Thursday, November 19, 2009

RWA, Harlequin Horizons And My Take

As most of you probably know by now, Harlequin has announced they are severing the Harlequin name from their Horizons venture. As a reader (and librarian) this makes me happy, since the slathering of the 60 year old Harlequin brand name on this venture was my biggest gripe.

A letter Harlequin has sent to various authors and agents is now posted online, and while I'm happy to see Harlequin changing their stance on the Horizons issue (sort of), this letter is full of a heaping helping of WTFBBQ. You can read the letter in it's entirety here, but I'm just going to highlight a few things that struck me as particularly ballsy.
Harlequin was very surprised and dismayed to receive notice late yesterday that the RWA has decided that Harlequin is no longer eligible for RWA-provided conference resources. We were even more surprised to discover that the RWA sent a notice to its membership announcing this decision, before allowing Harlequin to respond or engage in a discussion about it with the RWA board.
::snort:: And I'm sure Harlequin considered notifying RWA and their members (many of them Harlequin authors) before they announced the Horizons venture. Seriously. WTH?
It is disappointing that the RWA has not recognized that publishing models have and will continue to change.
Oh this is rich.

I am hardly RWA's biggest champion. There are many issues I think they have failed to address and I believe they are short-sighted on. Namely the long-standing resistance in some corners to the erotic romance sub genre, the failure to recognize legitimate e-presses, and their complete head-in-the-sand attitude towards digital (not that they're alone in this boat - hello many traditional NY publishing houses!).

But to use that line about "publishing models changing" when addressing the clusterfuck that is Horizons is just rich. RWA and many authors recognized this for what it is. A completely and totally skeevy way to sell out the Harlequin name brand.

Do I think RWA needs to be more proactive on certain issues? Yes. But I think perhaps Sybil said it best on Twitter today when she said:
because honestly I think epubs (some of them) should be approved but I don't think every issue should be tabled til past fuck ups get fixed
And that's it in a nutshell. But unlike some corners of the Internet, I have a hard time believing RWA is the bogeyman or evil. Misguided at times? Sure. But it's up to the members of the RWA organization to work (rationally and calmly I might add) to help affect change.

Can you tell I've spent too much time on Twitter the last few days?

What hasn't been addressed to any satisfaction is how Harlequin is going to move forward with Horizons. Are they still going to keep advertising the service on the writing section of their web site? Are they still going to refer to Horizons in rejection letters they send out to writers? That hasn't been made clear at this time (of me writing this blog post).

But as a reader, and as a librarian who spends a lot of time banging her head up against obstinate colleagues? The dropping of the Harlequin name from the venture helps.


sybil said...

Yes what you said. Isn't it odd how we tend to agree *g*.

Thanks for fixing my typosssss ;)

Katie Mack said...

Like you I'm happy that they've removed the Harlequin name, but if they continue with the intention of promoting their vanity press services in their HQN rejection letters, that I don't like. Plus, they'll still have a vanity imprint, so they still won't meet RWA's current requirements, right?

Shiloh Walker said...

Warning...i'm gonna ramble some.

RWA, IMO, CAN be short sighted. But I also think most of the members, and many of the BoD, do want to do what's right for the general membership.

They are a huge organization and just like the Titanic didn't turn on a dime, neither will RWA.

I'm damn proud of how they handled this. :)

RWA taking on a stand on this was huge. Very Huge. HQN is a big group and RWA did something that won't sit well with them. It couldn't have been easy.

One thing I haven't seen mentioned much of... with the loss of eligible status? Unless HQN changes something, in the future, after the current year contest is done?

HQN authors can't enter the RITA.

The RITA is the biggest contest for the romance industry.

HQN is the biggest publisher in the romance industry.

So now... HQN authors can no longer enter to win the industry's biggest contest.

HQN is NOT going to like that.

I think removing HQN from HHz is a step. I'm happy to see it.

What would help? If they stop the funneling of rejected authors and if they remove the links from eHQN's writing areas of the site.

JenB said...

Gah. Passive-aggressive much? Ugh. The whole thing just leaves a bad taste in my mouth and makes me glad I'm not a writer. It makes even more glad I work for small press.


Emily said...

I wondered how long it would take Harlequin to back off and I hope that as much as RWA had a hand in it, that Harlequin also took note of the huge uproar from readers and authors alike. But GOD, take the note off rejection letters!

Anonymous said...

You might like to know: the Hot Sheet for the RWA Board meeting this past weekend came today. Even tho' the meeting was over before the HqHo info broke, the board has authorized formation of several task forces, including two relevant to this: 1) to study strategies to address industry changes without diluting RWA's focus on career oriented writers and 2) how to best evaluate publishers in re allocation of conference resources.

I imagine there will be more action coming, but as Shiloh said, it's a big organization--the largest writers organization in the world--and it takes some time to change directions.

mslizalou said...

Thanks for the updated information Wendy! I'm also happy they have removed the Harlequin name. After reading Shiloh's post, now I'm worried about favorite authors that write for Harlequin. They should not be punished for HQN buying a vanity press. I'm sure HQN won't be the last publisher to do this, so I hope RWA finds a way to fix this problem for the future.

Wendy said...

Yeah, this is hardly resolved by any stretch of the imagination. As Shiloh (and others of you) have pointed out - the fact that Harlequin now has a vanity press arm will have ramifications on their authors under current RWA "rules". Especially where it concerns RITA eligibility. So while I do think it's very excellent news that Harlequin has decided to alter the Horizons name - there are still a host of unanswered questions hanging out there.

Either way, this will continue to be a very big topic in the weeks ahead. We'll have to see how it all shakes out.

SonomaLass said...

MWA and SFWA both have taken similar steps. MWA sent Harlequin a letter about their concerns and said that if those aren't addressed, HQN will stop being an eligible publisher, meaning that pubbing with them won't get you membership and their books aren't eligible for the Edgars. SFWA's list of eligible publishers (again, for qualifiying for membership and for awards) specifically includes "Harlequin after 11/2009" on the ineligible list.

I'm very interested to see whether the name change is enough, and also whether this causes the various writers' associations to examine more closely some other publishers (Random House & Harper) with connections to self-styled "self publishing" ventures.

SonomaLass said...

Oh, I misspoke slightly -- the Nebula awards, from SFWA, do not actually exclude vanity presses.

The full SFWA statement is here:

I particularly like the part about changing the name not being enough.

Anonymous said...

But surely RWA now has to look a little closer at the other publishers with major stakes in vanities?
Isn't the Christian pub got a very similar set up? The only difference the branding?

Wendy said...

Anon: One of the major sticking points is that HQ will be referring to Horizons in the rejection letters they send out. "We don't want this for HQ, but hey! Give us your money and we'll print it under Horizons!"

It's not the having a vanity/self-publishing venture aspect so much as the funneling of the slush pile towards it. Well, in my opinion anyway.

I'm not sure how the Thomas Nelson West Bow Press deal is set up - other than it is also through Author Solutions.