Inside Wiffle Ball

At the risk of going too inside baseball, I want to talk about the whole Harlequin debacle. Harlequin, the publisher, not Harlequin, the jester in diamond pattern costumes.

If you read romance novels, you’re probably familiar with Harlequin. They’ve been around since God was in short pants. Recently, they launched a self-publishing division, and that’s when the corsets hit the fan.

Self-publishing is when an author pays a publisher to print their books. (Rather than the traditional arrangement of an author being paid.) The books are printed, shipped to the author and it’s up to him or her to distribute, advertise and sell their product. There is no barrier to entry with self-publishing – other than the writer’s ability to pay. There are no editorial standards, and most bookstores won’t carry self-published titles.

The idea that Harlequin would get into a business that’s looked down upon by most industry professionals – well, writer’s associations right and left started removing Harlequin from their “approved publishers list.” In order to be a member of these writer’s organizations, your book must be published by a company the organization believes is professional enough. Harlequin will no longer be in that category.

The thing is those categories, and therefore those organizations, were meant to honor and represent only those who are “traditionally published.” And I believe that will have to change or the organization risks obsolescence. Too many quality writers with contracts and good work are being caught in the drag net, and more still will be as other publishing houses eye ways to increase their bottom line.

And what is “traditional” anymore? And why is “traditional” all that matters?

I don’t support what Harlequin is doing. Historically, self-publishing has been a money-losing proposition for writers, many of whom did not know what they were getting into. I’m opposed to that. I’m opposed to anyone getting taken advantage of. But publishing is changing fast: Kindle, Nook, iPhone readers, even a new print-on-demand machine that can be placed in any bookstore and knock out any book you want in a matter of minutes.

That’s certainly not traditional, but it’s no less valid.

Call me biased. I’m a young ’un. I like technology. Got a book? Own the rights? Want to publish it on Kindle, set your own price and cash the checks without anyone else’s say so? You can. Right this very minute. Is that self-publishing? What if the book is out of print and you put it back out there on Kindle? Is that self-publishing?

“Traditional” publishing just isn’t what it used to be. Writers may find there’s more and more money to be made going a different way, and what’s “professional” and “quality” will no longer be so easily defined. We can either keep up or get left behind. Being a luddite is just not a viable option.