With all the hoopla surrounding the launch of Harlequin Horizons last week, Harlequin's new vanity press arm, I thought I'd share my own brush with a vanity press, which happened about fifteen years ago.

I was in my last year of high school, which at the time in Ontario, was the OAC year (it came after grade 12, and was kind of like the qualifying year for university). One of the courses I'd been dying to take throughout my high school career was OAC English: Writer's Craft. That's where we really focused on learning how to write--though don't ask me to tell you what we actually learned. This was 1995, remember, and I'm getting old.

I'd been writing since I was about 13, and I had completed a YA science fiction novel. For my independent study in the class, I proposed to my teacher that I edit the novel and send it out to publishers so I could undergo the process...not of publication (I wasn't that naive), but of rejection, feedback, etc.

Looking back, I know now that I did everything wrong. But, again, the Internet was just a baby at this point. The World Wide Web had just bloomed. I got a copy of Writer's Market and went to town, mailing out my manuscript to anyone who took unsolicited submissions.

Rejection. Rejection. Good luck with your project, but...rejection. Wait, acceptance???

For anyone who hasn't had that amazing letter or call or e-mail that validates all those years of writing and slaving and trying, let me tell you: your heart freezes, then starts bumping along horrendously fast; your skin cools and heats, cools and heats; and your breathing becomes erratic. I was on cloud nine...

For all of ten minutes. Until my dad read the letter a little more closely than I was capable of (being in cloud nine as I was), and found that this company would be happy to publish my novel--because it was so great and had real potential, and it was a wonderful story--as long as I would pay them $1500.

Yep. Vanity press. And oh, it was tempting. But even then, my less-than-knowledgeable self knew that something wasn't right. And...I didn't have $1500. That was probably a good thing, actually.

I remember going from that ultimate high, right down into the depths of despair, as Anne of Green Gables would say. It wasn't a fun experience.

Since then I've learned one of the most important lessons any career-minded author needs to know: Money flows to the author, not away.

And what was the novel? I called it Troubleshooters, and it incorporated a cyborg, a psychic, aliens, a space war, time travel and a talking car. Here is an unedited excerpt from 1995:

I turned to help Andru and found him lying flat on his back while the second alien typed something into the Zanro'ide console. I took a few running steps and tackled the injured alien, but not before he'd struck the final key needed to start the bomb's timer. I got up off the floor and tried to stop the timer. Of course, I couldn't read any of the keys, so I had no idea what to press. The only figures I could read were the numbers, counting down, that I'd studied during my recovery.

"Tat! Start a total evac!" I screamed, tapping my comm. "We've got a bomb, ready to blow in five minutes!"

"Forceshield standing by, Kasi," Tat replied. "We can't set it up till you're outta there. Once it's up, it won't come down until all explosive devices are destroyed."

"Oh, isn't that great," I said sarcastically. "How big an area?"

"All the hangars and outdoor displays."

"Acknowledged." I tapped the communit to silence it.

I ignored the two Zanro'ides for now, knowing they would be invaluable to the WGSO, but unwilling to sacrifice Andru for them. Leaning down next to my partner, I noticed, with relief, that he was still breathing. I bent to sling him over my shoulder when something hit me in the back.

A laser shot.

"Oh, damn," I said.

Fortunately for me, the shot was from my own discarded gun, which was at one of the lowest intensities you could get. But it still hurt like hell. I turned to see the blond alien launching himself at me, but the shot had screwed something up, because I couldn't get out of the way. He landed on my back, and wrapped something around my neck. The world swiftly began to turn black and spin uncontrollably. Just before I blacked out, I swung my right fist up, and hit the alien firmly in the nose. His hands went slack and he slumped onto the floor. I held my throat for a minute, gasping for breath. I glanced at the alien to see what damage I'd done, and wished I hadn't. His face was a ruin, with dead, glassy eyes staring blankly, accusingly at me.

"It was you or me, buddy," I said.