the Harlequin hubbub

November 24, 2009

last week, Harlequin announced a new venture into self-publishing called, oddly enough,  Harlequin Horizons.  from the press release

“Harlequin Horizons expands upon Harlequin’s tradition of providing wonderful opportunities for fresh voices in women’s fiction,” said Donna Hayes, Publisher and CEO of Harlequin Enterprises. “Partnering with Author Solutions, Inc., the recognized world leader in self-publishing, is an innovative and original approach to discovering new authors to add to our traditional publishing programs.”

Through this strategic alliance; all sales, marketing, publishing, distribution, and book-selling services will be fulfilled by ASI; but Harlequin Horizons will exist as a division of Harlequin Enterprises Limited. Harlequin will monitor sales of books published through the self-publisher for possible pickup by its traditional imprints.

almost immediately, criticism emerged.  a Harlequin rep tried to reassure readers and authors by explaining that it wasn’t a case of brand dilution, that it would be very clear to customers that these self-published titles are not in any way associated with Harlequin.  said Malle Vallik, Harlequin’s Digital Director, on Dear Author

Harlequin put its name on the Harlequin Horizons site to clearly indicate this is a romance self-publishing site. The books published through Harlequin Horizons will not carry traditional Harlequin branding. The self-published author will be the brand and the Horizon double H logo will appear on the spine of the book. Harlequin is the gold standard in romance and that will not be compromised. Readers will not confuse Horizons books with traditional Harlequin books.

clarifications did nothing to stop the outcry.  on one hand, over at the All about Romance blog, the point was raised that Harlequin Horizons isn’t really self-publishing in that it requires a good sum of money to get published by Author Solutions (including a percentage of royalties) and that in the end, the author doesn’t even own the ISBN.

then some questioned the continued value of Harlequin’s name to their published authors, worried that all those rewrites and edits are worth naught when readers and others in the industry can no longer take Harlequin seriously.  of course, the requisite snotty commentary followed from The New Yorker blog, but that’s to be expected (do those of us who read in the genres, especially romance, need to be reminded how much smarter the literary reader is ?!).

up next was the protest by 3 major writing organizations to withdraw support from Harlequin in various ways.  both the Mystery Writers of America and the Science Fiction Writers of America removed Harlequin from their list of approved publishers which is a big deal on several levels (explained very clearly by the previous link).

the biggest blow came with the Romance Writers of America statement:

With the launch of Harlequin Horizons, Harlequin Enterprises no longer meets the requirements to be eligible for RWA-provided conference resources.

oops, back pedal, back pedal, back pedal.  apparently, Harlequin officials were very surprised at this move and stated that they will remove all references to Harlequin from the HH imprint.

there is a nice summary and links to other commentary over at Jane Friedman’s Writer’s Digest (via Dear Author).  Friedman’s philosophical musings get to the heart of the matter:  the publishing model is changing and Harlequin is an innovative company that is trying to secure a future.

Harlequin is clearly at an advanced stage of considering how it will evolve—or devolve, considering on your perspective. But most writers and writers organizations (and publishers) have NOT grappled with these questions yet. Publishing has often been slowest to change and adapt of all industries.

Some argue Harlequin should’ve been better prepared and planned more strategically to respond to the criticisms that would arise. But when you’ve already moved on, like Harlequin—and are seeking solutions—it’s tough to backtrack to the mindset of those people who are stunned, angry, and indignant, and can’t even conceive of adaptation.

now, if you’ve actually read this far, you might be wondering why this all matters.  the future of publishing and the continued prominence of vanity press (aka self-publishing) has a huge impact on libraries.  last year, titles published by print-on-demand and the like (often vanity titles) outnumbered books published through traditional outlets.  every day we get requests for vanity press titles that we don’t purchase because there is often no editing process, the bindings and formats aren’t reliable and/or standard, and there are no reviews to verify the accuracy and/or quality of the content.  adding Harlequin Horizon to the field muddies the waters.

posting by marin (who is doing her best to understand all the nuances of this complicated business)


One Response to “the Harlequin hubbub”

  1. […] 30, 2009 · Leave a Comment in an attempt to placate critics, Harlequin Horizons quickly morphed into DellArte Press late last week with the new site making no […]

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