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    The Day After: Harlequin Blinks

    For those of you first tuning in, here’s what has happened previously in the Harlequin Horizons show:

    We’re launching Harlequin Horizons. We’re calling it a self-publishing venture.

    So Harlequin is encouraging authors to self-publish!

    That’s right!

    Our books will finally make it to the bookstores!

    Er, no. There would be no bookstore distribution. Actually, there would be no distribution at all. People would have to buy your books through a catalog. Somewhere. We won’t tell you where.

    Our books will have the Harlequin name on the spine!

    Um. No. Not that, either. Just a little double-H logo, one that may be easily confused with the double-H logo of Harlequin Historical, but any similarity there is purely coincidental.

    Our books will get Harlequin editors working on them to help us become stronger writers!

    Ah. Um. No. But if you pay for it, you can get an editorial review through Author Solutions, the company we’ve partnered with to form Harlequin Horizons.

    Pay for it? How much?

    An editorial review is only $342.00.

    A review?

    You know. A sample edit. Of the first chapter. To let you know where Harlequin Horizons believes you need editorial help. But don’t worry! After the two-plus weeks it takes to get that editorial review, we’ll tell you all about the oodles of editing services you can pay for through Harlequin Horizons!

    Pay more? This is after the $342?

    Well, sure. That was just a review.

    How much are we talking about to get Harlequin Horizons to edit my manuscript?

    For line editing, that’s $0.035 per word. For content editing, that’s $0.042 per word. And if you want full-blown developmental editing for plot, pace and content, like the kind authors get for free when they’re published through the real Harlequin, that’s $0.077 cents per word.

    Uh…doesn’t that mean for an 80,000-word manuscript, it would cost me more than $6,100 to have my manuscript professionally edited?

    Look! Shiny book with your name on it!

    Ooh! And then Harlequin will do all of the marketing, right?

    Ah, no. But you can pay for marketing services too! All through Harlequin Horizons! Like for $360, they’ll write a single-page press release. And if you’re serious about marketing, we’ve got services like email blasts for just under $12,000.

    Wow. That’s a lot of money. And you said my book won’t even be in the bookstores. Or distributed at all.

    Right! And it won’t have the Harlequin name, or have Harlequin editors work with you, or have Harlequin marketing and publicity to help promote your book!

    At least I keep all the profits, after I pay for everything up front, right?

    Heck, no! You keep only 50% of the net. We need something for our trouble of lending our brand name to Horizons and steering you toward it, through our website and our rejection letter.

    So why did you encourage me in your rejection letter to get my book published by Harlequin Horizons?

    Just because your book wasn’t good enough for Harlequin to pay you for it, that doesn’t mean it’s not good enough for you to pay us for it!


    Yesterday was a big day for Harlequin. After getting firmly reprimanded by the Romance Writers of America the day before — in which RWA declared Harlequin an ineligible RWA publisher — yesterday the Mystery Writers of America and the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America also chimed in. Making Light reports all three organizations’ responses in full. Some highlights:


    With the launch of Harlequin Horizons, Harlequin Enterprises no longer meets the requirements to be eligible for RWA-provided conference resources. This does not mean that Harlequin Enterprises cannot attend the conference. Like all non-eligible publishers, they are welcome to attend. However, as a non-eligible publisher, they would fund their own conference fees and they would not be provided with conference resources by RWA to publicize or promote the company or its imprints….RWA takes its role as advocate for its members seriously. The Board is working diligently to address the impact of recent developments on all of RWA’s members.


    It is common for disreputable publishers to try to profit from aspiring writers by steering them to their own for-pay editorial, marketing, and publishing services. The implication is that by paying for those services, the writer is more likely to sell his manuscript to the publisher. Harlequin recommends the “eHarlequin Manuscript Critique Service” in the text of its manuscript submission guidelines for all of its imprints and include a link to “Harlequin Horizons,” its new self-publishing arm, without any indication that these are advertisements….If MWA and Harlequin are unable to reach an agreement, MWA will take appropriate action which may include removing Harlequin from the list of MWA approved publishers, declining future membership applications from authors published by Harlequin and declaring that books published by Harlequin will not be eligible for the Edgar Awards.


    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. Further, Harlequin should be on notice that while the rules of our annual Nebula Award do not expressly prohibit self-published titles from winning, it is highly unlikely that our membership would ever nominate or vote for a work that was published in this manner.

    Already the world’s largest romance publisher, Harlequin should know better than anyone else in the industry the importance of treating authors professionally and with the respect due the craft; Harlequin should have the internal fortitude to resist the lure of easy money taken from aspiring authors who want only to see their work professionally published and may be tempted to believe that this is a legitimate avenue towards those goals.

    Kapow! Boom! Slam!

    Is everyone clear why these three professional author organizations are upset with Harlequin?

    1. Harlequin Horizons is not a self-publishing venture, despite what Harlequin claims. In self-publishing, the author keeps 100% of the profits. Period. Using Harlequin Horizons to print your book, you get only 50% of net. And that’s after you spend, at minimum, $600 to get your book printed. (And that’s without getting any editorial service whatsoever.) If you need clear-cut definitions to see the difference between vanity publishing and self-publishing, SWFA has a terrific list.

    2. Harlequin itself is encouraging authors to use Harlequin Horizons services by linking to the vanity press on its website and by suggesting in its rejection letters that authors consider Harlequin Horizons. In other words: your manuscript was not good enough for Harlequin to pay you for your work — but it is good enough for you to pay Harlequin for it. Do you see how this is a conflict of interest?

    Now, Harlequin was “surprised and dismayed” by people’s reaction. Pub Rants posted Harlequin’s full response. After much lamenting, Donna Hayes, CEO of Harlequin, says:

    Most importantly, however, we have heard the concerns that you, our authors, have expressed regarding the potential confusion between this venture and our traditional business. As such, we are changing the name of the self-publishing company from Harlequin Horizons to a designation that will not refer to Harlequin in any way. We will initiate this process immediately. We hope this allays the fears many of you have communicated to us.

    Got that, everyone? Harlequin is going to remove its name from Horizons! There’s nothing about the spiffy double-H logo that’s so close to the double-H logo of Harlequin Historical (which even the New Yorker confused). But even if Harlequin takes away the double-H logo on Horizons, it will still promote the vanity press on its website. And it will still mention the vanity press “opportunity” in its rejection letters.

    Too little. Too late.

    Something to consider: Harlequin Enterprise’s parent company, Torstar, needs money in a big way. What’s a company to do? Lo and behold, Harlequin Enterprises launches Harlequin Horizons, its very own vanity press, complete with mis-marketing its value to authors and encouraging authors to use this new service! Wonder if there’s any connection here?

    Let me ask a question: if you want to self-publish your novel, why would you choose a vanity press such as Harlequin Horizons over a true self-publishing concern, such as Lulu or CafePress?

    [Edited to add: As a number of people have pointed out, Lulu uses LightningSource as its printer, and you can go to LightningSource directly if you want a POD printer.]

    78 Responses to “The Day After: Harlequin Blinks”

    1. Informative post! I hope anyone who was considering self publishing with Ha-Ho because Harlequin told them to do so in a rejection letter sees this post.

      by Paisley Smith on November 21st, 2009 at 11:35 am

    2. Okay, I’m seriously disturbed that Harlequin didn’t get the fact that authors and author’s organizations would be pissed. Hello, where the hell have they been at the last few RWA conferences where RWA takes that stand that “THOU SHALL NOT PASS” if you don’t meet their publishing standards. Do they really not have a grasp on the reality of what authors want and what author’s organizations demand?

      As for authors, Harlequin wants to make money and they will screw you over to get every last penny from you. Their payout on ebooks % is spotty. Not sure what Carina Press will pay out but it’s Harlequin. They are the same people who have run over authors in the past and only changed their ways because author’s organizations demanded it so.

      by Sara Thacker on November 21st, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    3. Outstanding post. Thanks so much for putting it so succinctly.

      by Jenny Crusie on November 21st, 2009 at 6:04 pm

    4. […] the other day, the “editorial review” isn’t quite what it sounds like.  Or, as Jackie Kessler puts it (if you’re drinking something, put it down): AUTHORS: Our books will get Harlequin editors working on them to help us become stronger […]

    5. […] funny, plain-English breakdown of all that transpired, I recommend taking a quick look at author Jackie Kessler’s take. Here, from what I’ve gathered, is what Harlequin Horizons has to offer aspiring […]

    6. This move by Torstar reminds me of what NBC-U did to Jay Leno after he’d hosted The Tonight Show for seventeen years. For the last fourteen of those years, his ratings were the highest of all the late night shows. Suddenly, they gave the show to Conan O’Brian, and his ratings have allowed David Letterman to surge ahead to #1.

      Leno had no say in this decision by the high mucky-mucks at NBC. I doubt very much that Harlequin Enterprises did in their situation either.

      by Carolina Valdez on November 22nd, 2009 at 3:16 am

    7. You’ve done unsuspecting authors a great service, Jackie. Thanks for the article.

      by Joanna Waugh on November 22nd, 2009 at 9:03 am

    8. Excellent post, Jackie. Thanks for putting things so succinctly.

      by Cai on November 22nd, 2009 at 12:42 pm

    9. You would have to be stupid to pay that sort of money. Surely as a writer you would be better off spending that sort of money on enhancing your craft. Take courses to make your writing better until Harlequin doesn’t turn your manuscript down. As a writer I beleive in developing my craft not wasting time publishing a book that doesn’t make the cut.

      by Bronwen Evans on November 22nd, 2009 at 6:40 pm

    10. Oh, boy. I’ve been following this whole Harlequin-Goes-Vanity saga with sick fascination. Thanks for keeping people posted

      Self-publication fee from Harlequin Horizons: $599

      Editorial review of one chapter: $342

      Full edit of 80,000 word MS: $6,100

      Watching Harlequin get smacked down by RWA, MWA, and the SFWA: Priceless.

      by Stephanie on November 22nd, 2009 at 9:40 pm

    11. Fantastic post. The one thing omitted is the impact this has on current Harlequin authors. My books are published under their MIRA imprint. Suddenly, all the organizations I’ve been serving on the boards of won’t count me as a published author anymore, my books won’t be eligible for awards…all because of something my publisher arbitrarily did. All the current Harlequin authors found out about this at this same time as everyone else, and we’re being perfunctorily kicked to the curb. I understand the organizations need to take a stand (and hey, doesn’t this sort of thing make you wonder why we don’t have a real union yet?) However it’s terribly disheartening to be penalized for something that’s decidedly not our fault. In the end, we’re the ones who will suffer for this terrible decision.

      by Michelle Gagnon on November 22nd, 2009 at 10:18 pm

    12. What RWA did was very courageous and principled, considering how much financial and other support they have had from Harlequin over the years. It was pretty low of Harlequin to remind the RWA of this financial support in its response.

      I hope RWA members will remember the firm stand the RWA took on their behalf if there are any financial repercussions from this.

      by Graham Storrs on November 22nd, 2009 at 10:21 pm

    13. […] of cautionary tales. Given the explosion of author-service providers — including the already re-branded Harlequin Horizons, and other publishers and imprints working with Author Solutions — it only makes sense to be […]

      by Self-Publishing: A Cautionary Tale | Ditchwalk on November 22nd, 2009 at 11:19 pm

    14. Hmm. What no one seems to have focussed on is the damage done to the Harlequin authors: Ha Ho is an attempt to trade not only on Harlequin’s reputation, but also on the foundation of that – the reputation of its authors. Now Harlequin’s board can choose unethical idiocy if they want to, but the financial consequences of their actions on the reputation of their authors is also something they have to excercise due caution over -or be liable. And I was amused at the value set on editorial services etc. compared to advances and earnings of normal authors. Methinks they’re an order of magnitude out;-/
      Thanks Jackie

      by Dave Freer on November 23rd, 2009 at 12:33 am

    15. @61 … I don’t think the ban is retroactive, but to a Harlequin author, it must feel like they showed up to work and fount out that the boss had decided to open a bordello.

      by Tsu Dho Nimh on November 23rd, 2009 at 10:14 am

    16. […] but author Jackie Kessler does it so well I’ll just link to her, and then follows up with Harlequin’s response after the Romance Writers of America said, “Sorry, we can no longer consider Harlequin a […]

    17. @Tsu Dho Nimh- exactly! So well put- a bordello is exactly what we found.

      by Michelle Gagnon on November 23rd, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    18. […] very well. Check Out Harlequin Horizons Vs. RWA for a piece by piece explanation of the issues. The Day After Harlequin Blinks will give you even more detail of why Harlequin Horizons is perhaps not the best choice for aspiring […]

    19. So much better said than my attempt to explain it to my husband, which turned into a heated argument about the lack of integrity of Harlequin is exhibiting by participating in vanity publishing and the way they’re marketing it. I’m forwarding a link to your post right now. Thanks! 😀

      by Annette on November 23rd, 2009 at 8:26 pm

    20. […] Grayson Literary Agency Ripping Ozzie Reads Jackie Kessler John […]

      by Of Many Colours and None « I Like to Write on November 23rd, 2009 at 9:28 pm

    21. Thanks for the great run down Jackie.
      I wonder though, with all the writers who WANT to get pubbed by Harlequin, who attend the conference or belong to RWA because of that, will they still be loyal to RWA, in spite of this horrendous thing Harlequin have done? With no other category pubs out there a la Harlequin – what kind of affect will that have on RWA – membership wise? Me thinks it will have to sort itself out though. Surely. Or have Harlequin got too much invested in HH to back down?

      by Hope on November 23rd, 2009 at 10:24 pm

    22. […] Kessler – Post 1, Post 2 and Post […]

      by Radiant Curses & Bound Sorceresses | Literary Escapism on November 24th, 2009 at 12:38 am

    23. […] all over weighed in on the issue, including Nora Roberts, Shiloh Walker, Ann Aguirre, and Jackie Kessler (Jackie has a great summary of the debacle on her blog. If you haven’t read it, you should). […]

      by The Harlequin Fiasco « Embrace the Shadows on November 24th, 2009 at 6:09 am

    24. […] Kessler gets snarky in a faux author-HH conversation, answers questions in two parts, and shows a bookseller’s […]

      by Bleak Horizons — The Hypnagogic State on November 24th, 2009 at 8:00 pm

    25. […] about it, and began to change my tune. What helped me understand the whole thing was a post over at Jackie Kessler’s blog, where she breaks it down in a fictional dialogue between a writer and the Harlequin vanity […]

    26. […] I’ll dive into the topic then. And trust me when I say, this Kerfluffle is FAR from over. Now, go here and here and here and get all the details you need to […]

    27. […] in my mind, all the good press the company had with me. (Jackie Kessler sums it up beautifully here.) But how do I say “Bad Harlequin” without taking away from the authors who write for […]

      by One from the Many « Lily Anne Porter on December 8th, 2009 at 9:27 am

    28. […] The Day After Harlequin Blinks […]


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