Thursday, November 19, 2009

New Harlequin line: self-publishing or subsidy publishing in disguise?

If you are even remotely tapped into the publishing world, you've heard all about the new Harlequin Horizons, wherein authors can pay $600 to $1,600 for their book to be "published." (Hmmm...sounds like a vanity press to me.) This might be a fabulous idea--if you're Harlequin. And that is probably true only in the short term. Although they may profit at first, they run the risk of ultimately polluting what is a well-known brand. How many badly written books will readers buy from their Horizons line before they lose faith in the entire line? (And it's optimistic to assume readers will buy any books from their Horizons line!) This is vanity publishing thinly disguised as "self" publishing, and they are taking advantage of naive wannabe writers who might as well toss their money out the window since the likelihood of their books reading readers is nil.

But the real shame in all this is that many in the industry are lumping together genuine self-publishing with subsidy/POD "self-publishing." And there is a big difference between the two.

A hybrid of the typical "subsidy" press and POD, these companies call themselves "self-publishing companies" or "POD self-publishers," and they offer more choices to authors at better prices than the typical subsidy companies. They might advertise that customers can use their own cover designs or sent their own price.

They are usually inexpensive. What that means, unfortunately, is that they frequently attract bottom-of-the-barrel literary talent. Plus, with such low up-front investment, the authors themselves dive in head first, often without professional editing, typesetting, and cover design. Although the hybrids sometimes offer these services, they may be less than satisfactory. The result of this low-cost approach is frequently a poor quality book that sells few copies. These companies are trading on the good name of self-publishing to make their companies appear to be a ligitimate option for authors.

In true self-publishing, authors assume all responsibility for all aspects of their books--and they keep 100 percent of the profits. They also own their book's ISBN and copyright; they pay for and make decisions about editing, cover, size, price, and printing; and they can use a wide variety of sales channels, including the Internet as well as all routes available to traditional publishers. Self-publishers know up front that they will be responsible for marketing, promotions, and publicity. Self-published books that sell extremely well may be noticed by traditional publishers, who might want to buy the rights from the author/publisher (What Color Is My Parachute? and The Celestine Prophecy are two such titles).

Genuine self-publishing can be a good idea for speakers, entrepreneurs, business professionals, and other nonfiction writers with a niche market. Sensible authors/publishers realize they probably won't achieve New York Times bestseller status, but with a well-edited and well-designed book, and a well-thought-out promotions plan, a book can be an important marketing tool.

Another bone of contention I have with Harlequin is the misleading (at best!) copy on their website. How about this, for example: "Have you always dreamt about being the center of attention at a book signing event featuring you, the publishing author? If so, then the Marketing Plus Package is for you."

Unfortunately, this is seldom the case, as most authors (self- or traditionally published) will tell you. Without extensive promoting on the part of the author, there isn't even a guarantee the bookstores will carry the book for the signing.

Or how about the Targeted Personal Media Valet service? For a mere $5,400, Harlequin will provide what amounts to generic PR authors could do themselves--or even get outside help from book biz professionals for a fraction of that cost.

The overcrowded self-publishing field is already chock full of poorly done books that very few people read (thanks, POD "self-publishers"). It's a shame. And I certainly hope it's not a continuing trend.


  1. Sue, nice post. Great to have you blogging more often, you have a lot to add to the conversation.

    This looks like another "grab for the bucks" on the part of publishers jealous of the money authors are turning over to so-called "self-publishing" companies. And the prices look outrageous.

    Still a better deal for people to keep control of their material, choose their own vendors, and publish independently.

  2. Thanks, Joel, as always. I feel like I've finally took the blogging plunge--and it's been fun!

    The prices...yikes! I feel like that is downright taking advantage of naive authors.

    One good thing from all this is that it is getting people talking more about vanity versus independent hopefully more people will start to understand the difference.