potential clients.

  7. Tom, you bring up some interesting points, and I can say that only time will tell. I do believe the roar will die down and Harley will either drop the vanity idea (they’ve already pulled their name off as a result of the outrcy), or they’ll decide they really need that income and cross their fingers that the attention dwindles quickly.

    I don’t see why any author would not submit to Harley. They are the Yoda of romance. Their books are found in every bookstore in the world. If an author wants to avoid them as some form of protest over the vanity option, then they do so at their own risk. That’s truly a cut the nose off to spite the face move.

    I disagree that the vanity option is defrauding anyone of anything. It’s vanity, for crying out loud, so any author who believes the odds are anywhere but with the publisher should never go to Vegas. You cannot outlaw stupid, and any author who signs ANY contract without doing their homework is just plain stupid.

    You suggest that I could do my own reputation harm by taking a “let the buyer beware” approach. You seem to suggest that it’s my duty to agree with you or be indicted as one whose ethics are questionable.I find that outrageous and nothing short of blackmail.

    I’ve stated my case quite clearly. You don’t have to agree with me. I haven’t said that I think this vanity option is a great idea – nor would I. What I don’t appreciate is a drive-by threat. It’s obvious that you aren’t a regular reader of my blog, or have read my book, The Writer’s Essential Tackle Box. If you’d done either, you would know my feelings on vanity and POD very well.

    Harley is doing nothing illegal. Is their advertising smarmy and intentionally misleading? Of course it is! All vanity advertising is smarmy and intentionally misleading. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have the right to exist, no matter how oily they are. Good grief, the same can be said for all politicians, and look at how they run/ruin our lives.

    I maintain that the onus is on the author to protect him/herself. I don’t believe in Nannyism. Either learn the business and take care of yourself or you may get burned. If everyone did this, the vanity publishing option may cease to exist or, at the very least, be a financial boon to its owners.

  8. Tom West says:

    That’s truly a cut the nose off to spite the face move.

    I disagree. If I see someone trying to rip-off someone the ignorant, that tells me that they’ll rip *me* off if they can. Can I trust the royalty figures? Can I trust they won’t use slimy tactics to lock me in?

    Who knows? But that *definitely* factors in to the decision for any author who’s smart enough to know we’re *all* ignorant about something, and *we don’t know where we’re ignorant*.

    The only defense is to try places we trust first and then demand more money to make up for the risk we’re taking when dealing with the untrustworthy.

    You cannot outlaw stupid, and any author who signs ANY contract without doing their homework is just plain stupid.

    I’d call it ignorant, or even vulnerable, rather than stupid. However, people who are willing to rip-off the vulnerable are simply not to be trusted with *anything*. Believing that you will never be in a place where you can be exploited is dangerous. Far better to deal with people who you know are ethical.

    I disagree that the vanity option is defrauding anyone of anything.

    I consider *any* industry where six months later >95% of the clients feel they’ve been ripped-off to be morally equivalent (NOT legally equivalent) to fraud. It’s not that their clients should go into it with a clear head, it’s that they can have no clients with a clear head because they don’t offer any legitimate service. (Obviously very different from the POD route.)

    You seem to suggest that it’s my duty to agree with you or be indicted as one whose ethics are questionable. I find that outrageous and nothing short of blackmail.

    I’m sorry for what was an overly strong comment on my part. But I will maintain that not finding a lack of ethics morally objectionable implies *in the mind of the reader* something about one’s personal ethics. My telling you this can be construed as a threat, but do you deny its accuracy?

    (Honestly, I’m not certain how to put it any way that doesn’t sound like a threat. “If you don’t get out of the way of that bus, you’re going to be flattened” also sounds like a threat…)

    I maintain that the onus is on the author to protect him/herself.

    Okay, let’s make put it our here straight. If you had the chance to make serious money by exploiting an author that failed to protect himself in a dealing with you, would your ethics prevent you from doing so?

    Obviously the answer is yes – your ethics alone would protect the author. But how are potential clients to determine this when you show no moral outrage over other people’s unethical behaviour? Or more accurately, don’t seem to consider exploitation of another’s weakness to be unethical.

    don’t believe in Nannyism.

    This isn’t about nannyism. In fact, it’s almost the opposite. Rather than have the government step in and try and mandate ethical behaviour through rules (and fail), this is the community itself protecting itself against unethical actions that will lead to serious deterioration in the entire community (including authors, employees, publishers, and eventually readers, etc.)

    Anyway, my apologies for giving offense. I’m not certain how to discuss ethical issues without bringing in ethics :-).

    And yes, I’m a “drive-by”. I wasn’t searching for counter-opinions, just reading a variety of voices and your’s google’d high. Thank you for a considered response to what was a somewhat overly inflammatory post on my part.

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