Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Harlequin Horizons

I'm a little late to the game, as I only heard about this yesterday and wanted to do a little more research before I wrote anything, but yes - it's true. Harlequin has opened an imprint that is, basically, a vanity publisher.

Harlequin Horizons is a pay-to-play vanity arm of Harlequin Enterprises, Unlimited. That's right, for the low, low amount of $599, (packages start at $599 and go up to $1599) -  you can call yourself a Harlequin author. Forget honing your craft and polishing your work! Forget those endless months of waiting on a query/partial submission! Forget worrying about rejection. If you've got the money, you can be a Published Author.

Personally, if I was a Harlequin author, I'd be seething right about now. As a romance writer and lover of romance novels in general, I think it's a horrible idea on Harlequin's part because they are basically enforcing the negative stereotype that anyone can write a romance novel and have it published.

Harlequin has always been a premier name in the romance novel industry - even if you're one of those people who makes fun of romance novels (you know, dismisses them as 'bodice rippers' and 'porn for women'), chances are you know the Harlequin name. And now, in my opinion, that name has been sullied.

 True, there is a niche for self-publishing, which often works well for non-fiction that has a small, but existing platform (author Stacia Kane summed it up perfectly by using model train collecting as an analogy. There would be a market for a self-published book on model trains, but it would be a limited market.) But generally speaking, self-publishing is not the way to go for fiction.

But this isn't even self-publishing. It's vanity. And it is a slap in the face to those HQ authors who've worked so hard, paid their dues, waited months on end, only to have Harlequin basically say now, if you've got the money, you too can be a Published Author.

But we encourage you to indulge in your passion for writing and begin the next chapter of your life as a published author.

And that is taken from the Harlequin website. Their words.



I'm sorry, but buying a book package doesn't make a published author any more than my buying the entire run of ER on DVD makes me a doctor.

This cheapens the Harlequin brand. And it should be interesting to see how RWA responds to this, if they respond at all, since they are pretty clear in what they consider a publisher. And since Harlequin isn't marketing this line under another name, will Harlequin, by RWA's own definition, no longer be considered a non-vanity/non-subsidy publisher? I don't see how it could go any other way.

And what about the authors who buy these packages? Will they be eligible for RWA-PAN (Published Author Network)? Will their books be on the shelves next to the other Harlequin novels? And what happens when, if these books do find their way onto bookstore and grocery store shelves (my local Wegman's has two banks of shelves dedicated to Harlequin novels alone), and people do pick them up, only to find they are reading what is, essentially, slush? Books that haven't been edited (in the basic package, this is a separate charge. It doesn't become included in the price until you hit the $999 package), that possibly aren't even worthy of publication, what happens when those books end up in a reader's hand? It might be the last Harlequin title a reader ever picks up.

Of course, I don't know that any of the Harlequin Horizons books will ever end up on a shelf anywhere other that the author's own house. But what if? Because basically, what this line targets amounts to the slush pile. Not that the manuscripts are automatically unworthy of publication, there are bound to be gems hidden in that pile somewhere . But the purpose of most submission policies are designed to weed out the unpublishable dreck. And that's the truth. Just because someone writes a book, doesn't make it automatically worthy of publication.

I think it's a bad idea. A terrible idea, actually. And I think it's awful that Harlequin is doing this. Romance novels, and those who write them have enough negative stereotypes to deal with as it is, why make it worse? Why make the Anyone can write one of those books stereotype true? It's a slap in the face to romance writers, and especially those who write for Harlequin.

There's discussions going on at Smart Bitches and at Dear Author showing both sides of the argument.

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