NOTE: THIS IS AN EDIT-FREE ZONE.
Since so many have emailed on this topic–both members of my Aids4Writers@yahoogroups.com group and writers who are not–I thought it would save time and effort to just post this question and answer article here. Please note that the question is multi-part, and that the responses I’ve given are no more than my own personal opinions.
I’ll try to respond to this in-depth question as best I am able, but realize, I have an outsider’s perspective, as the rest of us do. Only Harlequin and those inside it can relate their reasons for changing lines as they do.
Question, Part 1: Through other sources I have heard that Harlequin Romance and Silhouette Romance are going to be discontinued and a new sweet series of 6 titles per month released from the London office. If this is true, and I have yet to see Harlequin confirm officially but maybe they have and I just haven’t seen it yet, what is it saying about romance sales and the state of the market?
I have heard through an agent that Harlequin is combining the Harlequin Romance novels and the Silhouette Romance novels. Looking at this in historical perspective, before Silhouette became a part of Harlequin, these novels were direct competitors. Many expected once HQ acquired Silhouette that these two lines would be merged. But a lot of years have passed and the lines enjoyed success, and my guess is that strong sales made combining the lines not in the company’s best interests.
Now, with reader tastes veering away from the more traditional novels, and with the arrival of inspirational series by several companies, these lines are again competing separately for market share. I believe that due to the diversity in the market, it is no longer cost effective for Harlequin to have both lines functioning. They are competing against each other as well as the rest of the market. By combining them, the company is then competing against others. Again, this is my guess.
Question, Part 2: If a long-standing line like Harlequin romance ends, are sales down that badly for that line and for Silhouette Romance?
According to the latest report, sales are down 7-8%. This is the third reporting period that sales have been down in that same range. I think it goes without saying that if a line or imprint is enjoying significant success, then it’s not a wise business move to make changes.
But if a line or imprint is soft in sales, or if the company sees a shift in reader demographics that makes it advantageous to change what it publishes, then the company has to alter its production strategy to capitalize on the sales potential. If it doesn’t, then it’s being fiscally irresponsible.
No writer, no editor, wants to work for a fiscally irresponsible publisher. No stockholder wants to invest in a fiscally irresponsible publisher. All of us would like for there to be funds available to cover our earnings. This basic principle is true of any business, not just books.
I see this combining of Harlequin Romance and Silhouette Romance as a fiscally responsible strategy on Harlequin’s part. Doing this will eliminate internal competition and allow the company to focus its resources on building readership. A simplistic way to look at it–but I tend to think simplistically–the romance line is getting lean and mean and being given a facelift to make it more marketable, more cost-effective in-house, and to attract new readers to its existing reader base.
Question, Part 3: This particularly worries me since Harlequin Historicals is no longer carried in a big portion of its former market and since Harlequin American didn’t accept submissions for a while.
Again, just my opinion, but… Harlequin Historicals were awesome novels. I think the challenge was that historical readers didn’t look for historicals shelved in category. Had the historicals been shelved with the other historicals–where those readers go to find their books–I believe they would have enjoyed marketing success. The quality was there. The readers couldn’t find them.
On Harlequin American. Again, just my opinion. This has been an excellent line, but its mission has been changed fairly frequently and with each change, it lost some of its existing reader base and picked up some new people in that base. Change causes fluctuations, and a lot of fluctuations requires rethinking. That’s what’s been going on. The troops falling back to regroup, if you will. When they feel they’ve a solid foundation under them, they’ll press forward again.
Question, Part 4: Why is Harlequin coming out with so many new lines (Luna, Next, African American line to be named) when it isn’t able to keep its existing lines afloat?
Change in the focus of a line is serious business. Starting a new line is, too. Both are very expensive endeavors, and there is a lot to consider. But a company that doesn’t grow and change becomes stagnant. Stagnant companies die.
Part of what has made Harlequin a success for so many years is its willingness to try new things. It keeps recreating itself, reacting to what its readers say they want, putting its effort behind what it believes is a good idea and readers will want. That’s the business of publishing. Anticipating, shaping the market, growing the market. You can’t do those things by being stagnant. You have to put new ideas out there, take risks, make adjustments. Some work, some don’t. Some ideas turn into long-standing series, like Harlequin Romance has been for over 20 years! Some ideas are given a valiant effort, but the readers just don’t buy.
Publishers are in a state of constant change. It’s not that they can’t keep existing lines afloat. It’s that readers prefer this or that type of book and the publisher adapts to give the reader what s/he wants–or works its backside off to create a desire for a type of book in readers. Question, Part 5: though I haven’t yet managed to sell on them). I’m happy about Next and the other new lines but sooooooo unhappy about the romance lines and the fact that their replacement line will only produce 6 titles per month.
I understand your feeling on this. Over the years, I’ve been disappointed by lines changing, too, at times, and totally elated when new ones like BOMBSHELL are started. I waited a decade to write Bombshell novels. So this works both ways.
One bit of advice that I’d like to share with you. Writers are by nature flexible people. They have to be to write novels, make something “real” out of nothing. In writing as a career, you will encounter many, many changes in the market, in lines, in editors, in everything. The more flexible you are to those changes, the more easily you’ll transition. Adaptability is an asset that serves writers well. Especially if you’re into writing for the long haul.
Change is hard. But it’s often healthy, too. 🙂
Trust is earned, one book at a time.”
–Vicki Hinze https://vickihinze.com
Note: I edit books and professional correspondence. But I do NOT edit email or this blog. This is chat time for me, so if the grammar is goofed or a word’s spelled wrong, please just breeze on past it. I’d appreciate it–and salute you with my coffee cup. 🙂
You are permitted to use the blog post above in its entirety, free of charge, provided you include the following text:
Copyright 2005. Vicki Hinze
Vicki Hinze is a multi-published author, who has a free library of her articles on writing–the craft, business and life–at https://www.vickihinze.com.