Harlequin Horizons: Another Major Publisher Adds A Self-Publishing Division

Writer BewarePosted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Hot on the heels of the launch of West Bow Press, Thomas Nelson’s new self-publishing division, Harlequin Enterprises has unveiled Harlequin Horizons, a company that “that offers aspiring romance writers the opportunity to self-publish their work and achieve their goals.”

The official press release is here.

Like West Bow Press, Harlequin Horizons is powered by self-publishing conglomerate Author Solutions, though its standard packages are considerably cheaper–from $599 to $1,599, as opposed to West Bow’s $999 to $6,499. You can also spend up to $3,499 for a specialty package (West Bow’s specialty packages top out at an eye-popping $19,999–are Christian writers richer, or is it just easier to persuade them to part with the big bucks?)

Both West Bow and Harlequin Horizons also give authors the chance to expend sizeable additional sums, such as $11,999 for a premium Christian publicist (West Bow) or a just plain premium publicist (Harlequin Horizons). Interestingly, while several of West Bow’s standard packages and all of its specialty packages include a bookseller return program, with Harlequin Horizons that’s available only as an extra.

Like West Bow, Harlequin Horizons wreaths self-publishing in nebulous, glowing verbiage, extolling benefits and ignoring downsides. With West Bow Press, you can Begin Your Legacy. With Harlequin Horizons, you can Reach the Stars. And just like West Bow, Harlequin Horizons cordially extends the carrot of commercial publication: “While there is no guarantee that if you publish with Harlequin Horizons you will picked up for traditional publishing, Harlequin will monitor sales of books published through Harlequin Horizons for possible pick-up by its traditional imprints.”

Unlike West Bow, Harlequin Horizons bears its parent’s name. And that is making some Harlequin authors quite unhappy.

On the Dear Author blog, a lively discussion of the new venture is summarized here. Authors’ concerns include dilution of the house brand (if low-quality self-published books carry the Harlequin name, the overall reputation of Harlequin may suffer), a loss of prestige for non-self-published Harlequin authors (the perception that “anyone” can get published by Harlequin), new authors spending money on self-publishing in the belief that it’s a path to getting noticed by Harlequin (well, of course; this is one of the new service’s major marketing pitches–no surprise, since Harlequin Horizons is a money-making enterprise), and the choice of Author Solutions as a partner (given the complaints about several Author Solutions brands–one of my blog posts is referenced).

In a followup post, some of these concerns are addressed by Malle Valik, Harlequin’s Digital Director, who reveals that while “Harlequin put its name on the Harlequin Horizons site to clearly indicate this is a romance self-publishing site,” Harlequin Horizons books will be branded HH (not Harlequin), and that “[t]he copyright is not associated with Harlequin.” As to why Harlequin is establishing a self-publishing division, Ms. Valik says,

Bowker reported in 2008 that more titles were published through self-publishing than traditional publishers. Self-publishing is a fast growing and vibrant part of the publishing industry today. Harlequin has decided to provide a romance focused self-publishing business for those that choose to go down the self-publishing road.

In other words–self-publishing is a big business, and Harlequin wants a piece of the pie. As I noted in my post on West Bow Press, the potential for new revenue is large indeed:

In 2008, according to PW, the number of on-demand and short-run titles (the bulk of which represent offerings by self-publishing companies) jumped by 132% (total growth since 2002: 774%), outstripping books produced by “traditional production methods”. Not only does adding a self-publishing line allow a publisher to cash in this trend, it presents the possibility of monetizing rejections. By the same token, the self-publishing service’s connection with a major publisher will be a major attraction for authors–especially if the publisher suggests that it may take the better-performing books commercial.

For the record, I don’t for one teeny tiny second believe that discovering new writers, or giving them a chance to “begin their legacies” or “reach the stars,” plays a major part here. That’s just a marketing pitch. This is about money. Now more than ever, commercial publishers need to shore up their bottom lines–and adding self-publishing divisions is an easy and profitable way to do so.

Harlequin Horizons offers more confirmation of this fact. But what it confirms even more is the ambition of Author Solutions. Over the past few years, Author Solutions has been absorbing its largest competitors. Now it seems to have come up with a lucrative new business strategy that offers even more possibilities for expansion. For that reason alone, I think we’ll be seeing more self-publishing divisions in the coming months or years.

(Something I didn’t know: Although only West Bow Press and Harlequin Horizons have received wide attention, they are actually the second and third such Author Solutions partnerships. According to this article in the Indianapolis Star, Author Solutions is also partnered with another Christian publisher, LifeWay. LifeWay’s website makes no mention of self-publishing, but a tiny link at the very bottom leads to Cross Books, “a Christian publishing company that blends the best attributes of self-publishing and traditional publishing.” Author Solutions isn’t named on Cross Books’ website, or at least nowhere that I could find, but the Terms of Use confirms the connection.)