Friday, December 4, 2009

Mid-November, Harlequin announced the launch of Harlequin Horizons, a new division billed as "[an] opportunity for women's fiction writers and romance authors to publish their books and achieve their dreams," provided they've got cashola to subsidize that publication. The partnership with subsidy-publishing juggernaught AuthorSolutions drew instant opposition from several authors guilds, which quickly lambasted Horizons as a vanity press operation. The Romance Writers of America announced Harlequin wouldn't be eligible for favored-publisher privileges at next year's national convention, the Science Fiction Writers of America announced "NO titles from ANY Harlequin imprint will be counted as qualifying for membership in SFWA," and the Mystery Writers of America said it might also take that route.

(Some of the above quoted from Mediabistro's Galleycat, 2009)

Since mid-November, Harlequin tried to sneak under the radar, re-branding Harlequin Horizons as DellArte Press, and the Mystery Writers of America jumped off the fence to the “personae non grate” side, declaring Harlequin as no longer a member of its prized “approved publishers” list. According to its rules, a "publishing entity" must "be wholly separate and isolated" from "an entity that provides self-publishing, for-pay editorial services, or for-pay promotional services." Harlequin’s alliance with AuthorSolutions violates these conditions, ergo the personae-non-grate status.

Who cares? Well, Harlequin does, that’s for sure. But, writers should care about this development as well. The various guilds find themselves in murky waters vis-à-vis pubs decisions to leverage the emerging power of Internet self-publishing. At a time when every angle is being explored to expand a publishing company’s bottom line, this once clear line in the sand separating the vanity world of wannabe authors from the proud world of made-it authors (i.e., published versus really published) is vanishing. As businesses, the pubs are scrambling to shore up the leaking business models of yesteryear, hoping against hope a new model that will show them to the golden road of profitability will emerge soon.

In the meantime, a profit center is emerging in the chaos. Subsidy publishing is on the rise and writers, the good, bad, and ugly are flocking to this opportunity. How should the guilds respond? Should they oppose, outright, traditional publishers from venturing into these profitable waters? Are they only trying to protect traditionally published author’s territories and their own member bases? Or are they missing an opportunity to follow the lead of some of these pubs that see the writing on the wall and are trying to adapt and innovate?

Questions, questions, I’m full of them. I don’t have the answer on this one. I’m not condemning either side. I see how each has its own reasons for picking one or the other side of this fence. I just think the guilds should not be so quick to throw down the gauntlet. Things are evolving for everyone in the publishing industry and writers, their organizations, and the publishers and their organizations are all scrambling to make sense of something that is still in flux. I understand it’s hard to not take a position, especially when special interests or feisty memberships demand such, but careful consideration is in order. I’m still looking at all the pros and cons for pubs moving in the subsidy-publishing direction, because I’m not convinced this could not be a win-win for everyone, if communication stays open and cooler heads prevail.

Maybe not, though, maybe this is just one more ploy to screw writers … except for the fact that the emerging group of writers in the subsidy arena kind of consider themselves writers too. Including the half-dozen or so who have made the New York Times bestseller list. Gosh—it’s all getting so bloody complicated. Grand, isn’t it.

[Full Disclosure: I work for AuhorSolutions as an editorial consultant.]

No comments: