Harlequin Ho–I mean, Horizons…

Others have already posted on the controversial "Harlequin Horizons" situation–many more eloquently than I can probably manage–but I still think this is such a critically important issue that the more people who get the word out there, the better. First, a little background for those who don’t know. Harlequin Enterprises Limited (AKA HQE) is one of THE major publishers worldwide, predominantly producing books that appeal strongly to women. Many know them for their various lines of category (or series) romance novels and tons of aspiring authors submit to them hoping to be the next writer whose manuscript is picked up out of the "slush" pile.

Which is exactly what Harlequin Horizons (HHO)–or should I say, its parent company, media conglomerate Torstar–is banking on.

Just a few days ago, HQE started bombarding the world with announcements that it had "teamed up" with infamous vanity publisher, Author Solutions, to form Harlequin Horizons, a new "imprint" for aspiring romance authors to use should they choose to self-publish. Only problem is, the option HHO provides is most emphatically not self-publishing. It is, pure and simply, vanity publishing.

So, what the heck is the difference between the two? Good question. According to Writer Beware, a volunteer outfit dedicated to author education and protection, a vanity publisher is one that "prints and binds a book at the author’s sole expense. Costs include the publisher’s profit and overhead, so vanity publishing is usually a good deal more expensive than self-publishing." (http://www.sfwa.org/for-authors/writer-beware/vanity/) Due to the ever-evolving landscape of vanity publishers hoping to cash in on aspiring writers by practicing sneakier and sneakier tactics, Writer Beware actually updated its description of vanity publishers to include:

"A vanity publisher relies on its authors as its main source of income–whether by charging fees for publication or other services, or requiring authors to buy or pre-sell their own books. It often presents itself as a publisher (sometimes claiming to be a “traditional” publisher and concealing its fees) rather than a self-publishing service, claiming to be selective despite employing little meaningful quality screening. Adjunct services (editing, marketing, and/or distribution) are generally minimal or of dubious value. A vanity publisher claims various rights by contract, and owns the ISBN and the completed books, which remain in the publisher’s possession until sold. Payment to the author is in the form of a royalty."

Self-publishing, on the other hand, may require the author to bear all costs of printing as well, but there the similarities pretty much end. Writer Beware describes it thus:

"However, rather than paying for a pre-set package of services, the author puts those services together himself. Because every aspect of the process can be out to bid, self-publishing can be much more cost effective than vanity publishing; it can also result in a higher-quality product. All rights, the ISBN, and completed books are owned by the author, who keeps all proceeds from sales."

The core difference between the two, then, is that with vanity publishing, the vanity publisher retains control over the publishing process, including profits and payment to the author. In self-publishing, however, the author retains complete control over the entire process from start to finish, and also reaps 100% of the profits once the publishing costs have been taken care of. With vanity publishers, on the other hand, the publisher is controlling how much of the profits the author actually sees on the back end.

Which is exactly the case with Harlequin’s new so-called "self-publishing" imprint, Harlequin Horizons. Not only is HHO charging exorbitant fees to publish (or should I say print), editor, or market (and yes, those last two will cost you extra–a LOT extra) an author’s books, it will also hold on to all profits except for 50% of the net profits, which it will "generously" forward on to the author as royalty payments. This tidbit according to statements released by Harlequin representatives (not to mention the HHO website).

Let me explain why this quite simply sucks for the author. First, it’s important to understand how author payments are typically calculated in the publishing industry. Major "traditional" publishers often pay their authors a percentage on the cover price of the book. This is exactly what authors should hold out for. Paying on the net, on the other hand, means that the publisher calculates an author’s percentage not on the cover price, but on whatever net profits the publisher makes on the book–AFTER deducting any discounts given to booksellers.

Wait, you say, discounts–what discounts??? The way the publishing industry currently works is that publishers give retailers and wholesalers a significant discount on books, usually anywhere from 40-60%. Let’s do the fictional math for my debut urban fantasy, Red Hot Fury, coming out in summer, 2010. Amazon.com lists the cover price for the paperback as $7.99. Let’s say my royalty rate per book is right in the middle of the average–8%. My cut per book if paid on the cover price (once I earn out the advance my fabulous publisher paid me and start earning royalties) would be approximately 64 cents. Now, doing the math based on royalties on the net, we come up with a much lower number. We’ll take the middle-of-the-road discount of 50%, which takes my cover price from $7.99 to just under $4.00, slashing my 8% cut in half to 32 cents. Ouch. That’s a significant difference.

Career-minded authors–like me!–should never stand for having their take-home pay slashed by 50%. Especially in a supposed self-publishing venture where already paid all costs associated with publishing the book. True self-publishing ventures result in 100% of the profits going straight to the person in control of the entire process: the author.

I can say with wholehearted enthusiasm that I would never in a million years recommend HHO’s current business model for any aspiring author. True self-publishing has its place and can be an awesome option for certain authors–especially non-fiction experts or niche writers. But a particularly-expensive, thinly-veiled vanity publisher is not one I would recommend.

Aspiring authors should always keep in mind Yog’s Law, formulated by SF author James D. Macdonald, staunch author advocate: Money flows to the author. Not away. Always.

Professional authors receive rejections–both before and after making their first sales. Receiving a rejection isn’t personal. It just means something about the submitted manuscript didn’t work for a particular agent or editor at a particular time. Whether because the writing isn’t quite up to snuff, the story just didn’t float that person’s boat, or the editor just bought a book similar to yours–doesn’t mean you should give up. Keep writing, keep learning the craft, and keep submitting. Remember that publishing is a business, and a subjective one. Just because one agent or editor tells you no doesn’t mean that all will. And just because this book didn’t result in an agent or editor offer doesn’t mean the next one won’t.

Even if you still decide that self-publishing is a viable option for you, there are much better-priced options, such as Lulu, that will allow you to retain control of the process. Just remember that most vanity and self-published books sell an average of 75-100 copies. Maybe you’ll beat that average–but maybe you won’t.

Either way, knowledge is key. Make sure you educate yourself and go into any publishing venture with eyes wide open. Remember, a vanity-publishing venture that calls itself a self-publishing venture and has a powerhouse publishing company behind it is still a vanity publisher at heart. If it looks like a duck, waddles like a duck, and sounds like a duck, it’s still a duck even if it calls itself a swan.

And when it comes to Harlequin Horizons as it currently stands, I just have one thing to say. Quack, quack, baby!!!

Teaser Tuesday…

So here’s my Teaser Tuesday post for mah Purgie Peeps! It’s a scene from the Djinn YA urban fantasy I’m polishing up in preparation for my agent shopping it. In this scene, my mortal MC (as opposed to my "good" Djinn MC) has just discovered that her new boyfriend isn’t exactly what she thought he was–in more ways than one!


Aubrie stared at Seth, horror seething through her but unable to do anything to express it except watch wordlessly. He gave her cheek one last pat and then stepped back. "Oh, Blue Eyes, this is going to be so much fun. You really are much yummier to play with than all my other mortals combined. Prettier, too." His eyes narrowed when she remained silent, and then he shook his head with a laugh. "Silly me." He gestured, and the ice holding her in its frozen grip melted enough for her to move her head, and speak.

Terror overtook horror and she tried to make sense of things. People couldn’t just point at others and make them do whatever they wanted them to do. Unless–maybe he had some sort of super hypnotic power? When impatience swept across his face, she hurried to fill the silence. "I–You–What are you?"

Apparently that was good enough, because he leaned back against the dining room table, folded his hands over his chest, and tilted his head. "Ahh, now see, that’s a much better question than the one your brother suggested earlier."

"Stepbrother," she corrected, more out of habit than anything.

Rather than annoying him, that only made him laugh. "I’m surprised your family’s threshold has remained intact, what with all the antagonism between you two. The overwhelming power of–" He made a sour face. "–love."

"Threshold? Like stepping across a doorway?"

He gave an approving nod. "Exactly, Blue. Every home has one, some stronger than others, extending farther than one might expect. I wasn’t counting on yours keeping your brother–I’m sorry, stepbrother–safe on the porch. Damned lucky for him. Tipped my hand sooner than I wanted, of course, since he somehow recognized me."

She forced herself to breathe evenly. "Recognized you from where?"

His smile grew wolfish. "From my little fling with his mother, of course."

Aubrie’s throat seemed to close up as a host of emotions ripped through her. Turned out to be a good thing he’d pulled his hocus pocus routine or she probably would have fallen flat on her ass. Oh God. Poor Cody… And poor, not-so-crazy Cynthia. Fury had her paying no heed to the danger she herself currently faced. "What did you do to her, you psycho?"

"Psycho? Me?" Seth chuckled. "I suppose that, to a mortal, it might look that way, when really, I’m just being who and what I am."

She ignored the "mortal" comment. "A monster?"

"Ahhh, a little closer to the truth, Blue Eyes. At least, coming from your perspective." He reached forward and caressed her hair, only chuckling again when she jerked it–still the only part of her body she could move–away from his hand. "The truth is somewhat complicated, so I’ll simplify. You can consider me a big, bad, evil genie."

Aubrie had a sudden, horrifying flashback to the day she met Jazz. "You can consider me your own personal genie, here to grant your every wish." This had to be some awful, unrelated coincidence. Didn’t it? Jazz couldn’t have the slightest thing in common with this lunatic. Could she?

"That’s right. Just like your new little friend. Okay, maybe not exactly the same. She’s more your Disney version, whereas I…" His lips peeled back to reveal sharp, jagged teeth. Shark’s teeth in an otherwise human face. "I am far closer to something Stephen King might cook up."

New Business Cards!

So I ordered new business cards from vistaprint and I think they look pretty darned snazzy!

What do you think? To me, they fit in with the genre I’m writing and I’m happy with them! Can’t wait until they get here so I can see if they look better in person like the last batch I ordered. =)

And now to cheer my sick (again) self up with dark chocolate brownies fresh from the oven…

Edited to redact personal contact info. =)

Updated Henna Pics!

So I’m still LOVING henna and what it does for my hair. I took a few pics for those who are interested in how it’s working out for me. I rehennaed my hair two days ago and again overnight last night. These pics were taken on my camera phone with no flash but under my light in the living room. I will take more pics in a few days once the henna oxidizes and darkens (which it always does over the first days post-henna application). Oh! Also, I am getting professional author photos taken on Wednesday so I’ll have even better pics to share then. =)