Pub Rants

Horizons Is Not Remotely Like Harper Studio Or Vanguard Press

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STATUS: Heading off for Thanksgiving Break. I won’t be back to blogging until Monday. Seems like bad timing with all that’s going on but don’t worry. We haven’t heard the last of it yet. If I hear any breaking news, I’ll try and update the blog.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? Nothing at the moment.

Today, Thomas Nelson Publishers joins the Harlequin hoopla in a ridiculous blog post. Ashley and Carolyn Grayson posted their response—to which I whole heartedly agree. I find it laughable that Hyatt believes that agents are speaking out against the ripping off of writers via vanity publishing arms because we see “self-publishing” as a threat.

As many commenters have already noted in my blog comments section, vanity publishing and self publishing are not the same. A distinction that Hyatt does not seem to understand. I suppose he also believes that venerated writing organizations such as RWA, MWA, and SFWA, all of which have a long tradition of helping and protecting writers, are similarly trying to keep the status quo by vehemently speaking out against such blatant ripping off of writers.

I also want to make this distinction.

When I spoke to an editorial director from Harlequin last week, the editor mentioned that “several other publishers were doing it.” The only difference was they didn’t announce their vanity publishing arm.

Incredulous, I had asked “like who?”

The editor could not respond with a list of names.

I’m wondering if the editor was erroneously comparing Harlequin Horizons to a legitimate publisher such as Vanguard Press or Harper Studio.

They are not remotely the same.

At Horizons, the writers are forced to pay for their work to be “published.” And forced to pay for “marketing” or anything else from a fee-oriented “menu” of choices. The writer foots the entire cost.

At VP and HS, the publishers pay for publication. The authors are not out any money from their pockets. Vanguard and Studio also commit a certain percentage of monies to the marketing/promotion as part of the plan. In lieu of the advance, there is an equal split of royalties between Publisher and Author.

And another key factor, at VP and HS, the books are available for wide distribution via traditional sales outlets just like a traditional publisher.

None of these things are true at Harlequin Horizons (or whatever they are calling it now).

And the most egregious part of Horizons? The fact that Harlequin planned to refer rejected authors to this option as a “viable” alternative.

As RWA, MWA, SFWA have all pointed out. That’s not legitimate publishing, it should not be advertised as so, and it’s just plain wrong.

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21 Responses

  1. Lisa Dez said:

    It’s pretty clear to everyone that the Author Solution deals with Harlequin and Thomas Nelson amounts to a cash grab on the part of those publishers. Whether others will follow suit remains to be seen. I can’t help but think that only the most uninformed writers would actually think this was a good option with the other self-pubishing opportunities out there.

    Personally, self-pubbing isn’t a route I would take, but I just posted about Smashwords’ distribution deal with Amazon, B&N and Sony. Why would you pay Harlequin, Thomas Nelson, or anyone else to publish a paper copy of your book if Smashwords will publish your e-book for free with distribution channels through the largest book distributors in the world?

    In truth, I think this is the bigger threat to dilute the literary pool.

    (sorry, couldn’t get the link to work)

  2. Laura said:

    I’ve noticed a lot of the same things that Kristin touches on here–overall, the misguided assumption that anyone who objects to the egregious practices of vanity publishing must be “threatened” by it or, at the very least, out of touch with “new technologies” and the “changing marketplace.”

    As a career novelist, of COURSE I’m not “threatened” by vanity press; I would never fall for such a scam, so I am completely safe from it.

    I also know that anyone who does fall for such a scam is never going to compete with me for readers or contracts, but will instead be busy emptying their pockets for “services” which will result only in them having a garage full of expensively self-published novels. I am heartsick for some of those people (and, to be candid, simply exasperated by many others, since they were warned); but not threatened. (Moreover, if I were threatened by -actual- competition, then I wouldn’t be in this business, since I compete against the best of the best every day. That’s just part of my job as a working novelist.)

    As for “new technology” and “new marketplace” issues…this implies that there is anything “new” at ALL about vanity “publishing”–which is not the case. Vanity publishing has been around for decades, and the practice has been condemned in the official written policies of every major writing org and respected writers watchdog group for decades. And for good reason: It’s a con, a swindle, a scam; it takes advantage of desperate aspiring writers. And I don’t like seeing a vanity press sh*tting in the kitchen of the industry where I eat every day, thanks.

    Nor does the familiar old practice of vanity “publishing” become “new” when marketing mavens give it a different sobriquet, such as “subsidy” publishing or (wait for it!) “assisted” publishing. It’s still the same old gargoyle, dressed up in an outfit that doesn’t disguise its age or its hideous face.

  3. Ellen B said:

    I agree with Ashley Grayson – the most interesting part of Hyatt’s blog post was his declaration that self-published books don’t reach traditional outlets, and so don’t matter anyway. I had to re-read that one several times to make sure it said what I thought it did.

    I have read quite a few posts by various agents who feel that agent blogs, to some degree, are preaching to the choir – the kind of aspiring writers who read them may be the ones who need their advice the least (I’ve usually seen this when agents post repeatedly about submission guidelines, while acknowledging their regular readers probably don’t need to be told again). It follows, then, that most blogging agents probably believe that their regular readers are less likely to be convinced to go down an expensive and misleading route to publication.

    And yet, since the Harlequin announcement, the prevailing mood seems to be concern for the writers who are least likely to be aware of this debate (the ones who don’t research submission guidelines, or send unrequested fulls, or query with incomplete manuscripts. . .) – the ones most vulnerable to exploitation by publishing ‘developments’ that they haven’t fully researched. I’m pretty gratified that no one has said ‘Well, if people are foolish enough to be taken in, if they aren’t checking Writer Beware, that’s their problem.’ I like that so many members of the publishing community are concerned for the finances and the futures of the kind of writers they may never have been likely to make money from anyway. Kind of refutes Mr. Hyatt’s allegations of self-interest, doesn’t it? 🙂

    Please excuse the massive generalisations above. I tried being tactful 🙂 It’s just a counter argument I expected to see somewhere, and haven’t, and I’m very happy about it.

  4. Anonymous said:

    Funny that he’d think that Harlequin Horizons would threaten agents. As an unpubl. author who writes category, I now feel that, more than ever, I need an agent to guide and protect me through all this. An agent who can help find another market for my book, if necessary. The problem is that I’m left wondering if agents will even touch a category manuscript right now…given that HQ has been the biggest market for them. I’m also wondering…what are the chances that some other major publisher(s)takes advantage of this and starts their own category line…to pick up the pieces and offer category authors and alternative. It would be a smart move.

  5. Anonymous said:

    I’m not entirely sure I understand the objection. Nobody’s being forced to give Harlequin one cent. If people wanna give a publisher money for no good reason, that’s fine with me. I’m all for publisher profitability.

    If people think they’re getting something worthwhile for their money, good for them. If they don’t, they won’t part with the case. If they don’t understand what they’re paying for before they pay for it, this is the least of their problems.

  6. Susan Helene Gottfried said:

    I think what bothers me the most isn’t that they’re doing this referral business. If they and Thomas Nelson would quit with the referrals and simply market their … options … as a separate business, I’d be fine with it.

    I’m the minority here, I know, in that this is my only issue with the whole business. That’s okay. I usually swim against the crowd, at least in part.

  7. Anonymous said:

    It seems to me that in a world where these publishes have opened their doors to a flood of submissions by anyone with a check in hand agents would become more important than ever. Doing the work of reading the books they might actually publish the “old fashioned” way, the agent basically becomes a member of their team.
    Most Christian houses haven’t accepted unagented material for a very long time, btw, so this comment comes off as petty and frankly more than a little pissy.

    It all is just so unbecoming as professionals (the way this is being handled, the way it is presented in blogs and websites of publishers) but as a Christian myself, more so by people who have set themselves up in positions of authority among others of their faith and as a high profile representation of the faithful. It makes me sad, and I feel a little bit slimy reading that blog (and btw, am also pubbed in multiple lines at Harl and feel differently about their eye rolling explanations 🙂 because, well, they have never set themselves up as something above or apart from the grubby business of making money – for which I am grateful as royalty season is funding my holidays)

  8. Dara said:

    I agree. It’s very wrong! The whole thing makes my blood boil. And in most ways I agree with the decisions by RWA, MWA and SWFA.

    However, though they have had a “long tradition” in helping authors, I do wonder how they’re going to be helping those authors published under Harlequin imprints who are now left out in the cold…

  9. weeklyvista said:

    I don’t write category romance or Christian, but this entire thing makes me think of a saying I hear often in corporate America: “It’s not personal; it’s business.” I can’t speak for you, but whenever I hear this statement — and I’ve heard it plenty of times over the years in meetings, usually when business is going bad or a project is failing — I cover up my butthole. Fast. You never want be on the other end of this statement, this laissez-faire motto that gives the speaker carte blanche to do whatever is necessary in the pursuit of a dollar. Never.
    Rookie writers beware.

  10. Christine said:

    Another poster commented about her fear that agents might not want to look at unpublished authors who are targeting Category Romance. This sentiment echoed my fears as well. But I have hope that the situation will reverse itself. Meanwhile, I must rethink my own career strategy and consider taking what I’ve learned over the past few years and apply the lessons to a bigger book. My goals were simple: 3 category lengths a year and then segue into 2 category, 1 single title (preferably a YA as that’s what I’m simmering on the back burner). But now I may change to 1 category and two STs. We’ll see what happens over the next few months.

    And yes, VP have been around a long time. Anybody remember THE WALTONS? John Boy got sucked into a Vanity Press nightmare in an episode. I never forgot that one.

    Now I know why… his betrayal, guilt at using his folks’ money, his pain were very real. I’d hate to put that on my family.

  11. terripatrick said:

    Thanks for this post, Kristen.
    I have bookmarked Harper Studios and Vanguard Press as possible publishers to review for my memoir.

    Too many have suggested a self-pub model for my memoir that I have been researching options, so again, thanks for the information about them.

  12. Jeff King said:

    It just firmly plants in my mind how important an Agent is.

    Thx for the post. One day I hope to be lucky enough to be your client, and put your skills and considerable knowledge to work for me…

  13. JDuncan said:

    One of the things that bugs me the most about this is the notion that writers have the choice to do this kind of venture, and if they don’t know better, well, that’s their problem and too bad they’re too ignorant or stupid to figure out what these ventures are all about. It’s all the better for us writers who do know what the deal is and thus, less competition for readers, yada-yada. Uhm, no.

    Vanity pubs work on taking advantage of writer ignorance, and not so much on what they offer. I think most are pretty upfront about what they offer and what it costs. The dupe comes in convincing writers that any of the services will make a difference to a writing career. The scam is leading writers to believe the publishing through them will offer any real chance of success, i.e. finding readers, increasing one’s chances of future publication, etc. The fact is, they don’t.

    For us who know how these places work to say “too bad” to those writers who don’t have a full understanding of how this industry works, is wrong. It’s up to us to be vocal and explain to all writers that these are scams, pure and simple, a way to get the writer’s money with no return on investment.

  14. Love, from Lexie said:

    I guess I would be one of the authors who were sucked in by the scam of the vanity press. I really believed that AuthorHouse would be the way I could learn about how the publishing business worked and I guess I did in a way. I learned that Borders here in Columbus (the same people who hosted Sarah Palin recently) rudely demanded I leave the bookstore when I asked if I could put my book The Rabbit Trap in their store. The Manager told me no matter how much AuthorHouse promised me he would have to read my book to make sure it was not crap. When I gave him a book to read, he refused to read it.

    I attended a local Romantic Writer’s Conference and met Sarah. I pitched my book to her. She was seemingly excited about The Rabbit Trap and asked for me to submit it. I did only to have it rejected. Ok. I can deal. But I soon read that most agents will not consider self published books.

    Last Christmas I was to have a book signing locally. This was an invitation that was extended from the same Writer’s Conference. I organized several other authors to join me thinking it would expand our marketing opportunities. When I took my posters into the store to advertise the signing, another manager of the store informed me they cancelled the event. I asked why. They would not tell me.

    My education of self publishing has been valuable. My book The Rabbit Trap is about a girl who involves herself in prescription drugs and it has been able to educate young people and their parents to the dangers.It isn’t crap as the Border manager alleged, I was able to earn an award for this book.

    I only wish there was a way that all the new authors who are looking at self publishing as an option could be warned about the prejudice that is out there so they could brace themselves if they do take this step.

  15. Lee Goldberg said:

    MWA Delists Harlequin

    The Board of Mystery Writers of America voted unanimously on Wednesday to remove Harlequin and all of its imprints from our list of Approved Publishers, effective immediately. We did not take this action lightly. We did it because Harlequin remains in violation of our rules regarding the relationship between a traditional publisher and its various for-pay services.

    What does this mean for current and future MWA members?

    Any author who signs with Harlequin or any of its imprints from this date onward may not use their Harlequin books as the basis for active status membership nor will such books be eligible for Edgar® Award consideration. However books published by Harlequin under contracts signed before December 2, 2009 may still be the basis for Active Status membership and will still be eligible for Edgar® Award consideration (you may find the full text of the decision at the end of this bulletin).

    Although Harlequin no longer offers its eHarlequin Critique Service and has changed the name of its pay-to-publish service, Harlequin still remains in violation of MWA rules regarding the relationship between a traditional publisher and its various for-pay services.

    MWA does not object to Harlequin operating a pay-to-publish program or other for-pay services. The problem is HOW those pay-to-publish programs and other for-pay services are integrated into Harlequin’s traditional publishing business. MWA’s rules for publishers state:

    “The publisher, within the past five years, may not have charged a fee to consider, read, submit, or comment on manuscripts; nor may the publisher, or any of the executives or editors under its employ, have offered authors self-publishing services, literary representation, paid editorial services, or paid promotional services.

    If the publisher is affiliated with an entity that provides self-publishing, for-pay editorial services, or for-pay promotional services, the entities must be wholly separate and isolated from the publishing entity. They must not share employees, manuscripts, or authors or interact in any way. For example, the publishing entity must not refer authors to any of the for-pay entities nor give preferential treatment to manuscripts submitted that were edited, published, or promoted by the for-pay entity.

    To avoid misleading authors, mentions and/or advertisements for the for-pay entities shall not be included with information on manuscript submission to the publishing company. Advertising by the publisher’s for-pay editorial, self-publishing or promotional services, whether affiliated with the publisher or not, must include a disclaimer that it is advertising and that use of those services offered by an affiliate of the publisher will not affect consideration of manuscripts submitted for publication.”

    Harlequin’s Publisher and CEO Donna Hayes responded to our November 9 letter, and a follow up that we sent on November 30. In her response, which we have posted on the MWA website, Ms. Hayes states that Harlequin intends as standard practice to steer the authors that it rejects from its traditional publishing imprints to DellArte and its other affiliated, for-pay services. In addition, Harlequin mentions on the DellArte site that editors from its traditional publishing imprints will be monitoring DellArte titles for possible acquisition. It is this sort of integration that violates MWA rules.

    MWA has a long-standing regard for the Harlequin publishing house and hopes that our continuing conversations will result in a change in their policies and the reinstatement of the Harlequin imprints to our approved list of publishers.

    Frankie Y. Bailey,
    Executive Vice President, MWA

  16. Anonymous said:

    This is interesting. My brother has just been sent a contract by Vanguard Press and they want over 2,000 Pounds up front for publication of his novel. Starts to sound like a vanity press to me.

  17. Anonymous said:

    i have been sent a letter asking for a “financial commitment” from me as author for my debut novel , from vanguard press/pegasus m. are they ever open to negotiation?

  18. asha sahana said:

    I have just been offered a contract McKenzie,Pegasus/Vanguard press They have had my book for 8months, after the first four months they asked for the full manuscrpt, then after another four months they said they were sending me a contract for their 2010 list, the contact arrived with a clause that I should pay 2,500UK pounds over 10 months, and if my book was not published in 365 days, then they had a further 90 days to publish it. In none of their correspondence did they say they were vp and would demand a lot of money….a little unfair to raise peoples hopes and no promise of the book being published in the first year. Writers beware