I tried out a couple of headlines—like “Gold Eagle falls from the nest” or “I Watched An Imprint Kill Itself” but neither really worked for me.
For the non-cognoscenti, Gold Eagle is/was an imprint of Harlequin Publishing, being formed in 1980 to publish Don Pendleton’s Mack Bolan The Executioner series. In 1981-2, it became the full-fledged “Men’s Adventure” imprint of Harlequin…conceived as the male answer to bodice rippers.
Gold Eagle spun off three series from Bolan. The Bolan series itself sold about a million copies a year. By steadily adding new series to its roster and with a direct-distribution arrangement with PXs on military bases all over the world, Gold Eagle became the leader of the men’s-adventure market. Gold Eagle was king of the mid-list and soared high throughout the 1980s.
But by the early 90s, with the closing of many military bases, the imprint started losing altitude and faltering badly. A lawsuit Harlequin had filed against Don Pendleton backfired expensively and even hilariously. Competition from other men’s adventure series bit into their market share.
They began experimenting with different types of series, all but a few dying a-bornin’.
Over the years, Gold Eagle released close to two dozen of them, some of which lasted only two books but the average was four. One of them was called OUTLANDERS, which I created in early 1996 and wrote until 2009. In an earlier series of blogs I described how I began writing for Gold Eagle in 1995.
As I stated in that blog, OUTLANDERS was GE’s first bona-fide success since the launch of the Deathlands series in 1986. During my many years writing it, OUTLANDERS sold over a million copies—at least according to GE promotional material—and often alternated with Deathlands for the top spot of GE’s best-selling series.
But in 2008, due to several factors, the then-senior editor did not renew my contract. Our relationship had become extremely toxic over the previous three years and although I wasn’t blameless in how contentious our interactions had become, by 2008 I was totally fed up. Dealing with him on even minor issues became stress-inducing and often ugly exercises.
However—and maybe to the surprise of some—this blog entry won’t be a litany of how Gold Eagle Done Me Wrong. Maybe that will come later.
I try to be fair-minded in most things, and regardless of how my interaction with the senior editor turned out, my relationship with him and the imprint wasn’t all bad—in fact, I owe him and Gold Eagle a degree of thanks.
Although I dealt primarily with editor Eva Kovacs during my first four years with Gold Eagle, there could have been a lot more roadblocks thrown up in the way of implementing my vision of OUTLANDERS than there actually were.
OUTLANDERS wasn’t like any series Gold Eagle had ever published, regardless of the backdoor connection to Deathlands. I was given pretty much carte-blanche to write the series the way I saw fit and I suffered from very little editorial interference—however, I should note that when I did suffer from it, the interference was major and always arbitrary.
Despite that, my time with Gold Eagle didn’t start turning irretrievably bad until 2006. As I noted earlier, I have to share some of the responsibility for that, but I still maintain the situation could have been remedied before the senior editor and I reached the point of no return.
Regardless of what some people have put forth, I did not “quit” writing OUTLANDERS. When the editor didn’t offer me another contract at the point he should have , I realized he was either hoping I’d beg him to permit me to stay on the series I had created—a tactic he had used on other writers– or I’d just let the matter lie.
I chose the latter option. After I turned in my last book, that was it. The editor never contacted me and OUTLANDERS was turned over to a couple of scribes…a move which at least showed awareness on his part that OL was too complex to be tossed into the multiple-author blender like all of GE’s other series.
At the time I wasn’t too upset…my novel CRYPTOZOICA had been accepted by a start-up publisher called Variance and everything was in place except for signing the contracts. Also, our daughter Deirdre was just beginning the long process of recovering from a life-threatening illness and I was still grieving over the very recent death of my best friend Jim Mooney.
Therefore involving myself again with the stress of dealing with GE’s editor didn’t appeal to me at all. I figured if he wanted me back, he’d call me. Besides, after all of those years writing pretty much nothing but OUTLANDERS, I needed a break.
Then came December 6th of 2008 and what became known as “Black Wednesday”.
For all intents and purposes, the entire publishing industry imploded. Many senior editors were laid off, book contracts were canceled by the score and advances slashed, in some cases to the bone.
This was basically an industry-wide “Night of The Long Knives”, and I’m sure it was a concerted, cooperative effort among the large publishing houses. A number of the smaller ones dutifully followed suit, pointing to what their Big Brothers in NYC did as the precedent.
CRYPTOZOICA was a casualty of that implosion. Variance reneged on its commitment to publish it.
Needless to say, 2008 was about the worst year I’d experienced in a very long time, with professional and personal traumas taking center stage.
I turned my attention to reframing several of my comics properties as graphic novels. In cooperation with Gary Reed’s Transfuzion imprint, the endeavor was a fairly successful one—at least for awhile.
I kept waiting for the publishing industry to improve—but it didn’t. In fact, conditions worsened.
I went ahead and took the plunge into self-publishing…something I had heretofore sworn to never do. I published CRYPTOZOICA and it was about the wisest professional decision I ever made.
The book would have never been published in its current form under the Variance banner. It came out exactly as I envisioned it, thanks to artistic and graphic design skills of the ever-awesome Jeff Slemons and multi-talented Melissa Martin Ellis.
Still, the unresolved situation with Gold Eagle continued to hang over my head—I often felt like Al Capp’s Joe Btfsplk
The cloud remained, even after the senior editor “retired” in 2009. Yes, the quote marks are deliberate—maybe I’ll revisit the reason why they’re there later.
The replacement(s) for the editor didn’t seem inclined to engage with me and I didn’t feel inclined to reach out. I figured if they wanted me, they knew where to find me. They’d been calling for years, after all.
Still, being prevented from returning to characters and concepts of my creation felt like a wound that refused to heal. It took me a long time to grasp just how depressed I was over the situation—not being able to go back to Kane, Brigid, Grant, Domi and the all of the rest of my characters became an ongoing source of stress, particularly when efforts were being made by one of the replacement writers to diminish my claim as the series creator.
Later, I learned that the even current Gold Eagle editor was the under the impression that a retired Harlequin executive had created OUTLANDERS.
Whether by accident or design, it certainly appeared the credit for creating OL was being intentionally obfuscated, if not co-opted, all the while trying to sweep me as far back into the shadows as possible…what I called “Has-Been Haze.”
Although GE was contractually obligated to continue doing so, my “created/developed by” credit was removed from the indicia of the books.
The entire situation made me very sad every time I thought about it…and unfortunately, I thought about it a lot. Brooded, I guess. I experienced considerable emotional pain which I realized later was probably a manifestation of separation anxiety.
Over the next couple of years, I determined—using my own royalty statements as a baseline—that not just the OL sales were dropping steadily but the entire GE line. I couldn’t understand why they were keeping any of the series going…except for inertia. I knew it couldn’t continue.
Then in May of this year, I learned that HarperCollins (owned by NewsCorp) would buy Harlequin and all of its imprints. I knew in my gut the sale did not bode well for Gold Eagle or any under-performing imprint.
I have some experience in the real world business environment…more often than not, when one company buys another, out come the new brooms, sweeping away deadwood. From what I could tell, there was no wood deader at Harlequin than Gold Eagle.
I also noted that the Gold Eagle “Blog” (if it could be called that), hadn’t been updated in well over a year.
When I suggested that GE might be a casualty of the purchase, I was on the receiving end of a considerable amount of denial-based snark from several GE writer-types.
Well, last week, the announcement came through that the Gold Eagle imprint and all of its series would indeed be cancelled by HarperCollins next year.
I admit I indulged in a few “I toldja so’s” which weren’t well received by some. Mea Culpa.
Despite a pettish accusation from one GE scribe, I did not “revel” over writers being thrown out of work or anything of the sort. I won’t say I was unhappy when my suspicions were confirmed, but I wasn’t overjoyed either.
My strongest reaction was a profound sense of closure…and relief that now, years later, a painful wound can begin heal and the fate of the characters and concepts of my creation won’t be left up to others…or consigned to limbo.
Still and all, it’s the end of an era in publishing…the final signpost that the midlist in mainstream publishing is thoroughly dead.
But if I learned any kind of a lesson here, it’s that events usually work out in the way they’re intended to.
Variance, the company who was supposed to publish CRYPTOZOICA is long gone and CRYPTOZOICA is still selling and finding new fans.
The senior Gold Eagle editor with whom I had so many clashes has kept such a low profile since since leaving the company in 2009, he might as well have set up housekeeping in the Phantom Zone.
But my characters and concepts as published in the OUTLANDERS series continue to find new readers. The series that was originally predicted to last only four books will have been consecutively published for 18 years…a remarkable milestone shared by only a handful of other paperback original series.
Someone opined it’s a long publishing history by genre standards–no, it’s a long time by any standards. OUTLANDERS managed to live through four generations of editors. If the series had been published by any other company, we’re probably talking on the order of eight generations of editors, especially post-Black Wednesday.
Yes, I do feel a degree of sadness that Gold Eagle, which was an important part of many people’s lives for so many years will be no more.
Still, I’m convinced its passing will not leave a vacuum, but a niche that can—and will–be filled.
More on that later.
(Thanks to Tim Van Zile for the RIP illustration!)