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Malle Vallik, Harlequin’s Digital Director, Answers Questions on Harlequin Horizons

I emailed Malle Vallik to ask her three questions which pertained the biggest question I had about brand dilution:

  • Will the books be sold through the eharlequin store?
  • Will there be any HH branding on the book, either on the cover or in the copyright page?
  • Are you (Harlequin) concerned about brand dilution?

This is Ms. Vallik’s response. She said she would be around to answer a few questions.

1.              The books will not be branded Harlequin.

2.              The books will be branded HH (see nice logo on website) attached

3.              The copyright is not associated with Harlequin.

First, why is Harlequin launching a self-publishing business? Bowker reported in 2008 that more titles were published through self-publishing than traditional publishers. Self-publishing is a fast growing and vibrant part of the publishing industry today. Harlequin has decided to provide a romance focused self-publishing business for those that choose to go down the self-publishing road.

Brand – Harlequin put its name on the Harlequin Horizons site to clearly indicate this is a romance self-publishing site. The books published through Harlequin Horizons  will not carry traditional Harlequin branding. The self-published author will be the brand and the Horizon double H logo will appear on the spine of the book. Harlequin is the gold standard in romance and that will not be compromised. Readers will not confuse Horizons books with traditional Harlequin books.

Distribution – Self-publishing has a different distribution model than traditional publishing. Horizons books will not be carried nor appear in traditional Harlequin distribution. The self-published book will not appear next to a traditionally published Harlequin title.

The Harlequin Horizons site very clearly indicates it is a self-publishing business and that those who choose to publish with Horizons will not receive the traditional Harlequin distribution and marketing support.

Many authors are choosing to self-publish. There are a number of reasons to select self-publishing including as a way to see their work in print –   to give copies as gifts, to have a bound copy to help in finding an agent, or simply as a keepsake. Harlequin is providing a service to those choosing to self-publish with a leading organization in this field, Author Solutions.

To recap, self-publishing is an option for those who want to put their story into print. The Harlequin brand will not be on these titles. The Harlequin Horizons site is very transparent that it offers   self-publishing services.

Is Harlequin still publishing aspiring authors: Of course we are!   We remain committed to reading and acquiring manuscripts from aspiring authors.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

236 Comments

  1. Gennita Low
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 07:22:59

    I’m sure Carole Mortimer is not very happy this morning that her book cover from Harlequin Historicals is being used by the New Yorker as an example of HQ’s new self-publishing venture and being called a “Harlequin Hack,” with one of the hash tags being “masturbation.”

    ReplyReply

  2. GrowlyCub
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 07:45:36

    @Gennita Low:

    I hope she gives her editors and the higher ups at Harlequin hell about this and I hope her fans do too! What a mess.

    ReplyReply

  3. Marianne LaCroix » Blog Archive » More on the Harlequin Horizons and RWA drama
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 07:58:22

    [...] Author 11/18/2009 – Malle Vallik, Harlequin's Digital Director, Answers Questions on Harlequin Horizons 11/17/2009 – Harlequin Horizons: Shortsighted or [...]

  4. Jane
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 08:18:57

    @Anon76 I think you are right and that is part of what I find so fascinating about the dissent against Horizons. Can you rank for me in the order of most egregious to least egregious the following publisher interactions with vanity publishing?

    A. Harlequin Horizons partnering with ASI and using its name all over the vanity press site.
    B. Thomas Nelson partnering with ASI and forming West Bow Press which states on its site:

    TOP TEN ADVANTAGES OF WESTBOW PRESS:
    1. Opportunity to be discovered by parent company Thomas Nelson

    C. Random House which owns 49% of Xlibris (a subsidiary of Author Solutions Inc) but does not actively publicize the ownership.

    D. Harper Collins’ Authonomy which is an ad driven site sponsored by CreateSpace (Amazon’s vanity press) and earns an affiliate fee off of packages purchased through CreateSpace with direct links from the Authonomy site.

    ReplyReply

  5. JulieB
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 08:48:15

    The comments about people paying for publishing needing to do their research and be realistic and go in with their eyes open also makes me sad.

    There are some very good reasons to pay for publishing. Sometimes you just want a book to hold in your hands. A fair number of people who do “back of the room” sales at talks either self-publish or use this sort of service. The former group would probably be better off at Lulu. The latter has presumably done a cost/benefit analysis and had darn well better be making money off of the project.

    Some professors turn to Lulu or AuthorHouse to publish extra material for classes. Even at AuthorHouse prices, it’s generally darned cheaper for the students to buy those books than a standard textbook. (Says the mom who recently forked over $100+ for a POD textbook that the bookstore probably won’t buy back.)

    Want to put together a bound copy of your family history for your reunion? You’ll pay to get it published.

    Generally though, I don’t think this is the best route for novels. Why? Consider this NYT article from back in January about self-publishing. A spokesperson from Author Solutions estimates “the average number of copies sold of titles published through one of its brands is just 150.”

    THIS is why you need to go into it with your eyes open. If you know the pros and cons, do your research, and still decide that this is the route you want to take with your book, then go for it. Just don’t come back and scream “scam” when you sell only 75 copies or so of your book. You knew the job was dangerous when you took it.

    What really makes me sad are the writers who are absolutely convinced that they are going to be the exception to the rule, the tiny percentage who get picked up by a commercial publisher. All they have to do is get their book “out there” and good things will come. Believe me, those folks in that tiny percentage work their tails off for that success. They approach their book as a business. Most writers don’t have the marketing savvy it takes to move 500 let alone 5,000 books. I don’t, and I get paid to write sales, marketing and ad copy.

    Pardon any typos. The morning coffee IV keep slipping out of my arm. At this rate it’ll take all day to get caffeinated.

    ReplyReply

  6. Anon76
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 09:00:59

    @Jane:

    I looked through those links and dug deeper into each one. I find those very different than the Harlequin Horizons site when it came to being upfront about certain issues.

    1) Westbow press. We aren’t the parent company, but they’ve given us their standards to go by. This, this and this is what they expect. Based on that, you have a chance of being picked up by the parent company. Pretty clear that their editing doesn’t come directly from a parent company editor.

    2) Xlibris. No mention of the parent company Harper Collins or a possibilty of being picked up by them that I could find. Correct me if I’m wrong.

    3) Authonomy. http://www.authonomy.com/FAQ.aspx with further info listed throughout. And you get other great tips without paying a dime first. Rather than, we’ll hook you up with all this neat info once you sign on.

    To me, there is a definite distinction between the links you provided and the Harlequin Horizons link.

    ReplyReply

  7. Anon76
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 09:08:50

    @Jane:

    Shoot, you asked me to rank, missed that part. Least egregious to most:

    1) Random House

    2) Harper Collins

    3) Thomas Nelson

    way beyond 4) Harlequin Horizons

    ReplyReply

  8. Jackie Kessler - Insert Witty Title Here
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 09:16:11

    [...] pockets money — according Malle Vallik, Harlequin’s digital director, who showed up at Dear Author (see specifically comment #18) yesterday, the author would get 50% of net. And this is AFTER the [...]

  9. XandraG
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 09:23:27

    @Jane

    I don't see it happening because its not profitable. (Again, I could be wrong). And “reject with revisions” is nice but it's not required by a publisher. They can just reject so I am unsure why editors don't just reject without revisions. (I would!)

    Harlequin, for all its faults, has traditionally been very encouraging to authors submitting to them. It’s not at all unusual for an author to receive rejections with encouragement of some sort, and not unusual for an author to receive progressively “better” rejects from them as she incorporates more of their house standards into her works. You literally can circle the target, then hit a bull’s-eye with them, and the editors I’ve talked to, or who have spoken to our RWA groups over the years have all emphasized how much they enjoy cultivating newer authors and finding the next new voice.

    But they are not the people who write the checks. (and IMNSHO, they are also way underpaid).

    Up to now, rejections have cost them nothing, but netted them nothing. Books cost them risk and money to produce, and may net big gains, but may equally return nothing, or even a loss when taking into account returns.

    Books still cost them risk and money, and may pay off big or bomb, but now rejections still cost them nothing *and might earn them money.*

    I don’t believe they’re going to all of a sudden refer La Nora to HH, or the other big, consistent names like Debbie Macomber, nor do I think they’ll cease re-issues of classics from now-big names. But there will be a lot less new talent, a lot less, “it’s a tad bit risky, but let’s try it anyway” and a lot more, “This one might be just the thing our readers want but why risk it. Let’s sit back and collect the money from her while she hustles it out of her trunk.”

    ReplyReply

  10. The Galaxy Express>>Harlequin Horizons: Redefining the Published Author or Damaging the Brand?
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 09:58:51

    [...]This event has been the shot heard round the romance world.[...]

    ReplyReply

  11. Jackie Barbosa
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 11:16:47

    The New Yorker article is offensive on any number of levels, but the WORST part for Harlequin and its “legitimate” authors is that, by putting Carole Mortimer’s Harlequin Historicals cover there next to the discussion of the vanity arm, it has made her book appear to be vanity/self-pubbed, and, by extension, ALL Harlequin books.

    Brand dilution has already occurred, folks.

    ReplyReply

  12. Karen Scott
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 11:32:21

    turning the Harlequin slushpile into a possible profit center.

    That’s exactly how I see it.

    Books still cost them risk and money, and may pay off big or bomb, but now rejections still cost them nothing *and might earn them money.*

    Yep, yep, yep. Which is probably the whole point for them.

    how is it ethical to refer rejected authors to Harlequin's self-publishing imprint? Agents who refer rejected authors to their editorial services are typically viewed as scammy for this very practice. How is this different?

    I couldn’t agree more.

    I think it’s disingenuous to think that self-pubbed authors who go via HH wont go around telling all and sundry that they’re published with Harlequin. If it was me, I would. The logo may be different, but the fact is, the Harlequin name is still attached, so how can branding not be compromised?

    This seems to be nothing more than a get-richer-quicker scheme to me, but I’m happy to wait and see what the results are, and whether it ultimately ends up negatively affecting HQN.

    ReplyReply

  13. Plotters & Manipulators United » Blog Archive » A Sinkful of Blood
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 11:59:33

    [...] of the self-publishing (or is it vanity publishing) venture it has branded, the riveting threads at Dear Author and Smart Bitches, and RWA’s swift and dramatic rescission of Harlequin’s status as a [...]

  14. Magdalen
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 12:52:34

    I’d have loved to have been a fly-on-the-wall at the HQN meetings where HH was discussed. Here’s my guess, though.

    Someone commented on how “all” romance readers think they can write a romance and most then try. (We know that’s not true of all of us. But HQN may have market research on what the percentage is.) They have numbers for their current slush piles. They have numbers on the uptake rate (to borrow a term from academia), meaning the percentage of slush pile mss that eventually result in a published novel by that writer. They do the math and realize that leaves them with a potentially large number of writers who clearly want to be published but aren’t going to get the brass ring through HQN’s editorial process.

    Maybe HQN has research on the number of romance novels being printed through vanity presses elsewhere. Anyway, they think: Hey, ours is the biggest brand name in romance publishing — why not let aspiring writers fulfill their dreams? If we get up-front money and a split on royalties, we’re covered even if that one-in-a-million writer manages to write something everyone wants to read.

    So, yes, my guess is that they are monetizing their slush pile. They may have dismissed the notion of brand-dilution because they figure we (readers) will know that HH is self-publishing. I doubt they considered the effect this will have on their current and future “traditionally published” authors. I do think it’s misleading to a potential HH author to suggest that going this route will increase the chances of traditional publication.

    I feel certain HQN never considered the backlash from RWA in the equation — it will be interesting to see how that plays out. But even if RWA has real teeth here, HQN may figure the profits to be made from HH are sufficient to outweigh the negativity.

    None of this makes HH a good idea in any the ways being discussed here: it probably won’t improve the quality of the writing of the 400 books published each month, so I don’t see how readers benefit; it may hurt authors already published by HQN through dilution and the “The New Yorker” effect on romance novels generally; and it doesn’t seem a benefit to the writer who pays for her name on an HH book — unless she knows that all she’s doing is paying a lot of money for some presents to give to family and friends. Without a HUGE amount of work on her part, not many other people are likely to buy her shiny new HH book.

    But HQN will probably make money they otherwise wouldn’t make. And that’s business.

    ReplyReply

  15. Shiloh Walker
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 12:58:00

    A question…

    With headlines like

    The Author’s Heart Beats Faster

    and

    Harlequin Hacks

    How can people NOT expect this new venture to dilute Harlequin’s brand?

    ReplyReply

  16. Jennifer Leeland
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 13:11:02

    You know, the first place I went when I wanted to write romance was eharlequin. I am stunned and saddened that now new authors will be presented with this predatory practice.

    1. I would like to ask Jane and Miss Vallik why HQN keeps calling this “self-publishing”. There are clear and definitive lines between a vanity press and self-publishing in our profession. Wouldn’t that be considered “fraud” if you advertise that the author retains control over the book when actually HH will dole out royalties?

    2. The timing of this is interesting. Carina Press has opened with HQN seeming to keep a arms length distance from its launch. Even though Miss Vallik and HQN are clearly “behind” Carina, HQN isn’t lending the Harlequin brand to the epublisher. Yet this “pay to have your book published” is called “Harlequin Horizon”. I would like to know if there is a reason for that. Perhaps I have misinterpreted HQN’s intentions with Carina. Can you explain?

    3. Jane, is 20% of authors publishing a second book with a press really that good? I mean, I wouldn’t know how to research that, but frankly that seems like a low number. If clients were so happy with ASI, wouldn’t that percentage be higher?

    Let me say this. I have seen “self-published” books that are quality books. But the author who took this route did so to retain control, retain the rights, be their own publisher rather than rely on others who might dilute their story. It was a choice. Some are niche books that haven’t fit in any publisher’s genre.

    Vanity presses are different entirely. I ought to know. I’ve been published by one. I went in with my eyes wide open and paid my fee. (Which, at the time, was actually one third the cost to print the book. The publisher provided the rest.)
    I had an editor who raked me over the coals. I knew exactly what I was getting with my contract and chose to take the print option so I could have a book in print.
    There’s nothing wrong with that option BUT Whiskey Creek was completely up front about what the print option cost, what it entailed and I had a choice to say “No thanks” and release an ebook only.

    This HH venture implies that rejected books at HQN will now be published. That strikes me as making money from an author’s dream instead of readers.

    Yuck.

    I know that Dear Author is about the reader. Well, I wonder what the readers will now miss out on because a new author who might have tremendous potential is going to be grist in the mill of a dream killing machine.

    ReplyReply

  17. Lynne Connolly
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 13:19:55

    I'd have loved to have been a fly-on-the-wall at the HQN meetings where HH was discussed. Here's my guess, though.

    I don’t think it was discussed at Harlequin at all. I think Torstar did a study – where can we squeeze more milk out of the cash cow, the only subsidiary we have that is doing well – and they came up with Carina and HQN Ho. (HH is Harlequin Historicals, not Horizon).
    They got the marketing people and accountants and financiers onboard, then they told the editing staff. By then it was a done deal and no amount of “it won’t work that way” was going to work. You took it or you left. Period.
    This reeks of top-down, of a “study” maybe done by a management consultancy. It sometimes stinks to be a management consultant. You’re suggestion is supposed to be a starting point, then the company you did the study for takes it and runs with it, instead of doing more specific studies and consulting the people who work in the area.
    Just like HQN did with Ho.

    ReplyReply

  18. Estara
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 13:21:27

    Some suggestions for links to people who do excellent self-published ebooks (not vanity published) – the problem is that only one of these authors I’ve read in self-published form hasn’t first appeared in print at one of the big houses (they’re also mostly not romance authors), so I would expect that it’s difficult to build up reader numbers if you aren’t already somewhat known:

    - Ann Somerville and her Darshian Tales (I’m getting into her Samhain series now as well) at lulu.com (brilliant epic fantasy, with m/m that is simply part of the story and not used for cheap thrills). Actually, I think you can read all of the Darshian Tales for free on her website (where I Highly recommend reading A Fluffy Tale), but they’re LONG! – and good.

    - Book View Café: loads of previously published sf&f authors collectively offering backlist novels and newly written anthologies in ebook form (Sherwood Smith will join soon, yay!) – reads like a who’s who of (mostly) female sf writing (they even have Ursula LeGuin in there – although only as a comic author/artist) ^^ – they’ve just released a collective short story backlist anthology and in December there’ll be a steampunk anthology with all new short stories. You can also read many of the novels in serial instalments free on their site.

    - Wave without a Shore, where C.J. Cherryh, Jane Fancher and Lynn Abbey are working on their own ebook press for their backlist. Haven’t opened yet though.

    - Inkalicious where Michele Jerott Albert is selling five of her out-of-print romance suspense novels as ebooks and you get the first one completely free (which is why I discovered her).

    All these ebooks are drm-free. All great value for the money spent.

    ReplyReply

  19. olivia
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 13:53:35

    This reeks of top-down, of a “study” maybe done by a management consultancy.

    I don’t know or much care about the source and system of the decision-making, and won’t speculate about that. I don’t think the truth will–or can–ever be known.

    I care deeply about the outcome and impacts, to be more fully revealed in the fullness of time. The past 48 hours have been very interesting. And painful for so many.

    One thing you said is certain: This reeks!

    ReplyReply

  20. Harlequin Uproar… | Keri Arthur
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 14:35:02

    [...] real WTF moment for me came from an answer Malle Vallik gave to this following question over on the Dear Author [...]

  21. News on the Horizon | Literary Escapism
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 14:56:34

    [...] Dear Author – Malle Vallik, Harlequin's Digital Director, Answers Questions on Harlequin Horizons [...]

  22. O-Anon
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 16:10:10

    HQN Ho must go viral now!

    ReplyReply

  23. Jane
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 16:13:28

    @Jennifer Leeland Have you read all my comments upthread Ms. Leeland? Because if you had, you would have seen where I said that this is not a good value for authors. I’m not sure why you are asking me these questions.

    ReplyReply

  24. Jennifer Leeland
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 17:17:19

    @Jane: Oh sorry if I missed that Jane. I was asking thinking you had an inside line to the story. (And thought I missed something). You usually have great insight.
    Primarily my questions were aimed toward Miss Vallik.
    And word is that HQN has told its authors it’s going to try and get the Harlequin name off of Harlequin Horizon. (According to a “secret source”)

    ReplyReply

  25. James Macdonald
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 19:31:30

    .@Julia Sullivan:

    Some lovely, well-meaning soul cobbles together a not-ready-for-publication manuscript and pays her $600 and gets her Harlequin Horizons books.

    So far we’ve mostly been considering the book that’s been rejected because it … isn’t very good. That’s the great majority of them, true.

    But consider the case of the book that’s rejected by Harlequin for some other reason than “stinks on ice.” There are other reasons that books get rejected, after all, ranging from “Doesn’t quite fit our line,” to “We’ve already bagged our limit.” Suppose there’s an author whose manuscript could have gone to Pocket for a nice advance, garnering sales, gaining fans, and launching a career? Suppose that author takes the bait, plunks down a few grand, and gets seventy-five sales out of it.

    Where’s the upside for anyone in that scenario?

    Also, and this is real-world, I see it every day: The authors who, instead of sitting home and working on their next books instead spend all their free time, energy, and loose cash on promotion and marketing that’s pre-doomed to failure (they still get the same seventy-five sales). Where’s their professional growth and career going to come from?

    Readers won’t notice or care about the vanity-published books. They aren’t in the stream of commerce right now. They aren’t going to be, either. Unless and until the reading public develops a taste for raw slush. When that happens, within two weeks the bookstores will have their Unedited Slush sections right down front.

    But I don’t see it happening. No one reads slush for fun. No one reads slush a second time unless they’re getting paid to do it. Not even if they’re told that one or two out of every hundred will be a gem.

    What we need to concentrate on here are the authors. RWA and MWA, as author-advocate organizations, are on top of this. And we need to think about the corrosive effect on the publishers who follow this path. No good can come of it.

    ReplyReply

  26. Poison Ivy
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 19:47:01

    No one reads slush a first time unless they’re getting paid to.

    ReplyReply

  27. Kristine
    Nov 20, 2009 @ 03:47:07

    This really worries me. I do look at the E-harlequin writing section from time to time. I do have some thoughts that I might want to try to write a book at some point,though most of my ideas are really outside the box in regards to time period and setting, when I have some time though I am in Graduate School at the moment. I was looking last week and saw that Harlequin was starting an e-publishing site. I thought that it was not a bad idea because a lot of people my age like digial books and if the book is a big hit than everybody wins. But the pay to publish one stinks and I really wondering what the pubisher is thinking at this point. I know times are tough and the industry is suffering because of the recession but this is NOT the way to solve the problem.

    I know the Harlequin gets a lot of bad submissions the reason is that they are the last major publishing house in the industry to take unagented manscripts and this means that you get people that have no idea how much their own book stinks so it can painful to read these books. This does not mean that the solutiion is to allow these messes to be published if the author has enough money to do so. I have a big worry that this action is going to bring down the entire company and this sadden me very much. The reason is that it has been the only place that publishes books that are outside the norm of light happy Regencies, a trend that needs to die right now, so with this action reader may lose their only publisher that seems to care what their readers think and this may be the biggest loss of all.

    ReplyReply

  28. Harlequin broadens its Horizons by adding vanity publishing « Romance Writers of Australia
    Nov 20, 2009 @ 18:42:57

    [...] Dear Author [...]

  29. My take on self-pub/Harlequin Horizons/vanity presses, etc « Trivial Pursuits
    Nov 20, 2009 @ 22:02:18

    [...] It will be almost impossible for a writer to make a profit there, because they take 50% of net.  What’s net?  Net is what is left AFTER cost.  From the questions answered over at the Dear Author blog… Malle: The content is completely owned by the author. Royalties are 50% net from both eBooks and pri… [...]

  30. L’esprit d’escalier » Harlequin Horizons and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Deal
    Nov 21, 2009 @ 17:09:57

    [...] don’t earn anywhere near that.  They earn royalties at 50% of the net price, according to Harlequin’s Digital Director Malle Vallik’s response to that question at Dear Author (comment [...]

  31. Not a Haiku Sunday « Teresa Bodwell Writes
    Nov 22, 2009 @ 14:46:39

    [...] uninspired. Not sure whether it’s the incredible amount of space my brain is devoting to the Harlequin Horizon fiasco. You want more links? More? Well, you get the [...]

  32. Radiant Curses & Bound Sorceresses | Literary Escapism
    Nov 23, 2009 @ 22:39:33

    [...] Dear Author – Malle Vallik, Harlequin's Digital Director, Answers Questions on Harlequin Horizons [...]

  33. The Harlequin Fiasco « Embrace the Shadows
    Nov 24, 2009 @ 04:08:22

    [...] led to a firestorm of opinions all over the blog-o-sphere. The most widely read, IMHO, where at Dear Author and Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.  It was like watching a train wreck. Some speculated that [...]

  34. FiledBy | Blog » Google Settlement Dates + Harlequin Horizons
    Nov 24, 2009 @ 07:24:20

    [...] Vallik, Digital Director for Harlequin, responded to similar concerns raised by the Dear Author blog: “There are a number of reasons to select [...]

  35. the Harlequin hubbub « Collection Developments @ Sno-Isle
    Nov 24, 2009 @ 15:46:19

    [...] immediately, criticism emerged.  a Harlequin rep tried to reassure readers and authors by explaining that it wasn’t a case of brand dilution, that it would be [...]

  36. Harlequin’s Self-Publishing Venture – A Blog Surfer’s Journal « Tia Nevitt
    Nov 24, 2009 @ 17:22:53

    [...] However, it had a linkstravaganza upon the subject, so I found myself following a link to Dear Author that summarizes many of the arguments that authors have against this venture. They also have a response from Harlequin. [...]

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