RWA Sells Out Writers

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.

17 thoughts on “RWA Sells Out Writers”

  1. Except… How is Harlequin going to know which submitting writers are RWA members? RWA is certainly not going to give them a membership list. Even members can’t get a membership list. If the author puts it in a letter, then they’ll know, but if RWA isn’t mentioned– Harlequin still won’t know if they’re a member or not. (What if the author joins between submitting and getting the rejection–not impossible…)
    To be smart (not that Hqn necessarily is) Harlequin will have to not solicit any of the writers.
    It SOUNDS like RWA is backsliding, but really… are they? I’m not so sure.

  2. Oh, puh-leeze.
    No, it’s not a perfect analogy-a child molester to publishers who are looking to make quick bucks wherever they can?
    Making quick bucks wherever they can might be sleazy, but come on…let’s get real, it’s a damn far cry from sexual molesting a child.
    Something that hasn’t been discussed a lot, but I think it’s worth noting…quite a few writers have submitted to HQN. Guess how many have received the rejection along with the little ‘perhaps you should consider our vanity imprint’ note?
    I haven’t heard of a single one, and considering the discussions that have raged? I think we would have heard.
    I for one am satisfied with the changes and here’s why:
    1) All those changes are dependent on the fact that NONE of the publishers can attempt to solicit at Nationals.
    2) All links from HQN’s site to the ‘assisted’ self pub/vanity press are gone.
    3) These changes with RWA & pub changes have ALSO opened the doors to something a lot of RWA members have been pushing for-namely, a chance for some of the smaller presses and digital presses to make an appearance at Nationals.
    RWA didn’t sell out. They made changes that needed to be made for the changing market-namely to work with smaller presses/digital presses and one that acknowledges the fact that more and more traditional imprints are going to branch out into the vanity press crap.
    It’s not selling out-it’s realism. As writers, we don’t like it, and nor do we have to. We SHOULDN’T like it and those of us who hate it should make sure we work to educate the new writers about the many, many MANY pitfalls of vanity presses.
    But publishers are looking to maximize the bottom line and this is one way they are going to do it. Harper Collins has done it and likely other places will do it. If we say NONE of those who do this can attend, in ten more years, RWA may well have a national conference with no publishers in attendance. And the point of that would be….well, there would be little point.

  3. Lee, I think with all due respect you might be too hard on Harlequin. I want to direct you to Danielle Steele who everybody recognizes is the queen of romance novels. Her type of books might not be to my taste or even to yours, but there is no denying that she is far and away the most successful romantic fiction writer working today.
    Why do I bring her up? To make my point. Danielle Steele has set the gold standard of romantic fiction writing. In this day and age it is hard for aspiring writers to break out. With the sheer volume of manuscripts publishers undoubtedly read, some good material might be overlooked and society might be deprived of another Danielle Steele. In that sense Harlequin is doing aspiring writers a service by providing them with another outlet to expose the public to their work. For all we know the next Danielle Steele might come from Dell’arte as opposed to more traditional venues.

  4. Shiloh,
    When Random House owned a stake in xlibris, they kept their vanity press operation entirely separate from their publishing business (ie their editors didn’t direct rejected writers to a corporate division that charges outrageously high fees to “publish” their book). The two divisions didn’t share staff or imply that selling a book to the vanity press could lead to a deal with Random House. There was a “wall of China” between the two business entities. No such wall exists between HQ’s imprints and DellArte. In fact, quite the opposite.
    You may not have heard that any rejected writers have been directed to DellArte yet…but that’s anecdotal evidence at best. So far, Harlequin has not indicated that they have abandoned the strategy that their CEO announced in her letter to the MWA:
    “We believe that writers are best served when they make informed choices. As such, Harlequin’s rejection letter templates will soon be modified to encourage the author to consider the wide range of publishing options now available to aspiring authors including submitting to another house, resubmitting to
    Harlequin, ePublishing, self-publishing, or working with Dellarte Press.”
    Of course there’s no comparison between child molestation and preying on the desperation and gullibility of aspiring writers…I was merely illustrating the gutlessness of RWA new blind-eye policy. RWA says they don’t approve of vanity and subsidy presses, but as long as HQ doesn’t hit on RWA members, they don’t mind if HQ steers other rejected writers to it. That’s gutless, sleazy, and a complete betrayal of their principles. They are selling out writers…and future RWA members.

  5. Paula,
    It has always been hard for new writers to break in…that hasn’t changed… and yet new writers are discovered and become huge successes all the time.
    What Harlequin is doing is unethical and a huge conflict of interest. They are having their editors send rejected writers to their vanity press. They are basically saying this:
    “Your book isn’t good enough for us to publish. BUT but if you pay us thousand of dollars to create a print-on-demand edition through DellArte, and you happen to sell thousands of copies, we might consider offering you a publishing contract at Harlequin.”
    What they don’t tell you is that vanity presses like DellArte make their money selling books to authors, not to readers. The vast majority of vanity press authors don’t even sell 100 copies of their books.
    What they don’t tell you is if you, against all odds, manage to sell copies of the books you spent thousands of dollars to print, DellArte will add insult to injury by taking a huge chunk of your royalties, too!! (If you paid to have the book publishing, why should they get ANY of your royalties???)
    What they don’t tell you is that you can get your book “published” for NO COST UPFRONT by vanity presses like Lulu and Blurb. You DON’T HAVE TO SPEND THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS or even HUNDREDS OF DOLLARS. Or you can make your book available as an ebook for NO MONEY OUT-OF-POCKET on Scribd, Smashwords, or the Amazon Kindle.
    What they don’t tell you is no major magazines or newspapers review vanity press books, few bookstores will carry vanity press books, and most professional writers organizations will not consider vanity press books for membership or award consideration.
    Spending thousands of dollars on a POD edition that nobody will read, and that no bookstores will carry, is not the path to success…or becoming Danielle Steele. It’s a scam.

  6. Everybody seems surprised that RWA found a way to keep in with Harlequin. I for one knew that they would eventually have to give in, after all, they need Harlequin more than Harlequin needs them.

  7. I think you’re getting vanity press and small press confused. Small presses still pay advances and royalties (although some small, or very small advances, but always decent royalties).
    Digital printing != Vanity Press.
    It’s not the future. If it was the future, writers everywhere should weep. This is not in their best interest, no matter how badly they want to be published.

  8. I think RWA did a great job of handling this situation, and I don’t see their statement as an indication that they think it’s ok for Harlequin to solicit non-RWA members to its vanity press. As someone pointed out, Harlequin doesn’t know who’s an RWA member, so their agreement should hopefully end all referrals to DellArte via the slush pile.

  9. Where romance fiction is concerned, Harlequin is the biggest publisher for the genre. How can RWA in good conscience ban the entire publisher and disenfranchise more than half their published membership body? For many aspiring writers, Harlequin is a good break-in pub, too.
    The same is most certainly not true for MWA, SFWA, and HWA. It’s easy to maintain seat on high horse when the stakes are low.

  10. As an editor for Random House once told me about the Xlibris venture of that company. “There are no farm teams in publishing.”
    Unfortunately for Harlequin, they seem to imply while there may not be, they’d like an option on the rejects anyway. Nice money if you can get it. No one should fall for it.

  11. Well, for anyone still clinging to the illusion that Harlequin really is offering something of value may I suggest a trip to
    Dell’Artes first book is out; it’s called ‘Dargan’s Desire’ and it apparently started out as a Lulu product.
    Clearly a book originally summarised as:
    ‘Wren hates Dargan because he took her virginity without permission. Dargan hates Wren for trapping him into an unwanted marriage. …’
    has major problems, not least with the definition of rape, but the revised Harlequin blurb is a great deal worse:
    And now Harlequin are briefing bloggers with the claim that the referral issue was a misunderstanding; perhaps this is the time to enquire whether the CEO wants to correct her letter to MWA?

  12. The revised blurb is beyond confusing:
    “Wren is marrying the man of her dreams just as soon as she returns from her trip to the Carolinas-on the first night there, all is changed in an instant. Why? Because the hero of my recently completed novel, Dargan’s Desire, has mistakenly taken her virginity.”
    As we say in the biz, WTF??!?!?!?

  13. Well.
    You know, I understand that RWA was in a bind. Truly. But I strongly feel that RWA has traded in its principles. If Harlequin Enterprises has a vanity arm that it is referring rejected authors toward, that goes against RWA’s mission.
    What’s not clear is whether Harlequin is actually doing this.
    Yes, I’ve heard a small number of authors say that their rejections didn’t contain the damning referral. But were those form letter rejections, which were the ones that the HQ president specifically said would have such references?
    The problem is that HQ has not publicly said that it has changed its mind and is NOT including the referral in its form letter rejections.
    And so, until that happens, we have little choice but to believe that HQ is, in fact, referring rejected authors to its vanity arm. Which, in my opinion, is despicable.
    Go ahead, Harlequin. Prove me wrong. Please. Announce publicly that you are NOT referring rejected authors to your vanity arm.

  14. I’ve got to disagree with you on this one Lee. The mistake RWA made wasn’t backing down, it was picking the fight in the first place. Not that they weren’t on the side of righteousness, but you have to pick your battles carefully. There’s a fine line between being courageous, and just being stupid, and its clear to me where they came down on this one.
    The minute I heard about RWA’s response to Harlequin’s vanity operation, I knew they were shooting themselves in the foot, and there was about a 99% chance they’d be eating crow and lose credibility, both with publishers, and with their members, in the process.
    Thing is, this isn’t at all analogous to boycotting a single publisher in mystery or science-fiction/fantasy, where such an action might make sense. But Harlequin is more than half the romance field. When they’re this close to having a monopoly, you simply can’t turn them using brute-force. You’ve got to convince them to WANT to turn.
    RWA simply had no leverage to do what they tried to do, the way they tried to do it.
    But instead, they took Harlequin head-on, by trying to deny them awards they don’t need to sell books, and by denying organization membership to the very writers who they should be bringing under their protection and influence. (An analogy would be to try and stop a company treating workers unfairly by denying them membership in the union, rather than recruiting them.) All of the actions taken against Harlequin punished innocent writers far more than they did the company. That’s ineffective, and it certainly is no way to rally the troops.
    As for holding out on this thing for any length of time, this isn’t a fly-by-night operator running a vanity press here. It’s a massive publisher that is, in every other way, undeniably a professional market doing business in a professional manner. To pretend otherwise, to try to cut off more than half of the field your organization claims to represent, is simply to make yourself look foolish. If RWA had continued their excommunication of Harlequin, they would have effectively turned the organization into a joke.
    Of course, it could be argued that they’re now a joke anyway. Point taken. Sometimes, simply to enter a war is to lose it, and there’s no going back from that mistake.
    And look at this from Harlequin’s standpoint. Backed into a corner (not a very uncomfortable corner from their perspective, but still, this is about appearances) they couldn’t simply cave to RWA without looking weak and ineffective. They had everything to lose, and damned little to gain by making ANY concessions at that point.
    As so often happens to writers and writers groups (and please don’t take this as a slam against women, as it applies equally well to both sexes of writers in my experience), they responded to Harlequin’s move emotionally, rushing in with little planning or forethought, only a lot of righteous indignation. That always works. Not.
    In my opinion, they should not have immediately excluded Harlequin books from awards, and they CERTAINLY should not have attempted to deny membership status to Harlequin authors working under legitimate contracts.
    Instead, they should have issued a strong, public, condemnation of Harlequin’s actions, attempted to rally Harlequin authors (rather than disenfranchising them) and reader to the cause, and to engage in a public relations war, one area where Harlequin might be vulnerable. At this point, sabers should have been rattled about about “considering other possible actions,” without being too specific or setting timelines.
    At the same time. Harlequin should have been approached through back-channels seeking a sit-down to discuss the situation and possible resolutions to the situation.
    Would Harlequin have backed down and canned the operation? I have sincere doubts. This IS the 400 pound gorilla we’re talking about here. But at least they’d have been in a position where they COULD have (assuming someone decided the money made wouldn’t be worth the continued bad-press and bad-blood) “reexamined their position,” and made concessions without appearing too weak. At the very least, RWA might have been able to convince them to create a bit of a safe-zone between their legitimate publishing arm and the vanity press.
    Failing that, RWA could have settled in for a longer fight where they might, over time, accomplish some of their goals, or at least fail to do so without doing excessive damage to the organization in the process.
    As it is, I don’t think RWA has, or will, accomplish ANYTHING from this except weakening the organization.


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