An Afternoon at Harlequin
From time to time whenever I would see Harlequin executives, editors, and marketing people at various conferences, we would joke about me coming to the Toronto offices and serving as an intern for the day. While I did not do any interning, Malle Vallik (whose unofficial title appears to be the head of fun in the office) me up from the airport and drove me to the suburb of Don Mills where Harlequin’s home offices are located.
I had been warned by Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches–who had visited the Harlequin headquarters before–that the offices where Harlequin is housed is a rather ordinary building featuring a plain exterior. Inside is where the magic takes place.
And it is a sort of magic. Malle took me around to editing, production, and the art department and I came away impressed.
First up was various editorial individuals (names which I should remember but do not. I apologize in advance to all). Harlequin puts out approximately 110 new titles a month and around 150 to 175 when adding in digital first and backlist.
Each book starts at the editor’s desk and is logged electronically. Once the editor provides the edits back to the author, they have about a month (sometimes less) to make those changes. The book returns from the author and then is sent through the process into copyediting and proofing followed by production (typesetting where the PDF is created) and then it is sent off to printing.
I took a picture of the copyediting and proofreading department to show that it’s not a unicorn!
At every juncture, there is an electronic notation of where the book is in the process and all of the corollary items that need to be needed in order to push out a final product. For instance, the blurb needs to be written which will then be accessed by the art department. There is a survey the author fills out about the cover that is shared.
Fonts designs are debated for authors. The fonts of a title and an author are part of the overall branding experience. Take a look at all the Shannon Stacey titles, for example. Each book in the nine book Kowalksi series has the same font treatment as well as the same overall feel. You get an even better sense of this with the Marie Force’s rebranded Fatal series. One of the Art folks had the entire series printed on one page and the effect was so obvious but I honestly never really noticed it before.
Stacey has a new series coming out with Carina Press and they are internally testing out new font treatments for her author name and title.
They will often do several mock covers for one title to see if they are evoking the right feel, both for the digital only books and for the single title stories. Their cover budget is still an important component of their books. For the Harlequin Historicals (which sell really well overseas despite having lackluster North American sales), individual cover shoots are done so that the clothing is period appropriate and even more fascinating, the backgrounds are often painted by an illustrator.
Ten years ago the photoshoots took place in NYC and one of the reasons why is Toronto lacked the costume rental availability. That’s changed quite a bit. Some of the costumes rented are reproductions but others are the actual pieces from that time period. And at many photoshoots, they’ll rent more than one costume to ensure that there is one that fits the model. A photoshoot also requires a makeup artist and stylist.
There is also photo manipulation that occurs, not just of stock photos but of the photo shoots as well. There are head transplants (where they take the head off of one model and place it on another) and more. I was shown one of the series American Romances with several babies on the cover. Most of the babies you see are three months old and the baby photoshoots take place at 10:00 AM because that’s right after their morning nap and breakfast. They are smiley and happy unlike the afternoon. And for every baby on the cover, they have to have three in the studio. Some are not happy to be there. (Head transplants happen for everyone including non happy babies).
Frankly I was surprised and pleased at the effort they take for even the category romances.
Another Art Director shared conceptual covers for a single title. One was more genre focused and one looked more like a big lit fic book. I was fascinated by the different covers and how they conveyed different messages. I told them when they decided on a cover, they should do a blog post about it so I could share with you at DA.
One thing I remember being said about the Twilight series is how well it was “published” in terms of the marketing and publication. I get what that means now. Covers are conferenced in house as are the blurbs for books. The colors that are used along with even what types of filters are overlayed, what types of fonts are used both for the text of the book along with the fonts on the cover are important. Even the amount of text is important. On the back cover, they want to make sure that the space is used efficiently and consistently from book to book. For instance, some back cover copy is left justified while others are centered.
And just the sheer number of tasks that are undertaken to shepherd a book from manuscript to retail product is impressive. I don’t think I fully appreciated it and I wish you were all there with me when I went on this little tour.
There is a hall of books where apparently you can take a copy of anything you’d like. Since I don’t read print, I left them there.
My day ended with a Harlequin tea where I had tea, little desserts, finger sandwiches and got to talk about books, Jane the Virgin television show, and a few Harlequin office romances! The really wonderful thing about being with Harlequin people is that they all read and love romance.
I’m going to be getting a lot of books from Harlequin to tell you about but one title being published in February is a chick in pants story featuring a bisexual hero. Yes, I am totally interested in that.