Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Harlequin Fail

This is a guest post by my friend Ann Voss Peterson. But it's more than that. It's a call to arms, a cautionary tale, and a scathing exposé.

Don't believe it can be all those things? Read on...

Ann: In this world, there are a lot of things I can't afford to do. A trip around the world, for instance, although it would be amazing. Remodeling my kitchen. And until recently, sadly, braces for my son.

There's one more thing that I find valuable and enjoyable that I can no longer afford to do, and that is write for Harlequin.

I published my first novel with Harlequin's Intrigue line in August of 2000. My twenty-fifth was released in November, 2011. I had a lot of fun writing those books--taut, page-turning, action-packed romantic suspense staring a myriad of different heroes and heroines and a boatload of delicious villains. I had four editors during that time, and all of them were great to work with. The senior editor has a strong vision for the line, and that vision appeals to readers all over the world. My books were in bookstores and Target and WalMart, and my office overflows with foreign copies from countries I've never visited. I have around three million books in print, and Harlequin throws the best parties in all of publishing, hands down.

But as lovely as all that is, I can't afford to write for them anymore.


If you do a (very) little digging into publishing companies, you'll discover that while the industry standard royalty rate for mass market paperback sales is 8% for US retail, Harlequin pays its series authors only 6%.

The royalty goes down from there.

All Harlequin series authors know that US retail royalties are going to be lower than industry standard going in. We also know that Harlequin pays rather low advances. My largest and most current advance was only $6,500 per book, but here's the kicker; the books are widely distributedand sell a lot of copies. I have NEVER failed to earn out in my first royalty statement. That's right, ALL of my books have earned out and then some.

So why can't I afford to write for them any longer?

Let me share with you the numbers of a book I wrote that was first published in January, 2002, still one of my favorites. My life-to-date statement says this book has sold 179,057 copies so far, and it has earned $20,375.22. (bold text by Joe) That means the average I've earned is a whopping 11 cents per copy. If you use the cover price to calculate (the number used in the contract), which was $4.50 at the time of release, I've earned an AVERAGE of 2.4 % per copy.

Why is this?

First, while most of my books are sold in the US, many are sold under lower royalty rates in other countries. In this particular contract, some foreign rights and -ALL ebook royalties- are figured in a way that artificially reduces net by licensing the book to a "related licensee," in other words, a company owned by Harlequin itself.

Harlequin uses the Wholesale Model (not the Agency Model) with retailers, including Amazon. So the money Harlequin receives is determined by the list price, and retailers can set any price for the consumer that they want. This is how the numbers break down when Retailer X lists the ebook for $4.00 (doesn't matter what they sell it for).

Retailer – $2.00 (any discounts are taken from this amount)
Harlequin's related licensee – $1.88
Harlequin - $.06
Author - $.06

So Harlequin makes a total of 1.94, and I make .06.

Six cents is 1.5% of the list price of $4.00. It is 7.7% of what most publishers define as net earnings, (in this example $1.94).

To make things worse, the reversion clause is also onerous. It requires the book to be totally out of print everywhere in the world in every format for 5-7 years before an author can request reversion. After the request is made, Harlequin has another 18 months to release the book in any format anywhere in the world, and it gets to keep the rights. The book in my example is not eligible for reversion because it was issued as an ebook in Spain in 2009; a license which has earned me a total of 33 cents according to my most recent royalty statement.

So why publish with Harlequin in the first place?

In the past, Harlequin brought a lot of value to the table. Like I said at the beginning of this post, my books are in the big box stores. My books are published all over the world. Harlequin's paper distribution is valuable. Another value is the Harlequin brand, probably the only publisher that readers recognize and seek out. But distribution doesn't matter with ebooks. And while Harlequin does have its own community and ebook store, they have yet to show their brand sells ebooks. I have sixteen Intrigues available digitally, and my independently-published books consistently outsell all of them (a fact made even more dramatic if you figure out how many more Harlequins they would have to sell for me in order to equal the amount I make with the indie books).

Harlequin has offered an amendment to the ebook clause of past contracts. It raises the ebook royalty to 20% of net for US, English language ebooks. However they refuse to define net in the contract, among other problems, making it impossible to determine whether the amendment is a better deal for the author or not, and as a result I have not signed.

In the end, all these points make my business decision of choosing a publisher clear. The 70% and 35% rates offered by Amazon and others are a better deal than 6% of cover price, 2.4% of average cover-price-based earnings, 1.5% of cover price and even 7.7% of what most publishers define as net earnings. I might not sell 179,000 copies of a book, but in ten years (the length of time they've had that 2002 book, ACCESSORY TO MARRIAGE), that number is more than possible. And if you look at the money instead of the number of copies, I need only sell 10,000 copies of a $2.99 book to reach 20K.

Now to be fair, I have many books I want to write that don't fit Harlequin's publishing program, like the CODENAME: CHANDLER stories I'm writing with Joe and my new solo novel PUSHED TOO FAR, which has some romantic elements but is a thriller. However I like writing romantic suspense, and when I write another, I won't send it to Intrigue, because now I have a choice.

It comes down to a business decision. I can choose to write for Harlequin (high paper distribution/low royalty rates) or some other New York publisher (likely hit-or-miss paper distribution/slightly less low royalty rates)—or I can have my son's teeth straightened.

For me, that choice is a no brainer.

Joe sez: I met Ann a few years ago at a writing convention. She's a terrific writer, and has a better grasp of story structure than nearly anyone I've encountered in this business.

The way she's been treated by Harlequin is disgusting.

Even worse, it isn't just Ann being treated this way. Harlequin has been screwing romance writers for decades. Some of the most prolific authors on the planet write for Harlequin, and they're forced to be prolific because the only way to make a living is to pump out multiple books as fast as they can.

Since discussing numbers with Ann years ago, I've been appalled by her tiny income versus her worldwide reach. She's outsold me in paper by at least a factor of 5 to 1. Yet there hasn't been a single year we've both been in the biz that I haven't earned at least triple what she has, while writing fewer books.

Something that disgusts me even more, not only in Ann's case but in the case of all writers being bled by Harlequin's company store, is the fact that they can't get away.

There have been some notable exceptions. Romance authors who managed to escape Harlequin's stranglehold and eventually become huge bestsellers. I'm friends with many of these ladies. While they admit they're doing much better financially with their current publishers, they each acknowledge a debt of gratitude to Harlequin for giving them their start.

Sorry, but that's just awful. They were used and treated unfairly, and their books caught on so they were able to make the leap to higher royalties. But you really shouldn't thank the company that subjugated you.

Naturally, Harlequin lauds these successes and rereleases these authors' old backlists (which it still controls) with new covers, confusing their new fans. Many readers have been burned thinking it is a new thriller release, only to find out it is a misleading repackaging of an old romance, which leads to one star reviews and hate email, and the authors can't do a thing about it. Nor can they get better royalty rates on these old titles, which are piggybacking off their recent successes.

Harlequin wants all writers working for them to believe: "Someday, if I work hard, I'll be as big as (insert any Top 10 NYT bestseller here who once worked for Harlequin.)"

But here's the kicker. In order to put food on the table, Ann and her peers have to turn out books quickly, leaving them ZERO TIME to write that standalone which could break them out.

You load sixteen tons, and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt.

Now, it took a great deal of guts for Ann to leave Harlequin and become a fulltime self-published author. It also took a lot of guts for her to write this guest blog at my request.

But that's Ann. She has guts. Her terrific self-published ebook thriller, PUSHED TOO FAR, is going to be free for the next few days. Download a copy. You'll love it. Tell everyone you know to also download it.  Retweet this, help me spread the word. I really want to see PUSHED TOO FAR rocket up the freebie list and hit the Top 100.

Unfortunately, many authors aren't as brave as Ann. They won't give up a guaranteed paycheck, no matter how small, for the uncertain risk of going it alone.

Even as hundreds of authors bemoan their treatment by Harlequin (the single biggest group who thank me for preaching about self-pubbing are romance authors), there are still newbie authors by the scores eager to sign with Harlequin because they don't know any better.

Well, now they know. Link to this blog, post comments, post your own experience, make sure EVERYONE knows that earning 2.4% is unacceptable and that no author will take those miserable terms.

And Harlequin? I challenge you to do right by your authors, and by your own seemingly tiny conscience. Here's some obvious ways you can:

1. The royalty rates of the Big 6 are lousy. Yours are repulsive. Change them. Then backdate those changes and give all of your authors a nice, fat check.

2. Give out-of-print titles back to your authors. I just had a long conversation with a friend of mine (not Ann) whose publisher won't give him his rights back because they state even though they no longer sell the paper copies, they are still selling them in ebook format. WTF? If that's the case, why does every contract have an out of print clause? Show me an ebook that has ever gone out of print! I offered to pay my buddy's legal fees when he sues the hell out of those assholes, because he'll set the precedent that frees us all. 

3. I'm no lawyer, but licensing rights to yourself and calling it a separate company doesn't seem kosher. I have no horse in this particular race, but I urge those with horses to do something about it.

Harlequin isn't the only one to blame, here. They're a company, interested in making money, so naturally they try to get the best terms.

But shame on the agents who vetted these pitiful, one-sided contracts and then encouraged their authors to accept them. You have consigned thousands of books to a monstrous, voracious black hole. Harlequin NEVER should have been allowed to wield this much power, to control this much of an industry. You could have stopped them, and helped your authors. You didn't. 

Everyone fears Amazon, because they someday may give authors less than 70% royalties.

Less? Like the 2.4% Ann earned on a book that sold almost 200,000 copies?

Hey, Amazon! Are you reading this? You want to corner the market on the biggest selling genre in the world? Start courting Harlequin writers. They're eager to jump the Harlequin ship. Offer them a lifeboat and you'll become the biggest romance publisher in the world.

As for Ann? She and I just signed a three book deal with Amazon's Thomas & Mercer imprint for our CODENAME: CHANDLER series. Ann is going to do just fine.

But Harlequin, and all you publishing pinheads who seriously believe you can continue to keep screwing authors--I'm counting the days you have left. There will be a mass exodus of authors leaving you. There will be civil lawsuits. And the DOJ is going to--rightfully--crucify you yahoos, as laid out in this terrific post by Kris Rusch.

If you are a publisher, be afraid. Be very afraid.

If you are an author, share your stories here, warn each other, and band together. There is strength in numbers, and this revolution is about to draw blood.


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Anonymous said...

"and they're forced to be prolific because the only way to make a living is to pump out multiple books as fast as they can."

Forced? Why? Can't they quit writing and do something else?

"Really? Should we then also include Ann's costs? Her home office. Computer. Supplies. Utilities.
Should we put a cost on the time spent away from her family while writing?"

Sure. Go for it. Then ask why she keeps selling at a loss.

Amy Valentini said...

@Kathleen Dienne and Nancy Beck, thank you for your advice and I will certainly check out some of your suggestions. This is why I love the writer community - everyone supports everyone! I don't think that exists in most career communities. Thanks ... it's scary but it's my dream. I was born to write & it's not a hobby - it's a passion. : )

Anonymous said...

Joe and Ann, thanks for your candor and bringing this all to light. Hugely valueable for us newbies.

Anonymous said...

Would it help do you think to just get over the stupid American obsession with having straight teeth? In a country that denies many of its citizens access to basic healthcare it does seem something of a luxury.

Anonymous said...

I stopped writing for Harlequin back in the 90s for all your reasons.

But: Harlequin taught me how to write a book. I learned my skills, spent my 10,000 hours, listened to my editors, and learned, learned, learned. Okay, the money wasn't great---and it was a heck of a lot better back then--but I consider Harlequin the publisher that gave me more than money.

Go ahead and write for Harlequin for a while. You'll learn a lot. Move on when you've got the chops to do so.

I'm a Writer Now

Laura Resnick said...

"Basketing is the practice of creating a contract for three or four books at once that in effect will not earn out until the final book, which means YEARS before the author might see a dime."

Oh, even BETTER--I once got stuck with a basket-accounting deal on SEPARATE contracts! And was told by the agent who "negotiated" those deals that I had "no choice."

Before the predictable comments start: Yes, sure, I had a choice. I could have not signed. And not been paid or published. Ten years ago, that was the only other choice realistically available to me when my agent and my publisher said something was "non-negotiable." And since writing is my full-time, self-supporting profession, not a hobby, and I don't have a spouse or trust fund covering covering my bills, I signed... and watched my royalties build up for YEARS on the statements before any of that money was finally released to me.

(That agent was, btw, a well-known high-profile agent, highly-recommended to me by other pros, still cited and quoted often in trade journals, and often mentioned on blogs like this one as "one of the good ones" and an agent who is "an obvious exception" to cautionary tales about literary agents. And presenting me with egregiously bad contract terms as "non-negotiable,", such as basket accounting spread over multiple contracts, was actually the -least- of the problems this agent caused my career.)

This is one of the many reasons that (here comes my favorite hobby horse again!) I stopped working with literary agents (after having had 4). Once I started handling my own career and having my contracts negotiated by a literary lawyer instead of an agent, my contracts improved substantially. I have never again signed a contract with basket accounting (let alone basketing spread across multiple contracts!) or numerous other of the clauses that various literary agents who "represented" me in the past declared "non-negotiable." The truth about "non-negotiable" clauses is that most literary agents are not competent negotiators.

It's also worth noting that back in my days of signing deals with Harlequin as an unagented writer, agented writers there kept telling me that an agent could get me better terms... until I would ask about the specifics of their contractual terms... and kept discovering that, er, no, their agents, while taking 15%, were NOT getting them better terms there than I was getting on my own. (IOW, their Hq contracts were every bit as bad as mine.)

Of these deals people are discussing now, wherein Hq is hanging onto their e-rights forever and paying them semi-annual e-royalties of about $2 total for 10-20-30 backlist titles... how many of those deals were "negotiated" by agents who took 15% of the advance money in exchange for "negotiating" those deals, I wonder?

Nancy Beck said...

@gretta - You are AWESOME! Thanks for sharing your story.

It's good to hear that a decent, everyday person can win in court (and correctly so, I might add).

Cool about your son and that commercial. Don't know if I've seen it, but I'll be on the lookout for it.

Continued success to you! :-)

Nancy Beck said...

it's scary but it's my dream. I was born to write & it's not a hobby - it's a passion. : )

@amy - That's what you need - passion! As far as I'm concerned, why bother writing if you find it drudgery? :-)

Good luck!

Unknown said...

No wonder Harlequin throws the best parties! It is amazing how little credit they give the author, indie publishing is the way to go!

Anonymous said...

This is just disgusting... .06 per book sold?

What was it about this publisher that made it attractive to sign with them in the first place?

As to Amazon, it's really not in their best interest to create a lucrative platform for authors... then take it all away by screwing them out of the opportunity. It would be a PR nightmare.

Like Joe said, authors have choices now (actually, they always have, now it's just a bit easier of a choice to make).

JA Konrath said...

Forced? Why? Can't they quit writing and do something else?

Sure. They can give up on their dream.

But that has about the same chance of happening as you having the balls to sign your name to your posts, you silly anonymous coward.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Forced? Why? Can't they quit writing and do something else?

I'm sorry, but WTF? You have the AUDACITY to say something like this? Do you work in publishing?

Writers are the reason the publishing industry exists. Not the other way around. If anyone should "do something else," maybe it's people who have to rely on the sweat of working authors--you know, the ones who create SOMETHING out of NOTHING and turn it into a product that publishers can use to earn a living.

Now, I've done pretty well by my publishers. I've so far managed to make a good wage—better than I could have hoped for—and I appreciate that they recognized my talent for writing.

But it was MY work, not their charity, not their generosity that got me a publishing deal, and this mindset that writers should should simply walk away without complaint and pursue another dream is, to my mind, heartless and cynical.

It seems to me that because writers ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THIS PROCESS, they should be getting, at very least, a much larger slice of the pie.

We are the reason you have a job. Maybe you should consider that before you open your mouth again.

I'm usually a pretty calm guy, and I'm more the willing to give publishers a break in these tough times, but comments like yours piss me the hell off.

Name: Holly Bowne said...

As a writer just finishing up my first attempt at a romantic suspense novel, I can hardly tell you how grateful I am to have come upon this post.

Thank you so much for your straight talk and honesty!!!!

Tracey H. Kitts said...

I shared and tweeted this. It's nice to know I'm not alone in my views of the industry. While I have yet to sale as much as Ann, I too recently made the jump to self-publishing.

After being traditionally published for nearly 5 years and barely being able to pay my bills, I had to do something. I also write romance.

As some of the contracts are expiring on my backlist titles, I've requested that the rights be returned to me rather than renew those contracts. This is a slow process, but it is happening.

Though I'm not making a LOT of money on royalties with Amazon, I am making significantly more than I was with a publisher.

SJ Clarke said...

This was an eye-opener. Though the post is a biased rant against Harlequin, the numbers and information seem to support the claim. I will be keeping this post in a folder to show to my (future) agent.

Kris said...


As a writer and an attorney I have seen first hand how BAD some publisher's contracts are so I understand your frustration. What happened to you at Harlequin doesn't surprise me in the least.

I've started to actually teach workshops on publishing contracts so that authors (especially first sale authors who are just so excited they got the contract that they unfortunately sign their life away without knowing it)get a basic understanding of the integral terms of a publishing contract.

Thanks for sharing your story. I'm going to go download the book now.

Ann Voss Peterson said...

SJ Clarke--

"Though the post is a biased rant against Harlequin..."

Why do you say it's a biased rant? I'm not angry. I presented the numbers straight off my royalty statement. The only emotion I feel is sadness, because I enjoyed working with the editorial staff, and I'll miss them.

Writing is a business for me, so that's how I approach it. I have a degree in creative writing. I have run my own window washing and janitorial business before writing full time. The only difference is that with writing, I enjoy my work more.

I wrote this to inform writers who want to be informed. Those who want to know how those terms work out in dollars. Take the information or leave it. That's up to you.

Kris Bock said...

When I started writing romantic suspense and investigating publishers, I heard about the Harlequin trap. There didn't seem to be any good traditional options. Fortunately we have more choices now!

stanalei said...

Thanks Ann. Thanks Joe. 'Nuff said from me.

Robin Leigh Morgan said...


I've just left a link to it on my website/blog.


Anonymous said...

I would go through the process to collect an ITIN if my earnings justified it. They don't at present.

Monya, requesting an ITIN is free. I'm a tax accountant in the US and I wrote an article on how to do this. There's even a downloadable sample form you can use.

Here's the link: http://www.stepbystepselfpublishing.net/how-to-get-an-itin.html

You're welcome.


Rochelle Weber Author said...

If you choose to go to a small publisher, please beware. Check them out first with "Prediters [sic] and Editors" or Piers Anthony. I was published with Red Rose and they did not pay ANY royalties to their authors, editors or cover artists. I got my rights back and self-pubbed one book, and then found MuseItUp Publishing (which I highly recommend) and am now with them. They put out high quality books and pay 40% of net. While they don't have the brand recognition and marketing department of Harlequin, they have a lot of support and marketing ideas for their authors to follow up on.

John Wilder said...

You have a lousy agent. I negotiated a higher contract with Harlequin for an author and got a higher advance and higher percentage. Not only that but I negotatiated a 3 for 1 publishing contract where I got the author 3 different advances for the same book. One in their regular line, a rewrite with more risque sex scenes in their Spice venue and an audio book contract.

You need a better agent.
John Wilder

Russ Crossley said...

I read many of comments and some of Ann's original post. Kristine Katherine Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith have been talking on their blogs about under reporting of royalties by some publishers.

From reading these posts where writers are saying HQN e-books aren't selling I'm wondering if this is true? I noted those writers who got their rights reverted and indie pubbed their books as ebooks and they are selling. The logic of this and the math seems off. Just food for thought.

Roseywinter said...

Publishing through Harlequin isn't quite the dream I thought it was! Thanks for the info & the insight. :)

- Esther

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to confirm what Ann Voss Peterson says about her earnings from Harlequin. I published with Harlequin some years ago, but have since left them for another legacy publisher. The books are still selling. I looked back at my own royalty statements, and yes, I earned somewhere between ten and eleven cents per copy.

Ann Voss Peterson said...

John Wilder--

Why does your blogger profile take me to the website of a "marriage coach"? How can I believe your story when you seem to have nothing to back it up?

Tracy Krauss said...

Wow. I don't know what else to say... this is shocking to say the least.

Anonymous said...

Merrill Heath said:
gniz, in regard to the royalty rates I completely agree with you. But I expect them to level out around the 50% mark. I expect that to become the industry standard - which means traditional publishers as well as Amazon will be hovering around that mark. Competition in the market will drive everyone to a reasonable point.

Merrill Heath, do you actually believe 50% royalties are reasonable? Just because we have been drastically underpaid all these years does not mean we should persist in undervaluing our work. 70% seems far more reasonable for the fruit of our creation, given that Amazon and similar companies expend far less to publish our work than any legacy print company ever did. Why should writers of any stripe be willing, because of competition, to forego the percentages they are earning now? It seems to me that competition is what ensures royalties remain “reasonable” -- where they are right now at 70%!

Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy said...

As a full time romance author I currently have fifteen titles out, five more on the way this year from several different small publishers. I used to dream of writing for Harlequin but changed my mind sometime ago. I did the math and saw it wasn't such a value in the long run and I write novels that don't fit the prescribed Harlequin mode. Hurray for Ann Voss Peterson! I have a feeling bigger, better things are in store for her!

Anonymous said...

The logical way to think about writing for Harlequin is to consider it a give-away sample. The way some writers give away freebies on Kindle. You write the book for Harlequin, get paid a pittance, but it exposes your work to a pretty wide audience right off the bat. When you start self-publishing on Kindle, some of your promotional work has been done.

Harlequin is not the goal; it's merely a marketing tool. It's the only way to justify ever writing for them.

Marianne Wheelaghan said...

Just want to add my thanks for sharing all of this. Really interesting post ditto the comments. Wish you best with your writings both Ann and Joe. (have posted links to this post on my blog and tweeted etc)

Patti Ann Colt said...

I want to take a moment and shout out a BIG HUGE "THANK YOU" to Ann for being brutally honest about her work with Harlequin. I have been a Harlequin reader for 40 years. A year ago, I made the decision to self-publish my own romances. Even though I'm doing respectably well, I still harbored the idea that Harlequin would offer my work more in the way of world-wide promotion and publicity, netting me readers and a steady paycheck. What a pipedream! Thank you, Ann, (and Joe) for telling it like it is.

Anonymous said...

Jesus Fucking Christ, Konrath, you've got to be the biggest cry baby on the internet. Wah! The big bad publishers are so mean to me. Boo hoo.

You can NOT have a constructive discussion and FIX the problem of low royalty rates, bad contracts, etc as long as you demonize traditional publishing.

With your constant attacks and use of inflammatory language, you are part of the problem not part of the solution. And I doubt very seriously that you or the others who whine about traditional publishers will ever be able to look in the mirror and see yourself the way rational people see you as a big baby.

Nobody is forcing you to write.
Nobody is forcing you to publish.
Nobody is forcing you to sign a contract.

What really chaps my ass about you and Bob Mayer and Ann Voss Petersen when you whine about how poorly you've been treated is that you forget that what makes it possible for you to go out on your own now with a huge fanbase who will buy your books so that you make a lot of money is your initial publications with a traditional publisher. You would not be able to do what you are doing now, if one of them had not offered you a contract for your first published books. And that is worth more than the 70% royalty rate you get from Amazon. And if you don't understand why that is, then you should shut the fuck up.

Paul Durrant said...

I was astonished by these figures. That's an amazingly low royalty rate.

Even Adobe earns $0.22 for every ADE copy-protected ebook sold.

It's pretty awful that the DRM supplier gets twice what the author gets!

Ann Voss Peterson said...

Wow Anon, that's a lot of anger. And what did I do? I let other writers know how those royalty rates in one of my contracts work out to actual dollars. Don't you want them to know?

No whining. Information.

Hmm. I have to wonder the reason behind this reaction.

Sydney Jane Baily said...

Writers on the verge of being first-time published authors are all in a panic, myself included. I went to the RT Booklovers Convention in Chicago recently and ended up with two agents, one editor, and one publisher asking to see my manuscript. I also went to Bob Mayer's presentation, actually two of them. And he got me all fired up about self-publishing. Jumping ship, however, seems great if you have a backlist or a following--either one. If you are a newbie, how do you self-pub and find a readership? Don't we have to start with a traditional publisher, even if it's not the absolute dregs like HQN. Any suggestions?

Joanne Clarey said...

As a former HQ writer, My Hummingbird Falls Series books sold out. I was thrilled to sell around the world, but made little money. Since I have been publishing Hummingbird Falls sequels on Amazon, I've earned as much money in a few months as I made with HQ in three years.
Thanks for the information. You've probably saved many newbie writers from falling into the HQ trap.

Mary Jane Hathaway said...

I recently signed with HQ and my agent went through several revisions of the contract. It seemed very professional and courteous, from what I saw.

Romana Grimm said...

Geez, Anon, turn that around for a moment if you please.

Nobody forces publishers to offer lousy contracts.
Nobody forces publishers to give authors only once or twice a year a royalty statement in our modern times, or "lose" money from their earnings.
And nobody forces publishers to work together with agents to get one over the stupid author.

And do you know what? They're doing it anyway, completely without pressure.

Perhaps you should think about what you're saying before actually posting your drivel.

Anonymous said...

Wow... JK and Ann, thank you so much for sharing this story.

I'm a first-timer, with a book in the final stages of revisions and hopefully published by Summer. I was asked by several authors if I'd given any thought to traditional publishing. Your article clearly answers that question.

When I first wrote "Stella's Plea", I wanted to go with Harlequin's "Love Inspired Suspense" series. But as I read articles after articles regarding this same issues, it just makes sense to self- publish.

I have an editor whose opinion and constructive criticism I value. Nancy has a terrific eye for details and she's just plain amazing. There's no other way to describe her. Amazing says it all. Why should I pay huge amounts of dollars to a big company when for a lower fee, I can get just as good or perhaps even better results? Nancy is worth every penny she charges, and then some.

My goal is not to get rich but these numbers gotta hurt.


Ruth Kaufman said...

I can't afford to self-publish.

I self-pubbed a non-fiction book (FIND YOUR INNER FABULOUS). Because neither my co-author nor I are tech savyy, we paid CreateSpace $827 and our web designer more than $1000.

The buck had to stop somewhere. So I designed our cover. We didn't pay for a formatter, editor, review sites or publicist.

We haven't yet recouped our expenses, much less royalties to cover all of the hours I spent getting the book ready to upload. And because we don't want to spend more to get it formatted, it's only available on Kindle.

Many of those who do well via self-publishing already have a following. The frustration, time, cost and need to wear all of the hats of a publisher (or pay others to wear them) have made me reluctant to self-publish my fiction.

Anonymous said...

I just inked my deal on Forgotten Dreams with Crimson, the new Adams Media romance imprint. Got great terms. I was pretty shocked by the article and feel badly for any author who works hard and doesn't receive appropriate compensation for her efforts!

Alexia Banks

Grace said...

I'm coming late to this party, but all I can say is, "WAY TO GO, ANN!" Signet dumped not only their Regency authors but their editors as well, and indie pub has been my savior. I'm now making far more money than I did the first time around. Brava, the Brave New World!
Blair Bancroft (Grace Kone)

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this sharing this and to Ann for sharing her story.

I have to admit I'm feeling disappointed that writing for HQN is not the dream that I though tit would be. Especially after entering the so you think you can write contest. I knew something was up when they did not publish the value of the contract that is being offered.
There should be a way to make the Big Six share a larger portion of the pie especially in light of the statistics I found:

■Romance sales generated $1.36 billion in sales in 2009.
■9,089 new romance titles were released in 2009.
■Romance fiction sales are estimated at $1.358 billion for 2010.
■Romance fiction was the largest share of the consumer market in 2009 at 13.2 percent.

This is from the Toronto romancewriters.com page. IT is pretty disgusting how little of that pie is being shared with the writers.

I was just wondering for those of us who want to get into self publishing, if there is a preferred site to start with?

Thanks so much.

Anonymous said...

There is nothing brutal about what happened to Ann. She signed a contract to earn a certain amount of royalties and that is what she was paid. If she decided she was no longer happy with the deal, she was free to leave. And did.
You will never make as much money self-publishing as you would with Harlequin because they have so many committed life-time readers. And the reason advances and royalties on serial romance books are lower than publishing norms are because they are published quickly: the author writes quickly, the word count is not as long as a regular novel, and the content is not as heavily edited by the publisher. It shouldn't pay as much.

Anonymous said...

A licensee does not make 1.88 per book. The costs brings this down to 10% usually. It's a publisher, a business with costs, book production cost, marketing, etc. Check the economical data of some of the Harlequin companies in other countries. 10% on revenue is considered great. They make about as much as they pay to the holder of the copyright (author + publisher in original country). 12 cents vs 12 cents, not whatever math you are presenting here. It's obvious that you never worked in publishing. Publishers are not the enemy, our friend amazon is. Allow it to grow and enforce its rules when it becomes a total monopoly. Then, they will not ask you about anything. It will either be 3 cents per reader for their $10 a month all you can read online lending library or making no money at all from your work. There will be no publishers, distributors and retail stores by that time. You will be the last one to be extorted and crushed down, but you WILL eventually be crushed down. The few that can sells millions of books per year will survive and we, the readers, will have less options. All because amazon got greedy about cutting the middlemen and authors cooperated without considering the consequences and the contribution of the middlemen.

Anonymous said...

Btw, we are talking HQ here, it's not exactly high literature that comes from years of pain and concentration. Stereotypical stories, prescribed with precision on the HQ spec sheets to fit specific romance genres. In many cases, even characters are prescribed in detail. A typical book makes about $10,000, is quickly written and is about 55,000 words long. I know two HQ writers and they both publish under an alias; they wouldn't like that stuff associated with their name. HQ is just a source of income for an author, not his dream. It boils down to 18 cents per word. If you can't write this type of book fast, you shouldn't be working with HQ. And if you are having problems with plot, character, or style in this type of book, perhaps you shouldn't be a writer. My friends say they spend less than a month of their books and this is about 2,000 words per day. It's too bad HQ will not accept more, because they see it as fast cash.

Susan May Writer said...

This is a horror story. I am so glad I came to this blog. Thanks to Hugh Howey, Joe & Ann I will never seek to be published by a Big 6 publisher even though I review directly for them. . I am going Indie after researching everything. I see I am in fine company too. I will also spread the word amongst my author friends. You've lit a fire.

Susan May Writer said...

This is a horror story. I am so glad I came to this blog. Thanks to Hugh Howey, Joe & Ann I will never seek to be published by a Big 6 publisher even though I review directly for them. . I am going Indie after researching everything. I see I am in fine company too. I will also spread the word amongst my author friends. You've lit a fire.

Anonymous said...

I laughed out oud when I read the line "Harlequin hads been screwing romance writers..."

Bonnie said...

I'm just getting started out in the field. Would you recommend that I just start with digital publishing? It seems like going with the publishing houses is a lot of work for little reward. Or does it depend on the publishing house?


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Unknown said...

I've had various people shoving the Evil Harlequin concept in my earhole for quite awhile now. Warning me about how Harlequin pays almost nothing. Do I care? Nope. I plan to submit to Harlequin very soon. I don't care about the money. I have never been someone motivated by greed. I want the prestige of the Harlequin name on my book. That's it. Whenever you see a woman reading a romance, it is always a Harlequin. You ask anyone who doesn't know very much about the publishing business "Hey, what's she reading over there?" The response is usually "It has a couple on the cover, it must be a Harlequin." It doesn't matter if it is Avon, Amazon, Entangled, Zebra or an actual Harlequin. The Harlequin name has become synonymous with romances. As a male writer trying to break into the romance set, it is imperative that I publish with Harlequin. I have set the bar at Harlequin. I view it as sort of basic training. I learn about the industry in a semi-safe environment, earn a reader base and earn the right to label myself a published Harlequin author. I know before going in that Harlequin is going to rape me on the contract and money. I accept this. I am ready for it. I plan to use them as a stepping stone to start my career just as much as they will be exploiting me. After I am published with Harlequin, then I will take an easy breath and start looking at my other options. Until then, I will consider myself a success if I can put my signature on just one paperback that has the name Harlequin on it.

Anonymous said...


I believe that post was referring to this article. it comes across that way anyway. I found this article very interesting and informative, the one I linked to is a load of bigoted rubbish. Hopefully newbies considering publishing with HQ come across this article first, although the comments do a pretty good job of putting the original author of that post in his place :)

JCE said...

I'm sorry to be stumbling in three years after this post was written, but I wanted to thank you for writing it. Great information! I am wanting to get published and Harlequin used to be the "go-to" publisher for those starting out. It's good to know I have choices. I will also be looking to download a copy of Ms. Voss' books.

Eliana Robinson said...

I've admired Harlequin and written for over 10 years. I confess it’s more hassle than fun half the time to write for them. I'm yet to be accepted after ten years! Its a hard deal and the fact of life for most writers but its the hassle and red tape elements they put on the process that really make it hard. I entered their Christmas challenge contest in 2014 and gained interest in my soul surviving novel Snowbound: Christmas (a festive intrigue) for six months I've been Homeless writing the rest of the book in every unpleasant place and hide away I can find forever holding out hope that the interest in my book gained at Christmas might mean I've got the leg in the door. But they just told me that the contest was only for one soul category now mine gained interest as an intrigue (clearly stated) but is now unacceptable to that category due to not being made aware of this restriction at the start. Something that's left me without a leg to stand on in my hopes and left me with no foot in the door or any hope of getting anywhere any time soon with them. I still maintain they sell some really good books, I still love writing and have been through worse writer heartbreak than this to be stopped by this latest disappointment. But learning the costs and cut corners of Harlequin I'm really beginning to question their worth as a publisher. After all the good books they sell are owed to the writers. To think they are to getting the amount they are worth is despicable.
I've read many of Ann Voss Peterson's work, she's brilliant and I agree writhing intrigue romance is the best of both worlds. Stumbling upon this has left me with lots to think on. My only heartsick worry is for an unsolicited writer, what other publisher on this Isle I live on, will have me? I, like Ann, have little means to afford much of anything. I need to be published but is it worth signing with such a seemingly untrustworthy publisher? If I even get the chance. And if ever they discover this questionable post I suspect they won't ever make an offer but I believe in free speech so long as it's respectful. Now I’m not saying they are a horrible company only that I'm beginning to question their practice and where I want my precious novel to be given to.
Is there anything wrong in that?

Anonymous said...

Harlequin are doing a contest on wattpad, and I am worried. I am worried because Wattpad has so many young, talented authors who could get suckered by Harlequin. (And Harlequin knows this). Most wattpad users are teenagers or young adults and romance-readers. They don't know what these big trad publishers are up to and aren't wise enough to read the fine print. I shudder at the implications.

Anonymous said...

Bless you Joe,for this!I had no idea.And here I was thinking of seeing if I could get a deal with this very company.But saw Amazon's Kindle direct publishing and decided to compare the two and came across you post.Thank you for this!Thank Ms.Ann for telling her story.This has been HUGE help.Thank you.

Jo Vraca said...

Is it fair to say that writing for Harlequin turned out quite profitable for those authors who decided to take their platform and turn indie. Would it have been possible to gain such success after leaving the company if you didn't get a start there? It sounds like they helped build that platform. I'm only asking because I wonder how many writers would leave and build a successful writing career from scratch if they didn't already have the readership built via Harlequin.

Unknown said...

I am a new author. I value the info on Harlequin. Do you think it still might be a good idea to start with Harlequin...when one is a newbie...I don't have anything published yet. Maybe have a few books published and under my belt as I learn more about self publishing...then go out on my own with more experience?!?

Unknown said...

What would you tell an author who has written their first book? How do they get their foot into the industry?

Unknown said...

Stumbled on this again by accident. I know it's super old, but if anyone needs the mystery of why Harlequin sells so badly in ebook, they BLOCK a lot of the world from buying their ebooks from Amazon, or their own digital website. I know this has to do with agents, licensing rights and all that, and someone called me stupid for not getting that authors get nice whacks of money if an agent can sell the rights to different countries, but be that as it may, it still means that lots of readers around the world are blocked from buying ebooks when they want them and that means a LOT of lost sales. If the same author puts the book out herself she makes money from anyone in the world who wants to buy.

Unknown said...

I've just submitted a chapter to Harlequin and they've made encouraging noises, asking me to submit three more for an evaluation. Only today did I think of googling what the actual pay/conditions are for an author. The first author I came across stated in their article that the pay was a 'private business' for each author, so thank god that you are open about it - this tendency among people to keep earnings private is a constant achilles heel that employers abuse. Only by sharing is it exposed. So thanks again!

I am very confused now though how to go ahead. Is self-publishing a possibility if you are new author? How do you reach out to an audience that has never heard of you? I'm not even on twitter.

Or is it best to go with Harlequin to start with (i.e. is there a way to sign the contract that minimises the damage while you benefit from the PR?). It should be added that English is my second language so the access to an editor that correct my errors is presently appealing.

Really really appreciate any guidance, as I have never signed a contract in my life. It sounds daunting...

Daal said...

thanks much for this great info - much appreciate, as I'm seeking a literary agent. btw, I love anything to do with books & would be thrilled if you’d write a guest blog post for my site, which is for anyone who loves writing, books, and all the arts. If you think it might be fun or helpful to have my followers (who total about 10k across my various social media) meet you, here’s the link for general guidelines: https://wp.me/p6OZAy-1eQ - best - da-AL

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