Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

Harlequin Horizons, What’s In It For You

Q: I’m a reader and I’ve heard about Harlequin Horizons but I don’t know what it is or what it means for me.

Harlequin Horizons is a vanity press where aspiring authors pay to have their books published and put into stores, whether it is a physical retail location like your local Borders or it is online retailer like Amazon.

Authors using this service may or may not have their books professionally edited. Some authors who are self published have very high quality standards like self published author Moriah Jovan whose epic romance books aren’t well suited for traditional publishing. Other self published authors or authors who use a vanity press will not put as much care into their books as Ms. Jovan. Therefore, the quality that you read from books published through Harlequin Horizons can be very uneven.

Q: What do you mean by traditional publishing?

Harlequin is not the publisher, the author is the publisher and therefore solely responsible for the quality of the content. In traditional publishing, authors go through a rigorous vetting process. First, their works must make it past a person called an agent. The agent then has to sell this book to publishers. Only a very small percentage of writers become published authors through this route. The hope, of course, is that through the traditional publishing process someone is weeding out the poor quality books or improving on the quality before the story gets to you, the reader.

Through the vetting process, however, books that publishers don’t seem commercially viable can be excluded from publication.   Some writers become frustrated with this and turn away from traditional publishing.

Q: I am a writer who wants to be published. Is Harlequin Horizons right for me.

Traditional Publishing Route

Only you can answer this. If you want to make a career out of writing, the traditional path is through acquiring an agent and selling to a print publishing house such as Harlequin, Random House, Penguin, and the like. Some writers cannot sell to these publishers because their books do not conform to the guidelines of a traditional publishing house, whether it does not conform for quality reasons or some other concern. Not all publishing houses offer the same advantages in terms of ability to market and sell your book. This is true for agents as well. You will need to do hard research when shopping for an agent.

Digital Press Publishing Route

Another path to making a career out of writing is through digital publishing. Under the digital publishing model, you do not get an advance but in exchange you get a higher royalty. (If you don’t know what these terms mean, please educate yourself by reading up). As with anything you need to do your research to ascertain what are the most reputable digital publishers out there.

Self Publishing Route

A final path to making a career out of writing can be through self publishing. Self publishing is where you, the writer, controls all the aspects of your work and you sell directly to the public or through retailers. There are many self publishing programs out there.

Vanity presses are for the self publisher who wants to pay someone to do the work for them. Vanity presses can be a costly and non profitable form of publishing for a writer.

Please do your research before committing to a venture like this. It is possible that self publishing or vanity press publishing is the right solution for you, but you must do your research. Do cost comparisons. Sit down and figure out how many books you would need to sell to make your investment worthwhile and the likelihood you can sell that number of books.

You can read more about vanity presses at Writer Beware blog or visiting the forums at Absolute Write or Romance Divas.

Some of the commenters also have important information regarding self publishing and vanity press publishing and the dangers therein.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. tehawesomersace
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 08:48:46

    Nicely stated. I hope this clears up any lingering confusion that may be out there.

    I hope this educates readers that what they may be getting from Harlequin Horizons will not be the same as what they would normally expect from categories.

  2. Jim Duncan
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 09:03:04

    I don’t think Harlequin is the evil one here. I’m pretty sure it’s their parent company, Torstar that dropped this in their lap with a, “just do it” order. For all the hooply over Harlequin, Thomas Nelson Publishing pulled the same stunt with Westbow Press a month or two back and it’s even more expensive.

    I also wouldn’t call Horizons a vanity press but a subsidy press. At least with vanity presses the profits and isbn of your book is all yours. You only get part of the net profit with Horizon and Westbow, basically making it impossible to make any money unless you do very well by self-publishing standards, i.e. more than 1k copies sold.

    For those thinking self-pub, please keep in mind that beyond actually getting print copies of your book, which can be done FAR cheaper on your own (Horizon and Westbow are VERY expensive), it is even more difficult to find success than the traditional route. Having control over everything does cost money and more significantly, a great deal of time, which could be better spent writing another book and improving your craft. These self-pub ventures are little more than fleecing unsuspecting and uninformed writers out of their hard-earned money, taking advantage of their dreams to publish. If you really want to pursue this route, and yes, it can work for a select few, do some research. Do a LOT of research. It can be done, and for far less money. These ventures are not worth the absurd prices they charge, as the benefits are small, and honestly, it will do very little to secure you what you need to achieve success. Readership.

  3. Nadia Lee
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 09:16:55

    Is this from Harlequin or you? Can you please make that clear? You’ve published some HQ rep statements, so I don’t want any confusion…(I think you wrote this…but one never knows…)

  4. C
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 09:30:57

    Since this is specifically about HH, it might be useful to add in some of the useful details that weren’t on their website that have since come to light through Malle’s answers: ie: the royalties being 50% net etc.

    Harlequin Horizons is a self publishing or vanity press

    My understanding after reading the comments here and on SBTB is that it’s not both at all (and that the two are different creatures). I’d say that you should classify it as one or the other, depending on your view, Jane.

  5. veinglory
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 09:38:16

    I think this article could also address the self-publishing options. Authorsolutions in general does not offer effective or appropriately priced services, Hh in particular offers an even worse deal in that you lose 50% of your royalties as well. Self-publishing is a good choice for some products and some people–but Hh would not be, in my opinion, a good option in this area compared to (for example) Lulu, Createspace, Aventine, Booklocker or–if your really insist on choosing something from the Authorsolutions stable, iUniverse. I buy a lot of self-published books, but I try to avoid companies I have little or no respect for like Tate, Publisher America and Authorsolutions.

  6. Bev
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 10:10:37

    On the most part, for an author seriously looking to make a living publishing, I don’t believe self-publish is the way to go. Not just the upfront cost, but the split of 50% is way too much. Doesn’t true self-publishing mean you get to keep most or all of your profits?

    This is worrying to such a large degree for me, it’s ridiculous. My mother worked for Harlequin, I grew up on Harlequin. That name, that brand IS romance and now I really believe this new venture will taint it. Why on earth did they have to put their name on it??? Publishing is a hard enough business as is and a writers’ dream to one day be published is both our strength but it’s also our weakness, and it is something not to be exploited.


  7. XandraG
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 11:09:13

    Jane you might consider addressing distribution realities.

    Electronic presses most often sell through their home sites on the internet. Their books are available to anyone online. Additionally, electronic presses distribute their books in variable formats through online distributors like Amazon, B&, Fictionwise, and All Romance Ebooks.

    Print books from traditional NY- or Toronto- or London-based publishers are distributed through Ingrams or Baker & Taylor (the two largest) to chain and independent bookstores, who order their stock from the two distributors.

    Presses may offer listings in the distributor catalogs, but ultimately, listings do not imply availability.

    The final call of whether or not your print book sits on a bookstore shelf is up to the bookstore (or its parent company). Before you submit to any press that publishes any of its editions in print form, call your local bookstores and ask them if they are able to order books from that publisher. If your bookseller says no (or worse, laughs), then you will not be the exception. Be prepared and understand that your book will not be on store shelves to be picked up by casual shoppers, and plan your promotions accordingly.

    Your books may be available through websites and online venues of major booksellers like Amazon and B&N or Chapters or Borders online, but not be order-able or available in stores themselves.

  8. Patricia Briggs
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 11:24:05

    You know, a lot of what Harlequin is doing reminds me of the con Artists that get exposed on SFWA’s Writer Beware.

    Specifically, I don’t like that authors are directed here from a legitimate publisher and the implication that if they just jump through the right hoops (pay enough money OMFGoodness pay A Lot of Money) that they will make more money/get published by HQ.

    Remember Harlequin is not planning on making their money in this venture off of the books, but off of the writers.

    My husband’s grandfather spent at least $20,000 trying to get his well-written but not publishable books (they were brutal and raw) on the CA Prison system (he was, for many years, the head warden of several prisons). He was sure he was going to make huge money off the them (no matter what we told him). People with big dreams are ripe for the plucking — and it really bothers me that a legitimate press is getting in on the harvest. Money, as I tell writers all the time, should flow to you not from you. When it flows from you, you are unlikely to make it back. Don’t spend more than you can afford to lose.

    If you are frustrated with the traditional presses and want to self publish — remember as Veinglory pointed out, there are much less predatory presses out there to do that with. And if you manage to seel a lot of books on Lulu (or another vanity press), you can use that as leverage to break into the big presses as easily as you could use Harlequin’s service — and it’s a lot less likely to break the bank.

  9. Anonymous (n+1)
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 11:41:30

    I think it would be helpful to include some of the real-world ramifications of choosing this publication route, namely:

    – by publishing in this manner, the author uses their first publication rights, making it challenging in the extreme to interest any other publisher in the work – regardless of the rosy picture HH paints

    – in addition to charging an outrageous amount of money for their publication services, HH expects a cut of the proceeds, too. They are pleased to offer their authors 50% net royalties.

    Seems to me that after the author has paid for the services, ALL PROFITS should belong to the author.

  10. hapax
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 12:39:37

    Not that I disagree with all the caveats and expansions suggested above, but I do want to offer kudos for a very even-handed approach, with useful links.

    I would like such a post to be on top of the Google results page when someone searched for Harlequin Horizons.

  11. Castiron
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 12:59:42

    First, their works must make it past a person called an agent.

    I’ll quibble a bit with this; there do exist some traditional publishers where you can submit your manuscript directly without going through an agent first. (Lots of traditional publishers, actually, if you count the smaller presses, though in those cases it’s because they usually pay much smaller advances, making them not worth the time for most agents.)

    But yes, if you’re planning a career in traditionally-published fiction, you’ll probably want an agent at some point even if you make your first sale without one.

  12. Marianne LaCroix » Blog Archive » More on the Harlequin Horizons and RWA drama LINK UPDATE
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 13:55:14

    […] Some informative posts about the web about the Harlequin shake up: Dear Author 11/19/2009 – Harlequin Horizons, What's In It For You 11/18/2009 – Malle Vallik, Harlequin's Digital Director, Answers Questions on Harlequin Horizons […]

  13. Caroline
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 14:02:54

    I'm a reader and I've heard about Harlequin Horizons but I don't know what it is or what it means for me.

    Is there anything in this for a casual reader? Anything good, I mean. The books probably won’t be professionally edited or copyedited (unless the author pays for it); the cover art won’t be better (although it may depend on which package the writer chooses to buy–as in all things, no doubt you get what you pay for); I don’t see how the quality of the physical book will be markedly higher than those mass-produced by publishers; what’s left?

    I suppose there’s the chance that a reader will discover some truly outre book, well-written but with no chance of broad market support (or else it would have sold in the traditional way). However, given the number of comments on many blogs and review sites about how lacking many books are today in editing, copyediting, and overall quality, I find it hard to believe the books that haven’t been through any of that are going to be BETTER. And given that this venture is aimed at romance, where there are already a pretty wide variety of books published, and will draw on the pool of people who are hoping to write to Harlequin, it sure sounds like they are going to produce a lot of inferior Harlequin-type books.

    (And I say this as an author whose first two practice books were unpublishable; the world is a better place because no publisher was dumb enough to buy them. Also, as an author who reads Harlequin books like crack, and wouldn’t be at all opposed to more Nocturnes and Historicals)

  14. Estara
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 14:06:22

    I think the difference between self-publishing and vanity press aren’t defined clearly enough in this article, you seem to be using them synonymously.

    There already were great links in the comments of the article where Malle Valik attempted to answer some questions on HHo.

    I would really be upset to have a publishing venture like Book View Café confused with a vanity press.

  15. Becca
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 14:52:22

    Harlequin Horizons is a self publishing or vanity press where aspiring authors pay to have their books published and put into stores,

    I think this last clause is misleading. I don’t think Hh puts books into physical stores, just makes it so that they can be ordered through places like Amazon. As written, it implies shelf-space in my local Borders or Barnes & Nobel.

  16. Karen Templeton
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 14:57:30

    A writer does not need an agent to submit to or write for Harlequin. I don’t have one, even after 30+ books with them.

    Just FYI.

  17. Reader
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 15:02:15

    Jane, I read an in-depth analysis of Harlequin Horizons. You and others may peruse the article at as I received chills just reading the wonderfully written critical piece by Jackie Kessler. She does a thorough job of explaining and dissecting what this all means.

    As a longtime reader of romance, I sometimes pick up category romances for its shorter length and a feeling of I-know-what-I’m-getting. So, as a reader, the presence of Harlequin Horizons really doesn’t affect me because I will know not to buy from Harlequin Horizons.

    However, I am concerned for aspiring authors who might not know the pitfalls and implications of going over to Harlequin Horizons in their quest to get published.

  18. Anthea Lawson
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 16:39:19

    Please do not keep conflating self-publishing with vanity publishing. They are not the same thing.

    Self-Publishing: Authors shoulder the costs, assume full control and responsibility (usually using a variety of subcontractors for graphics, printing, etc), own their ISBN, are responsible for marketing and distribution, and keep %100 of net profits.

    Vanity Publishing: Authors shoulder the costs, have some control over the product (depending on how much they want to pay for upgrading covers, editing, etc.), pay INFLATED prices with no option to shop around for better deals on printing, etc., do NOT own the ISBN of their book, are responsible for marketing and distribution, and are ‘granted’ %50 of the profit by the Vanity publisher. But look, now they are a “published Harlequin author!”

    HHor implies that you’ll get into Harlequin’s distribution system. Where do they lay that out? Malle has said clearly that NO, HHor’s books will NOT be on shelves along with other Harlequin books. (In fact, most bookstores will not be at all interested in carrying them.)

    Let me say it again. Self-publishing is NOT Vanity Publishing. You’re doing DA readers no favors by not clarifying the difference.

  19. Anthea Lawson
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 16:52:42

    This just in from Mystery Writers of America (taken from their longer announcement):

    “It is common for disreputable publishers to try to profit from aspiring writers by steering them to their own for-pay editorial, marketing, and publishing services. The implication is that by paying for those services, the writer is more likely to sell his manuscript to the publisher. Harlequin recommends the “eHarlequin Manuscript Critique Service” in the text of its manuscript submission guidelines for all of its imprints and include a link to “Harlequin Horizons,” its new self-publishing arm, without any indication that these are advertisements.

    That, coupled with the fact that these businesses share the Harlequin name, may mislead writers into believing they can enhance their chances of being published by Harlequin by paying for these services. Offering these services violates long-standing MWA rules for inclusion on our Approved Publishers List.”

    Full text can be found at

  20. Shiloh Walker
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 17:56:27

    I haven’t seen it posted here, but it’s all over twitter. According to what I’ve read, HQN is removing all references to Harlequin from the HHz site. There will be a new name and it won’t reference HQN.

  21. Dana
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 18:01:50

    The entire letter from Donna Hayes, CEO of Harlequin, was posted on pub rants here:

  22. Becca
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 18:12:11

    Changing the name is all very well, but will they also change the intensive advertising, the monetizing of the slush pile, as someone upthread said? To me, that’s far more egregious than the name.

  23. Nora Roberts
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 18:42:49

    It doesn’t hurt to say it again.

    Self-publishing and vanity press are not the same thing, and shouldn’t be confused as such. That’s pretty important.

  24. Lynne Simpson
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 19:25:19

    I agree, Becca. Just changing the name won’t undo the damage, and then there are those skeevy links that are on every page in the Learn to Write section of

    I don’t see how they dig out from this, short of shelving the whole project and having a serious “What the fuck were we thinking?” postmortem.

  25. Shiloh Walker
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 19:25:29

    @Becca: Becca, I don’t know. But the name thing is a start. It’s definitely a start because the SOLE attractive trait about their packages was the ‘Harlequin’ brand.

    An aspiring romance writer is much more inclined to think she’s going to do better shelling out 1500 to HHz, ( because it’s HARLEQUIN…) than Vanity Press PDQ or whatever.

    Plus, they are more likely to shell out that money to HHz because it’s HARLEQUIN… then to a more reasonable self pub press. They are counting on that HQN name meaning something.

    HHz was selling the HQN brand and without it, fewer people will be suckered in, IMO.

    If we could get rid of the monetizing the slush pile and the links to HHz up on the writing sections of HQN’s site, I’d be more satisfied.

    And if HQN went the route of trad self pub instead of vanity? That would please me quite a bit.

  26. Jane
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 19:31:21

    I took out the first reference to self publishing but I think the last part of the post is fairly accurate because I do draw the difference between vanity press and self publishing. (or at least I think I do). I think that some of you have some good points and I’ve edited the post to reflect people should read the comments, but I think that it might be confusing and far beyond the scope of the post to talk about distribution or other self publishing firms (because I don’t know the first thing about those other companies).

  27. Moriah Jovan
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 19:38:13

    Thank you for the shout-out, Jane.

    When I write, I write for me. When I do what my editor tells me to do, I do it for the story. When I design the covers, I do it to please the eye. When I set the type and format the e-books, I do it for the reader’s eyeballs. When I design the website point of sale, I do it for the consumer.

    I don’t apply DRM. There are no geographical restrictions. I price the ebooks at $5.99. There are enormous excerpts a reader can download for free or read online to see if she likes my style, my voice, the story—or if it’s a wallbanger from the beginning. She’s not out any money.

    If she does want to purchase, she already knows that she wants to spend a hardback’s price on a trade paperback or $6 for a doorstopper in electrons. Think about it: three full-length novels in one shot for $6.

    And then there are the freebies, extras—vignettes, outtakes, backstory—for the readers who liked my world and want to stay there a little while longer.

    My philosophy is this: Make the whole experience as easy on the reader as possible, from eye-catching to purchasing to reading, give her more than she expects, so that she feels she got her money’s worth.

    My hope is that by making it easy and enjoyable, I will earn the trust of a reader who will be willing to go on whatever ride I want to take her on in the future.

    And isn’t that what every writer really wants?

  28. Jane
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 19:41:55

    @Moriah Jovan I know I have learned a lot from you. I think if I hadn’t had interaction with you, my knee jerk reaction to self published authors would be very negative so I appreciate the education you’ve provided.

  29. Moriah Jovan
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 19:53:23


    Thank you. :)

    I’m hardly novel (har har), but it’s because I hang out with a whole lot of self-publishers like me (with quality writing in quality packaging), that I hardly ever see any dreck.

    I wince every time I see the phrase “the vast majority of self-published work is crap,” because that’s not my experience—but my experience is narrow. I forget that and tend to be a bit myopic about it from the other side, thinking my world of competent author-businesspeople is larger than it is.

  30. Ros
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 20:51:37

    Q: I'm a reader and I've heard about Harlequin Horizons but I don't know what it is or what it means for me.

    Nothing. You will be wholly, and blissfully, unaware of by far the majority of books ‘published’ through Horizons. Those few good authors who choose the self-publishing or vanity-publishing routes for whatever reason, will almost certainly not be using Horizons – those authors will have done their homework and realise that they can get these services elsewhere for significantly less money. I just cannot see any way in which this venture will affect readers at all. It’s not about readers. It’s about making money from potential authors.

  31. Lynne Simpson
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 21:21:09

    A relative of mine who is an award-winning poet (a laureate, at one time) self-published her poetry collection. She did all of the layout herself and had a friend to do a beautiful folk art cover. She paid for a small print run, and the shipment of books came to her house.

    When she was invited to do readings of her poetry in her area of the U.S. and at national gatherings, her books were available for purchase — in a tasteful, low key way, of course, in keeping with her very modest personality.

    Why did she go the self-publishing route, even with her credentials? It’s hard to get major publishers and agents to contract poetry books. She knew she had a market for her book, she had the means to front the money for the print run, and she was willing to do all of the legwork of running her own small press.

    There is a huge, huge difference between what self-employed, self-published, entrepreneurial artists are doing and this exploitative vanity venture from Harlequin.

  32. SAO
    Nov 20, 2009 @ 01:52:19

    I can’t comment on the price/value that Horizons is offering, but I doubt any self publishing venture, whether called a vanity press or not, is going to be able to distinguish between writers whose work is rejected by traditional publishers because it isn’t good enough and writers who are rejected because their work has a limited market.

    Perhaps, this would be a good deal for someone who wrote, say, books on love after mastectomy or cowboy lesbian romances, if they know their niche market and how to market to it.

    However, the same publishers are going to be producing lots of books by people who don’t know how to write and don’t want to learn. As long as the model is selling your publishing services to authors, as opposed to books to readers, there will be very little quality control.

    My critique group requires applicants to submit a sample chapter before we vote. Although all our members wrote good chapters, and many applicants submit quality work, the quantity of unreadable crap I’ve skimmed makes the prospect of reading the next submission, less than thrilling, even though it is free romance.

  33. FranW
    Nov 20, 2009 @ 23:39:22

    I would call this a vanity press. Not self publishing (where the author pays all the costs but keeps all the profit) or subsidy publishing (where author and publisher share financial costs) but true vanity publishing, where the author pays all the costs (at an outrageous markup) and the publisher *still* keeps the lion’s share of the profits.

    I cannot see a single good thing in this for authors. If authors want to self publish, they can do it elsewhere for a lot less money.

    I cannot see a single good thing in this for readers. If they want to read unedited slush, they can go buy any of the >2000 romance novels published by PublishAmerica. (If you’ve never read vanity published books before, I challenge you to read a few. If you don’t want to spend the money, go online and do a search for “publish america” + romance + “chapter 1” and read a few sample chapters of random books for free.)

    I can see that Harlequin will make a bunch of cash, but I also think they’re going to have a lot of problems to deal with down the line. The biggest one I can see is that the unedited crap they’ll be publishing will be associated with Harlequin. Their loyal readers have certain expectations of quality, and they won’t get it. Worse, their loyal readers have certain expectations of inclusion/exclusion. A HEA, a heterosexual couple, and tasteful sex. If Harlequin Horizons is going to go the pay-to-play route they’re not going to *read* the books they print for those vanity authors. And they may well end up publishing books that are pro-gay, pro-fetish, pro-Satanism, pro-Nazi, or other themes that will not endear them to Harlequin readers. There is no way in hell they’re going to get an author to pay a thousand (or ten thousand) dollars and then *not* have that author proudly proclaiming herself to be A Harlequin Author. The link will always be there. And they’re likely to find themselves linked to things they aren’t going to like.

  34. Sean
    Nov 21, 2009 @ 20:13:09

    FranW, “pro-gay, pro-fetish, pro-Satanism, pro-Nazi”? Really? You’re REALLY lumping gay and fetish in there with Satanism and Nazism? Cripes.

  35. FranW
    Nov 21, 2009 @ 20:33:29

    Sean — I made a list of all the things I’ve seen readers complain about and/or editors list as “not accepted” in their guidelines, and that might bother a significant number of Harlequin readers. Other than that, none of the items in that list have anything to do with each other. (gay is not fetish; fetish is not Satanism; Satanism is not Nazi. Also, I’m gay.)

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