What Stace had to say on Monday, November 23rd, 2009
Harlequin Horizons is not a self-publisher

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.

12 comments to “Harlequin Horizons is not a self-publisher”

  1. RJ Keller
    · November 23rd, 2009 at 1:15 pm · Link

    The link leads back to my blog, not Stacey’s, and there is no comment in moderation.

    My rant wasn’t directed at you, Stacia, nor at Jackie. It was an author in the chatbox who made the comment to me that my book isn’t “real” because it isn’t available in major bookstores. Was I insulted at that? Damn right, and the post you linked was my response. You and Jackie were (from what I could gather from the show, since my attention was focused on the chatbox) very gracious towards self-publishers and very concerned that upcoming writers would be taken advantage of by vanity publishers. It’s a concern I share, which is why I have always advocated that writers educate themselves about the publishing business…yes, BUSINESS.

    Further, my comment about ‘cookie cutter’ books wasn’t directed at your work in particular, since I’m not familiar with it. However, allow me to quote the crux of my post, in reference to the author in question’s books:

    “But I would never stand before you and say that those books aren’t ‘real’, or that the minds that produced them don’t belong to ‘real’ writers. I respect the creative process too much for that, as I do the hearts and minds of the readers who forked over their hard-earned money for those books.”

    • Stace
      · November 23rd, 2009 at 1:30 pm · Link

      Hi RJ,

      Thanks for commenting. I apologize for misconstruing your post as being directed at Jackie or myself; that’s frankly the way it was presented to me by the person who sent me the link.

      The first link I posted does go to Stacey’s blog, and it is there that my comments are still awaiting approval.

      I didn’t participate in the conversation in the chatbox, since I was smoking cigarettes in my garage throughout the discussion (my children were sleeping, and I would have had to keep my voice down had I stayed in the house by the computer). So I’m unaware of what took place there.

      I’m editing my post. My main comments still stand; my feelings are hurt and I feel I was misled. But I will remove the link to your post and my comments relating to it, and apologize again.

      I’d be very interested to hear your feelings on HQHo vs. self-publishing, should you choose at some time to express them.

      • RJ Keller
        · November 23rd, 2009 at 1:39 pm · Link

        I’m sorry my post was misrepresented to you. I can see how you’d take offense. (Your response was much more measured than mine…obviously. 😉 )

        I have a problem with Harlequin’s new venture. Writers whose manuscript is rejected are referred to their self-publishing company. “Sorry, your manuscript isn’t something we want to put OUR money behind, but please feel free to shell out YOUR money to us to publish your book.” It doesn’t sit right with me. Personally – and this is pure, cynical speculation – I think they know self-publishing is getting hot. They know that the authors they reject are starting to go to Lulu or Createspace or Authorhouse and they want a piece of the pie.

        I’m a self-published author, and proud of it, and I WANT to be able to get behind changes in the industry that are indie-favorable, and I think those changes are coming. But in addition to (in my opinion) taking advantage of writers, HH’s set up confirms every stereotype about self-published writers: We’re not good enough for ‘real’ publication…we’re so desperate to see our books in print that we’ll pay for the privilege…etc. I’m not desperate enough for ‘mainstream’ recognition to be happy about HH. It would make me feel like a dog sniffing around for crumbs, and I have too much self-respect – and too much respect for other indie authors – for that.

      • Stace
        · November 23rd, 2009 at 1:52 pm · Link

        Thanks! I’m glad you felt the actual verbal discussion was as pleasant as Jackie and myself did.

        I’m really glad you brought that up, about the reasons for self-publishing, because I found that offensive too. In comments at the Smart Bitches post on this, someone pointed out that the HQHo site had a list of “possible reasons” why using their vanity press was a good idea, and the vast majority of those reasons were things like, “Your ms has been rejected everywhere else.” Which does indeed present self-publishing as the last refuge of the unpublishable, which is obviously not always the case.

        Again, thanks for responding!

  2. synde
    · November 23rd, 2009 at 7:00 pm · Link

    go you..I am tired of seeing authors misrepresented 😉 simply because they are trying to educate people who would like to learn about publishing. Your comments and blogs have been a lesson to many of us…thank you!

  3. DeidraK
    · November 23rd, 2009 at 8:20 pm · Link

    I am very new to the self publishing v. commercial publishing conversation but the minute I read the new Harlequin deal, I felt sorry for those who think it’s a good deal. What Harlequin has stated about the venture should be a big slap in the face of those who are on the team of self publishing. Like how can this ever be legit in your eyes? How can this be cool to you?

    Paying? Really?!!?

  4. KL Grady
    · November 23rd, 2009 at 10:24 pm · Link

    You make excellent points across the board. I’m curious why your response is still in moderation over yonder, though. It seems like Mr. Cochran isn’t interested in actually discussing this. He pulled a HQHo with his bait-and-switch b/c he can’t control what folks will say on his show, and now he’ll moderate exactly how the “debate” goes at his blog. Classy!

    I’m glad calm, unwavering voices like yours continue to make clear the point that what HQ has to offer with its Ho imprint is NOT conducive to a career, whether traditional or indie. And until they unhook that cart, the whole publisher is unfortunately carrying a big, ugly V – scarlet letter-style. I’m all for expanding business models and trying to keep books available to the market, but I am absolutely against “models” that shaft the author and don’t even offer a reach-around.

    Keep preaching it.

  5. BernardL
    · November 24th, 2009 at 7:57 am · Link

    The real problem with self-publishing (ignoring the editing process) is the selling venue. The entire promotion of the book lies with the author. The one thing I learned on the internet before self-publishing anything is to never fall for the advertising gimmicks the self-publishing houses come up with.

  6. hagelrat
    · November 24th, 2009 at 2:25 pm · Link

    That’s a hideous business model and I am glad people are speaking out against things like this. Great post.

  7. writtenwyrdd
    · November 25th, 2009 at 8:47 am · Link

    That is a bait-and-switch tactic! How terrible to be treated like that, with a hidden agenda. I hope the podcast has not been edited to make you look like you were discussing something other than the actual conversation.

  8. Jackie Kessler
    · November 27th, 2009 at 11:21 am · Link

    Rock on, Stace.

    I’ve been blogging pretty extensively on the HQHo situation, and in the past week I’ve learned more about self publishing and so-called assisted self-publishing, or ASP presses (AKA vanity publishing) than I ever knew before.

    As Stace says, Harlequin’s new imprint, DellArte Press (previously called Harlequin Horizons) is **not** self-publishing. In a true self-publishing model…

    1. The author keeps 100% of the profit. Now to be fair, this point is more and more difficult to find in practice; even Lulu gets a commission or royalty after the author pays all the upfront fees for services. It’s extremely important for the ASP press to be completely transparent in its fee/royalty structure and not rake authors over the coals. Better yet: authors should go with a true POD press, like LightningSource, which is the press that Lulu outsources to.

    2. The author controls the ISBN.

    3. The author controls the brand. Whose name is on the spine? If it’s the publisher’s name then the author **has not self-published, period.**

    I respect authors who choose to go the self-publishing route. I think it shouldn’t be the first path to take, because frankly, it’s extremely difficult to do successfully (read: to produce a strong product that makes money). If you’re going to go this route, if you’re printing hard copy books, PLEASE look carefully at how you’ll be warehousing and distributing your books, and make sure you’re clear on whether your local bookseller will sell your books.

    I think the biggest problem with ASP presses is that they misrepresent what they are actually giving the author. An author who uses an ASP press is not self-published. And an author who uses an ASP press because no commercial/trade, small press or e-publisher (which I’ll now lump together as “commercial publishers”) would accept the manuscript may be doing this for the wrong reason. Yes, it’s distinctly possible that your book is so niche that commercial publishers wouldn’t know how to market it. Yes, it’s possible that your previous sales have been so low that commercial publishers think you’re not worth the risk. And it’s possible that your book is not the right fit for any commercial publisher’s imprint.

    It’s also very possible that your manuscript just isn’t that good.

    Yeah, I know: that sucks. But keep in mind that just because, thanks to technology, anyone can get their book printed doesn’t mean that everyone can write a good book.

    So before you decide to get a second mortgage to cover those ASP press costs, think long and hard **why** you’re choosing that path.

  9. darchole
    · November 28th, 2009 at 10:59 pm · Link

    Part of the problem is the very rare instance when somebody DOES get a publishing deal because they decided to self publish their own book (and I have a recent example Larry Correia and Monster Hunter International).

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