And They Don't Even Offer a Reach-Around

(Also posted at One Bite at a Time.)

There’s been a lot of outrage over Harlequin’s recent announcement to launch their own self-publishing branch, Harlequin Horizons. (Here, here, and here, to list a few; other links included in these posts.) In short, Harlequin is encouraging rejected authors to pay them to publish their work, instead of Harlequin paying for it.

All the outrage is earned; this is detestable. There’s one other aspect no one I’ve read has picked up on: This will hurt those authors who would have qualified for Harlequin contracts before the new policy. It’s right there in the press release:

“While there is no guarantee that if you publish with Harlequin Horizons you will picked up for traditional publishing, Harlequin will monitor sales of books published through Harlequin Horizons for possible pick-up by its traditional imprints.”

This essentially allows Harlequin to establish its own farm system, at the author’s expense. Never again need they take a chance on a new writer. Make her pay for the privilege of having to publicize and hand sell her own book. Harlequin can then cherry pick the few who are successful and have established a reputation for doing the publisher’s work for them, while pocketing the author’s publication fees from the vanity project.

This is worth watching, as it bodes well for no one.

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Comment by J. E. Seymour on November 21, 2009 at 10:58pm
But John - a band playing the bar circuit is actually getting paid. In this case, we're talking vanity publishing, you pay for editing, you pay for everything. This isn't even self-publishing, it's vanity press. The equivalent of what you're talking about would be a group of writers getting together, putting out a call for short stories, selecting the best, paying the writers and having the thing printed. That I've seen done, and it is not self publishing or vanity publishing. It involves actual editors.
Comment by I. J. Parker on November 21, 2009 at 7:46am
Harlequin has gone back on this. They will vanity-publish the Horizon imprint, but this will not use the Harlequin name. RWA, MWA, and the SF writers all have expressed their outrage.
Comment by John McFetridge on November 21, 2009 at 7:02am
Yes, it bodes well for no one.

I still think it's funny, though, that if a band put out their own CD and sell a bunch at bars where they play, and on their website and give away free songs on Facebook or whatever and become popular enough they get picked up by a major label and everyone's happy.

When some people get together and make their own movie using their credit cards and pay to enter it in festivals and it gets picked up by a major distributor it's a huge success story.

There's no indie equivalent in books.

It looks like Harlequin is getting out ahead of the curve. More and more publishers are expecting beginning authors to do a huge amount of their own promo; make trailers, source blurbs, run a website, blog, give away short stories and so on. And so here they also test market the book and try and build an audience - this is authors playing the bar circuit like a band.

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