Thursday, November 19, 2009

Harlequin Horizons Provokes Controversy

On Tuesday I reported that Harlequin had announced it would be launching a "self-publishing partnership with Author Solutions, Inc."

That announcement has provoked comment and reaction across the publishing industry.

First, Romance Writers of America (RWA) issued a letter to its members from its president, Michelle Monkou. Here is a portion of that letter:
Dear Members:

Romance Writers of America was informed of the new venture between Harlequin Enterprises and ASI Solutions to form Harlequin Horizons, a vanity/subsidy press. Many of you have asked the organization to state its position regarding this new development. As a matter of policy, we do not endorse any publisher's business model. Our mission is the advancement of the professional interests of career-focused romance writers.

One of your member benefits is the annual National Conference. RWA allocates select conference resources to non-subsidy/ non-vanity presses that meet the eligibility requirements to obtain those resources. Eligible publishers are provided free meeting space for book signings, are given the opportunity to hold editor appointments, and are allowed to offer spotlights on their programs.

With the launch of Harlequin Horizons, Harlequin Enterprises no longer meets the requirements to be eligible for RWA-provided conference resources. This does not mean that Harlequin Enterprises cannot attend the conference. Like all non-eligible publishers, they are welcome to attend. However, as a non-eligible publisher, they would fund their own conference fees and they would not be provided with conference resources by RWA to publicize or promote the company or its imprints.

Sometimes the wind of change comes swiftly and unexpectedly, leaving an unsettled feeling. RWA takes its role as advocate for its members seriously.
According to agent Kristin Nelson of Pub Rants, "Harlequin was very surprised and dismayed" by the action RWA took.

In an effort to silence its critics, Harlequin has decided to remove its name from the previously titled "Harlequin Horizons" imprint. The company clearly hopes that this move to rename its self-publishing arm will mollify both RWA and the Harlequin authors.

Apparently neither Thomas Nelson nor Harlequin sees any conflict of interest in newbie authors being lured into spending significant sums of money in the hope that the parent company will offer a publishing contract.

But, wait!! Another county heard from.

Kristin Nelson also posted a letter from Mystery Writers of America (MWA), expressing concern over "the Harlequin Horizons self-publishing program and the eHarlequin Manuscript Critique service (aka 'Learn to Write')."

MWA had already written a letter to Harlequin, demanding a number of changes to put the critique service at arms-length from the publisher when the new Harlequin Horizons was announced.

My favorite line from the MWA communique was this: "We are taking this action because we believe it is vitally important to alert our members of unethical and predatory publishing practices that take advantage of their desire to be published."

Three cheers for MWA!

Corporate greed is a cliche these days. Ethical conduct by companies is now so rare that we remark upon it when we happen on a business with scruples.

I was unbelievably disappointed by Thomas Nelson's plan to pay a "referral fee" to any agent that steers a newbie author toward Nelson's WestBow self-publishing unit.

Where are the Christian writer trade organizations or networks? Why are THEY not concerned about Nelson's obvious conflict of interest issues? I find it fascinating that the romance writers and the mystery writers are speaking up, but not the Christian writers.

You can read both the letter from Harlequin and the MWA message on Kristin's blog here.


Janet Reid said...

I'm pretty sure agents are forbidden to accept those kinds of fees if they are members of AAR.

Maya Reynolds said...

Janet: I really appreciate your trying to make me feel better. {grin}

But I don't feel better about the scammers who phone little old ladies and talk them into making a contribution to some phony Police Benevolent Association just because there really is a legitimate Police Benevolent Society.