If you read somewhat regularly in the Lit-blog sphere, then you've probably already heard about the current BIG FLAP over Harlequin publishing and its newest imprint: Harlequin Horizons.
If not, start here, then go here, here, and here. Also: You can go here. And finally: Go here. John Scalzi does a good summation here.
And for the lazy out there, the nutshell:
Basically, Harlequin has announced that it is opening a vanity press house. They're calling it self-publishing and pretending that it's not a horrible scam usually reserved for false Internet publishing houses and people purporting to be former Nigerian royalty, but in actuality, they're really lying. Harlequin horizons is a vanity press.
Now true, Harlequin publishing and I, most likely (actually most definitely after this recent news), have very little chance of ever working together because I don't write bodice-ripping romances... at least, you know... not blatantly... Anyway, the point is, this does not bode well for the industry or for the craft of writing as a whole.
You see, Vanity Presses are one of the dark and terrible downsides that came about as a result of the Internet and publishing having met. It is a horrible beast that used to lurk in the shadows at the edges of civilization, and rightfully so, because it's twisted visage is too gross and mean for decent people to have to look upon. Vanity presses are ugly, ugly things and Harlequin is trying to drag it out into the light, dress it up like it's a semi-respectable self-publishing option and then force it's deformed, bastard children upon the world.
What's the difference?
Self-publishing is just that, you write it, you market it, you have it printed up as needed, and you keep the (usually negligible) profits. It's a route that is not for me personally, as I view the submittal process of traditional publishing as a challenge that will (hopefully) help me to turn out the best product I can offer, and one that I strive to meet. But whatever, the Self-publishing route is a personal career decision that every author can examine for themselves. As far as I'm concerned, if you just can't wait or you aren't interested in making any money or having anyone read your book, then go the Self-publishing route. That's fine. Even if I feel that it's a mistake career wise and comes with a somewhat unshakable stigma and I can't really see the value of it as a whole when weighed against the very obvious downsides, there are still some very valid reasons why someone might choose this route.
But like I said: it's not for me.
Vanity Presses, on the other hand, are synonymous with absolute crap. Let me be clear: They are synonymous with ABSOLUTE crap. A Vanity Press does nothing but CHARGE YOU for the privilege of having them bind up a glossy version of your manuscript. They offer no editorial support of any kind, nor any quality control, unless you pay them a ton of money, and then they expect you, the author, to pay even more money for a pre-determined bulk number of your book, right off the bat, and if you wish to re-coup that money, then you need to sell your whole stock yourself without any marketing support. Also, your book never makes it into any brick and mortar bookstores. AND the Vanity Press usually get a cut of your sales, usually around half... How is this ever seen as a good idea?
Good luck, rube.
Vanity Presses violate the number one rule of having a real career in writing: All money flows toward the author. It is a scam perpetrated on the dumb by the unscrupulous and one that usually ends with the poor schmuck being stuck with a garage full of their crappy books and out several thousands of dollars. There is absolutely no reason to go this route, at least, not one that couldn't be met simply by going to Kinkos.
No, Vanity Presses are generally the province of people with zero talent for the craft and are unable and flat out unwilling to submit themselves to the process, to critique, and to both the possibility of rejection, and, unbeknownst to them, the possibility of improving both their work and their publishing chances. They refuse to believe their "art" could possibly have a flaw, saying instead something akin to: "An artist's vision is pure, sacrosanct." Which is pure crap. They then try to go around and pretend that it's real, that they actually accomplished something, that a vanity press book is an actually published book, but it's not and everyone knows it. It's cheating. It's false. These people are the lepers of the literary world, the worst of the worst, the lowest of the low, the hanger-ons, the wannabes, and now Harlequin has decided to open a purposely misleading imprint designed to take advantage of these delusional souls.
So... people are in an uproar.
Why? A few reasons.
1. It's a scam. It's reprehensible that a previously "reputable" business would blatantly take advantage of people like this. And the tip-off is the careful wording on their official site so that it is clear that anything published through this new Harlequin Horizon imprint (or Hh) is NOT actually part of the official Harlequin list and they go to great lengths to assure their existing authors that these Harlequin Horizon books will in no way be associated with their own. Basically: Don't worry, we'll keep that shit separate. Harlequin then turns around and infers that this scam is actually a proving ground of sorts, a possible path to legitimate publishing, but really it's just a way to make a boatload of cash without having to do anything, off people that, at the very least, are operating under the false belief that this will help them on their path to their dreams.
2. Part of the publishing process is the Test. That you are either good enough or you're not. Part of it is that you have to work hard to make that grade. It's an accomplishment, one to be proud of. But if the sluice gates are thrown open wide and all the fetid trash that resulted from every mouth-breathing shut-in with the Internet, an oh-so-sensitve "everybody should win" bullshit attitude, and a ream of boring, delusional hackery are allowed to flood in and swamp us all with their stagnant purple prose, even if only on-line and under a false imprint pretending at legitimacy...
What's does that say for the rest of us? For those of us that work hard at what we do? Where's the value? Where's the accomplishment when so many can, even if wrongfully and only at first glance, be seen as equals for doing so little, for doing what basically amounts to taking a day-trip to the Copy Store with a pocket full of quarters and air-filled head? Aren't we all, and our shabby well-loved art, that much lessened by the association, by the lack of quality, by the lack of style and substance? What's the point of swimming for that fabled and far off pristine distant shore if it's swamped in a sea of poo?
So, I'm saying this now:
It's for real for me or I'm done. No Self-publishing. No Vanity Presses. Nothing. It's traditional or I quit. No compromises, no delusions, no regrets.
It's published or it's nothing.