Traditional publishing, and the risks thereof

26 May

Originally posted to the Literature forum at MyMedia.

I’ve written here, more than once, about genre romance being the single most successful genre in publishing. Not too long ago, genre romance accounted for about 40% of income for traditional publishers.¹

Since the late 70s/early 80s, romance sales have floated other fiction at pretty much all the big houses. To this day, many of the big advance names in so-called literary fiction never earned those advances back–while romance writers of the same caliber routinely do.

Those literary books may earn all the important prizes, and get lots of review space in the big papers, while romance is generally dismissed as pabulum and ‘mommy porn.’

But everyone in publishing knows that the money comes from genre fiction, and that genre romance brings in the lion’s share of the revenue.

Even in the past six or seven years, and the ‘big’ decline in publishing, genre romance market share remains the largest (last estimate I saw, it hovers between 25% to 30% of the entire traditional publishing market).

So much so, that there’s no shortage of fiction writers (and their publishers) trying to market other fiction to romance readers–often with disastrous results.²

At any rate, the largest publisher of genre romance, on the planet, is Harlequin. Not too many years ago, it was acquired by Penguin Random House HarperCollins. Like many large corporations, PRH HarperCollins has worked to reduce Harlequin’s share of the market, instead of increasing it.³

Today, they just announced that six of the many monthly Harlequin lines are no longer accepting submissions, and that the last scheduled releases for those line are June and December 2018. (Details here)

One of the lines in question, Kimani, is the only line by a traditional publisher that consistently published genre romance by writers of color. These authors are often celebrated, with awards and other industry recognitions, within publishing. On its face, it makes no sense to shut down the one line that assures readers of color that they’ll see themselves represented, in a positive manner, in the fiction they buy.

Two key takeaways:

  • one, being published by/with a big name publisher, does not guarantee the longevity of your career, no matter how well you sell for them.
  • two, traditional publishing moves REALLY slowly. The announcement that these lines will close has come out 13 to 19 months before the last title therein will come out. The announcement specifically says that all books already acquired and in the hands of editors at these lines will be published, even if scheduling conflicts or changes mean releasing them after those deadlines.

Thus endeth today’s lesson.

~ * ~

¹ here, it means Hachette, Penguin Random House, MacMillan, and all their subdivisions, imprints, and lines
² but that’s a story for another day (discussed at some length here)
³ no one who’s ever worked for a corporation will be surprised by, or question, this statement

edited (in red) to correct the big publisher that acquired Harlequin: it’s HarperCollins, not Penguin Random House (which, years after the acquisition, I still want to call Random Penguin House)

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2 Responses to “Traditional publishing, and the risks thereof”

  1. Lori 27/05/2017 at 2:57 AM #

    Breaks my heart to see Harlequin Kimani and Super Romance lines ended. That’s bad business. Just bad bad business.

    • azteclady 27/05/2017 at 3:41 AM #

      I really hope they absorb all those authors into the remaining lines, but yeah.

      Mind you, as Courtney Milan mentioned when this first surfaced, Harlequin’s practices when it came to the Kimani line (separate, not equal) could have gotten them in legal hot water.

      The SuperRomance line, though…is the only full novel-length line they have, and I hate to see it go.

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