Harlequin & Thomas Nelson: Harlots Of The New Publishing Industry?

Today’s announcement by Harlequin, a division of Toronto-based Torstar Corporation and one of the USA’s top romance genre publishers, to launch their paid-publishing imprint, Harlequin Horizons, follows on from last week’s announcement of their partnership with leading self-publishing service provider, Author Solutions Inc, to launch a digital-only publishing imprint, Carina Press. Today’s news of Harlequin’s entry into paid-publishing services is a further extension of their new partnership with Author Solutions Inc. This looks to be a similar venture to the one ASI has with leading Christian trade publisher, Thomas Nelson, when it launched its paid-publishing imprint, WestBow Press in October.
While nothing has changed in regards to the questions industry insiders ask about the validity of these paid-publishing ventures—there is a clear and irrefutable sign that this much-maligned pay-to-play path to publishing has arrived under the guarded umbrella of mainstream publishing. So why now when vanity publishers like Publish America, Vantage Press, Dorrance Publishing, Minerva, Excalibur and so many others are deemed to have dragged the name of self-publishing down? Well, firstly, the advent of print-on-demand technology and the inherent global fulfilment structure which has developed around this form of book production and distribution. Secondly, none of the above companies offer what true self-publishing actually is; the ownership and registration of an ISBN in the author’s name or the name of their own imprint, the retention of all publishing rights, and complete transparency and involvement of the author through the publishing process. True self-publishing is simply contract a bill of services for a set and agreed fee so the author can publish their own book. What you get with many of the listed companies above is a dreamlike and skewed view of the publishing world, some of them parading themselves as reputable mainstream publishers, offering paltry advances of $1, charging extortionate rates for editing, print and marketing services and providing nothing more in the way of book distribution, then simple online availability.
So, are Author Solutions the slayer of the vanity beast and the saviour of an author’s right to independently publishing their book? No. They are certainly not. It might be argued they greatly helped to present an improved path to paid-publishing for an author and eradicate the old vanity model and its stigmas, albeit, by presenting sugar-coated publishing packages to authors, but at far cheaper fees than what the old vanity presses charged—many of those authors, new to the writing world, but more importantly, none the wiser as to how publishing really works.
It would be easy to look at the deals Author Solutions has struck recently with Thomas Nelson and Harlequin and view them as the marketers of a forbidden publishing fruit—temptresses of the corporate night—who under a storm of economic decline and seductive and corpulent opportunity, somehow managed to woo the harlots, Nelson and Harlequin, into their sumptuous beds and destroy the beauty, echelons and innocence of real publishing. If you believe this – GET FUCKING REAL! If that is the world of publishing you still think exists, whether you have published twenty books with Penguin, sold the rights for three films, or published one book by a quaint publisher in Idaho and done well to get a $1000 advance – in spite of all the changes as well as challenges over the past two years – then, respectfully, you are as deluded and dreamy as the poor fool you once pointed a finger at for paying Xlibris, AuthorHouse, or Trafford $5000 to publish their book.
Author Solutions are not my top dogs by any means in any of the companies they own who provide author solutions services, but they have managed to court, let’s face it, a traditionally elite industry, and got in the door without compromising who they are or what they are. I take my hat off to Kevin Weiss CEO of Author Solutions. We can beat the drum about Lightning Source and say they have done the same. But reality says that LSI are first and foremost a printer and fulfilment service who were always part and parcel of the greater publishing family, owned by the largest book distribution network, the Ingrams Group. Author Solutions have done this from the outside, looking in, and in any industry, that is the hardest task to pull off.
I think there are many people who are seriously underestimating the sea-change we have witnessed in the past month or two with Thomas Nelson and Harlequin and their partnerships with ASI. In reality, the barn door is wide open – you can add another half-dozen (large publishers) by early spring 2010. This has been in the publishing air for quite some time, and like them or loathe them; Author Solutions will be working the business development team and their resulting machinations will be behind at least one or two of the next gaggle of commercial publishers who will be tempted to bite the so-called poison apple of a paid-publishing.
All large publishers’ core business is fundamentally mass-market if they can help it, Harlequin or Thomas Nelson are no different, and I do not believe they are doing this as some form of short-sighted profit-making venture to get them through any sort of economic rocky patch. Harlequin is fortunate and is by no means feeling the financial pinch in the way that some other like-sized publishers are. I do agree, for Harlequin and Thomas Nelson, and all the others who will follow their cue; there clearly needs to be a risk assessment on a publisher’s branding. Clearly, for Nelson and Harlequin, that risk assessment was done, and the decision was made that the gains would be greater than the short-term losses in author and industry perception.
I will remind you of what I wrote here a month ago:
“Thomas Nelson has decided to step into the author solutions arena and is offering publishing packages for authors wishing to self-publish their books. Some month’s back—at the start of the year—I predicted that before the end of the year there would be very significant moves from two behemoths in the publishing and book retail industry arenas—Author Solutions Inc and also Amazon. I’m still waiting for the Amazon story of this year, but let’s take it one story at a time.”
Indeed, one story at a time. I’m still waiting for the Amazon announcement. It will come. I already think we have enough to be getting on with here.
There is of course the other side of the coin. How will traditionally published Thomas Nelson and Harlequin authors deal with the news that their publisher directly publishes or indirectly publishes poorer quality books? It is the most intriguing part of the puzzle. For me, and so, for them, nothing changes. Same contract, same deal, same book. They must ask themselves in a changing industry – Is this about my book, or how my book and I, as an author, are perceived. Frankly, my dear, nothing has really changed.

And some ongoing lively discussions online,


Also some proper balance and sense on the subject from Lynn Price of Behler Publications,

Also, Victoria Strauss at WriterBeware,

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