Everything You Thought You Knew is Wrong

And this is what surprises me. Harlequin, you’re brilliant. You’ve made nothing but all the right steps in all these decades of publishing. You flourish where others founder. You took a great (welcome) leap with Carina, but this? This displays the business sense of a kindergartner.

–Moriah Jovan, Harlequin: Ur doin it rong

How fast is the publishing industry changing?

Two weeks ago, I praised Harlequin for their new digital-only imprint, Carina Press, noting that its business model, while not “new” by any stretch, was a great leap into the future for a traditional publisher to make, especially a well-established leader in its niche. Commentary about the new initiative was mostly positive all around, and purely measured on buzz, its announcement was a PR success.

Last week, they got a noticeably different response to another new initiative, the launch of a self-publishing program under the banner Harlequin Horizons, in partnership with Author Solutions, Inc.. The backlash was fast and furious  from both the Romance Writers Association and several outspoken members of the romance community, including Jackie Kessler, whose “Harlequin Horizons versus RWA” post is a must-read.

By almost any definition, last week was a PR disaster for Harlequin, but for authors, it was just the latest sign that everything you thought you knew about publishing  is wrong.

Ten years ago, when I worked for Poets & Writers, they didn’t accept advertising from vanity presses, and their definition was pretty strict and unwavering. A little over two years ago, when I worked for Writer’s Digest, we had some heated debates over how to handle the topic of self-publishing from an editorial perspective, as well as how to deal with the various advertisers in the space, some with worse reputations than others.

Earlier this year, Author Solutions acquired another one of its competitors, Xlibris; entered partnerships with traditional publishers Thomas Nelson and Harlequin to create self-publishing imprints; and partnered with Sony to make all of their books available as eBooks.

Other recent developments in the POD/self-publishing space include Amazon’s merger of Booksurge and CreateSpace; Lulu’s adding 200,000 eBooks from traditional publishers to their platform; and Andrew Sullivan is self-publishing a book via Blurb.

The publishing industry is changing dramatically, and while it’s much too early to predict where things will end up and whom will be left standing, one thing is very clear: the old rules are being thrown out the window.

Publishing, whether traditionally or DIY, is a business decision, not an artistic or political statement–it needs to be approached with a rational head; an understanding of the pros and cons; and a clear definition of what “success” means based on your own goals.

Everyone has their own agenda when it comes to publishing, but at the end of the day, it’s your book, your career, and your decision.

Anyone who tells you differently is either selling something, or clinging to the past.

This is a cross-posting of a piece that originally appeared on Guy LeCharles Gonzalez’ blog on 11/23/09.