Unreasonable Expectations

So Harlequin Horizons. seereus auther

I debated on whether I should post about this. But sometimes I just can’t be silent. This is one of those times.

I’m not with Harlequin. I have no dog in this fight. I’m not aspiring. I’m not interested in self-publishing or vanity publishers (this is an example of the latter). I’m not looking to sell anything at the moment. I have enough work to be going on with for quite a good while. That makes me pretty impartial, inasmuch as I can be.

A traditional publisher going into vanity publishing bothers me. But here is why I am particularly bothered. Go and read the verbiage in the press release. Add that to the descriptions of the packages. Go on, read some of it. I’ll quote some for effect:

“The Booksellers Package is designed for authors who desire to leave a lasting legacy in the form of a hardcover book. A hardcover book shows the world that you are a serious author ready to make your mark on the writing world.”

“Have you always dreamt about being the center of attention at a book signing event featuring you, the published author? If so, then the Marketing Plus Package is for you.”

If those bits don’t set off warning bells, I’ll be really surprised. It’s not about whether someone chooses to self-publish or go vanity press. It’s about the expectations within those parameters. Between the packages and the press release, Harlequin is painting a vivid picture of what it will be like for those who go this route.

Every author believes in herself. She has to believe she’ll make it someday. So she looks at Harlequin as a better option because of the name. The price is a little higher, sure, but so many benefits! She’ll pay this money up front, but she’ll make it up in contracts. It’s actually like a shortcut out of the slushpile. So much better than waiting and querying!

But how many people is this going to be true for? How many Christopher Paolinis will be discovered in the HQN “reader slush pile”? And how many more may have kept on slogging without that false hope? How many would never have done this if not for Harlequin’s name?

And that, in a nutshell, is my objection. Comments welcome.

ETA: This is not even the biggest problem. New information has revealed that in each HQN rejection, the author will receive a reference to the Horizons program. We’re told this is okay because the authors will have to “opt-in.” Yesterday, I predicted something like this might be in the works, and if it was an agent doing this to rejected clients, we’d all be screaming bloody murder. In what world is this okay?

More ETA:

Romance Writers of America’s mission and purpose is to advocate for the professional interests of career-focused romance writers and, despite recent changes within Harlequin Enterprise, we have not wavered from that mission. RWA does not have any professional partnership or collaboration with Harlequin Horizons, including its self-publishing marketing package.

The Board of Directors and Executive Director took the necessary steps to remove mention of RWA’s Romance Sells catalog from the Harlequin Horizons Web site.

Michelle Monkou
RWA President

I am hoping this is not the end. I am hoping this is the first step.

Still more ETA: HQN is claiming that this is an author-facing brand. That is, you can trust them with your book because they’re HQN. but you’re not actually going to get any brand association for your money. So don’t worry, paid authors, your brand won’t be diluted! I’m not alone in thinking this is rather a lot of double-talk and less than reassuring.

On royalties: The content is completely owned by the author. Royalties are 50% net from both eBooks and print.

Even more ETA, the fun never stops!! “An author called the number listed on the HarlHo site. She got a representative who sounded like they were reading a script who advised that, ‘with your book available, other editors in New York will read it. You may receive offers from publishers such as Harper Collins and Random House. And
Harlequin Horizon will field these offers for you.'”


Posted in rant

51 Responses to Unreasonable Expectations

  1. I agree–all else aside, the way they’re presenting this new venture of theirs strikes me as slimy. The verbiage reads as thought calculating how to lure in the unwary (you’re not a “serious author” unless you get the hardcover package!). Intentional on the their part or no, this sets off the alarm bells big time.

  2. Hart says:

    Seems to me there are definitely the risks you mentioned, but also a cheapening of the brand ‘Harlequin’. If I had a traditional contract with them, I’d be pissed.

    • AnonnyNon says:

      I’m skipping the party. I think all REAL HQ authors should boycott it, personally. Let the powers-that-be schmooze with no one but the gate-crashers and wannabes.

      Used to be that the party was a celebration not for RWA, but for their authors. That went away a long time ago. Now, it’s a free-for-all, but I’m sure if the majority of their authors did not come, they might wonder how to justify the expense since $$ is all they seem to care about.

  3. I hadn’t read the press release, but you’re absolutely right on this one, babe. Good call.

  4. I hadn’t considered it until now, but there are certain major advantages to being broke. Even had I wanted to go with one of these vanity presses I couldn’t have afforded it. I have no dog in this fight either, but I am concerned. This isn’t like PublishAmerica or some other no-name outfit taking advantage of folks. Presumably their reach is limited. Harlequin is a huge corporation with instant name-recognition. I think it’s unfortunate that they’ve chosen this route.

    • Ann Aguirre says:

      Which is exactly my problem with it. Many people will see this is a shortcut & worth the investment when the odds are, it’s not going to get them anywhere, and they might well be better off with a less cost prohibitive option, if they’re really committed to self-publishing, marketing themselves & their books, flogging it at fairs and cons and all that jazz. It’s very concerning.

  5. The situation worries me in so many ways… Thanks for addressing it, Ann. Without the Harlequin name, this venture would essentially be Lulu.com or any of the other vanity presses that have sprung up. But being able to say that you were published by *Harlequin*… *sigh*

    Don’t get me wrong–if you want to self-publish, do. There will *always* be great stories overlooked by publishers because of trends and other things that have little to do with a manuscript’s real potential. For some people, self-publishing is perfect. This really feels like a marketing name game to me (and how long until some disgruntled author starts referring to it as HQN Ho, shortening the moniker b/c of restricted Tweet length?). So many things with this could go wrong. Their presentation to encourage authors to shell out more $–to take a bigger risk–to *prove* their commitment and belief in themselves? Sad.

    I hope I’m wrong on this, but some people in a position like the one Harlequin now finds itself in might be tempted to reject manuscripts they’d normally reject but add onto that rejection a *helpful* mention that there’s always the Horizon option… Harlequin will make money either way.

    While I’m worried this new venture of theirs may speak of a desperate attempt to gain market shares, I’m much more worried about aspiring authors who hold Harlequin in their hearts as something special–aspiring authors who will wind up shelling out a grand and hoping they’ll get the same treatment in bookstores and at events as their NYC published competitors. Of course, perhaps my writer’s imagination is running away with me. Perhaps this is *exactly* what the publishing industry needs and exactly what aspiring authors need, too. I truly hope Harlequin doesn’t lose the respect of their already established authors and audience as a result of this.

  6. Anon says:

    The respect is GONE.

    Speaking for myself, I will never let my agent sub anything to HQN again. I don’t want to be tarred with that brush. I also think RWA should boot them, but they probably won’t. Which means some of us are talking about boycotting nationals. I had gone every year before this for years but I just don’t know if I can keep paying my money to an organization that has so little integrity.

    Come on, RWA. Do the right thing.

    • Anyone says:

      hahaaaaa like that’ll happen! RWA and Harlequin are too busy sucking face and making babies.

      Now it looks like Harlequin is cheating on RWA.

      Will they find out?

      Stay tuned for the next episode of As The Author Gets Screwed!

  7. Um, I happen to have two hardcover books out. I don’t think they are any more “serious” than my three straight-to-paperback books out. And I know plenty of authors every bit as serious as me (and far more successful) who have NEVER had a hardcover out.

    I’ve seen blogs that are all “what’s the big deal?” Well, clearly those bloggers weren’t aspiring writers on the eHQ boards (as I was) constantly being told that if we just bought the Harlequin critique package, we’d have a better chance of sales *to* Harlequin.

  8. Annanon says:

    For the low price of three thousand bucks, you too can be a harlequin author. Without the hard work those authors who sold their books put in.

    Forget all the things we’ve told you over the years about putting in the work to make your book better. We’ll take your money and sell you our brand. Money is far better than effort.

    Just wondering how Romance Sells ads can be included in their marketing “package” when Romance Sells ads are currently limited to PAN eligible books and last time I checked, vanity and subsidy publishers were not PAN eligible.

  9. DeAnn says:

    I think this is a pathetic way for Harlequin to prostitute whatever name recognition that they have to feed their bottom line at the expense of aspiring authors dreams.
    It is cruel to lure people with false hopes and promises of fame and fortune and then just take their money and leave them with some poorly written slop of a romance novel that no one but family will ever want to read. Vanity presses and self publishers are just evil, IMHO.
    I used to work at a newspaper in a town full of wealthy people who flocked to self publishers when they retired, and I often had to read the books they paid big money to publish, and in 8 years, I can honestly say that no more than 3 of those books were worth the paper they were printed on. Most were full of typos, unedited, poorly written pieces of crap. Even the covers were bad. And a vast majority of these self pubbed authors were unhappy with their publishers and the quality of their books…and most of them didn’t sell more than a handful. Harlequin should be ashamed of itself, and I agree that the RWA should boot them off the roster.

  10. Barb Ferrer says:

    It’s not about whether someone chooses to self-publish or go vanity press. It’s about the expectations within those parameters. Between the packages and the press release, Harlequin is painting a vivid picture of what it will be like for those who go this route.

    This, this, this, this, a thousand times this. Because it’s all so very unrealistic. The verbiage contained within the editorial “packages” alone make me shudder.

    Harlequin Horizons editors follow the premier style guide, the Chicago Manual of Style, so you can rest assured that our professionals will give your book world-class treatment. You can also be confident that throughout the process, you maintain editorial control, ensuring that your book is still your book in the end.

    This isn’t editing. This is copyediting with a side of stroking the would-be author’s ego. And sets up an entirely unrealistic expectation of what the publishing process is really like. Over and over, throughout the site, they maintain that the author retains complete creative control, that nothing will be done to a book without the author’s final approval.

    I’m paraphrasing Richard Castle here by saying I think I’ve just learned all the possible definitions of skeevy.

    • Amie Stuart says:

      I think I’ve just learned all the possible definitions of skeevy.

      I gotta go with Barb here. The whole thing just leaves a very nasty taste in my mouth *snort* for reasons others have already stated.

      Like you, Ann I have no dog in the Harlequin hunt either but the whole thing just smacks of those sleezy ads you see in the back of tabloids etc.

  11. katiebabs says:

    Thanks Ann for posting about this. I was confused at first about what Harlequin was doing.

  12. Melissa Blue says:

    I’m seeing in almost of these discussions that people who wouldn’t normally be misled, will be because it’s Harlequin. But, from the verbiage they are targeting a very small pool of people. People who only want to be published. People whose only dream is to be published i.e. hold a book in their hands. An author who has no idea about the industry–any of the current business models.

    I do find that scuzzy on some level. But, I, at one point in time lived and breathed the eharlequin site like the person above. They do offer a critique service for a price. They do tell you if you want to know how to write for a certain line to buy, buy, buy. They make it known when someone who is a part of the community sells to Harlequin. As if to say, see you can totally do it too.

    To me it’s the same thing as “At Harlequin Horizons, we hope to help aspiring authors of romance and women’s fiction fulfill their dreams of publishing and reach their goals.” It’s absolutely more in your face.

    But, I truly think people are underestimating newbie authors. Also, I’ve said this elsewhere, there is a huge difference between desperate and naive. Desperate will believe anything no questions asked. Even when faced with reality. Naive still has the ability to learn and grow and not fall for anyone hoping to sell them a dream, no matter the name behind it.

    • tehawesomesauce says:

      But, from the verbiage they are targeting a very small pool of people. People who only want to be published. People whose only dream is to be published i.e. hold a book in their hands. An author who has no idea about the industry–any of the current business models.

      I think the problem is that they aren’t targeting a very small group of people. The pool they are targeting is HUGE. If you take a stroll through the Bewares and Background Checks board at Absolutewrite.com you’ll see a ton of the horror stories from people who didn’t know the difference between vanity publishing and traditional publishing. Slapping a well known name on the front makes this even harder for some to understand.

      Now, I know that folks have the responsibility to do their due diligence before submitting to anyone, but when you’re looking down the barrel of forty or fifty rejection slips from agents, well, self publishing can seem like a pretty good answer.


    • XandraG says:

      You’d think that only the truly uninformed would fall for something like this, but that’s not the case. Try googling “how to publish a novel” and the first two pages are all vanity publishers. I answered several emails just last night from chapter members who were honestly confused over this–and they aren’t n00bs by any stretch–they honestly thought that this was somehow more legit than going through, say, AuthorHouse *cough* because it had the Harlequin name on it. So no, this isn’t targeted to the n00bs and rubes, but they are hoping we’ll all fall for it, aren’t they?

      And the key is–they’re NOT buying anything Harlequin. AuthorSolutions will be running the whole thing–the Harlequin brand is targeted towards the author, not the reader. If they’re collecting money from authors, why bother selling to readers?

      This is a pink-frosted crap sandwich.

  13. Ann Aguirre says:

    Melissa, I have a hard time with any argument that builds on the premise that only a few people will suffer.

    • Melissa Blue says:

      Didn’t mean to make it sound like I agreed or that it was ok. Just saying Harlequin is
      acting like a business–bottom line trumps all–which doesn’t surprise me. All we as authors can do is educate.

  14. katiebabs says:

    Aw no big Harlequin bash at nationals in July? *pout*

    • Anon says:

      I hope to hell you’re kidding. Because if that’s what you care about — a stupid party? — that’s the saddest thing I’ve ever heard. Anyone who gives a shit will be skipping the stupid, scum-sucking HQN party this year, if the evil empire isn’t banned.

      As if it ever would be.

      But it will be fun to see how the RWA board justifies keeping the sugar daddy on the chain.

      • katiebabs says:

        Of course I’m kidding! This really brings a lot of questions regarding the state of how Harlequin will publish in the future and RWA’s stance on many things. And because Harlequin is one of the biggest publisher for romance and spends a lot of money at nationals, especially the party they throw, RWA has a lot to think about regarding them.

  15. haha, Katie FWIW they do know how to throw a party. I have to say I’m shocked. People who are willing to shortcut, people who might not really have the chops to write, are going to hand over their hard earned cash. Shame on harlequin.

  16. Ann Aguirre says:

    It’s very concerning, as I said earlier, because romance labors enough with credibility problems. When you start stirring in the chunks of questionable ethics, it gets to be quite a chewy nougat.

  17. Anonamouse says:

    The question nobody is asking here is a fairly important one. How many times have people gotten up in arms about agents who “reject” a book and then refer it to some book doctor or editor friend?

    Doesn’t anyone else see the potential problems here? Harlequin rejects a book. They then offer a coupon for their Horizons program with the suggestion an author’s work could be picked if up sales indicate great demand. And that’s not WRONG?

    Diana already said they used to push their crit service. Is it such a stretch they’ll do the same here? I don’t think so.

    And it’s disgusting.

  18. Aileen says:

    They mention booksignings. Do they mention that their local B&N or Borders won’t want to hold their signing unless they’ve got a guaranteed run of certain numbers? They’re suggesting rewards that don’t naturally follow self-publishing.

    • Ann Aguirre says:

      I made the same observation over on Smart Bitches. Bookstores aren’t going to host big signing event for a vanity book. That means the author will need to pay for a venue, invite guests, and pay for food & drink in order to guarantee good attendance. The reality does not conflate with the promised goods.

  19. Pingback: Selah March » Blog Archive » The Ballad of Pay-to-Play

  20. Jess Granger says:

    I don’t know, people.

    I do feel the website is heavy on promises and flowery talk that sounds too good to be true to me.

    Will people get taken? Probably. It’s awfully hard to see clearly with stars in your eyes.

    Will it dilute the HQN brand? Probably. I’m still unclear how these books will be distributed.

    Will it tick off the authors at HQN who actually make the company more money than a $3000 production fee? Probably, and that can’t possibly be good for business in the long term.

    Does it mean the end to publishing as we know it? I doubt it. Either they’ll make money, or they’ll knock this off and do something else, either way, it doesn’t seem like a good way to lure a sustainable and loyal readership to a brand, and so therefore probably won’t work in the long run.

    I hate that people will probably end up broke and heartbroken because of this, but I’m a lawyer’s daughter and cautious by nature about such things. I’ve lived a long time with the belief that the only person willing and able to protect your butt is you.

    So protect it people.

  21. Erica Hayes says:

    It disturbs me that the Harlequin ‘promise to readers’, which according to the Carina Press blog was the reason CP is named CP and not ‘Harlequin something-or-other’, is suddenly no longer a concern when it comes to branding Harlequin Horizons.

    I don’t see how HQN can fail to cheapen their brand by doing this. Unless, of course… oh, yeah. I forgot. Hardly anyone will actually read Horizons books, because by the look of it they won’t be distributed properly, if at all.

    For me (and I’m not a HQN author) the most disturbing thing is the hints about possibly picking Horizon books up for publication with conventional HQN lines. Ahem. Last time I looked, it was still free to submit to the slush pile.

  22. Jackie U says:

    I have no incite on the publishing industry because I am an aspiring author, not a published one, and I’m still learning the ropes. All the information revealed, though, has been frightening. It makes me concerned over the state of the field I’m trying to break into.

    On a slightly off-topic note, has anyone else noticed that all the nasty, mean-spirited posts are anonymous? Really, if you’re going to be snippy, you should do it as YOU.

    • Jackie U says:

      Oh god. Do you ever re-read a post and realize you did something really dumb…like type “incite” instead of “insight”? ::head desk::

  23. “The Booksellers Package is designed for authors who desire to leave a lasting legacy in the form of a hardcover book. A hardcover book shows the world that you are a serious author ready to make your mark on the writing world.”

    A hardcover book doesn’t do jack to show you’re a serious author.

    What shows you’re a serious author? Learning the craft. Perfecting your craft. WORKING at it.

    Paying the money for a hardcover doesn’t mean you’re serious… it means you’ve either got money to spent, or maybe it means you buy that line about how hardcover shows you’re serious.

    The whole thing leaves a bad, bad taste in my mouth.

    Anybody who decides to go the route of POD, they’ve got a long, hard road and if you expect to make much of any money, it’s also going to be a COSTLY road.

    • Ann Aguirre says:

      I wrote my letter to the president. I urge everyone else to do the same thing. They can’t be silent on this. They can’t make excuses for it.

      The referral in standard rejections is just beyond wrong. Just because they aren’t selling biographical data to the partner doesn’t make it an ethical practice.

  24. Pingback: The Good, The Bad and The Unread » The Harlequin mash-up

  25. Michele Lee says:

    I thought the crit service was skeezy, this is insane. Do they really need to do this to stay in business??

    I have a HUGE problem with the prevalence of writers who off crit services and publishers who push crit or printing services. I entered the Amazon Breakthrough award this year after much questioning and I swear the award is not meant to break out anyone, or even publish anyone, it’s meant to get a bunch of author hopes up only to reject them, then immediately follow up with reduced rate offers from CreateSpace. (Thank the gods I didn’t enter to win. No really, like American Idol the way I see it is that the finalists are better off than the winners because they get the reads and get the buzz, without getting stuck in a forced contract. I would never enter a series novel in that contest.)

    I think this crosses the line from skeezy to preying on those who don’t know better, which is a moral crime, even if it’s not a legal one.

  26. Pingback: Thank you, RWA « Trivial Pursuits

  27. nightsmusic says:

    You definitely helped me reassess my thinking on this whole thing. Thank you :D

    I do think there needs to be some redoing of RWA’s by-laws in regards to legitimate eBook publishers, but in the instance of self-publishers, you’re right.

    One thing that has always been important to me is, if I have to pay someone to publish my book, I’m not good enough yet at my craft to warrant being published, regardless of the venue. But like I said, that’s just me.

  28. I’m a Harlequin author and an RWA member. This is nuts!! I’m appalled for every aspiring author in the trenches, and every HQ-pubbed author who has worked her butt off. Will my unpublished friends be taken advantage of? Will my pubbed friends get booted out of PAN and the RITAs?

    I feel like I’m dreaming. And not the way HH wants me to.

  29. Pingback: Sometimes the wind of change comes swiftly and unexpectedly, leaving an unsettled feeling. « Midwest Meets Manhattan

  30. Pingback: News on the Horizon | Literary Escapism

  31. Pingback: Conflict… « Scita > Scienda

  32. CaffeyCathie says:

    Ann, you so explained what vanity publishing is, I had no clue! As a reader, it helps so much to learn about this, so thank you!

  33. Pingback: Get the word out-vanity presses, assisted self pub, etc. « Trivial Pursuits

  34. Well what is your advice on getting published?

  35. Thanks for sharing your info. I really appreciate your efforts and I will be waiting
    for your next post thanks once again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.