In a nutshell, Harlequin, publisher of romance novels galore, attempted to get a piece of the self publishing action by partnering with Author Solutions to form Harlequin Horizons. Rejected by Harlequin? Well, for approximately 600 bucks, you could have your romance novel published through this press instead.
But wait, hold on. Apparently there was a little bait and switch going on. Because the moment you're roped into thinking you've got the Harlequin name attached to your book (and they've got your money), Harlequin fills in the rest. Oh yeah, but we won't distribute your book. And we won't support you at conferences, readings, etc. And we won't list you with our regular Harlequin authors. You'll have the HH name, but it's not really us.
In other words,
Come here come here come here...
Get away get away get away.
Suddenly, everyone went batshit. The literary agents went batshit. The Harlequin authors went batshit. The Romance Writers of America went batshit. Words like "slush pile" and "not good enough for the real Harlequin label" were being tossed around like Fabio's hair in an ocean breeze. Worse still, the words "self-publishing" and "vanity publishing" were being interchanged the way one might interchange the words "dinner" and "supper".
We even got into a debate about it on Stacey Cochran's web show "Book Chatter."
At the end of the day, it was literary agent Nathan Bransford who made the most sense:
Setting aside this controversy for a moment and the specifics of Harlequin's operation, let me just say that in principle I don't think publishers facilitating self-publishing is necessarily such a bad thing. However, there should be complete transparency, fair pricing, total disambiguation between traditional publishing arms and self-publishing arms, and every good faith attempt made to educate writers about the difference between the two. This industry obviously needs new revenue streams, and provided that the publisher's program is genuinely nonexploitive and transparent I don't see the problem, and I don't see why publishers should continue to cede ground to self-publishing companies when they have every capacity to provide the same service. It just has to be done correctly.YES! Rock on, man.
P.S. Harlequin took so much flak that they removed their name from Horizons. But the damage has been done, and there are a few things that have left a bad taste in my mouth.
No doubt, Harlequin's model was flawed and unethical. But I can't fault them for doing what other publishing companies are failing so colossally at: trying to cash in on the independent publishing market. Sadly, they're going the same route as the music industry, having learned nothing from their mistakes. As my brother said about the music industry, "They are trying to respond to a way of life that doesn't seem to be controllable." I don't have an accurate source to back up this next quote, but I read that "For the first time since figures have been kept, print-on-demand titles outpaced traditionally-published titles in 2008."
And yet, the RWA, literary agents, and traditional publishers continue to marginalize independent authors like myself.
By interchanging "self-published" with "vanity published," this Web 2.0 model (as Stacey Cochran loves to call it), and authors who take advantage of it, continue to be stigmatized beyond measure. Nevermind that my Kindle sales of Faking It outnumber my print sales by 90%, and that I've been ranked in the top 2000 Kindle Store sales all month. Nevermind that two of last year's bestsellers in Japan were written on cellphones.
Agents constantly blog about how they turn down good writing all the time. One even recently wrote about how disappointed she was to turn down a high-quality piece of work because she had no idea how she would be able to sell it. And yet, in the midst of the HH frenzy, all I kept hearing about was "slush piles" and "authors not good enough for Harlequin" -- whoa -- double standard? Way to raise us up and smack us down! Despite the major success I've had this month, this little voice of shame echoed somewhere in the back of my mind, "You're still a sub-par author. Without a contract from a major publishing house, without your book in a brick-&-mortar Barnes and Noble, no one will ever take you seriously."
How wrong that voice is.
What does it say about the state of traditional publishers if they're turning down good work because they have no room for it, or can't sell it, and then resent those same talented writers for finding their own way of doing what the traditional publishers insisted they couldn't?
The music industry is down to about four major corporations trying to dictate what music product is most marketable, but fans aren't buying it anymore. Is seems that the publishing industry is stuck in this same hole.
I'm not saying that traditional publishers are bad, or anything like that. But more and more I'm questioning the validity of the notion that signing with an agent and a traditional publisher is far more preferable than independently publishing. If nothing else, it's six of one, half-a-dozen of another, as far as pros and cons go. Trashing either option is not wise, but I think criticism is important so that both can work to produce the best quality product that makes money for authors and publishers alike, and serves the consumer.
There are plenty of crappy, self published books out there. About as many crappy, traditionally published books, I'm guessing. The average run of a book isn't in the millions, like Stephen King novels or whatever Oprah's peddling. No, a successful run is considered 5000-10,000 copies sold. The average is probably even less than that, I'll bet. It no longer matters whether the book was published by Random House or Lulu.com.
So here's my final word, in sum. I applaud every author who has landed an agent and traditionally published. The majority of you worked damn hard for that. But I also applaud every indie author who used a POD and then pounded the pavement to bring their book to the masses. The majority of you worked damn hard, too. Nathan Bransford said the rest of it for me, but dammit, every author, regardless of where or how he/she published, deserves some respect. And dammit, at the end of the day, every book, be it an e-book, a POD, or a traditionally published hardback, should be valued by the quality of its content, and not the place from where it came.
To all you readers, writers, agents, and editors: make it about that, and everybody wins.