Pub Rants

And I Thought The Furor Was Bad Yesterday….

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STATUS: Who can get work done when there is so much Harlequin gossip flying around?

What’s playing on the iPod right now? EDGE OF SEVENTEEN by Stevie Nicks

Then today can’t even compare. I think Harlequin has just gotten the smack down.

I have not confirmed this rumor yet, but a fellow agent just emailed me to say that RWA revoked Harlequin’s recognized publisher status. Uh… that means no Harlequin author can enter the RITAs.

Let me tell you, the emails are flying fast and furious among the agents.

And RWA just sent out this announcement:

RWA Alert: RWA Responds to Harlequin Horizons

Dear Members:
Romance Writers of America was informed of the new venture between Harlequin Enterprises and ASI Solutions to form Harlequin Horizons, a vanity/subsidy press. Many of you have asked the organization to state its position regarding this new development. As a matter of policy, we do not endorse any publisher’s business model. Our mission is the advancement of the professional interests of career-focused romance writers.

One of your member benefits is the annual National Conference. RWA allocates select conference resources to non-subsidy/non-vanity presses that meet the eligibility requirements to obtain those resources. Eligible publishers are provided free meeting space for book signings, are given the opportunity to hold editor appointments, and are allowed to offer spotlights on their programs.

With the launch of Harlequin Horizons, Harlequin Enterprises no longer meets the requirements to be eligible for RWA-provided conference resources. This does not mean that Harlequin Enterprises cannot attend the conference. Like all non-eligible publishers, they are welcome to attend. However, as a non-eligible publisher, they would fund their own conference fees and they would not be provided with conference resources by RWA to publicize or promote the company or its imprints.

Sometimes the wind of change comes swiftly and unexpectedly, leaving an unsettled feeling. RWA takes its role as advocate for its members seriously. The Board is working diligently to address the impact of recent developments on all of RWA’s members.

We invite you to attend the annual conference on July 28 – 31, 2010 in Nashville, TN, as we celebrate 30 years of success with keynote speaker Nora Roberts, special luncheon speaker Jayne Ann Krentz, librarian speaker Sherrilyn Kenyon, and awards ceremony emcee Sabrina Jeffries. Please refer to the RWA Web site for conference registration information in late January 2010.

Looking forward to seeing you at the Gaylord Opryland!

Michelle Monkou
RWA President
RWA Alert is a publication of Romance Writers of America®,

I have to wonder. Did Harlequin not think there would be a strong response? I’ll keep you posted if I hear anything more!

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48 Responses

  1. Anonymous said:

    RWA’s edict sounds a bit harsh. Not all of Hh’s newbies will be amateurs. In fact, Harlequin Horizons sounds like the perfect solution for midlisters who are being dropped by their “big shouldered” publishers. When your numbers turn red, Hh offers a way to do what you love and stay in the game.

  2. Suzan Harden said:

    After the uproar in RWA over the e-pubs after the Triskelion fiasco, why would Harlequin believe they’d get a free pass on vanity publishing from RWA?

    Can’t. Turn. Away. From. Watching. Trainweck.

  3. Anonymous said:

    Sorry, but that’s just a snoot in the air reaction from RWA. I guess I’m safe commenting since I don’t write romance, but I’ll include all the other XWA organizations in this comment.

    The publishing world is being overrun with self-pubbed titles. The likes of PublishAmerica and iUniverse are simply ripping off clueless writers SOMETIMES.

    In many cases, however, perfectly worthy writers are unable to get agents or publishers, so they self-pub. If they do it right, they can offer a good product for a good price.

    This is like the whole WalCostTarg fiasco price wars. Publishers and organizations such as RWA will need to bend to the winds of change eventually. The longer they hold out, the less relevant they make themselves.

    I’m still chicken, so I’ll just go with Anonymous.

  4. Anonymous said:

    There was a comment on Absolute Write that the first the Editors heard of HH was in a FAQ that was sent around for them to answer questions with. Harlequin is Torstar’s ONLY profitable division. There were figures that said they lost $200m last year. They need to make money and make it fast. This will make them money.

    I think the RWA has done the right thing (especially considering how many of the board are Harlequin published) but I don’t think this will affect Harlequin one iota. While the staff at Harlequin may care about this, the beancounters at Torstar won’t.

    I kind of feel sorry for Malle Vallik, she’s been put up to defend this but she’s not really helping matters with her comments over on DA and SB

  5. Mary Anne said:

    RWA would serve its members better by working to adjust to the changing landscape.

    The right response would have been to advise Harlequin that the self pubbed imprint would be treated as a self pubbed imprint and that the other Harlequin imprints would be treated as publishers.

    Harlequin must now respond to the line in the sand drawn by RWA. How might it respond? Perhaps Harlequin will lead the charge towards the future by starting an organization of romance writers interested in exploring where the genre is headed rather than where it has been.

    Controversy and contention likely loom on the horizon. Diplomacy and common sense would have served everyone’s best interests.

  6. Anna Destefano said:

    Well, that didn’t take long. And it’s in no way unexpected.

    Just one note–the RITA and GH guidelines are author based now. I’m not sure of their specific requirements since I’m no longer serving on my local chapter board, but I know RITA elligibility is not exclusively based on publisher recongnition by RWA.

    So before any Harlequin authors panic, read up on the RWA Site. The guidelines are clearly stated there.

  7. Anonymous said:

    How hard it is to distinguish between various imprints of one publisher?

    If the Sheingart Wig Company owns Doubleday and also owns PublishAmerican …

  8. Christine said:

    I have the utmost respect for the RWA right now. I have the utmost respect for the HQN published authors I know (and read) who are affected by this debacle. I sincerely hope HQN takes this response seriously.

  9. Anonymous said:

    Rebecca, I’m a Harlequin author (over 30 books published with them) and I’m celebrating.

    The RITAs are just a contest. If we have to give up the right to enter in order to send a strong message against vanity publishing, then so be it. People who want to support vanity publishing will do so no matter what, but as a professional organization that has taken a stance against this form of “publishing,” RWA had no choice and did the right thing, IMO.

  10. CKHB said:

    Ohmygod, the more I read, the worse this is. Check out this Q&A exchange with Harlequin’s Digital Director:

    4. If an author chooses to go to Horizons, do they lose “first publication” rights? How will that affect any effort to gain an agent or traditional publisher with their “bound copy”?

    Malle: I’m not sure I completely understand this question. The author owns her content. How would she lost first publication rights? She has published it herself. Whether she is giving it away as gifts or marketing it, is up to her. Yup, clearly I don’t get your question.

  11. Jill James said:

    There is a difference between self-publishing and vanity publishing and RWA is right to acknowledge that with what Harlequin Horizons is about.

    Sometimes rules are not guidelines, they are rules and meant to be followed. Yeah to RWA!

  12. Anonymous said:

    I urge anyone commenting on this topic to use the correct terminology. Self-publishing can be considered an increasingly legitimate business model for many writers. Vanity publishing,i.e. the Harlequin Horizons model, is far less so, especially when promoted with the false and disingenuous promises being used by Harlequin in this case.

    Kristin, I’m a long-time Harlequin author, and you may receive a query from me sometime soon if my publisher doesn’t rethink this appalling plan. I’ll be looking for a good agent to help me place my work elsewhere.

    I’m also applauding RWA’s strong stance.

  13. Anonymous said:

    I’m so proud of RWA right now. I really hope they do not relent.

    Self publishing is NOT considered published under the RWA guidelines. The money flows toward the author, not away.

    Another thing is this: Harlequin wants a free ride. They want “slush” authors to pay for self-publishing and then Harlequin will monitor the more successful ventures and possibly publish them traditionally. Oh, they also say in their memo that they realize that authors sometimes want bound copies of their own books to show to potential agents!! Um, yeah, I’m sure Kristin would love that. They are completely trying to take advantage of the new, uneducated and desperate author.

  14. Kristen said:

    Props to everyone who believes RWA did the right thing, and I would like to cast my vote with them too.

    Like I said in response to your last post, Harlequin’s selling out and ruining their name by creating a vanity option.

    It’ll be interesting to see how other major players in the romance publishing industry react as well. Thanks for keeping us posted, Kristin!

  15. Christy Pinheiro, EA ABA said:

    Kristin– it is all about money– I did some research, and it looks like Torstar really is tanking, and HARD.

    Their ONLY profitable division is Harlequin– their other investments are all circling the drain. They lost “$180.5 million in 2008, including $230.8 million of losses from associated businesses and investment write downs and loss”

    Torstar is desperate. I think they are trying to milk their only money-maker. I guess I would do the same thing– Harlequin is a tiny lifeboat for a sinking ship.

  16. Kim Kasch said:

    It sounds serious. Like no one should mess with

    Lions, and Tigers
    and Romance Writers


    a little levity on a dark day in the neighborhood of RWA

  17. WritingToFly said:

    It would be intresting to know what the AAR response is to this. Will you agents pitch to HQ in the future given that distribution for HQ may now be in jeopardy down the line?

  18. Scott said:

    First – love, love, love ‘Edge of Seventeen’ by Stevie Nicks.

    Second – Holy Heaving Bosoms, Batman, what’s a romance writer to do????

    Seriously, was this an effort to save Harlequin? Were there sales going down so much they needed an infusion of cash? Will the bookshelves of Borders be filled with – mostly – subpar self published drivel? Will great fiction go the way of epic fantasy and disappear from the shelves forever?

    Were’s Underdog when you need him?

    I do think it’s good that RWA is taking a stand. At some point, people have to start saying ‘no’!

    Thanks for the post/info.


  19. Anonymous said:


    I just checked the Rita guidelines and it clearly states that books must be published by a NON-subsidy/NON-vanity publisher.

    I’m against vanity publishing, but why can’t RWA continue to recognize Harlequin’s other lines, such as MIRA or the category romances? Think of all the category romance writers who will no longer be able to get editor appointments at RWA or RWA chapter meetings. Furthermore, doesn’t this mean that H.editors will no longer be allowed to judge RWA sponsored contests? Will they change who can judge the upcoming Golden Heart? This has a huge impact on unpublished authors trying to get under the noses of editors. How is RWA’s decision helping those authors? It’s like we’re all getting punished.

  20. Kimber An said:

    “Holy Heaving Bosoms, Batman, what’s a romance writer to do????”

    Ha! I gotta remember than one, Scott.

    I second the question about why this would effect all of Harlequin when it’s only one little imprint.

    Personally, I think it’s a lot of needless freaking out. Why can’t people just sit down and work something out? Good grief, this genre is supposed to be about love, isnt it?

  21. Nicole Chardenet said:

    Some folks here seem to think this moves heralds the era of the “free ride” for publishers whereby they monitor self-pubbers & just take on the ones with established sales.

    I’ve got news for ya, kids, we’re *already* there. The newsletters & blogs have been speaking for the past year of agents & editors Websurfing, looking for successful self-pub books, podcasts, etc. They’re *already* looking for the easy way to quick-hit successes, unless of course your genre is effeminate-looking teen vampires with mussy hair – then you’re a slam dunk 😉

    I understand all the bias against self-pubbers and a year ago I would have agreed with the critics. Today, watching decent books get passed up (again I reference Kristen’s recent post about turning down a good ms she didn’t think could sell – what does that mean? That her editors have some weird idea that no one wants to read fiction while all about me in this major metropolitan city, people are reading novels?) and also watching book contracts go to LOLcats and guys rewriting classic novels with vampires and zombies, and trad-pubbing wants me to take it *seriously*?

    There’s also an assumption that someone who makes a self-pubbed effort a success will mindlessly jump at the first book contract offered. I’m reading of self-pubbed authors offered contracts who didn’t like the “criminal” demands of the publisher who turned them down, and new POD efforts like Numina Press who is only taking on previously trad-pubbed authors who are tired of being ripped off by trad-pubs. So no, I don’t have the faith in trad-pubbing right now that the rest of you do. Not sure I even *want* a book contract for a novel when they were doing a lousy job of promoting debut fiction *before* the Big Crash.

    However, I haven’t given up on them either. I’ve got a lovely completed novel sitting aside, waiting for the day when I can take trad-pub seriously again. In the meantime, I’m about to launch an interesting experiment in self-pubbing with a creative and unusual marketing plan. If it doesn’t work I’m out the cost of the self-pubber nor will I have ruined my name (gonna use a nom de plume). And if it works…I’ll let y’all know 😉

  22. Anonymous said:

    I;m super confused now. Can someone explain the difference between self-publishing and vanity publishing? They’re not the same thing?

  23. Blogging Mama Andrea said:

    I think Harlequin’s gone insane. From where I sit, the unpublished author, this seems like a very bad move on their part. I don’t write typical ‘romance’ more towards chick lit but I know quite a few other author friends have said submitting to Harlequin (in the past) was a step in getting into the publishing world because it was easier for unpublished authors.

    Like I’ve read on a few other sites, this would be a great time for a publisher to start a romance division. I think RWA did make the right choice.

  24. Anonymous said:

    I’m against vanity publishing, but why can’t RWA continue to recognize Harlequin’s other lines, such as MIRA or the category romances? Think of all the category romance writers who will no longer be able to get editor appointments at RWA or RWA chapter meetings.

    HQN stated that it’ll refer all rejected writers to Harlequin Horizons.

    If someone pitches to other non-vanity lines via RWA conferences, contests, chapter meetings, etc., and get rejected AND get a referral to HH, HQN basically got to use RWA to promote its vanity press to RWA members.

  25. Dara said:

    I’m of the opinion of Anon @6:59. There are plenty of other Harlequin lines and a good number of romance is published by Harlequin and all of their lines.

    To be honest, I think RWA went a little far on this. I understand their stance and I don’t agree with what Harlequin did, but equating all Harlequin authors now with vanity publishing is significantly alienating a HUGE number of their members.

    I hope that the dust settles soon and RWA rethinks their stance…

  26. Falen said:

    I think everyone had some great comments – was going to pop in and remind people of the difference between Self Publishing and Vantiy Publishing, but i see it was handled.
    So i’ll just say that I LOVE that Song!

  27. John said:

    So if the RWA’s board just voted that HQ isn’t elegible any longer as a traditional publisher, and the RWA’s board is made up of several HQ authors, does that mean those board members are no longer eligible to serve on the board or remain as members?

    From a business perspective, this decision is smart. How many desperate writers will be willing to shell out cash to get the HQ name on their “books”? Quite a few, I’d imagine. A lot of people think this will dilute the HQ name, but I’d be willing to bet most traditional bookbuyers won’t even know it exists since most of these books won’t even make it to physical form.

    On the other hand, it’s pretty bad for those who were published the traditional way to see their clubhouse raided by all the wannabees who have never been good enough.

    If Torstar is a sinking ship, this looks like a last-ditch effort to save things before the entire operation goes under. In that case, HQ will probably be spun off or sold to another publisher.

    No matter which way you look at it, traditional publishing is in trouble. It’s sort of interesting to sit back and watch things implode.

  28. Nancy Naigle said:

    I have to admit I’m already getting tired of this subject! It seems like there is still a LOT of speculation floating around.

    I’m going to reserve comment, concern until the dust settles and we hear the official impacts from both sides.

    At the end of the day — for writers — I’d suggest we keep our heads down and keep writing and reaching for our goals.

    Thanks Kristin, for keeping us in the loop — it’s agents like you that will guide us in the right direction to reach our goals no matter where all this lands.

  29. Sierra Godfrey said:

    I’m concerned that Harlequin or Torstar don’t care what impact this has to the publishing world. Monkey see, monkey do…my guess is other publishers will try to do this, too. The fact that RWA stood up about it is very important because it sends a message to other companies who think this is a good idea.

  30. Anonymous said:

    Publishing insiders know the score. You can put it to music–The Times They Are A-Changin’.
    It’s a brave, brilliant move by Harlequin and will doubtlessly serve as a model for other publishers.

    Solid, agented mss are getting rejected with those “glowing” passes you blogged about, Kristen. A year ago, these same mss would have been pre-empted. The old rules no longer apply: good, publishable books aren’t getting picked up. And if some of these authors opt for Harlequin, they won’t “tarnish” the brand, they’ll inject new life into it.

  31. Ursula said:

    As an RWA member, and a published author (Samhain), I am concerned with the tar and feather all and sundry approach of the RWA. I think it’s a mistake to hang all the company, when it’s clearly an imprint. Regular Harlequin: Harl/Sil, HQN, MIRA – in no way shape or form is vanity. It’s a little too scatter shot for me. I also feel as authors we have choices to make, including but not limited to what vehicle we want for our work. Freedom of choice means that if the market can support more vanity, more vanity shall arise. There’s no trickery, no caped evil-dooer waiting in an alley to spring on the poor, unaware author. Those who go vanity do so by their own decision. Now they have another producer to consider. Writing and publishing are evolving at a fast pace, in many different directions. Though we may have our individual opinion, and our orgs have criteria, are we not savvy enough to make the distinction between imprints? What happens if the model turns a profit and other houses follow suit? How is RWA advocating for members by culling out a wide swath of it’s membership based on a small portion of a publisher’s diversified enterprise? I don’t know that anyone is owed anything when it comes to free enterprise as long as all the cards are on the contractual table. I also think that those that want to go vanity, can and will do so (as evidence supports), regardless of what others in the profession think they should do. The paternalism is bordering on Big Brother. I have to ask this question: for all of you horrified, shocked, ticked off – are you going to retract any submissions you have to the category lines, Mira or HQN? Or not submit to them at all? Is your ire that high that you will walk the talk? Or if they offered you a contract tomorrow with the brick and mortar non-vanity branch of the company, would you be on your fax ready to sign? Just some thoughts.

  32. Allison Brennan said:

    I think RWA did the right thing. Money flows TO the author. TO the author. The author should not PAY to have their book published. There are many legitimate reasons to self-publish a book–schools do it for fundraisers, my uncle did it for a family tree, my husband is considering having a book his great-great-great grandfather wrote and there’s like 2 copies left published through Xlibris or similar and giving them to his cousins as a Christmas present.

    But the fact remains that 99.99% of self-published books sell less than 100 copies–and I can find no statistics to tell me those are 100 unique buyers. According to Bowkers, self-published titles made up more than half of ALL titles published in 2008–which means of the 280,000 titles, more than 140,000 were self-published.

    I am a writer, not an editor, not a salesman, not a cover artist, not a distributor. I don’t have a store front, nor do I want to maintain a commerce website. I don’t want to pay for ads or spend all my time promoting my books. I want to write. As a career author, I sell the rights to my books to a publisher who pays me for those rights. We become partners in many respects, but I still don’t pay them a dime.

  33. Anonymous said:

    MWA just issued a statement that if certain things are not changed by Harlequin they may do the same – bar Harlequin authors from the Edgars and also from being considered as published authors for purposes of membership. Just got it in my email. Harlequin has until Dec 15 according to the MWA announcement.

  34. David Kearns said:

    You see?

    This is why you still need a voice of dissent, a troll under the bridge, a gadfly in the ointment.

    Good on Kristin for doing this article.

    But sadly, we see corporate apologists already lining up against their own kind, or their own suppliers, the writers. They speak above us, to each other. Not to us, not to the authors. No they are commentators now. The writers are beneath contempt, beneath comment. The cattle.

    What we used to call “predatory” is rendered “smart” by the current market. After all, “writers” with their “books” now becomes a “market” itself; in a curious fornicaccio of the system, the snake consuming itself. Writers are not the originator of stories, oh no.

    Now we “pay” for the “privilege” of writing, of doing what we already do, for free! And when we do this our content is now also deemed “tainted, damaged, unworthy, substandard” and so on by these experts. But someone still sells it, and if we can sort through the swamp of fine print, someone, somewhere will get paid. It just wont be us. Though we will wait a long time, and suffer the same hassles to see this through.

    But, Little Engine that Could, persistence, persistence, if we don’t succeed the first time and get the nod from the big boys (and how much graft will go on here?), we can “try, try, again” i.e. pay, pay again to Harlequin.

    Writers are the most gullible, honest, trusting, persistent, ox-headed, dundering creatures on earth. And the corporate swine who have survived the massacre in the market, know this.

    I want you to imagine the utterly cynical board meeting of execs where this decision was ratified. Live there. Hear the snarky, anti-author comments “oh yeah, these fools are desperate! They’ll go for it!”

    If you aren’t going to get paid for your words, writer. At least don’t lose money on the deal. Or lose time. Time, your time, is a precious commodity, are you so beaten down by all the double talk you would pay someone else for your time at work?

    Get your name out there, wait out this storm. And expect more nonsense deals like this. They will only get more creative and more desperate.

    Good on RWA, if their resolve holds.

  35. Anonymous said:

    In business, Brand is king. Harlequin has a strong brand with deep customer loyalty and commitment.

    To think that someone suggested that watering the brand down would be a good idea…it’s incredible. We are talking about basic principles here.

    What Torstar should have done was examine why Harlequin works, and try to find ways to replicate that success in other areas of their business. Yes, this is harder to do. It is also more likely to succeed in the long-term.

    Someone one said it takes years to build a reputation, and a minute to ruin it. Too true.

    Normally, I’d sign this – but I work for a consulting company during the day so had better not.

  36. Christine said:

    Today’s mantra for an aspiring category romance writer is: just keep writing*keep on writing*just keep writing.

    I have no control over this business and the publishing world just as I have no control over the tornadoes flying around here in April and October. They will land where they land.

    I only have control over my actions. In the case of my writing, well see above mantra. In the case of tornadoes? One bottle of wine, day or night, my cell phone, computer, and MS in the bathroom while I wait out the storm.

    Oh, come to think of it, my tornado response sounds like a good idea for this situation, too.

  37. Natalie J. Damschroder said:

    I just want to clarify that RWA’s decision affects ONLY Harlequin’s official presence at the national conference.

    The eligibility list does NOT have to do with the RITA contest. RWA has NOT announced that in future years Harlequin authors will not be allowed to enter the RITA. The additional ramifications of this situation have not yet been determined.

    On the other hand, SFWA HAS made the complete decision that NO Harlequin book, from this moment forward, may be used to qualify an author for membership. Period. And they said simply removing “Harlequin” from the Horizons name will not be sufficient to change their mind.

  38. Anonymous said:

    If RWA chooses to stick to their rules as they exist now and keep Harlequin off the non-vanity, non-subsidy book list, then this decision will affect the RITA contest next year. Only books published by a non-vanity, non-subsidy publisher are allowed to enter. If HQ is taken completely off that list, HQ books will not be allowed — by the current rules.

    However, there is a lot of time in between now and next year’s contest for the rules to change. I’m guessing they will.

    And then if RWA finds a way to reinstate HQ despite the Horizons imprint, then they will have to deal with the implications of the Carina Press imprint.

  39. D Gary Grady said:

    One thing some comments appear to miss is that there is a big difference between legitimate self-publishing and vanity press publishing. The latter typically costs writers more and misleads them about the real prospects for distribution and promotion. If you want to self-publish, that’s fine. Just don’t waste money going to a vanity press to do it. A vanity press imprint is actually of negative worth.

  40. Jenna said:

    Yikes. Natalie, that doesn’t sound fair of SFWA… isn’t that taking it out on the wrong people? Or do they consider that denying legitimately-published authors membership is sort of collateral damage in fighting this war?

    If all the major writers’ groups stand together on this, I think it might just make a real difference. Not much else can, considering the real lure for publishers to make money off the authors whose work they reject.