award_trophy This evening, at the YWCA of the City of New York’s 6th Annual Summer Soiree, Harlequin Publisher and CEO Donna Hayes will be presented with the “W” Award. This award is presented by the YWCA to women and companies that they see as embodying the mission of the organization to empower women, and Ms. Hayes has been selected for her work at Harlequin which the YWCA proclaims, “celebrates characters of all colors, ages, and backgrounds.”

Though she keeps a very busy schedule, Donna Hayes very graciously granted us an interview. We got to discuss how romances empower women, where Harlequin is going from here, and even those titles! It’s all below the cut:

1. First of all, congratulations on receiving the “W” award from the YWCA of New York City. That is a tremendous honor. I know about Harlequin’s work on behalf of women primarily through the More than Words anthologies. Are there other initiatives that you all work with?

Thank you, it is a tremendous honor as we have such high regard for the YWCA and its efforts to advance the cause of women. The focus of our philanthropic efforts is the Harlequin More Than Words program which celebrates ordinary women doing extraordinary things for their communities. We are, of course, a company focused on women, with over 1000 female authors, mostly female employees and millions of readers around the world who we strive to entertain every day.

2. In recent years, Harlequin has vastly expanded its offerings both of series romance and other women’s fiction in general. What role do you see this giving you in the portrayal of women in fiction?

Harlequin has always prided itself on reflecting women’s lives as they’ve evolved throughout the years. With the growth in Harlequin TEEN and our Non-Fiction program as well as our digital offerings I see Harlequin being the one publisher women can trust to get their stories told to the broadest audience. Our loyal readers will continue to find women portrayed in an empowering way whether it be through an uplifting memoir, a fast-paced thriller novel, an exciting vampire story, a beautiful romance or a fictional town filled with fascinating female characters.

3. There has long been a debate over whether women’s fiction and romance, specifically, harms women or empowers them. What is your opinion on this topic, and what role do you see Harlequin having in shaping how women’s fiction is perceived?

Romances do empower women! Every good romance has a strong heroine, strong conflict with the hero, with a positive resolution that the woman is happy with. I’d call that empowerment. Our readers are intelligent women who love a good story, well-told with a fulfilling happy ending.

4. The past several years have been big ones for Harlequin. You’ve been posting huge profits, making changes to the lines you publish and launching Carina Press. (i)Where do you see Harlequin Enterprises going from here? (ii)If you could accomplish only one thing at Harlequin over the next year, what would that be?

Thank you. We are doing well and are looking to future growth both in fiction though expanding our series romance business. Continuing to grow our authors successfully, expanding into teen fiction and non-fiction and of course, continuing our terrific growth in digital.

If we could only accomplish one thing in the next year it would be to make sure all of our readers know how much we’ve expanded our editorial mix to give our readers even more choice – so the new Harlequin plans to entertain, enrich and inspire our readers through all of this new editorial.

5. What have been some of the biggest challenges Harlequin has faced in the past year?

The first would be the economy which has resulted in slower traffic in the retail outlets. We will continue to offer our consumers the best prices in the marketplace.

The second would obviously be the speed in evolution of the digital space and the uncertainty this growth brings to the publishing world. Although Harlequin was the first publisher to offer every one of our titles in eBook format, we continue to lead in promoting our titles in the digital space and we are very confident that we will continue to succeed in the digital future.

6. Whenever folks talk about series romance at Harlequin, the topic of book titles always comes up. It usually comes up in the context of “I really liked this story and I bought it in spite of the silly title.” So, why do we end up with titles like, “The Sheikh’s Secret Blackmailed Mistress” or “Pirate’s Daughter, Rebel Wife”?

It’s a great question. The fact is, these titles have always been popular and they continue to be – but we agree with your comment and are in the process right now of evolving titles to appeal to a broader range of women, so stay tuned.

7. With the launch of Carina Press and the reissue of eBook editions of many books on the Harlequin backlist, eBooks are big news at Harlequin. What effect do you see these having on the women’s fiction market?

A positive one. We’ve learned that romance and women’s fiction readers are very avid readers and were early adopters of digital. Women are busy and digital gives them another time-saving way to acquire their books. Over overall mission at Harlequin ahs always been to make sure that are books are available whenever, wherever and however women choose to shop and this is still true in the new digital world. Also, for our series romance readers digital is a great way to acquire an authors’ backlist once you discover her and we are having great success with that.

8. And one last question – Harlequin and its imprints publish a large number of books every month. Could you tell readers a little about some upcoming releases that you are particularly excited about?

New York Time’s bestselling author Debbie Macomber’s Cedar Cove book, 1022 Evergreen Place which is the 10th one in her hugely successful series coming out this September. These books are so popular that people actually go to Port Orchard Washington, Debbie’s hometown to experience Cedar Cove.

Julie Kagawa’s The Iron Daughter, is generating huge buzz on NetGalley with Teen readers.

We have two debut authors in the fall, Dori Ostermiller’s Outside The Ordinary World and Antoinette Van Heugten’s Saving Max. In Non- Fiction, we have Tosca Reno’s fantastic Your Best Body Now: Look and Feel Fabulous at Any Age, a further celebration of her very successful Eat Clean books. And, for Christmas we will have Call Me Mrs. Miracle, Debbie Macomber’s follow-up title to her book and the movie, Mrs. Miracle, which aired on Hallmark Channel in 2009 plus, Sherry Woods’ A Chesapeake Shores Christmas and Linda Lael Miller’s Christmas Brides.

Thank you for your time, Ms. Hayes. Congratulations on the “W” award!

– Lynn Spencer

About the author

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I enjoy spending as much time as I can between the covers of a book, traveling through time and around the world. When I'm not having adventures with fictional characters, I'm an attorney in Virginia and I love just hanging out with my husband, little man, and the cat who rules our house.