Yes, I’m late this morning. I’ve been fighting a cold–and I really do mean fighting–so I’ve been going to bed early and completely forgot to post my blog.

How do I fight a cold? I sleep more, take Airborne and E-merge-C (not sure on the spelling, but it’s essentially Airborne with Vitamin C) and zinc. The cold is there, but it’s subdued and going through its cycle sort of behind the curtain or in the background. This has worked for me for almost every cold for the last couple years as long as I start it up at the first sign of that tingle in the back of my throat . . . 

So I titled this blog “Whoops” thinking that I’d apologize, ramble a bit, and then ask a question because I really didn’t want to talk about vanity presses and self-publishing anymore (And yes, there IS a difference, even though I do not generally encourage writers to self-publish.) If you’re a writer, you’ve really been off-line if you don’t know that Harlequin has partnered with Author Solutions to funnel rejected writers to a vanity publishing scheme. 

But then I realized that “Whoops” fit for the Harlequin move, so reluctantly decided to summarize this week’s big news.

When all major writers organizations (RWA, MWA, SFWA and this morning Novelists, Inc) come out and oppose the move AND remove Harlequin from their approved publisher lists, you know this is a big deal.

I don’t want to go into all the details because frankly, I’m tired of it and last night was the only time I got any productive writing done since Wednesday night, partly because of the cold and partly because of the thousands of emails I’ve received from various writers groups. I blogged about it at Murder She Writes on Thursday

I’m posting NINC’s public statement here (it’s not yet on the website but I just received the email) because I think it’s the best argument against vanity publishing, and provides links to more information:

Novelists, Inc. Responds to Disturbing Developments in Publishing:

Vanity publishing is not new, although the Internet has become a lucrative feeding ground for vanity publishers. Presented with enough enthusiastic jargon and color graphics, a hopeful author might well be convinced that he has stumbled upon a fantastic new way of bringing his stories, his voice, to the reading public.

Alas, the truth is that vanity publishing is still the same old opportunistic hag dressed up in new clothing, with the added flash and dash of savvy marketing. It still exists to part dreamers from their money, with very little hope of return. The dangled bait never changes, the creatively couched language suggesting that all these good things “could, may, might possibly, perhaps” happen for you if you choose one from column A and two from Column B on their à la carte menu of pricey services.

There is now a new, deeply disturbing twist being applied to this age-old money grab. Publishers with brand names, currently enjoying respectable reputations within the industry and with the reading public, are putting both on the chopping block in order to get a share of the vanity publishing market.

It takes years to build a respected name and reputation in this industry. Losing that respect happens much more quickly, sometimes overnight. 

No authors’ organization can prevent a publisher from setting up a vanity publishing division. Writers’ organizations can, however, speak firmly and clearly about the sort of egregious business practices that reflect badly on our entire industry.

Ninc strongly advocates that any and all publishing houses that now operate or are in the planning stages of creating vanity publishing arms do so ethically and responsibly, while adhering to accepted standards of full disclosure. This includes not using the same or a similar name for the vanity division of their royalty-paying publishing house.

Ninc further strongly advocates that these houses either cease and desist or do not institute the practice of steering hopeful writers who are rejected by the royalty-paying divisions of their companies into the open arms of their vanity publishing offshoot.

To do otherwise demeans the publisher’s brand and robs credibility from every one of its conventional, contracted authors.

For Those Considering Vanity Publishing

Novelists, Inc. (Ninc) is an international organization devoted to the needs of multi-published authors of novel-length popular fiction. Ninc has no unpublished members; all are experienced, savvy, and educated in the various perils and pitfalls that await the unwary writer in search of an audience.

So why is Ninc addressing the subject of vanity publishing? That’s simple. We care about writers. All writers. And we care equally for their audiences, the book buying public.

Vanity publishing, by definition, involves bringing together a writer eager to have his work in print and a company eager to charge that writer for printing the copies. Vanity publishers don’t care if the book is good or bad. Vanity publishers will print anything the writer will pay them to print. Quality and sales potential of the work are not priorities; in fact, they aren’t considered at all.

Ninc’s advice to hopeful authors remains what it has always been: work hard, learn your craft, and network with other writers to share knowledge and information. And remember, if an offer to publish your previously rejected novel and thus become a “real author” by handing over a check sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is.


As long as there are people desperate to be published, vanity publishers will exist, and profit-motive companies, no matter the size or prior reputation, may at some point decide that if a starry-eyed dreamer and his money are soon to be parted, why not hold out a hand for their share. All Ninc and other professional writers’ organizations and consumer advocates can do, and thankfully are doing, is to educate people on the subject of vanity publishing. Please, before you open your wallet, take some time to open your eyes. Here are some places to begin educating yourself:





http://www.panmacmillan.com/Authors Illustrators/displayPage.asp?PageTitle=An Easy Way to Lose Money




Publishing is not easy; no one said it would be. The only people I’ve found who are upset with RWA and the other organization for making a stand against Harlequin (and Thomas Nelson’s West Bow vanity press deal with A/S) are unpublished writers who seem to think that we’re trying to stop them from being published. If you do your research and understand that you’ll be spending thousands and thousands of dollars and have to do all the work yourself (writing, editing, marketing, distributing, selling, yada yada) and probably not sell more than 100 copies, then hey, it’s your money. But know that not only after you pay them to print (and pay them to edit and pay them to cover design) they still take anywhere from 25-50% of the NET PROCEEDS. 


Self-publishing differs in that the author essentially is the end customer–they have the books printed, warehouse the books, market and sell the books, but once they have that book in their hands the self-publishing press doesn’t get another dime. All money made from the sale goes to the author. And if an author wants to be a bookseller and sell out of their trunk or online store, hey, that too is your right. It’s not as bad as vanity publishing, and actually a good idea for some projects like church devotionals and school fundraisers and family histories and some special niche market books–but for most commercial fiction and non-fiction, this is a very difficult path to follow. Some people want to do everything. I, personally, don’t. I want to write. That’s all I want to do. That I have to update my website and do book signings is part of the business, but it’s not the reason I became I writer. Writers write. So if you go into self-publishing with your eyes open, fine, but it’s not easy and it’s a rare writer who is successful in earning back their outlay.

I know there’ll be people coming up trying to defend each model. I got in one tiff with a writers who said that self-publishing and traditional publishing are simply two equal choices. Nope, they’re not. In traditional publishing, money goes TO the author. Writers get PAID. In self-publishing, the writer PAYS EVERYTHING. End of story. Not equal choices as far as I’m concerned. And Vanity Publishing? The writer pays MORE for everything and loses half the “profits” as well.

My favorite blog on the issue comes from Ashley Grayson, a literary agent. Though the whole blog is worth reading, in part he said:

“Publishing a successful book requires editorial judgment, investment of resources, dealing with book-selling channels that increasingly demand a bigger share of the cash flow, and appealing to fickle readers. The self-publishing model is sooo much simpler. There’s only one customer, the author, and he or she buys all the books which are never manufactured until purchased. Of course this is a growing segment of publishing; the publisher gets money, takes no risk and retailers are not actively involved.”

So what do you think?


23 thoughts on “Whoops

  1. Louise Ure

    Morning, Allison. Hope your cold is on its way out.

    I had a role in crafting that MWA response to Harlequin’s action. As noted in our statement, we’ve asked them to give a formal reply by December 15. Although they’ve already offered to change the name of their vanity publishing effort to distance itself from the Harlequin name, that change alone is not enough.

    I’m delighted that RWA, SFWA, Ninc and MWA took such strong, swift action.

  2. Allison Brennan

    As I point out to people upset by these writers organizations standing against this practice, these are WRITERS organizations who advocate for and educate WRITERS. We are not beholden to any one publisher or agent; we must always put the writer’s interests first. MWA gave a great response, Louise, and I agree that just taking "Harlequin" out of "Harlequin Horizons" doesn’t change the fundamental problem. I’ve also read two Harlequin editors who have drunk the Kool-Aid–seeing vanity publishing (they call it self-publishing, but this scheme is vanity all the way) as a fabulous growing business model. For their company it’s fabulous–they can make money with no risks. For writers, not so fabulous.

  3. JD Rhoades

    I keep wondering if Harlequin cares. Are any writers going to walk away from the 800 pound gorilla of the romance genre because of this? Are any agents going to refuse to submit to them or to MIRA? Is a significant enough number of readers going to stop reading Harlequin over this to affect their decision?

    What does RWA/MWA/SFWA/NINC do if Harlequin goes "okay, see ya?"

    I just keep thinking of the joke about the starlet who was so dumb she slept with the writer.

  4. toni mcgee causey

    I heartily agree with your post, Allison. Excellent responses by all of the writers’ groups.

    Dusty, that is the question, isn’t it? What would have to happen is for one of the other publishers to announce that they are going to expand their romance line, and lure as many of Harlequin’s current authors away as they could. There’s a clear business model there for success–Harlequin was one of the only (if not only) publishers who showed profits during the last two or three quarters, so they have a profitable business model that works even in a negative economic climate, which should be attractive to other publishers. To me, this makes them ripe for the plucking by any other publisher who wants that business. I’ll be very surprised if someone doesn’t step up to try to grab that by offering a publishing name that is not tainted with the vanity/self-publishing issue.

    There are legitimate reasons for an author to self-publish, as Allison pointed out. I know a local woman here who self-published her cookbooks, who went on to sell over 100K of them. Random House then picked up her book and after that run with them, she believed she did much better marketing / profit on her own, and went back to self-publishing. She’s been on the Today Show as well as quite a few other national shows, so clearly, she knows how to do it well. I’ve seen lecturers of certain business type classes decide to self-publish because they had a niche market–their classes–and they had the platform already to make the classes popular, so having their own book made sense. But it’s far far rarer for a novel which is self-published to get enough distribution to really matter (though there are a handful of examples).

    I’m proud of the writers’ groups, especially RWA, since so much of their membership have been published by Harlequin. Theirs was a gutsy move in this economic climate.

  5. Allison Brennan

    Dusty, great points, and I don’t see Harlequin ending the venture. And honestly? They’re welcome to have a vanity publishing side. It doesn’t really matter if Harlequin tells the writer organizations "see ya." We are making a stand regardless of what Harlequin does or doesn’t do. All four organizations already have in their by-laws or rules opposition to vanity publishing. Should we ignore our by-laws (and the members who voted for them) and say, oh, we’re scared of publishers so we’re not going to enforce our by-laws? How does us saying, Wait, your actions require us to remove you from the approved publisher list, hurt us? Seriously? Harlequin doesn’t pay RWA members dues or MWA member dues. We’re a writers organization. We can’t selectively decide which by-laws to enforce and which to ignore. If the memberships of each organization want to change the by-laws to support vanity publishers as a viable option, they can.

    Now, the other part, the royalty-paying Harlequin are still royalty-paying. That we have said they’re not on the approved list doesn’t mean writers shouldn’t write for them. That’s between them and their individual contracts and what they can negotiate. I do think that taking the Harlequin name off "Harlequin Horizons" is a move that protects their other authors against the diminished brand if HQ was on the books that are vanity published.

    But writers have been writing for years without writers organizations. You don’t HAVE to join RWA or MWA or ITW or any of the other organizations. Membership does not guarantee publication or a greater chance of publication. Membership does provide information and networking opportunities, but writers write and publish every day without affiliation with a writers group. I’ll bet every one of us here wrote BEFORE joining a writers group. I’ll bet many of us here were published before joining a writers group (most require publication to become full-members; RWA is unique in that they allow unpublished members to join as full members. They just can’t be president.)

    This is one brash move by a business. If we decide to change our by-laws and scurry away, what if they decide to push for other draconian measures that damage writers? Honestly, our stance doesn’t do anything that hurts published authors (other than entering contests with their books or future authors with HQ wouldn’t be allowed to join the published author group of RWA, though the current authors are grandfathered in.) Our stance aims at protecting aspiring writers who may see the well-branded, well-respected Harlequin name and think that vanity publishing is just another way of being published JUST LIKE all the other authors out there.

    How many times have you (or anyone here on Murderati) been asked, "How much did you pay to have your book published?) I can’t speak in public without being asked this question–often by smart, college-educated professionals. Local author events are 20-to-1 self-published authors vs traditionally published authors. Librarians often don’t even understand and will put a Random House author on the same panel as an iUniverse author and say that the books are equal. They’re NOT. They may both be good or bad books, but the RH author was paid for the rights to his work, the iUnverse author PAID to have their book published. These are not equal options.

    Looking far-reaching, standing against vanity publishing helps published authors as well. My SIL bought a book from a guy signing at BN because she felt sorry for him because no one was talking to him. She started reading the book and called me and asked how a book with 17 errors (typos, grammar) in chapter one could be published. I asked who the publisher was. She said PublishAmerica. I had to explain vanity publishing to her. She has an advanced college degree, was a teacher before kids, and had been a court reporter before that. Smart cookie. And she was wholly confused. So the more of these that are out there the more confused readers will be until they stop giving new authors a try because they’ve been burned one too many times. Which hurts debut authors and midlist authors.

    Not to mention that this is a scam and these companies are exploiting starry-eyed writers with the hope they, too, can be the next Nora Roberts. It’s predatory, regardless of whether it’s legal.

  6. pari

    There’s also a huge distinction between self-publishing and vanity presses. I might, since I’ve got electronic rights to my books, put them on my website or others and "self-publish" ebook versions. The only money I might put out would be to get the things ready for those formats . . . not editing; that’s already happened.

    But to pay to have the work published in the first place doesn’t fly for me.

    I know people who have done this and have had very good reasons for doing so. I applaud their well considered reasons for doing so.

    However, there’s a big difference between what these people did and what publishers like HQ are doing. The latter is building false hopes. It’s deceptive and predatory.

    I doubt publishers will give a hoot that the writers’ orgs are upset; there will always be people who happily part with their money.

    The only way publishers will pay attention is if their stables revolt and that would mean traditionally published writers losing income that already is meagre compared to the work they do.

  7. JD Rhoades

    No, I don’t see, nor would I advocate, any of the writer’s groups changing their stances on vanity publishing. I’m just trying to imagine how this whole thing is going to end up, and who’s going to get hurt worst. I don’t see a lot of damage being done to MWA, but I can see RWA losing some prestige if Harlequin just reacts to "RWA won’t admit any Harlequin authors" by going ‘So?"

    As Toni points out, the best thing that could happen from the writers’ perspective is other houses jumping to put out romance lines. I cannot for the life of me imagine why they haven’t done so yet, considering the profitability of the genre, but I don’t know that this would be the catalyst.

    Anyone know how ITW’s leaning on this one?

  8. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    I always learn SOOOO much from your posts, Allison. Thank you for putting so much time and effort into them.

  9. Allison Brennan

    Dusty, RWA is the largest writers organization out there with over 10,000 members, approximately 2,000 of them published through non-vanity/non-subsidy publishers. Yes, Harlequin authors are the bulk of our published membership, but every Harlequin author I’ve spoken with on this issue is 100% behind RWA. It hurts THEM to have Harlequin associated with vanity publishing. One look at the New Yorker and NYT and other press articles can tell you that already romance writers are treated like trash, bottom of the barrel writers, this only propagates that myth. Nora Roberts participated in comments on the Smart Bitches website where she stood firmly against vanity publishing and "Harlequin Horizons." I’m sure her firm position had as much to do with HQ’s turnaround on using the HQ name on the vanity books as much as RWA’s stance. But RWA is not Harlequin, and Harlequin is not the only publisher of romance fiction. They publish more than anyone, to be sure, but they’re not the only option for writers. HQ sent out a half-ass apology letter not understand RWA’s position but backing down on using the name, though they claimed that RWA was "biting the hand that feeds them." That caused as much uproar among romance writers as the initial vanity scheme.

    I don’t know how this is going to shake out, but RWA can and will survive with HQ. And I know the board is working hard on coming up with a solution that protects RWA, all writers (published and unpublished) and legitimately published HQ writers as well. If that means changing the by-laws, I’m sure RWA will carefully consider the implications and make a decision that protects members and authors across the board.

  10. JD Rhoades

    Yes, Harlequin authors are the bulk of our published membership, but every Harlequin author I’ve spoken with on this issue is 100% behind RWA. It hurts THEM to have Harlequin associated with vanity publishing.

    So are they going to go on strike?

  11. BCB

    A week ago I didn’t clearly understand the differences between self-publishing and vanity presses — I’d never considered doing either so it didn’t matter to me. Anyone who still doesn’t understand the differences, or maintains there are none, after reading numerous postings on the internet is being willfully obtuse.

    What I don’t understand is the antagonistic attitude and arguing I’ve seen between a handful of writers on various forums. No one is criticizing those writers who choose to self-publish; as others have said repeatedly, there are many good and valid reasons for doing so. We’re condemning deceptive predatory business practices adopted by a publisher.

    I am so grateful for my RWA chapter, where the email discussions are professional and have been used as a vehicle to inform and offer unanimous support to each other, as well as support for the statements issued by various writers’ groups this week.

    As for not caring what RWA thinks, industry professionals (and not just HQ, nor even just publishers for that matter) should keep in mind the consistent large-scale effort RWA and its chapters make each year to educate both its published and UNpublished members in the craft of writing and the business of publishing. I would not be where I am today — on the verge of completing and submitting a novel with the realistic expectation of it being published — were it not for RWA. Anyone who signs a contract with a writer who is an RWA member should send a thank you note to RWA National and to every single RWA member who has graciously shared their experience and knowledge along the way. Stock up, it’s a very long list.

    I hesitate to say this publicly, but I think it needs to be said: Of all the many writers I know, published and not yet published (and NOT just the ones in my chapter), more than one in the past week has said she is now ashamed to be published by HQ, more than one has expressed doubt about sending currently requested submissions to HQ, more than one has said if all other things were equal and offers were made by both HQ and another publisher, she’d absolutely go with the other. The way things stand right now, frankly, so would I.

    HQ’s decision to take this step has inflicted serious damage on their reputation in the eyes of writers. I doubt readers will be affected at all (except for the thousands of readers who are also writers). I’m not sure whether HQ thought experienced published writers wouldn’t stand up for or feel protective of less experienced writers, or whether they simply didn’t care. Either way, it’s a sad situation. And yeah, I’m tired of hearing about it too.

    Alison, I’m so sorry you’re sick. Hope you recover quickly and completely.

  12. Allison Brennan

    They can’t strike, nor are we a union, nor should we be. The only authors with clout who could strike (or move houses) they need to make the best business decision for them. No way is what HQ has done going to hurt Debbie Macomber, for example. It’s going to shake out one way or the other. With the HQ name removed from the actual books and marketing material is a huge relief for HQ authors in terms of their brand name, so I don’t think that issue is valid anymore.

    What we’re really talking about here is whether 1) vanity publishing should be supported or encouraged by writers organizations and 2) whether it’s ethical for a major publisher with financial ties to a vanity publishing scheme forward letters about "making your dream come true" to all the writers they reject, urging them to consider "self-publishing" (read: vanity publishing.)

    As far as being sick, it’s still working itself out, but it really hasn’t bothered me too much. No headache, no bad coughing, no runny nose. I had a little sore throat, a little congestion in my chest, and I swear by airborne and emerengC and preventive methods. And staying out of the bitterly cold air. Ok, maybe 50 degrees isn’t bitterly cold for SOME of you, but for a California girl it’s frigid!

  13. JD Rhoades

    I hesitate to say this publicly, but I think it needs to be said: Of all the many writers I know, published and not yet published (and NOT just the ones in my chapter), more than one in the past week has said she is now ashamed to be published by HQ, more than one has expressed doubt about sending currently requested submissions to HQ, more than one has said if all other things were equal and offers were made by both HQ and another publisher, she’d absolutely go with the other. The way things stand right now, frankly, so would I.

    That’s what I wanted to know. THAT may make HQ take notice. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that, though.

    And let me add my get well wishes for Alison.

  14. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Allison

    Very interesting – not to say alarming – post. As we’re in the midst of a bit of a weather crisis over here, I hadn’t heard the news about Harlequin’s decision, so this made fascinating reading.

    And if this is what you produce when you’re feeling lousy, there’s no hope for the rest of us ;-]

    Get well soon!

  15. BCB

    JD, I seriously doubt anything I have to say will make anyone take notice. I’m a nobody and my opinion is worth exactly zero in this equation. But I do hope some of those who might make a difference will speak up. It’s extremely difficult to take a stand when doing so can have a disastrous effect on a writer’s personal finances.

  16. TerriMolina

    Unless you write romance, it’s hard to understand RWA’s position or why Harlequin’s indifference has caused such uproar. Romance has always been the bastard child of publishing. It’s never garnered any respect no matter how many of its author’s hit the NYT list.
    RWA’s mission statement reads:

    Romance Writers of America leverages its influence and credibility to advocate for improving business conditions in the romance publishing industry.

    Which means they’re working to make sure it’s members are treated fairly and aren’t being taken advantage of, which is what Harlequin plans to do with their new venture. Harlequin seems to think they’re stepping into the future,but it looks to me like they’re taking two steps back and doing what RWA has been fighting against since 1980–lining their pocktes and putting themself before the writer. It’s greed, pure and simple.

    As Allison said, RWA’s decision does not mean authors cannot publish with Harlequin or it’s other lines, they’re just saying doing so means RWA will not recognize them as published and the author can, therefore, not receive any of the “perks” of a published author– i.e.; become a member of PAN or PASIC or enter the RITAs. Now, while that may not sound like a big deal to many, it’s a very big deal to the author since the RITA is the Oscar of the Romance community.

    Harlequin can play the victim and accuse RWA of “biting the hand that feeds them” but in the end, I wouldn’t be surprised if this hurt their business, because without the backing of RWA, new authors (especially those who are members of RWA) are going to be more hesitant to submit to them.

    If I were on the board, I’d start putting more of my resources into promoting Avon—who was the first to publish a modern romance novel—and Kensington, who publish nearly as many romances as Harlequin.

    just my .02

    On a side note, A week before this all came out, I submitted (never say die) my novel Forget Me Not to the new Harlequin E-Pub Carina Press (mainly because of the senior editor they snagged and, yeah, I was getting desperate..lol), but now I’m planning to withdraw it. Oh well.

    Feel better, Allison.

  17. Allison Brennan

    Terri, you make a stellar point in highlighting RWA’s mission statement. I wish I’d thought of that!

    And I feel much better, thank you. And wrote 1500 words this afternoon, though I need to write another 1500 to stay on track.

  18. kit

    Ok, this is my .02…I have been a member of RWA, as I can be, even unpublished…and I can only reply to what I’ve read and not experienced for myself. That said, I would think it’s a strong statement coming from the RWA….altho’ I’ve never been to one, the conferences they put together alone would have me thinking…if I had money and reputation on the line here. That was my first thought here…..those conferences and the networking that is done.
    and I do hope you feel better, Allison.

    ps…in an aside….my husband is now reading your books…and enjoying them. take care..

  19. la76

    I’m with you Allison. I’ve been reading the message boards and blogs and it still amazes me that anyone thinks Harlequin’s doing a good thing. If RWA hadn’t made this decision, fast forward three years from now. I’d bet money that some of those same people would finally understand the consequences of vanity publishing and scream out, "Where was RWA? Why didn’t they say anything?" I keep hearing that RWA is biting the hand that feeds it and quite frankly, Harlequin is the one doing the biting. Their past, present, and future authors feed them. RWA, MWA, SFWA, and NINC are simply dressing the wound and defending Harlequin’s own authors.

    I hope you’re feeling better.


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