|Founder||Jack Palmer and Doug Weld|
|Country of origin||Canada|
Harlequin Enterprises Limited is a Toronto-based company that publishes series romance and women's fiction. Owned by the Torstar Corporation, the largest newspaper publisher in Canada, the company publishes approximately 120 new titles each month in 29 different languages in 107 international markets on six continents. These books are written by over 1,300 authors worldwide, offering readers a broad range of fiction including romance, psychological thrillers and relationship novels. The company reported sales of 131 million books in 2006—half overseas and 96% outside of Canada.
- 1 Early years
- 2 Mills and Boon partnership
- 3 Romance wars
- 4 International expansion
- 5 Additional imprints
- 6 Current
- 7 Class Action Lawsuit
- 8 Lists of Harlequin Category Romance Imprints
- 9 Harlequin More Than Words
- 10 Footnotes
- 11 References
- 12 External links
In May 1949, Harlequin was founded in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada as a paperback reprinting company. The business was a partnership between Advocate Printers and Doug Weld of Bryant Press, Richard Bonnycastle, plus Jack Palmer, head of the Canadian distributor of the Saturday Evening Post and the Ladies' Home Journal. Palmer oversaw marketing for the new company and Richard Bonnycastle took charge of the production. 
The company's first product was Nancy Bruff's novel The Manatee. For its first few years, the company published a wide range of books, all offered for sale for 25 cents. Among the novels they reprinted were works by Agatha Christie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, James Hadley Chase, and Somerset Maugham. Their biggest success was Jean Plaidy's 1951 release, Beyond the Blue Mountain. Of the 30,000 copies sold, only 48 were returned. Although the new company had strong sales, profit margins were limited and the operation struggled to stay solvent.
Following the death of Jack Palmer in the mid-1950s, Richard Bonnycastle acquired his twenty-five percent interest in Harlequin. Still struggling to survive, soon Doug Weld departed and Richard Bonnycastle, now in full control, transferred Weld's shares to key staff member, Ruth Palmour.
In 1953, Harlequin began to publish medical romances. When the company's chief editor died the following year, Bonnycastle's wife, Mary, took over his duties.  Mary Bonnycastle enjoyed reading the romances of British publisher Mills and Boon, and, at her urging, in 1957 Harlequin acquired the North American distribution rights to the category romance novels which had been published by Mills and Boon in the Commonwealth of Nations. The first Mills and Boon novel to be reprinted by Harlequin was Anne Vinton's The Hospital in Buwambo (Mills and Boon No 407).
Mills and Boon partnership
The contract with Mills and Boon was based solely on a handshake, given each year when Bonnycastle visited London. He would lunch at the Ritz Hotel with Alan Boon, the son of a Mills and Boon founder, and the two would informally agree to extend their business agreement for an additional year.
Mary Bonnycastle and her daughter Judy Burgess exercised editorial control over which Mills and Boon novels were reprinted by Harlequin. They had a "decency code" and rejected more sexually explicit material that Mills and Boon submitted for reprinting. Upon realizing that the genre was popular, Richard Bonnycastle finally decided to read a romance novel. He chose one of the more explicit novels and enjoyed it. On his orders, the company conducted a market test with the novel he had read and discovered that it outsold a similar, tamer novel. Overall, intimacy in the novels never extended beyond a chaste kiss between the protagonists.
The romances proved to be hugely popular, and by 1964 the company was exclusively publishing Mills and Boon novels. Although Harlequin had the rights to distribute the Mills and Boon books throughout North America, in 1967 over 78% of their sales took place in Canada, where the sell-through rate was approximately 85%. Richard Bonnycastle died in 1968 and his son, Richard Bonnycastle, Jr., took over the company. He immediately organized the 1969 relocation of operations to Toronto, Ontario where he would build the company into a major force in the publishing industry. In 1970, Bonnycastle, Jr. contracted with Pocket Books and Simon and Schuster to distribute the Mills and Boon novels in the United States.
On October 1, 1971, Harlequin purchased Mills and Boon. John Boon, another founder's son, remained with the company, overseeing British operations. North American booksellers were reluctant to stock mass market paperbacks, Harlequin chose to sell their books "where the women are", distributing them in supermarkets and other retail stores. The company focuses on selling the line of books, rather than individual titles. Rather than traditional advertising, the company focused on giveaways. A sampling of books within a line would be given away, sometimes in conjunction with other products, in the hopes that readers would continue to buy books within that line. Harlequin then began a reader service, selling directly to readers who agreed to purchase a certain number of books each month.
At the time that Harlequin purchased Mills and Boon, the company published only one line of category romances. Six novels were released each month in this line, known as Harlequin Romance. At the urging of John Boon, in 1973 Harlequin introduced a second line, Harlequin Presents. Designed partially to highlight three popular and prolific authors, Violet Winspear, Anne Hampson, and Anne Mather, these novels were slightly more sensual than their Harlequin Romance counterparts. Although Mary Bonnycastle disapproved of the more sensual nature of these novels, they had sold well in Great Britain, and the company chose to distribute them in North America as well. Within two years the Harlequin Presents novels were outselling Harlequin Romance.
By 1975, 70% of Harlequin's sales came from the United States. Despite this fact, the company contracted with only British writers. Harlequin contracted with its first American author in late 1975 when they purchased a novel by Janet Dailey. Dailey's novels provided the romance genre's "first look at heroines, heroes and courtships that take place in America, with American sensibilities, assumptions, history, and most of all, settings." Harlequin was unsure how the market would react to this new type of romance, and was unwilling to fully embrace it. In the late 1970s, a Harlequin editor rejected a manuscript by Nora Roberts, who has since become the top-selling romance author, because "they already had their American writer."
Harlequin terminated its distribution contract with Simon and Schuster and Pocket Books in 1976. This left Simon and Schuster with a large sales force and no product. To fill this gap, and to take advantage of the untapped talent of the American writers Harlequin had rejected, Simon and Schuster formed Silhouette Books in 1980. Silhouette published several lines of category romance, and encouraged their writers to experiment within the genre, creating new kinds of heroes and heroines and addressing contemporary social issues.
Realizing their mistake, Harlequin launched their own line of America-focused romances in 1980. The Harlequin Superromance line was the first of its lines to originate in North America instead of in Britain. The novels were similar to the Harlequin Presents books, but were longer and featured American settings and American characters.
Harlequin had also failed to adapt quickly to the signs that readers appreciated novels with more explicit sex scenes, and in 1980, several publishers entered the category romance market to fill that gap. That year, Dell launched Candlelight Ecstasy, the first line to waive the requirement that heroines be virginal. By the end of 1983, sales for the Candlelight Ecstasy line totaled $30 million. Silhouette also launched similar lines, Desire and Special Edition, each of which had a 90-100% sellout rate each month. The sudden increase in category romance lines meant an equally sudden increase in demand for writers of the new style of romance novel. This tight market caused a proportionate decrease in the quality of the novels that were being released. By 1984, the market was saturated with category lines and readers had begun to complain of redundancy in plots. The following year, the "dampening effect of the high level of redundancy associated with series romances was evident in the decreased number of titles being read per month." Harlequin's return rate, which had been less than 25% in 1978, when it was the primary provider of category romance, swelled to 60%.
In 1984, Harlequin purchased Silhouette. Despite the acquisition, Silhouette continued to retain editorial control and to publish various lines under their own imprint. Eight years later, Harlequin attempted to purchase Zebra, but the deal did not go through. Despite the loss of Zebra, Harlequin maintained an 85% share of the North American category romance market in 1992.
Torstar Corporation, which owns Canada's largest daily newspaper, the Toronto Star, purchased Harlequin in 1981. The company began actively expanding into other markets. Although the authors of Harlequin novels universally share English as a first language, each Harlequin office functions independently in deciding which books to publish, edit, translate, and print, "to ensure maximum adaptibility to the particulars of their respective markets."
Harlequin began expanding into other parts of Europe in 1974, when it entered into a distribution agreement with Cora Verlag, a division of German publisher Axel Springer AG. The companies signed a two-year agreement to release two Mills and Boon novels each month in magazine format. The books sold well, and when the agreement came up for renewal Harlequin instead purchased a 50% interest in Cora Verlag. The new joint venture format allowed Harlequin to receive more of the profits, and allowed them to gain continued distribution in West Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. As of 1998, Germany represented 40% of Harlequin's total European business.
During this same period, Harlequin opened an office in the Netherlands. Although this office lost money in its first year, by its third year in business it had accumulated a profit. In 1979, the company expanded in Scandinavia with an office in Stockholm. Expansion was rapid in both Finland and Norway. Within two years of its opening, Harlequin held 24% of the market for mass market books in Sweden. Scandinavia offered unique issues however, as booksellers refused to sell the category romances, complaining that the books' short life span (one month) created too much work for too little compensation. Booksellers and distributors also worried that the uniformity of the Harlequin book covers made advertising too difficult. Instead, Harlequin novels in Scandinavia are classified as magazines, and sold in supermarkets, at newststands, or through subscription. Harlequin has retained their North American style direct marketing. The direct marketing message is very similar in Scandinavia to that of North America, but the target audience differs a bit.
The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, gave Harlequin an opportunity to extend into previously closed markets. Cora Verlag distributed over 720,000 romance novels at border checkpoints to introduce East Germans to the company's books. The same year, Harlequin's German joint venture began distributing books in Hungary. Within two years, the company was selling 7 million romances in that country, and by the third year, Harlequin sold 11 million books in Hungary, a nation which at the time contained only 5.5 million women. At the same time, Harlequin's wholly owned subsidiary in Poland was able to order initial print runs of 174,000 copies of each title, and the Czech Republic was purchasing over $10 million each year of Harlequin novels. In 1992, Harlequin had its best year (as of 1998), selling over 205 million novels in 24 languages on 6 continents. The company released a total of 800 new titles in English, with 6,600 foreign editions.
Harlequin moved into the Chinese market in January 1995. In China, the company produced books in both Mandarin and English. Twenty titles were offered each year in Mandarin, with 550,000 copies offered of each. An additional ten titles were offered in English, with print runs of 200,000 copies each.
In total, Harlequin has offices in New York, London, Tokyo, Milan, Sydney, Paris, Madrid, Stockholm, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Athens, Budapest, Granges-Pacot and Warsaw, as well as licensing agreements in nine other countries.
Harlequin's success in overseas markets is a result of its "emphasis on locality and language, independence and autonomy." The editors in Harlequin's branch offices have a great deal of control over which Harlequin novels will be published in their market. An editor generally chooses a book after either reading it herself, receiving a favorable review of the book from someone else, or reading a tip sheet about the novel. The editors accept a novel for one of four reasons:
- She believes it will sell well.
- She really liked the novel
- She is looking for a specific setting or topic for the month
- The Harlequin head office insists that the book be published.
The novels published overseas are not necessarily contemporaries of those sold in North America, or even those sold in other European countries. International editors are allowed to choose from Harlequin's backlist, and books published in a particular country may have been published in North America six or seven years previously. As the novels are translated into the country's native tongue, the names of the hero or heroine may be changed and the title might not be translated literally. Furthermore, each novel is usually shortened by 10-15% from its original English version. This is usually accomplished by removing references to American pop culture, removing puns that do not translate well, and tightening the descriptive passages.
In the early 1990s, many of Harlequin's authors began leaving the company to write single-title romances for other publishers. To retain their top talent, in October 1994 Harlequin launched the MIRA imprint to publish single-title romances. Most of their early novels were written by well-known Harlequin authors, including Heather Graham Pozzessere, whose novel Slow Burn launched the imprint. For its first few years, MIRA produced four novels each month. Of these, one would be an original novel, while the other three were repackaged backlist by other Harlequin authors.
Harlequin has expanded its range of books, offering everything from romance novels under its various Harlequin and Silhouette imprints; thrillers and commercial literary fiction under the MIRA imprint; erotic fiction under the Spice imprint; Bridget Jones-style 'Chick lit' under its Red Dress Ink imprint; fantasy books under the LUNA imprint; inspirational fiction published under the name Steeple Hill and Steeple Hill Café; African-American romance under its Kimani Press imprints; male action adventure books under Gold Eagle imprint and single title romances under the HQN imprint.
In 2009, Harlequin Enterprises announced the creation of a vanity press imprint, Harlequin Horizons. The Romance Writers of America, Science Fiction Writers of America, and Mystery Writers of America denounced the move and revoked the eligibility of Harlequin's other imprints for their associations' conferences and awards. Following the backlash, the imprint changed its name to DellArte Press.
In 2002, Harlequin published 1,113 romance novels, more than half of all romances released in North America. The next most prolific publisher was Kensington Books, which released only 219 romance titles. In 2006, Harlequin published books in 26 languages in 109 international markets. They sold a total of 131 million books, similar to the company's sales in 2005.
The company is considered one of the most profitable in publishing. Over $585 million worth of books sold in 2003, for gross profits of $124 million and a profit margin of 21%. Its large profit margin can be tied in part to the amount of advance that its authors receive. These advances are often smaller than the industry average, and can total to only a few thousand dollars for a series romance. Despite its profitability, and a 37.2% pay hike for Harlequin President and CEO, Donna Hayes in 2011, there is controversy with its royalty program for authors. In 2011, the Romance Writers Association sent a letter to all members to "exercise due diligence in reviewing contracts" with Harlequin because "several members of RWA have expressed concern regarding" Harlequin's digital royalty rate changes and non-compete clauses. This is not the first time Harlequin had been called out by the Romance Writers Association regarding Harlequin's treatment of their authors. In 2009, Harlequin was called out by the Romance Writers of America, Mystery Writer's Association, and the Science Fiction Writers Association for schemes of making their authors pay for publishing. In 2012, Harlequin faced a class action lawsuit from authors alleging that it had fraudulently licensed e-book publishing rights at low rates to one of its subsidiaries in order to pay royalties only on the licensing fees instead of on the full sales receipts; in response the publisher stated that its authors "have been recompensed fairly and properly".
Class Action Lawsuit
In 2012 a class action lawsuit was filed against Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd. The lawsuit alleges that Harlequin deprives Plaintiffs and the other authors in the class, of e-book royalties due to them under publishing agreements entered into between 1990 and 2004.
Lists of Harlequin Category Romance Imprints
- List of Harlequin Romance novels - Contains over 4300 entries
- Harlequin American Romance -- small-town
- Harlequin Blaze -- more explicit
- Harlequin Historicals
- Harlequin Intrigue
- Harlequin Presents
- Harlequin Presents Extra
- Harlequin Superromance
- Harlequin Nocturne
- Harlequin Romantic Suspense
- Harlequin Desire
- Harlequin Special Edition
- Harlequin Medical Romance
- Harlequin Showcase
- Harlequin Bestselling Author Collection
- Harlequin The Best of Betty Neels
Love Inspired Imprints
- Love Inspired
- Love Inspired Suspense
- Love Inspired Historical
- Love Inspired Classics
Kimani Press Imprints
- Kimani Press Kimani Romance
- Kimani Press Arabesque
- Kimani Press TRU
- Kimani Press Special Releases
- Carina Press
- LUNA Books
- MIRA Books
- HQN Books
- Harlequin TEEN
- Harlequin Nonfiction
- Worldwide Library
- Gold Eagle
Harlequin More Than Words
Harlequin Enterprises runs Harlequin More Than Words, a community investment program to reward women's work in communities across North America. Harlequin Enterprises solicits nominations of women who are making notable contributions to their communities. Five women are chosen as Harlequin More Than Words award recipients each year, and a donation of $50,000 is divided equally among their charitable causes. A collection of romance-fiction short stories inspired by their lives is then written by five of Harlequin's leading authors. Some of the biggest names in women's fiction have donated their time and talent to the annual More Than Words anthology, including Diana Palmer, Debbie Macomber, Susan Wiggs and Linda Lael Miller. The first book was published in October 2004, with a new volume published annually. Proceeds from the sale of the book are reinvested in the Harlequin More Than Words program.
- Wyatt, Edward (August 17, 2004), "'Sorry, Harlequin,' She Sighed Tenderly, 'I'm Reading Something Else'", The New York Times, retrieved 2007-08-27[dead link]
- Hemmungs Wirten (1998), p. 63.
- Thurston (1987), p. 42.
- Hemmungs Wirten (1998), p. 64.
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- Regis (2003), p. 185
- Regis (2003), p. 156.
- Thurston, pp. 46-47.
- Thurston (1987), pp. 46-47.
- Regis (2003), pp. 155-156
- Regis (2003), p. 159.
- Regis (2003), pp. 158, 183, 184.
- Regis (2003), pp. 156, 159.
- Regis (2003), p. 184
- Hemmungs Wirten (1998), p. 67.
- Barrett, Mary Ellin (January 9, 1983), "Pure as the Driven Slush" (PDF), Family Weekly, archived from the original on 2007-09-27, retrieved 2007-05-24
- Thurston, p 188.
- Thurston, p 128.
- Thurston, p 190.
- Hemmungs Wirten (1998), pp. 67-68.
- Hemmungs Wirten (1998), p. 69.
- Hemmungs Wirten (1998), pp. 21-22.
- Hemmungs Wirten (1998), p. 101.
- Hemmungs Wirten (1998), p. 102.
- Hemmungs Wirten (1998), p. 103.
- Hemmungs Wirten (1998), p. 19.
- Hemmungs Wirten (1998), p. 68.
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- Hemmungs Wirten (1998), p. 184.
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- Hemmungs Wirten (1998), pp. 130, 133.
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- Lopresti, Rob (2009-12-02). "Helplessly Hoping". Self-publishing, Vanity Presses. University of Washington, Bellingham: Criminal Brief.
- Strauss, Victoria (2009-11-18). "Harlequin Horizons: Another Major Publisher Adds A Self-Publishing Division". Publishing Pitfalls. Writer Beware.
- Andriani, Lynn (20 November 2009), "RWA, MWA and SFWA Angered by Harlequin's New Self-Publishing Imprint", Publisher's Weekly, retrieved 2009-11-20[dead link]
- Andriani, Lynn (7 December 2009), "Mystery Writers Boots Harlequin from Approved Publishers List", Publisher's Weekly, retrieved 2009-12-11[dead link]
- "Torstar Corporation Announces Fourth Quarter and 2006 Full Year Results" (Press release). Torstar Corporation. February 28, 2007. Archived from the original on 2007-03-03. Retrieved 2007-08-27.
- [dead link]
- "Attorney to Harlequin: What Have You Been Smoking?". The Passive Voice. 2011-07-14. Retrieved 2012-07-19.
- "RWA, MWA and SFWA Angered by Harlequin's New Self-Publishing Imprint". Publishersweekly.com. Retrieved 2012-07-19.
- Woods, Stuart (July 19, 2012), "Harlequin faces lawsuit for unpaid digital royalties", Quill & Quire.
- "Harlequin Lawsuit".
- "Silhouette Fades as Harlequin Rebrands". Retrieved 19 September 2011.
- Hemmungs Wirten, Eva (1998). Global Infatuation: Explorations in Transnational Publishing and Texts. The Case of Harlequin Enterprises and Sweden (PDF). Section for Sociology of Literature at the Department of Literature, Number 38. Uppsala University. Retrieved 2007-08-27.
- Regis, Pamela (2003), A Natural History of the Romance Novel, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, ISBN 0-8122-3303-4
- Thurston, Carol (1987), The Romance Revolution, Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, ISBN 0-252-01442-1
- The Fales Library Guide to the Harlequin Romance Collection of Treva M. Taylor
- Harlequin homepage
- www.HarlequinMoreThanWords.com -- information about the charity and how to make a nomination
- Harlequin digital repository