Two Deep Questions

Deep question number one: Why has the launch of Harlequin Horizons provoked such a gigantic firestorm of indignation, when the launch of West Bow Press (which is exactly the same sort of venture, except way more expensive and with a referral fee scheme thrown in) not only didn’t cause a big outcry, but received some fairly positive mentions from industry professionals?

I have my own theories, but I’m interested in what others think.

Deep question number two: Is Thomas Nelson RWA-eligible? If so, why hasn’t RWA repudiated it as well?


  1. On AbsoluteWrite, someone said that Harlequin and Thomas Nelson are no longer listed as "eligible" publishers. The one exception is the 2010 RITA awards — because the qualifying books would have been from 2009ish.

  2. I think the brand dilution aspect may have something to do with this, too. Thomas Nelson is a large publisher, but they don't put their name on the books nearly as prominently as many Harlequin lines do. And Harlequin's vanity imprint has been given a name that sounds like it could be another of their standard imprints instead of a name that distances itself from the parent company.

  3. Yes, Christian publishing is its own world. But the fact is that West Bow Press and Harlequin Horizons follow exactly the same business model with the same intent, and pose the same hazards for writers (or possibly even more for Christian writers, who tend to be more trusting of authority, especially where it self-identifies as Christian).

    I'm not privy to inside RWA info, so I can't tell if Nelson is on RWA's approved list, but what I've found online indicates that Nelson does exhibit at RWA conferences. And Christian romance is a strong category. Either way, I'd like to know: Is Nelson RWA-approved? And if it is, why hasn't RWA initiated the same sanctions against Nelson that it has against Harlequin?

  4. Christian and secular publishing seem to happen on separate realms to me. Thomas Nelson just really isn't on the radar for the RWA, etc.

  5. Thomas Nelson is one of the largest Christian publishers, and sales numbers for many Christian titles would be by far the envy of many secular publishing houses. Christian publishing is a complete, separate industry with its own rules and own traditions. Frequently, authors are not "paid" as is understood in secular publishing and many contracts are "work for hire" or flat-fee. By the same token, high profile Christian authors receive lucrative royalties, while some popular pastors serve as their own sales forces, far more successfully than any publisher's sales forces. In many towns, the Christian bookstore is busy, large and active while the secular or "regular" bookstore closed long ago. This was true in my former hometown until B & N opened up a big superstore attracting regional customers. I honestly don't know if Thomas Nelson had anything to do with RWA or was even on their list. Anyway, it's not the same model and never was. Aspiring Christian authors never had the same expectations of payment and sometimes, there is a religious or faith-based component to these feelings that clearly, Thomas Nelson doesn't even slightly share. They've exploited the enthusiasm or "unworldly" attitudes of faith-based authors for years and this is just another step in the same direction.

  6. Yeah, Random House did "invest" in Xlibris and I remember it being the reason I sent my memoir to them in 2000. The fee? 0. That changed fast but not monetarily for me. My cost? A stigma that is impossible to shake even after I removed the book from print. Author solutions marketing still calls. As a Random House editor told me in an e-mail exchange concerning that ill-fated venture, "There are no minor leagues at major publishing houses."

    Despite the trumpeting by the hordes of vanity writers about publishing's demise, to the contrary, nothing has changed.

  7. Stacia said,

    IMHO, there's a pretty big difference between Random House being a minority owner of a self-pub company and Harlequin including a referral to their own vanity press imprint in their rejection letters. Unless Random House has a standard line about self-publishing through X-Libris in all of its rejection letters?

    I agree. The situations are not at all comparable. Random House's investment arm has an investment in Xlibris (or did–I don't know how, or whether, Author Solutions' acquisition of Xlibris might have changed this), but that's not the same as a publisher setting up its own self-publishing service as a division of the company, and referring rejected writers to it. Beyond the investment, Random House has no involvement with Xlibris.

    See this article from 2000 about the investment.

  8. I'm an inspirational romance writer and I don't know why there isn't an issue with T Nelson's thingy either. I heard about that before Harlequin because they're a pub I like. But this new self-pubbing thingy… very disturbing. I hope RWA looks into that too.

  9. Then, too, there's the difference in potential profit sources within the two subsets. Romance writers — and particularly novices — are much less likely to see their books as conduits toward speaker/lecturer fees (or "honoraria", or several other terms frequently used) than are many logos-worshipping Protestants (the core of TN's audience). This makes no difference whatsoever to the ethical dimension, but probably explains at least part of the difference in public outcry and in price structures.

  10. To be consistent, though, surely RWA will have to take the same stand re: Nelson that it has with Harlequin. Otherwise, its Harlequin stance is meaningless.

  11. IMHO, there's a pretty big difference between Random House being a minority owner of a self-pub company and Harlequin including a referral to their own vanity press imprint in their rejection letters. Unless Random House has a standard line about self-publishing through X-Libris in all of its rejection letters?

  12. Kaz, the RWA had to take that stand–it's what their by-laws decree. No big conspiracy here.

    And I agree with Ms Kinsale, as well.

  13. I think you've hit the nail on the head with this one, Victoria. After all, Random House owns 49% of Xlibris and the RH imprint authors haven't been disbarred from RWA either.

    Now this comment is coming from a deeply sceptical perspective, but I think that the RWA board is being pressured by the Harlequin authors. It was "OMG! How *dare* they do this to us!!!!111 We'll show them!" (I'd like to know how many on the RWA board are/were HQN authors, for example. The response was awfully quick…for RWA.)

    A LOT of RWA members have a Harlequin background. Lots more, I posit, than those with a purely Thomas Nelson or Random House background. I think this "ethical stand" the RWA is taking is, to use an Australian term, nothing more than a dummy spit, and no more than I expect from the RWA. Think they're really representing all romance writing professionals? Think again.

  14. I think it's a simple matter of numbers. Romance is huge, and Harlequin is a gigantic part of that industry. The Christian book publishing side just doesn't have as much visibility.

    I certainly haven't forgotten what Thomas Nelson has done, and I made a lot of noise then, too. I'm coming at this as a writer and consumer advocate, too, not as a romance or Christian writer.

  15. I think Horizons is a mistake for Harlequin. Brand recognition is (IMHO) going to become ever more important as more and more self-pubbed books come out and more and more small presses pop up, and more and more presses both large and small move into ebook publishing.

    I am already one of a group of consumers with heavy brand awareness. I *know* when I want a cozy mystery, I can trust Berkley Prime. Looking for something sexy? Brava fits the bill. Something more traditional in the romance single title? Harlequin Superromance. Romantic suspense? Mira's a good bet.

    I check to be sure that anything I want to read is published by a reputable publisher and I check to see what the publisher *does* if I haven't heard of them. I've had too many problems buying books and not getting what I expected otherwise. (For example, I once bought a book I thought would be a light mystery with chick lit elements, only to find out it was Christian Fiction. I hadn't researched the publisher…Thomas Nelson.)

    On the other hand, I think excluding Harlequin is a mistake for RWA. It's shortsighted. It would be a far more strategic move to rethink the question of what constitutes a publisher, to separate eligibility by line. So far, no publisher (that I know of) is allowing self pubbed authors under the same lines as traditionally pubbed ones.

    So, in this case, I think both Harlequin and RWA are acting rashly.

  16. I think the reason is awareness of and connection to Harlequin. I think more people are aware of Harlequin and more people want to be published by Harlequin. You're dealing with a larger swath of people where as when Thomas Nelson announced theirs people either didn't notice or dismissed it because they didn't want to be/weren't publish by them in the first place.

  17. This is purely speculation, but I think the RWA board just hadn't had the Thomas Nelson move brought to their attention.

    A lot of members immediately started making a lot of noise about Harlequin Horizons.

    If someone knows differently, correct me.

  18. Harlequin appears to be concerned, which is why they are taken such pains to distance their brand from the new one. ("Harlequin" or its logo will appear nowhere on the Horizon books, no store placement, etc.)

    They must think its worth the risk.

  19. I was wondering the same thing, and it hadn't even occurred to me that people were upset about this diluting the Harlequin name…that's actually pretty neat. I wonder if Harlequin's worried about that too? :p

  20. Harlequin is an old and reputable mainstream publisher whose sudden association with a notorious vanity press empire is clearly an act of "monitizing rejections." Clearly, it is easier to take money from authors wanting to be "published" than from readers wanting to buy books.

    Affinity group publishers such as Christian presses already attract authors with a goal other than pure commerce and are less visible. Bernie Madoff avoided scrutiny by offering his investment scam to Jewish investors and became the "secret" dream fund within that affinity group. Notice the attempt to link "dream," to "published," while ignoring the questions of "sales" and "earnings."

  21. My concern is that the quality of the Harlequin name will drop. They've always been the "go to" for quick, simple, formula fiction for me.

    Now, if I'm not careful, I could get any old drivel that's put out, with no editing (ruins my read!) and changed character names in the middle of the story (also ruins my read).

    To me, a great publisher puts out the best product they can – no typos, no changed character names out of nowhere, a story that flows smoothly…

    Harlequin has done this for years, but now they are going to put their name on any old drivel as long as they are paid enough.

    Not sure I'll trust them anymore.

  22. I think for some, christian publishing doesn't rate as high on the ladder as Harlequin. It doesn't for me, as I'm not the church going type. Even if I was, I still spend a jackload on secular books.

  23. Well, I was thinking about that very thing. And I'm afraid my answer is going to be a little bit political.

    During the last few election cycles, it's come to one's attention that there's a certain emphasis on unity among the fundamentalist religious subset that calls itself "Christian" (as opposed to, oh, say, "Methodist" or "Episcopalian"). People of my acquaintance in this group are careful to shop at Christian stores, select auto mechanics and realtors out of Christian business directories, and just generally fork over their dough in such a manner as to be sure of supporting others who at least claim to be of their own philosophical stripe.

    Similarly, in politics, I've noticed that this particular sort of fundamentalists don't generally care to diss others of their ilk, no matter what said others get caught doing– laundering money, snuggling lobbyists, hiring hookers, "hiking the Appalachian Trail". Group loyalty is more important than integrity, as it were.

    That's my guess of what's going on here. Now let me go put on my flame-resistant jacket.

    Oh, another thing– quite likely more writers have heard of Harlequin than of Thomas Nelson.

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NOVEMBER 18, 2009

Harlequin Horizons: Another Major Publisher Adds A Self-Publishing Division

NOVEMBER 19, 2009

MWA Weighs In On Harlequin Horizons