SFWA Statement on Harlequin’s vanity press imprint

Advocate - istockIn 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.

54 Responses

  1. DeAnn Rossetti

    Hurrah for SFWA for taking a stand on this heinous self publishing scheme designed to separate writer wannabes from their wallets.
    It’s just wrong, and I agree that they should be shunned for this shameful corporate greed.

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  3. Paula Helm Murray

    I’m all for this. Harlequin was already treading on thin ice. I once attempted to study their market and subscribed to one of their services to get ‘novels’. After reading a bunch, I couldn’t stomach trying to write them…

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  7. Amy Sterling Casil

    Thank you for the support, everyone. I want to believe they did not have bad intentions. However, if one looks at the Thomas Nelson-sponsored site, heavily linked from their publisher front page – that’s an example that we cannot support in the professional writing community. I hope Harlequin will see they are a different type of business and one that relies upon their many faithful and enthusiastic readers.

  8. Anna S.

    Good for SFWA! I applaud you for standing up for your authors, and issuing a statement that lays out in no uncertain terms that a simple name-change is not enough to repair the damage that Harlequin has done both to its own brand and to the cause of aspiring and already-published writers everywhere. It is tremendously encouraging to me, as an aspiring writer, to see the actions of the SFWA, the MWA, and the RWA in support of their members, even if it means taking one of the biggest names in publishing to task over their unfair policies.

  9. Dannis Cole

    Not all self-published authors have paid to be there. I am on Food Stamps, but I am published with CreateSpace. They have services that cost a bunch, but I knew enough that I didn’t need them. It did not cost me a penny to put my book up there with them. I did the hardcover through http://www.lulu.com, and same story, it did not cost me a penny. CreateSpace does charge cost for a proof copy, and I wanted fast delivery, so it set me back about $20. Why self-publish my sci fi novel? I’ve been sending off my novels and short stories for years to publishers. Aldis Burdrys liked one of my stories, but it didn’t fit his market. My stories are very different than what mainstream publishers publish. They are too long. Publishers won’t publish 700 page books because of paper shortages.

    I am not paying to publish my books. True, I am not being paid, but it keeps my mind from becoming mush while I sit here in my bed. Where I am all day, most days. I am disabled and can no longer work. I still write. I do my own covers. I fix my own computer. I wanted to see my book in print before I die. Every library I’ve shown it to has wanted it [about 15 or so before I got too sick to go out]. I knew before I went this route that I ruined any chance of making any money with my book, but I feel that this is the right choice for me. For the person who’s writing something that’s radically different from what the few editors are looking for, this is a good way to go. I wouldn’t recommend it to new writers without them sending their books to traditional publishers. But, you have to be traditional to sell traditional. I have never looked at Author Solutions, but I have found mention of them amid many complaints.

    Maybe Harlequin made a mistake by signing with them. But, should you punish all those Luna Books authors who paid their dues and got published? That’s heartless, and I’m frankly shocked that you are doing this. Those authors, and all at Harlequin, didn’t have any stake in this sad decision. Yet, they are the ones who will pay. Harlequin is big enough, it probably won’t even acknowledge your protest.

    I feel very, very sad for all those authors. If you check out things, you will find that my sister is a Harlequin author. What you won’t find is that she began her career as a sci fi author, was published, and the company went out of business. She turned to romance in the 80’s [she was writing sci fi since 1963 or before] and since she was a good writer, she got published. Look at Isaac Asimov and how versatile he was. Many sci fi authors write other things. But, I disagree with your assertion that editing improves authors. I was proofreading my sister’s manuscripts at age 11, back when she had to type 3 carbons without a mistake. She was a much better typist than I. Her book The Morcai Battalion, which finally won her the coveted SFWA membership, has two versions. The 1963 version, and the 2008 version. I like both, and would be hard-pressed to say which is ‘better’. My sister says the editors built her. I say she was just fine before editors.

    My sister will probably kill me for leaving this comment, but it is true.

    Have a good day, because my sister won’t, when this news reaches her.

    Dannis Cole
    Disabled/Author [yes, I have sold copies of my book]
    Amateur Writer [by your definition]

  10. Laura Anne Gilman

    Thank you, SFWA, for coming down hard on this. I say that as both a SFWA member, and as a Luna/Nocturne author.

    I’ve been proud and pleased of my association with Luna — my editor is a wonderful person who cares a lot about both the romance and SF genres. Sadly, she’s not the one making the corporate decisions — this is happening at a level well above “mere” editors. While I understand the business need to make money, I wish Torstar/Harlequin had found a way that didn’t fly in the face of everything editors spend their lives promoting; the publication of the BEST manuscripts that come past their desks, not the ones with the fattest wallets.

  11. Jane Smith

    We’re going to see more and more of these publishing schemes in the future, and while I have no objection to them if they’re done right–and don’t lead writers to believe that they’re the route to real publishing success–the Harlequin Horizons imprint is wrong in so many ways.

    My thanks to the SFWA for taking this stand. I hope that Harlequin takes note.

  12. Patricia Kay

    Was it necessary, Paula, to insult all authors of books published under the Harlequin umbrella? As a long-time Silhouette author (Silhouette is owned by Harlequin), I applaud SFWA’s decision, but that doesn’t mean I think the books published under Harlequin’s many imprints are trash. On the contrary, many very fine writers work for Harlequin. One of them was even nominated for a Pulitzer a few years ago. Many of them are on the NY Times bestseller list again and again. When I read posts like yours I can’t help but think envy is the emotion behind it. Shame on you.

  13. Candy Thompson

    My problem is just not this join ventures, but with Author’s House’s manner of doing business. I am the sister of the late author Dawn Thompson. In 2001, after an accident that left her confined to a wheelchair, she was in despair of ever selling. She signed a contract with Author’s House for 2 books- Odin’s Daughter (printed in 2001) and Children of the Wind (2002). In 2004 she sold to Dorchester Publishing, and immediately she cancelled the contract with AH for these books. They made her pay to get out of the contracts. Both of these books have been OOP for all this time.

    Before Dawn’s death she gave me the rights to these books and half dozen others, because I am disabled and she wanted them to help me.

    Just as the deal with Harlequin was in the works, SUDDENLY, they started printing copies of Odin’s Daughter again. Yes, printing a book without paying royalties, printing a book without a contract with my dead sister, and worse, printing without a contract with me, the current rights holder. I have contacted them, received no reply. Amazon.com has pulled the listing of the book at my request.

    This is who Harlequin is partnered with?

  14. Danielle Meitiv

    The writing community is united in its opposition to Harlequin’s new venture – SFWA, the Romance Writers of America and the Mystery Writers of America have all roundly condemned Harlequin Horizons. SFWA goes even further, asking that Harlequin not only change the name of the venture to avoid confusion but to abandon the project altogether. I am too cynical to believe that that will happen but I applaud SFWA for their bold and unequivocal stance.

  15. Anonymous

    I have been a Harlequin author for nearly 20 years, and I thank you for taking this stand against a publisher who plans to turn their slush pile to gold at the expense of newbie writers. I am proud of the RWA board for their decision as well. These are the organizations that represent US and not the corporate ninnies who only want to make a buck. Trust me, 99% of the Harlequin authors are sickened and disappointed by what our once-illustrious publisher has done.

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  17. Nancy Holder

    I’m also a Harlequin author, and I teach in an MFA program. My Harlequin editors are fantastic people, and Harlequin has treated me very well. I’m proud of my affiliation with them. But the Harlequin Horizons program is wrong.

  18. Jean

    “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.”

    If you want to spank Harlequin specifically for the vanity press venture, that’s one thing (though they’ve been selling book-doctoring services for quite a while), but to bar authors who were published by your approved path is just plain wrong. I hope you rethink this policy.

  19. Amy Sterling Casil

    The letter is very clear – from now on, until Harlequin dissociates itself from this venture exploiting aspiring writers, new publications with Harlequin will not be regarded as eligible publications for membership in the organization.

    There is, and was no intent to retroactively say that books published previously with Harlequin did not qualify and will not continue to qualify (they will).

    This decision would be made regarding any publisher that deviated from its professional advance and royalty standards for books that it published. Many presses that have published professional authors and paid them at professional levels, while at the same time paying low- and no-advances to others, were and are in the same position regarding qualifications. There is no purpose in upholding the standard if it does not apply to all.

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  21. Mary Robinette Kowal

    @Jean: The restriction is not retroactive and is shown that way on our membership application materials. It is consistent with our existing guidelines.

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  23. Rachel Heslin

    Although for the most part I agree with this, I, too, am a bit uncomfortable with the blanket punishment of authors who are published via the traditional imprints/lines. Would it not make more sense to merely quarantine the offending vanity imprint itself?

    Or is it the case that, for the good of the professional writing community as a whole, it has been decided that the harsher disqualification was necessary to pressure Harlequin to drop its association with Author’s House, even if it means (at least at this point) penalizing innocents?

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal

      It is important to understand that SFWA is not applying the ban retroactively and will lift it as soon as Harlequin changes its practices. Many aspiring writers look to our list of qualifying publishers when trying to decide where to send their manuscripts so we strive to have only those publishers which follow good industry practices. Harlequin no longer does.

  24. Jim Oliver

    Harlequin, in changing the name of the service, does no more to repair their reputation than changing Lydia Bennet’s to Wickham. For shame! The house of Harlequin shall be forever sullied by this disgraceful elopement.

  25. Ann C. Crispin

    SFWA has always been one of the most proactive author advocates out there. Since its inception, SFWA has a reputation for calling publishers out when they make sleazy decisions involving ripping off writers (and, in this case, aspiring authors) and “Harlequin Horizons” is, sadly, in this unfortunate tradition.

    Way to go, Russell Davis and the SFWA BOD.

    -Ann C. Crispin
    Chair, Writer Beware

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  27. Michael J. Lowrey

    I applaud your principled stand in full. All I can do as a reviewer is to announce that Sunrise Book Reviews will not review any Harlequin imprint titles until they do the right thing; but since Sunrise is a looseknit partnership of freelancers, our stance is not going to matter much to the corporate thugs who came up with this idea. (What’s the matter, boys; business down in the unionbusting and sweatshop industries?)

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  29. Amy Sterling Casil

    Rachel – it is not a “punishment” to authors in any way. As I pointed up before, a number of publishing houses over time have taken the approach of paying a few authors professional rates in a professional manner, while paying others less than pro rates, and issuing non-royalty, flat-fee or “work for hire” contracts. If an author and agent want to go with Harlequin, then that is their decision. SFWA can’t bend its overall stand that all receive pro advances and royalties, which are not high, believe me – in order for works published with the publisher to be considered as qualifying membership publications. This doesn’t revoke anything from anybody. And there are many other publishers out there who are paying above the minimum advance. A person can’t qualify with “work for hire” or non-royalty-based contracts either.

  30. Kayelle Allen

    Hearing that Harlequin was opening an eBook line made me smile. I love books, both print and e-format, and was about to applaud them for finally joining the 21st century.
    That is, until I read about Harlequin’s decision to give their rejected authors an opportunity to pay them for the privilege of having been rejected. I almost choked on my coffee, and had to read the article again. Sure enough, they had opened a vanity press where they could send their *rejected* authors, who would then pay *them* to be published. Hellooo? Does this not scream “rip off” on every level? Shameful is too tame a word. SFWA, MWA, RWA and others are right to take a stand. Thank you for having backbone. Apparently it is no longer present at the “big H.”

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  34. WriterBeware

    EPIC (an association for electronically published authors) has just waded into the fray with a self-serving, Johnny-come-lately statement that takes several swipes at other authors’ groups. In particular, it says this:

    Worse, SFWA and RWA have historically removed current paid members, who’ve formerly qualified as published authors with a later-revoked publisher, from membership or from membership perks they’d qualified for, in previous industry dust-ups. Some of those authors never regained the status they were stripped of.

    I don’t know about RWA, but I am pretty sure that SFWA has not done this–not just now, but ever. Might be worth a response.

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  42. Kathi Macias

    As the author of thirty books and one who continues to publish regularly in the traditional publishing world, I feel qualified to comment on this topic. I chose to self-publish a book a few years ago simply because it made more sense to do so. I needed the book quickly (by self-publishing I got it in thirty days!), wanted to maintain control (I have been able to make content changes since the original publication), and because my primary source for sales on this particular book is selling it at conferences where I speak/teach I wanted to earn more money per book than I would traditionally (I average $3–$6 per sale on this self-published book). Do I have to do most of my own marketing for this self-published book? Absolutely. But I do that for my traditionally published books as well. Since making the decision to self-publish this particular book several years ago, I can look back and say that not only do I not have any regrets at having done so, I would do so again in a heartbeat.

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  44. Chris

    These comments reflect many sentiments—apprehension, intolerance, concern, vision, and outrage. No doubt they are well-intentioned, yet it seems we may have lost the plot. Many of us are writers, published and unpublished, who have taken various paths to attain our goals. Others are agents, publishers, or interested individuals who help writers reach those goals in various ways. All have a stake in the issue, yet in our haste to condemn a new concept we have forgotten that publishing, as with any other industry, must adapt. Adaptation requires trying new things—stretching the boundaries of the old ways to include new methods.

    The publishing world is changing or, rather, change is being thrust upon it. It is becoming less exclusive and open to a wider field of participants—more writers, more diverse readers. The expanding field of e-books is leveling the playing field. Anyone can publish an e-book, price it low, and sell it cheap. There are more people able to publish than at any time in history. The loss of exclusivity threatens some of us and encourages others. It means we must share the realm—this realm we have fought so hard to gain entrance to–and that is a concept many cannot accept.

    Why do we write? For notoriety? For money? For membership in an exclusive club? For the right to contend for a certain award? Or do we write because we love to share information, ideas, magical realms, tragic experiences, or compelling romances? Do we write because our readers long to escape into a good story—to take a journey only we can orchestrate? There are many ways to make money. There’s only one way to provide good books, and that’s to write good books.

    This is not an exclusive club existing for the benefit of its members. This is a passion shared by many, many people on both sides of the page. Some want to safeguard the ‘purity’ of literature by allowing only those favored few to provide it. While that is understandable, the concept of what constitutes ‘literature’ has always been open to interpretation. Granted, many indie books should not have been allowed outside the author’s basement, but some have been as good, and even superior to, books with a more recognizable logo on the spine. A great book is a treasure regardless of how it reaches the readers’ hands.

    I admire any writer with the perseverance, patience, and dedication to break into the difficult arena of traditional publishing. I also admire the independents with the courage to put their work out there anyway, to shoulder all the duties and responsibilities of promotion, editing, and design. To take all the risk. Whether they produce the book themselves or sub-contract a subsidy publisher is completely, utterly irrelevant, though some folks just love the term ‘vanity publisher’, as it implies the author’s work is only worthy in his/her own mind. How very narrow-minded of them.

    I dabble in many creative fields; writing, illustration, songwriting and performance. As such, I have occasion to find myself among writers, artists, and musicians. One might imagine they would be similar–they are all creative people–but it’s the writers who demand to see a pedigree before they will accept a fellow writer. Musicians are by far the most welcoming. They love to play together, to try new forms of music, to share what their fellow musicians are doing, and to cheer one another on. I don’t understand why that is, but I do know one thing: writers would do well to take a lesson from them, because the traditional model is in need of a makeover.

    The good news is that there are enough appreciative readers to go around. The bad books won’t survive. The good ones will. The deluded writers (those who don’t understand basic proofreading, let alone editing) will learn some hard lessons. If they are dedicated they will adapt. If not, they’ll fall by the wayside along with the ‘failed’ musicians and artists. At least they will have seen their work in print, which is enough reward for some. It’s not our place to deny them the opportunity.

    As I read these comments, many of which are filled with outrage on behalf of the poor, deluded, unworthy writers whose dreams will be hijacked for money, I cannot help but wonder whether some of the concern lies not for them, but for the ‘exclusive club’. Writers have worked hard to attain that distinction and they deserve esteem, but we need to play together. Yes, some indie authors are talentless, deluded, and hopeless. Others are willing to develop their talents, to polish their skills and manuscripts, to seek editorial help, and to produce a product of quality. The market is stacked against them yet they persevere, and their reasons for ‘going indie’ are their own.

    Good books must be written, and good stories deserve to be shared. I’m a self-taught guitar player, but the ‘real’ musicians will jam with me anyway. Each of us lends talent to the circle. Why can’t writers do the same?

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