Authors Speak on the Dorchester Shakeup

questionsSince the news coverage and
AAR blog commentary about Dorchester Publishing’s decision to stop publishing in mass market, Dorchester has made an official statement on their website. If the Dorchester forum is any indication, many fans are sad and angry about this decision.

In the wake of this news, one of Dorchester’s most popular horror writers, Brian Keene, announced on his blog that he was leaving Leisure Books, a division of Dorchester. In the horror field, this is big news because the only mass market press that puts out
horror on a regular basis is Leisure Books. Horror is like traditional Regencies or Westerns — always on someone’s endangered species list.

Keene is a midlist author but one with a lot of fans. While it’s often hard to find books by other Leisure horror authors in the stores, Keene’s books are always on the shelves in the bookstores I visit. Keene is a writer who is doing everything right. He keeps an active blog, puts out newsletters, uses social media, and does book signings. Just this Friday the 13th, he had a well-attended signing at a Borders in his area.

Yet even Keene admits that Leisure was slow in paying him recently. For now, Keene will experiment with self-publishing, as well as examine offers from other publishers. If an established author feels more secure about self-publishing than he does continuing with Leisure, then the mass market field itself, not just Leisure, is in trouble. Several years ago, Dorchester historical romance author Emily Bryan, who has also written as Diana Groe, learned from a Penguin sales person that the market was headed toward trade paperbacks. What is happening with Dorchester brings those market changes home. I have noticed that it’s harder and harder to find mass market editions in many subgenres of fiction, even of popular books. Romance is one of the biggest hold outs against this trend.

Several days after Keene’s announcement, Keene and other sources reported that Dorchester had let go his editor, Don D’Auria, as well as editorial director Leah Hultenschmidt. Don D’Auria not only created the horror line but also headed the Western and thriller lines. Leah Hultenschmidt, the force behind the Romantic Reads(now Romantic Reading) blog, acquired both romance and Westerns at Dorchester. She worked with a large number of romance authors ranging from AAR favorite Jennifer Ashley to Stephanie Rowe, and was a finalist for the Editor of the Year Award of RWA’s PASIC (Published Authors’ Special Interest Chapter) in 2009. Among other titles, she was the editor of Ashley’s popular The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie.

This news was a shock to both the romance and the horror communities. Emily Bryan was heartbroken when she learned the news. Hultenschmidt bought her debut novel and edited her eight titles with Dorchester. “When my agent sold
a trilogy of mine to Kensington earlier this year, I was excited, but asked her to figure out a way I could still write for Dorchester too. I couldn’t abandon Leah. She’s just that good.” Jennifer Ashley, who also publishes as Allyson James, said, “I was also saddened to hear of Leah’s dismissal, but I know
that wherever she lands, she will shine. She is a wonderful editor and very supportive of her authors.” While Ashley placed her front list titles with Berkley starting this year, she doesn’t regret publishing with Dorchester.

D’Auria was equally praised. Horror writer Ronald Malfi, author of Snow,had nothing but praise for Don D’Auria and said “not a soul around can say a bad thing about him.” John Everson, author of Siren, one of the last Leisure mass market books, was shocked by the news. “Don was the face of Leisure to the horror community. I spent 10 years pitching books to him and then ultimately was lucky enough to work with him. He’s a great editor and it’s hard to imagine the press without him. I was literally in the midst of writing up some ideas for my next book when I found out the news that he was no longer with Leisure. I didn’t continue my work that night.”

With the departure of Don D’Auria and Leah Hultenschmidt, some authors are hoping to follow Keene’s example. Horror writer Ronald Malfi confirmed that he “just left Dorchester this week, taking my two unpublished novels with me.” He
explained that he was “uncomfortable with the change, and remained so due to the lack of communication and information.”

However, not all authors want to leave Dorchester or their imprints. Emily Bryan is pulling for Leisure to make it through a difficult time. “After all the wonderful careers they’ve launched and the fantastic books they’ve brought to the romance genre, I hope readers are too.” Besides the e-book editions, Bryan has learned that Dorchester plans to release one of her backlist titles,
Distracting the Duchess, in trade in early 2011, along with titles from Jennifer Ashley, Christie Craig, Colleen Thompson, and Joy Nash. According to Bryan, “the trade paper format will enable them to sell to accounts that don’t accept mass market.”

John Everson explains, “Obviously there are some difficult decisions being made at Leisure right now to try to completely change the company’s business model and regain viability. Both for horror fans in general and my own
catalogue of books specifically, I’m hopeful that they’ll succeed.” Because Siren is one of the last of the mass market books, he has faced problems with distribution. “I want to promote what I think is my best novel, but at
the moment, many stores can’t get copies of the book.”

Still, he understands why Dorchester made its decision about going digital. Not only are there more people reading e-books, but “people are buying fewer books from bookstores, and so the shelf space for disposable paperbacks is
decreasing as those stores move to stocking other products to shore up their gross receipts.” He hopes that his fans will follow him, whatever the format. What concerns him is print readers. “It’s a lot easier for them to take a chance on a new writer with a $7.99 mass market paperback than a trade paperback, which can cost anywhere from one-third to twice as much. So it will diminish the impulse sales on books a bit. If Leisure is able to get their new trade line sold well into stores, it could give their titles more visibility. Of course, the converse is also true. They could disappear from
visibility altogether if stores don’t embrace it.”

At this point, it’s hard to say what will happen. Like many romance fans, I love e-books. Trade paperbacks? It depends. Many romance readers hate trade paperbacks because of the price and size. Will more romance readers accept
the move toward trade and simply buy fewer books to make up the added expense? Or will they stick to eBooks if they can’t get mass market paperbacks? I worry that Dorchester will be competing with established
eBook publishers such as Samhain and Ellora’s Cave (not to mention print companies such as Harlequin with extensive eBook programs). On the other hand, if I want something from a Dorchester author, I will look for the Dorchester book first and buy that book rather than another book by another author from a competitor.

Many horror fans are no strangers to trade paperbacks as there are a number of specialty small presses that publish trades and hardbacks. Some worry that Leisure will be competing with these presses. Yet Everson points out
that while “your hardcore horror fans are aware of the smaller presses just as much as Leisure,” that might count for only a few thousand fans. “Horror is a pretty small genre in terms of rabid readers. That ‘core’ number of dedicated readers is not anything near the press run of a usual mass market book. The more casual readers who pick up paperbacks while browsing in bookstores and looking at covers and back cover descriptions probably aren’t aware that there is a network of small presses. I’m sure most aren’t even aware of Leisure as an imprint — they simply pick up a book that looks good
now and then. So by losing the visibility of the mass market paperback in bookstores, the overall awareness that there are a lot of options for horror titles will definitely decrease. All boats will float lower.”

In horror, small presses have started offering eBooks as an alternative. Just as romance fans turned to eBooks several years ago to find erotic romance and paranormals when print publishers weren’t touching them, horror
fans may find eBooks are a viable option. Everson thinks “it’s inevitable that small presses will need to offer both print and digital editions. I know I’ve put off doing it with my own Dark Arts Books press. But I also see the necessity of moving into that space in the next few months. If you want to expand your reach, you have to be courting those who are reading on Kindles and Nooks. At the past few bookstore signings I’ve done for my novel Siren, I’ve watched several people come into the bookstore not to buy books per se, but to buy
e-readers.”

It’s too soon to tell how Dorchester’s decision will affect their authors(and readers). It could work out in the end, and I hope it does. If not, as many fear, writers and fans of several genres will lose out. The August books have become hard to find in stores. The September books would have been on the shelves soon, and not all the eBooks are available yet. What will happen when fans wonder what happened to all those Leisure books they used to buy? Many fans may think Leisure went out of business or that their favorite authors have stopped writing. They won’t think to look for eBook
editions or trade paperbacks, or they may not be interested in those formats. For the sake of readers and authors alike, let’s hope Dorchester finds a way to reach them.

– Anne Marble

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32 Responses to “Authors Speak on the Dorchester Shakeup”

  1. JML says:

    This move by Dorchester doesn’t make any sense to me.

    The price change from $8 to $14 is going to hurt their authors and their sales. Thinking that paper book readers are going to run out and buy ereaders is ridiculous. Some will certainly, but those readers would have switched to digital eventually anyway. The majority of readers will just look to different authors for their romance/horror/western/etc fix.

    I will buy certain authors in Hardcover, others in Trade size (the trade size purchases are under silent protest but I take what I can get from my favorite authors) but the bulk of my purchases are either mmpb or ebooks– and those ebooks need to be priced lower then the paper copy.

    I wish all of Dorchester’s authors well but I think this is a financial plan that will leave both authors and readers looking for different publishers for their favorite genre.

  2. Magdalen says:

    The reporting in this piece is great — I want to thank Anne Marble (and everyone at AAR) for taking the time to gather facts to flesh out this story. I can “Woe is me” reactions anywhere. AAR is (once again) acting as a news source and I love that.

  3. Jacqueline says:

    I’m probably one of the few people of my generation (I’m 21) who actually avoids most technology. Outside of my computer and iPod, I’m not a fan. I own a pre-paid phone, and I don’t even have cable/satellite (or antenna) TV – all of which I’m perfectly content about.

    And…no ereader.

    While I admit that I’m in the gray area of technology, my hold out against ereaders doesn’t stem from my numbness for tech. Instead, it stems from a practicality issue.

    I “buy” almost all my books off paperbackswap.com because, in truth, I’ve found it to be worlds more convenient and useful for me. I live in a rural area and the closest real bookstore is almost two hours away.

    I’ve never been one to hold onto books after I’ve read them (barring Sherrilyn Kenyon and JR Ward’s), so PBS provides me the ability of allowing my old read books to give me a second dose of benefit. While I admit I love the hands-free aspect to using an ereader, as well as their overall convenience, I am of the opinion that I would get zero turnaround benefit after I’ve read a particular ebook.

    Not to mention the fact that, since I live in a rural area and the only available high speed internet access I have is Hughes Net (which enforces a daily download megabyte restriction that, if one surpasses, the brower speed is reduced to dial up), such transition into electronic books would be very impractical for my situation.

    Now, I say all that to say this: will there ever come a day where mass market paperback books cease to be printed permanently? This is my biggest fear, truly. I do not hate technology in general, nor ereaders specifically, but, for myself, such a device would only make my reading hobby extra complicated. I’m thrilled that we readers have yet another way to experience a story, and I hope that ereaders and ebooks continue their skyrocketing success…just so long as it doesn’t mean the complete extinction of mass market paperbacks. I realize that the typical reader loves ebooks, and that sales at the brick-and-mortar stores are showing a decline in paperback sales. But, even still, I pray that I won’t wake up one day to discover that paperback books have evaporated.

    However, I suppose such is almost inevitable. With the advent of 8-tracks, records died. With cassettes, 8-tracks died. With CDs, cassettes died. And, with digital music, CDs died. So…is the history of music listening innovation going to repeat itself with the written word?

    God I really, really hope not.

  4. Nadia Lee says:

    I don’t see myself buying titles that I’m going to read only once in trade. It’s too cost prohibitive, esp. with debut novels or books by new-to-me authors.

  5. And, with digital music, CDs died. So…is the history of music listening innovation going to repeat itself with the written word?

    I saw something yesterday which might make encouraging reading for you, Jacqueline. It seems that CDs aren’t exactly dying, or if they are, it’s not as fast as expected:

    “At a time where we’re asking if digital is a replacement for the CD, as the CD was for vinyl, we should be starting to see a hockey-stick growth in download sales,” said Mark Mulligan, an analyst at Forrester Research who specialises in music and digital media. “Instead, we’re seeing a curve resembling that of a niche technology.”

    At the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) , which represents the worldwide music industry, a spokesman agrees that the growth of digital sales has slowed. Figures for 2009 released earlier this year show that while CD sales fell by 12.7%, losing $1.6bn (£1bn)in value, digital downloads only grew by 9.2%, gaining less than $400m in value. “The digital download market is still growing,” said Alex Jacob, a spokesman for the organisation. “But the percentage is less than a few years ago, though it’s now coming from a higher base.”

    But the expectation of the early days of the digital format – that, in time, digital sales would replace CDs and make up something like the same value have been dashed. (Guardian, 29 August 2010)

  6. Patrice says:

    It seems like a confusing business decision for Dorchester. Switching to ebooks is not like throwing a switch and suddenly saving tons of money nor does it guarantee profitability. Especially if you wind up losing your readers – IE: your customer base. Not to mention your new product – IE: your authors contracted books. I love ebooks and have never had a dedicated ebook reader. I read on my laptop or on my PalmTX. But I still enjoy paperbacks. I am not a fan of trade size paperbacks. I will borrow those from the library but I will not spend the additional money for a paper cover. I have been a Love Spell (Dorchester) book club member for years. I enjoyed the monthly selections and the member discount on all thier lines. I am not getting many details yet on how the book club will continue, only that it will continue to be administrated by Dorchester. The customer service replied to my email questions in a timely way, but I still have a wait and see attitude. I don’t want random books or genre I wouldn’t want to purchase. I may still purchase ebooks from Dorchester in the future, depending on their delivery and formatting, but I will not purchase trade paperbacks. They are too expensive and will not last.

  7. AAR Lynn says:

    @Nadia Lee – That’s true for me, too. I really want to support authors and buy their books, but trade prices are a bit steep for me to be buying in bulk. If I will read over and over, sure, but not if I’m taking a chance or only reading once as you mention. I suspect that may be part of why romance readers are some of the last hold outs who still prefer mass market.

  8. Jacqueline says:

    Wow, Laura…that was very unexpected! Thanks for sharing that with me! Maybe, just maybe, there’s hope after all :) .

  9. Karen says:

    I wonder about the long term effect on the switch to ebooks and/or trade paperbacks. When I first started reading romance, I was a poor student, and I got almost all of my reading material either at the library or at used bookstores. I had lots of time to read and try new things, but a very limited budget. If I hadn’t had access to cheaper books, I probably would never have become a romance fan. I had to try lots of books (and often, discard the ones that didn’t work for me) before I found out what I really liked. If I was buying every book new, I would have been much more reluctant to experiment and try new things, and I would have been reluctant to buy authors and genres that were unfamiliar to me. Today, I’m a much more picky reader (because I have less time to read) so I don’t buy so many books. I’m sure publishers are thrilled at the idea of ebooks getting rid of the used book market (and to a large extent, the library market too). They will probably keep their current readers, but will they be cutting off their future readers by forcing everyone to buy their books at higher prices? Will they be able to build up the fans of the future if the price of admission to read romance is an e-reader and/or a $14.99 price tag for every book? It seems like most publishers and authors who talk about the “future” seem to only address their current fans, not whether they will be able to attract readers of the future.

    (I know there are “free samples” for ebooks but at least at the moment, they seem to be very limited. And in theory you can check out e-books from the library, but I’ve never seen a romance in my library’s ebook selection, and you can’t use the Kindle, which seems to be the most popular e-reader.)

  10. I know there are “free samples” for ebooks but at least at the moment, they seem to be very limited.

    Some publishers seem to be more open to the idea of offering free samples than others. I have a feeling that the Baen Free Library has been around for a very long time (in online terms) and for over a year Harlequin have been offering a range of free books from their various lines. Mills & Boon UK, which is part of Harlequin, were also offering some, but the site from which they could be downloaded currently has a message saying that they’re “preparing the site for a fantastic new instalment of FREE eBook titles.”

    Maybe more publishers will start to offer similar libraries of free ebooks. All the same, although they provide an introduction to new authors/series, they don’t do much to help an avid reader who has little money available to spend on new books, or people who have little access to the internet or have restrictions on how much they can download.

  11. Daz says:

    I’m not opposed to the switch to eBook at all so long as I continue to get all my favorite authors in eBook format. I’ve long ago switched all my fiction reading to eBook and now only buy in Mass Market or Trade Paperback (seldom in Hardback) books that are not available electronically. I probably have close to 1000 books in my collection that is electronic between my husband and myself. I love the convenience of being able to read on my phone (especially if I’m waiting for someone, the bus or the train) and I love lying in bed at night and being able to read without turning on the light to wake up the darling boy. I would do at least 80% – 90% of my leisure reading on my iPhone.

  12. CEAD says:

    Jacqueline,

    Now, I say all that to say this: will there ever come a day where mass market paperback books cease to be printed permanently? This is my biggest fear, truly. I do not hate technology in general, nor ereaders specifically, but, for myself, such a device would only make my reading hobby extra complicated. I’m thrilled that we readers have yet another way to experience a story, and I hope that ereaders and ebooks continue their skyrocketing success…just so long as it doesn’t mean the complete extinction of mass market paperbacks. I realize that the typical reader loves ebooks, and that sales at the brick-and-mortar stores are showing a decline in paperback sales. But, even still, I pray that I won’t wake up one day to discover that paperback books have evaporated.

    This is more or less my position too, although for different reasons (and I’m 29). I’ll buy used trade paperbacks now and then, albeit reluctantly, but I’m not getting anything electronic until I have no choice.

  13. Danielle D says:

    I understand that Leah was just hired by Sourcebook Publishing as a Senior Editor.

    http://dearauthor.com/wordpress/2010/08/30/leah-hultenschmidt-joins-sourcebooks/

    Thank you for a very informative article.

  14. Jacqueline says:

    I’m so glad I’m not alone about this, CEAD!

    I’m also of the mindset, as well, that nothing can top the physical pleasure of holding an actual book in hand. The scent of an old, yellowed used book or of a brand new paperback, the weight of it, its cover art and texture…all of these aspects are an integral part of the experience that comes from immersing yourself into a particular book or story. I know not everyone feels the same way as I do, and that’s perfectly understandable. However, for me, there are just too many other disadvantages that result from making the transition from mass market paperbacks to ebooks.

  15. Jacqueline:
    I remember what it was like to have a slooow connection. I started reading e-books when I was still on dial-up — and lousy dial-up to boot. Boy, was I ever so grateful to learn that most eBook files are very small, usually under one megabyte. I only had a problem with one download, and I got a refund because my connection couldn’t download the file (even though it wasn’t that large). However, one of the new standards, epub, tends to have large files. Still, I love it because I used to just about everywhere with a bag of paperbacks (and trades and hardcovers). Now I can fit hundreds of books in my nook, but I still keep a bag of paperbacks, trades, and sometimes hardcovers. Just in case. :)

    Danielle D:
    Yay for Sourcebook Publishing! I always knew they had good taste. :) Now if only they would decide to start a horror line. And a line of Westerns… ;)

    • Jacqueline says:

      “I remember what it was like to have a slooow connection. I started reading e-books when I was still on dial-up — and lousy dial-up to boot. Boy, was I ever so grateful to learn that most eBook files are very small, usually under one megabyte. I only had a problem with one download, and I got a refund because my connection couldn’t download the file (even though it wasn’t that large). However, one of the new standards, epub, tends to have large files. Still, I love it because I used to just about everywhere with a bag of paperbacks (and trades and hardcovers). Now I can fit hundreds of books in my nook, but I still keep a bag of paperbacks, trades, and sometimes hardcovers. Just in case. :)

      Anne – Slow connections are truly the bane of anyone’s existence, lol. Though it is good to know that a lot of ebooks are compressed files. Even still, though, whether large or small doesn’t make ereaders anymore more convenient. At least for me, anyway. Another mark against their practicality in my life is that I only read a single novel at a time. It’s really hard to stick to that, since there are tons of books on my TBR shelf. But, even still, I like concentrating on a single story at a time. I’ve noticed that when I read multiple books at a time, I don’t become as immersed in any one story as I normally would. So, for my particular reading habits, making the switch to ebooks is just apparently not aligned in the Cosmos for me. *Laughs*

  16. marcella says:

    Thanks for the great report, Anne.

    I don’t have an e-reader – still not a viable option in Europe when you want to read US-published romance novels.
    I don’t buy trade paperbacks – at 2-3 times the cost of a mmp I just can’t afford them.
    So in the future it seems I will only read 2nd hand Leisure books.

    I just hope this isn’t the beginning of an avalanche.

  17. [...] AAR speak to Dorchester authors about the recent changes there. Some are sticking with them, some are self-publishing, some are looking for new publishers. [...]

  18. Marcella, I’m in Europe too, and I buy direct from the publisher whenever I can. But the new Kindle is accompanied by a UK Kindle store, so you can get the book, as long as Amazon has it.
    It’s about time, is all I can say. I’ve moved to reading ebooks almost exclusively, although I still buy textbooks in paper form.
    Jacqueline, you win the ebook drinking game!
    And yes, sadly I think that mass market paperbacks are going. Trade paperbacks can be printed to order, but mmp’s are printed in tranches, and the more that are printed, the lower the cost per book. The process is shockingly wasteful on resources, and even poisons the environment, as a major producer of dioxins. The machinery is huge, awesome, but it requires a lot of maintenance and space to run. It won’t be viable for that much longer, I’m thinking. And I do hope I’m wrong, because even though I read mainly ebooks these days, I still appreciate having the choice.

  19. Rhaina says:

    I just wanted to say, great blog post. Very informative. I am a huge fan of their horror line and I would hate to see it dissapear.

  20. Brent Skalka says:

    Hey Some good thought provoking content on here. Nice work.

  21. Alex says:

    This sort of worries me, I never pay much attention to who publishes what but I might now.

    I generally live for mass market paperbacks, because I’m perpetually broke and those are pretty much the only books I can well afford. I hardly ever buy hard covers, prefering to wait out a year to get my hands on a book because it’s just to darn expensive for me (and then I gotta add shipping) so it’s pretty much ebooks or mmp, and I far prefer mmp.

    When it comes to Trade, I’m more on the line, I might buy it if I really want it but if I know that there will a mmp edition down the line, I ‘ll wait. It’s all up to price and if I’m torn between buying a 9.99 book or a 14.99 or a 7.99 book, I’ll go for the 7.99 and maybe head for the used-books section for the rest

  22. marcella says:

    Thanks for the info, Lynne Connolly.

  23. Jacqueline says:

    “Jacqueline, you win the ebook drinking game!
    And yes, sadly I think that mass market paperbacks are going. Trade paperbacks can be printed to order, but mmp’s are printed in tranches, and the more that are printed, the lower the cost per book. The process is shockingly wasteful on resources, and even poisons the environment, as a major producer of dioxins. The machinery is huge, awesome, but it requires a lot of maintenance and space to run. It won’t be viable for that much longer, I’m thinking. And I do hope I’m wrong, because even though I read mainly ebooks these days, I still appreciate having the choice.”

    *Sits in corner and cries*

    LOL I’m praying, really, truly hoping that maybe, just maybe, the complete extinction to mass market paperbacks won’t happen for another few years. No particular reason, other than the fact that I’m wanting the inevitable to hold off as long as possible! :)

  24. Mitch says:

    I am a huge fan of Brian Keene and am very upset over him not being with Leisure books anymore . I only buy mass market books and used books when possible. I’m sure I will not be able to afford Brians self published books , but I sure hope so. I have all his other books and was always waiting for the next book. I to like to hold my books in my hand and have the physical contact , not an e-book of any form.

  25. [...] More news on the Dorchester/Leisure books shakeup (or impending demise, depending on your viewpoint) can be found in this excellent article. [...]

  26. Matt says:

    Don D’Auria in April bought my debut thriller, which is what every author dreams of: that first book deal. It was tough for me to do, but just the other day I terminated the deal as I hadn’t been paid my advance. I’m unagented, but was advised by two who’ve been in the business to pull back the book. I may come to regret this decision. I’m hoping to get an agent this time around. But there are no guarantees. I’ve been in touch with DP authors who’ve not been paid and was told by someone who would know, that the company is operating in a state of semi-bankruptcy. I became very concerned when Don was let go. He was fantastic with me in the short time I worked with him. I’m confident he’ll land somewhere else, and maybe that will bode well for me. But that’s part of the great unknown. In the meantime, I’ll shop my book and hope for the best. I’m not angry with DP. Good people worked there and still do. Signing with them opened my eyes to midst authors. I am buying a Nook – something I planned on doing before all this happened, and I will gladly buy some DP titles by Jeff Strand and Brian Keene. I really hope DP pulls through this, and I would hesitate to go back to them if they can prove their new business model works. As Don always wrote at the end of his emails to me, all the best. All the best to DP.

  27. Matt says:

    My fingers aren’t working right. Let me restate: I wouldn’t hesitate signing with them if DP can prove the new model works. I truly hope it does.

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