Over the past month, Harlequin has discovered that a rose by any other name is not necessarily as sweet . . .
When the romance publishing grand dame announced it is co-venturing with Author Solutions on an entity to to be marketed to slush pile authors it had just rejected, many author trade and professional associations -- thus far the Romance Writers of America, Mystery Writers of America, and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America -- called it on the carpet for selling the same services as any vanity press.
When it comes to membership acceptance, these organizations don't recognize self-publishing enterprises or vanity presses, and therefore don't accept applications from those who have paid to have their books printed. Even publishers who have vanity press imprints are excluded.
Needless to say, many Harlequin authors are now upset that their standings in these organizations may be compromised. At the very least, any future books they have with Harlequin won't be eligble for award recognition from these professional associations.
Harlequin's answer was to change the name from "Harlequin Horizons" to Dellarte Press in order to mask its association. But that's like putting lipstick on a pig. When you're asking authors to pay you anywhere from $7,000 to $19,000 for the honor of getting their book published, you're still a vanity press.
I have many friends who are Harlequin authors. They've worked very hard and jumped through many hoops -- just as all of us have -- in order to get their manuscripts written, then read and accepted by their editors. Once the books are printed and distributed, these authors work just as hard at promoting their books so that both they and their publishing house can reap the financial benefits of their author brands, and so that their careers thrive over time. As we all know, it's a book-by-book process. Publish -- and promote and promote and promote -- or perish. The Dellarte Press slight is slick. Obviously a lot of thought was put in it.
When I was in advertising, my favorite clients were those who took the time to assess their consumers' needs, develop products with great perceived value, then create eye-catching packaging -- not to mention an ad campaign. Obviously they didn't just throw the product on the crowded retail shelves, to see if the audience found it amid the clutter . . .
If Harlequin spent as much time and money branding its current products -- its authors -- as it did on Dellarte, it would have lived up to its stellar publishing record. Unfortunately, Dellarte has tarnished it for all involved.
By the way, any author who has $17,000 to spend on a vanity press packet would be better off spending half of that on a good freelance editor (with all the pub house layoffs, there are many out there) who can help him/her get the manuscript in front of several great agents. Now, that's an investment in your career, as opposed to a pretty book that sits on only one shelf. Your own. The Publishers Weekly article here sheds light on this matter.
Right below it is an EXCELLENT essay on the difference between self-publishing and vanity publishing. Written by urban fantasy author Laura Resnick , it succinctly explains the difference between the publishing model (author's manuscript gets purchased by a publishing house, is printed, distributed and promoted, with payment via an advance and royalties), self publishing, and vanity press.
To the budding writer, ignorance is NOT bliss,
Simon & Schuster/Downtown Press / June 1, 2010
Harlequin Drops Brand from Self-Publishing Line, As Criticism Continues—PublishersMarketplace.com (WELL WORTH the subscription, fyi...)
Harlequin has continued to suffer criticism on multiple fronts on their new self-publishing program, and while they have not altered the offering itself, they are removing the name Harlequin from the line.
CEO Donna Hayes said in a statement replying to the Romance Writers of America's declaration that the publisher would no longer be eligible for certain resources at the organizations conference: "We are changing the name of the self-publishing company from Harlequin Horizons to a designation that will not refer to Harlequin in any way. We will initiate this process immediately. We hope this allays the fears many of you have communicated to us."
Hayes expressed surprise and dismay at the RWA's notice, particularly "before allowing Harlequin to respond or engage in a discussion about it with the RWA board." And she added, "It is disappointing that the RWA has not recognized that publishing models have and will continue to change. As a leading publisher of women's fiction in a rapidly changing environment, Harlequin's intention is to provide authors access to all publishing opportunities, traditional or otherwise."
But bestselling Nora Robert was among those who continued to oppose the spirit and practice of the program itself, in a variety of comments at Smart Bitches: "Vanity press is called vanity for a reason. You're paying for your ego. That's fine, dealer's choice. But it's a different matter when a big brand publisher uses its name and its resources to sell this as dream fulfillment, advertises it as such while trying to claim it's not really their brand being used to make money on mss they've rejected as not worthy of that brand in the first place."
Roberts added in another comment: "it's deceptive vanity.... Taking the Harlequin name off is important, but it doesn't address what Horizons is, or all those links on their website, or directing rejected authors to Horizons as another channel to publication, and so on."
Both the Science Fiction Writers of America and the Mystery Writers of America also issued statements criticizing the new venture. The SFWA is concerned that the new venture's "sole purpose appears to be the enrichment of the corporate coffers at the expense of aspiring writers." They have declared that "NO titles from ANY Harlequin imprint will be counted as qualifying for membership in SFWA."
The MWA has even broader concerns, saying that they wrote to Harlequin on November 9 to express dismay over a separate paid offer, the "eHarlequin Manuscript Critique Service," suggesting the "removing mention of this for-pay service entirely from its manuscript submission guidelines, clearly identifying any mention of this program as paid advertisement, and, adding prominent disclaimers that this venture was totally unaffiliated with the editorial side of Harlequin, and that paying for this service is not a factor in the consideration of manuscripts."
In this post, I talk about “dishonest” businesses, “scams,” and “cons.” Since that’s strong language, it should be clearly understood that these are my own views and that I do not represent Novelists, Inc. in any capacity.
The terms “self-publishing” and “vanity press” are often misunderstood by aspiring writers. This is understandable since publishing has always been a strange, misinterpreted, and often illogical industry. Additionally, it’s now changing so rapidly, in terms of technology developments and new business models, that the industry does indeed look confusing.
However, and particularly with regard to print publishing, certain basic guidelines are still true, and will remain true for the foreseeable future. Let’s examine a few of them.
1. “Self-publishing” and vanity-press scams (oh, sorry, “vanity publishing“) are not forms of publishing. They are two distinct methods of being PRINTED, not PUBLISHED.
“Self-publishing” is a legitimate set of PRINT services and products offered to people with book-length projects that are not suitable for PUBLISHING (ex. family memoir, church-group cookbook, guidebook to your small town, etc.) or whose authors choose not to pursue PUBLISHING.
“Vanity publishing,” by contrast, is the perfect con, preying on the dreams of desperate aspiring writers who are uneducated about how publishing works. A vanity press is “self-publishing” with inflated product prices and false “services” offered at equally inflated fees. Like other well-orchestrated cons, vanity scams have financially ruined people.
“Self-publishing” is an honest business.
Vanity press is a dishonest business, but it’s a completely legal one. However, a number of vanity scams cross the line far enough to wind up in court and get shut down. Watchdog groups like Writer Beware and Preditors and Editors monitor these operations and report on these incidents. You can also keep yourself informed by following the Writer Beware blog.
For detailed explanations of the differences between legitimate “self-publishing” and vanity press, check out the links at the bottom of this article, particularly the Writer Beware “definitions” link.
2. The single greatest difference between the PUBLISHING business model and the PRINT business model is that PUBLISHERS make their money by selling books to consumers, whereas PRINT business models make their money by selling products and services to writers. These are two totally different business models, not permutations of the same business model
In a PUBLISHING business model, the writer is paid; in PRINT models, the writer pays. If your business arrangement with a company calls for you to contribute any money–any money at all–toward the production of your book, then you are dealing with a PRINT model, not a PUBLISHING model
3. The next key difference, and one that is greatly misunderstood by many aspiring writers attracted to PRINT business models, is that PUBLISHERS make their money by selling books to consumers via professional MARKETING, SALES, and DISTRIBUTION mechanisms that are not part of the PRINT business models of “self-publishing,” and which certainly aren’t part of the vanity scams that masquerade as “self-publishers” (though a number of vanity scams aggressively sell so-called marketing, sales, and distribution “services”).
As a paid professional competing commercially in the industry, my PUBLISHERS market and distribute my books throughout the book retail industry nationwide. This is how we both make money—by getting my books into as many consumers’ hands as possible.
By contrast, in a PRINT business model, the author’s books are NOT marketed and distributed. Consequently, the only people likely to buy a “self-published” book are the ones who come into direct contact with the author. Moreover, without a professional marketing and sales mechanism, the book being available at online booksellers like Amazon.com is the distribution equivalent of you dropping it off in the dumpster behind your local bookstore in the dead of night.
When a “self-published” book does get an audience, it’s not because the book is good. It may be brilliant or it may be mediocre; that’s irrelevant (and also in the eye of the beholder). What attracts an audience to a “self-published” book is an author who is a brilliant and tireless salesman. If you are indeed that sort of person (not many writers are), you may eventually make back the money you spent on your “self-published” book. Or not.
Meanwhile, even if you are indeed an exceptionally gifted and dedicated salesperson, you will not make back your money if your book is PRINTED by a vanity press. This is because a vanity press is set up entirely to empty your pockets. For example, a very common strategy of a vanity scam is to charge you high fees for the “editing,” packaging, and PRINTING of the book, to charge you fees to “market” the book, then to pay you only a percentage of any copy of the book that actually sells even though you have paid all the printing-and-production costs of the book. (By contrast, the reason I only get a percentage of a book’s cover price–my royalty rate–is that my publisher, not I, pays for every single cost associated with publishing my books). Another common ploy is that a vanity scam, which may give you a small number of author’s copies of the book for free, then charges you for any additional copies that you want–again, even though you have already paid for every copy that exists; so the author winds up paying for each copy of the book twice over, and at inflated fees both times. (By contrast, in legitimate “self-publishing,” all the copies belong outright to the author.)
A vanity press is set up to make its money from you; and preying on the desperation of aspiring writers who don’t know anything about the publishing business is a very profitable scam. So a vanity press has no incentive whatsoever to invest the money and the work involved in marketing or selling your book to consumers. This is among the reasons that the best case scenario is that any so-called marketing and sales “services” you pay for are useless (and, in less sunny scenarios, altogether bogus).
For obvious reasons, vanity presses rarely call themselves vanity presses. Instead, they use a variety of obfuscating terms (see the Writer Beware link below). Unfortunately, one that they use often is “self-publishing.” This muddies the waters terribly, with costly (even devastating) results for many aspiring writers.
4. When citing the few rare examples of legitimately “self-published” novels (i.e. not vanity press) that subsequently experienced national distribution and even commercial success, aspiring writers are often unaware of the relevant part of those examples: That only happened after those novels got professionally PUBLISHED.
(First of all, don’t bother citing Virginia Woolf or Irma Rombauer; business models 50-80 years old have no application or practical relevance in today’s publishing world.)
“Self-published” novels in the modern world that become commercial successes have something crucial in common: The authors are exceptional salespeople who, by virtue of that effort, eventually attracted the attention of a PUBLISHER; the publisher acquired and professionally PUBLISHED the book, turning the grassroots success into a national commercial success. There are no existing examples of novels that achieved national retail distribution (let alone commercial success) with only a PRINT business model; all the examples include this subsequent transition to a PUBLISHING model.
It’s well worth considering that hundreds of writers every year are pulled of out of slushpiles and offered first-time PUBLISHING contracts. This is far greater than the number of “self-published” novels that attract the attention of a PUBLISHER each year.
Meanwhile, I am unaware of any vanity press book ever having made the transition to a PUBLISHING model. It should also be noted that the absence of vanity press novels from this pattern is in direct contrast to the glowing (and wholly false) promises that vanity presses often make about positioning your book to get noticed by the professional PUBLISHING industry. Promo-copy that attempts to persuade you, the consumer, that a PRINT model will lead you to a PUBLISHING career or attract the attention of professional editors is a sure sign that you’re looking at a vanity scam.
5. Various PRINT business models are mistakenly described by many aspiring writers as being “new business models.” This is understandable, since it’s a self-description emphatically promoted by many of these companies. It is, however, completely erroneous.
“Self-publishing” and “vanity publishing” are prominent these days thanks to new technologies, but the current business models themselves are very old and haven’t really changed in decades. Indeed, I advise you to view any PRINT operation describing itself as a “new publishing business model” with grave suspicion; a legitimate “self-publishing” operation selling honest services and products at fair prices doesn’t need to disguise itself with misleading jargon, but it is the common practice of vanity scams to do so.
6. A common misconception among some aspiring writers is that your paying to have your book PRINTED is the equivalent of a band paying for a demo tape to distribute to record companies, music producers, managers, and agents. This is a myth fostered specifically by businesses trying to convince you to give them your money to PRINT your book. In fact, if you aspire to be professionally PUBLISHED, then your MANUSCRIPT is your demo tape, the thing that you send to agents, editors, and publishers.
Paying to PRINT the manuscript before you send it to editors, agents, and legitimate review venues will not attract their attention, impress them, or make them think your star is on the rise. This because the fact that you paid to have your book PRINTED is irrelevant in terms of the PUBLISHING business model.
7. Another common misconception is that in “self-publishing” your book, you are investing in your work rather than waiting for someone else to invest in it.
This mistaken notion is based on not recognizing the crucial differences between PRINTING a book and PUBLISHING it. If your aspirations are in any way professional as a novelist, then what you have actually “invested” in with a PRINT business model is a garage-full of copies of your book (or an URL for a print-on-demand product) that you have no effective means of marketing and distributing nationally to consumers.
8. There is also an oft-stated belief that a self-published writer has “artistic freedom” which would, by contrast, be sacrificed or compromised in a professional publishing deal.
This is actually a very complicated subject, worthy of a long essay. (Which I may well write eventually, because it’s a good subject.) But the short version, which will suffice for the purposes of today’s blog, is: Rubbish.
The argument that self-publishing offers artistic freedom is most often an excuse used to rationalize the lack of dogged, enduring, committed persistence that is the single most essential ingredient (more so than talent, frankly) needed to break into publishing as a writer and to maintain a career in this highly competitive profession. The phrase “I’m self-publishing because I want artistic freedom” is usually transparent code for: “I’m not willing to deal with the two most basic realities of becoming–and remaining–a professional writer: submitting my work and receiving rejections.”
“Artistic freedom” is also an argument used to evade acknowledging the very real possibility that an aspiring writer’s work simply might not be ready for professional publication yet. Writing a novel is not a natural talent that flows freely from your muse-blessed fingers. It’s a difficult craft that takes years of dedicated practice to develop to a professional level. Not working enough on their craft is one of the two most common mistakes made by aspiring writers.
The other most common mistake of aspiring writers is not educating themselves about the highly competitive, demanding profession that they aspire to enter—which is precisely why so many aspiring writers misunderstand the crucial differences between a PUBLISHING business model and a PRINT business model. And also why a percentage of aspiring writers fall prey to costly vanity scams.
I encourage you to post links to this article. You also have my permission to repost this piece wherever you see fit, and to distribute it electronically or in hardcopy, as long as you don’t change its contents.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION:
“Spotting the Publishing Scam” by attorney Ellen M. Kozak
Laura Resnick’s Writer’s Resources Page
Writer Beware: Definitions
“Is the Publisher Just A Middleman?” by Lucy A. Snyder
“The Price of Vanity” by Moira Allen