When vanity and mainstream publishing collide

So I was thinking about the Harley/DellArte (formerly Harlequin Horizons) vanity press debacle over the holiday – even though I swore I wouldn’t – and hit upon a big snag that pushed my laissez-faire attitude right over the cliff: The Great Sucker the Author Incident.

It’s folly to think that mainstream and vanity imprints can live happy, yet separate lives under one roof. Anyone with a working brain realizes vanity publishing brings in huge bucks for the publisher, so the logical thing for the mainstream publisher to do is give a gentle nudge toward the vanity publishing option. True, nothing illegal about it, but it is sneaky. How to do this?

The Enticement:

First, you need to offer something delicious. Ahhh…a chance at mainstream publishing! So they put out this lovely blurb on their vanity site: “We will be monitoring your books for excellence and marketability, and MAYBE we’ll choose YOUR book for mainstream publishing!”

Wow! Gee! Where do I sign up? Here, take my money! And to prove their point, I’m willing to bet the beagle’s chocolate martini and stash of Twinkies that they’ll choose a few lucky winners to legitimize their claims. What better way to get the unpublished masses clamoring with their wallets in hand? Crikey, it sounds like a paid version of Authonomy. This is literary version of Russian Roulette. Some get an empty chamber, others get a live round.

In reality, there will probably be very, very few books that make the transition from vanity to mainstream – just enough to keep up appearances. Hungry authors who don’t know enough about the publishing business to discern a snow job of epic proportions will buy it hook, line, and sinker. And they’ll hand their money over to these guys rather than AuthorHouse or iUniverse. Very clever.

And this is my big Ah Ha moment. Anytime a mainstream publisher adds a vanity imprint, you can be certain of two things:

  • They need the money
  • They are going to woo you with hints at greater success in order to sucker you in.

This is a conflict of interest.

7 Responses to When vanity and mainstream publishing collide

  1. Lauren says:

    The only good thing I can think about this rotten venture is that (hopefully) the economy will keep a lot of their potential victims from buying those damn expensive packages. If they had gone with $99-$499 packages, they could probably get a lot more …..

    Then again I shouldn’t be giving them ideas.

    Great post, Lynn.

  2. One can only hope, Lauren. But I’ve noticed that when it comes to vanity, there is always a little money stash in the underwear drawer.

  3. Follow the money, it’s the name of every scam–er–game. I appreciate your upfront and honest posts on this issue.

  4. I know it’s not illegal and I can understand why some publishers might want to offer this ‘service’ but there’s something lurking at the back of my mind that tells me it’s sleazy.

  5. exactly.

    if they had been honest from the start, I don’t think there would have been as much of a backlash.

    but just TEMPTING the rejected authors with the possibility that, hey, well, they MIGHT be “discovered” is immoral, wrong and downright evil.

    but that’s just me.

  6. Allen Parker says:

    The problem is that the premise is assumed by most logical thinking people.

    If the vanity side has a book that sells 2500 to 3000 copies, the other side will know about it shortly. We all assume that our books just need a chance to succeed.

    HQ didn’t even need to say it. The fact that they mention possible crossover just deepens the problem.

    To me, even starting a vanity side that connects with the name is wrong. They could have set up a vanity and kept the two separate and it would have been fine.

  7. Allen, that’s the problem with vanity; they will never sell 2500-3000 units, so they will never be a blip on anyone’s radar. Harley/DellArte knows this, but they need to sucker people in with an enticement in order to make money. It’s shameless window dressing, and that’s what pushed me over the edge.

    I agree with you; had they simply offered a vanity option without pathetic promises, I wouldn’t have cared one whit. And you know the irony of all this? They didn’t need to make all the ridiculous promises. Their name alone would have had authors choosing them over AuthorHouse or iUniverse in a heartbeat.

    Oh, the misfire…

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