Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Who's Publishing What?

Wow. Big news out of Harlequin has started a lot of talk amongst the bookish this week.

Harlequin has announced the formation a new imprint. But people aren't cheering they way they did when Harlequin Teen was announced. And why's that? Because Harlequin Horizons is ::gasp:: for self-published books.

Lots of folks are really upset about this. They're talking about how it cheapens Harlequin's name. They're wailing about taking advantage of people by taking money to publish them. They're revoking Harlequin's rights to Romance Writers of America's conference resources...

Yeah, that's right. The company that is romance to a lot of people, the company that publishes over half of the romance novels in America, is being cold shouldered by the RWA. The announcement was clear that Harlequin is not being barred from the annual RWA conference, just that they're not being given free space or... Okay, I haven't made it to an RWA annual conference yet, so I'm not altogether certain how much they're losing here. But I still get the impression the RWA is seriously biting their thumb at the house in retaliation for introducing Horizons.

Personally, I don't quite get it.

Part of the uproar appears to be based on the choice to go with Harlequin Horizons as a name rather than simply Horizons. If it were just Horizons, it wouldn't be that different from other houses who have their fingers in self-publishing endeavors. But the logo doesn't look anything like any of the traditional Harlequin line's and I'm thinking that if you're savvy enough that you look at it and know it's owned by Harlequin, you're savvy enough to realize it's the self-pub line.

I don't see myself holding anything that comes out of Horizons against anyone from other lines. It's not as though I've enjoyed everything Harlequin's ever printed in the first place, that doesn't lessen my love of the Harlequin authors I do enjoy or my respect for anyone involved. I sort of doubt that many people in the general community are even going to notice the line much. It's not like they're going to start seeing Horizons books in the supermarket aisles. They'll be relatively rare. Plus, Harlequin readers are used to looking for just the line they're interested in anyway.

The allegations of scamming are more worrisome to me. Harlequin is a big and respected name, people trust them. That the Horizons site is going on about how people from the parent company will be monitoring sales and may pick up more popular titles for one of the traditional lines makes me nervous. They aren't making any promises, they do have lawyers. Yet there's an implication that paying money to print your novel could result in you becoming the next Barbara Cartland. And maybe that's possible. But it's a long shot from probable, even if you have the skill and allure of one of the greats.

My certainty that there are people out there willing to go broke and break their own hearts thinking this is a way to bypass the usual process of getting into traditional publishing makes me sad. Sure, they do it all the time with other self-pub companies, but having a big name house behind the printing and an assurance that the house is actually paying attention... The ethics seem objectionable even though I'd never deny that Harlequin has a right to make money.

But... Maybe I'm going under a faulty assumption here. Maybe this is just a reflection that the industry's changing. Maybe this is future and the rest of us just need to catch up.

Self-publishing isn't always a bad choice. For a lot of situations, it works. And I've read self-published books I enjoyed immensely. I've also read some that made it painfully obvious where the assumption that self-pubbed books are unedited trash that would never be touched by a traditional house came from. I can see why people aren't stoked about being on an imprint with a similar name to the latter books'. Which goes back to the part where people would have been a lot less annoyed had the name simply been Horizons...

All in all, I feel nervous and uneasy about the imprint. And I shouldn't feel that way. If different choices had been made, I think I could have been very excited about Harlequin offering a POD line. A subsidiary line where marketability was less of an issue but there was still some amount of quality control would have been something I could cheer on. But this... I don't know, maybe I'm uncomfortable because it's been presented to me with a lot of negativity or maybe it's just that they've partnered with Author Solutions rather than someone a bit more respectable. All I know is that if someone who is open to seeing the value in self-published books is feeling this ambivalent, someone somewhere has done something wrong.


Oh... Looks like the RWA's declaration could bar Harlequin authors from receiving any RWA awards. Yipes! I haven't looked up the stats, but I'm betting a sizeable chunk of RITAs usualy go to Harlequin authors. And, of course, all of their current authors signed up not having any clue this was going to happen.

And I'm torn... I know I'm upset with someone. But am I upset with the RWA for shafting folks because their publisher has a self-pub line, something which I firmly believe has no reflection on the merits of their traditional line authors, or am I upset with Harlequin for putting people in this mess? Or, more aptly I assume, for being arrogant enough to assume this wouldn't happen despite the RWA rules appearing to be pretty clear because OMG! they're Harlequin!

Is anyone taking bets on who's going to come out on top in this mess? What are the odds? And who's favored?

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