Some of you may be following the Harlequin Horizons issue. I’m republishing EPIC’s official statement on the subject here because I think it is a well-reasoned and calm response to Harlequin’s creation of a subsidy publishing arm. Other organizations, the RWA specifically, have seen this step as a challenge to the traditional publishing model that they hold so dear. But just like the music industry, the world of publishing is changing, and trying to hold on to past paradigms is s bit like expecting your sand castle to remain undamaged when the tide is clearly coming in.
It’s time to embrace the breadth of writing styles and talents all over the globe. Publishing power WILL return to the people.
EPIC Open Letter
The Writers Associations vs. Harlequin
The internet is abuzz with news of the backlash in the wake of
Harlequin’s new “Harlequin Horizons” (soon to be renamed)
vanity line. Everyone has their two cents to add; EPIC (Electronically
Published Internet Connection) is no different, though EPIC is in a
unique position in this discussion.
Why is EPIC unique? Because we don’t have a requirement that would
vanity-published (s/s/v) authors or publishers
from joining EPIC as full members. To be a member of EPIC, you must be a
published author or industry professional…period. We don’t
require books or covers entered in our contests to be from conglomerates
or even from royalty-paying press. Also, we are not a writers’
association “of America” group. EPIC is a global organization
that includes members from around the world from the US and Canada to
the UK, Germany, Australia, India, and farther.
EPIC started in 1997 as a proposed chapter that split from RWA and
formed its own organization. We acknowledged then that RWA was not in a
position to accept the indie/e model and support its e-published
members. In the twelve years since, EPIC and RWA have grown in different
EPIC embraces all genres of fiction and non-fiction and welcomes
industry members as full members, to include: publishers, cover artists,
editors, agents, and others who work together toward common goals in the
digital publishing age. WAs (Writers of America Associations) are
largely author organizations for the traditionally published (or in
RWA’s case, pre-published authors, as well) and include a limited
range of genres under their umbrellas.
What is EPIC’s “official position” on this matter? The
official position is that Harlequin authors (and Harlequin as a
publisher) were welcomed in EPIC before and continue to be welcomed,
including those of the new Horizons line.
The bylaws of EPIC do not specify that a publisher must be a
traditional, royalty-paying press, and in fact, they specify that
s/s/v-published authors are welcome in EPIC. Our contest guidelines
specify that a book must be released for sale in the English language,
not that it must be from a traditional, royalty-paying press. Further,
the publisher code of ethics instituted by the EPIC publisher coalition
in April of this year does not preclude s/s/v publishers from signing
the code. This code represents what EPIC feels is right and appropriate
when dealing with authors.
If anything in the code would limit the Horizons venture, it would come
down to a couple of key bullets, including:
* Complete disclosure of all terms prior to author signing a contract.
The Horizons site makes claims about s/s/v that imply unrealistic
expectations and ignore the pitfalls of s/s/v. As a large number of
aspiring authors considering s/s/v will not know the pros and cons of
this career choice, full and complete disclosure would include realistic
information about what will likely happen when authors choose to use
* The publisher will aid authors in marketing their books. No mention is
made of Horizons marketing for the authors, unless the authors pay for a
Further, the code would limit the new Carina line, based on a single
code item, as far as we are able to discern thus far: “contracting for
only such rights to the works of our authors that the publisher
reasonably expects to utilize during the term of the contract”.
According to the Carina team, they will be signing all rights with no
immediate intentions of doing print.
Not adhering to the code would not preclude Harlequin from joining EPIC
or even from competing their books and covers in the EPIC contests, even
those from Horizons and Carina, but it would preclude them from being
listed as a code of ethics publisher.
EPIC does find it troubling that Harlequin chose to lend its name to
“Harlequin Horizons,” their new vanity publishing arm, but not
to Carina, its indie/e-style, traditional royalty-paying press. By doing
so, Harlequin suggests that vanity publishing is more acceptable with
the Harlequin name attached than a traditional e-publisher associated
with the same parent company. This is troubling to anyone with an
interest in e-publishing, which would include EPIC members. At the very
least, one would think both publishing arms would be equals in
Harlequin’s eyes. Harlequin further muddies the subject with its own
statement, indicating their acceptance of the “changing
environment” in publishing.
>From a marketing standpoint, one would think Harlequin would, initially
at least, want to distance itself from both lines, as departures from
the norm they excel at, but in light of the existing Luna and Spice
Briefs lines, one would think (of the two new ventures proposed by
Harlequin this month), they would want to associate themselves with
Carina, as a traditional e-publisher.
But what about the problem the industry faces, in general? To appreciate
this situation requires looking at it from two points of view; that of
the WAs and that of Harlequin.
The Harlequin Perspective – A new way forward?
Does Harlequin have the “right” to start up a vanity line? Of
course, they do. Harlequin is a business independent of any and all WAs.
No industry organization should have the power to dictate how Harlequin
should run their multi-billion dollar company. They do not need
permission or blessing from anybody on how they conduct business, EPIC
In its rebuttal to RWA, Harlequin stated: “It is disappointing that
the RWA has not recognized that publishing models have and will continue
to change. As a leading publisher of women’s fiction in a rapidly
changing environment, Harlequin’s intention is to provide authors access
to all publishing opportunities, traditional or otherwise.”
On this point, EPIC concedes that Harlequin is correct. RWA has not kept
up with the changing face of publishing. Their own members have begged
RWA’s Board of Directors to form committees and research the digital
age of publishing—and they have been denied until this moment, when
they have been forced to do so. RWA has frequently changed its
guidelines to avoid accepting the changing face of royalty-paying press,
in all its forms.
This is one of the core problems with RWA, SFWA, and MWA. A professional
organization must set standards, but changing those standards repeatedly
shows a certain amount of duplicity, and ignoring the changing industry
is worse. As industry organizations, at least staying abreast of new
trends is vital, even if your guidelines remain somewhat stagnant after
your debate on those changes.
The WA Perspective – The status quo?
Does RWA have the “right” to yank Harlequin’s status for
lending their name to a vanity publishing line? YES! RWA’s current
guidelines say that they must revoke Harlequin’s status; therefore,
doing so is the only correct course they can take.
RWA has won the respect of many for following its own guidelines despite
the size, history, and market presence of the publisher, and EPIC
applauds them for it. If Harlequin’s true intent is to funnel
aspiring authors that they reject over to “Harlequin Horizons,”
EPIC understands why RWA would deny Harlequin editors appointments at
EPIC sympathizes with authors affected by this. With Harlequin’s
status revoked, any Harlequin author who has not already submitted for
PAN and authors who might sign contracts with Harlequin are not eligible
for PAN. In future years, under the current guidelines, Harlequin books
would not be eligible to compete in the RITA, no matter which line they
Worse, SFWA and RWA have historically removed current paid members,
who’ve formerly qualified as published authors with a later-revoked
publisher, from membership or from membership perks they’d qualified
for, in previous industry dust-ups. Some of those authors never regained
the status they were stripped of.
Nevertheless, Harlequin had to realize that putting the Harlequin name
on a vanity line, then sending aspiring authors rejected by Harlequin
not to Carina–which is still traditional though e–but to the
Harlequin’s new vanity line and posting RWA links on the vanity
arm’s webpage would antagonize RWA, whose views on vanity publishing
were well known. In fact, the views of SFWA and MWA are well known.
These moves were not well considered. They made an immediate and
decisive move by the WAs necessary.
Self- and Vanity Publishing…An Apologia
There’s nothing inherently wrong with self/subsidy/vanity. Certain
niche markets and projects lend to it. As long as the presentation
(editing, cover, formatting, etc.) is sound, and the authors know going
in what the pros and cons are, everything is good.
There are good, bad, and ugly examples of publishing everywhere, from
the NY conglomerate’s main lines to indie/e to s/s/v. If an author
chooses to go the final route, it is on him/her to make sure the
presentation and marketing plan are sound. EPIC encourages authors to
make those decisions for themselves, without artificial interference
from the organization about it. We’re here to support our members,
not to make their choices for them in an effort to “protect”
On the other hand, EPIC stands with several editors and authors who have
tossed their rocks at Harlequin over the wording on the Horizons site.
According to Dee Powers’ yearly questionnaire of NY editors and
agents, indie/e is considered a viable resume point for a writer; s/s/v,
at this time, is not, unless you hit the sales jackpot, which is highly
unlikely but admittedly possible. The Horizons site gives the impression
that publication there will not only be respected but also that it will
open the door to not only Harlequin but also other NY conglomerate
publishers and even Hollywood…if you pay enough and work hard enough.
It goes against the grain of full disclosure in the pitfalls and
problems with s/s/v. On that point, I agree with SFWA’s response to
Harlequin’s newest tack is to remove their name from the Horizons
vanity line. If that also includes not funneling rejections from
Harlequin to that line and removing the ads for Horizons from the main
HQ site, it may actually fly with the WAs. Or it may not. SFWA, at
least, has made it clear that they want full disclosure of the pitfalls
and problems of s/s/v included to reinstate Harlequin.
A Final Word from EPIC –
One of EPIC’s missions is to educate authors on all the options
available in publishing and to promote good practice and good business
relations between author and publisher. It’s a brave new world in
publishing circles, and the growing pains are coming to the fore.
Brenna Lyons: EPIC President
Electronically Published Internet Connection