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Harlequin Is Like Your Parents, Constantly Embarassing You Every Time You...

Harlequin 2007 Romance ReportIn the recent RWR (Romance Writers Report) from RWA, there is an article about what RWA is doing to improve the image of romance. RWA, at the behest of its membership, formed the “Image Committee.” The goal of the Image Committee was to “improve the public perception of the romance genre and promote the overall image of romance fiction.” After “enormous deliberation”, it was decided that the Image Committee would be dissolved. Instead, RWA will be working toward with full time marketing professionals to implement a national marketing plan to improve the general public’s opinion toward romance novels, authors and readers.

Beyond Breathless (Harlequin Blaze)First thing would be for the marketing folks to get with Harlequin. Harlequin, bless your sweet heart, you do offer a wide variety of books that appeal to a broad spectrum of readers. Your catalog runs the gamut from sweet to sexy, from lighthearted to somber, from fantasy fiction to fantasy erotica. Jayne and I both enjoyed Kathleen O’Reilly’s Beyond Breathless (Harlequin Blaze). But oftentimes, you are like my parents, constantly embarrassing me at every turn.

Recently, Harlequin released its 4 color glossy 21 page Romance Report of 2007. This report is sent to the press, booksellers and I guess, made available at RT for readers and whomever. For those not in printing or marketing, 4 color glossy 21 page brochures are very very expensive. Of course, they could be producing these in house and probably are, but still its costly.

Does the report talk about how smart romance readers are? Or how diverse they are? Does the report highlight books, trends in reading, or new authors? Does it uplift the genre and speak to the issue of credibility? No. It panders to every godforsaken stereotype about romance readers out there.

In the press release which Harlequin authors, it provides the following as an excerpt from the report:

Americans seem to always be on their PDA’s and cell phones, hard at work wherever they are. Or are they? There may be another reason men and women are intensely typing away on their electronic devices, and it isn’t business. Harlequin’s Romance Report 2007 found that more than 55% of men and 47% of women in the U.S. have sent a sexually explicit email, text or instant message to someone – proving you just may be able to mix business and pleasure.”

So romance is about sending porn to others through your smartphone? And romance readers are the type to send porn through the cellular network. The report is about statistics compiled, not of readers and what they want to see in their books or covers that are appealing or topics and so forth. Instead it is a report of what 2,256 US adults think of romance.

  • More than 87% of men and 93% of women agree that romance is whatever you want it to be.
  • 72% of women yearn for more romance.
  • 84% of men agree that it’s cool to be romantic.
  • 67% of women think that romance in the workplace is taboo.

There is a list of Harlequin’s Coolest Women. Sheryl Crow is number 1. Harlequin’s Coolest Men. George Clooney is Number 1. There is a list of Romantic destinations. How to say I love you in different languages. You know, so you will be a well armed traveler. Saying “I love you” to the cabbie is just as good as leaving a tip.

There’s some tips on being more romantic: How to stage a romantic intervention. How to be a better Significant Other. What is this COSMO? And if so, where is my quiz?

Harlequin’s promotional effort says less about its attempts to be fiction for women and more about the misconception that every woman who reads romance must necessarily be seeking love, whether it is from the “new romantic male” (who tattoos his fingers) or whether it is obtained in exciting places like Nepal. It’s not about how smart we readers are. What a broad spectrum of women reader’s ethnicity may be. It’s not about how diverse the reader’s tastes are. It’s about how to catch a man in five days in 10 different places.

Blood Son (Nocturne)On page 13, of the 21 page brochure there is finally a mention of a book. A small cover ad for Erica Orloff’s Blood Son (Nocturne)appears. (Love Orloff by the way). In fact, out of the entire brochure, there are only 5 books featured. 5! I’m not in public relations. I’m not in marketing. But it seems to me producing this report and providing a press release about people sending porn over their smartphones doesn’t help to sell books (not to mention getting people fired). This report gives the media and booksellers just one more thing that they can use to sneer at us. Hey, honey, want a link to download some porn to your phone with that Harlequin Blaze. I know that is what you readers like. Harlequin told us so in its glossy brochure. And Harlequin knows romance and romance readers so it must be true.

Harlequin doesn’t really know this reader. If they did, they would know that I want to be known for more than being able to send dirty SMS messages on my Motorola Q.

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

28 Comments

  1. May
    Jan 30, 2007 @ 04:53:50

    Fabulous post, Jane.

    I’ve the 2006 version, and it also reads like Cosmo. Except that I think the 2007 version must be worse because the 2006 version has 7 books in it (sort of, if you count the additional 2 covers Mr. Romance starred in).

    Some of the things are repeats. We have Starstruck, the men, and the women, and a list of romantic destinations etc.

    Oh and lets not forget the interview Harlequin’s romance consultant!

  2. Nora Roberts
    Jan 30, 2007 @ 06:23:42

    I can only say: Le sigh.

    Nora

  3. Shiloh Walker
    Jan 30, 2007 @ 06:30:42

    wow. a romance report, pruduced by a romance publisher, that doesn’t really talk about romances at all. Makes perfect sense to me… :o|

  4. Joyce Ellen Armond
    Jan 30, 2007 @ 06:34:18

    That does sound like a promo piece produced for readers, a kind of value add to get readers to associate love, romance, hope and sex with the Harlequin brand. And in that context it is just as offensive.

    I think that somewhere along the way, media people began to believe their own bullshit, I mean marketing tactics. I fear that some professionals actually believe we live like the girls in Sex In The City.

    The truth is my Mr Big left a smear of cottage cheese across my keyboard last night, the cats knocked a dish of milk all over the kitchen in an apparent hocky game of sorts, it’s going to snow today and I’m going to wear not strappy sandals, but big honking boots with no heel at all. All I’d want to do in Nepal is shut the damn door, draw a hot bath and read!

  5. Lara
    Jan 30, 2007 @ 08:24:33

    ::: head hits desk. repeatedly. :::

  6. kardis
    Jan 30, 2007 @ 09:24:41

    Argh, argh, argh… who thought this was a good idea?? Perhaps, like my parents, it is time to lock Harlequin’s marketing staff away in a home where they cannot get out (I’m just kidding, I’ve not yet remodeled my parents home to not have doors).

  7. Tara Marie
    Jan 30, 2007 @ 09:52:44

    Maybe we’re the oddballs, maybe we don’t realize that the average romance reader is truly a Cosmo reading, Sex in the City wannabe sending dirty text messages and emails. Maybe I need to turn in my Birkenstocks for a pair of Manolo Blahniks or Jimmy Choos–lord, I hope I spelled those right–LOL.

    Maybe if Harlequin has enough money to turn out this drivel they have enough to actually buy a clue.

  8. Sandy AAR
    Jan 30, 2007 @ 10:10:00

    I am in the advertising and marketing business and I find it hard to get past the fact that there is such a dumb error in the first line of a press release (which should be proofed by multiple people). And, I’m with you, Jane. They don’t know me either.

  9. Jaci Burton
    Jan 30, 2007 @ 10:22:11

    It might just be my opinion, but shouldn’t an expensive publisher catalog feature….books?

  10. Sara Dennis
    Jan 30, 2007 @ 12:51:16

    Tattooed fingers are romantic? I thought that was prison block chic.

  11. Sybil
    Jan 30, 2007 @ 12:55:14

    [quote comment="22446"]Maybe if Harlequin has enough money to turn out this drivel they have enough to actually buy a clue.[/quote]

    If Harlequin has this much money they have enough to pay higher rates to their authors for their ebooks.

    Just saying…

  12. Nora Roberts
    Jan 30, 2007 @ 13:52:48

    I own several pairs of Manolo’s and Choo’s (okay, I’m a shoe ho, so what?)

    But they don’t appear to know me either.

  13. jmc
    Jan 30, 2007 @ 14:06:01

    Do you think Harlequin intended to repeat its methodology and “About Harlequin” 10+ times in the press release? As I scrolled down the page, I saw the body of the release at least four times before I stopped counting. Again, is there an editor in the house?

    I just skimmed the Romance Report. Does anyone at Harlequin Enterprises really think that readers need Harlequin to tell them what’s hot and what’s not, or where to go for a romantic vacation? I’d check out Lonely Planet and a variety of other sources for that. Stick with the books, please!

  14. Christine Rimmer
    Jan 30, 2007 @ 14:21:54

    Jane, well…

    Just to clarify: the Romance Report is *not* a catalog. It’s *not* for readers or authors, nor is it *about* readers or authors. It’s not even about books. It’s for drivetime radio jocks and the like, so on Valentine’s Day they’ll have something to crack wise about during rush hour. Any book advertising they do in there is viewed as a sidelight. It’s about getting various media to talk Romance on 2/14 and maybe, just maybe, say they got their stats from Harlequin. It’s about Harlequin=Romance. Since Harlequin continues to put it out year after year in the same very costly format, they must think it’s working.

    I personally would prefer a higher royalty rate, but…there you have it.

  15. Leslie Kelly
    Jan 30, 2007 @ 15:06:47

    I’ve heard it explained just as Christine did above.

    Whether it works, I have no idea. But I honestly can’t imagine how much it costs to produce and send out.

    And FYI–I was on the “image committee” for RWA and one of the reasons it was disbanded was because there was *zero* budget. We tossed around dozens of ideas but very few could be implemented for little or no money.

    Most of them involved Nora being her goddess-self…lol!

  16. Leslie Kelly
    Jan 30, 2007 @ 15:11:56

    PS: Of the ideas we discussed, the one I liked the most was something along the lines of, “Bet you thought you didn’t like romance…” showing people watching romantic movies, romantic TV shows, having candlelight dinners, etc., and tying it in to romance reading.

  17. Lynn M
    Jan 30, 2007 @ 19:58:05

    I’m sorry, but no matter what they say, I don’t think the image of romance novels/novelists/readers will ever be changed significantly until the book covers are changed. If the images in this post are two of the five books shown and I didn’t know any better from being a reader myself, I would get the distinct impression that Harlequin is all about sex and nothing but sex. Not that we should hide erotica or romantica or “hot” books beneath brown paper wrappers. But just as the clinch covers of the 1980s gave romance novels a certain lack of respectability (who can take a book seriously when it features bare-chested men astride bucking black stallions while clutching a torn-bodiced, hair-blown models?), these covers simply represent photographic clinches of a sort.

  18. Emily
    Jan 30, 2007 @ 21:59:46

    Whenever a company has to try to be hip, they always miss by at least a decade.

  19. Kristie(J)
    Jan 30, 2007 @ 22:19:17

    Acckk!!! What a wasted opportunity. It’s so frustrating isn’t it. We romance readers are just like the Rodney Dangerfields of reading aren’t we. So untrue and so unfair!

  20. riley
    Jan 31, 2007 @ 10:30:13

    Whan I first read the heading, I thought it said, Harlequin Is Like Your Parents, Constantly Embarrassing You Eveytime THEY Try To Be Cool.
    Actually, Harlequin is like the tryingtobecool parents, while the non romance reading public are the teenagers. They will never, ever be cool enough for them because of things like this. No wonder romance has a bad rep.

  21. Dee
    Jan 31, 2007 @ 11:13:36

    “I’m sorry, but no matter what they say, I don’t think the image of romance novels/novelists/readers will ever be changed significantly until the book covers are changed.”

    I agree wholeheartedly, Lynn M. I’ve fought against the dreaded clinch since my first boo came out in 1999. It seems I’ve won a battle or two since my last two covers are sans clinch, It says to readers all that is important in this book is the frequency and duration of the hot and heavy. But surprise, Virginia, there is an actual plot in romances that is enhanced by lovemaking scenes, but is not the whole thrust (couldn’t help the pun) of the story.

  22. Lynne
    Feb 01, 2007 @ 21:48:22

    OMG, Sandy! I saw that, too! A big, honkin’ typo in the first line. LOL!!

  23. C newman
    Feb 02, 2007 @ 12:26:39

    [quote comment="22393"]I can only say: Le sigh.

    Nora[/quote]
    [quote comment="22472"]I own several pairs of Manolo’s and Choo’s (okay, I’m a shoe ho, so what?)[/quote]

    You and Linda Howard!!! What are we going to do with the two of you?

  24. Karen Scott
    Feb 02, 2007 @ 19:21:03

    Maybe we’re the oddballs, maybe we don’t realize that the average romance reader is truly a Cosmo reading, Sex in the City wannabe sending dirty text messages and emails.

    I’ll have you know that I read Cosmo for its interesting view on politics in the western society, and I constantly channel Samantha Jones whenever there’s a hot guy around. Is sending dirty text messages during work time a bad thing? Crap. *g*

  25. Love and Romance » Blog Archive » What do you think’s romantic?
    Feb 12, 2007 @ 21:46:21

    [...] 2007 Romance Report has been criticised for what it doesn’t do: Does the report talk about how smart romance readers are? Or how diverse they are? Does the report [...]

  26. spyscribbler
    Oct 01, 2007 @ 22:24:13

    Wow, I didn’t know they did that.

    That report is just plain weird. It reads like a mock report. It’s just … um, weird.

  27. Confess Yourself: Are you a closet category romance reader? | Dear Author: Romance Book Reviews, Author Interviews, and Commentary
    Oct 09, 2007 @ 04:01:36

    [...] release from Harlequin a couple of weeks ago about the online version of the Romance Report that I made fun of last year. The theme was confessions. This year, though, I figured it would be just too easy and [...]

  28. impending independant author
    Aug 14, 2009 @ 10:39:39

    Why are all Harlequin books the same. I love them honestly, but I find I can only read a few then take a break because the plot, characters and story lines are all THE SAME! And the more I look into it, it seems that’s kind of a requirement? Kind of too bad though, there’s alot of readers looking for something fresh and different, and as addicted to these short novels as we are, we kinda need some REALITY…. hmm..

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