Home » Romance, Royalties » At least one author is not a fan of Harlequin

At least one author is not a fan of Harlequin

7 February 2013

From Jennifer Crusie’s Blog:

Harlequin is publishing an anthology with a very old (1993) novella of mine under the title of Be Mine. I’m sure the other two people in the anthology have terrific stories, but mine stinks on ice. Since HQ owns that novella outright, there is nothing I can do to stop it. Do not buy that book thinking it’s a new novel.

Why, yes, I am annoyed.

. . . .

And more from Jennifer in a comment: Because I was a brand new author and hadn’t joined RWA yet, I signed a contract giving them the copyright without royalties forever for $1500. One of the many reasons I hate Harlequin. My editors were all but one terrific, loved them, but the contracts department is run by Satan. I may have mentioned the moral rights clause.

Link to the rest at Jennifer Crusie’s Blog and thanks to Amy for the tip.

Romance, Royalties

32 Comments to “At least one author is not a fan of Harlequin”

  1. “I signed a contract giving them the copyright without royalties forever for $1500.”

    P.G.

    Er.

    I’m not feeling too sympathetic to this.

    Should I?

    brendan

    • Well, it was apparently 1993, and she was a new author, so it’s understandable.

    • I dunno, Brendan, because I can’t say I feel all that sympathetic, either. Yeah, it sucks that she signed the contract, but it’s signed, the story belongs to Harlequin, so they have every right to reissue it as they please.

      If she wants to see if there’s a way to nullify the contract, fine, but if there isn’t, I don’t see how blaming the contracts department for the contract she signed is going ot help anything.

      (I say this as someone who has signed some not-that-great ones. I’ve also walked away from others. I do understand her side of the fence.)

      • I don’t see where she’s saying they can’t. She’s just letting her readers know that it isn’t a new story, and that it sucks.

        • If you read the comments, you’ll see that publishers have been exploiting Nora Robert’s readers the same way so much that she’s taken to putting a seal on the front to let her readers know that the book is new & not a reprint.

        • Yeah, that is the bulk of it, but she does make a comment about the company’s contracts department. I don’t know her. It’s quite possible that I’m not catching her intended tone, since that doesn’t come through text all that well. :)

    • Unfortunately, it was SOP for Harlequin (actually still is). There’s enough desperate writers who will not read the fine print before they sign.

      Anyone who thinks writing is a glamorous profession needs to read the comments in the blog. Poor Jenny got her cc stolen this week, and her car is duct-taped together.

      [Edit to add: I really shouldn't comment before caffeine.]

      • “her car is duct-taped together.”

        Suzanne,

        Really?

        Blimey. Crusie seems all over the shop in Audible and Kindle. I’d have thought she’d have a few bob strung together.

        I don’t disbelieve you, I’m just surprised.

        brendan

        • LOL All the money in the world doesn’t mean a thing if the mechanic doesn’t have the part in stock to keep your car’s back end from falling off.

          (Unless you can wiggle your nose like the chick on Bewitched and fix it, Brendan. That would be super cool!)

          • “chick on Bewitched and fix it”

            Suzanne,

            Heh, you’re talking my time line. I had a serious crush on Elizabeth Montgomery, and I loved the charm of the show.

            Cars….don’t talk to me about cars….

            P.S. I always wonder whether it is right to refer to the distaff side as, “chick and broad,”. I eschew those, (they seem *rude* to my ear/eye.) I try to be careful with the UK patronymics, although some can be fun because they are ironic.

            Is there a safe rule, or should one just judge it by ear/word and person?

            brendan

            • I don’t mind terms like “chick” and “broad”. I know there are those of my gender who get bent out of shape using “woman” because it has “man”. But then if someone refers to me as “bitch”, I respond with “Why yes, I am. Thank you for noticing.” (Took the sails right out of an asshat opposing counsel once. LOL)

              Seriously, that’s one of those ‘depends on the circumstances’ things.

            • If there are two ways for another person to interpret one of your idioms, just speak your mind and assume he/she will choose the less offensive interpretation.

              Recipe for happy life.

              • “If I say something to you that can be take more than one way, and one of them is bad, I meant the other one.”

                • Suzan/Jason/Marc,

                  I’m grateful to all of you for the perspective.

                  An immigrant from Yoorp, with a somewhat patrician outlook, the way America perceives its women is deeply confusing.

                  At times it is easier to converse in an entirely opposite language. When conversing with spouse, German often comes to mind with more expressive phrases.

                  The UK/USA equivalents are not equal, in tone, culture or meaning. I’m not certain I understand much, if at all of youth culture in the USA. I’m certain that in the UK has moved in a separate direction very quickly in the past 20 years or so.

                  I will continue my conversational gambits, with care:)

                  brendan

    • I would imagine that contract ignorance in 1993 was widespread, especially for a brand new writer who hadn’t joined an author advocacy organization yet. The internet 20 years ago was nothing like the internet of today. It was just fledging, and information that we take for granted now was much less available then. Perfect environment, sadly, for publishers to take advantage of authors.

  2. Anyone in the arts is desperate. They have a need to share their gift and there are more artists than spots available to showcase them. You can see the endless parade of singers on American Idol, X Factor, actors in casting calls for television, movies and commercials. There are not enough ballet companies, opera companies and theater companies to support all the artists. There are not enough galleries and museums to hang all the paintings and sculptures.
    And there are vile venal companies willing and determined to take advantage of all of them.

  3. Let me get this straight, as a brand new author SHE SOLD and received $1,500 in 1993 for a novella that she herself says “stinks on ice,” and twenty years later the arguably prestigious publishing company that SHE WILLINGLY (and I would guess eagerly) SOLD it to, thinks it will still sell and publishes it again?
    Somebody call the wambulance.

    • So she worked hard at her craft and got a lot better in 10 years. And the original publisher has decided to exploit her hard work and increased fanbase (as they are legally entitled to do) by republishing a story that will make them money while probably doing damage to her fanbase. So she is trying to reduce the damage by letting as many people as she can reach know the facts. Specifically this is an old work that she would not have allowed to be published if she still had control of it, and that it is not representative of her current work.

    • In 1993 it was probably much harder for a new author to find out about the business than today. And, even today new authors do make mistakes.

      So, I do feel sorry for her.

      That said there is not much option other than shrug and move on..

    • She didn’t mention anything about the payment in the original post. Someone commented that well, at least she’s still getting paid for it by being back in print, to which she replied that no, she sold it royalty-free for $1,500 because at the time she didn’t know any better. She really wasn’t complaining.

  4. Reading the entry plus comments does make it plain she isn’t whining just trying to warn her readers it is an OLD work and one she doesn’t feel is very good, which is a rather nice thing for an author to do. Posters on her blog seem to be a fun and practical group but there are a lot of readers who do not really have a clue about publishers and their reissues and would snarl rudely about it. I thought it was nice that several of the posters mentioned a Yahoo groups post where she told her fans how bad she felt the novella was as far back as 2002. Evidently she also added a hilarious epilogue to that post detailing how things fell apart for her characters about a month or so after the novella ended so she does have a sense of humor about it.

  5. Any writer worth her salt is smart enough to know that the work she did twenty years ago won’t be as polished as what she produced later. And contemporary romance left un-revised will likely have a dated feel for the technology changes alone. Good for her for warning readers.

    Donald, is your stuff from twenty years ago as good as what you have out there today?

    • Hi Barbra,

      I wasn’t commenting on the quality of the work, for all I know it’s the best thing she’s ever written. I was commenting on her lament about the terms.
      She was involved in a business deal twenty years ago in which she sold away the rights to a story. Now, twenty years later, she’s complaining because the current owners of that story want to publish it and make a profit.
      They can do with it as they please, and they can do this only because she gave them the right to do it.
      Now, as far as the work, “stinking on ice”. That’s not possible, is it? Because as we all know, Traditional publishers are the sole arbiters of what’s good and what’s not good. The gatekeepers of literature would never publish anything of poor quality, at least, that’s what I’ve heard.

      • I know you weren’t commentating on the quality of work. I still don’t agree with your point, Donald. Or your opinion that she’s lamenting. I see her post not as complaining, but as pointing out that her old employer has made a poor business decision based on her old work. In an attempt to save her readers, her clients, some frustration and money, she’s warning them. Her audience isn’t publishers or self-righteous writers, but readers.

        I know I didn’t always make the best decisions twenty years ago. Luckily, mine aren’t scrutinized by strangers on the internet. Are you proud of every decision you made twenty years ago?

        • Hello again, Barbra

          We can disagree about the semantics of whether she’s “complaining” or “pointing out”, but the fact remains that the deed is done and Harlequin owns that piece of work now.
          Her belief that the story isn’t very good is just that, her belief.
          Stephen King threw ‘Carrie’ in the thrash and it only exists today because his wife pulled it out of a garbage can. Being the author of a work doesn’t make you the best judge of it, in fact, it often hinders perspective.
          I also agree with those who think she made a lousy deal twenty years ago, however, a deal was made and now she has to live with it.
          She’s successful in a very tough business. I hope she learns to enjoy that and stops looking backwards.

  6. Jennifer is not complaining! She’s warning her readers, which is the honorable thing to do. The criticism is mean-spirited and completely unwarranted.

  7. Of course they can do with it as they please, but so too can she complain as much as she wants. :) Barring a clause in the contract forbidding it. LOL.

    I have a lot more sympathy for her than you do. :) I think she has every right to be unhappy with a contract that she feels took advantage of her novice state. If everyone just accepted everything that ever happened to them without making an actual complaint about it to someone there’d be a lot fewer informed people in the world. Because it’s situations like this that make people sit up and think about what they might do if presented with a similar contract in the future.

    She isn’t happy with the situation and doesn’t want to let it go without comment. Nothing wrong with that in my opinion.

  8. Jenny Crusie is a big name in women’s fiction. She’s been very critical of her older works in the past. Harelequin knows her name is huge and wants to capitalize on that. Jenny wants to keep her faithful readers (she has a good number) from believing it’s a new book and then yelling at her. She’s very funny and smart.

  9. What’s the moral rights clause? Does anyone know?

    OK. Found it on Crusie’s site. It’s the clause that says the publisher can change anything they like in the book without permission from the author.

    Is this still standard in Harlequin contracts?

  10. Uhm, people, this is Jennifer Crusie, one of the really big names in contemporary romance and women’s fiction. She’s one of those authors who are regularly recommended to anybody wanting to dip their toes into the romance genre. Coincidentally, she also collaborated with Bob Mayer, now an indie advocate, on three novels.

    And since Crusie is a popular but fairly slow writer, lots of people are waiting for new books by her. When I saw Be Mine advertised in a Harlequin promo mail, I immediately thought, “Wow, a new Crusie? Amazing that I hadn’t heard of this.” So it’s only fair that she tries to warn her readers that this is not a new book but a retitled and reprinted old book. This is standard operating practice at Harlequin BTW. They regularly do it to many of their old authors who later become popular. Nora Roberts and Tess Gerritsen (who doesn’t even write romance anymore) are other victims.

    Was Crusie naive to sign that contract? She probably was. But then, she came to romance writing via doing a PhD on romance fiction (and academic publishing is even more horrible with regards to payment and rights), she was inexperienced and it was 1993, when writers had far fewer options.

    Her blog used to be a good place for craft discussion BTW. The various essays on her website are also well worth reading.

  11. I know that I respect writers who are willing to warn their readers early on that a story, novella, novel coming out is an old work, re-titled or not, they more than likely have already read than authors who sit back and say well it’s not my problem I sold the work outright so even though it’s coming out in my name it’s not my problem if my readers get screwed and when they start yelling about how it’s a ancient reprint and I’m obviously allowing it to happen so that I can make bookoos of money off of them THEN I can say oh that wasn’t me it was the publisher. Again, most readers don’t generally think about publishers they think authors are at fault so if authors don’t give their fanbase a heads up when needed their “brand” gets tarnished.

  12. It’s really important to remember that authors who signed contracts prior to 2007 did so because they had no choice.

    They had no other options. If an author wanted to be published, they had to sign whatever contract was handed to them, or they would never be published.

    The Kindle was invented in 2007. That is a very short time ago. And Amazon did not offer indie writers a 70% royalty rate until a couple of years later.

    Things have changed rapidly, but it’s important to remember that e-books, for the most part, did not exist over 6 years ago.

    To blame an author for signing a terrible contract prior to this is blaming the victim. Publishers took terrible advantage of having a monopoly, and they exploited authors ruthlessly.

    And they are still trying to do so. The e-book royalty rate they STILL offer is criminal. And what they are doing to this author is explotivie. They are taking advantage of her fan base, that she built, to put out a mediocre book that may hurt her reputation. But then Harlequin has always been among the most exploitive, and this is no different.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.