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