A little background first. Earlier this month, Harlequin announced the formation of Carina Press, a digital only publisher that will not offer advances but will pay royalties. This surprised me -- and I wasn't the only one. Just check some of the other blogs -- in that RWA doesn't recognize publishers that don't offer advances of at least $1,000 as "eligible publishers". Because this disqualifies almost all ebook publishers, it has raised the question of whether or not RWA needs to re-examines their criteria. The fact Harlequin was starting an e-book imprint raised more than a few eyebrows and had a number of people wondering if this might force RWA to revisit the issue of whether or not ebook publishers should be considered "eligible" or not.
Then the shoe dropped and boy did it land with a thud. A very big and a very loud thud. Harlequin announced it would be teaming up with Author Solutions to form Harlequin Horizons, their self-publication imprint. According to Publishers Weekly, [t]he imprint will recruit writers in two ways: authors whose manuscripts have been rejected by Harlequin will be made aware of the Harlequin Horizons option and authors who sign with Author Solutions will be given the opportunity to be published under the Harlequin Horizons imprint. According to an Author Solutions spokesperson, the imprint will offer special services aimed at the romance market, including unique marketing and distribution services. All services are on a pay-for-service basis.
The response has been fast and definitive. RWA has, at least for the moment, revoked Harlequin's "eligible" status. SFWA, calling Harlequin Horizons (now known by the initials of HH which will be on the spine of any book printed by them. Gee, that won't be confusing will it, since Harlequin Historicals have been nicknamed HHs for quite a while.) a vanity press, said the following: "Under normal circumstances, the addition of a new imprint by a major house would be cause for celebration in the professional writing community. Unfortunately, these are not normal circumstances. . . Until such time as Harlequin changes course, and returns to a model of legitimately working with authors instead of charging authors for publishing services, SFWA has no choice but to be absolutely clear that NO titles from ANY Harlequin imprint will be counted as qualifying for membership in SFWA."
Publishers Weekly reports that Mystery Writers of America (MWA) also responded to the news with a threat of sanctions. "An e-bulletin prepared by Margery Flax on behalf of Mystery Writers of America’s National Board of Directors said MWA was “deeply concerned about the troubling conflict-of-interest issues created by these ventures, particularly the potentially misleading way they are marketed to aspiring writers.” The MWA was refering to both Harlequin Horizons and the eHarlequin Manuscript Critique service, also aimed at aspiring writers. MWA said it would consider removing Harlequin from its list of approved publishers, declining membership applications from Harlequin authors, and barring Harlequin books from entering the Edgar Awards unless Harlequin agreed to discuss changing these ventures by December 15."
There are a number of other blogs commenting on HH. I recommend you check out the following for more information:
- Janet Reid, Literary Agent -- Also check out her blogs on Tuesday and Wednesday prior to this link for further info on the topic.
- Kristen Nelson's Pub Rants -- Ms. Nelson also has earlier entries on the topic as well.
- Jackie Kessler -- This is one of the most detailed descriptions of what is going on and why it is something we should be concerned about.
- Victoria Strauss at the Writer Beware Blog has several posts on the topic as well.
- Smart bitches, Trashy Books has generated as of Saturday night 719 comments to their post about HH, including comments from Nora Roberts, who is scratching her head over the latest developments just like the rest of us.
Read them. Think about them. Then decide for yourself if this latest move by Harlequin is in the best interest of writers and readers or is just another ill-conceived method of raising revenue for the publisher.
Why, you ask, does the creation of HH bother me so much? It comes down to trust. Trust between Harlequin and the authors submitting to it and trust between Harlequin and its readers. The books "published" by HH won't be edited or proofed the way a mainline Harlequin book will be. Nor will they be distributed the same or marketed. There is no guarantee they will find their way to any bookstore. All that is there is a carrot for any author willing to pay the money -- and it isn't cheap -- to be published by HH that their book might be picked up by Harlequin if it sells enough...the same promise they make about the ebooks published by Carina Press. Sorry, but I can put my book up on my website and Amazon and sell it myself, without having to pay the money to Harlequin.
But there's another breach of trust between Harlequin and its current authors and this, too, has been mentioned in some of the other blogs. It is my understanding that Harlequin requires its authors to do nothing that might dilute the brand. Isn't that exactly what Harlequin has done with HH? And doesn't that, in turn, constitute a breach in their agreement with the authors?
As for the readers, they've come to expect a certain product from Harlequin. Using the HH logo instead of the Harlequin name isn't going to keep them from identifying books published by Harlequin Horizons with the Harlequin brand. The same quality isn't going to be there. I guarantee it. If it were, the book wouldn't be rejected by Harlequin and referred to HH in the first time. Unless, of course, the whole purpose of this is to make money and screw the authors and reading public.
It is going to be interesting to see where this goes over the next few weeks and months. For those of you out there considering submitting to Harlequin, I recommend you keep you eyes open and your ear to the ground. There is no telling where this might end. I leave you with the introduction to the fourth season of The Twilight Zone: "You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension: a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You're moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas; you've just crossed over into the Twilight Zone."