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TROUBLE IN PARADISE

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 20, 2009

Writers loops are abuzz with discussion over the bomb dropped by Harlequin, the renowned romance publisher, that they are starting a vanity press originally called Harlequin Horizons. Due to protests in the professional writing community, they’ve issued a notice saying they will change the name to one that does not mention Harlequin at all.

Vanity presses are unscrupulous publishing houses that make profits from aspiring writers instead of profits from book sales. Why is this wrong? Because writers have to pay vanity presses to publish their work, not the other way around as with a traditional publisher who pays an advance against royalties. Writers who pay to have their work published are denied recognition in professional writing organizations.

Both RWA and MWA have already taken measures to challenge Harlequin’s status on their approved publisher list. This would make their legitimately published authors ineligible for the RITA or EDGAR Awards. Now SFWA has stepped up to the plate and issued a statement as well: http://tinyurl.com/yj4x8eu

Adding fuel to the fire is the paid editorial service Harlequin offers. Publishers who make referrals to editing services also prey on unpublished writers, who may become so frustrated with the submission process that they hire book editors to improve their work and make it more saleable. They believe they’ll become rich and famous once a book editor fixes their work and it sells. But having someone else edit your work doesn’t teach you the principles of writing. It doesn’t train you for a long term career. It’s the easy way out. Nor does it guarantee a sale.

Either venture is a way to take advantage of naive writers. Newbies may feel that acceptance into Harlequin’s vanity press program gives them a chance to have their book picked up for the traditional route. It’s unlikely, seeing how the slush pile for the regular Harlequin lines are huge enough. Are those editors really going to be looking for more manuscripts?

Harlequin has been a highly respected name in publishing forever. We’ll have to see how this plays out. Publishing is in a flux and change is inevitable, but this one doesn’t help writers. It helps the big corporation that will make money off inexperienced writers desperate to see their books in print.

More discussion online:

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books

Writer Beware

Ashley Grayson Blog

Jackie Kessler Blog

Pub Rants

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One Response to “TROUBLE IN PARADISE”

  1. I’m glad at least to see that the immediate and forceful reaction of the writing community has pressured Harlequin into taking their imprint off these books. It doesn’t solve the problem, but it’s a start (it’s kind of like the smaller kids finally standing up to the big bully). I do hate to see Harlequin’s many wonderful authors, who have adhered to the RWA’s guidelines for publication, being barred from the Rita and other PAN privileges. They shouldn’t be penalized for the company’s bad business practices.

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