Beagle, pass the Dorchester authors a margarita, please

By now, everyone knows about the implosion of Dorchester and how they are now digital books first and POD printed book publisher. I’ve had a few friends who had vested interests with Dorchester call their offices to find out what’s going on. Of course, they’re being told all is well, and they’ve made a “few tweaks.”

Ah.

So.

If one considers canning their sales teams and completely changing the way they do business only “a few tweaks,” then I’m an Oscar Meyer Wiener.

I understand hardship. Crikey, as a wee publisher, OF COURSE I understand hardship. I also understand the need for putting on appearances – as in, “nothing is going on, it’s all biz as usual.” But for crying out loud, you only do that when you KNOW things are going to turn around. When your ship has a huge gash in it and is sinking into frigid waters, you do not tell agents and authors that you’re doing “a few tweaks.” You have the balls to come clean about whazzup. Because you know what? You’re not fooling anyone, and maintaining appearances is nothing but delusional window dressing.

Promo nightmare

A friend of mine has a book coming out next month, and she was told her book was going to be e-book only. Now this is a major WTF moment because she’s been busting her hump on promoting her book. She hired a publicist – and beagle knows those little angels aren’t free – and she’d been lining up appearances on TV, radio, and at various venues. She took out ad space in a magazine that specializes in her subject matter. She printed up thousands of bookmarks and tip sheets, along with a few posters.

Now she has nothing. She has no product to give to TV weenies, who always ask for a copy of the book before the interview so they can actually read it. Instead of holding up the book and telling the audience,  “You can find this book at your favorite bookstore,” what are they left with? Does the interviewer hold up a computer and say, “I didn’t get a chance to read this book because no one sent us a copy, but hey, you can find this at your favorite online store.”

Will word spread and will all those events be canceled?

Can Dorchester actually promote e-books?

The one thing running through my wee brain is whether Dorchester is any good at marketing e-books. Their experience is with physical mass paperback, and that doesn’t necessarily translate to e-books. As my bud cried, “I don’t even know how to promote an e-book! I would have done things so differently.” Does Dorchester think they can compete with the likes of Samhain?

Only time will tell.

Options

I also wonder whether Dorchester offered any of their authors the option of getting out of their contract. My friend wasn’t contacted, and I think it’s because it would have set off a wildfire. Had Dorchester manned up and said, “Look, we’re having some problems, and we’re changing our company platform. Your book, previously to be mass paperback, is now going to be an e-book only. You can stick it out with this format, or opt out,” then at least I’d give them kudos for putting their authors’ best interests at heart.

But they tried to pretend this was nothing more than a little hiccup and are now faced with outrage and shock as authors cry foul. So they accomplished nothing. Telling someone all is well doesn’t make it so – especially when they see that three of your four tires are flat.

Who loses?

It’s stuff like this that makes me angry. Anytime the Bandini hits the fan, it’s the author who suffers. It’s ALWAYS the author. They’re the last to know, and the first to get screwed. I wish honesty and integrity took precedence over smoke and mirrors. We’ve all had tough times, but if I truly believed that things were so dire that it was going to impact the way we do business, I would feel compelled to at least give my authors the choice of whether they wanted to stick it out or move on. My friend has no choice, and it has cost her some very big bucks.

In reality, the writing was on the wall a couple years ago, but no one was really making any noise.  I was alarmed when two years ago, another friend of mine had serious trouble receiving her advance. Her agent kept asking where it was. Their explanation? “Uh, sorry, but we simply don’t have the money to pay it right now.” Wha’? It was only $2500.

From here to where?

I’m not sure where Dorchester is headed at this point – in spite of their ridiculous assurances that these are “minor changes.” For starters, agents and authors will abandon them like the beagle abandons sobriety. The precious reputation that they’ve worked so hard to preserve is already shot to hell because no one with a firing synapse believes these are “minor adjustments.” So what have they gained?

Secondly, do they believe they can sell enough e-books and POD books to maintain their company? I don’t believe it for a minute and feel this is a sunken ship, and all those Dorchester authors are going to be scampering about looking for ballast.

Publishing is in a state of flux because “business as usual” no longer applies. Larger publishers have been working stupid for many, many years, and spending like a drunken sailor in Singapore is going to eventually catch up to them. And who loses? The author. It’s always the author. I wish there were better answers.

So line up, Dorchester authors, the beagle has pitchers of margaritas for you.

14 Responses to Beagle, pass the Dorchester authors a margarita, please

  1. NinjaFingers says:

    …this makes me somewhat afraid.

    Of course, if the contract specified paperback, the authors may have a way out anyway. Mental note. Make sure any contract I sign *specifies* the format the book will be published in.

  2. This was exactly my thinking. Most contracts state what formats the book will be produced. But it also depends on other clauses that each publisher may have added. It may be that Dorchester’s contract has such a clause that says they still own the rights provided they print the book in some format. Agents would be unlikely to quibble because Dorchester has been around a long time.

    Lesson learned, eh?

  3. Lauren says:

    Ouch! This is painful to read. My heart aches for your friend, and for the other authors.

    What I’d say to Dorchester is this (and it’s my saying, so please credit me): Courage is the art of embracing consequences. In other words, straighten up, say it without quibbling, and know that whatever consequences fall that you have done right by yourself and by others.

  4. Exactly my point, Lauren. They aren’t fooling anyone by insisting all is well, so why not do the right thing and be up front? Offer their authors the option of bailing out rather than being tied into a relationship they don’t want?

  5. Dorchester not paying their authors has been a dirty little secret for more than three years in the romance community yet RWA said nothing, and, as far as I know, did nothing for the authors involved.

    Those authors who have been screwed the worst have only told their stories privately.

    Agents who knew this have said nothing to anyone, and one friend’s “major” agent dumped her because fussing with Dorchester for anything wasn’t worth her time.

    Those of us who knew what was going on but weren’t victims could only hint vaguely to warn others away because we could prove nothing.

    This whole situation shows a sad lack of courage on everyone’s part.

  6. Marilynn, I’m not so sure that it’s a lack of courage, but rather most people are too busy with their own businesses. Spreading rumors around opens up the floodgates for being known as a gossip. That whole “hey did you hear about…?” is dangerous territory for an agent or editor.

    Whenever I have substantiated dirt on someone or some enterprise, I pass it along to industry watchdogs who collect such information. But I’m not going to run to the Water Cooler and blurt out what I know.

    Now, were I an author and been personally involved with Dorchester, I would have been blabbing it from the treetops on the Water Cooler and anyplace else. Sadly, many authors fear doing this because they worry about reprisals with other publishers. My feeling is that this isn’t about making trouble, but alerting the public about someone who’s gone sketchy.

    The long and short of it is that people are going to get caught in webs of denial and deceit, and there’s little anyone can do about it except do their research. The info was out there three years ago about Dorchester, had anyone done the research.

  7. Wow, I thought having my publisher go bankrupt while I was on book tour was bad. At least I had my book in my hands (and in the stores for a while). Ouch.

  8. Webb says:

    I always thought of electronic books as a compliment to paper, part of the package, not a subsititute. You really need both since online stores will never completely replace brick and mortar. I just can’t see how a publisher can justify separating them and only doing one. You can’t save money if you eliminate a big part of your market, can you? It reminds me of an insurance company that wants to save money by never paying on a claim. Yougot to do both to stay inbusiness. Only going to one medium sounds like one last desperate trip to the well that you already know is dry.

    And that doesn’t go into the damage done to authors who didn’t get what they thought they signed up for, whoa!

  9. NinjaFingers says:

    There are some newer publishers that are doing very well with the ebook-only model…Samhain has already been mentioned.

    Erotica in particular does well ebook only, perhaps because when you’re reading a Kindle or Nook…nobody else can tell what you’re reading ;).

    The point here is that authors have been screwed over AND it is very likely (I read some more stuff from Publishers Weekly about this) that they will soon be left without a publisher at all…sadly.

  10. Gord Rollo says:

    Hello,

    I’m a Leisure author with their horror imprint. My fourth novel with them, VALLEY OF THE SCARECROW, was set for mass market release on September 1st, 2010. You can just imagine how pleased I was to learn of Dorchester’s decision to switch to an ebook format. The worst part was they never informed anyone about this until the Sh*t had already hit the fan.

    Like your friend, I have 6 or 7 signings and radio interviews set up from now through the Halloween season to promote my new book. I’m also locked in to appearances at two upcoming book conventions in Las Vegas and Gettysburg, but now I’ll have no books available to me for any of it. Even my backlist titles are locked in a warehouse somewhere that Leisure owes money to and aren’t being released to anyone until the bill is paid. I didn’t find out about this change of plan until I tried to order some books (new and old) and found out that I couldn’t. I tried to be positive about this change for a while but their silence and mixed messages to the media are driving me crazy. Most of the horror authors want out but when I asked for my rights back I was promptly told NO!

    Lovely.

    Anyway, just wanted to say hi and let people know it’s not just the romance imprint getting the run around. The entire company is in tatters and our only hope is that they DO go bankrupt. At least that way we might get our rights back.

    Gord

  11. Oh, Gord, my heart just aches for you. You’ve worked so hard to get where you are…ach, there are just no words…I hope you land on your feet, my friend.

  12. Gord Rollo says:

    Thanks Lynn. I’ll keep soldiering on. I have a few nibbles out there with some bigger houses so keep your fingers crossed for me. In the meantime, I get to go on that Las Vegas trip this week. I have no books to sign but hey, it’s Vegas so it can’t be all that bad, right?

    Cheers,

    Gord

  13. writer says:

    I had no idea it had been a “dirty, little secret” that Dorchester hadn’t paid their authors on time. Dorchester is also not paying the writers who produce for its magazines. Some have been waiting almost a year. A few have gotten paid a little sporadically. I guess the secret is out. Not a good time to submit anything to them for the book or mags.

  14. Rita says:

    Dorchester manning up. Sigh. Not the book division, nor the mag division. Just curious why I cannot find any info. on the web or in the media about Dorchester temporarily ceasing publication of True Story magazine the other day. No notice to writers or readers of course. That would be too manly–or womanly. In light of all Dorchester’s other problems and the trust issues their writers and readers have with them–this is the crap de resistance. Let me know why now this mag thing is a big secret. True Story is 91 years old and has a circulation of 250,000–so it can’t be that it’s not a part of American history or doesn’t affect anyone. As some authors have noted–when they get a story published in True Story it’s being read by more people than when most novels get published.

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