One of the things that has seen much debate in the last few days is a handful of sentences on the (now renamed) Harlequin Horizons website, which stated that editors would be watching products from the Harlequin Horizons line, with an eye towards inclusion in the “traditional” Harlequin imprints for manuscripts that enjoyed particular success. I can’t find that line on the new website of DellArte press, and much ink has been spilled (or rather, many pixels have been arranged?) into attacking that particular line, both as a positive (if it’s true, why not disclose it?) and as a negative (holding out hopes and dreams that are unlikely to be fulfilled).
I don’t want to talk about the pros and cons or whether it’s misleading or what have you. My reaction was slightly different, and it went like this: I was a little taken aback by the implication that someone would be doing you a favor for publishing you once you’d proven yourself a commercial success. Commercial publishing, like just about every other for-profit business, doesn’t generally make its money off of doing people favors.
New writers, I think, train themselves to think about publication as a gift from the gods, and so a statement along the lines of “if you prove your commercial success, we will include it in our traditional publishing program”–to a new writer, this signals the heavens opening up and glory shining down upon you. Someone might think that this is akin to a lowly worm being crowned.
But if you have a proven commercial success, no matter who you published it with, you are not in the position of beggar at the publishing industry’s table any longer. Whether you published originally with DellArte or Westbow Press; whether you release it for Kindle, or do it yourself entirely with Lightning Source, whether it is produced by Dorchester or Harlequin or Pocket–it really doesn’t matter. No traditional publisher is going to walk away from a commercially viable project that they believe will make money just because you self-published first with Lightning Source instead of LuLu. They care about the success, not the source.
(They may walk away from the project because no editor wants to champion it; or because it’s too similar to something else they have in the works; or because they don’t have the expertise to market that kind of work. But those are separate questions.)
And so my beef with that line is that it encourages people to continue to think of themselves as beggars after they’ve proven themselves to be businesspeople. Have you made a success of yourself with self-publishing? Have a little more chutzpah. You deserve it.
If you’ve proven your ability to be a commercial success, especially through the vagaries of self-publishing, you opened up the heavens, you found the glory, and yes, someone will want to publish you. Not as a gift or as a reward, and certainly not because the publishing industry likes wasting its crowns on worms, but for one reason only: they believe they can make a profit off of you. And you should not respond to positive overtures as if those offering them are strange and distant aliens come to uplift you to success; you should treat them as business partners, and you should choose to work with someone who you think will do the most to help expand your commercial success.
If you’re a commercial success, you’re not a beggar. You’re not a worm. You’re not beholden to anyone for their transcendent grace. (Neither are you a god descending from on high to grace them with your magnificent presence either; don’t get carried away.) Remember that it’s a symbiotic relationship, and if you’re a proven commercial success, you have as much to offer the publishing industry as it has to offer you.
Act like an equal, because you are one.