Friday, November 20, 2009

To Be Professional: The Harlequin Debacle

Okay, I know I already did one blog today, but this seriously needs to be addressed.  I know I'll ruffle a few feathers with this, but what I'm going to write here is the truth, plain and simple, and if you ask any professional writer, they'll agree. Here it is:


Simple statement, eh?  Here's the problem.  Say you're an aspiring writer.  You've just written your 400+ page opus, and you start sending it around.  And you get rejected.  Then along comes some company...Oh...Let's say Publish America, or Harlequin, who says "You too can be a real live author through our imprint, if you agree to pay for the publishing costs!"  You agree to fork over a boatload of cash and suddenly, you have a book!  You're a professional author, right?  Not so fast, Sparky...Not even close.

If I wanted to, I could put together a book consisting of 400 formatted pages of the words "Dog Excrement" over and over, design it myself and publish it myself.  Seriously, you could do that.  It's easy...and all it takes is money.  But if I did that, would I consider myself an author?  Who would edit my work?  Would would have the gonads to stand up to me and say "Hey, Scott, y'know that crap book?  It really is crap?"  Not only that, but what stores would carry it, and just who would buy the thing?  Sure, my mom would.  She buys all my books (and doesn't read them for some strange reason), but who else?  So now you have a print run of 2,000 books sitting in your garage.  Still feel like an author?

Folks, the point I'm trying to make here is this:  What separates the wannabes from the professionals?  Easy:  Being Professional.  I wouldn't trust an amateur surgeon, and I wouldn't trust an amateur writer.  The bottom line is this...Listen well and listen hard...Professional writers (with very few notable exceptions) do not self-publish.  Period.  End of story.  I can count the number of well-written and successful self-published writers on one hand, and I don't even need all my fingers.

So Harlequin has decided to go into the vanity-publishing business.  Dandy for them.  Glad to hear it.  They weren't high on my list of publishers in the first place, but what respect I had for the grand old house is now gone.  By becoming a "pay-for-play" site, they've joined the ranks of bottom-feeders like Publish America in the publishing game.  And that's really just sad.  A publisher I once worked with pulled this same "marketing move" and began to offer "co-publishing" contracts.  I quit sending them stuff.

Folks, I've had nine (count 'em) books published, and I've never paid a dime to do so.  I do not, nor shall I ever, pay to have my work published.  Why?  Because I'm a professional writer, that's why.  Just like it says on the brass plaque.  This is my job.  I don't pay you to do my job.  I get paid for my job.  There are safeguards for me to do my job.  Editors, designers, marketers...Those help my work be the best it can be.  Without them, you may as well find another line of work.


  1. Hey Scott,
    I get your point, however there are exceptions. I self-published and self-marketed my tarot deck. It look off and made a profit, and based on that sucess, I got it published through Lwellyn and reached a much larger audience than I could have with my own contacts.

    While I totally agree that a professional publisher is the way to go and is a safe guard to the public (weeding out a lot of the crap), in some cases if you are doing something different, you may have to prove the establishment wrong to get heard.

  2. Understood, but Tarot decks, comic books, CD's and independent movies are an entirely different animal. I'm talking strictly about novels, books, mass-market paperbacks. Believe me, I have a great deal of respect for independent artists, but what these folks are doing is wrong. Independent artists like musicians, painters, and film-makers get much more respect than self-published writers.

  3. Hey Scott, I mostly agree, but I personally think there are ways to self publish that are respectable. Places like Publish America are scum, and I myself got taken in by 1stBooks when I was starting out, but there are ways to self-publish now that keep the money flowing toward the writer (Lulu is good for this, and maybe Createspace but I've never used them). In general I think it's strange that independant musicians and film-makers get respect for doing everything themselves while self-published writers are treated like lepers. And there are definite gems among the self-published if you look for them (like Rhiannon Frater).

    Agreed with your general point, however. Harlequin is being douche bags.

  4. As I said, there are always exceptions that prove the rule, and Ms. Frater is one such exception. I'd also like to point out that the REASON she's successful at writing is because she's a remarkable writer. In that respect, also, she's the exception. Do you know how many people who "THINK they can write go through the agony of these vanity presses? I stand by my original post, that I believe Harlequin is making a colossal mistake here.