Harlequin's Self-Publishing Venture – A Blog Surfer's Journal

I first caught wind of Harlequin’s new self-publishing venture at agent Kristen Nelson’s blog, where I posted a rare comment. Then today, while monitoring the Twitterverse, I noticed that Ann Aguirre was up to something unusual, so when I got home, I checked out her Twitter stream, which led me to this letter from the Romance Writers of America, taking a tough approach with Harlequin. I went back to Kristen Nelson’s site, where I noticed that she had already put up another post with the same letter from Ann Aguirre’s site, along with her reaction.

Thirsting for more knowledge, I turned to GalleyCat. It had a tidbit on Victoria Strauss comparing Harlequin’s self publishing venture to West Bow Press, so I headed there, but it really wasn’t what I was looking for.

However, it had a linkstravaganza upon the subject, so I found myself following a link to Dear Author that summarizes many of the arguments that authors have against this venture. They also have a response from Harlequin.

And since blog surfing can take you in unexpected directions, I just had to follow this post, also on Dear Author’s site, about Angela James’s becoming the editor of Carina Press, Harlequin’s new e-publishing venture, which I am planning to submit to quite soon. Side trip over.

Once I exhausted the Dear Author links (phew! those girls keep busy), I went to my Google Reader to see if anyone posted any more updates. Nope. So I probably have to wait until tomorrow for more reaction.

My take away? Publishing is changing. Rapidly. Self-publishing is losing its stigma as more and more of us know people who we respect who self-publish. And just today, Nathan Bransford said on his blog that “. . . it’s never been more difficult to find a traditional publisher.”

Never. Been. More. Difficult.

I know this from experience. Right now I’m sort of hunkering down and writing my way through this recession, casting out query letters every now and then for one of my existing novels, and re-polishing up the other. I’m hoping when all these changes stop, and when the economy improves, I’ll know what to do with the novel (number 4!) that I hope will be finished by then.

Is self-publishing tempting? Sure. But those publishing packages are expensive — prohibitively so for me. For those of you looking to self-publish, I’d say to examine your novel very closely before you do so. Make sure your book has the enthusiastic support of relative strangers — people who aren’t close to you and who will be honest. But most of all, be willing to write another novel. If you can write one, you can write another. And your second novel is likely to be worlds better than your first.

Because — and here’s the brutal part — it’s damned hard to convince a reviewer to read your novel. I’m one of the more friendly reviewers for self-publishers out there, and even I require a first chapter first. Why? Because many times, the novel doesn’t seem as ready as those published by debut mainstream writers. The first page tells me if you have basic command of grammar and style. If you have that, I keep reading, looking for other things. Is the writing overwrought? This happens often, as the writer tries to use strong language, and often ends up using too many adverbs and adjectives. Does the dialog flow? One of the reasons I read What Happened to the Indians is the dialog in the opening chapters was very well done. In my review, I said, “Mr. Shannon had three marks of a proficient writer. He had a compelling hook. He could handle dialog. And he could write.”

Like I said, the publishing world is changing. Publishers are experimenting. Sooner or later, something will catch on. In the meantime, I’ll just keep reading and scribbling, and keeping my eye on the publishing blogs, constantly hungry for the latest news.

9 thoughts on “Harlequin's Self-Publishing Venture – A Blog Surfer's Journal

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  2. I can’t shake a vague feeling of disappointment that Harlequin didn’t value their reputation better. I don’t mean the stigma of self-publishing; as you said, that’s changing. However, they promise to watch the self-published stuff, and pick up something if it does well enough. This ought to go without saying. Saying it anyway tells me they’re greedy. {pause}

    Greed is not a feature I’d look for in a printer if I was interested in self-publishing. {half-smile} I’m not sure I’m comfortable with it in a publisher, either. {lop-sided smile}

    Anyway, the stories I write are short enough, if they don’t sell, I’d use them as gifts to friends and family. I usually write something for the holiday season anyway, so sending something that didn’t sell out instead would feel like saving me some work. {Smile}

    Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

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  3. The comment I left on Kristen Nelson’s blog is I thought this move would cheapen their name. This is definitely an attempt to grab a share of the very lucrative self-publishing market. However, it’s often a somewhat tawdry market, with a reputation of taking advantage of a writer’s hopes and dreams. But for many uses — publishing a tips booklet to help promote your business, publishing a family cookbook or history — self-publishing makes sense.

    I have noticed that self-published books are often more accepted in certain communities. Christian publishing is one of these, which is why a Christian writer would be interested in West Bow Press, Thomas Nelson’s self-publishing arm, which Victoria Strauss compared to Harlequin in my link above. One of their standard options is “Reps Working to Sell to Christian Book Buyers” which, if it means what I think it means, would account for the high price of their basic package ($999).

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  4. For a concise and well-laid out look at this issue, check out author Jackie Kessler’s blog about it (she’s on Twitter, and I Tweeted about the blog post, so you can find it through me as well). She also explains the difference between self-publishing, which is semi-acceptible, and vanity publishing, which is what both RWA and “Preditors and Editors” have declared the new Harlequin Horizons to be.

    I am concerned for Harlequin’s place in publishing, and for all my friends who are Harlequin authors.

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  5. The problem is that it’s not a self-publishing venture: it’s a vanity press. They are wildly different in ethics. Self-publishing can work for people; it is about money flowing to the author. It’s even good for small topic nonfiction, etc.

    Vanity presses are entirely about scamming authors who don’t know any better by telling them it counts just the same as regular publishing. In fact, Harlequin linked to their vanity press in their rejection letters with the tidbit that if the book did well, maybe they’d check it out again. That’s just… Skeezy and horrible on a moral level.

    There is one man who shops at the bookstore I work at who is mentally handicapped and was tricked this way by a vanity press to pay to publish his scifi novel. It literally hurts me to hear how excited this man is about being an author and how the company bled him out for his money. He paid more than two thousand dollars over all. That’s just… Wrong. It’s very very wrong.

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  6. My further reading into this has brought up the self-publishing vs. vanity press issue, and I confess that until this incident, I didn’t understand the difference. I knew something was sleazy about certain self-publishing ventures while others (like Lulu) are perfectly respectable, but I thought the term “vanity press” was simply a derogatory term.

    I did find Harlequin’s solution way too expensive and hype-filled. Whereas if you go to Lulu, you find a multitude of options, from complete do-it-yourself to less-expensive versions of Harlequin’s options.

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  7. Yes, there is a big difference between Lulu and vanity. If you want to do Print on Demand through a place like Lulu, you don’t even have to buy ANY package. You can do all the work yourself (art, layout, editing) and only buy a package if you want help. Amazon (Createspace) has the same thing–POD, not necessarily selling you a required package. Lulu and Amazon make their money by taking a share of the sales of the book (or the packages, but as I said, that’s a more optional route.)

    The Harlequin thing…is sad. I thought it a shame that they ventured into vanity publishing.

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  8. Quite interesting. I went the completely self-done route of self-publishing: Just sent two PDF files to Lightning Source last week. Though I’m fortunate to have a knowledgeable family member who can *really* edit and proofread (something I suppose 0.1% of new writers have). Online connections revealed an artist among my writing friends, and the cover (on my blog) is better than what I could have done myself.

    Profit margins when going directly via LS are way more than any author house or vanity press… just have to see if I can sell a few copies now.

    I wonder in the next years if more people will become proficient enough to generate the whole content themselves and go directly to the printer (e.g. LS) instead of needing an author house/vanity press. For anyone who knows a bit about graphics and can learn to typeset in Word, it’s definitely possible on a budget!

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