So Friday night my friend Jackie Kessler and I were invited to discuss the Harlequin Horizons situation on a podcast TV show. We readily agreed. I can’t speak for Jackie’s motives absolutely but knowing her as I do I assume they were the same as mine: to let people know that HWHo was a Bad Deal, that it is misleading, that it serves only to pour money into HQ’s coffers on the backs of aspiring writers.
Joining us were two other commercially published writers, Simon Wood and Paul Clayton, as well as the host and two other self-published writers.
I was excited to have the discussion. I enjoyed it immensely. I felt it was a lovely, civil, and fun conversation, respectful all around, and that we all managed to agree that vanity publishing along the lines of the HQHo model–whereby authors are charged exorbitant amounts of money and fed empty promises in exchange was something writers, whether they are commercially published or self-published, should not countenance or participate in.
Let me make something very clear, because I’m seeing confusion on this issue that frankly astounds me. The HQHo model is NOT a self-publishing model.
I have, as I’ve said here before and as I said on the show Friday night, absolutely nothing against self-publishing. There are some excellent self-published books out there. There are a lot of writers who feel that this is the way they want to go, and is the wave of the future. And that’s fine.
But let’s analyze the differences between what the self-published authors are doing, and what HQHo wants its customers to do. I’m going to use my Strumpet series as an example, because as I’ve said here before, I do have tentative plans to self-publish the thing one of these days.
Were I to do that, I would go to Lulu.com. I would upload the document into their system, choose a format (or more than one; ebook and paperback, for example), and set a price; probably either at cost or maybe a dollar over it. I could remove the file at any time. I would be using my rights as the copyright holder myself. I would be buying an ISBN for it (if I chose to) myself, and would own that ISBN. I would design a cover, if I wanted. I could advertise the book as much or as little as I liked; surely I’d link to it on my blog and site, and when I get emails about it (as I still do) I’d direct those readers to the Lulu page. I’d be solely responsible for the marketing and advertising. I could, for example, choose to pay Kirkus Discoveries a couple of hundred dollars to review it.
For this I would pay nothing. If and when people chose to buy the book, Lulu would earn the cost of producing that copy and I would make whatever amount was paid by the reader over that production cost.
In short: I pay nothing, I control everything, and I keep all the profits. That is self-publishing. (It’s a tad more complicated than that, yes, but I’m trying to strip it down to its essence for the sake of clarity.)
Now, what if I wanted to print the series through HQHo?
First I’d pay anywhere from $600-upwards of $2000 just to get HQHo to agree to print the book. I would sign an agreement with them whereby I agreed to give them that money and at the very least, the rights to publish it. I’d pay more for them to design a cover. More for them to assign it an ISBN, which I would not own. More for them to list the book. More for them to send it to review sites–several hundred dollars over the cost of the review itself, in fact. Heck, if I wanted to, I could pay $20,000 for them to produce a “Hollywood book trailer”–a service other companies will perform for less than 1/4 that cost, and that I could do for free.
If and when a copy of the book sells, I would get 50% of the net monies received; that is, half of the money after whatever expenses HQHo claims, which makes no sense since I have paid all those expenses up front.
Here’s what I don’t understand. All of the self-published authors I’ve ever met are passionate about self-publishing and the benefits they feel they get from it. They want to have complete control over their work. They want to make the largest amount of money they can for that work. That is absolutely their right.
So why, then, are self-published authors not condemning this vanity business model? Why are they not discussing that writers don’t need to pay thousands of dollars to a big corporation like Author Solutions in order to self-publish, that it can be done on their own, and that by doing it on their own they get to keep control and keep all the profits?
I thought, in the discussion we had Friday night, that we were all in agreement that vanity publishing in this fashion was wrong, and that it mislead authors. I thought we were all in agreement that while self-publishing can be beneficial in some circumstances, and there is nothing inherently wrong with self-publishing (save the difficulties in distribution, etc.) vanity publishing simply cost too much and provided too little benefit. I thought we’d had a friendly and respectful conversation.
Apparently I was wrong. Turns out, Jackie, Simon, Paul, and myself are simply scared that self-published books will put us out of business, in addition to being elitists.
I don’t quote or link to that post in order to pick fights. I quote and link to it to demonstrate how incredibly disappointed I am, and how I feel I was lied to and misled.
At this time, my long comment in response to Mr. Cochran’s post has still not been approved. In it I expressed my disappointment, and how had I known the purpose of the show was to debate the validity of self-publishing I would have altered my comments accordingly. I feel as though I was bait-and-switched; i.e. told I was discussing one thing, when really the discussion was about something else, and that I was deliberately misled so that certain conclusions could be drawn from my comments.
Certainly I’m hurt on a personal level that my feelings on the topic of HQHo and its vanity press model, and my sincere desire to help writers, are taken as proof that I’m selfish, greedy, and jealous, and just want to keep those more talented than myself down.
I’m sorry, but I don’t believe at all that NY publishing is so out of touch with real people that they are incapable of choosing books people like to read. The mere presence of NYT bestsellers and literary phenomenons like Twilight belie that statement. Sure, Twilight may not be your cup of tea; you may think it’s a lousy book. But you cannot deny that a NY editor read it, thought, “Readers will like this,” and was correct in that assessment.
Just because YOU don’t like it, doesn’t mean other readers won’t. Publishing is a BUSINESS. That business is SELLING BOOKS TO READERS. Just because YOU do not like those readers’ tastes, doesn’t mean they aren’t entitled to have them or that publishers aren’t entitled to cater to them.
Do great books get passed over every day because of the bottom line? Sure. Does that mean everything that does get published is watered-down same-same crap? No, any more than all self-published books are crap. No, I don’t believe self-publishing is best for everyone; remember, the average self-published book only sells 75 copies or so. But for some it can absolutely work, and I’ve never denied that.
And none of this changes the fact that I would expect someone who has self-published, who has learned about self-publishing and is an advocate of it, to see that HQHo is NOT self-publishing, and to be just as concerned about educating new writers about the difference and how they can truly self-publish and not pay through the nose, as those of us who are commercially published. I would have expected that self-published authors and self-publishing advocates would be just as vocal as we’ve been in trying to educate writers, and not use this as an opportunity to play “You NY writers are hacks running scared from us.”
But I guess that’s just my selfishness talking.