The Harlequin Vintage Collection—A Lesson in Patience!
by Executive Editor Marsha Zinberg
“Pardon my Body”? “I’ll Bury My Dead”? Such phrases might sound a bit jarring to an ear attuned to the more evocative and romantic titles usually associated with Harlequin. So what are we doing publishing books with such kitschy titles?
The short answer is that they are a small sampling of the type of fare our company began with. And this collection seemed a logical contribution to our 60th anniversary celebrations. Harlequin mounted an art exhibition in May, entitled The Heart of a Woman, which got people from many departments poring over old covers. Soon we had postcards and notepads—not to mention business cards—created that trumpeted our roots in the late 1940s. And folks both within our building and in the broader publishing community seemed completely taken with this vintage art. So why not publish a few of the texts that accompanied them?
The assignment: Go through our publication list (from Day One!) and look at the accompanying covers. Choose six books and reprint them, EXACTLY AS THEY WERE THEN, as a small collection to celebrate our sixty years in business. Let’s do them in October…that should give you guys loads of time!
Well, ok. We don’t need to create new art. We don’t need to edit the text. Should be a walk in the park, yes? Not so much, we discovered.
First roadblock: We did not possess physical copies of the books. In Harlequin’s early days, before people began thinking about “posterity”, it likely didn’t occur to employees that we might actually want to keep one copy of each book! We’ve been doing that for decades now, of course, but apparently we didn’t sixty years ago. So we actually had to make use of the Internet, and hunt down in used book stores the titles we couldn’t locate. It goes without saying that we had no digital files of either the text or the art, so the text had to be painstakingly key-stroked to create new text files, and the cover images had to be digitized as well.
Next: choosing the books. We had a few limitations here. We wanted books whose cover art appealed to us, and we had to be in physical possession of the book, but in some cases, once we started reading the text, we simply couldn’t see publishing the story, for a host of reasons….content, language, political correctness, etc. Several were eliminated, no matter how striking the cover!
Now for the books: Remember, our intention was to publish the stories in their original form. But once we immersed ourselves in the text, our eyes grew wide. Our jaws dropped. Social behavior—such as hitting a woman—that would be considered totally unacceptable now was quite common sixty years ago. Scenes of near rape would not sit well with a contemporary audience, we were quite convinced. We therefore decided to make small adjustments to the text, only in cases where we felt scenes or phrases would be offensive to a 2009 readership. Also, grammar and spelling standards have changed quite a bit in sixty years. But that did entail a text edit, which we had not anticipated. AND, we had to clear those adjustments with the current copyright holders, if we had been able to locate them.
And of course, the covers: Though we used the original covers, they had to be scanned and touched up. In addition, we felt it important to give the potential purchasers some context for our decision to publish the books as well as some cues that this was in fact not standard Harlequin fare at all: i.e. these stories are mostly written by men, and romance is not usually a key element in the plot! So we redesigned the back covers and spines, and reproduced the red dye on the page edges, for added authenticity.
Everyone in house has taken such interest and pride in this project, and we’re delighted that the collection is now out in the marketplace. We hope they will also accomplish what the cover art exhibition attempted to do: “offer a unique insight into the profound changes that have occurred in women’s lives over the past six decades—from shifts in private desires to shifts in the politics of gender”!
To purchase books from the Vintage Collection, visit www.eHarlequin.com.
And PS—keep entering the Susan Wiggs Lakeshore Christmas contest!