I took some time to read the various posts on writers boards, and from the sounds of things I think the sky is falling. “Omigod! Harlequin is opening up a vanity press!” The cries! The outrage! The sadness.
I’m more than willing to eat crow here, but I don’t see why this is such a big deal. It’s another vanity press. Yes, it’s Harlequin – a big name – who’s “selling out” to the vanity machine for a huge financial boon. Sure, they’re in it to make money. So what? Who’s getting hurt? Their mainstream authors! is the response. I don’t see it that way.
I broke down the various comments that I collected around the internet:
“Yessiree, we’re here to take your money just like iUniverse, Publish America, AuthorHouse, and a gajillion others.” It may be a lesser way to find one’s work in print, but so what? No one is putting a gun to authors’ heads and raiding their wallets. It may be a somewhat oily way to make money but there isn’t a law against doing so. If people are willing to fork over their hard-earned money, that’s their business. Live and let live.
Taking advantage of authors
Now before the beagle takes a chunk out of my leg thinking I’ve gone mad, let me say that my position on vanity publishing hasn’t changed one bit. BUT as long as authors are fully aware of what they’re getting into, then who am I to cast aspersions? And sure, there are those who fork over money thinking they’ll be on store shelves, but you know what? You can’t outlaw stupid.
There are always going to be people who make bad mistakes because they didn’t know any better. The information is out thereabout vanity publishing – to ad nauseum – so anyone who goes in wearing blinders is going to get a big surprise. Does that mean we outlaw vanity publishing? Geez, it reminds me of when my kids’ grammar school outlawed running at recess because someone might get hurt. Of course someone might get hurt…that’s life! On the other hand, many people could be very happy.
The mistake is assuming the role of publishing police. Crikey, it’s still a free world (for now), and that means people should be allowed to make dumb mistakes and take stupid risks. You can’t save ’em all. Buck up.
Competition with the regular authors – the “it’s not fair!” factor
What’s not fair? Authors who are legitimately pubbed by Harlequin haven’t given up anything. They worked hard and got a contract because their stories were good enough to catch Harlequin’s attention. Those authors still enjoy full distribution and shelf space in the bookstores – which is far better than what their vanity brethren will have. So what that they have the Harlequin logo on their books? Those books are going nowhere. They don’t have the full weight of the Harelquin marketing and promotion machine that the mainstream authors do.
There is nothing sweeter than seeing your book sitting on a bookstore shelf. It’s the final page to all the blood sweat and tears of writing your book. Ok, group happy sigh everyone…well, except the vanity gang. In their case it’s a matter of “What distribution?” There isn’t any. And this is one of the main reasons I believe this is a nothing event. The vanitywill be sold on the backs of their authors. Those books will gather dust or be sold out of car trunks, while the real Harlequin books will flourish on the shelves as they’ve done for many years.
“I’m published by Harlequin!”
Ah yes, the name-dropping appeal. The snob factor. I see many vanity authors strut about how “they’re published.” We all know that vanity publishing isn’t a publishing credit. The vanity author has been printed. There was no vetting for talent other than double checking one’s bank balance. That isn’t to say that everyone who goes this route is a lousy writer; it’s just that the overwhelming odds tend to bear that out. But that doesn’t stop the author from using the “published” verbiage. With Harlequin, this will make them downright insufferable. Ok, I’m being facetious to some extent. Look, so what if they say they’re published by Harlequin? Does anyone believe it won’t lose its appeal if those vanity books start collecting dust in authors’ garages due to lack of sales, promotion, marketing, and distribution?
Diluting the Harlequin name/losing respectability
This is an interesting thought, and I saw this repeated in virtually every blog I read. Lauren Roberts, brilliant owner of BiblioBuffet asked me if I would ever consider doing the same thing – adding a vanity imprint. I quickly down one of the beagle’s margaritas to gather my composure. “Are you kidding? I’d be gutted and filleted. We’re too small to take that kind of publicity/reputation hit.”
But Harlequin? They can handle it. They’re HARLEQUIN, after all. They are big enough to weather this. It’s no different if Random House decided to join the vanity gang for some extra cash as well.
Does anyone believe that because Harlequin has a vanity imprint that authors will snub their mainstream line and query elsewhere? Not on your life. They are the Yoda of Romance, and they will be just fine, thankyouverymuch. And if their authors decide otherwise and leave Harelquin for green pastures, then Harlie will have to analyze whether it’s a big enough problem to change their ways.
I’m certain that the industry will make allowances to adjust for the vanity line so those books don’t leech over into territory that’s reserved for mainstream authors – like RWA, for instance. If Harlequin has a brain, they certainly don’t want to lose their RWA status. Chances are strong that the vanity authors won’t be eligible. At least I hope not. This would certainly dilute RWA’s exclusivity.
The long and short of this is how this affects readers. Readers have no clue, nor do they care, about this vanity imprint. They’ll go about buying romance novels in the bookstores, just like they always have. The vanity books won’t even be a blip on their radar screens.
The only people really affected are those who choose to pay money to be published. Vanity writers cannot compete with mainstream authors, so this gives them their own sandbox to play in.
Look. vanity is vanity, no matter whose logo goes on the book. As pay-to-play publishing stands today, it isn’t a viable option for those who desire to see their books on the marketplace. I say let the free market take care of itself. The dregs of the vanity books won’t see the light of day anyway. Yes, Harlequin will make some lovely profits from this venture. It’s a business like any other business. It may not smell real good, but it’s not a crime. Publishing is evolving in ways that many of us don’t like. But I don’t see this as preying on authors as much as I see authors not doing their homework, or sacrificing their craft for the easy shortcut.
Unless there is something I’m missing, my suggestion is to lighten up. This is no big deal. These authors are not your competitors in any way, shape, or form.
I will patiently await the darts to find the soft underbelly of my blackened heart. But please be careful of the beagle. She may be worthless, but I’ve grown fond of her.
Edited to add:
Malle Vallik, Harlequin’s Digital Director appears to be one page shy of a full chapter. First off, they are trying the usual glorp that other vanity presses do by calling it “self publishing” rather than what it is; vanity. The poor dear is trying to field questions and appears to be unlearned in all things vanity:
4. If an author chooses to go to Horizons, do they lose “first publication” rights? How will that affect any effort to gain an agent or traditional publisher with their “bound copy”?
Malle: I’m not sure I completely understand this question. The author owns her content. How would she lost first publication rights? She has published it herself. Whether she is giving it away as gifts or marketing it, is up to her. Yup, clearly I don’t get your question.
Good holy mother of all things pure and innocent. If this poor woman doesn’t know what first rights are – or even understands the question – then I think the marketplace will take care of Harlequin’s debacle in no time at all.