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Friday, November 20, 2009

New Harlequin vanity press yields to protest by writers


Tuesday chick-lit publisher Harlequin Enterprises announced a new joint venture with vanity publisher Author Solutions that would allow writers who were rejected by Harlequin to pay to have their books published.

The new operation was to be called Harlequin Horizons. The name pissed off a lot of writers, particularly members of the Romance Writers of America (RWA). It's a trade association with over 10,000 members. Writers who had been published by the traditional Harlequin operation thought that their status would be diminished by writers who pay to publish books that would have the Harlequin name on them.

RWA has established standards for members books (gotta have a happy ending) and publishers. Vanity publishers are banned from RWA's national conference and their authors are banned from RWA contests.

Because of Harlequin's establishment of a vanity-press operation, RWA told its members and the world that Harlequin no longer meets RWA standards and would be dropped from RWA events and the RWA catalog. Harlequin has participated in RWA events for many years and RWA authors have won RWA awards.

As reported by E-Reads, Harlequin quickly blinked.

Harlequin boss Donna Hayes said, "It is disappointing that the RWA has not recognized that publishing models have and will continue to change. As a leading publisher of women's fiction in a rapidly changing environment, Harlequin's intention is to provide authors access to all publishing opportunities, traditional or otherwise.

Most importantly, however, we have heard the concerns that you, our authors, have expressed regarding the potential confusion between this venture and our traditional business. As such, we are changing the name of the self-publishing company from Harlequin Horizons to a designation that will not refer to Harlequin in any way. We will initiate this process immediately. We hope this allays the fears many of you have communicated to us."

Meanwhile Harlequin is faced with an additional protest from another writers' group -- the Mystery Writers of America.

MWA issued a statement saying, "...it is common for disreputable publishers to try to profit from aspiring writers by steering them to their own for-pay editorial, marketing, and publishing services. The implication is that by paying for those services, the writer is more likely to sell his manuscript to the publisher. Harlequin recommends the 'eHarlequin Manuscript Critique Service' in the text of its manuscript submission guidelines for all of its imprints and include a link to Harlequin Horizons, its new self-publishing arm, without any indication that these are advertisements."

"That, coupled with the fact that these businesses share the Harlequin name, may mislead writers into believing they can enhance their chances of being published by Harlequin by paying for these services. Offering these services violates long-standing MWA rules for inclusion on our Approved Publishers List."

"We are taking this action because we believe it is vitally important to alert our members of unethical and predatory publishing practices that take advantage of their desire to be published. We respect Harlequin and its authors and hope the company will take the appropriate corrective measures."

I'd like to see -- and maybe I'll have to start -- another writers group to fight vanity presses that misuse the "self-publisher" label to prey on misinformed and naive writers.

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