Vanity publishing houses are nothing new, but I was pretty severely taken aback by a vanity operation called Harlequin Horizons that generously offers romance writers a chance to pay to get their manuscripts published in exchange for a vague possibility of the vanity book getting picked up for the mainline Harlequin imprint if its sales are good.
Even if you’re not big on romance novels, you have to recognize the outrageousness of a legitimate publisher resorting to such a scam, which generated so much criticism that Harlequin renamed the scam-imprint Dellarte Press to protect the credibility of its mainline romance novels. Self-publishing is one thing, but this kind of “assisted self publishing” is quite another, and I can only applaud the writers’ organizations that raised hell over it.
If I were a Harlequin author, or an agent with Harlequin authors in my clientele, I’m not sure what would would scare me most: that Harlequin would so carelessly endanger its brand credibility, or that the publishing house executives appear genuinely surprised by the uproar. Either way, it’s a safe bet that a lot of publishing contracts have been quietly slipped out of the file cabinets for some close scrutiny.