Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Blacklisted Publisher

I wasn’t going to write about this, but it keeps coming up. Actually, I wrote about it once, changed my mind and deleted what I wrote, but if you haven’t heard, Harlequin continues to get blacklisted by writers’ associations. The board of the Romance Writers Association (RWA) blacklisted them several days ago and in response Harlequin change the name of their vanity press to DellArte. I’m not sure if that appeased Michelle Monkou and company over at RWA, but it didn’t appease Lee Child and company on the Mystery Writers of America (MWA) board of directors. They voted to bar Harlequin from consideration for their Edgar award.

I’m having trouble wrapping my mind around this thing. The publishers are supposed to be the publishing experts and yet, last year more books were published by POD companies than by traditional publishers. It’s no wonder that publishers are beginning to try to move into that market. But what is it that these association boards hope to gain by blacklisting publishers? That’s a hard question to answer. I’m sure that they will make the claim that it is in the best interest of their membership to shun publishers with predatory practices that allow the publishers to make money from manuscripts they have rejected.

When you consider that Harlequin puts out approximately half of the romance novels produced in America, just how meaningful would it be for an author to win the RITA when Harlequin doesn’t even show up? It is inconceivable to me that if this matter were put to a vote with the members of RWA that blacklisting Harlequin would pass easily, if at all. Essentially, this move would be telling more than half the published membership that their books will not be considered because their publisher has a vanity press.

So, if the association would be divided or opposed to this move, then why is it that these boards are unanimous? I somewhat understand the MWA, since they have little to lose by rejecting Harlequin, but the RWA risks losing all creditability by rejecting Harlequin. Certainly, they should express their concerns about how Harlequin does business and they should educate their members about the nature of self-publishing and vanity presses, but in whose best interest is it to take such a hard line stance? Like I said, I’m still trying to wrap my mind around that one.

Question: Do you see any personal benefits from the boards of these associations rejecting Harlequin? Are the people on these boards protecting your interest or their own personal interests?

And while we're on the subject, here is a video that responds to the same issue:

To be clear, I don't endorse AuthorSolutions and I'm not sure that I agree with everything in the video, but he does make some good points. This thing about saying someone isn't an author until they receive at a $1,000 advance is uterly ridiculous. I certainly agree with that. But even while we might support self-publishing, let's keep in mind that there is a big difference between publishing a book and selling it to a significant number of people.


arlee bird said...

I agree that the video makes some very good points. I don't know enough about this to really have a strong opinion, but I have been in the distribution business for a long time (not in publishing) and all I can say is business is business. To survive, a business has to keep up with trends and try new things when they see profits declining. The publishers are out to make money and that's what they are interested in. If the product is good literature that's a bonus, but if it sells that's better. These publishers are looking for every angle they can to make money and that's going to be their first concern-- needs of the authors are probably down the list a ways. Authors will have to adapt to the changes as well. Thanks for sharing that video.

Deb said...

Let's get a couple points clarified. POD is not a publishing/vanity model. It is a printing technology. Don't confuse POD printing with self- or vanity-publishing, 'cause they're not synonymous.

Next, when RWA delists a publisher, they do it because it failed to meet, or stopped meeting, specific criteria the organization set up a long time ago. Like, when e-publishers first surfaced, there was a lot of agony about whether the books could be called "published" and the authors be acknowledged as having written a published book. The conclusion was, "We know! We'll make it advance dependent so the smaller presses and e-presses won't qualify!"

A couple of small presses did qualify, early on, so they tightened the criteria and excluded them.

Now, RWA has no choice but to delist Harlequin--and Nelson also--because they decided long ago that no press with a vanity arm can be called a legit venue for the career-minded romance writer.

It WAS unanimous. They don't put these things, or much else of any weight, to the membership because they don't need to. And most of the members' notes I've seen on multiple blogs have come out strongly in favor of RWA's stance vis-a-vis both Harlequin and Nelson.

Making money isn't the only criterion when a business makes a decision. It shouldn't be.

Timothy Fish said...


While your point about POD is well taken (and yes, in this case, I did mean Print On Demand rather than Publish On Demand), the vast majority of titles produced by Print On Demand companies like Lightning Source and On-Demand Publishing, a subsidiary of Amazon.com, are either self-published or published by a small press. This enables us to get a pretty good idea of what is going on in this segment of the industry.

As for how the RWA would vote if this issue came to a vote of the association, I'll admit that I could be wrong. I don't have my finger on the pulse of the RWA. But my thought concerning that is that there is some degree of publisher loyalty among authors. If the RITA has any value at all, I would tend to think that authors who write for Harlequin would think twice about voting to exclude their own traditionally published books from consideration, simply because Harlequin has opened a vanity press imprint. But like I said, I could be wrong.