Pub Rants

A Very Nice Literary Agent Indulges in Polite Rants About Queries, Writers, and the Publishing Industry

Harlequin Horizons Debacle Revisited

STATUS: Dashing out again in about 15 minutes.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? COME BACK AND STAY by Paul Young

Sorry for the blog silence. I left my hotel around 8 in the morning yesterday and didn’t arrive back until after 10pm. Sure, I could have done the blog entry via my iPhone but I really can’t see me “thumbing” in a whole entry.

On Thursday, I stopped by Harlequin to talk with several editors there. Now I realize that this whole Horizons business was a corporate decision made at the Toronto headquarters and they probably didn’t even bother to tell the editors in New York before they did it but I still voiced my negative opinion about Horizons now called DellArte. Now one editor did try out the spiel about how publishing houses need to shift models in this bad economy but I wasn’t having any of that.

I said vanity publishing was predatory—plain and simple and that needed to be understood. That Harlequin had a reputation that they are now putting in jeopardy and that the writers organizations had every right to speak out strongly as their whole purpose is to protect writers.

And speaking of, Mystery Writers Of America issued a statement today. Here it is:

Dear MWA Member:
The Board of Mystery Writers of America voted unanimously on Wednesday to remove Harlequin and all of its imprints from our list of Approved Publishers, effective immediately. We did not take this action lightly. We did it because Harlequin remains in violation of our rules regarding the relationship between a traditional publisher and its various for-pay services.

What does this mean for current and future MWA members?

Any author who signs with Harlequin or any of its imprints from this date onward may not use their Harlequin books as the basis for active status membership nor will such books be eligible for Edgar® Award consideration. However books published by Harlequin under contracts signed before December 2, 2009 may still be the basis for Active Status membership and will still be eligible for Edgar® Award consideration (you may find the full text of the decision at the end of this bulletin).

Although Harlequin no longer offers its eHarlequin Critique Service and has changed the name of its pay-to-publish service, Harlequin still remains in violation of MWA rules regarding the relationship between a traditional publisher and its various for-pay services.

MWA does not object to Harlequin operating a pay-to-publish program or other for-pay services. The problem is HOW those pay-to-publish programs and other for-pay services are integrated into Harlequin’s traditional publishing business. MWA’s rules for publishers state:”

The publisher, within the past five years, may not have charged a fee to consider, read, submit, or comment on manuscripts; nor may the publisher, or any of the executives or editors under its employ, have offered authors self-publishing services, literary representation, paid editorial services, or paid promotional services.

If the publisher is affiliated with an entity that provides self-publishing, for-pay editorial services, or for-pay promotional services, the entities must be wholly separate and isolated from the publishing entity. They must not share employees, manuscripts, or authors or interact in any way. For example, the publishing entity must not refer authors to any of the for-pay entities nor give preferential treatment to manuscripts submitted that were edited, published, or promoted by the for-pay entity.

To avoid misleading authors, mentions and/or advertisements for the for-pay entities shall not be included with information on manuscript submission to the publishing company. Advertising by the publisher’s for-pay editorial, self-publishing or promotional services, whether affiliated with the publisher or not, must include a disclaimer that it is advertising and that use of those services offered by an affiliate of the publisher will not affect consideration of manuscripts submitted for publication.”

Harlequin’s Publisher and CEO Donna Hayes responded to our November 9 letter, and a follow up that we sent on November 30. In her response, which we have posted on the MWA website, Ms. Hayes states that Harlequin intends as standard practice to steer the authors that it rejects from its traditional publishing imprints to DellArte and its other affiliated, for-pay services. In addition, Harlequin mentions on the DellArte site that editors from its traditional publishing imprints will be monitoring DellArte titles for possible acquisition. It is this sort of integration that violates MWA rules.

MWA has a long-standing regard for the Harlequin publishing house and hopes that our continuing conversations will result in a change in their policies and the reinstatement of the Harlequin imprints to our approved list of publishers.

Frankie Y. Bailey,
Executive Vice President,

MWAMWA’s Official Decision: That because Harlequin’s for pay publishing business violates MWA’s rules for approved publishers, MWA takes the following action: First, Harlequin shall be removed from MWA’s list of approved publishers upon the adoption of this motion; Second, that all current active status members of MWA whose status is based upon books published by Harlequin shall remain active status members; Third, that MWA decline applications for active membership based upon books published by Harlequin pursuant to contracts entered into after the effective date of this motion; Fourth, that books published by Harlequin pursuant to contracts entered into prior to the adoption of this motion shall be eligible for the Edgar® Awards, except that books published by DellArte Press shall not be eligible for the Edgar® Awards regardless of when such contract was entered into; and Fifth that books published by Harlequin pursuant to contracts entered into after the adoption of this motion shall not be eligible for the Edgar® Awards.

MWA’s Executive Vice-President, and her or his designates, are directed to continue discussions with Harlequin in an effort to reach an agreement that would allow for Harlequin to be an approved publisher according to MWA’s rules. This e-bulletin was prepared by the MWA national office on behalf of the MWA National Board of Directors.

I have been told that Harlequin is still have dicussions with RWA over this matter.

Good but I don’t necessarily see Harlequin abandoning this appalling business path with Horizons/DellArte. I think the lure of easy money is too strong.

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35 Responses

  1. Zoe said:

    I know that in fiction vanity publishing, when used as an easy money making scheme, is most ardently frowned upon, but for many smaller a medium publishers vanity publishing may be the only way forward? There has been a lot of stigma towards vanity publishing, would you always recommend against it or would there be situations where it might be both beneficial for the author and publisher to go the route of vanity?

  2. Stephanie L. McGee said:

    Thanks for posting this. It’s nice to see some of the main issues elucidated so concisely. It’ll be interesting to watch as this all continues to unfold in the coming months and years.

  3. Kristen said:

    Wow, serious props to MWA for both rejecting Harlequin AND making an exception for contracts prior to Horizon’s change.

    Thanks once again for keeping us updated, Kristin!

  4. Anonymous said:

    @Zoe, Vanity publishing is never beneficial for anyone other than the publishing company. There is no situation when it is appropriate. Self Publishing – real self publishing not this assisted(vanity) self publishing that Harlequin/DA is hawking, can be appropriate if you have a particular niche market or you are publishing non fiction. BUT you really need to have done your research very well before you get involved with it.
    A Curmudgeon’s Guide to Self Publishing is one of the best series of articles I’ve seen on Self Publishing. It is very important to be realistic with Self Publishing and deal in cold hard facts imo.

  5. Anonymous said:

    Vanity publishing = evil. No profit for writers.

    Self-publishing = less evil, at least they have a shot of making money and making sure the product is decent.

    Back-end self-publishing = VERY evil — the writers usually think they’re legitimately published until they learn otherwise. By then it’s too late.

  6. Abigail said:

    “…one editor did try out the spiel about how publishing houses need to shift models in this bad economy…”

    And in what way does that help the writer? Then again, maybe they aren’t looking out for the writers and just out for money, but I wouldn’t want to think that of a publishing company, unless they are scammers, in which case, thinking of them as that is fine. But thinking that of Harlequin? It kind of shifts things and makes my mind boggle on how the editor of Harlequin could say that.

    Then again, I could be taking that the wrong way.

  7. Jackie said:

    It’s completely unethical.

    As MWA says in its response, it’s not that HQ has a pay-for-play option that’s making people cry “foul” (although I think the so-called assisted self-publishing option is the worst choice any writer could make). It’s the way that HQ is steering authors toward that option that’s so horrible. By promoting DellArte Press in all its rejection letters, Harlequin is telling authors “Even though your manuscript isn’t good enough for us to pay **you,** it’s still good enough for you to pay **us.**”

    Further complicating the matter is the way HQ is trying to label DellArte Press as a self-publishing imprint. Let’s be clear: this is **not** self-publishing. If an author truly self-publishes, she (1) keeps 100% of the profit (which, admittedly, is very difficult to find these days; other than LightningSource, I have yet to hear of any true self-publishing/POD press; (2) controls the ISBN; and (3) brands the book herself — if the publisher’s name is on the spine, sorry, that’s not a self-published book.

    Self-publishing can be done successfully. But it’s extremely difficult to do so. If an author chooses to self-publish, PLEASE do your homework. Choose a true self-publisher instead of an assisted self-publisher/pay-to-publish option. If you choose an assisted self-publisher, PLEASE get all of the fees spelled out very clearly before you sign. And for the love of all that’s holy, if you’re getting a hard-copy book printed, PLEASE know how you’re going to warehouse, distribute, and sell all those books, and whether any bookstore will carry them.

    Because no matter how many self-published titles HQ claims are printed these days, what HQ is not saying is that the average number a self-published title sells is only 75 copies (as per Writer’s Digest, 2008).

    Changing the name isn’t enough, HQ. Stop steering authors toward DAP in your rejection letters.

  8. arlee bird said:

    When change comes there are always the initial protests. But business is business and they are there to make money. Perhaps we are seeing the future that we don’t like now but will gradually become accepted as the way things are.

    I don’t really know enough about any of this so I don’t have a strong opinion about it. And not too many year ago I used to say, “I don’t really need a computer and I don’t see me ever getting the internet.” As they say, never say never.

  9. Anonymous said:

    Zoe, there is a big difference between vanity publishing and self-publishing.

    DellArte presents as a “self publishing” venture; they use the term frequently on their website.

    It is a lie.

    Theirs is a vanity operation, but they don’t dare use the “v” word. They’re well aware that it would put off potential customers.

    Most neos know enough to avoid the vanity route, but “self-publishing” has an adventurous, maverick appeal. DellArte is clearly exploiting that.

    Self-published writers foot all the costs, take all the risk, and keep all the profit–if there is any.

    Vanity presses take the writer’s money, print the book, and keep a percentage of the profit–if there is any.

    In DellArte’s case, they want 50% of the writer’s earnings.

    They carefully leave out the fact that most self-pub and vanity pub books rarely sell more than 75 copies. Even selling 100 copies won’t pay off the writer’s outlay to DellArte’s basic service.

    One might as well go to CreateSpace or Lulu and keep all the earnings.

    Harlequin has stated that they intend to steer rejected writers toward DellArte.

    That’s just wrong.

    I hope RWA stands strong against this truly ugly conflict-of-interest.

  10. Anonymous said:


    I know that you don’t like to represent category romance, but in your opinion, if a writer has just completed a manuscript targeted at a specific harlequin line, should they mention it in the query letter (in light of what’s happening)? Or…are agents going to shy away from representing any of harlequin’s imprints? Is it better just to state the word count and that it’s a contemp. romance? In the past, we’ve been advised to be specific about the target line, but will it work against us now? I’m just looking for an educated opinion.

  11. Anonymous said:

    Frankly, I don’t think this’ll make a bit of difference. I think Harlequin saw this all coming a mile away. I think they’ve made a decision that the goodwill of these authors’ organizations isn’t all that valuable to their business. And unfortunately, the way the market is working, they may be correct.

    It’s very unfortunate. I’d love to be proven wrong, but I think we’re all stuck with it.

  12. Evangeline Holland said:

    It’s great to see how much of an advocate you are for writers, period. Really proves that agents are not the so-called “obstacles” in between a writer and a publisher.

  13. Seven said:

    Harlequin has no reason to stop offering predatory services. It’s not like authors are going to stop submitting to them, or that readers will stop buying their books.

    It will take another publisher trying to muscle in and entice away the best category writers with new lines. Competition is the only thing I can think of that might give them pause.

    I think RWA and the other writers groups are right to pull Harlequin’s status. But I don’t see how that alone could change the landscape.

  14. therese said:

    It’s been interesting and a bit sad to follow this “transition” in the publishing world. It’s also been enlightening on a personal level.

    As a writer, I see more creative control of my story, cover, and title, in the world of epubs – for a current submission than to the Harlequin Superromance line. My reason being, I’m a writer for the story, not the money. My readers will find me over the years, not during the one month of publication Harlequin offers.

    Harlequin used to be about career focused writers, for good stories to present to their readers. Now they are shifting into a new business model where the money they get takes precedent over what they offer for their readers.

    They’ll make shifts and twists, like a good romance novel needs to do, but will they benefit the reader in the end?

    We’ll have to wait and see…

  15. Cam Snow said:

    Maybe because I’m an outsider, I don’t fully understand this, but I have to ask: What’s the big deal?

    From reading this blog and dozens of others and 100’s of websites, it seems clear that nearly EVERYONE understands that vanity/self/pay to publish services are untenable for anyone wanting to sale their work or who wants to become a serious author.

    I think that there is enough information out there deriding these types of operations that MWA, RWA, etc don’t need to eliminate their legitimate presses from awards etc.

    My question for Kristin is: Will you stop trying to sale novels to Harlequin because of this? Even if they were to offer a nice advance on a novel?

  16. D.J. Cappella said:

    As an author following the information I must applaud the writing community for taking a stand against such unethical practices.

    As a writer I would have understood a new imprint that focuses on Print on Demand books as long as these books where part of the stand distribution program of the publisher and had no fees associated for the author. I beleive that a move toward print on demand and e-books would be benefical to publishers during an economic hardship, therefore placing promotion and personal marketing in the hands of the author, as long as the book was available for purchase by all major and minor retailers. Failure to promote Print on Demand books to publishers detracts from the authors ability to prove that they have the potential to be part of the publishers standard clientel.

  17. JDuncan said:

    Zoe, the thing with vanity and subsidy publishers is that the services they offer are very over-priced, and beyond the convenience of having it all in one place, offers no real advantage over doing it yourself as a self-publisher. You can find all of the necessary services via freelancers for less money, and likely find folks who will do it better. Either way, as the odds of finding any success or building a career or so extremely low, like .1% that you will not lose money, going this route makes sense for only rare exceptions, especially with fiction.

  18. Munk said:

    Hi Zoe… I am new to this industry, so I am interested to see Kristin’s wisdom on your query. But for me, the term ‘vanity publishing’ evokes an immediate and decidedly negative response. I see you work for a publishing house in Dublin, so I want to make sure you realize that I am NOT knocking publishing houses in general (or your charming home town). From what I’ve read over the past few days, it’s all in the methods a publishing house uses to “recommend” or to sell their pay-for-print services or their affiliate’s services.
    Digital publishing has ushered in lower starting costs for pay-for-print, and many passionate authors may find these lower costs palatable. For a predatory player (and no I don’t personally think all houses are predatory) it has become relatively easy to convince a passionate writer to front their own publishing costs. But without editing support, marketing advice and distribution channels, the author ends up with an unsellable product and the predatory house stains the industry with what amounts to a bait-and-switch scam.
    On the opposite side, my neighbor Yuri, one of the greatest men I know, used a pay-for-print publishing house to create a hardback version of his tenuous survival as a teenager in war-torn Europe during the Second World War. He created the book as a gift for his family and close friends. He was not looking for notoriety or income from the book and therefore the relationship between publisher and author was untarnished.

  19. JS said:

    for many smaller a medium publishers vanity publishing may be the only way forward?

    Zoe, how is vanity publishing “a way forward” for any author? Self-publishing sometimes leads to mainstream success; vanity publishing never has, in all the hundreds of years that vanity publishing has been in existence.

    The only people who ever profit by vanity publishing are the vanity publishers.

  20. BJ said:

    Zoe, there is a difference between self-publishing and vanity publishing. Self-publishing is paying a printer to print one’s book. The books belong completely to the author and all profits (beyond the printing costs) go to the author.

    Vanity presses print books, then offer authors ‘royalties’ on the profits. So, basically, they’re taking a share of the profits. What do the authors get for this share? The vanity presses say ‘editing, distribution, etc.’ Then they do very little editing, and are unable to distribute the books as far as they say they will, because self-published or vanity-published books are rarely carried by distributors.

    Self-publishing is a way to get one’s work out there, so long as the author is willing to do all sales, promotion, etc. Vanity publishing is a way for the publisher to make extra money off the author, for very little extra work.

  21. Anonymous said:

    Zoe, most publishing professionals agree that while there might be situations in which SELF publishing is a viable option, VANITY publishing is never good. It is, by its nature, predatory. MONEY FLOWS TO THE AUTHOR. I don’t understand why this is such a hard concept for people to understand.

  22. Kat Sheridan said:

    One should read the full of Harlequin’s response to MWA, found here on the MWA site:

    What bothers me is their obstinate persistance in referring to DelleArte as “self publishing” when it is clearly VANITY publishing. They are two different beasts, and it’s this willful subterfuge that annoys me. They don’t even call it “assisted self-publishing”, which they did before. They continue to do everything they can to obscure/gloss over the truth, a hallmark of a scammer, as is their continued determination to steer rejected writers to this vanity press.

  23. Sarah said:

    I really appreciate all the info you put here. It makes me feel somehow in the loop with the publishing business.

    Thank you Kristin!

  24. Cam Snow said:

    There are two things I keep reading here, which are (1) That vanity publishing is the worst thing ever; and (2)It is of no benefit to authors.


    (1) Grandma has lots of money sitting around and $1500 is nothing for her. She wrote a cheesy romance novel that has no chance of traditional publication. Publishing it means EVERYTHING to her. For her, it is a great deal.

    (2) Authors will eventually profit from this. Lots of non-professional writers will feed money into the system. For every 4-5 vanity books published Harlequin can pay the advance for a professional writer. It strengthens the payrolls. Maybe their referral system is wrong, but it will trickle to real authors

  25. Dara said:

    Well at least authors previously under contract aren’t punished now. Makes me breathe a little easier. Hoping RWA does something similar too.

  26. JoAnn said:

    Cam Snow, I disagree with your second point. Torstar, Harlequin’s parent, is a publicly held company. I doubt very seriously if author advances will increase due to the profits DA brings in. The money will go to the top execs and shareholders. Torstar didn’t create this scheme to benefit authors. It created it to benefit itself.

    And isn’t it interesting that the abbreviation for the new name — DA — is the same as the abbreviation for someone who does something really stupid?

  27. Voidwalker said:

    Just read about this over at “Pimp My Novel.” The name change thing anyway. As I said there, they can try to be sneaky, but those of us who try to stay informed will know better. I’m glad there’s people like yourself who are willing to share the facts 🙂

  28. Laura said:

    cam Snow, the big deal is that in commercial publishing, the publisher and the writer make their money via the publisher selling books to consumers (via a large and complex distribution system), whereas in vanity press, the publisher makes its money by selling “services” and products to the writer, and the writer SPENDS a boatload of money and makes none. There is no mechanism in the vanity-press model for the writer to make money.

    But because, unlike self-publishing, vanity publishing is a scam–a con–the hype and promo of a vanity company attempts to convince its potential consumer market (desperate aspiring writers) that there -is- a publishing and distribution mechanism, by completely obscuring the difference between being printed (which anyone with access to a Kinko’s can achieve) and being -published-, whch is a complex business process involving widespread distribution.


  29. Anonymous said:

    Cam Snow, this money isn’t going to pay author advances. This money is going to pay Torstar (HQ’s Parent Company)massive debts. Torstar is at least 600million dollars in debt. Harlequin is making a profit – the only section of Torstar making a profit. This is Torstar exploiting its cash cow. This is nothing about benefiting authors and everything about benefiting Torstar’s bottom line.

  30. E. Hartshorn said:

    Seven said Harlequin has no reason to stop offering predatory services. It’s not like authors are going to stop submitting to them, or that readers will stop buying their books.

    That’s not 100% true. I wrote and edited a novelette that I was targeting toward the Silhouette Nocturne Bites line, with the hope of expanding it into a series of Bites and maybe some Silhouette Nocturnes as well.

    I was waiting to see whether Harlequin was going to back down on this; I didn’t expect them to do so, but I hoped. After I read the full text of the letter to the MWA, where they stated that they will include self-publishing and DellArte Press as options in their rejection letters, I moved my novelette to my “trunked” folder. I suppose it might find a home at an e-publisher, but that wasn’t my goal.

    However, it really is the principle of the thing. I don’t want to work with this company any longer.

    I doubt I’m the only author who feels this way.

    Will it make any difference to them? Maybe not. But some authors will not continue submitting to them.

  31. Anonymous said:

    I’m on the same page as E. Hartshorn. My romance novel is ready to sub through my agent, but I’ll be directing her NOT to sub it to HQ. If they can play hardball with all this, I say we authors can do the same, and should if we choose to travel this path.

  32. Anonymous said:

    There is one question I have: could an aspiring writer elect to use Dell’Arte and pay for the editorial services, but elect to not use their publishing services and submit the manuscript to agents for possible representation. That’s really the only reason I’d ever want to go that route.
    Now, if Della’Arte chose to make the aspiring author go through with publication, I could definately see this as unfair. But if the option were open to decline going through with their publication services, potentially on average contract, I would make some money, if not break even. I’m by no means saying it’s an ideal scenario, but it is a scenario if all you wanted to do was get published and you didn’t care about how much money you made off of it.

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