Monthly Archives: November 2009

You Got That Right, Ecclesiastes!

“All is vanity.”
The uproar over Harlequin Enterprises’ launch of a self-publishing venture reminded me of something my father used to say. He was an honest businessman, but every once in a while, when he saw an unscrupulous competitor getting stinking rich, he would shake his head and say, “I’m in the wrong racket.”

I sometimes wonder if I’m in the wrong racket too. Maybe I should have gone into vanity publishing. I’m sure I’d have made a fortune. Everyone who’s gone into it has made one, so I can’t blame anyone for succumbing to its allure.

And now mainstream publishing has jumped on the bandwagon, with respectable firms like religious publisher Thomas Nelson and, most recently, Harlequin Enterprises picking up the banner. The line that once sharply separated traditional publishing (“We pay you”) and vanity publishing (“You pay us”) has all but dissolved in this corrosive environment of fabulous riches.

My early exposure to the power of vanity occurred when I joined Scott Meredith’s literary agency after graduating college. Meredith had a fee-reading operation that ran like a turbine engine. Using his agency’s track record as bait – his brochure was a collage of six- and seven-digit checks paid to professional clients – Meredith attracted countless would-be authors prepared to shell out hundreds of dollars for a manuscript reading they hoped might lead to acceptance for representation and an eventual professional career. I don’t believe I ever saw a book accepted for representation out of the fee-reading program in all the years I worked there. Meredith’s operation made tons of money and he died a wealthy man.

Around 2000 a number of enterprising business people recognized the profit potential in self-published books utilizing digital media. (For purposes of this piece I draw no distinction between self-publication, subsidized publication and vanity publication.) Until then the most famous name in subsidy publishing was Vantage Press (which, significantly, is still going strong). But companies like iUniverse, Xlibris and an outfit called Fatbrain offered a variety of self-publication services. How well did they do?

Well, Fatbrain with its subsidiary Mighty-Words, which published technical and professional material online (someone described it as Amazon for geeks), was sold to Barnes & Noble for $64 million. Xlibris? Acquired by Random House for an undisclosed sum, then sold to Author Solutions, the vast self-publishing empire which embraces iUniverse, Author House, Wordclay, Inkubook and Canadian vanity publisher Trafford Press. Kevin Weiss, CEO of Author Solutions, projects $100 million in revenue in 2009. Last year, Author Solutions released more than 21,000 new titles, according to Mediabistro, “including one out of every 20 new titles put into distribution in the U.S. Overall, ASI’s catalog now includes more than 120,000 titles from more than 85,000 authors.” Author Solutions is partnering with Harlequin in its soon-to-be-renamed Horizons self-publication program.

But there’s more. Publishers Marketplace publisher Michael Cader recently reported that “Ebook distributor and online self-publishing platform Smashwords announced late Friday that will sell titles from the company as part of its new ‘premium feed.’ Smashwords, which says they publish about 2,600 titles electronically, will sell to at a traditional discount… Founder Mark Coker says that ‘additional distribution relationships are forthcoming.’ He says that ‘until today, it was difficult if not impossible for independent authors and publishers to gain such mainstream digital distibution.'”

Yet another company, Scribd, calls itself “the largest social publishing company in the world, the website where tens of millions of people each month publish and discover original writings and documents.” Scribd boasts “10 million documents published” and “5 million Scribd document reader embeds.” Last spring it was reported that Scribd was partnering “with a number of major publishers, including Random House, Simon & Schuster, Workman Publishing Co., Berrett-Koehler, Thomas Nelson, and Manning Publications, to legally offer some of their content to Scribd’s community free of charge. Publishers have begun to add an array of content to Scribd’s library, including full-length novels as well as briefer teaser excerpts.”

With so much money being thrown at subsidy publishers, and with the blessing of mainstream publishing, the evolution of vanity from the margins to the center of the publishing universe is complete. The erosion of traditional gatekeepers like reviewers, critics, newspaper book editors, and other refined literary tastemakers makes it clear why even a conservative publisher might lose its head over the prospect of all that money – and be tempted to go into another racket.

Richard Curtis


An Apology

In my haste to report the story of the Romance Writers of America’s response to the self-publishing venture launched by Harlequin Enterprises, I selected some photo illustrations that were in poor taste. I regret it and have deleted them from my postings. They were inappropriate and, I realize, belittled the grave issues that are being aired by all people of good will who are working to find a way to resolve the dispute. In particular they were offensive to women including my wife, to whom I should have listened before giving in to an unworthy impulse.

Richard Curtis


50% of Americans Would Pay for Online News, But They Wouldn’t Pay Much

If you’re getting it for nothing, why would you pay for it? Well, if you’re talking about news delivered online, about half of Americans say they would pay for it, according to a survey of 5000 people undertaken by the Boston Consulting Group.

That seems surprisingly high given the fact that America is the land of the free news. It’s so easily accessible on television or the Net that being asked to pay for it is like being asked to pay for air. Maybe that’s why those who say they would pay for news online don’t think it’s worth more than $3.00 a month. “In several Western European countries, more than 60 percent said they would pay,”writes Richard Pérez-Peña of the New York Times, adding that many would pay as much as $7 a month.

Even the higher figure is a fraction of a subscription to a printed newspapers. On the other hand, most of that subscription cost is for plant, paper and distribution. “Charging for online access to news would not greatly increase a newspaper’s revenue,” says Pérez-Peña, “ but since the cost of reaching Internet readers [is] very low, it could significantly increase profit.

Read details in About Half in U.S. Would Pay for Online News, Study Finds.

Richard Curtis

Every Blogger owes a debt of gratitude to newspapers and magazines. This posting relies on original research and reporting performed by The New York Times.


Science Fiction Writers of America Tosses Fuel on Horizons Conflagration

Russell Davis, President of Science Fiction Writers of America, has issued the following statement on the ever-widening controversy surrounding Harlequin Enterprises’ launch of a self-publication website. Here’s the essence:

“Until such time as Harlequin changes course, and returns to a model of legitimately working with authors instead of charging authors for publishing services, SFWA has no choice but to be absolutely clear that NO titles from ANY Harlequin imprint will be counted as qualifying for membership in SFWA. Further, Harlequin should be on notice that while the rules of our annual Nebula Award do not expressly prohibit self-published titles from winning, it is highly unlikely that our membership would ever nominate or vote for a work that was published in this manner.”

Full statement below.

We haven’t heard from the Western Writers of America…yet.
Richard Curtis
SFWA Statement on Harlequin’s self-publishing imprint

November, 2009, Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd. announced the launch of a new imprint, Harlequin Horizons, for aspiring romance authors. Under normal circumstances, the addition of a new imprint by a major house would be cause for celebration in the professional writing community. Unfortunately, these are not normal circumstances. Harlequin Horizons is a joint venture with Author Solutions, and it is a vanity/subsidy press that relies upon payments and income from aspiring writers to earn profit, rather than sales of books to actual readers.

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc. (SFWA) finds it extremely disappointing that Harlequin has chosen to launch an imprint whose sole purpose appears to be the enrichment of the corporate coffers at the expense of aspiring writers. According to their website, “Now with Harlequin Horizons, more writers have the opportunity to enter the market, hone their skills and achieve the goals that burn in their hearts.”

SFWA calls on Harlequin to openly acknowledge that Harlequin Horizon titles will not be distributed to brick-and-mortar bookstores, thus ensuring that the titles will not be breaking into the real fiction market. SFWA also asks that Harlequin acknowledge that the imprint does not represent a genuine opportunity for aspiring authors to hone their skills, as no editor will be vetting or working on the manuscripts. Further, SFWA believes that work published with Harlequin Horizons may injure writing careers by associating authors’ names with small sales levels reflected by the imprint’s lack of distribution, as well as its emphasis upon income received from writers and not readers. SFWA supports the fundamental principle that writers should be paid for their work, and even those who aspire to professional status and payment ought not to be charged for the privilege of having those aspirations.

Until such time as Harlequin changes course, and returns to a model of legitimately working with authors instead of charging authors for publishing services, SFWA has no choice but to be absolutely clear that NO titles from ANY Harlequin imprint will be counted as qualifying for membership in SFWA. Further, Harlequin should be on notice that while the rules of our annual Nebula Award do not expressly prohibit self-published titles from winning, it is highly unlikely that our membership would ever nominate or vote for a work that was published in this manner.

Already the world’s largest romance publisher, Harlequin should know better than anyone else in the industry the importance of treating authors professionally and with the respect due the craft; Harlequin should have the internal fortitude to resist the lure of easy money taken from aspiring authors who want only to see their work professionally published and may be tempted to believe that this is a legitimate avenue towards those goals.

SFWA does not believe that changing the name of the imprint, or in some other way attempting to disguise the relationship to Harlequin, changes the intention, and calls on Harlequin to do the right thing by immediately discontinuing this imprint and returning to doing business as an advance and royalty paying publisher.

For the Board of Directors,
Russell Davis
SFWA, Inc.


Horizons Controversy: Nora Roberts Distinguishes between You Pay Us and We Pay You

Romance fiction icon Nora Roberts weighed in on the soon-to-be-name-changed Harlequin Horizons controversy, in a comment on the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books website. Ms. Roberts is scheduled to be the keynote speaker at next summer’s Romance Writers of America national conference. Harlequin publishes many of her books, so we’ll be all ears for that speech!

Richard Curtis
Nora Roberts said on…11.19.09 at 03:40 AM

~Professional” authors are already paying for packaging, editorial, promotion and admin (copyright and such) through the rather huge chunk the publishers take from the revenue pile. FACT: The author gets what… 6 – 8% of the take? That means the traditional publisher gets 92 -94%.~

Just no.

When a publisher BUYS the rights to your book, they PAY you an advance on royalties. You do not PAY them. You get a check for the SALE of your rights. You have sold your book, you have not paid to have your book published.

The publisher then shells out the money for all the areas of publication, invests considerable time and money into that publication as it has bought the book and paid the author an advance on royalties. When the book is published, the author will receive more money when that advance earns off. The author does not pay, but is paid.

In addition to getting a check rather than giving one, the author receives the support, experience, muscle, editorial input, etc, etc, from the publisher.

Vanity press is called vanity for a reason. You’re paying for your ego. That’s fine, dealer’s choice.

But it’s a different matter when a big brand publisher uses its name and its resources to sell this as dream fulfillment, advertises it as such while trying to claim it’s not really their brand being used to make money on mss they’ve rejected as not worthy of that brand in the first place.


Harlequin, “Surprised and Dismayed” by RWA Action, Defends Decision But Moves to Change Program Name

Donna Hayes, Publisher and CEO of Harlequin Enterprises, issued a statement today expressing disappointment that Romance Writers of America went to its membership over the Horizons self-publishing issue, rather than “allowing Harlequin to respond or engage in a discussion about it with the RWA board” Ms. Hayes reminded us of the many and abundant ways Harlequin has supported RWA over the years. And, finally, she announced that “we are changing the name of the self-publishing company from Harlequin Horizons to a designation that will not refer to Harlequin in any way. We will initiate this process immediately.”

Ms. Hayes concluded by saying, “We hope this allays the fears many of you have communicated to us.” Whether it does or not, Harlequin now has another fire to put out: Mystery Writers of America. See MWA’s statement published earlier today.

Below, the full text of Donna Hayes’ statement:
Harlequin was very surprised and dismayed to receive notice late yesterday that the RWA has decided that Harlequin is no longer eligible for RWA-provided conference resources. We were even more surprised to discover that the RWA sent a notice to its membership announcing this decision, before allowing Harlequin to respond or engage in a discussion about it with the RWA board.

Harlequin has been a significant supporter of the RWA for many years in several ways, including:

• financial sponsorships at the annual conference

• sending editors to the national and regional chapter conferences throughout the year to meet with and advise aspiring authors and participate in panel discussions on writing

• celebrating our authors, most of whom are RWA members, annually with the largest publisher party at the conference.

It is disappointing that the RWA has not recognized that publishing models have and will continue to change. As a leading publisher of women’s fiction in a rapidly changing environment, Harlequin’s intention is to provide authors access to all publishing opportunities, traditional or otherwise.

Most importantly, however, we have heard the concerns that you, our authors, have expressed regarding the potential confusion between this venture and our traditional business. As such, we are changing the name of the self-publishing company from Harlequin Horizons to a designation that will not refer to Harlequin in any way. We will initiate this process immediately. We hope this allays the fears many of you have communicated to us.

We are committed to connecting with our authors and aspiring authors in a significant way and encourage you to continue to share your thoughts with us.

Donna Hayes
Publisher and Chief Executive Officer
Harlequin Enterprises Limited


Mystery Writers of America Steps into Harlequin Fray with Threat of Sanctions

This just received from Mystery Writers of America
MWA Statement Regarding Harlequin

Recently, Harlequin Enterprises launched two new business ventures aimed at aspiring writers, the Harlequin Horizons self-publishing program and the eHarlequin Manuscript Critique service (aka “Learn to Write”), both of which are widely promoted on its website and embedded in the manuscript submission guidelines for all of its imprints.

Mystery Writers of America (MWA) is deeply concerned about the troubling conflict-of-interest issues created by these ventures, particularly the potentially misleading way they are marketed to aspiring writers on the Harlequin website.

It is common for disreputable publishers to try to profit from aspiring writers by steering them to their own for-pay editorial, marketing, and publishing services. The implication is that by paying for those services, the writer is more likely to sell his manuscript to the publisher. Harlequin recommends the “eHarlequin Manuscript Critique Service” in the text of its manuscript submission guidelines for all of its imprints and include a link to “Harlequin Horizons,” its new self-publishing arm, without any indication that these are advertisements.

That, coupled with the fact that these businesses share the Harlequin name, may mislead writers into believing they can enhance their chances of being published by Harlequin by paying for these services. Offering these services violates long-standing MWA rules for inclusion on our Approved Publishers List.

On November 9, Mystery Writers of America sent a letter to Harlequin about the “eHarlequin Manuscript Critique Service,” notifying Harlequin that it is in violation of our rules and suggesting steps that Harlequin could take to remain on our Approved Publishers list. The steps outlined at that time included removing mention of this for-pay service entirely from its manuscript submission guidelines, clearly identifying any mention of this program as paid advertisement, and, adding prominent disclaimers that this venture was totally unaffiliated with the editorial side of Harlequin, and that paying for this service is not a factor in the consideration of manuscripts. Since that letter went out, Harlequin has launched “Harlequin Horizons,” a self-publishing program.

MWA’s November 9 letter asks that Harlequin respond to our concerns and recommendations by December 15. We look forward to receiving their response and working with them to protect the interests of aspiring writers. If MWA and Harlequin are unable to reach an agreement, MWA will take appropriate action which may include removing Harlequin from the list of MWA approved publishers, declining future membership applications from authors published by Harlequin and declaring that books published by Harlequin will not be eligible for the Edgar Awards.

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. We respect Harlequin and its authors and hope the company will take the appropriate corrective measures.

This e-bulletin was prepared by Margery Flax on behalf of MWA’s National Board of Directors.



In our coverage of the friction between Harlequin and Romance Writers of America (New Harlequin Venture Doesn’t Pass Romance Writers of America Smell Test) we may have given the impression that both of the recently announced initiatives, Carina and Horizons, are self-publishing enterprises. Angela James, Executive Editor of Carina Press, has informed us that “Carina and Horizons are two separate entities and Carina is not affiliated in any way with self-publishing. We [Carina] differ from the traditional model in two ways: our books go digital-first and rather than paying advances we pay larger royalties. But Carina is not a self-publishing enterprise and I’d hate for anyone reading your post to think it was.”

We’re happy to set the record straight and apologize for any misimpression we may have communicated. And while we’re at we do want to express our hope that Harlequin and RWA will find a path back to the harmony that has characterized their relationship for decades.

We also take this opportunity to reiterate our welcome to Carina Press and wishes for its success.

Richard Curtis


New Harlequin Venture Doesn’t Pass Romance Writers of America Smell Test

If you felt the earth move under your feet today, you may have been experiencing the shock of a clash between two formidable forces in the romance field, Harlequin and Romance Writers of America. The stress in their longstanding and mutually beneficial alliance, has opened a fissure extending to Nashville, where next summer’s annual RWA conference is scheduled to take place.

Here’s the background:

Last week Harlequin Enterprises Limited, the world’s foremost romance publisher, announced the formation of all-digital-all-the-the time romance publisher Carina Press, and a self-publication program, Harlequin Horizons. The latter was created to operate independently of Harlequin’s traditional publishing businesses, and a key element is self-published books. “We expect to discover new authors and unique voices that may not be able to find homes in traditional publishing houses,” said Donna Hayes, CEO and Publisher of Harlequin Enterprises. In a subsequent press release Harlequin stated that “the books self-published through Harlequin Horizons will NOT be branded Harlequin, nor will they be distributed by Harlequin or appear in stores next to your books.

The self-publication aspect of Horizons did not sit well with the Romance Writers of America brass, not because self-published authors and subsidy publishers are unwelcome under RWA’s capacious tent. But, rather, because it is RWA policy to deny conference resources to publishers that do not qualify under its definition of legitimacy.

“RWA allocates select conference resources to non-subsidy/non-vanity presses that meet the eligibility requirements to obtain those resources,” RWA president Michelle Monkou stated today. “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.”

That leaves Harlequin Horizons out. The decision does not affect Harlequin Enterprises’ core publishing imprints, nor does it mean the Horizons editorial staff will be unable to attend. It just means they won’t have a seat at the official table. But RWA’s ukase may certainly affect the warm and mutually profitable relationship between these organizations. Harlequin’s support is vital to the success of the annual bash, which is capped by Harlequin’s blowout party featuring sinful pastries, an unstanched flow of liquid refreshment, and boisterous disco dancing.

Romance publishing constitutes about 25% of all trade book revenue, so the two sisters had better patch things up before July. See y’all in Nashville. Maybe.

Below is the text of RWA’s position statement. Click here for Harlequin’s detailed explanation and FAQs about the Horizons program.

RWA Alert: RWA Responds to Harlequin Horizons

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. The Board is working diligently to address the impact of recent developments on all of RWA’s members.

We invite you to attend the annual conference on July 28 – 31, 2010 in Nashville, TN, as we celebrate 30 years of success with keynote speaker Nora Roberts, special luncheon speaker Jayne Ann Krentz, librarian speaker Sherrilyn Kenyon, and awards ceremony emcee Sabrina Jeffries. Please refer to the RWA Web site for conference registration information in late January 2010.

Looking forward to seeing you at the Gaylord Opryland!

Michelle Monkou
RWA President


Harlequin FAQ re Horizons

Harlequin Horizons FAQs


Ø For the first time since figures have been kept, print-on-demand titles outpaced traditionally-published titles in 2008 according to Bowker. Self-published print-on-demand titles make up a large portion of this expanding sector. This is not traditional vanity press publishing; self-publishing is a large and vibrant part of the publishing industry today.

Ø Horizons books will not be distributed by Harlequin. They will not appear in stores next to your book. Self-published books are generally distributed through large online catalogs.

Ø Horizons books will not have Harlequin branding. Horizons is a separate brand and will carry the double-H Horizons logo on the spine only, NOT the Harlequin brand.

Ø Readers will not be confused. Harlequin is the gold standard for romance. Readers purchase Harlequin because they trust Harlequin to provide a great story. There will be no ‘dilution’ of quality. Horizons is a separate imprint with no Harlequin branding.

Ø We’ve taken care to be very transparent. The website is very clear that this is self-publishing; we make no promises that Harlequin will in any way publish and distribute Horizons books in the traditional sense. The Harlequin Horizons author keeps her copyright.

Ø We’re doing this to support aspiring romance authors who choose to self-publish. Although we do not promise this, we will in fact be monitoring sales/editorial for new voices.

1. What is Harlequin Horizons?

Ø Self-publishing is one of a suite of publishing options an aspiring author can choose from these days; with the launch of Carina Press we can provide the flexibility of a digital-only press, and Horizons offers a self-publishing option.

Ø It is a partnership with Author Solutions – they provide the self-publishing services, we provide our brand name and we make authors we have rejected aware of this service.

Ø It is a publishing service in which authors pay for their work to be published in print and/or eBook formats. Authors purchase publishing “packages” with varying levels of service options including (but not limited to) editing, cover design, and a certain number of print copies of their work.

Ø Competitive examples include Cross Books and West Bow Press from Thomas Nelson.

2. How is this related to Harlequin?

Ø Horizons will be a division of Harlequin, operated by Author Solutions.

Ø Authors published with Harlequin Horizons are not published by Harlequin. The books will carry the double-H Horizons logo on the spine.

3. Why is Harlequin launching a self-publishing business?

Ø Many aspiring authors choose self-publishing as a way to see their work in print – to give copies as gifts, to have a bound copy to help in finding an agent, or simply as a keepsake.

Ø Horizons will make it possible for thousands of authors, whose manuscripts Harlequin or other traditional publisher cannot publish, to see their books in print.

Ø This offers aspiring authors an opportunity not only to be published, but to grow and develop as writers and refine their personal brand.

4. Why is this branded Harlequin?

Ø We’re proud to offer this option to those who choose to self-publish, and for aspiring romance authors, an association with the Harlequin brand makes sense.

Ø The brand, however, is only author-facing; Harlequin will not be branded on the books or in any of the metadata or sales information accompanying the book.

Ø We hope to discover new authors through this service and welcome them into the Harlequin brand family proper.

5. Isn’t this misleading for aspiring authors?

Ø We are not misleading people, but simply offering a Harlequin-approved option for those authors who choose to self-publish.

Ø This does not change our commitment to finding, publishing, and developing new authors through our series and imprints.

Ø Our partnership with Author Solutions is not an endorsement of self-publishing over submitting to a publisher or press; but if you choose to self-publish, we endorse Author Solutions through our partnership with them.

6. Why would authors submit slush to us if this is a better option for them?

Ø For the same reasons they have always submitted slush – not just for the chance to be published by Harlequin, but with the hope of beginning long and fulfilling career as a Harlequin author.
7. Will Harlequin and Author Solutions work together?

Ø Yes and no. The self-publishing house is a separate business with separate staff, website, contract, etc.

Ø However, if a title sells very well, Harlequin can acquire the title for future print publication.

8. What’s going to happen with the slush Harlequin currently receives?

Ø We will continue to welcome unsolicited manuscripts from aspiring authors.

Ø All standard/form/template rejection letters will include a short note about Harlequin Horizons as a self-publishing option for the aspiring author.

Ø Author Solutions will not have access to the author contact information in our eHERS database.

Ø No one from Author Solutions will contact any aspiring authors unless they opt-in through the website (

9. Will sell these self-published books?

Ø No.