Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Little Miss Crabby Pants Talks Harlequin Horizons

Little Miss Crabby Pants is still trying to wrap her mind around yesterday's big announcement that Harlequin is getting into the vanity publishing business with it's new Harlequin Horizons venture.

I'm a reader and not a writer. I have no aspirations to start writing and work towards publication. Technically speaking, I don't really have a pony in this horse race, but I'll be brutally honest: I hated this idea yesterday and I hate it even more today. If for no other reason than Harlequin is slapping their name on this venture.

Since this is my blog, and presumably you're reading this because it is my blog, I'm going to make this All About Me.

I have very strong opinions about self-publishing and vanity publishing that have been honed over the last 10 years I've been a professional librarian. Those opinions are based on the self and vanity published books that have landed in my path over the past decade. I do believe that self and vanity publishing can work, but it takes a certain set of circumstances. The best example I have is the entire birth of the street lit genre. Those authors chose self-publishing because they were writing completely out of the box. Then they literally hustled their asses off. Once they built up a groundswell of support in the streets? NY took notice - to where you now find street lit authors signing very nice contracts with major houses.

But we're talking mainstream here, not "out of the box," and specifically romance fiction. A genre that literally publishes hundreds of books every single month. Where there is hardly a dearth of titles on the shelves to choose from. And heck, that doesn't even include the output of the small, reputable e-publishers that have come into their own in the last several years.

The sole reason I hate this Harlequin Horizons venture so much is that it makes my job harder. When people make my job harder it tends to piss me off. For the past decade I have practically hounded some of my colleagues that the romance genre is a vibrant, interesting, diverse genre that deserves respect. There are good stories, good characters, and good writing in this genre. Along those line I've probably spent the past 8 or 9 years trying to convince my colleagues and my fellow romance readers (for cripes sake) that Harlequin isn't a punch line. They aren't cookie cutter stories. They aren't fill-in-the-blank, Mad Lib style books that authors bang out on their computers in 30 minutes. There are rich, beautiful, diverse, magical stories being published by Harlequin every month. Hell, I've even gotten pretty good at explaining the god-ass awful titles they slap on a number of their books.

No matter their success. No matter the number of wonderful writers that have published with them in the past and present. No matter the amount of good press they've garnered in recent memory. Harlequin is still the red-headed step-child in a lot of circles. Among readers, non-readers and even romance readers. It's hard enough having justify my love of Harlequin every other day of the week, but this Horizons venture only proceeds in making my choices appear "less valid." It also makes it the perfect "Oh yeah, well what about...." retort from the non-believers that I'm now going to have to figure out how to tap dance around.

If Harlequin wanted to get in the vanity publishing business, fine. But it's the slapping of their name on it I can't abide. It's the selling out of the brand name. The name they have built up over the past 60 years that I have issue with. Because now it's not a matter of you writing a good story. Of hustling your ass off, receiving rejection letters, rewriting, resubmitting, honing your craft. No, now for the right amount of money you too can be published under Harlequin Horizons! I'm telling you, if I was a Harlequin author who spent years working on my writing, going through the process etc. I'd be majorly cheesed off right about now - but that's me.

On a final note I want to address my growing concern that as this story has blown up all over the Internet, many people (I'm look at you Twitter-ers) are referring to Horizons as "HH."

STOP IT!

HH HAS ALWAYS BEEN AND ALWAYS WILL BE HARLEQUIN HISTORICAL. MY FAVORITE IMPRINT OF ROMANCE FICTION IN EXISTENCE. STOP IT. STOP IT NOW. HH IS HARLEQUIN HISTORICAL!!!!!!!

Ahem. Where was I? Oh yeah.....

Over the years I have championed, unabashedly I might add, my love for all things Harlequin. I've read and loved many of their books. I've told everyone and their dead grandmother about those books. Heck, one of the biggest thrills in my almost seven years of blogging was when I was invited to propose an ebook bundle for them. I love the company. I love their stories. I adore and admire many of the writers that used to write for HQ and continue to write for them to this day. They're still my go-to publisher for "discovering" new writers. And I'll be eternally grateful, to the day I die, that I discovered the Harlequin Historical imprint.

But, this. Ugh. I hate it. I don't like it at all. And I'm fully expecting to not change my mind on that issue. If I do, you'll be the first to know. Just as soon as I get done ice skating with Satan's minions.

35 comments:

  1. "If Harlequin wanted to get in the vanity publishing business, fine. But it's the slapping of their name on it I can't abide. It's the selling out of the brand name. The name they have built up over the past 60 years that I have issue with. Because now it's not a matter of you writing a good story. Of hustling your ass off, receiving rejection letters, rewriting, resubmitting, honing your craft. No, now for the right amount of money you too can be published under Harlequin Horizons!"

    THIS. That exactly sums up my feelings about this whole thing.

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  2. We need a shorter that harlequin horizons then. ;) Takes up too many of the 140 characters.


    If Harlequin wanted to get in the vanity publishing business, fine. But it's the slapping of their name on it I can't abide. It's the selling out of the brand name. The name they have built up over the past 60 years that I have issue with. Because now it's not a matter of you writing a good story. Of hustling your ass off, receiving rejection letters, rewriting, resubmitting, honing your craft. No, now for the right amount of money you too can be published under Harlequin Horizons! I'm telling you, if I was a Harlequin author who spent years working on my writing, going through the process etc. I'd be majorly cheesed off right about now - but that's me.

    I agree. 100%. Getting published is a BIG thing.

    Getting pubbed with H/S? That way huge. Writing categories is a lot harder than people realize.

    Getting in with them is a big deal.

    It's an accomplishment. And having somebody 'pay' to be able to claim the same label? It cheapens it, IMO.

    That's just one of the reasons this has left a bad taste in my mouth... the 'funneling' of the rejectees is just another. The way overpricing? Another... O_O

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  3. OH sure now shiloh listens

    ::pout::

    I swear to god I am going to start screaming the more I see people saying HH.

    IT ISN'T HH DAMN IT!

    And so many people think Harlequin IS romance. They think of the Romance as a joke because of the titles and the covers - they are thinking Harlequin. So many fight for respect for the genre (which honestly I am not one to really care either way) but really really really you think this will help?

    Harlequin has come so far, their marketing is fabu, why the hell shoot themselves in the foot for the hell of it when they went about it SO differently for Carina Press?

    It makes my head hurt.

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  4. Great post, Wendy, thanks for sharing your perspective as a librarian. I still don't know what I think, but it helps hearing form everybody.

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  5. Yes, exactly. How can you spend 60 years (100 if you count M&B) developing a unique relationship with your readers and then sell them out to make money off all the ones who trusted you to help them become authors too? The eharlequin boards have now turned into one giant ad for Horizons.

    I humbly apologize for the HH, I'm one of the offenders. And I LOVE the Historical line.

    How about HQHo? Because that's what they are now.

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  6. How about HQHo? Because that's what they are now.

    Sunita for the win!!!

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  7. This is really wonderful and articulate. And it's lovely to see it coming from someone not an author.

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  8. Absolutely right. Romance writers/publisher are working so hard to be taken seriously (despite being just about the only ones making money in the economy)...and now THIS????

    Harlequin Ho is right.

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  9. Shiloh proposed HHz - which I like. Maili (McVane on Twitter) didn't like HHo or HHor because it has negative connotations towards women (female = whore). And I think throwing the "z" in there is a good idea. "Z" is distinctive and it won't be confused for any of the Harlequin lines.

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  10. There's a reason she's the Super Librarian. Well said, Wendy. Very well said.

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  11. The problem, dear Wendy, is that Harlequin is branding the Horizons books with a big old HH in a newly designed logo (though they claim the "brand" will be the author name).

    So I'm afraid you're stuck with HH for Horizons, even though it's been Harlequin Historicals forever. Yet another way Harlequin is fouling their own nest. Be mad at them, not the Twitterfolk.

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  12. Lisa: I've noticed that as well, and it really sends my blood pressure spiking. I would excuse it by saying that only "online" readers use the acronym HH to describe Harlequin Historical - but dang! Harlequin JUST redesigned the Historical covers to include a prominent "HH" with a red wax seal and ribbon.

    Grrrrrrr.

    Seriously peeved. That's my favorite line!

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  13. Tell me that HH lovers are not forgotten step-children? First the titles, then the covers, now this? Honestly, I'm buying Harlequins at the UBS going forward ... except dammit, that hurts some favourite authors.

    What is a STEAMED person to do? As for plastering a brand that is as important to Romance as Coke is to soft drinks, over vanity/self/whatever publishing: I think it really sucks. And for people to say oh but other publishing houses do it ... well so what? I have not developed a personal relationship with them (Malle, Jane, Sarah, Angela are 4 people I feel I "know" somewhat and they have always been founts of info about all things Harlequin) ... so now what? It's actually too much for me to sort out -- I need a little psychic distance!

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  14. Janet: That's the rub. I just can't boycott or buy used from now on because it hurts the authors. Those authors I truly adore and whose books I love. I'm sort of stuck here. I don't like this new venture from HQ, but I'm not about to stop buying my favorite HH and HSR authors new. Sorry, I'm just not.

    Sigh.

    Maybe I'll join you on your psychic distance trip. Will there be Jello shots? I might need Jello shots.

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  15. As a fellow HH fan - who else publishes Westerns on a regular basis, this is very disturbing to me too! I LIKE Harlequins - true, I don't read every line, and I'm the first one to mock the titles in the Presents line, but for them to get into vanity publishing - using the Harlequin brand - seems almost a betrayal of those of us who champion them doesn't it?
    And what about all the wonderful authors who've had to struggle to get published? Now in a way they will be tarred with the same brush so to speak by every Thomasina, Dickley and Harriet who THINKS they have talent!

    What you say - if they want to get into vanity publishing - by all means go for it - but don't use the same brand as those who really are talented!!

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  16. Awesome. Cogent and right on. Go SL!

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  17. You've hit the nail on the head here. If Harlequin wants to make money in self-publishing, cool BUT they shouldn't have put their brand on it... doesn't make sense EXCEPT from a marketing perspective. Selling out sucks.

    On a lighter note, I have entered a short and sweet writing contest and invite you to come on over and read Santie Clawz or 17 other kissing scenes and vote on your favorite. http://www.nightowlromance.com/nightowlromance/contests/authorcontests.aspx

    Thanks - Miranda
    http://sweetvernalzephyr.blogspot.com

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  18. Well said Wendy. As a reader only my biggest concern is for my favorite authors who already write for Harlequin.

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  19. This post is probably my favorite response to the whole thing. The whole thing just cheapens everything that authors have worked hard for.

    And HH will always be Harlequin Historicals as far as I'm concerned!

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  20. I see nothing wrong with wjat Harlequin is doing. Why not wait and judge the products that result? Just because authors have struggled to get published in what has been characterized as the "legitimate" way, doesn't mean that some of those who will self-publish aren't deserving of being read, does it? After all, most readers have at one time or another complained about what IS "legitimately" published, wondering how the particular book they've just thrown against the wall ever achieved it. That suggests that editors or whomever chooses which books to publish don't make wise choices all the time. They just might have rejected one that readers would find a great read.

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  21. Rosie gets the gold star for the day for using the word "cogent" in a blog comment. As My Man would say: "Extra bonus vocab points for you!"

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  22. I'm going to have to agree, enthusiastically, with everything you said. I have a sneaking suspicion that those who champion vanity press books as having "new, unique voices" have never actually read any of them. (I have, thanks.) Are there some gems out there? Probably. Do I personally want to wade through the 99% of sub-standard fare to find them? Not particularly.

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  23. Looks like it's going to be an interesting 2010 for Harlequin. But seriously, $19,999 for a book trailer??

    Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity were made for under $15k and Smith's Clerks for $25k, only $6 ore for this fabulous trailer Harlequin will create.

    Hand me a video camera and pay for the tape and I will make you a book trailer that will astound.

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  24. "Just because authors have struggled to get published in what has been characterized as the "legitimate" way, doesn't mean that some of those who will self-publish aren't deserving of being read, does it?"


    No. But if they make this choice, they deserve a chance to make money.

    And they won't with Horizons. They are almost guaranteed to lose money. They will not be distributed, so they will not be read either.

    Bookstores will laugh at them.

    Librarians will refuse to put their books on the shelves.


    Publishing for profit is a crap shoot. But this reduces it to the odds for lightning strike. Or maybe alien abduction.

    As someone who worked as a paperback merchandizer
    is a librarian complete with MLS
    has self published (and made a profit)
    and is published by the real HH

    and who has watched several family members get ripped off by vanity publishing--

    I can tell you this is a bad deal for everyone but Torstar. Do not support it.

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  25. "I can tell you this is a bad deal for everyone but Torstar. Do not support it."

    True. But part of "Crabby Pants" suggested that self-publishing was also a problem. I don't see that.

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  26. Anon: Go back and read my post again since you obviously missed it the first time. I clearly state:

    I do believe that self and vanity publishing can work, but it takes a certain set of circumstances.

    It can work, but the writers need to understand what they're getting themselves into. The self-pubbed books that have "made it" did so because the authors hustled their asses off. They didn't just self-publish a book, throw up a web site, then sit on their hands and wait for the money to roll in. For every one self-pub book that "makes it" there are literally tens of thousands that don't even come close.

    Also, self-pub isn't what Harlequin Horizons is offering. They're offering a vanity press. Give us a shit-load of YOUR money, we'll print your book, but oh we won't distribute it for you, and by the way we want a huge chunk of what little profit you'll be lucky to make.

    Self-pub is good for some people. Truly. But that's not what this is. This whole deal is steaming pile of poo left out in the sun.

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  27. I read it again. I noted again that your attitude toward self and vanity publishing is that it "makes [your] job harder"; you imply that few of the self and vanity published books--with the exception of "street lit"--have impressed. Despite the admission that self and vanity publishing may work for "some," the general tone of "Crabby Pants" implies disapproval of self and vanity publishing as I read it.

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  28. read it again. I noted again that your attitude toward self and vanity publishing is that it "makes [your] job harder";

    Really, I am going to leave this alone soon. But it's like picking at a scab.

    And I will qualify this statement by saying that I no longer work in libraries. Things change. Policies vary. But as far as I can tell, things get worse not better on this subject.

    I was taught in collection development class inlibrary school, to ignore vanity press stuff. Do not buy. Refuse the donation. Sluff it off to the friends of the library book sale. Or throw it out.

    Everyone's got a book in them. Doesn't mean they are good books. Do not waste space and money on bad books no one will read.

    It is not a librarian's job to do the first evaulation on the worth of materials after they get into the collection. They evaluate before.

    If a self pub or vanity press book gets a ton of word of mouth, good reviews, is by a known author, is by nonfiction by an expert in a niche field?

    It should be evaluated.

    But if someone opens the flood gates on unedited manuscripts? Then yes, Wendy's job just got harder. The chances get smaller that she will find the good books, because she will be busy lugging crappy books to the dumpster, and avoiding the gazes of all those patrons who 'just published a book' that she can't accept because it is probably an unedited Vanity project.

    She has superpowers. But Vanity publishing has the potential to be Kryptonite.

    It has nothing to do with opinions on the value of self pub or vanity press, or the quality of any individual author's work. It is not a slight. Just cold hard truth.

    I can skate into a lot of stores and libraries with my books that come from a big publishing house. There is an assumed level of quality on those books, since previous books from the house have been good.

    But all bets are off with my self published book. I am on my own. And when you are on your own, you not only have to write, sell, and market. you have to prove the quality of the work.

    On this project, I will have to fight against the prevailing current to make sales. And the prevailing current is flowing from the waste treatment plant. Always has been.

    Librarians and booksellers can't be expected to take it on faith. If there is an apparent disapproval of self publishing and vanity publishing, it is because these models have proved, over and over again, that there is a lot to disapprove of.

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  29. Buying your way into a "published by Harlequin" status is like buying one of those "Lord of the Manor" titles sold on the Internet.

    It won't get you the respect you think it will, and it costs way more than its worth.

    If I were a real Harlequin author, I'd be seriously cheesed.

    And if I were a Torstar (the parent company) stockholder, I'd be calling the BoD to find out why they think diluting the brand is a good idea.

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