Thursday, November 19, 2009

Blurring the lines

by Michael

Yesterday, Harlequin announced their new Harlequin Horizons program, a joint venture with Author Solutions, “the world’s leading self-publisher.” Basically, you can now pay to have your unpublished romance novel published by Harlequin...Horizons. The reaction from authors, both aspiring and those published by Harlequin, has been fairly negative.

What seems to concern published authors the most is that this new venture actually uses the Harlequin name, and that associating Harlequin with self-publishing will hurt the brand. I’m not sure how legitimate this is, only because those self-published books aren’t going to be popping up at B&N or Borders any time soon. The Harlequin brand will still mean something to buyers. And as they’ve said, the books will have their own HH branding.

My personal concern, and one that is shared by unpublished authors, is about what seems like a conflict of interest. Are we moving to a place where authors will have to pay to play? In the follow-up FAQ to their original announcement, they say, “All standard/form/template rejection letters will include a short note about Harlequin Horizons as a self-publishing option for the aspiring author.” And in the first announcement, they describe Horizons as, “an innovative and original approach to discovering new authors to add to our traditional publishing programs.” It’s hard to say exactly how all of this will work until they start operating, but I’m very wary of this idea.

How do you feel about this? Is this just the future of publishing that we all have to deal with?

Harlequin has sent out an announcement that they'll be changing the name of their self-publishing program to something without "Harlequin" in the title.  The power of the internet at work.  Doesn't quite solve the conflict of interest problem, though...


  1. It may not affect bookstore titles, but Amazon and every other online store will probably pull up some of these these titles if you do a Harlequin search. Buyer beware...

  2. Any word on what the nature of the agreement with Harlequin will be? Any option for a successful book to slip the Horizons moniker and land in a trade imprint of Harlequin?

    From a publisher's POV, it's hard to see much downside to this. Essentially, they're squeezing some more revenue out of their valuable brand at little or no risk of offending those who already value the brand with actual money (that would be readers, not writers). This wouldn't be true for other houses, but it seems savvy from Harlequin. If this offends existing Harlequin authors, who do they express their offense in a way that means much to Harlequin?

    (Also, Kirkus has Kirkus Discoveries, which is the reviewing equivalent of this program in my mind: associating a traditional publishing brand with a self-publishing model.

  3. From the would-be Harlequin authors' point of view, this sounds like insult to injury. They're not good enough to be Harlequins, but their money is good enough to make them confederate Harlequin authors...? The awful truth is that some people will probably be desperate enough to go along with this.

  4. Andrew - Not sure about the first two questions. I'm very curious myself.

    To your point, though, I think the downside is that they're hurting their reputation with this seeming conflict of interest.

    Mary - Your point is very well taken.

    - Michael

  5. It's interesting to see that there is a lot of reaction from authors and agents. I wonder though if the readers will care (or even notice).

  6. My sister writes for Harlequin and I wonder if there will be any affect on her if, say, her sales drop for a book or two. Would she be "nudged" into the self-publishing side? Her sales are generally healthy and she has an agent, which would probably make this unlikely, but what about other more vulnerable writers?

  7. In every business spectrum there are bottom feeders, and from their perspective I completely understand their move and this it's what they had to do. I don't think it's anything good for the writer, but there are chasms now open in publishing-or you may want to call it a growth spurt-that have to be respected. No one thought a car would change the method of transportation and the internet and digital rights are now the car. In a way, it's forcing peolpe to see that this stuff has to be dealt with and there better be a fair shake for the author in it, too. I just hope that when all the dust settles writers can actually get paid what they're worth.

  8. The reaction from the Romance Writers of America was swift. They delisted Harlequin from their list of approved publishers. That means it can't participate in its conventions as an approved publisher; it'll have to pay its way if it wants.

    Their authors, as I understand it, would be grandfathered into the organization, so they should be fine.

  9. ...the books will have their own HH branding.

    You know what else has HH branding? Harlequin Historical, one of Harlequin's (for lack of a better word) "legitimate" lines. And this has already caused a problem: a piece in the New Yorker used a Harlequin Historical cover to talk about Harlequin Horizons.

  10. Am I missing something (always possible)? Harlequin rejects a book from its traditional publishing then in the rejection letter offers a self publishing option. From an authors point of view that seems extremely manipulative. Unpublished arthors often don't know the real ins an outs of the industry and are likely to be sucked in my the offer. It gives validation to authors who need more skill and puts trash on the market.

  11. Please excuse typos in my previous comment...I'm blaming my new keyboard

  12. Thanks for the update. I'm glad to hear they're changing the name. But like you said, what about the conflict of interest? Even more of a reason for authors to join organizations like the RWA. Forewarned is forearmed.

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