Repent, Harlequin?

Word Count: slacktastic

I mentioned I bought Under the Dome, right?

I have done nothing with my free time since Sunday night but read.

I know, NaNo means shutting yourself off from all distractions — including new books from one of your favorite authors — but y’know?  To hell with that.  The last book that had me this hooked was A Madness of Angels.  I’ll get a review up here when I’ve finished it, but for now, it’s safe to say I’m loving the hell out of this book.

Interesting things happening in the world o’publishing this week.  Harlequin announced Harlequin Horizons, which is essentially their own shiny new vanity press line. There’s a huge caveat emptor here, cats n kittens.  Settle in while I go exploring!

Also, for the record, I think it’s very interesting that they’re launching this during NaNoWriMo.  How many people with books that are nowhere near ready for publication are going to get hooked in by this?

There’s been plenty of discussion amongst romance writers and on romance blogs.  Check out Smart Bitches, Dear Author, and Writer Beware.  Romance Writers of America has declared that with the advent of Harlequin Horizons, Harlequin itself (as in, its “traditional” publishing arm), “no longer meets the requirements to be eligible for RWA-provided conference resources.”  Which means that sure, they can attend RWA conventions, but now they have to pay for rooms for their authors to use for signings, and will not be able to use the resources the RWA provides to eligible publishers to promote their company.

What does this mean?  In short, that adding a vanity/subsidy arm to their business is not good for the brand or its authors, and that it’s not the sweet deal it seems to be at first glance.

Go get a cup of coffee.  This picking-apart may take a while. 

Essentially, swing your manuscript and $600 their way, and Harlequin Horizons will bind it, give it an ISBN, and let you put a stock photo on a Harlequin cover template.  Add $200 onto that, and you can use your own cover art, plus get the Amazon “Search Inside This Book” feature activated.  Jump another $200 and you get an “editorial review” of the manuscript.

You (and their target customers) might be thinking, “Oh hey!  My book will be completely professionally edited!”

You’d be wrong.  From their site:

The Editorial Review is not a full manuscript edit, nor is it a replacement for the Harlequin Horizons full range of editorial services. Rather, our trained editors take a portion of your work—typically the first chapter or about 1,700 words—and give you a sample edit. The sample edit is designed to pinpoint areas that need improvement and give you, the author, constructive comments, areas that could be strengthened, and a general overview of your work.

After approximately the two weeks it takes for the editor to review your book, you will receive recommendations for additional editorial services. You may choose to purchase those services from Harlequin Horizons, use your own freelance editor, or make the changes yourself. If you do choose one of our other editing services, your book will be carefully edited by a specialist, so you receive the professional attention you would receive at a traditional publishing house.

See that?  1700 words.  That’s one day’s NaNo-ing, cats n kittens.  If you want more than that, well, golly, they offer expanded services for that, too!  Line editing (“Our professional editors will correct errors in spelling, punctuation, grammar, capitalization, and sentence structure.”) is available for 3 1/2 cents a word.  Say you have a 90,000 word manuscript.  That’s an extra $3150 you’re paying.  If you want to go beyond the spelling and grammar check, and get your line edit kicked up a notch to content editing (“added focus on restructuring sentences and streamlining your work style”), it’s $0.042 cents/word, so $3780.

Or, if you want to get the kind of editing you’d get if you were being published in-house, you can get a taste of that for $0.077/word.  That’s an extra $6930 for a 90,000 word novel.  Also, notice, I said a taste.  Harlequin Horizon’s “Developmental Editing” process has three phases: first, an editor reads the book for consistency of plot/character/setting etc.  Their words:

These revisions for your fiction book will confirm that your content relates to your genre and target audience, and that your plot, pace, characters, and dialogue are consistent throughout your book.

I’m a little concerned about that wording, simply because it doesn’t sound to me like the editor is looking to improve the story, just help you make sure that Janey isn’t in France at 2:00 and shows up in Boston at 2:30 in the next chapter without use of a teleportation device.  But, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and say the editor you get does say “Hey, if you did this, this, and this, your book would be stronger.”  From there, you make your revisions, send it back, and go to phase 2:  line/content editing.  Then comes phase 3, where the editor

will complete one final review to make sure the manuscript follows the Chicago Manual of Style, the style book used by traditional publishing houses nationwide.

Again, I’m not entirely sure what that means — my guess is that it’s a run-through to make sure the layout conforms to the Chicago Manual of Style, but nothing in that final review mentions making sure that the changes the author made in phase 1 make sense.

See, that is what I mean by only getting a taste.  You get one editing pass, and then you’re on to phase two, whether your changes improved the work or not.  What happens if you want the editor to take a second look?  Do you have to pay another fee?  Is it the $0.077 all over again, even if you didn’t get to phases two or three?

So, all right, let’s say you’ve shucked out $1000 for the “Aspirations” program, and another $6930 for the editorial works.  At $7930, your book is ready to go hit the bestseller lists, right?

/snerk

No.

Grats, your shiny, pretty book is an ISBN in the vast online bookstore database.  Who’s going to see it?

Oh, you didn’t think Harlequin was going to promote your book, did you?

Well, they could…

…for another $200.

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, by bumping up to the Marketing Plus package, they will write you a press release.  And spam the inboxes of 100 “targeted media outlets” for you!  No, really, they will send out a letter on your behalf that might very well just end up in the recycling bins of radio stations in your local areas.  Maybe you’ll get a “local man/woman writes book” story in your hometown newspaper, but even then there are no guarantees.  If someone reads this press release, they can request a copy of the book.  If.

Everything else is extra.

Tack on another $360 to those press releases and they’ll bump it up to 300 targeted releases.  And they’ll throw in a “‘starter’ press kit”: 30 copies of a fact sheet and author bio, plus your press release, that you can hand out your own damned self.

For $900, they’ll kick up the list to 17,000 outlets.

Want a website?  $479 to have someone call  you and tell you to go learn how to do it yourself.  You get to

customize your page with 11 different layouts, 11 color options and 300 header graphics.

Uh.  WordPress has more options than that, and it’s free. Or, you could buy your own domain name and hosting for oh, less than $100/year.  Wait, hosting.  Right.

Hosting isn’t included in the $479.

Over time you will be able to add new content and change the look of your Web site as long as you continue to pay the $29 per month hosting and customer support fee.

(Psst. My hosting company offers free support, and they’re awesome.)

Want to do some social networking?

For $959, they’ll set you up with…

  1. A blog using WordPress – an easy to use, popular and professional blogging platform
  2. A Facebook profile for your identity as an author
  3. A Facebook page for your book
  4. A MySpace page for your book
  5. A Flickr account integrated into your social network
  6. A FeedBurner account to help you deliver your blog to the masses
  7. A Shelfari social book account
  8. A Goodreads account for book lovers
  9. A LibraryThing account for social book-cataloging
  10. A Twitter account for micro-blogging

…all of which you can do yourself.  For FREE.  Also, wait a gorram second.  Why are we paying $479 for a website and getting whacked with a fee to set up a wordpress blog, too?  Sure, you can pick one package and not the other, but there are writers out there who want to be published so badly, they’re not going to pick up on that.  Bam, $1500 frittered away on what could have cost $65.

BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE!

Want to reach people via email?  They’ll let you use the power of their own mailing list, creating yet another press release that will reach anywhere from two hundred thousand to ten million people, depending on how much you want to pay, and whether or not you and your pocket are willing to share the spotlight with other authors.  Prices here range from $319 (200,000 recipients, shared advertising) to $11,995 (all by yourself, 10 million people spammed notified.)

Not only that, but if you have $20,000 kicking around, they’ll make you a Hollywood Book Trailer.  For $6,000, they’ll come and interview you.  For $4799, they’ll make a less-hollywood-like trailer with a voiceover.  Ditch the voiceover and you can get a trailer for $2279.  Again, you’re paying for distribution to youtube and other channels that are free.  You also get access to their mailing list.

If there’s something you don’t like in the trailer, you get one chance to fix it at no charge.  After that, it’s $500 an edit.  Sure, this stops people from doing a hojillion takes, but if the audio levels are screwed up in the first pass and don’t get fixed to your satisfaction in the second, well, it’s up to you — go with the poor quality, or are you going to dig into the savings?

Want to get some reviews out there?  For $600 each, they’ll send your book to Foreword Clarion and Kirkus Discoveries — both of which are paid review programs.  What I want to know is, why shouldn’t the authors just go straight to those publications themselves?  Foreword Clarion charges $305 per review.  Kirkus Discoveries charges $400, or $550 if you want it in 3-4 weeks.  Since the Harlequin site says it’ll take 2-3 months, it’s pretty safe to guess they’re going for the $400 program with Kirkus.

Which means they’re pocketing anywhere from $200 to $295 out of your $600.

Also?  Kirkus reserves the right not to be nice.  Ordering a review doesn’t buy you glowing words.  If your book sucks, they’re going to say so.  Better hope that $7000 you shelled out for editing was worth it.

BUT WAIT THERE’S STILL MORE!

Publicists!  Publicists are awesome!  They have contacts in the media, they know how to get you out there, get you exposure.  Interviews, magazine articles, booksignings.

For three months, you can have a publicist of your very own… for $11,999.  I’m, er, kind of curious who they have on their publicity staff, though:

These industry professionals have a combined ten years experience, including the implementation of over 500 book promotional campaigns.

“A combined ten years experience.”  Let’s do some math, shall we?  If they have two people doing all the work, hey, that’s great.  That’s five years each in the industry, and a good amount of time building up contacts.  I have no idea how big the staff might be — how many authors are they expecting to have $12K lying around?  If they have five publicists, that’s two years a piece on average.  Ten?  One year.  One year in publicity is an amazingly short amount of time.  That’s not to suggest that publicists who are new to the business won’t work their asses off for you, but I’m pretty sure they’re not going to get you on Oprah, either.

For $8400, you can squeeze three months of publicity into six weeks, if you have a niche audience.  However,

Seeing results in a six-week time frame is very rare, particularly considering the long lead time print media needs. It may in fact take several months for you to see any results.

But y’know, if you want to extend the time frame, they’re willing to talk (if you’re willing to pay.)

Have a marketing plan in mind already?  You can get help on it in regional, targeted, or national markets for $2700, $3900, and $5400 respectively.

And, of course, what marketing campaign would be complete without an ad in the Romantic Times?  For $999, you can share adspace with three other authors in what is (and I say this with no sarcasm) the romance genre’s #1 magazine.  It’s serious business, read by authors and fans alike, the place to go to for news and reviews, and Harlequin knows that:

Considering that the average romance fiction reader buys 10 to 40 books a month, you can’t afford to not have your book featured in the Romantic Times Book Reviews Co-Op Ad.

“You can’t afford not to…”

Really?

Here’s something I haven’t seen yet:  how are the books priced?  What quantity would an author in the Harlequin Horizons program have to sell in order to break even here?  Every package except the most expensive one brings your book out in softcover only, in 5×8, 6×9, or 8 1/2 x 11 formats.  5×8 and 6×9 are standard trade paperback sizes.  You’re looking at no more than $20 a book retail here, (more like $15-$17) and I’m guessing that the “author discount” offered isn’t going to let people make $5 a book net.  I’ll surf over to Author Solutions (Harlequin’s partner, the place doing the actual printing) in a bit and see what I can suss out from their own standard pricing, but considering the crazy markups we’ve already seen above, I’m not sure I’ll be anywhere near accurate.

By the way?  We’re not even done with the packages yet.

Another component of the $1199 Marketing Plus program is a “Booksigning Kit,” containing business cards, posters and postcards to bring with you for your booksigning events.

All that swag, my friends, does not get your foot into a bookstore.  It’s fun to look at, sure, and postcards might be a neat bit of swag to give away, but the first thing you have to do is convince your local booksellers that hosting you for a signing is worth their whiles.  With POD authors, that ain’t easy.  and no amount of swag that you paid $300 for is going to tip the scales in your favor.  Did you write a good book?  Can you provide copies that are competitively priced?  (Hint: if Author Solutions will sell the books to stores at a 35%, non-returnable discount, expect a firm “no thank you” from the events person.)

The first thing you need to do to get interest in a book signing?

Write a good book.

Of course, Harlequin knows this, too.  Take a look at their list of extras marked “Bookstore Essentials.”  For $119, your first chapter will be available for preview to libraries that decide to carry your book (good luck with that outside of your hometown), and on the websites for Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and Barnes & Noble.

You know what’s a lot cheaper?  Putting the first chapter up on your own website.  You know, the one you’re shelling out $500 for?  Or how about putting it on your shiny new Facebook page that you paid $1000 to have set up?

Also…

Wait a minute.

What the fuck?

On the “Booksellers Return Program” page:

Some retailers even have policies that prohibit them from buying a book without Booksellers Return Insurance.

Additionally, if retailers know you have this insurance they will be more likely to stock your book on their shelves, and set up book signings and speaking engagements for you, all of which require book sales. Don’t miss out on the many benefits this insurance provides – buy it today.

Booksellers Return what?

Okay, where I stated up above that if they can’t return the unsold copies, booksellers probably won’t want to stock your book, I wasn’t kidding.  Harlequin says it right here, and yes, it’s true.

But there is no such goddamned thing as “booksellers return insurance.”

Pardon me while I froth at the mouth and hit things a moment.

Sweet baby zombie crying Jesus this is bullshit.

If you google that phrase, the only sites that come up are Harlequin Horizons and West Bow Press, which is Thomas Nelson’s newly launched vanity press arm, also run by Author Solutions.

Listen to me, authors.  Please, understand this:  most publishers allow regular retail bookstores to return their unsold books as a standard practice. This is just how it works.  Should a regular retail bookseller wish to order titles on a non-returnable basis, they tell the publisher they wish to do so.

Harlequin’s “booksellers return insurance” is not a value-add, and it is not a term I’ve ever heard in my fifteen years of bookselling.  Print-on-demand titles are non-returnable by default, the opposite of the way commercial publishing works.   By signing onto this program, my guess is that the bookstore’s discount will drop way the hell down to 20% or less.

Also, say hey and by the way, if you want your books to keep being returnable after a year, that’s another $360 when the first year’s up, please.

For $240-$510, you can get yourself a stack of business cards, postcards and bookmarks for self promotion.  (Psst, you can get 2000 business cards with your own logo and design at Vista Print for $50 or less. They’ve got postcards, too. )

Only with the superdeluxe $1599 package — named, enticingly, “Booksellers” — do you get the option for your book to come out in hardcover.  Oh, also, they’ll register your copyright for you.  This is a $204 fee on its own, and Harlequin acknowledges that you own your own copyright as soon as you finish writing your book, but, of course, “that does not mean your work is fully protected from someone stealing it.”

You know how much it costs to register your own copyright?

$35.

Here’s the thing that Harlequin’s not telling you:  the only way for your book to be successful is for you to write a good book. If you haven’t done that, it doesn’t matter how pretty the packaging, how many press releases you send out, whether you have a book trailer or a bookmark.  If your book isn’t very good, it’s not going to sell.

It’d be nice if they’d tell you that up front.

I know I’ve given you a lot to digest today.  Tomorrow I’m going to delve a bit deeper into the costs of their premium package and some of its value-adds, and see if we can’t figure out a rough number of copies an author would have to sell to break even on his or her investment.

Any questions or comments?  Anything I didn’t clarify or that you’d like me to tackle?  Let me know.

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11 Responses to Repent, Harlequin?

  1. Marty says:

    So basically, if I pay Harlequin gobs of money, they’ll do a half assed job of printing my book?

    Jesus.

    you should put together a graph of the charges for these “services” just so people can get a graphic representation of the craziness.

  2. falconesse says:

    Basically, yes. And it gets better — I’ll be posting a bit of a blogaround showing their even further asshattery.

    The graph (well, a breakdown of the costs) is part of the plan for today’s post.

  3. Liz says:

    Marty nailed it. “If you did a half-assed job writing it, we’ll do a half-assed job printing it. And if it’s actually pretty good, well, we’ll still do a half-assed job.”

    #harlequinfail

  4. liz m says:

    Excellent summary.

  5. Marty said:

    “So basically, if I pay Harlequin gobs of money, they’ll do a half assed job of printing my book?”

    Not only will they do a half-assed job, Marty, if by some miracle you actually sell a copy the HQ HO will take 50% of your money. That’s part of what makes them a vanity press as opposed to a self-publisher.

  6. Christine_Rose says:

    Hey, be sure to compare the HQHo site to the Authorhouse site. You’ll find it awfully familiar–except that Authorhouse is cheaper. Yes, cheaper! On the other hand, Westbow, the Thomas Nelson equivalent of this, is even more. At least Thomas Nelson didn’t have the ovaries to call themselves Thomas Nelson Horizons.

    Oh, and all this is keeping me from concetrating on Nano also.

  7. falconesse says:

    Thank you all for the comments!

    Christine_Rose, you’re reading my mind. Comparing the Harlequin Horizons and AuthorHouse programs is definitely on the to-do list! :)

  8. ramarks says:

    Excellent summary falconesse! Instead of writing like I should be doing, I’ve been hooked on this trainwreck of an idea.

  9. Eirin says:

    Excellent summary!

    Also:

    For $119, your first chapter will be available for preview to libraries that decide to carry your book

    These books won’t be eligible to participate in the CIP Program, making it exceedingly unlikely that any library, even your local ones, will bother to stock it. In fact, chances are they won’t even take it as a donation.

  10. Excellent post! Very nice call on shenanigans with the “booksellers return insurance.” And this isn’t even getting into the fact that the authors would have to warehouse, distribute and sell the books themselves.

    And nowhere will you find information on how many books Horizons expects authors to sell.

    And this doesn’t even get into how HQ is promoting this service **in its rejection letters.** So even though the author’s book isn’t good enough for Harlequin to pay the author for it, it’s still good enough for the author to pay HQ for it.

    And if HQ has already rejected the book, isn’t its claim to keep its eye on Horizons authors as potential new talent for HQ published books also shenanigans?

    And this doesn’t get into how HQ would take a majority of the author’s profit. And this is after the author has already paid for everything you mentioned in your post, in full.

    There’s nothing wrong with self-publishing, if authors want to go that route. Personally, I think it is a difficult route, but it’s possible for authors to be successful at it (read: earn money), especially if they go the e-book route. But…

    1. Why not first try to get published — and paid by publishers?

    2. If you’re going to choose to print your book, why would anyone go with a vanity press, in which the publisher gets any profit at all? Doesn’t it make more sense to go with a true self-publishing outfit, like Lulu or Cafe Press, in which the author keeps 100% of the profit?

    Thank you again for the terrific post.

  11. Maya M. says:

    Thoughtful and convincing analysis. I’m linking to your post. Thanks.

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