Sunday, May 21, 2017
HARLEQUIN lays down the hammer!
HARLEQUIN. The name that when people, not in the romance writing business, or people not familiar with the romance writing business, or people who could not care less about the romance writing business, hear makes them stare blankly or go “Oh, please!” is set to close out five (5) of its series category lines. Fewer bosoms will quiver. Fewer shirtless chests will gleam. Fewer swarthy, foreign billionaire/potentates will have the opportunity to toss their domains at the feet of American nannies, secretaries, exchange students. And zero black heroines and heroes written by black authors will be presented in a line devoted to them. Scheduled for demolition are the category lines SuperRomance, Love Inspired Historical, Western, Nocturne, and Kimani.
Seems indie publishing is kicking the venerated, old girl’s butt. They supposedly are not bringing in the money like they used to nor the readers. Seems the old warhorse can’t figure out how to keep pace with what the indies are creating. I see the problem as the indies are just that: creative. They are telling stories which is what storytelling is about. Not how well one can follow boring, limiting submission guidelines. And Harlequin has boring guidelines for each of these lines like they do for all their lines. But have you ever read them? Yikes. Behind-the-times is what comes to mind when one reads them. Behind-the-times because abiding by those guidelines will have Harlequin forever playing catch-up with the competition.
To progress, a business can’t keep churning out the same type of books, grab the attention span of today’s reader and stay afloat. I know the company made its bones on delivering on the fantasies of women, married and unmarried some 50 years ago. That tried-and-true base grew to love the formulaic, the routine the comfort and the stability in their lines. But times have changed. Seems readers want it hot and hotter. They want it more realistic and unpredictable. A company cannot keep churning out sheik romances, Indian romances (American and East) and any European magnate or royalty romances without adding some authenticity to them.
Just can’t do it.
Nope. Not if a company is looking to attract more readers. Readers who are younger, more-worldly, are not all white, and mainly who are not game for fakeness or stereotypes, no matter how unintended. Sorry. But books with made-up countries run by foreign rulers who act like Westerners don’t cut it. Case in point. I tried a book, ONE BOOK by a rather prolific, popular Harlequin author from one of those lines. Her specialty seems to be contemporaries with Middle Eastern characters who rule unreal lands and are smitten by the spunky American. Oh man. I don’t know what reference materials, if any, the woman uses to check for any shred of the world she thinks she’s opening to someone. Hell, maybe that’s it. The someone she writes for doesn’t care. Just write gushy feelings with uber-masculine men and malleable females. Alright. Let me leave that right there. That summed up 4 lines.
Now, on to the KIMANI line. It was a line (don’t quote me on this) that originally was ARABESQUE at another publisher but Harlequin bought it. It featured BLACK people as main characters in books, and the books were written by non-White authors. Why, you ask? In another post from ages ago, I wrote that the romances business NEVER included non-White people as main characters in romance books decades back. It was the reason for a line like KIMAMI and others. At least it was place for those stories crying to be told. I’m glad great authors got their chance to be heard. But upon closer analysis, it is blatantly outdated. Segregation really because a romance book is a romance book not a BLACK romance book. Anyway, dynamite writers like Farrah Rochon and Kianna Alexander and Zuri Day headed that line.
The funny-ironic, not funny-ha-ha, thing about the shuttering of these lines is, billionaire romances will continue to be written. Sheik romances, or any romance that calls for a just-a-bit-exotic hero will continue to be written. Western romances with “untamed” Native heroes will continue to be written. Historicals with scant history will continue to be written. Thing that go bump in the night will continue to be written. And Harlequin will find some way to remold the manuscripts of the authors who write those themes for those 4 discontinued lines so that they won’t have to leave the fold completely. And if they do have to leave, other traditional publishers will at least look at their manuscripts.
I predict a whole, other scenario for the authors with the KIMANI line. They have faithful readers who will buy and read anything they write. BUT having been writers for a single line, backed by a big company, will they keep that mainstream reader who tried them BECAUSE they were attached to a big company like Harlequin? Let’s face it. Some mainstream readers won’t read a non-White author unless a big name says that author is OK. The KIMANI writers are excellent without Harlequin. I hope the “stamp of approval” that came with being published by Harlequin stays with them as they are released into the wild.
The KIMANI authors are talented pros. Do the rest of the Big 5 see that? And will any of the Big 5 pick them up as simply romance authors and not BLACK authors who write BLACK romance? With the dissolution of KIMANI will Harlequin now accept their manuscripts as plain romance and place them where appropriate into the company’s other mainstream lines? Or will they be rejected for being too ethnic? To remain on the radar will they resort to writing non-Black main characters to get published? I’ve seen this happen. I’m not saying these authors can’t succeed. What I’m saying is, their path to future publication (if done through the traditional channels) will have additional obstacles that the displaced authors of the other 4 lines won’t have.