Christian A. Young's Dimlight Archive

In which Harlequin gives me whiplash

If you know me in my free time, you're already aware that sometimes my reading and writing habits veer a little saucy. I'm not above a bit of romance, or even slash, erotica, or outright porn. I might use a pen name when I indulge in transformative works, but who I am isn't much of a secret. When writing is a hobby as well as a job, business and pleasure can dovetail nicely.

So you can imagine how over the moon I was earlier this week when I heard about Harlequin's forthcoming Carina Press e-book imprint.

There are three beautiful things about Carina Press.

One, they're actively seeking work that doesn't always get a lot of play from more traditional houses. Their guidelines for romance and erotic romance are inclusive of LGBTQ themes, multiples as well as couples, and genre crossovers. They're open to genre fiction, and particularly genre fiction aimed at women.

Two, they're committed to a DRM-free e-book model. DRM-free means consumers can easily back up what they buy, share it between devices, and enjoy the books they buy without having to invest proprietary equipment or software.

Three, they're actively working to welcome new talent into the pool while maintaining editorial quality. I've heard nothing but good things about Angela James, for example.

In short, Carina looks poised to be a very good thing for Harlequin, for the industry, and for writers who want a digital-only imprint with some solid backing.

Which is what makes the introduction of Harlequin Horizons all the more perplexing. Even the most cursory click through of their main site makes it obvious that they're a vanity press.

And when I say "vanity press," I don't mean a friendly little PoD service like Lulu. I mean the worst sort of vanity press that wants to dupe rich hopefuls into spending $20k on a 60-90 minute trailer in hopes that it will make them bestselling authors.

And no surprise. Harlequin Horizons is a partnership with Author Solutions, Inc. Author Solutions, Inc. is a vanity press that's been snapping up PoD houses left and right. Compare Harlequin Horizons' services to PublishAmerica, and you'll come away with a not-so-fresh feeling that can only be remedied by intensive therapy.

No, this is not good at all. And it's a shame, because it makes the whole PoD industry look shady when it isn't. PoD makes a lot of small-press and specialty market publication possible.

What makes companies like Author Solutions, Inc. scummy is not that they'll print on demand. It's their sales pitch. They offer services that mimic some of the services a book and author might receive from a traditional publisher, but without the clout, professional relationships, or the good reputation of same.

Are there times when self-publishing is appropriate, or even a better solution? Sure. But those are few and far between, and are best entered into without the fairy tale. If it really worked that way, we'd all be Stephen King right now.

To quote Cassandra Claire: "Still not King."

At the end of the day, the real insult (as pointed out to me by a friend) is that the imprint that's likely to give us quality and a heap of great new talent isn't the one that Harlequin put its name on. And yet, somehow I'm not surprised. After all, how else are they supposed to lure the rubes into writing that check for twenty grand?

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