Harlequin Lays a Big, Stinky Egg
When you do something that angers the Mystery Writers of America, the Romance Writers of America, and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, you’ve accomplished quite a hat trick. And Harlequin managed to accomplish this feat with in the space of a week.
On Tuesday, Harlequin announced that it was teaming with Author Solutions to form Harlequin Horizons, a self-publishing outlet for romance authors. The Horizons imprint would be made available to authors rejected by Harlequin and to romance authors publishing with Author Solutions. Author Solutions had previously reached a similar deal with Christian publisher Thomas Nelson. AS said similar deals are in the works with other publishers.
On Wednesday, Romance Writers of America sent a note to its members indicating that with the introduction of Horizons, Harlequin no longer met the RWA’s criteria to be considered a non-subsidy publisher, resulting in loss of its free space at the RWA conference next July.
On Thursday, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America weighed in, saying “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.”
By Friday, the Mystery Writers of America joined in, with a note to its membership noting its concern about Harlequin’s manuscript critique service, a pay critiquing service publicized on its website. MWA noted a potential conflict of interest about the service, particularly given the implication that using the service makes it more likely for the author’s work to be published.
But Harlequin fired back, saying it was disappointed in the RWA’s decision, given the support Harlequin has provided its members for many years. Further, Harlequin was dismayed that the RWA did not contact the RWA board before sending a note to its members. Finally, Harlequin said it would rebrand the self-publishing venture so it does not include the name Harlequin.
Although this may appear to be nothing more than window dressing, it’s a significant step. Using the Harlequin Horizons name, self-published authors could claim to be Harlequin authors. That would be the same as allowing guys playing on the local slow-pitch softball league to call themselves Yankees. It devalues the brand, not just for Harlequin, but for the people published using the traditional approach. It weakens their potential to be seen as part of a quality operation.
Further, with Author Solutions also having a similar deal with Thomas Nelson and promising other deals, is the line between “legitimate” and subsidy presses going to blur further. Although the dark days of late last year are past, publishers are still struggling financially, and will continue to look for opportunities to right their listing ships.
If you’re thinking about using this new option, whatever it’s going to be called, check out the commentary on the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books blog, very little of which appears even remotely positive.
At the bottom of the first page of comments, Sarah Wendell (SB Sarah, one of the two bloggers) writes:
My head is spinning as to what this means for the RITAs, and the elected officers on the national and chapter level who are published through Harlequin to say nothing of the underwriting of the conference itself. This is not a small move on RWAs part at all – the ramifications and logistical details will take awhile to sort themselves out. Everything from the conference budget to the number of people signing books requires adjustment.
In short, this is a major story with long tentacles that will reverberate through the Romance genre until it gets resolved. And it could the first of many similar brawls as money continues to tighten in the publishing industry and the economy in general.