Publishing is as easy as one, two, $599 and up

on November 19, 2009

It’s been a little over forty-eight hours since the announcement that Harlequin has joined in a self-publishing venture with Author Solutions, a vanity press.

I don’t want to quibble over definitions, so for the purpose of this article I use “self-publishing” and “vanity press” as meaning any book that an author pays to produce. Call it what you will, but the money is flowing FROM the author to a printer (I hesitate to say “publisher” because that’s insulting to the reputable publishers.)

There are legitimate reasons to self-publish a book. A family history, for example. Many schools use self-publishing as a fundraising tool, such as an annual recipe book or collections of stories written by students. Some small churches will self-publish prayer books. And sometimes, authors who have been rejected across the board but (and I stress the BUT) have had impartial and repeat praise for their work might turn to self-publishing as an alternative. It’s a viable alternative when there is an established audience.

But if you self publish, you need to know what you are facing. Spending thousands of dollars on your book before it is printed. Spending your money on marketing, promoting and publicizing your book. Buying up copies to sell to your friends and family. Spending hundreds of hours being a bookseller, a marketer, a retailer–hours that would be better spent writing your next book.

If you are a writer who checks their email daily, you have seen the messages about Harlequin Horizons, the self-publishing arm of Harlequin Enterprises. You know what it’s all about, so I’m not going into detail here. You can read about it here, here and here. And that’s two of three links that are Harlequin information and responses. Here’s Writer’s Beware on the matter.

But here’s the scoop:

* Harlequin has created a self-publishing imprint called “Harlequin Horizons” which requires that you, the writer, pay to have your book published. There are a variety of options starting at $599, plus 50% of net proceeds. So not only do you pay to produce and print your book, you’re splitting the royalties as well. They have no risk–you have all the risk. Yet they still get 50% of every copy sold. After YOU pay to publish the book. Does anyone else see something wrong with that?

* If you submit a manuscript to Harlequin and they reject it, they’ll send you a little note suggesting self-publishing–and Harlequin Horizons–as an option.

* Harlequin has stated that they are not using the Harlequin brand on the Horizons books, that they are simply using the Harlequin name to entice writers to consider self-publishing their romance novels using the services they provide through the vanity press Author Solutions.

$599 is the bare minimum cost. It goes up–WAY up–from there. For example, if you want an “Editorial Review” that’ll cost you $342. Okay you’re thinking–$342 is a very reasonable price to have your manuscript edited. Think again. This covers the first chapter only. You want line editing? That’s .035 cents a word. Content editing? Another .042 cents a word. Or get the whole package–evaluation, content and line editing for .077 cents a word. That’s $7,700 for a 100,000 word novel.

Then there’s marketing, book trailers, review copies, and a host of ala carte services. But they also offer packages which include some or all of their services.

Let’s say you buy the basic $599 package, but want the full editing. $8300. You have a trade book printed at $15 cover price. You think that $15 is yours?

Think again.

There is a cost to printing. Notice that Harlequin Horizons only pays you 50% of net proceeds. What is net? Hmm, don’t know. In traditional publishing, the retailers generally “pay” half the cover price. So a $15 book is $7.50 to the retailer and $7.50 to the publisher. Out of the $7.50 to the publisher, they pay for printing, overhead (editorial, cover design, marketing, shipping, etc) and $1.125 per book to the author at a 7.5% standard royalty rate for trade.

There is a cost to print the book POD (which is higher per book than a mass printed novel), e-tailers who sell (i.e. Amazon) take a portion, etc. But let’s be generous and say that the net proceeds are $10 on a $15 book. You, the author, get $5. Yeah! You’re already making nearly five times more money per book than the schmuck who goes the traditional publishing route.

Except, you need to sell 1,660 books to recoup your hard outlay to get that book in print. That doesn’t include your website, ads, etc where you need to try to SELL your book to the public because your book will not be distributed. How will people find your book on Amazon? You need to drive them there. How? LOTS of money, time and hard work.

I am not picking on Harlequin specifically, though it may seem so because they are under the gun right now with this venture. And honestly? They should be. Harlequin is a fantastic brand that has proven to be the face of romance. They publish quality romance novels at an affordable price and appeal to a mass audience around the world. Yet now they are diluting their brand, IMO, by printing self-published books. Because you know that every one of those authors who self-publishes will put on their website and promotional material that they are a Harlequin Author.

Romance Writers of America made a very brave and ballsy statement to the industry by removing Harlequin from its recognized “eligible” publishers–essentially limiting the perks available to Harlequin at RWA expense at conference. I commend RWA and its board of directors for standing up for writers of all genres, and romance writers in particular.

Money flows TO the author. Repeat as needed anytime you get the urge to give someone money to publish your book. Or listen to Harlan Ellison:

I went over to Nathan Bransford’s blog this evening with the title: You Tell Me: Why Are So Many People Writing Books These Days? I posted a comment which said that perhaps instant communication has just spread the news so more people SEEM to be writing a book, when in the past–pre-Internet (remember those days? I do. My kids don’t.)–no one knew who was writing and who wasn’t.

I’ve been writing nearly my entire life. Why? Because I couldn’t NOT write. It’s the way God made me. I love to write, even when I hate it. I love stories, even when I’m pulling my hair out because I can’t get a scene right. It’s part of me like my eye color–it’s in my genes. I am a writer.

Are more people writing a book? Probably. Why? Because they think it’s easy to get published. And guess what, it is. If you have the money, you can be published. Can you sell those books? Who knows? But you can be “published.” Or, rather, printed.

How many times have we heard: “I could write a book if I only had the time.” My answer? Bullshit. (Pardon my French.) Writers MAKE the time. We would rather write than sleep. When I started seriously writing in 2002–meaning, I stopped playing around and decided to focus on becoming a better writer and finishing a book–I gave up television, I gave up a couple hours of sleep, and I created a block of time to write and learn and improve and screw up and write some more.

How many times have we heard: “Writing’s easy.” Really? Easy? Finish a book, edit the book, get an agent, sell to a publisher (who pays you) and then tell me it’s easy. And I have news for you (okay, not YOU, faithful readers of MSW, who already know this) but it doesn’t get any easier.

How many times have we heard: “My book is better than the crap publishers are putting out” or “Readers just want to read junk.” Ahem. Publishers publish books to make money. Readers buy books to be entertained or learn something they want to know. Publishers make money when they sell to a large audience, hence the phrase (not the format) “Mass Market” or “Mass Audience.” There is a market for niche books, and small press and e-press are filling those spots very nicely–with books that the authors don’t have to pay to produce (over and above our hard expenses of computer, paper, postage, and chocolate or wine–you know, the necessities for writers.)

There is an easy way to be published–do it yourself with your own money. Write the book, edit the book, print the book, market, distribute and publicize the book. But that doesn’t make you an author. It makes you an author/editor/printer/marketer/distributor/publicist.

Writers write. Editors edit. Publicists publicize. Pick your profession and be the best at it you can be. But if you are promoting and selling your books? That’s time away from your writing, and you’ll never get better if you don’t write.