Harlequin Gets in the Self-Publishing Game

BlogHer Original Post

Vivian Simone strode into Writers' Alley Coffee House as though she owned it plus the bar next door. Heads turned. Neither the men nor the women could stop themselves from watching her. Their eyes traveled from her dark chestnut waves to the soft lines of her collar bone down to her shapely legs and beautiful feet. She wore black stilettos well, and her firm breasts, narrow waist and ample hips made the emerald green draped jersey top with belted waist and matching knee-length, snug skirt speak exactly the language their designer wanted them to speak, but Vivian spoke a less friendly word to writers in the room.

"Hello, you starving scribes. I've got one message for you today. See how you like it!" She placed her hands on her hips and surveyed the room of experienced novelists and wide-eyed wannabes. Smiling, she said, "Harlequin Enterprises, the titan of romance novels, now offers self-publishing."

Rebecca Smith, who sat alone with her HP Mini Notepad in the far corner of the coffee house was the first to scream, and she fainted, knocking her white mocha cappuccino to the floor as she fell from her chair. The rest of the room followed with similar fits of panic. Men cursed, slamming copies of Writers Market or Poets and Writers on tables. Women stuttered, looking from their computers, where they'd only moments before edited a masterwork of love, out at the world beyond the windows. Suddenly it looked cruel.

"What will we do? What's to become of us?" The writers exclaimed at once.

"You'll suck it up, you crybabies, just like I did when I heard the news," said Vivian, walking to the counter to place her order.

She didn't notice the tall, dark gentleman in the sleek, charcoal gray Armani suit at the other end of the counter, sipping his Kenyan blend, black, but he saw her, strolled over, and nodded to the barista. "Put whatever she's having on my check," he said, and then he gazed at her, his deep-set hazel eyes taking in every detail of her gorgeous face. "I love people who can roll with the punches. My name is Derick Vaughn. Will you join me for dinner this evening?"

She liked what she saw, but would not fall quickly. "Sorry," she cooed to him. "Tonight, I dine alone."

O.K., so it's been a long time since I read a romance novel. They probably don't sound like that anymore, but I cut my teenage writer's teeth on Harlequin books, and at one point I wanted to be a romance novelist. Furthermore, for the last 34 years I've dreamed of being a published novelist with a standard contract from a traditional publishing house. I never dreamed that dream hard enough, however, to finish a book, and from what I'm hearing of today's publishing world, my life may be the pefect example of "you snooze you lose."

Old publishing models are passing away, toppling newspapers and magazines as well as the fiction industry. So, unfortunately for me and for other aspiring novelists, the opening of this post is not complete fiction. Harlequin has stepped over to the darkside or to fresh light, depending on how you look at it. The giant romance novel publisher has entered the world of self publishing, and its move is getting mixed reviews.

On November 17, Harlequin Enterprises Limited released the announcement of its partnership with Author Solutions Inc, which considers itself a "leader in self-publishing."

Harlequin, Book Business magazine's 2009 Publishing Innovator of the Year, regards the self-publishing venture as an accessible opportunity for emerging authors to bring themselves to the attention of the reading public.

"Harlequin Horizons expands upon Harlequin's tradition of providing wonderful opportunities for fresh voices in women's fiction," said Donna Hayes, publisher and CEO of Harlequin Enterprises. "Partnering with Author Solutions, Inc., the recognized world leader in self-publishing, is an innovative and original approach to discovering new authors to add to our traditional publishing programs."

Through this strategic alliance, all sales, marketing, publishing, distribution, and book-selling services will be fulfilled by ASI, but Harlequin Horizons will exist as a division of Harlequin Enterprises Limited. Harlequin will monitor sales of books published through the self-publisher for possible pickup by its traditional imprints. (Press Release)

But that news didn't fly so well. See "Industry associations speak out against publisher's imprint; Harlequin says it will change imprint's name."

Romance Writers of America and other writer associations yesterday spoke out against the announcement earlier this week that Author Solutions had teamed up with Harlequin to form Harlequin Horizons, a new imprint for self-published romance authors. RWA has deemed Harlequin no longer eligible for RWA-provided conference resources—meaning the publisher is not entitled to enter any award competitions. Late yesterday, Harlequin publisher and CEO Donna Hayes responded, saying the company was “surprised and dismayed” at RWA’s actions, and that it would change the name of the self-publishing company from Harlequin Horizons to a designation “that will not refer to Harlequin in any way.”

As PW reported Tuesday, Harlequin Horizons was set to recruit writers in two ways: authors whose manuscripts had been rejected by Harlequin would be made aware of the Harlequin Horizons option, and authors who signed with Author Solutions would be given the opportunity to be published under the Harlequin Horizons imprint. All services are on a pay-for-service basis. (Publishers Weekly)

Ouch! I guess RWA's a dinosaur with me. I haven't warmed up to the idea of self-publishing as "real publishing." I still distinguish between you thinking you're a good writer and a publisher thinking you're a good writer.

Responding to one of my posts on self-publishing vs. real publishing back in June, Jane Friedman of Writer's Digest commented on the need some writers feel to be "vetted" by a traditional publisher.

I think the key thing to remember is that there are many routes to publication, none more "right" than any other. What works for one person doesn't work for someone else.

I can tell you many stories of unhappy traditionally published authors, who didn't realize it's sometimes worse to be traditionally published when your book doesn't sell.

If you want to set yourself the goal of being vetted/selected by a traditional press, which will select you based on how well your work meets market standards, that's very different than setting yourself the goal of spreading the word and attracting loyal readers or followers.

On an inspiring note: Richard Evans published his book through Kinko's (photocopies) and distributed it to his family, and it was loved so much and reached so far that a publisher read it, and the book ended up traditionally published (The Christmas Box). [Jane's comment here]

Yes, that's me, forever seeking the big editor in the sky's approval, but I hope to evolve.

And yet, Harlequin paid attention to the RWA reaction, its aversion to self-publishing and distaste for Harlequin associating its name with it. So, don't look for "Harlequin Horizons," look for Dellarte Press.

Dellarte Press provides the opportunity for women's fiction writers and romance authors to self-publish their books and achieve their dreams.

We understand that your time is precious, and your work and goals are unique. We have a team of professionals available to speak with you about your book, answer questions and provide assistance every step of the way.

You may not always have a lot of time for yourself. But we encourage you to indulge in your passion for writing and begin the next chapter of your life. (Source: Dellarte Press website)

When SB Sarah shared Harlequin's news at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, including ASI's self-publishing pricing plans, she ended her post saying:

It is November, people, chill already. Seriously, this is some ground-breaking news that makes me think and rethink and rethink again about the viability of self publishing, print on demand services, and the opportunities that exist at present for authors looking to market their work.

Now that Harlequin has entered the self-publishing market, after having gone DRM-free with Carina, what’s next? And does this make you interested in or curious about self publishing? (Sarah at SBTB)

Comments on her post run the gamut from Harlequin is stiffing writers to applause for the move.

Writers who follow industry news, including me despite my resistance to change, have understood since the emergence of the Internet as more than a geek's communication toy that publishing was drifting toward these kinds of models, that more work is being dropped on writers. More writers are increasingly being asked to do almost all their own marketing work even when picked up by traditional publishers, which opens the door for author marketers such as Penny Sansevieri of Author Marketing Experts to strike deals with writers to do some of the sales work for them. The scary advice for years now has been "build your writing platform," meaning market yourself, so much so that The Writer Mama, Christine Katz, has a popular #platformchat each week on Twitter.

This is no time for a writer to sit back and wait for a book deal or book sales. I mean, even the Oprah Winfrey Show is shutting down, and so there go dreams of being mentioned in her book club and selling millions with minimum effort or selling books based on great writing alone. Publishing houses lament Oprah's departure as well. The world keeps changing.

I haven't seriously considered attempting to sell a book to Harlequin since the 1990s, but like Jane Friedman who wrote last week at There Are No Rules, her WD blog, I see Harlequin's self-publishing experiment as part of a bigger picture that the smart writer must analyze. She concludes her educational and provocative post, in which she also tackles the vanity press stigma and whether writers can attract publishing houses by self-publishing first, with the following:

People like to say (and I've said too) that money should flow TO the writer, not AWAY from the writer.

But I can see a business model emerging where publishers work with authors in more diverse ways. What we've held to be sacred—that a writer should NEVER pay to publish—may change. Writers may pay agents, they may pay publishers. And it may turn out to be an accepted and ethical practice if done with transparency, honesty, and in the spirit of mutual benefit.

I'm not saying that Harlequin has got it right, at least not out of the gate. But it's an important step. I predict other publishers will follow, and the model will be improved and made more attractive. Just wait. (Jane at There Are No Rules)

Yes, this news and what it means is a lot to cogitate. So much so that it's possible Jane's post is longer than mine; however, her post is also definitely worth the read. It brings readers up to speed on why so much fuss has been made over Harlequin's announcement.

In the meantime, here are my two cents for writers. Wait, but don't wait too long. If you're a writer with a novel in her, life hasn't changed as much as you may think. You've still got to finish your book, and you still have to hope someone wants to read it other than you and your mom. Panic time's over, scribes. Back to work.

More Reading

  • Literary Agents, Bah! Who Needs Them?
  • Her tagline is "Tough love for writers, with Midwestern friendliness." On Jane Friedman: "Jane's like E.F.Hutton," the writer said, giving away her age. "When she talks, people listen."
    I am the publisher and editorial director of the Writer's Digest brand community at F+W Media in Cincinnati, Ohio, where I oversee Writer's Digest magazine, Writer’s Digest Books, and the Writer's Market series. Writer's Digest is the world’s #1 resource and community for writers, and for nearly 90 years has published the best-selling annual reference guide, Writer’s Market. I am the author of Beginning Writer’s Answer Book and maintain a blog on the industry as part of the Writer's Digest community, called There Are No Rules. I earned my BFA in creative writing from the University of Evansville (Indiana), and I also have an MA in English from Xavier University (Cincinnati). (About Jane)

Nordette Adams is a BlogHer.com CE, the New Orleans Literature Examiner, and the African American Books Examiner. See more at Her411.

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