Harlequin: Ur doin it rong

Harlequin, I see you’ve set up a, um, POD?/vanity?/subsidy?/self-pub? (no definitely not self-pub) arm of your company.

Congratulations. I think that’s brilliant.

However, you have negated that brilliance by the simple fact that you have obviously not gone about researching the industry any more than anybody you hope to make a customer.

What I do not think is brilliant is the following:

1. Partnering with AuthorSolutions, Inc.


  • Do you know that they use Lightning Source to print their books? Do you know you could get your own account with Lightning Source and do the same thing, only cheaper for you?
  • Do you know you could’ve set up your own in-house programs and packages? You should’ve; you have the resources right at your fingertips.
  • Do you know that the rates you’re quoting are outrageous if one went piecemeal to freelancers for those services? And if you do (which I don’t think you do), you would’ve gotten a bigger cut of it had you not partnered with AuthorSolutions Inc. You already have editors and artists and such. Use them. Hire a couple more if you don’t have enough.
  • Do you know that AuthorSolutions Inc. doesn’t have the best reputation on the planet even amongst subsidy publishers?
  • Do you realize that the 50% “royalty” you take from your customers could have been at a much higher dollar amount if you had set up your own shop?

Bad, bad business decision, just from a P&L standpoint. Geez, you’re cutting off your margins to spite your bottom line.

2. Attaching your brand.

I shouldn’t even have to explain this.

UPDATE: As of 11/19/2009 4:12 PM, Harlequin has decided to rename its vanity press division something other than Harlequin whatever. Pub Rants got the scoop.

3. Thinking/branding it as self-publishing.

Self-publishing involves setting up shop as a business and outsourcing the tasks you can’t do yourself. What you’re doing is a service company promoting way overpriced service packages.

4. Your website really does kinda suck.

Oh, sure. You’ll get a lot of customers, and that’s okay. I see nothing wrong with it. I just think you coulda gone about it a different way.

And this is what surprises me. Harlequin, you’re brilliant. You’ve made nothing but all the right steps in all these decades of publishing. You flourish where others founder. You took a great (welcome) leap with Carina, but this? This displays the business sense of a kindergartner.

It makes me think your parent company is setting all this up and making you (and by extension, Malle Vallik) take the fall.

Retreads: I rode this train for so long…why?

June 23, 2009

My blog’s been around long enough now, with enough posts, that nobody wants to go digging through what I had to say a buncha long time ago (centuries in blog time). I’m coming up short on content lately (heh, didja notice?), so I’m going to recycle some of this stuff because now people have been asking me questions I’ve answered in my earliest posts.

This [original article with comments are here] is from June 13, 2008:

I have a buncha novels on my hard drive that have been sitting around collecting dust since, oh, 1990 some time, I guess. In ’93 I wrote one that got me an agent, and another that year that got me a contract—before the publishing company was shut down (because, according to the rumor at the time [get this] it was making too much money and it had been created to take a loss for tax purposes) (remember Kismet? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?); one in ’95 that got me an early-Saturday-morning phone call from Harlequin to pleasepleaseplease overnight the manuscript; and a fourth novel in ’98 that got me a different agent.

In ’95 I wrote my senior thesis; since my major was creative writing and journalism, I wasn’t required to write a paper deconstructing anything. Instead, my assigned professor (a Latin professor, no less!) asked me to write 25 pages of a novel. When I came back a week later with 100 pages, polished, perfect, she switched gears and asked for me to write a paper describing my creative process. She was fascinated with how I’d done what I’d done.

However, that 100 pages was the basis for The Proviso and I knew I had something different, something that would probably never sell. I set out to continue the flow of the short story I had written the semester before. I had become fascinated with a throwaway character (Knox Hilliard) I’d created simply as a tool for the protagonist of the story (Leah Wincott) to complete the allegory. Knox is a bastard. He would never sell in genre romance and I knew that.

On the other hand, my four attempts at writing romance to spec failed to impress since the three that didn’t get picked up missed something somewhere. So between those four instances of “oh so close but yet so far away” and the impossibility of selling an anti-hero when anti-heroes were de trop, the whole thing got to me. I threw up my hands and said, “No more.” Then I woke up one morning last summer [2007] re-energized.

So today. Just now I’ve read two articles that have left me pursing my lips and thinking maybe it’s just as well I never grabbed the brass ring. As I’ve said before, technology caught up to me and got cheap enough to not break the bank, the atmosphere changed (and is still doing so as more authors get publishing savvy), and I’m older with enough DIY skills and a little money to do it right.

The first takes my breath away with regard to artistic integrity:

The Hamster Wheel

In an age when reading for pleasure is declining, book publishers increasingly are counting on their biggest moneymaking writers to crank out books at a rate of at least one a year, right on schedule, and sometimes faster than that.

It takes my breath away because I could probably do that . . . but why would I want to? And all that for…

Less than minimum wage.

I have no words.

As the one person (other than I) who reads this blog already knows, I come down firmly on the side of taking the risks and reaping the rewards. And at this stage of publishing’s evolution, why shouldn’t I?

I drank the Kool-Aid of being A Published Author when there were no other viable options, so I don’t feel my time was wasted at all. At the same time, I watched my author friends churn out three, four, five category romances a year to make a decent living and that I can’t do. I don’t have the discipline or talent to write within those specs and on that timetable.

Book Review: The Duchess et al

The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom & Their Lover: An Erotic Novel
by Victoria Janssen
Published by Spice

The Duchess et alPlease note the title and study the cover a bit. Does that say “romance novel” to you? Me, neither.

And yet, despite the absence of the word “Harlequin” anywhere on the cover, on the copyright page, on the “coming attractions” back matter, apparently, Romancelandia thought this was a romance. I don’t know why, unless Romancelandia simply has no history with pure erotica.

There is a difference between romantic erotica and pure erotica (aka could-be-porn-if-that’s-your-definition) and perhaps Ellora’s Cave has just trained Romancelandia to read “romance” or “romantic erotica” where they see “erotic novel” or “erotica.”

I don’t know how this could have been mistaken for a romance.

Moving along. Jessica, over at Racy Romance Reviews, reviewed this and while her review wasn’t necessarily favorable, it was academic (’cause she R 1) and in no way (I thought) insulting. She also admitted that she didn’t have much experience with whatever “pure” erotica really is.

I wanted to read this book, but balked at paying $11.30 for the ELECTRONIC book, so someone took pity on me and sent it to me, requesting that, if possible, I review it because that person was interested in my opinion (though heaven only knows WHY!).

My opinion is that I can’t finish this book.


The nastiness that went on concerning a liveblogging “review” incident between Dear Author and Smart Bitches (NOT linking). I didn’t read the transcript, so I am not speaking to whether the liveblogging was nasty or not, but the comments on the thread really, really disheartened me. It destroyed any enjoyment I might have gotten out of it and made me want to pick nits where there were no nits to pick.

I read 40% of the book before I simply had to put it down, so I feel very cheated and I’m going to address others’ complaints of the book that apply to what I read and comment on those, then I’ll pick the two very big nits I actually did have.


1. Nobody could figure out the setting, but thought it might be somewhere in 17th-18th Century France.

Okay, first, it’s erotica. Have we established this fact? It doesn’t need a setting. It’s a fairy tale and the descriptions were such that I envisioned a Neuschwanstein-type castle.

As long as the descriptions of the castle let you know these characters were amongst lush, and candles were the major source of light, and the clothes were voluminous and bulky, the exact place and time weren’t important.

2. That the sexual situations were totally ridiculous.

Yeah, they sure were. It’s erotica. Have I mentioned that? The “plot” of escaping the abusive-cum-murderous husband is a lot stronger than in most erotica I’ve read, but still more flimsy than that of a romance novel. I suppose if one were reading it as if the plot were the strongest element, I could see how one would be tempted to want to call it “romantic erotica” and be disappointed in the result, but let’s get real: erotica doesn’t need an actual, fleshed-out (heh) plot.

3. That Camille’s reasoning for escaping her abusive-cum-murderous husband RIGHT THEN was flimsy.

Actually, I thought that part was very well set up and the strongest point of the plot. Camille was on the last upswing of the abusive-husband cycle and she knew it. I’ve volunteered at battered women’s shelters. There comes a do-or-die point (literally) for the woman to run and she usually knows when that is. Whether she runs or not…well, that’s up to her.

4. That there just happened to be brothels everywhere along the path they took on their escape route, doubling as inns.

Yeah, there sure were. It’s erotica. Have I mentioned that?

5. There are eunuchs! In a place we think might be 17th-18th Century France. Eunuchs! What the fuck?

Fuck, indeed and precisely. It’s erotica. Have I mentioned that?


I think Jessica summed it up best when she said this:

In some ways, despite the sexual sadism of the Duke, this book offers a very positive view of sex. Sex is the go-to coping strategy for most of life’s problems: Need an heir? Feeling stressed? Husband trying to kill you? Lonely? Bored? Want to show someone you have power over them? Need a place to stay for free? Want to escape those thugs? Need a favor? Want to convince someone to ally with you? Want to thank someone? The answer is sex, sex, sex, sex, and more sex.

That was its strength and its purpose. Why? Because it’s erotica. Have I mentioned that?

Okay, so now that we’ve got all that out of the way, here was my problem with what I read:


The cover. Come on. It’s gorgeous, absolutely breathtaking all textured and ripe with hot redhead right there in the center of groping hands and a pearl necklace around her neck (make of that what you will).

Except…Camille is described as having black hair with gray streaks.


NIT TWO, which is the genuine weakness of the book:

The sexual logical inconsistencies. “What?!?!” you cry. “You just finished telling us it was erotica and don’t get hung up on the ridiculousness of it. What could you possibly mean?” Not that way, you silly goose.

1. Camille needs an heir or her husband will kill her. Her husband is shooting blanks. She summons the groom to attempt to impregnate her because any child of his could pass for her husband’s. Okay, so far so good. Sounds like a plan. But immediately after finishing with the groom, she is summoned to her husband’s wannabe de Sade dungeon.

[Her husband] had to fuck her at least once, in case she had managed to become pregnant that afternoon.

Okay. We know she doesn’t want to, but we get the timing issue. But then he doesn’t. And not only does she not worry about this, it doesn’t even occur to her that she missed her chance to cover up her possible switcheroo.

2. Camille’s been married to this dude for 20 years and has been exposed (as a spectator and submissive) to every sexual deviance possible because he’s sick and twisted that way. And yet, this night, the relatively mild antics are…different? And now she’s aroused by them? After 20 years of debauchery? Really? Just now? No, I don’t believe it.

a. She has eunuchs who are her bodyguards and, ostensibly, sexual servants. She has an ivory carving (dildo). In 20 years of exposure and being aroused (for the first time!) that night, she finally—FINALLY!—asks her eunuchs to pleasure her? No, I don’t believe it.

b. In 20 years of exposure and forced sexual obeisance, she’s never given head until this night? (That’s the way I read it, anyway.) No, I don’t believe it.

In other circumstances, she might have enjoyed tasting so large a cock, but not in front of the duke.

So…has she or has she not experienced pleasure before? Has she or has she not given head? The implication before this passage is that she had (by force), but at this moment thinks about how delicious it might be if her husband wasn’t watching? Say what? No, I don’t believe it.

c. It’s discussed that she was never unfaithful to her husband—in 20 years!—and just that day with the groom was the first time for seeking her pleasure elsewhere and the first time, in fact, that she’d known pleasure at all. No, I don’t believe it.

d. Once the entourage takes to the road, it’s as if everything is a new experience for her, as in, she never knew X activity existed. She becomes lovers with her maid and the author makes a point of letting us know that she hasn’t had a woman. Really? In 20 years of Duke Debauchery and forced sexual obeisance and his own propensity toward voyeurism and she’s never done a woman? No, I don’t believe it.

I think I would have had a problem with Camille’s contradictory sexual history anyway, but I don’t think it would have made me simply put the book down and not want to pick it up again. The unpleasantness surrounding it combined with that simply destroyed any enjoyment I might have had.

Quite simply, it was a chore to read, which frustrated and disappointed me to no end because it was a book I wanted to read and expected to enjoy.

Since this was given to me, I’d like to pass it along. First person to email me gets it.

The holiday TBR pile

In order:

Waiting for Spring by RJ Keller

Currently reading. Excellent, excellent work.


The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom, & Their Lover by Victoria Janssen

Started. I wanted to read this book but then saw the ebook price ($11.30! for an ELECTRONIC book!!!), bitched about it, then was offered a copy if I would review it, which I will. I will admit, however, that I find myself reading it through the filter of some blogging unpleasantness elsewhere.


The Hole (Draft) by Aaron Ross Powell

Started. This seems more of a visual novel to me (I’m a visual reader) and I have to have some quiet time to do it. Between the DDJ (damned day job) and the Tax Deductions, finding sufficient quiet time has been difficult.


What happened to the epic novel?

Last month, a friend of mine who is reading The Proviso said to me (paraphrase), “You know, a publishing house editor would have made you cut some of this.” Beat. “But I don’t know what it could have been.” At 283,000 words, it’s actually right on track for a novel that chronicles the romances of 3 couples. It’s 94,333 words per romance. (No, I don’t know which couple gets more air time, nor does it matter.)

A couple of days ago I blithely typed, “I want to be the Tom Wolfe of genre romance” and suddenly, the light came on for a few people, one of whom said so in that thread. I had never thought of my writing goals in that light until I actually said it, and that is true. (That’s just blindingly arrogant of me, isn’t it?)

Anyway, I had the feeling there were only 3 readers (including me) around Romancelandia longing for the long, involved, complex romance. But a Dear Author thread about the shrinking word counts of some of Harlequin’s lines (this isn’t unusual) disabused me of the notion. More readers came out of the woodwork to express their dissatisfaction with the snacks that are the single-title romances (and we won’t go into category aka Harlequin romance). We want feasts!

But alas. There are none.

Th. made the argument in a provocative post that series writing is a different skill from single-novel writing, and perhaps that’s where the epic novel went: to series. That must be read in the proper order to get the whole story.

I hate that. It’s inconvenient and, from a consumer’s point of view, extravagantly expensive. (And you thought MY book cost a lot of money!) By and large, I don’t stick with series, especially if they’re as intertwined as mine is, but give me an enormous novel that engages me all the way through and you got me and my money in one shot.

But, you know, it took me a long time to decide whether to split the romances out into 3 books and create a series, or create a long novel. It couldn’t be helped. The structure of the story arc just wouldn’t hold up under the weight of the extra bindings.

The one epic is more than the sum of its parts.

Now, would someone else PLEASE write something long and involved? And if you know of any, please let me know what they are.