Thursday, November 19, 2009

Harlequin at War with RWA and MWA

Saturday, Nov. 21 - Morgan Mandel and Margot Justes will be autographing books at the 29th Annual Home Decor, Crafts and More Show at Our Lady of the Wayside, Park Street and Ridge, Arlington Heights, IL from 9-4pm. Stop by and say Hi.

With the announcement of the new Horizons line by Harlequin, the battle has begun. RWA's denounced Harlequin for opening this vanity line, going so far as to take away recommended publisher status and free attendance privileges at the RWA National Conference. MWA has issued a warning and is awaiting Harlequin's response.

On the surface, it seems that Harlequin is trying to take advantage of writers who, unable to get traditional publishing contracts, will gladly pay to get their books published. It doesn't appear they'll make much of a profit by doing so.

Although Harlequin says that the HH line, as it will be dubbed, will be kept separate from the traditional Harlequin books as far as distribution and advertising goes, many traditional Harlequin authors are still uneasy, wondering if Harlequin's strength and reputation could be diluted by this latest move.

As with other industries, the book industry is struggling to keep afloat in these troubling financial times. Maybe this is just one more way for Harlequin to ensure a cash flow by offering an avenue for authors who may have fallen through the cracks or who would just like a book published as a keepsake. Whether or not the books are up to par in quality may or may not be relevant to such individuals seeking such a service. The trickle down effect still has serious authors worried.

What's your take on Harlequin's move? Is Harlequin cheapening its brand, or hedging its bets to cover all bases in a competitive market? Will this be good or bad for Harlequin, and/or for authors in general?


  1. After years of brow-beting the subsidy presses, the traditional publishers are joining the ranks? Okay, I'm going to laugh for days on that one!
    It will cheapen the brand, but I say let them do it. The big publishers in NY have long held a stranglehold on the industry, but as you said, times are changing. Those publishers finally realize this and are trying anything to stay on top. And while I think that's NOT the way to accomplish that task, it levels the playing field a little more for everyone.

  2. My take on this is you're starting to see a change within the industry and this is one of them. It came as a surprise, yes, but they've got to make their money somewhere. I don't think it cheapens them; I think it makes them innovative. And when one does it...who will follow suit?

  3. Hi Morgan, since you and I are both self-pubbed, we know that not all self-pub authors are lacking quality and many of us are indeed quite serious writers. For traditionally published authors to make those kinds of assumptions is rude and absurd. We've all read big name published books that are not good enough quality to be out there, and yet they sell because of the name. Many indies are indie not due to lack of ability to get a contract but because of lack of interest in wanting a contract where so much control is taken away.

    Let them rant all they wish, but in the end, their own work will speak for itself. Maybe they'll have to start doing their own promotion and proving themselves as we do. I know indies who can easily stand up to their quality. If they're selling only because of the Harlequin name, maybe things need to change.

    My biggest concern is for indies. I don't want to see big companies try to grab the market on that, also.

  4. Maybe if I was a Harlequin author, and actually I do hope to be with their new e-book line, I would be just as upset as a jillion other authors seem to be. But the bottom line is this is business.

    And I think we can speculate forever and not really know what impact this will have on traditional publishing. It is what it is.

  5. I think Harlequin just wants to make some money--and unfortunately off of authors.

    Not being accepted by MWA and RWA isn't such a big deal though. I'm a member of MWA but only because I joined years ago before they got so picky about their publishers. Neither of the publishers I have now are accepted by MWA because they use print-on-demand technology and don't give advances.

    Who cares? Not the reader.


  6. I think there is a real difference between self-published and Vanity Press. What Harlequin is offereing is Vanity Press. Putting Harlequin Enterprises in the position of no longer being accepted by RWA leaves 100's if not 1000's of Harlequin Authors with iffy status in their own organization, kicks them out of competitions and frankly cheapens the Harlequin imprint. The company H chose to put out the Vanity Press books also runs Author House, I Universe, Tafford, etc. Run the other way.

  7. As both an author and a small-press publisher, as well as an active member of MWA, I can see a lot of points for discussion here.

    Is Harlequin trying to increase its revenue stream? Sure it is. And every business has to try to do that. Its what businesses do.

    Is it going to weaken their line? Possibly. We know that not all subsidy-published books are poorly written, but as Carol said, the company Harlequin chose does NOT have a good reputation and that in itself probably will taint the line of books produced this way. I agree, too, with Carol's assessment of how to handle their association with that company: Run the other way.

    Are MWA and RWA being unfair? Well, as private organizations, they have a right to set any such limits as they see fit. My publishing company is not on the approved publishers list for either organization, and I don't really care very much. The thing is, the MWA and RWA have made their standards clearly known for some time, and if Harlequin chooses to run afoul of those standards, they do so at their own risk.

  8. Anonymous10:45 AM

    Morgan, I congratulate you for posting about this issue so quickly, because it's a complex subject with many angles. But I'm surprised at your final comment that the "trickle-down effect still has serious authors worried." As someone commented above, many self-published authors are serious indeed - and many are good writers, too.

    I found an e-mail from Mystery Writers of America in my in-box this morning. They were outraged at Harlequin's new venture, and threatened to remove them from their "approved publishers."

    I'm guessing Sisters in Crime will follow suit. I'm a member of both these organizations, although they don't do me much good because I'm not one of the anointed and approved authors that are with one of the publishers on their sanctified lists. But gang, the barricades are crumbling, and the revolution's here. As the Chinese character says, crisis equals opportunity. These are fun times for authors!

    Julie Lomoe's Musings Mysterioso

  9. This is the second time I heard about this today and I'm not quite sure what to think about it. I see it as a business decision, and it appears some authors are going to get hurt by it, which makes me angry.

    It frightens me that H chose a company with such a horrible reputation for these books, and that in and of itself, is cause for concern.

    It will certainly be interesting to see how this unfolds.

    Thanks for blogging about this.


  10. In answer to Julie's comment about serious authors, from what I understand, Horizons is a vanity press, not a true self-publisher.

    If you're serious about self-publishing, you're better off expending a little more effort to make sure everything is done right and call your own shots.

    Morgan Mandel

  11. Harlequin is a huge company, and I'm sure their marketing department studied this move and the e-book move very carefully. They may or may not be successful. If they are, you can expect other big publishing houses to follow suit no matter what RWA threatens. After all, RWA's approval doesn't add anything to Harlequin's bottom line.

  12. I'm relatively new to romance writing (~3 years) and so I've not been party to the RWA wars that I've heard about. However, if RWA has come barred vanity pubs in the past, then this is completely consistent. I wonder whether Harlequin cares. It may well be that RWA has become a relic of a former time, in an era when the publishing world is changing daily.

    As long as authors go into the Horizons deal with their eyes open, I don't worry too much. Who knows, the gambit may backfire, with HH giving an opportunity to some authors who are truly wonderful but who doesn't fit into the Harlequin box. I do think that having Harlequin's name attached will help an author make sales.

  13. Hi Morgan,
    Certainly interesting times. I checked the site out, very expensive. Would authors be so desperate to get published they would pay out this kind of money, I wonder?

  14. I'm new to the board but as an active member of RWA, I can tell you there are a lot of upset authors who write for H. RWA is easing up on their views of qualify for RITA and become PAN, you must have earned at least $1000 in royalties. It used to be they only considered authors with at least a $1000 advance. That was encouraging since so much of the market is going digital. The main concern I've heard about HH is the ridiculous mark ups they are charging unsuspecting writers for advertising/marketing/publishing. Without naming names, I know a H author who was told that the HH label will not be considered part of Harlequin because those writers are not "good" enough. However, another person went undercover and found out that H is telling its self published writers that it will be a way for them to belong to the Harlequin imprint, which is prestigious, and get their book published by the mainstream lines when they prove they can sell to the public. So Harlequin culls the writers who are self pub, essentially earning profits from them twice...once as a self pub, again if they build a fan base and become pubbed under their main imprint. Not too ethical, IMHO.

  15. I don't really have a dog in this hunt since I don't write romance. What I find most interesting is the proliferation of mis-information and widely varying opinions about what it all means and what will happen to Harlequin as a result of RWA and MWA responses.
    I spend a lot of time in bookstores observing buyers. Rarely do I detect awareness of publishers. Most buyers never heard of MWA or of RWA.

    I suspect these business maneuvers will have little effect on readers, except there will be more books out there, some of which, whether from main-stream, alternative, self-pub or vanity presses, should never have seen space on a bookseller's shelves.

  16. As several have said, readers rarely notice the difference if it's a quality product.

    But Morgan, you are correct - BIG difference between true self-publishing and vanity/subsidy publishing, which is what they are now offering!

  17. Interesting discussion. Yes, Morgan, times are changing in the publishing world:-). Maybe this move, and the response of the big writer associations, will make everyone take a closer look at the e-publishing industry. There are plenty of e-publishers running on traditional guidelines (advances and royalties) who have been snubbed by the same organizations. Some of us who are associated with those publishers are tired of being lumped in with vanity presses, as are self-pubbed authors with serious values and goals. As someone said, the walls are crumbling.
    Great blog! thanks for mentioning this on aam.


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