When Harlequin announced it was creating a vanity press, the Romance Writers of America took the extraordinarily courageous act of immediately delisting the publisher from their Approved Publishers list. The Mystery Writers of America, Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, and the Horror Writers Association quickly followed suit.
However, the RWA has since back-pedaled from that courageous stance. They have quietly revised the criteria for their Approved Publishers list to allow Harlequin to creep back on without changing the practices that got them thrown off:
As a professional writers association, RWA stands firmly against any attempts to directly solicit RWA members to pursue vanity/subsidy publishing or other author-financed forms of publication. Publishing programs (lines, imprints or divisions) that directly solicit or refer writers to subsidy/vanity or other author-financed means of publication will not be allowed to participate in RWA’s annual conference as a featured publishing program.
“Subsidy” or “Vanity” publishing means the production of books in which the author participates in the costs of production or distribution in any manner, including assessment of fees or other costs for editing and/or distribution. This definition includes publishing programs that withhold or seek full or partial payment or reimbursement of publication or distribution costs before paying royalties, including payment of paper, printing, binding, production, sales or marketing costs; publishing programs whose authors exclusively promote and/or sell their own books; and publishers whose business model and methods of publishing are primarily directed toward sales to the author, his/her relatives and associates.
Management from the lines, imprints or divisions listed below certified to RWA that they have read and understand the above statement. They have attested that the publisher, line, imprint, or division they represent does not and will not refer RWA members to subsidy/vanity or author-financed publishing programs.
In other words, the RWA doesn't mind if publishers refer writers to their vanity press and other "for-pay" editorial services as long as none of those writers are RWA members. But everyone else is fair game…and RWA will turn a blind eye to it. That's like saying "Sexual molestation is wrong, but as long as you don't molest my kids, and only molest other kids, that's okay with us, you're welcome in our home."
Clearly, this language was crafted specifically to create a loophole for Harlequin, which decided to "monetize their slush pile" by referring all rejected writers to DellArte, their vanity press partnership with Authorhouse.
This is a cowardly, sleazy way of dodging the Harlequin issue…and tacitly endorses predatory and unethical publishing practices. The RWA should be ashamed of themselves for betraying their principles and encouraging the exploitation of aspiring writers (and, potentially, future RWA members, assuming some vanity press scam doesn't bankrupt their savings and their dreams).
Meanwhile, Harlequin is still not considered an Approved Publisher by the MWA, SFWA, and HWA. At least they are still standing behind their principles.