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Julie Barrett is a freelance writer and photographer based in Plano, TX.

More on Harlequin Horizons and Vanity/Subidy Publishing in General

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(Warning: Rambling, ranty post ahead.)

All this brouhaha over the Harlequin Horizons venture got me to thinking about how writers and other creatives are treated in this world. The tipping point for this rant was from Harlequin's own statement today (reprinted at Agent Kristen's blog). Here's the line that got me:

It is disappointing that the RWA has not recognized that publishing models have and will continue to change.
Publishing models will continue to change, but Yog's Law doesn't.

Writers and artists need to make a living just like our peers on other fields. But wait, you say:
Everyone has to start somewhere.
This is true. I started off doing pro bono projects for non-profits while I had a full time job. I wrote tech columns and articles for $25 (or less) a pop. All that helped build my portfolio. I didn't pay someone to get my work "out there." I worked my tail off. It helped that I had a day job to allow me to do that.

How does this equate to the Harlequin venture? Do you ever see these come-ons?
Give your programming skills they chance they deserve!

Realize your coding dreams! For only $1,995...
Yes, there are plenty of worthless job sites out there, and plenty of worthwhile ones. But would you hand over your hard-earned money to see your game put on a DVD that will never see the inside of Fry's, Best Buy, or Gamestop? Shoot, you could do it yourself. Bingo! You've just discovered true self-publishing. Or, you might pay a recruiter to help you find a job, but would you pay someone that money only to find out you get minimum wage and the recruiter keeps the rest? Congratulations (I think), you've discovered the equivalent of subsidy or vanity publishing.

Yes, some subsidy-published authors do well, but most vanity and subsidy published books sell an average of 150 copies or less. If you got the full $20 (just to pull out a figure) sales price on each book, that would be $3,000 before your expenses. Most of these operations give a percentage on the net, which isn't a lot in the first place. 10% of that $20 sales price (if you get 10% of the cover price) is $2.00. 10% of the net - or even 50% - doesn't look so good, does it. Yet, many authors pay a press to produce their book and then accept 50% - or less - of the net. That's not a good deal. If you go with a small press and skip the advance and get paid in royalties only you'd still come out ahead.

If your work isn't good enough that someone would pay you to publish it, perhaps you need to keep polishing until it's ready.

Yes, the publishing industry is changing, but this is the wrong way to go about it. I'd rather flip burgers or work retail than pay someone who apparently cares more about making money off of me than about my book. Look at these web sites. They're all pitching to the author. Where does the reader come in to this equation?

On the other hand, I would consider true self-publishing, where I own the ISBN and the rights and have complete creative control. That's a business decision that I would take only after weighing the pros and cons and crunching the numbers many times. I'd have to be convinced I could make money on the deal. Whether it's vanity, subsidy, or self-publishing, the only way I'd make money is from sales to readers. How do my readers know the book is "out there?" They have to know from me, because the folks I paid the money to sure aren't going to do it. How do my readers get the book? They buy it from me or from a web site. They can't walk into a bookstore and inspect it. I'd rather self-publish and take all of the profits.

And that's what commercial book and e-publishers offer. They're interested in getting their books into the hands of readers. Yes, I said e-publishers. I know some writers who are making darned good money with e-publishers. The thing is, they operate like print publishers in that they're focused on the reader.

Whew! I'm in a ranty mood tonight, aren't I? Well, it upsets me when someone plays to a writer's dreams rather than the reality of publishing. Most of us don't make a lot of money at it, it's true. Believe me, I'd rather get $25 free and clear than pay someone in order to make that $25. Extrapolate that example figure as you wish. I shouldn't have to be out anything beyond my time and materials.

Does that make me a dinosaur? I hope not. Those of us who make money at this - even it it's not a living wage - need to stand up for the folks who are just entering the field and have no idea how publishing works. We need to stand up for the readers who appreciate the editorial gatekeeping function of commercial presses. They don't want to be stuck wading through what amounts to the slush pile at a vanity publisher's web site to find the gems. Yes, there are some good books at those sites, but you have to dig to find them, and then they're overpriced. Is that any way to treat readers?

Now I'm rambling and ranting. I think an early trip to bed is in order.

Fild under: Publishing

Filed under: Publishing            
11/19/2009 9:20:26 PM
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