There’s been an uproar in Romancelandia again. Harlequin has apparently teamed up with a self-publishing company to create Harlequin Horizons and everyone seems to be upset about this on some level. I just read through the entire comment string on Smart Bitches to get a better sense of the issues and will be watching very carefully how both Harlequin and RWA handles this situation. Right now, I’m not so sure it’s a good idea. But, hey, you never know. I will reserve judgement for now.
Normally I don’t comment on this sort of thing, shying away from controversy, and I certainly am not aiming to be controversial with this post, but I have to say one thing:
I get it.
I understand why writers would be tempted to shell out $$$ amount of money to be published.
Why do I get it?
Because I almost did. I was *this* close to publishing Bitten & Smitten (then titled Dearly Departed) with XLibris back in early 2004. I even did the artwork for the cover (which I wish I still had somewhere). I researched self-publishing and felt NEARLY ready to shell out $799 for a low-end package that would net me page set up, and about ten physical copies of the books — and I believe it was the chance to be stocked in a bricks and mortar store. I registered for more information. Reps for the company continued to periodically call me up until around three years ago when I (tried to) explain that I was traditionally published and wouldn’t be needing their services. They didn’t quite understand what I was saying, though, and still tried to sell me a package.
So basically, I ALMOST self-published a book that found a New York publisher and launched my writing career — which I currently am lucky enough to do full time.
Back in 2003 I was writing B&S as part of the Writer’s Digest Novel Writing Correspondence Course (approx $500 to take at the time) that hooked me up with a published author as my mentor. My mentor was awesome and full of experience, but she cautioned me that vampire fiction wasn’t selling (!!) and that I might look into self-publishing. This made me feel kind of sad and hopeless, but ready to look for the best way to go about this. In fact, I will share what she wrote to me in May 2003:
“I have been considering potential markets for your work, but in today’s marketplace a new writer too often has little luck. There is, however, an alternative now that did not exist in past years. Print on demand publishing offers an affordable method of getting a book into print, and these days The Writer’s Digest holds a competition each year for the best self published books in many categories. Try regular markets first, but keep that in mind.”
A few months later:
“I have found, since our last communication, two more self publishing venues worth looking into. (URL removed) does both the publishing and aggressive publicizing, and the other is PublishAmerica.com, which is new to me but looks interesting. Studying their web sites can give you some idea of what they want and what their policies may be.”
I do not believe she was trying to push me into self-publishing, but was simply offering her honest opinion about the highly competitive market.
However, I might have been slightly naive six years ago, but I was really, really stubborn. I knew what I wanted. I wanted to see my book on a shelf in a bookstore and get it into the hands of thousands of readers. I may still be midlist and certainly not coasting on my modest success, but I have achieved those goals. If I’d hit that button to “buy” the self-publishing package and uploaded my PDF of “Dearly Departed” I know I would not be where I am right now.
Is self-publishing right for some people? Absolutely. But it’s not right for everybody. It’s not right for you if you’re just looking for an easy answer and think that you’re going to be the chosen one whose self-pubbed book hits the NYT list and gets picked up by a traditional publisher like The Shack or The Celestine Prophesies.
So what changed my mind about self-publishing other than sheer stubbornness?
Well, at the time I have to say I was throwing money at my writing hobby like a drunken sailor. I hadn’t joined any organizations like RWA (mostly because I didn’t want the reminder about how much competition there was out there!) but I took a bunch of courses online. Through a couple of those courses I met an editor who offered her services, for a fee of course. I believe I paid $600 to have “Dearly Departed” looked at by her. Several months later, I got my edit letter, and I was a bit disappointed. She didn’t find anything I needed to change. She said she loved it and it was in the top five books that she’d ever edited. I felt like…well, if you loved it so darn much, where’s my refund? LOL
The thing is, I knew her well enough to respect her opinion, even if it was difficult to take a compliment. She wouldn’t say this if she didn’t believe it. So, basically, while that $600 didn’t net me any tangible edits on my manuscript, it did buy me enough confidence to delete the bookmark to the self-publisher and start querying agents (and I got the second agent I queried who subsequently sold the book in record time — hoo yah).
I’m not saying that you need to spend big bucks for someone to tell you your work is good enough, but I am saying that if you’re looking at spending lots of money on self-publishing because you think it’s the easy way to get published — or the easy way to become a “Harlequin author” then give it a bit more thought. Your publishing contract — where the publisher pays YOU — might be right around the next corner.
Okay, that’s all I wanted to say. As you were.