MWA Takes Stand Against Harlequin

Today, the Mystery Writers of America notified their members of the actions they are taking in response to Harlequin's manuscript critique business and their self-publishing venture:

Recently, Harlequin Enterprises launched two new business ventures aimed at aspiring writers, the Harlequin Horizons self-publishing program and the eHarlequin Manuscript Critique service (aka "Learn to Write"), both of which are widely promoted on its website and embedded in the manuscript submission guidelines for all of its imprints.

Mystery Writers of America (MWA) is deeply concerned about the troubling conflict-of-interest issues created by these ventures, particularly the potentially misleading way they are marketed to aspiring writers on the Harlequin website.

It is common for disreputable publishers to try to profit from aspiring writers by steering them to their own for-pay editorial, marketing, and publishing services. The implication is that by paying for those services, the writer is more likely to sell his manuscript to the publisher. Harlequin recommends the "eHarlequin Manuscript Critique Service" in the text of its manuscript submission guidelines for all of its imprints and include a link to "Harlequin Horizons," its new self-publishing arm, without any indication that these are advertisements.

That, coupled with the fact that these businesses share the Harlequin name, may mislead writers into believing they can enhance their chances of being published by Harlequin by paying for these services. Offering these services violates long-standing MWA rules for inclusion on our Approved Publishers List.

On November 9, Mystery Writers of America sent a letter to Harlequin about the "eHarlequin Manuscript Critique Service," notifying Harlequin that it is in violation of our rules and suggesting steps that Harlequin could take to remain on our Approved Publishers list. The steps outlined at that time included removing mention of this for-pay service entirely from its manuscript submission guidelines, clearly identifying any mention of this program as paid advertisement, and, adding prominent disclaimers that this venture was totally unaffiliated with the editorial side of Harlequin, and that paying for this service is not a factor in the consideration of manuscripts. Since that letter went out, Harlequin has launched "Harlequin Horizons," a self-publishing program.

MWA's November 9 letter asks that Harlequin respond to our concerns and recommendations by December 15. We look forward to receiving their response and working with them to protect the interests of aspiring writers. If MWA and Harlequin are unable to reach an agreement, MWA will take appropriate action which may include removing Harlequin from the list of MWA approved publishers, declining future membership applications from authors published by Harlequin and declaring that books published by Harlequin will not be eligible for the Edgar Awards.

We are taking this action because we believe it is vitally important to alert our members of unethical and predatory publishing practices that take advantage of their desire to be published. We respect Harlequin and its authors and hope the company will take the appropriate corrective measures.

The problem is not that Harlequin owns, or is affiliated with, a manuscript critique service or a self-publishing operation. The problem is how those services are integrated and promoted within their "legitimate" publishing operation…and how that integration potentially misleads, and takes advantage of, aspiring and established authors. The problem is further exacerbated by Harlequin allowing the manuscript critique service and the self-publishing operation to use the Harlequin name.

By integrating the pitch for the critique service into the actual text of their manuscript submission guidelines for all of their imprints — without indicating in any way that it's an advertisement and not a requirement or recommendation — and by giving the service the Harlequin name, they could mislead authors into thinking that:

a) paying for their critique service is a requirement for submitting manuscripts to Harlequin

b) that the editors you hire at eHarlequin Manuscript Critique Service are the same "romance professionals" who will be working with you on your manuscript at Harlequin.

c) paying for their critique service will give you an inside track at having your manuscript being accepted by Harlequin

With the Harlequin self-publishing service, Harlequin Horizons, they could mislead aspiring writers into believing that they are:

a) being published by Harlequin, only paying for it.

b) that they will be working with Harlequin editors

c) that they are actually being published by Harlequin when, in fact, it's an iUniverse book.

And by mentioning the Harlequin self-publishing service on the manuscript submission page for their "real" Harlequin, they are creating the potentially mis-leading impression that paying to have your book published by Harlequin is a pre-requisite or a short-cut to being published by the "real" Harlequin.

In my view, these actions go against all the professional and ethical standards that the MWA stands for.

The Romance Writers of America, in an act of real courage on behalf of their members, has also spoken out strongly this week against these practices, taking on the largest publisher in their genre. It will be interesting to see what Harlequin does next.

UPDATE (11/19/2009) : Harlequin has just announced that they are changing the name of their vanity press. That does not allay all of the MWA's grave concerns about this venture, but it is one step in the right direction.

UPDATE (11/19/2009): The Science Fiction Writers of America have just removed Harlequin from their Approved Publishers list and have released a statement expressing their outrage.

UPDATE (11/22/2009) Novelists Inc. put out with a statement today warning writers to avoid vanity presses and calling on "legitimate" publishers not to engage in predatory publishing practices.

UPDATE (11/23/2009) The Horror Writers Association has also issued a statement condemning Harlequin's vanity press. You can find the complete text in the comments below.

UPDATE: Sisters-in-Crime released a statement, acknowledging that Harlequin Horizons (now DellArte) is a vanity press and may not present the best option for those interested in self-publishing. The complete text of the statement is in the comments below. The International Thriller Writers have declined to issue any sort of statement regarding the Harlequin matter.

8 thoughts on “MWA Takes Stand Against Harlequin”

  1. Wow. If you go to Harlequin’s Horizons webpages, it makes it sound as if the books you self-publish with them are all part of the Harlequin family. It’s truly remarkable that they’re willing to diminish their reputation and brand to do this. It’s also a bit scary–it’s an indication they think there’s more money involved in the future in catering to desperate writers than there is in publishing their romances.

  2. You said:
    “The problem is not that Harlequin owns, or is affiliated with, a manuscript critique service or a self-publishing operation. The problem is how those services are integrated and promoted within their “legitimate” publishing operation…and how that integration potentially misleads, and takes advantage of, aspiring and established authors.”
    I think you’re being too easy on Harlequin here. “[H]ow those services are integrated” can make it a more (or less) reprehensible conflict of interest. It’s still a conflict of interest, no matter how they’re integrated, and that is simply not acceptable… particularly in an industry that operates in as much secrecy as does trade fiction publishing. Further, this kind of conflict — in which decisionmakers must consider a quantifiable immediate profit potential v. unquantifiable longer-term profit potential that will require substantial effort to realize — is bad for the decisionmakers themselves… if not necessarily for their beancounter bosses.

  3. Thanks for the frequent updates, Lee.
    Harlequin has had a program of e-short fiction of various subgenres (15,000 words), for which they made it clear that accepted submissions, judged by in-house editorial staff, would only be published online for download. The works received editing, branding, and cover art, and were sold and promoted at the main eHarlequin site. They also fell under some scaled-down version of normal contract terms, I assume. Those short submissions, it was claimed, might lead to book contracts, and did in at least one instance, I believe. That’s a fairly upfront way to “find new talent” and test sales of new voices, but it still requires publisher outlay of effort and resources.
    It’s one thing to experiment more cheaply with new fiction markets and formats. It’s another to pluck the hopeful pigeons.

  4. Author Solutions published 13,000 titles last year. Titles that vary in content and quality. Titles that perhaps didn’t quite fit a publisher’s existing lines. Those books already exist, but are the readers buying them?
    And if not, why? (IMHO they aren’t. 2,500,000 copies were sold of 13,000 titles. That first number sounds impressive, right? But divide that down to the average number of copies sold per title = 192. Depressing.)
    Those books I spoke of are no different than the products readers will receive through Harlequin Horizons. Because these are Author Solutions products, not Harlequin products. Products designed to lure in writers, not readers. (13,000 packages sold to writers at a base price of $599 multiplies out to $7,887,000. Cha-ching )

  5. The Horror Writers Association just sent out a statement to their members:
    Dear HWA Members,
    Recently, Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd. announced the launch of a new imprint, Harlequin Horizons, a self-publishing venture for aspiring romance authors. This venture is prominently promoted on Harlequin Enterprises’ website and is touted in the manuscript submission guidelines for all of its imprints.
    The Horror Writers Association is very concerned about the conflict of interest created by this new venture. Harlequin Horizons is a joint venture with Author Solutions, and it is a vanity press that relies on payments from aspiring writers to earn a profit. The fact that this business venture shares the Harlequin name may mislead writers into believing they can improve their chances to be published by Harlequin Enterprises if they pay for this service.
    HWA asks that Harlequin acknowledge that the imprint does not represent a genuine opportunity for aspiring authors to hone their skills, because no editors will be vying for or editing the manuscripts. HWA supports the basic principal that writers should be paid for their work, not pay because they aspire to write.
    The HWA does not believe that changing the name of the imprint in an attempt to disguise the relationship with Harlequin, changes the intent. We call on Harlequin to discontinue this imprint immediately. If this matter does not find a positive resolution, the HWA will take appropriate action, which may include removing Harlequin from the list of HWA approved publishers, declining future membership applications from authors published by Harlequin and declaring that books published by Harlequin will not be eligible for the Stoker Award.
    We are taking this action because we believe it’s crucial to alert and protect our members from unethical and predatory publishing practices that take advantage of their desire to be published. The HWA hopes Harlequin Enterprises Ltd will take the appropriate measures to correct this matter posthaste.
    For the Board of Directors,
    Deborah LeBlanc
    The Horror Writers Association

  6. Here’s the Sisters-in-Crime statement…
    by Marcia Talley
    President, Sisters in Crime
    The mission of Sisters in Crime, Inc. is to support the professional advancement of our members, and not to comment on business decisions made by publishers. Nevertheless, the Sisters in Crime board feels obliged to let our membership know how we stand on the recent decision by Harlequin to partner with Author Solutions, a subsidy/vanity press, and to promote these services to aspiring authors via links on its website.
    It is our job to educate our members, to make sure that they enter into publishing agreements of whatever kind with their eyes wide open. Harlequin Horizons, by whatever name, is a vanity press, and like all vanity presses, provides editorial, marketing and publishing services to authors for a fee. As such, it relies upon payments and income from aspiring writers to earn profits, rather than sales of books to actual readers.
    After researching the market and taking her goals into consideration, a Sisters in Crime member may make an informed decision to self publish, but should also be aware of the consequences.
    Presently, self-published writers do not enjoy the same benefits as traditionally published authors in Romance Writers of America (RWA), Mystery Writers of America (MWA) or Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA), nor will they qualify for literary awards sponsored by those organizations. More than likely, self-published writers will not be assigned to author panels by conference coordinators. Self-published books are generally not carried in brick and mortar stores.
    If those benefits are not a concern, then self-publishing may be the right choice for a writer seeking a creative outlet. If so, there are dozens of subsidy/vanity presses which can provide the same services as Harlequin Horizons, some at considerably less cost.
    We urge members to research those companies carefully, comparing services, quality and price before making a decision. Do not assume that because Harlequin Horizons is affiliated with Harlequin that choosing Harlequin Horizons to print your self-published novel will improve your chances of being published by Harlequin’s more traditional advance and royalty paying divisions.
    Read the official RWA, MWA and SFWA statements here:


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