More Harlequin Shenanigans

Harlequin is the single biggest publisher of romance, which is the single largest genre in the MMPB world. Harlequin has always courted newbie authors, famously taking unagented new writers when other New York publishers were (theoretically) requiring agent submissions more and more. They’re also one of the most predatory of the publishers, and always have been; even when I was poking around on the het side of romance, I never had any aspirations of writing for Harlequin, and what I heard from other romance writers just reinforced that aversion.

Back in the late 80s and early 90s, I hung out on RomEx, a roundtable on GEnie that was the Romance Writers of America’s (RWA’s) online home at the time, and it was a great place. Lots of readers and writers — both published and aspiring — were members, and there was a lot of talk about writing and publishing, among other things. There were even published writers from other genres who hung out on RomEx because the writing talk was valuable for everyone.

One of the things I learned there was that, at the time, Harlequin’s standard contract included a clause saying that you had to write under a pseudonym, and that Harlequin would own it. What that meant was that if a writer wanted to move on to another publisher, she had to start over with a new name, back in the days when communicating to all your readers that you were now writing under Jane Newname was even more difficult than it is now. This kept a lot of writers tethered to Harlequin, since moving on would most likely mean taking a sharp pay cut while they rebuilt their audience.

I heard a few years ago that Harlequin doesn’t do that anymore. Well, okay, that’s good. I don’t know when they stopped, but the fact that they ever did it was enough to keep me away; corporate culture doesn’t change that much over a decade or two, and a corporation willing to do something that skeevy, even in the past, is a corporation I’d just as soon not do business with.

Then last June, we heard that Harlequin was unilaterally changing royalty rates, notifying its authors via e-mail, and giving them a deadline to reply if they objected. Wow. So Harlequin might not be kidnapping your pseudonym anymore, but they think they can modify every active author contract they’ve got with a single e-mail and nobody’s signature. Umm, sure. Definitely not interested in writing for Harlequin.

Now, Harlequin author Ann Voss Peterson is explaining why she can’t afford to write for Harlquin anymore, despite great sales — one book sold almost 200,000 copies, and she’s never failed to earn out her advance in their first royalty period. And yet she can’t afford to stay with them. It turns out that she’s earning an average of 2.4% royalty on each copy sold.

Two-point-four percent? Seriously? We all know the New York publishers’ royalty rates are predatory, especially on e-books, but Harlequin makes them look downright generous. Click through and read what Ms. Peterson has to say if you’ve ever considered writing for Harlequin, or even if you haven’t. The math is horrifying. :/

Angie, still not at all interested in being a Harlequin author

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Angela Benedetti lives in Seattle with her husband and a few thousand books. She loves romance for the happy endings, for the affirmation that everyone who's willing to fight for love deserves to get it and be happy with someone. She's best known for her Sentinel series of novels, the most recent of which is Captive Magic.