MWA Removes Harlequin From Its List of Approved Publishers

For those who need a quick recap, Harlequin, the romance publisher who also publishes thriller and commercial fiction writers including Elizabeth Flock, Jason Pinter, Heather Graham, Susan Wiggs, J.T. Ellison, Paul Johnston and Heather Gudenkauf, partnered with Author Solutions Inc. last month on a subsidy publishing venture, Harlequin Horizons. Controversy and a big brouhaha ensued. The Romance Writers of America dropped Harlequin as an approved publisher. Harlequin changed the name of the venture to DellArte Press and scrubbed all mention of the parent company from the website.

The Mystery Writers of America had looked into the matter and was set to make their decision on Harlequin’s status on December 15. Turns out that came eleven days earlier, and Harlequin is no longer an approved publisher:


Board of Mystery Writers of America voted unanimously on Wednesday to

remove Harlequin and all of its imprints from our list of Approved

Publishers, effective immediately. We did not take this action lightly.

We did it because Harlequin remains in violation of our rules regarding

the relationship between a traditional publisher and its various

for-pay services.

What does this mean for current and future MWA members? 


author who signs with Harlequin or any of its imprints from this date

onward may not use their Harlequin books as the basis for active status

membership nor will such books be eligible for Edgar® Award

consideration. **However books published by Harlequin under contracts

signed before December 2, 2009 may still be the basis for Active Status

membership and will still be eligible for Edgar® Award consideration**

(you may find the full text of the decision at the end of this


Although Harlequin no longer offers its eHarlequin

Critique Service and has changed the name of its pay-to-publish

service, Harlequin still remains in violation of MWA rules regarding

the relationship between a traditional publisher and its various

for-pay services.

The bolded emphasis is mine, and the full statement is available at Lee Goldberg’s blog. What this means, if my interpretation is correct, is that most, if not all, mysteries and thrillers Harlequin will publish in 2010 will still be eligible, and some of the 2011 books might be. But after that? A no go. And while I can see the MWA’s side on this, especially as they want to make sure the money flows in the authors’ direction, but I also think, over time, this – and similar de-listing decisions by RWA and SFWA – may be seen as the turning point that breaks apart traditional writers’ organizations into a million scattered pieces.

Is it fair to punish authors who signed contracts with a company that does adhere to MWA’s guidelines, and keeps HH (now DellArte) as a separate entity? Will this prevent agents from doing business with Harlequin? Of course not. Will disaffected thriller writers gravitate even more towards ITW, which emphatically stressed they would not de-list Harlequin, thus creating more strife in a community that already has enough fragmentation going on?

And what happens if Harlequin isn’t an anomaly, and other major houses decide they want in on the subsidy publishing game because it actually makes money when legacy publishing is either flat or down? I don’t know the answers; no one does. But publishing’s going to look different sooner than we think, and as a result, this decision may mark the end of something, not the beginning.

UPDATE: Indeed, my interpretation of what Harlequin-published books will remain eligible is correct, Lee Goldberg said by e-amil. “But anyone entering into a contract now

will not be eligible. We wanted to lessen the impact on current

Harlequin authors of our decision. So most 2010 titles will probably be

eligible for Edgar consideration.”

It is also worth noting that the MWA ended its decision with the following: “MWA’s Executive Vice-President, and her or his designates, are directed to continue discussions with Harlequin in an effort to reach an agreement that would allow for Harlequin to be an approved publisher according to MWA’s rules.” And Harlequin CEO Donna Hayes’ response is available here.