More thoughts on RWA and Harlequin Horizons

Thanks to Victoria Strauss

Now that I’ve had another day to think on the RWA / Harlequin Horizons thing, I have a chance to be more sceptical … about RWA.

You see, RWA has been playing it one way (sloooooow, prevaricating, mealy-mouthed) for so long, it was a real shock to see them come out and actually be responsive for a change. There have also been numerous, long-running, clear-as-mud controversies over RWA’s stance on electronic presses, erotic romance writers, and writers of GLBT romance. So what’s different this time? How come they’ve come out with such a quick, unequivocal response? To be honest, I was expecting something along the lines of: “RWA is aware of Harlequin Horizons, a new publishing venture from Harlequin Enterprises. At this time, the Board will be convening and discussing what this means to the general membership. We will be posting a response within thirty days.” You know, the usual.

But nope, what you get is a smackdown within twenty-four hours (give or take) of the Harlequin Horizons press release announcing their launch. Strange, much?

Victoria Strauss also brings up this topic, so an entwined thought on this has occurred to others as well. Why no smackdown for Thomas Nelson (owns Westbow) or Random House (49% owns Xlibris) authors? Why the frighteningly quick response on Harlequin instead?

As I said on Strauss’ post, I think it’s a dummy spit. I think it’s a clique of influential Harlequin authors getting hurt and huffy over the announcement. First, the anger — “How DARE they?”. Followed by the retribution — “We’ll show them!”.

I didn’t put this on Victoria’s blog, because I didn’t think I had the time, but now that I decided to blow this up into a post here, let’s go have a look at the current RWA board, shall we?

  • Michelle Monkou, President. Oh look, a current Harlequin author.
  • Dorien Kelly, President-Elect. Yep, Harlequin makes an appearance.
  • Lorraine Heath. She mentions Avon Books and Harper Teen. I had a quick look at her website…no mention of Harlequin.
  • Stephanie Feagan. RomanceWiki tells me she writes for Silhouette (owned by Harlequin).
  • Terri Brisbin. Harlequin.
  • Jeanne Pickering Adams. Zebra.
  • Ruth Kaufman. Look, I don’t want to go offending Ms Kaufman, but I couldn’t find any obviously published books, either on her website or at Amazon. I think she’s still working her way to publication.
  • Cindy Kirk. Silhouette/Harlequin.
  • Trish Milburn. Harlequin.
  • Sara Reinke. Zebra.
  • Terri Reed. Steeple Hill (Harlequin with prayers).
  • Maggi Landry. She entered the 2009 Molly for unpublished writers, so I’m assuming she’s unpublished.
  • Sharon Kay Sala. Aka Dinah McCall. Harper…I think.
  • Vicki Lewis Thompson. Harlequin, more than 100 times!
  • Sylvia Day. Kensington and Tor.
  • Julie Hurwitz. Unpublished, from the sounds of things.
  • Sharon Sobel. Signet/NAL.
  • Terry McLaughlin. Harlequin.
  • Cynthia D’Alba. Not PAN yet.

So, out of the fifteen published authors, nine of them have some history with Harlequin, including the President and President-elect. Is it any wonder, then, that a cutting riposte to Harlequin’s latest bottom-line venture was quick to emerge off the presses?

Actually, I think this is a bone-headed move on RWA’s part, and its uncharacteristic speed signals — to me — more of a knee-jerk reaction than a measured response from a so-called professional organisation. Yes yes, I know, you’ll tell me that I’m unhappy with RWA no matter which way they jump, but I was expecting at least some deliberation to take place, preferably over the space of a week, having had quiet and extensive discussions with Harlequin themselves. Isn’t that how professionals are supposed to conduct themselves?

As is usual with RWA, I think there’s going to come a time when they have to back-track on this particular decision, just because (a) it impacts so many of their core membership, and (b) the RWA isn’t as important as they think they are. And their current stance will end up looking impulsive and a little tawdry — exactly what it actually is — as a result.

Look, I can get the exclusion of Harlequin Horizons from any RWA recognition. That’s fair. But excluding all the other Harlequin imprints as well? Consider this.

RWA considers e-presses to be equivalent to vanity publishing. (Just ignore the overwrought language of the article.) Harlequin launches wholly-owned e-press (Carina Press), which — remember — RWA considers to be equivalent to a vanity press. Nothing happens to other HQN imprints.

Harlequin launches wholly-owned vanity print/e-press (Harlequin Horizons). Hell breaks loose, demons emerge from the earth’s cracked mantle, and every current HQN author gets bitch-slapped.

What’s the difference, from an RWA perspective? No, seriously, What? Is? The? Difference? If the other HQN imprints weren’t debarred when Carina was launched (and we all know how sub-standard those epub authors are, right?), why make such a speedy song and dance when Horizons is? It doesn’t make any sense. Unless there’s a personal angle involved. Like the word “Harlequin” appearing. And the word “print”. Ah, suddenly, RWA starts to behave as it has always behaved and the universal equilibrium has reasserted itself.

No, stalwart readers, keep your kudos for RWA to yourselves for the time being. Something is definitely whiffy in the state of RWA at the moment, and I’m not buying into this whole RWA-as-a-principled-body stance. To me, the RWA currently resembles a spoilt child. But, then again, I’m just an epub author, so what do I know?

THIS JUST TO HAND: Victoria Strauss has another post up, with the reaction to Horizons from the Mystery Writers of America. They say:

On November 9, Mystery Writers of America sent a letter to Harlequin about the “eHarlequin Manuscript Critique Service,” notifying Harlequin that it is in violation of our rules and suggesting steps that Harlequin could take to remain on our Approved Publishers list. The steps outlined at that time included removing mention of this for-pay service entirely from its manuscript submission guidelines, clearly identifying any mention of this program as paid advertisement, and, adding prominent disclaimers that this venture was totally unaffiliated with the editorial side of Harlequin, and that paying for this service is not a factor in the consideration of manuscripts. Since that letter went out, Harlequin has launched “Harlequin Horizons,” a self-publishing program.

MWA’s November 9 letter asks that Harlequin respond to our concerns and recommendations by December 15. We look forward to receiving their response and working with them to protect the interests of aspiring writers.

Now you see, that’s how I expect a professional organisation to behave — concerns outlined clearly, possible steps to mitigate impact, mention of a dialogue between the two bodies, and enough time for some meaningful interim discussions to take place. Not the huffy “all of you must die! now!” rhetoric from the RWA. The difference in approach is stark.

2 thoughts on “More thoughts on RWA and Harlequin Horizons

  1. Ho ho! How delicious! Now the ball’s firmly in RWA’s court. Will the excision of “Harlequin” from the name (and the Horizons collateral will all have to change as a result) result in some back-pedalling from the RWA? I think the RWA was shallow enough to get hung up on just the name, so where to now?

    Do they stick to their guns, in which case Thomas Nelson authors should expect the boot as well? Or do they implicitly admit it was really all about the pride of Harlequin authors, in which case it’s all ok, HQN authors, you’re back in now! Problem is, with RWA starting with a public dummy spit, whatever they do now is well and truly in the public arena. Here, have some popcorn.