Monday, November 23, 2009

Epic Open Letter About Writers Association vs. Harlequin

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 (ElectronicallyPublished 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 preclude self/subsidy/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 directions.

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 inRWA'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 signingthe 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 s/s/v.

* 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 marketing package.

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 or otherwise.

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 National.

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 come from.

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 qualifiedfor, 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 theHarlequin'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" them.

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 Horizons.

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

http://epicauthors.com

(Since everyone is talking about this and I'm a member of Epic I thought I'd like to share.)

Marilyn

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