Tag s | Heartsong

Heartsong’s Publishing Legacy

Last week, as mentioned in Tamela’s wonderful tribute, Harlequin announced that the Heartsong Presents imprint is going to be shuttered. Heartsong Presents has been primarily a “direct-to-consumer” book club which published romance titles with a specifically Christian message.

{And last week I joked about how things can change on Tuesday… This announcement came on Tuesday…}

They will continue publishing the books currently in the pipeline through June of next year but then it will be finished. Kathy Davis the editor in charge of Heartsong will have to find a new job at the end of January when her work is completed.

This affects a number of our clients who have been writing for them on a regular basis. It also means that 48 annual fiction slots go away. They were publishing four new titles per month!

The Economic Reality

Some have misunderstood or forgotten the recent history of this line. This decision by Harlequin needs some context.

Back in July 2011, when still owned by Barbour Publishing, the line was temporarily shut down. (See Tamela’s blog about that. And also this post by Tiffany Amber Stockton.) A few months later (January 2012) Harlequin bought the line from Barbour (details found here.)

For the last two and a half years Harlequin tried to reboot the Heartsong franchise. They used the incredibly successful network of the Love Inspired lines as their resource. Unfortunately the efforts did not produce the necessary growth.

I had wondered, once HarperCollins completed their purchase of Harlequin, if there would be increased scrutiny of certain imprints under the Harlequin umbrella. That is apparently the case here.

The Heartsong Presents imprint, from an economic or fiscal perspective, was vulnerable. The editor, Kathy Davis, was not based in New York. The entire operation; cover designs, typesetting, editorial, printing, distribution, etc could be easily evaluated against its revenue. And the revenue was simply not there. When a book retails for only $4.99 you have to sell a lot of copies to cover production costs. And without a bookstore component the publisher must rely on the very expensive method of direct mail or the vague method of email marketing to build subscribers. A subscriber had to commit to buying all four books each month which is a bargain and quite convenient. But growing those numbers into the tens of thousands is not an easy task.

The Legacy

Heartsong began in 1993 by Barbour Publishing. They published short (50,000 words) mass market sized romances for the Christian market. It filled a niche that was crying out for this type of book.  What few know is that many of today’s bestselling Christian novelists either got their start at Heartsong or published with them on a regular basis while also writing for other publishers.

I would like to try to list some of the more recognizable authors who wrote for Heartsong at some point in their career. I know I will miss a number of you. Please add names in the comments below and I’ll update this list when I can (I’m not trying to list every author who ever wrote for them, only the most recognizable names). This legacy is truly amazing and is a tribute to the editors and the publisher who were willing to give new voices a chance. This willingness is harder to find nowadays because the financial stakes are higher in publishing and testing authors is not a normal thing to do. The advantage of the “direct-to-consumer” model is that the consumer was captive, having already purchased the book as part of their subscription so the reader wasn’t picking one author over another. They were reading whatever showed up each month. This still works for the Love Inspired lines, but is not something the general trade publisher can replicate. We are glad that Harlequin continues to aggressively support their 16 monthly Love Inspired titles which cover the romance, suspense, and historical genres.

Well Known Authors Who Published with Heartsong:

4b45faf7d6f878600ae4c1726d1f097dTracie Peterson
Wanda Brunstetter
Laurainne Snelling
Colleen Coble
DiAnn Mills
Kim Vogel Sawyer
Susan May Warren
Cathy Marie Hake
Cara Putman
Gail Sattler
Gail Gaymer Martin
471854135cf6562f6fa0a436837505b4Denise Hunter
Kristen Billerbeck
Elizabeth Goddard
Laurie Alice Eakes
Tracey Bateman
Lisa Harris
Leona Worth
Pamela Tracy
Lynn Coleman
Kelly Eileen Hake
Loree Lough
Kathleen Y’Barbo
Lynette Sowell

That is quite a list! And as I said above, it is incomplete. Over 1,000 books were published over the last 21 years. And the industry owes Heartsong Presents a debt of gratitude. (Goodreads has a list of the Heartsong Presents titles, but I do not know if it is complete or accurate.)

Of course the industry is constantly changing. Some books work today that won’t work tomorrow…and vice versa. Thus is the rabbit chase of the publishing experience. We will continue to find solid publishers for our clients and support their efforts either traditionally or Indie in the pursuit of telling great stories with a great message.


Some Romance History

By the way, in case you are curious, there were other mass market Christian romance lines published in the mid-80s that ultimately disappeared, only to have Heartsong (and later Love Inspired) fill that void.

The Serenade Sonata and Serenada Saga line were published by Zondervan. They were the first ones to do the mass market sized Christian romance novels. First published in 1983 (for Sonata) and 1984 (for Saga). The Zondervan titles were published until around 1987 when the experiment ended.

The “Saga” books were historical. The “Sonata” books were contemporary.

Here is a link to all 47 of the Saga titles:
Serenade Saga series list

Here is a link to all 49 of the Sonata titles:
Serendae Sonata series list

There was also a line called Promise Romances (?) published by Thomas Nelson during those same years 1984-1987 (also mass market in trim size).
I believe bestselling author Irene Hannon got her start here.
Promise Romance series list

in the general market there was a “clean” line of inspirational fiction published by Harlequin called Silhouette Inspirations.
You may notice a rather famous name who got her start with this line….
Sillouette Inspirations series list

I wonder if Sillouette Inspirations was a precursor to what became the Love Inspired (originally called Steeple Hill) line from Harlequin in 1997?
Here is a link to all 900+ novels from Love Inspired:
Love Inspired series list



Leave a Comment

Farewell to Heartsong

Earlier this week I received a call from Kathy Davis, acquisitions editor for Harlequin Heartsong Presents. She told me I was the first agent she called. Unfortunately, she had bad news. Heartsong Presents as a line will cease publication next year. I was sorry to learn that Kathy will also …

Read More