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The Harlequin Survey

13 March 2013

Harlequin sent out a survey to its authors and, though he is not an author, Joe Konrath answered it.

From A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing:

Harlequin just sent out a survey to its authors, seemingly asking for sincere feedback.

Maybe it has to do with their current lawsuit. Maybe it has to do with their recent financial woes.

Or maybe, just maybe, they really want to try and improve their relationships with the one group of people who are essential to their survival.

. . . .

Are you there, Harlequin? It’s me, Konrath. And I’ll answer your questions honestly.

If you really want to know what your authors think of you, I’m friends with dozens of them, and have been going to writing conventions for over a decade. I’ve spoken to hundreds of HQ authors at RT. I’ve listened to so many tales of woe and hardship and mistreatment that the Big 6 look like angels compared to you.

. . . .

Marketing support is no longer needed in a digital world, except for prime placement on Amazon.com and free ebook announcement websites. Those are the only two marketing efforts I’ve seen that directly translate into sales.

. . . .

Fair monetary compensation is essential to keep me happy. In fact, I think it may be the number one concern of the vast majority of authors.

. . . .

HQ has the worst reputation among writers out of every publisher I know, with the exception of the recently departed Dorchester. But now that they’re gone, you’re Number 1!

. . . .

Transparency? How about allegedly licensing rights to yourself in order to avoid paying authors full royalties? Was that transparent?

. . . .

It is 2013. The benefits that publishers have traditionally supplied, including editing, cover art, jacket copy, formatting, proofing, can all be hired out for fixed costs. There is no need for any author to sign to HQ for ebook publishing. I can reach just as many, if not more, ebook readers on my own than Harlequin can.

With print, HQ still has its large distribution network, which has value. But that value is fading as more bookstores close and more readers embrace ebooks. And that distribution network doesn’t benefit authors much when they are making literally pennies per copy sold.

. . . .

Think about this long and hard: Writers no longer need HQ to reach readers. They can do it themselves, via Amazon.com, and make a lot more than HQ pays them.

Why should any author stay with HQ? Because you throw great parties? Because they have a desire to see their book in Walmart (for as long as Walmart still sells books)? Because they want to (ack) experience a sense of belonging?

HQ was once the only game in town when it came to serial romance. But you are becoming obsolete. And the one group that could save you–your authors–has been paid so poorly for so many years that they are eager to pursue other avenues.

. . . .

I’m very unhappy with HQ, and I don’t even work for you. I’m unhappy with your royalty rates and low advances. I’m unhappy with the sneaky, underhanded way you allegedly licensed rights to yourself. I’m unhappy with how you’ve strung authors along for years, contract to contract, with barely a cost of living increase. I’m unhappy how you keep their rights forever because you claim you sold one ebook in Bulgaria, even though there have been no other sales in years.

I think you prey on the naive and needy, treat your authors poorly, and the best thing for the world would be HQ gone.

But I do like your parties.

Link to the rest at A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing

Big Publishing, Contracts, Joe Konrath, Royalties

11 Comments to “The Harlequin Survey”

  1. Thanks again, Joe. You’ve lead the way for years and you’re only picking up speed now. What a mensch.

  2. Huh, I didn’t get a survey from HQ. Should I feel slighted? Or proud that I’ve made the “Mouthy, Too-Big-For-Her-Britches and Talks Mean About HQ” list? I could have had SO much fun with that survey.

    Despite my annoyance with them, despite my disdain for their crappy, horrible accounting practices and vile contracts, and despite WANTING to feel smug about their slow, downward spiral, I feel sad instead. HQ has entertained and satisfied millions of readers over the years. I got hooked on romance by reading my grandmother’s subscription novels. Despite HQ’s worst efforts, they have launched the careers of many fine writers. Besides, Joe is spot on about the HQ parties. They are incredible.

    But what goes around, comes around. Back in the 90s HQ either ate their competitors (Silhouette) or stomped them flat (Dell, Bantam, etc.). Only now their competitors are dozens, if not hundreds of online publishers and thousands of independent self-publishers. Not even the great and mighty HQ can defeat them all. They’re like an elephant being smothered by ants.

    With the market the way it is, there is ZERO reason for any romance writer to contract with HQ. One thing this survey tells me is that HQ is beginning to figure it out.

    • Uh, figure out what?
      That they are redundant or that they’ve been bad enough to qualify as a biblical plague all unto themselves?

      • Zingo, Felix.

        But seriously, HQ’s attitude has been, “We don’t sell AUTHORS, we sell Harlequin.” Great for branding. One of the very few publishers that is close to a household name.

        Trouble is, the household name is only worthwhile if readers care–or when their options were limited.

        Romance readers LOVE ebooks. I know romance fans who read 30-40 books every month. Why trek to Walmart or the grocery to see if there’s anything interesting among the increasingly puny offerings, when five minutes on Amazon produces nearly unlimited choices? Plus, no more sneers from stores clerks about sleazy covers. No more schlepping sacks of paperbacks to the used book store to get enough credits to buy another sack of paperbacks. New ebooks cost about the same as used paperbacks. And no schlepping.

        I doubt very much that any publisher of romances can survive on a print-only program. HQ has zero advantage in the digital world, and they are also a very bad deal for the writers. Despite HQ’s insistence that authors don’t matter to romance readers, that’s horse hockey. Always has been. Look at the wild successes of the many authors who jumped off HQ’s ship. That’s the part HQ might be now figuring out. How to lure the best writers and retain them.

        HQ’s brand has never actually fooled anyone into thinking “quality.” Romance, yes. Quality, no. Superior stories have come out of HQ in spite of HQ’s editorial programs, not because of them. The rise of ebooks has made that perfectly clear. The small publisher and self-published books are (overall and speaking generally) just as good as anything HQ offers. Given that HQ has ruined more fine talent than it has ever nurtured, readers have a better chance of finding a great story with great writing by looking beyond HQ.

        HQ has authors (many with the UK arm of the empire) who’ve been steadily producing 4-8 titles a year for decades (it’s why Romance and Presents, two of the series lines, are essentially “closed shops”). They’ve built massive audiences. They’re getting older. Does HQ have their replacements lined up? I don’t think so.

        So, yeah, this survey does tell me that HQ might have a glimmer about where they went wrong. Can they fix it? Doubt it. Doubt it very very much.

        • Retain them.
          That is probably a looming issue. And I suspect that is what has freaked them out enough to put out the survey.

          They used to be the top volume publisher and the top volume buyer. But now people realize they’re not the only game in town and that, worse, a modest *failure* at self-pub will still deliver more income than the HQ sweatshop.
          I mean, the jump from 2% to 70% means a few hundred self-pub sales is probably more income than many get from HQ.
          So what is HQ going to do if their slush pile dries up? Panic, would be my guess. 🙂

          Their past deeds have set the bar awfully low for the self-publishers. And that makes the grass look even greener outside the sweatshop. And with their rep, no amount of contract tweaking is going to entice the well-informed.

  3. Bravo, Joe! Excellent.

    Except now I’d really like to go to one of their parties. I wonder if there is a way to crash them.

  4. That survey has the stench of corporate desperation on it. Look at the screenshots carefully. Notice how some of them say “reader panel”? That tells me a lot right there.

    They have an existing web based tool for surveying Harlequin readers (probably run by some professional survey firm). Which is great, but now, apparently for the first time, they have decided they should survey their authors. And they are too lazy or too cheap to rebrand the tool. Way to go, Harlequin. Show your most important business partners how much you care by treating them as an afterthought. Oh yeah, that’s how you feel about them and you can’t even fake it. That’s pathetic.

  5. “I think you prey on the naive and needy, treat your authors poorly, and the best thing for the world would be HQ gone.”


    Jeez, you’d just hate to p*** off Uncle Joe, eh?


  6. That survey is probably a fat line item on some smiling consultant’s invoice.

    • Cosidering who would be on the receiving end, a lot of people would hope it is a very painful invoice.
      Not much sympathy out there for that particuar devil.

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