Friday, November 20, 2009

Writers v. Harlequin - or What Makes a Real Publisher?

John Scalzi is hosting an interesting discussion on Harlequin's decision to start what is basically a vanity publishing arm, and the reactions from the Romance Writers of America, the Mystery Writers of America and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. The writers are Not Happy with blend of Big Publisher brand with the reality of having to pay to get your book published.

Speaking as a bookseller (so you're sure of my perspective and agenda), I see the following: authors are much better off with real publishers, not print-on-demand publishers, not vanity publishers. What an author gets with a real publisher is a distribution network --- it's getting the book/isbn on iPage and TitleSource and in Bowker, etc, so when your family and friends call their local library and bookstore, those folks can LOOK UP the book to order.

Both I and my bookstore have been burned by certain vanity publishers (requiring certain minimum numbers and not allowing returns, even for book signings). These are the companies I won't deal with any more. If a local author approaches me for a signing and they're with that company, I tell them that they (the author) must provide the books. I will sign a check to them, not their publisher...I am at least sure the author gets paid that way. Some of you may find this offensive but I'm trying to stay in business alongside the likes of the big chains --- so I can host more local authors.

If you are an author who has self-published, you have a VERY hard road to, distribution, travel, advertising is ALL YOUR RESPONSIBILITY.

So to get to Harlequin's decision: they're huge, and unlike other genres, romance is making money hand over fist. They shouldn't NEED to open a vanity arm. I wonder if this is a 'loss leader' for them? I don't think we'll know for awhile. It is absolutely bad for the writer community and possibly the publishing community as a whole. I applaud RWA, SFWA and MWA for taking a stand.


Signe Lauren said...

Lisa Genova selfpubbed her book, Still Alive, POD; did so well, there was a publisher bidding war for it and Simon & Shuster got it; it's been on the best seller list for a while now; grisham selfpubbed his 1st book, A Time To Kill; The Celestine Prophecy was selfpubbed; dont listen 2 publishers; do all the work urself and make all the $ urself; learn the RIGHT way to selfpub from Robin Sullivan, a publicist; publishers always diss on selfpubbed books; now they want to make $ from authors who r willing to pay them to publish; dont do it; learn the RIGHT way to do it; Signe Lauren

Constellation Books said...

An interesting historical take on why the RWA has these standards...I didn't realise they were this recent:

Anonymous said...

It's all well and good to be for the publisher, but with the current influx of millions writing these days, there's no way that publishers can publish everything written. I guess you could call it vanity for a writer to want to see a book he or she has written in print. However, as long as these writers know all the ramifications, I see no reason why they shouldn't be afforded the right to spend their own money to have their book published, The RWA, MWA, and SFWA have no right to dictated to anyone how legitimate businesses are run. They and their membership have no right to also state what constitutes publishing or anything else for that matter. This smacks of vigilantism or something that happens in a dictatorship.

Constellation Books said...

Mr. or Ms. Anonymous - I see your point but a writer shouldn't have to go to a vanity press to get the book printed. They can go to a self-publisher ( for example - there are several others, I'm not endorsing one over the other) and print the book. The difference between the two is -

Self-publisher: Author pays up front, Author gets books, Author sells books and takes home ALL the profit.

Vanity Publisher: Author pays up front, Author gets books, Author sells books and takes home only a small amount of the profit. The vanity publisher takes THE REST - they get paid before AND after.

If you are going to do all the work, shouldn't you take home all the profit?

My point was that it is a LOT of work...most writers don't realise it.