A couple of days ago I started to write about Harlequin launching a self-publishing unit. Real work got in the way of finishing. In the meantime, many more folks were heard from: SFWA made a statement as has MWA, and yesterday, in response to RWA’s hissy fit, Harlequin announced they were taking the Harlequin brand name off their new Horizons self-publishing unit.
Whatever other folks and organizations felt about Harlequin teaming up with Author Solutions (who has taken over earlier self-publishing companies AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Trafford, Wordclay and Xlibris and has an arrangement similar to Harlequin’s with Christian publisher Thomas Nelson–which evidently caused no noticeable outrage), it wasn’t something I was personally thrilled about. And now calling the horse by a different color doesn’t really change much.
If nothing else, self-publishing is a choice a writer needs to make only after seriously considering it and only if they understand the amount of money they commit may never be recovered. Read the SFWA’s Writer Beware article on he subject for a good idea of what should be considered. The truth is that most self-published books sell very few copies. (Author Solutions’ CEO Kevin Weiss stated in a 2009 New York Times articlethe average sales of titles from any of the company’s brands at around 150. One assumes this includes books sold directly to authors. According to a 2004 NYTimes article, 40% of iUniverse’s books are sold directly to authors.)
All too often impatient and overly optimistic writers feel they will be the exception. They think only of positive outcome.
Your chances of selling a lot of self-published books are slim. If you want to pay the money and take that chance, that’s up to you, I guess. People spend lots of money on hobbies. They never expect to make it back.
And with Harlequin Horizons you won’t even be making much off of being self-published.
As for or being discovered by a “real publisher”, those chances are slim, too. And when the leading publisher of a particular genre — a genre that probably has more aspiring writers than any other — decides to profit from exploiting writers dreams? That’s where the ethical ick comes in. The initial Harlequin Horizons Web content read: “Reach the stars and prove dreams do come true. Titles published through Harlequin Horizons will be monitored for possible pickup by Harlequin’s traditional imprints.”
You are paying to be in a new kind a slushpile. In fact, Harlequin plans to make authors they have rejected aware of their service.
You pay your $600-$1600 to get your book published. You can put lots more into it, of course. There are also “extras” you can add on to basic packages. (Like editing, a $5,400 marketing package, the $4800 trailer with voiceover, etc. You are also going to be paying them for more copies of your book than are provided in most packages.
Oh, yeah, trust me, this is a profitable set-up for both Harlequin and Author Solutions. They not only profit from you paying to be published, they profit from every book you sell.
Of course, my favorite part of this whole scheme is the editorial services. Obviously your material wasn’t good enough to start with, so editing is sure to improve it. Line editing is .035 per word; content editing (“all the features of a Line Edit for grammar, punctuation, word choice, sentence structure, capitalization, and spelling, as well as added focus on restructuring sentences and streamlining your work style”) is .042 per word. Developmental editing is .077 per word. (Whoa! I should be making a LOT mot than I make…)
(Psst! Aspiring Authors! Send me $10,000. I’ll see what I can do for you! No promises, of course.)
If you want more on all this: Author Jackie Kressler brings up a lot of other ethically icky points and provides a summation now that Harlequin has blinked.
Not that this is over.