Thursday, November 19, 2009

To Publish or Not to Publish . . . That's a Heck of a Question.

Anyone who's ever submitted a manuscript knows publishing usually grinds with glacial slowness, but lately changes have moved with tsunami speed. If you've been following the Harlequin/RWA feud, you know what I mean. Harlequin, a company that's practically synonymous with romance, is now offering aspiring authors who have been rejected by their editors an opportunity to self-publish. Harlequin has partnered with a vanity press to form Harlequin Horizons .

Romance Writers of America has just issued a statement revoking Harlequin's status as an eligible publisher because RWA does not recognize "subsidy" presses. This means Harlequin will lose its perks at Nationals ~ free meeting space for book signings, the opportunity to hold editor appointments, and spotlights on their programs. They are welcome to attend, but will have to foot their own bills.

Let's bypass that squabble for a minute and just talk about what self-publishing means to an author.

On the one hand, I understand the temptation to self-publish. I have manuscripts that for one reason or another weren't picked up that I'd love to see in print. Readers have asked repeatedly for the third Diana Groe "song" book, DRAGONSONG, which completes the MAIDENSONG and ERINSONG trilogy. It's already written, but will probably never see the light of day.

Rejection is never fun and emotionally it may be easier to bypass that painful process and skip right to seeing your name on a cover. And there have been success stories in self-publishing. Everyone always points to ERAGON as the golden example.

However, the self-pubbed path is littered with broken hearts and lighter wallets.

But forget the money aspect for a moment. I'd like to posit that skipping the rejection phase is not good for a writer. Rejection makes us take another critical look at our work. It's an opportunity to stretch ourselves, to learn what works and what doesn't. To think new thoughts. To sharpen our prose till it cuts to the bone. To abandon a flawed project for something more viable. If we just plunk down our cash to make a book happen, what do we learn?

I know rejection stings. Believe me. It feels so personal because our writing is us. But every rejection gives me an opportunity to grow as a writer and as a person. If you are an aspiring writer, I urge you to exhaust all other avenues of publication before turning to self-publishing. Give yourself the opportunity to be rejected so your writing will improve.

That said, every writer takes his/her own path. Clive Cussler, for example, posed as a retiring agent to introduce his work to the agent of his dreams (and it worked!)

What do you think? Feel free to disagree.

PS. If you haven't entered my MERRY CHRISTMAS BALL CONTEST, there's still time. The drawing for the $100 gift card will be held December 1st! Please tell your friends!


Jane L said...

I don't disagree with the self pub thing totally, I know two authors, one who writes romance the other civil war stories and both are doing very well with this type of publishing. I agree Emily, rejection does make us take a good hard look at our work and put our best foot forward. I am really curious to see if we will see more and more publishing houses following Harlequin and go to this self pubbing, to cut expenses possibly? Eliminate tons of slush piles? Ect. I think they may have taken the first step into a whole different venue of publishing.

Beverley Kendall said...

I really hope what Jane L says is not true. I don't know how many of you have read a self-published fiction book, but I haven't and I think that's true for most readers, especially in romance. I think it's a bad idea. It's like agents demanding money to read your novel. It leaves a bad taste and 99.9% only one person (company) makes money when authors go this route.

Amanda McIntyre said...

Good morning Em;) I am, not sure that I agree entirely with either party in this squabble and frankly would have liked to have seen at least some dialogue transpire first to see what might have been an amiable solution to the concerns on both sides. I understand it is a business decision and with the state of the economy, I imagine there are other publishers that have been toying with this very idea--though, perhaps behind closed doors. We may well see this type of venure become more prominent.

Is this the dawn of a new age in publishing? Is the natural progression of the technology we all enjoy evey morning from the comfort of our homes?

Hard to pinpoint at this juncture, but we must not become too sedentary in our way of thinking. Growth, wisdom and understanding can and usually does happen through controversy. At least thats my hope.

The issues I see that seem the most disconcerting to folks are:

1) notes accompanying rejection letters pointing in the direction of Horizons. (*ouch, as if a rejection letter to someone who has tried passionately to be published with their dream pub isn't wound enough?)

2)publically associating the Harlequin name with this new venture, in terms of "becoming a Harlequin author" if you choose to pay up front for the priviledge.

(*I'm not sure what kind of message that sends to the hundreds of authors who worked hard to become Harlequin authors in the first place.)

Again,I realize this business decision behind this and honestly, I think we're probably going to see more of this with other publishers in the future. But like anything, refining and polishing--a term well-known in this industry--is likely going to have to occur.


EmilyBryan said...

I understand that publishing houses need a new revenue stream, but I'm concerned mainly about how this affects writers, both published and pre-pubbed.

For example, will Harlequin authors still be eligible for RITAs?

Will using Harlequin Horizons make a pre-pubbed writers ineligible for chapter contests that often lead to publication?

Miss Mae said...

I think what really disturbs me is the part where Harlequin partnered with a "vanity" publisher. If all they were doing was simply partnering with a printer/pub that specializes in ebooks, I see no problem. But when an author has to pay?

For instance, I have a short story/ebook self-pubbed, but I did NOT pay to have it done. This publisher takes a percentage of my sales when/if someone buys the book. I did bypass the editor, and have to do my own cover art. This pub will be distributing my little book everywhere around the net. But to me, that's not a vanity press because I haven't paid one dime.

To be truthful, I'm a bit uneasy about what the big H has done.

EmilyBryan said...

Just got an email from a friend who writes for Harlequin and the consensus is she will still be eligible to enter the RITA this year since when the contest started Harlequin was still a recognized publisher.

Next year, who knows?

Harlequin accounts for such a large market share--am I the only one who thinks it sounds surreal for them not to be recognized? Still, RWA has set no subsidy presses as their rule. I suspect a deal will be reached to continue to recognize the traditional arm of Harlequin if they can figure out how to distance them from Harlequin Horizon in RWA promo.

Anonymous said...

I find it a little worrying that an established and hugely successful publisher has decided to go that way. I think their reputation might end up being tarnished by low-quality, unedited self-pubbed books that are suddenly associated with their properly edited, printed versions of established writers.
If Horizons does well, then it's not much of an issue but should things go wrong, the mud's going to stick to the Harlequin brand, regardless of which branch.
I think it's very short-sighted for them. Viable perhaps, for now, but who knows the situation in a few years' time.
I'm about to start submitting my first completed ms but regardless of the outcome, I won't go the way of paying upfront.
Thanks for this interesting discussion, Emily.

EmilyBryan said...

Thanks for your comment, Steph.

I too wouldn't go the self-pubbed route, mostly because my self-doubt won't let me. If no one will pay to publish my work, I need to seriously examine why. But that's just me.

Good luck with your submissions and start on the next manuscript now! Once you sell, the first question is always, "What else have you got?"

Shiloh Walker said...

Writers definitely grow through rejection.

Writers grow with every story they write, or at least they should.

If they decide to focus on self-pubbing the ones that got rejected, they won't have nowhere near much time to perfect their craft, because making a selfpubbed novel earn any money? Costly and time consuming.

EmilyBryan said...

Exactly, Shiloh.

Nora Roberts wrote 12 complete manuscripts before the first one sold. Do you think she'd be the success she is if she hadn't taken the lessons of those rejections and applied them to her work?

Nora was brave enough to comment on the controversy over at Smart Bitches and was soundly trashed for her candor. I don't understand why people think it's ok to get so ugly when an acknowledged giant in the industry offers her opinion.

Personally, I want to know what this woman knows.

Miss Mae said...

Just to clarify.

I am currently published with The Wild Rose Press and Whimsical Publications. Did I get rejections before these pubs picked me up? You bet.

The short story/ebook I decided to self-pub had originally been at TWRP. At only 1400 words, I decided it'd be perfect as a gift for contests, etc., so I pulled it.

That's terrible that folks are trashing Nora Roberts. She's as entitled to her opinions as the others are to theirs.

Jane L said...

Hmmm ,I agree Emily! Nora is an icon in the romance writing business and for someone to trash her like that, well it is just uncalled for. People need to be able to speak their minds yes, but come on, it can happen in a friendly but competitive way, not rude and demeaning!
I think its awesome today, we have a few authors who have shared their opinions on your blog! As an aspiring writer, I am really curious to know how you pro's all feel about this, I mean I can't say I will "never do that" I said I would never get married either and I am happily married twenty four years! So maybe I might look into it, but right now, no it's not for me. Does that mean I don't want to know or learn about most certainly not, I want to be educated on all my options!
Also Emily that is an excellant question about contests!!

EmilyBryan said...

Miss Mae--Like you, Nora was objecting to an author paying to be published. It's a little like paying an agent a "reading fee"--something reputable agents do not charge.

EmilyBryan said...

Jane--The thing that surprised me about the Smart Bitches discussion was how quickly the parties started getting personally snarky with their remarks instead of sticking to the issue at hand. Granted, writing is emotional, but this is about the business side of things. Time to park egos at the door.

Jody said...

I don't believe what Harlequin is offering is selfpublishing, it is a vanity press service. IMHO their ethics are suspect to offer such a service to all their rejected manuscripts and they say if they use the service and the book sells well they could buy it it really kind of sleazy. The issue with RWA is the issue of Branding of the name Harlequin and it's connection with their tradtional Harlequin romances. Harlequin claims they aren't branding these books with their Harlequin brand but then they say "they are in partnership with Author Solutions who self publishes.... we provide our brand name." How is this not branding the product as Harlequin? Corporate double speak in a period that is second nature to many businesses in today's market.

Buyer beware one can pay far less than what Harlequin is offering by just using a true self publishing service like CreateSpace at Amazon that offers ebook and print on demand books where an author could expect to make make 32% in paper or 52% (ebook) royalities of cover price , a selling price you name. The book is trade size, you design your cover and they sell the book on Amazon. Can Harlequin's service do this? Can they insure the books would make it on Amazon? Such self-publishing concerns such as Amazon (CreateSpace), is great service for the published author with a backlist currently out of print without as publisher so they can release the book on their own for their readership.

I for one am proud that RWA was quick to stand up for the protection of its members. RWA divorcing itself from Harlequin could be messy for all involved but lets hope the children ( Harlequin authors) don't suffer in sales and respect in the industry.

Susanne Saville said...

Just to clarify - Harlequin Horizons isn't self-publishing, it's vanity publishing.

Vanity publishing is horribly expensive and generally a bad idea.

Self-publishing is relatively cheap and can work well for some genres with a niche market.


Susanne Saville said...

Ah, I see Jody explained perfectly. :)

Sandy said...


I do agree that we need to suffer from rejection to get our work to the point that we can get it published.

I also agree with Jane. I think there are more to follow Harlequin. Sad as that may be.

It seems to me that Harlequin is greedy trying to step their foot in everywhere. I'm anxious to see what happens next.

Edie Ramer said...

I agree with Jody and the others. But I just read on Kris Nelson's Pub Rants that Harlequin is taking the "Harlequin" name off the new business because of the uproar. I wonder what else will happen. I don't think we've heard the end of this.

Book Marketing Bestsellers said...

If you are doing the Harlequin program, you're not self-publishing, you are co-publishing. Self-publishing means you do it yourself, not as part of someone else's program.

Harlequin's program sounds like a way to make money off of desperate authors. Not kind. Predatory.

That's sad.

EmilyBryan said...

Edie--Yes, I just saw on my RWA loop that Harlequin is removing the Harlequin name from the Horizons venture, though I wonder what their business partner ASI thinks about that. The Harlequin brand is the money note here (sorry for the singer's slang--Once a soprano, always a soprano!)

EmilyBryan said...

Jody, Susanne & John--Thanks for your comments!

I'm still a little fuzzy on the distinction between self-publishing and vanity publishing. In both cases, the author pays to get the book into print/ebook format. What is the point of distinction between them?

Linda Banche said...

The story I heard is that the company that owns Harlequin is in trouble. They're probably the one who came up with this idea about self-pub to bring more money into their coffers. Harlequin itself may simply be following orders.

Big business does stuff like this all the time--using money-making divisions to subsidize the money-losers.

EmilyBryan said...

You mean Torstar, Linda. Yes, I've heard that rumor as well. Face it, in this economy there are few companies doing well. They are fortunate to have a proven money making division in Harlequin. I believe it's floating the rest of the boat right now.