What’s Happening at Harlequin Historicals?

silkscandal For years, Harlequin Historicals(HH) has been my go-to line for good authors and for access to stories spanning a wide variety of time periods. However, I’ve been noticing that while I normally buy at least 2 or 3 HHs each month, that’s been dwindling lately. And this make sad. I’ve adored this line for a long time, they have some good authors on board, and so it’s hard to watch it change. I’ve been looking at what I see in this line in recent months and I’ll admit that it has me a little worried.

First of all, the variety available in this line seems to be getting more limited. I have to admit that I feel bad mentioning just one historical line on this issue. After all, plenty of publishers seem to be guilty of churning out Regency romp after Regency romp while giving other tones and time periods the short end of the stick. Harlequin Historicals has for some time stood strong against this trend so when their book release lists start reading like a who’s who of wallpaper European Historical tropes, it stands out. If a line that has made its mark as a publisher of light Regency-set historicals adds another to its roster, one expects it. However, when the HH line starts in with the light Regency series, I can’t help noticing.

Now don’t get me wrong. I enjoy reading more than a few Regency historical authors, and HH is not yet all Regency romp, all the time (thank goodness). This is still the line that publishes Jeannie Lin’s China-set historicals, Terri Brisbin’s medievals, and Cheryl St. John’s Westerns as well as Carla Kelly’s novels which, while often set during the Regency period, hardly qualify as wallpapery fluff. However, Harlequin Historicals in recent months is just chock-full of Regencies – or maybe it’s become more noticable because of the number of Regency continuity series. Last year, we had the Silk & Scandal continuity series taking up one of the precious 4 slots on the regular roster(HH also has two mail order-only titles each month) for 8 months of the year. And this year, we have seen plenty of new Regency series to take its place. It’s gotten to the point that I had one AAR reader email me in all seriousness thinking that the Harlequin Historicals name had been changed to Harlequin Regency and wondering how the new line’s books were numbered.

When I went through my TBR and noticed how few recent HH novels I had, I went back through the release lists to refresh my memory on what had come out lately. I found my autobuys from Carla Kelly, Diane Gaston, Jeannie Lin and a couple of others, I saw a few Westerns, and then – a sea of Regency-set historicals, many of them sounding somewhat contrived. On the current roster, the Regency period dominates and half of the regular title list is taken up with Regency-set continuities. One follows a set of sisters who apparently do things such as flee betrothals or enter gambling clubs in disguise (I’m sure you’ve never seen those plot devices before) while the other has bad boy heroes. Previous months have gone by in similar fashion. By way of contrast, a look at my stash of older HH novels showed everything from Regency England to Colonial America to Westerns to medieval adventures, with a few other exotic times and places thrown in (19th century Russia, anyone?). There have been some bright spots on the recent lists from all time periods, but I’ve been noticing an uptick in the number not only of Regency-set historicals and interconnected series, but of newer authors writing in this time period.

When I went back over the lists for this past year, I noticed that most of the books set outside the Regency were from authors such as Debra Cowan, Michelle Willingham or Carol Finch who had already been published and in many cases, these books were part of ongoing series that these authors already had up and running. Why does this worry me just a bit? I love the works of many established authors as my groaning bookshelves can tell you, but debut authors are the future of the genre. And if I’m not seeing new authors for this line writing outside the Regency period(the fabulous Jeannie Lin is the last one I remember but please correct me if I’m wrong), then I can’t help but wonder what the future holds. I’ve been reading Harlequin Historicals since the line launched when I was in middle school, and I can’t imagine watching it go from being “historical” to being “light Regency.”

And that brings me to the last change that worries me a bit – and also irritates me. The publisher has cut the page count of this line over the years – my old HH’s have about 300 pages, but the new ones are clocking in around 288 or so. On top of this, they have now raised the price to $6.25 per book which means that we pay more money to get less story. I know that printing books costs money and that Harlequin needs to make money, but this still strikes me as not the greatest decision in the world.

So, what about you? Have you noticed things like this with lines you like? Harlequin Historicals still has some great authors and I’ll keep reading them. But when I think about how I used to extoll that virtues of HH’s varied list of writing styles and time periods as a haven for readers tired of the wallpaper Regency, I have to admit that I’m getting a little worried.

– Lynn Spencer

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19 Responses to “What’s Happening at Harlequin Historicals?”

  1. SarahT says:

    I agree 100%. Harlequin Historicals were my go-to line for diverse settings. Over the last couple of years, I find myself buying fewer and fewer of them. It seems diversity in time periods has shifted to the inspirational lines.

  2. Kim T. says:

    This is sad to hear, since I’m only starting to read HH’s! I must have read a few in the past, but I only remember Amanda McCabe’s The Winter Queen for it’s brilliant detail (if boring romance). I recently picked up Christine Merrill’s A Regency Christmas Carol and I’m really enjoying it (it’s a cross between Gaskell’s North and South and Dickens’s Christmas Carol). I like that the hero is in trade and there are some nice details.

    Still hoping to get hooked on Carla Kelly, too…I hear so much praise but I only have ever tried Lord Ragsdale which, admittedly, was a DIK.

    I do notice that the HH’s have unique settings…don’t they publish Styles’s Roman historicals? Hope the trend away from them doesn’t continue! I’ve recently picked up a few inspirationals (though I’ve never tried one before) exactly because of their unique settings.

  3. I can tell you what’s happening.
    I had the opportunity to question a couple of Harlequin editors recently, and since it was in a room full of people at a conference, I figure I’m safe to pass it on. (For reference, it was at the recent Festival of Romance in Watford, England).
    They confirmed that two lines (at least) were going to be brought out simultaneously in the UK and the US. As you know, before this, they come out first in the UK, then some are selected to get a US release in the Presents and Historical lines, but before now the lines are separate. I don’t know if the covers will be the same, too.
    For the authors this will mean that some will come out in digital only, and some won’t get a US release for some books, as they work to catch up.
    And from rumors I’ve heard from many authors on those lines (please note that although I write for Carina, another Harlequin line, none of my information came through that source) it seems that there’s a major editorial push. The editing has changed, and some authors have been ‘encouraged’ to write in a different style or a different way. In order to streamline both lines for the US market, I’m guessing. Write for what they think is the US market.
    Look at the authors for each line. There have been a number who haven’t appeared for a year or more. I’ve been waiting for the next Natalie Rivers release forever, for instance, but either she’s taking a break, or she’s being put through the mill.
    There are significant differences between the Brit and the US approaches to writing romance, and I celebrate them. It would be a shame to see the lines homogenized and turned into more historical wallpaper books. Before now, I’ve gone to Harlequin for historical romances with more historical veracity, and I’m really worried that might disappear with the new policy.
    The editors are still based in the UK, and let’s hope that continues.

  4. There are significant differences between the Brit and the US approaches

    I’ve got the impression that there’s been a decrease in the proportion of UK authors writing for the Mills & Boon Historical line and also for the M&B Cherish (formerly “Romance”) line. I do think it makes a difference to the feel of the lines. As for many of those UK authors who remain, particularly in the Historical line, I can well believe that they remain at least partly because they write in a way which the editors believe will please the US market.

  5. Julie says:

    I’ve been reading Harlequin Historicals for years, and I still think that some of the best writers writing historical romances today are published in that line. There’s still lots of variety and fresh twists on old favourites. This year, I’ve read Medieval romances by Anne Herries, Highland romances by Michelle Willingham, gypsy heroes by Christine Merrill, Tudor set romances by June Francis and Viking books by Joanna Fulford. A writer to watch out for is Marguerite Kaye, who has written a trilogy set in the Middle East with Sheikh heroes, a Highlander duo and next year, according to her website, is writing a book about a freed African slave.

    @Laura, I think the majority of British Harlequin Romance writers are now writing for the RIVA imprint and now Cherish seems mostly Harlequin Special Edition and Superromance, with some exceptions being Margaret Way, Rebecca Winters, Donna Alward and Soraya Lane, amongst others.

  6. That probably explains it, then, Julie. I’d noticed that Liz Fielding and Jessica Hart were appearing in the RIVA line. RIVA, incidentally, has shrunk: it used to be 4 books a month and now it’s down to 3.

    Re the historicals, I admit that my assessment of the situation isn’t based on any rigorous analysis and almost certainly has a lot to do with the fact that the prolific Paula Marshall has died (I think), I was waiting expectantly for Claire Thornton to write the third book in a trilogy but her website says she’s “currently taking a break from historical romance, and Elizabeth Bailey seems to have turned to writing crime fiction.

  7. Sorry, that last line is missing a pair of inverted commas after “historical romance”. That’s the kind of thing that happens when I’m feeling grumpy about missing out on the last book in a trilogy ;-)

  8. AAR Lynn says:

    Sarah – Interesting point! I think the inspirational lines over there have a lot more variety, too. They don’t all work for me, but I do find myself buying a lot more Love Inspired Historicals lately.

    Kim T. – There are still some HH’s with non-Regency settings, but not as many as there used to be. And yes, they did publish Michelle Styles’ Roman-set books, but her most recent print releases have been Regency/Victorian.

    Lynne – Very interesting! I’m glad you posted that. I could tell that SOMETHING was happening, but hadn’t heard about the editing.

    Laura Vivanco – I saw that note on her site, too. And I miss her books – writers who tackle 16th/17th century Europe are few and far between.

  9. Sarah says:

    I have to admit that I loved Carla Kelly until she left (was dropped?) from Signet and started writing for Harlequin.

    KimT., you should find some her earlier ones. Reforming Lord Ragsdale was great. So are Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand and Mrs. McVitie’s London Season.

    I’ve also noticed that HH go out of print fairly quickly, which makes it impossible to buy them later.

    • Sarah: I’ve also noticed that HH go out of print fairly quickly, which makes it impossible to buy them later.

      This is their publishing model. In the shops the titles are available for a month. That’s it across all the Harlequin/Mills&Boon category lines. They are still available on Amazon for much longer, and of course now our backlists are being re-released as e-books.

      Elizabeth

  10. I have to put a plug in for the line and say that they have a Western Continuity going on right now! The Cahill Cowboys. I don’t know the details, but I hope that the authors involved had as much fun working on it as we Regency folks did on Silk and Scandal. And the author nationality split for the S & S continuity was %50 US and %UK. We did a lot of international e-mail to make that work.

    I also have to talk up Golden Heart winner, Jeannie Lin’s Butterfly Swords and Dragon and the Pearl. That’s Tang Dynasty China. Jeannie needs to write faster.

    I don’t want you all to put my historical period out of business. But the non Regencies are definitely still at HH, so buy, buy buy!

  11. SuperWendy says:

    Christine beat me on mentioning the Cahill Cowboys continuity. That is out….right now. I think it’s slated to be four books, and the first three are out (November, December, January releases). I’m most excited about book #3 which is by debut author Carol Arens (oh how I love finding debut authors who write westerns!).

    I haven’t really felt there has been a lack of variety. Marquerite Kaye, Michelle Willingham, Jeannie Lin – all had books out this year that I bought. Also I got my annual holiday western anthology fix – so that’s all good.

    I will say the two things that give me pause are the price hike (I pretty much hate $6.25 for category romance – even if it IS still cheaper than the now standard $7.99 for single titles) and I hope the shift in editorial offices in the UK doesn’t mean I’m going to get less westerns. Time will tell with that though.

  12. Cris says:

    Well, you have actually convinced me to give HH books another look! lol

    Give me a “Regency romp” anytime. Those are my absolute favorite books! For me, reading is my escape, my down time. I don’t want to read a book that is dark, sad or even too serious. I want some lighthearted fun that will make me laugh out loud and fall in love with adorable characters!

  13. maggie b. says:

    I only read a limited number of historicals and was surprised to see how many come from the Harlequin line. So long as they are publishing Carla Kelly, they willl have a buyer in me but I hope that they go back to a wider variety of settings. And I love the Lin books! Hope she publishes something new soon.

  14. Virginia DeMarce says:

    I’m actually beginning to wonder if some of the titles were written by the author whose name is on the cover. Carole Mortimer has been writing for a long time, but in her November 2011 release for this line (The Lady Forfeits), the following lines of dialogue, right at the start of the book sample, get the names of both of the men incorrect in form. I really do not understand what is happening.

    Virginia

    ‘Good God, Nathaniel, what have you done to yourself?’ Lord Gabriel Faulkner, Earl of Westbourne, exclaimed with less than his usual haughty aplomb.

    Gabriel had come to an abrupt halt in the doorway of the bedchamber on first sighting his friend as he lay prostrate upon the bed. Lord Nathaniel Thorne’s, Earl of Osbourne’s, face was an array of cuts and rainbow-coloured bruises; a wide bandage about the bareness of his muscled chest attested to the possibility of several ribs also being broken.

  15. Virginia, I’m not sure if your query about the authorship of titles was tongue-in-cheek, but I can assure you that the author named on the cover is very definitely the author.
    The line’s editorial policy is still, as far as I am aware, that while the Regency-set books are the backbone of the line, they still aim to publish in other time periods and geographical locations. The last time I attended a Harlequin editorial talk they were still wanting stories from any and all time periods, up to and including WWII. I think what gets forgotten is that editorial is to a degree dependent on what the authors send in.
    Sure my editor could ask me to write a medieval, but she’d have a very long wait for it while I got my head around the era. (Researching a totally new period from scratch is not a doddle and cuts down on actual money making writing time.) Michelle Willingham is very definitely still writing medieval. Michelle Styles is both prolific and versatile – she’s written Roman-set books, Vikings, as well as Regency and Victorian. Louise Allen is another era versatile writer, Terri Brisbin is still writing medievals. And of course Jeannie Lin with her very different settings. This is still happening. HH has actually been run out of London for several years now and there is no intention of dropping Westerns. They are well aware of the Western’s popularity in North America as part of the line.
    Whether we like it or not, though, editors have to go with what sells in commercial fiction. And they have found that over and over again what sells is Regency. So there is bound to be more of it. This is commercial reality. But HH is still one of the very few publishers offering a variety of time settings.
    I’ll apologise for a possible lack of coherence in this post. I had a late night/early morning getting my book in. Not sure if I should apologise also for its being Regency set??

  16. Though I am tired of the Regency setting, I’m more likely to purchase a Regency published by HH than a single title publisher because the books are still grounded in history and the characters are rarely over-the-top. I do agree with the disappointment over the price point and page count=when prices rise, I want more story, which is why I refuse to pay $7.99 for books with huge print or barely topping 350 pages. However, what I am most thankful for about HH, is the decline of Harlequin Presents-esque titles!! Those were just uck.

  17. Virginia DeMarce says:

    Actually, Elizabeth, my query wasn’t tongue-in-cheek. I was beginning to wonder if some of the authors were being turned into the equivalent of “Carolyn Keene,” with the author as a corporate identity with several ghosts behind it.

    Maybe Lynne Connolly has identified the problem when she says that the writers are being editorially pushed to use different styles.

    That might also account for the weird (and incorrect) name usage in several of the recent books by various different authors.

  18. I can only speak from my own experience, which is that I have never been encouraged to write in anyone’s style but my own. For better or for worse. I know that with newer authors the editors do encourage them to read certain authors to get a feel for the line and what is possible/wanted.

    Authors do take breaks. I’ve been working very slowly for a while on a book that is a bit different for me. The inspiration and decision to write that book was entirely mine. That said, editors do give guidance about the market, about possible future directions for an author. I don’t see this as a bad thing, unless it goes completely against the grain for an author. I decided against one agent because when I met her, she handed me a recent book by one of her authors and told me I needed to write like that. Rather unfair on the author. I read the book, picked up more plot holes due to the author’s total lack of understanding about inheritance laws than I could cope with, and have avoided said author ever since.
    The trick is in giving an author advice that is right for her, and also what will work within the line.
    Incorrect name/title usage has been around for a long, long time even in authors who ought to know better. Irritates the living daylights out of me because it’s not that hard to get right. Even if you have to email another author who does know.

    Elizabeth