The Bog of Lost Scholars

November 19, 2009

Thoughts on Harlequin Horizons

Filed under: Publishing and Writing — castiron @ 1:58 am

Up-front disclaimer: I work for a university press and have worked there for fifteen years as of the end of this month. I do not speak for my employer, the university, the state, the university press community, etc. etc.etc. That being out of the way….

Self-publishing is a perfectly legitimate endeavor. If you want 100% creative and marketing control over your work, or if you want to receive 100% of the profits from your book, self-publishing is the only way you’ll get that. If you regularly do lectures and have a built-in venue to sell your books, or if you’re an expert in a narrow area and you know how to reach the other people interested in that subject, self-publishing can work very well for you. Doing your family genealogy? Writing a book that’s of great interest to people in your small town but limited interest to anyone else? Great! Publish it yourself!

I’d even argue that some of the vanity publishing services can be worth the money for some people. I can readily imagine, say, a well-off lecturer who wants a book to sell on their tours but who’s too busy to do all the legwork of getting an ISBN, finding and hiring a copyeditor, designing a cover, etc.; for them, it may be worthwhile to pay a flat fee to a service to get these things done for them.

But the more I’m reading about Harlequin Horizons, the more little things bug me.

From their site:

When you self-publish with Harlequin Horizons you only pay for the services and packages you need and you retain all the rights to your book. Retaining the rights to your book is a big difference between self-publishing and traditional publishing. With traditional publishing, a publisher will buy the rights to your book up front and then print your book. With self-publishing you, the author, remain in control through the whole publishing process. You can also continue to market your book to other publishers and outlets at your own pace.

You retain all the rights except first North American rights and first world rights, which you’ve just used up by self-publishing. Once a book’s been published for the first time, you can never sell those rights again; you can only sell reprint rights.

This doesn’t matter if you’re not interested in selling the book to traditional publishers. And frankly, if you wrote something fabulous, you had fabulous sales and can show that it wasn’t just you buying umpteen copies, and it’s clear you’ve just scratched the surface of your audience, then sure, a traditional publisher may still be interested in your book. Successful self-published books do sometimes get picked up by traditional publishers….

…but it’s rare. Out of thousands of books that my employer’s published, I can think of maybe two that started life as a self-published book.

By working with an assisted self-publishing company such as Harlequin Horizons, you are guaranteed to experience an affordable, professional and efficient way to publish a book. You can access your team of professionals throughout the entire process. We will walk with you through all the steps of the publishing process, ensuring that all your questions are answered. With our assistance, you can be sure that your romance or women’s fiction novel will live up to your expectations.

Affordable? Sure, if you’re going with the bare-bones setup, you can pay $600, which doesn’t give you any editing; just an ISBN, ebook setup, and a listing on Amazon. You know what? I’ve participated in self-publishing a book. Total cost to me: $15 to buy a couple copies at author discount. And it’s available as an ebook and on Amazon.

As for the extra fees for editing, let’s just say that what you’d pay HH for line editing is a heckuva lot more than what the freelancers I know charge for content editing. Granted, I work for a publisher and used to be married to a copyeditor, so I’d have no problem finding a good copyeditor to hire for my theoretical novel. Still, it’s one thing to choose this service because it’s convenient and you’re willing to pay for that; it’s another to choose it because you don’t realize you can get this for half the price.

After you publish your book you may be interested in promoting it to a wider audience.

Gee, I just wanted something pretty to put on my bookshelf; I never thought about having other people read my book! (Okay, okay, they probably mean “wider audience than family and friends”. Still, duh!)

The marketing services Harlequin Horizons offers can take your book to new heights with publicist promotions, book reviews, a social media presence, an author Web site and much more. Let your book shine with these services.

Important lesson from the traditional publishing world: a publisher can have what they think is a really good book; the publicist can promote the heck out of it and send it to numerous reviewers (I hope that’s what they mean by book reviews here and not that their marketing service provides book reviews); the author can be online and active—and the book can still tank.

And that’s a traditionally published book, with no “oh, it’s self-published? it must suck!” stigma attached, and which someone at the publisher thought was good enough or interesting enough to back with their own money.

(Also, if you’re publishing a book for a narrow audience and you know how to reach that audience, you may well have better luck doing your own publicity than paying someone else for it.)

Our Bookselling Services will assist you in securing book signing deals and events in bookstores, and getting your books on the shelves.

“Book signing deals”?? Okay, now I have to ask our publicist (and my boss with many years of bookstore experience) if they’ve ever heard that wording before….

Another lesson from traditional publishing: You can arrange a signing, have books there, publicize the heck out of it….and sell three books.

And so forth — there’s just a lot of little things on this site that make me go, “huh?”

Add to that the claim that Harlequin will start offering the Harlequin Horizons option in their rejection letters (translation: we don’t think we can sell your book and don’t want to risk our money on you, but you can pay us to get published instead)….

And then add the statement that HH is going to take a 50% net royalty off of every book sold…. (Not even list royalty — net royalty, so if a copy of your book sells through Amazon, you’ll get less than a quarter of the book’s list price!) That’s no longer self-publishing; that’s definitely vanity publishing. Self-publishing means you take all the risks AND you keep all the money. Vanity publishing means that you take all the risks, the publisher takes no risk, and the publisher still gets a chunk of the money.

Again, self-publishing is perfectly fine. I own some self-published books, and not just the one I’m in. I bought those books because they contained useful information (a slew of genealogy books), or because they were strongly recommended by a lot of people who knew what they were talking about (two knitting books with really interesting historical information or patterns). I can see myself buying a self-published fiction book — though I’d have to learn about it through some strong reviews, or because it’s by an author I’m already familiar with.

I can even see myself self-publishing fiction again — because I just want the satisfaction of reading my words on a nice printed page. It’s not going to make me any money. It’s not going to put me into the New York Times Book Review or anyone’s bestseller list. It’s not going to get me read by thousands of admirers (sure, I can dream, but chances are, it won’t happen).

And it’s not going to be through anyone who wants to charge me several hundred to several thousand dollars for the privilege and keeps half the profits.

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