Friday, December 04, 2009

Catching Up With Harlequin's DellArte

I've been catching up tonight on a week's worth of publishing news.

While I was busy interviewing home inspectors and plumbers, Harlequin was busy doing damage control following the announcement of their new self-publishing imprint (see my post of 11/19 here).

Last Wednesday, Publishers Weekly reported:
In the wake of widespread criticism over its self-publishing imprint, Harlequin has changed the imprint’s name from Harlequin Horizons to DellArte Press. As Harlequin publisher and CEO Donna Hayes said it would, the company renamed the imprint to a designation “that [does] not refer to Harlequin in any way.” There is no mention of Harlequin on DellArte’s Web site.
Today, Lee Goldberg printed here the announcement of a decision by the Mystery Writers of America (MWA) "to remove Harlequin and all of its imprints from our list of Approved Publishers, effective immediately."

The paragraph that will most impact Harlequin authors is this one from the MWA release:
Any author who signs with Harlequin or any of its imprints from this date onward may not use their Harlequin books as the basis for active status membership nor will such books be eligible for Edgar® Award consideration. However books published by Harlequin under contracts signed before December 2, 2009 may still be the basis for Active Status membership and will still be eligible for Edgar® Award consideration.
I was completely in agreement with the MWA's reasoning: MWA doesn't have a problem with Harlequin's owning and operating a self-publishing imprint. "The problem is HOW those pay-to-publish programs and other for-pay services are integrated into Harlequin's traditional publishing business."

Goldberg also published the letter that Harlequin CEO Donna Hayes sent to the MWA Board before their meeting and vote on December 2.

I was unimpressed with Hayes' explanation that (1) "self-publishing has emerged as a new force in the publishing industry" and Harlequin feels "compelled to respond to new publishing models" or that (2) Harlequin wishes to expand the writer's "range of options."

It simply is not kosher for Harlequin to reject writers while at the same time referring them to its self-publishing arm. Furthermore, it is inappropriate for Harlequin to imply that their editors will be "monitoring" the self-published releases with an eye to possibly offering a contract with a traditional Harlequin imprint. This is not an arms-length relationship. It offers false hope to writers while benefiting the Harlequin bottom line.

I have huge admiration for Harlequin and its sensitivity to an "evolving" business landscape. The company has proven far more flexible and willing to think outside the box than other traditional publisher. I have admired Harlequin's support and respect for emerging writers.

If Harlequin wants to experiment with self-publishing . . . fine. But maintain that arms-length relationship and do not tease or entice writers with the bait that self-publishing a book with DellArte will bring them closer to a traditional contract with Harlequin.

Rant over.

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