Dorchester Does Digital, Authors Do What?

Sitting on my countertop right now are a number of printed bound galleys for books coming out in November. Publishing as a rule works so far in advance, editors are now plotting out winter 2011, or even spring 2012, and thinking little about what’s going on in a month or two. That’s marketing and publicity’s department. And, of course, the author’s concern as well.

But if you’re a Dorchester author with a mass market release scheduled for this fall, you are thinking a lot about right now – and from my understanding, thinking you are totally lost, up a creek, sans paddle, with no idea how your vessel changed beneath you from a motor boat into a single-masted sailboat.

With the announcement that beginning next month, Dorchester is a digital-first, print-on-demand publisher, and that any mass market paperbacks scheduled for this fall will be released in trade format sometime in 2011, more than a few authors are wondering what the hell to do now.

One author, who asked that I keep her identity anonymous, emailed with me this morning while I watched publishing change from the waiting room of an auto repair garage. Her book was scheduled to release next month, and she found out this morning that instead of a mass market paperback, her novel will be an e-book only. In the counting-down stages until her book release, this means, as she put it, her advertising and promotional efforts are largely obsolete:

“It is beyond frustrating to hear three weeks before the book is supposed to appear on shelves that it will not appear on those shelves and yes it renders my entire marketing plan moot. I have a large virtual tour setup—I don’t know if that can or should still happen. I purchased advertising in Romance Sells—that is effectively useless now. I printed thousands of pieces of collateral and mailed them to bookstores, including posters that are now hanging up in overseas bookstores. Again, now useless. I’d need to rinse-and-repeat when the print book comes out. I purchased advertising and am now advertising a non-existent book—oh happiness and joy.

Fortunately, I held my advertising budget down, so I’m only out a few hundred dollars. Other authors at Dorchester have spent far more than I.”

When I asked about her royalty rate – since digital first publishers give a MUCH different (and larger) royalty rate than print publishers, she said,

“The Publisher’s Weekly piece indicates that Dorchester may revisit those percentages but so far we appear to not have many options. My agent is not optimistic. I’m as open to e-book publishing as the next author, but I’d like a fair royalty rate, some advance notice, and the opportunity to market (because my marketing campaign was targeted for print publication and they’re just two different beasts).

I honestly don’t know whether or not they’ve even PRINTED mass market copies.”

So how would she have marketed her book differently if it had been digital first all along?

“If I was going to e-pub, frankly, I would have gone with an established e-publisher who had a track record of success and who could provide some guidance as to how to market. I would *not* have invested in print advertising in Romance Sells or bookstore mailings/mailing lists. I would have looked at doing much more online advertising. My real concern is that I don’t know how to market an ebook, am not getting any guidance on this, and have no guarantees that Dorchester doesn’t [screw] this up.

[F]rankly, if was Samhain or Carina Press or someone who had a track record with e-books, I’d be less freaked out by the whole thing.”

Anonymous author also noted that her email messages to Dorchester’s marketing were met with silence, and then messages a few hours later generated “Out-of-office” auto-replies.

When I heard the news that Dorchester was digital-first, and print-on-demand, with less than one month’s notice for September print authors, my first question (after, WTF?) was whether any mass markets had been printed at all for September and even October releases. My understanding is that those books would have to be nearly ready by now, if not already shipping out. If mass markets were printed, what happens to them? And if they were NOT printed, then how far in advance was this decision made, and why weren’t authors and agents and even editors given more lead time to make the requisite changes?

[Sidenote: one author emailed me, and said, “Also, while writing this email, I made an inadvertent-yet-hilarious typo: Dorcheater.” Ahem. OUCH.]

But the real matter at hand, aside from placing bets in the death pool as to whether Dorchester is circling the drain or has bought itself some time, is what do you think authors with print books formerly scheduled to come out this fall should do to shift their marketing and promotional plans as new digital-only authors? There are a LOT of experienced digitally published authors here: what do you suggest? If you’re in this boat, perhaps sharing some paddles will help make some digital success.

Comments are Closed

  1. Donna says:

    Hey look, I,m first. I’m just going to put it out there. Dorchester has lost my business. I don’t do ebooks. I know that makes me a dinosauer, but there it is. And if that weren’t enough, how do you justify treating your authors like this? It seems they are the most unimportant part of the equation, when they should be a publisher’s first concern.
    Badly done.

  2. Kait Nolan says:

    She should ABSOLUTELY continue with the planned virtual tour.  She can give away the ARCS in contests on her blog.  And now’s the time she should probably hop on over and start regularly reading J.A. Konrath’s blog and those of some independently published authors.  She won’t have the control over content that an indie does, but since so many indies are e-only, it would be beneficial to look at their tactics.  A lot of stuff is social networking oriented—get the cover out there and visible in avatars, on Facebook, on Twitter, MySpace, Goodreads.  Network with other bloggers and readers.  That’s all the same whether you’re print or e.  Other tactics include targeting the forums specific to the assorted reading devices—Kindleboards, the Nook forums, Mobilereads.  There are author promo threads on all of them.  And if she’s already a blogger, then appealing to existing fans and followers.  See if she can set up a virtual book blast sort of thing where they try to organize a bunch of purchases within a time frame to drive the sales ranking up into the more visible range. 

    Unfortunately a number of the things that would be really helpful she won’t be able to do since the publisher controls the price and distribution channels and such.  This is the sort of move that I think will drive more traditionally published authors into self-publishing like Konrath.

  3. Elise Logan says:

    I am, fortunately, not a Dorchester author. But I am epubbed.

    In terms of the specifics from your anonymous author, I’d say that you can still do a virtual tour. I don’t know how you’ve set up the existing tour, but there is no reason you can’t do a virtual tour using chat technology and providing buy-links and other info.

    The first thing to do, if you haven’t already, is use your social networks. It’s cheap and fast, and believe me when I tell you that authors are going to WANT to help fellow authors screwed in this manner. Find authors that have a similar market niche and see if you can do blog interviews, guest blogging, etc.

    In a lot of ways, I don’t see the marketing for ebooks as significantly different from print except for point-of-sale marketing. You can do in-store appearances and things so long as the store has buy-link capability – through Kindle or Nook, for example. Yes, you will lose a lot of brick-and-mortar browsing buys, but I don’t see a way to avoid that at this point, with this little notice.

    The big concern for me would be with regards to your existing contract. I’d have a serious discussion with my agent about what terms may or may not have been fulfilled by the publisher in producing the book – and that isn’t something I can speak to at all, that will be specific to your contract. But I’d definitely be having some discussions with legal representatives over the possible legal repercussions.

    Good luck to all the Dorchester authors.

  4. Selena Blake says:

    I agree. Continue with the virtual tour. In fact, expand it. Make friends with ebook authors so that you can promote one another. Start getting your name (and title) out there around the blogosphere, on twitter, facebook, etc. Let people know that the book was going to be in print, but now it will be in ebook. That way you’re honest, upfront, and you may even get sympathy sales. 🙂

  5. ocelott says:

    Absolutely continue with the virtual tour.  Virtual tours are great for e-books.  If the readers are already online, and they think you and your book sound interesting, they can download it in just one quick click.  Talk to as many bloggers as you possibly can, especially if you can get them e-arcs for review.

  6. Jennifer Armintrout says:

    Dorchester needs to release the rights to those books to their respective authors and let them keep their advances.  This is complete bullshit.

  7. Jennifer Armintrout says:

    And wait just a cotton-qtip minute here!  In most contracts, the royalties from ebooks are divided up differently than the royalties from mass market sales.  Someone with an agent can wrestle with the terms, but what about unagented authors writing for them?  Do they just get screwed?

  8. Julie says:

    I have no advice for e-pubishing. What I do have, though, is a sincere and heartfelt “I’m sorry” for every author who has a contract in force with Dorchester, and just found out that the book he or she worked hard on (and the marketing plan they spent good money on,) is not being published/distributed in the manner they were originally promised.

    Were Dorchester editors taking pitches at RWA National? Were they telling those pitching to them this decision was coming in less than two weeks?

    Again, I am so sorry.

  9. Julie says:

    Jennifer wrote:

    Dorchester needs to release the rights to those books to their respective authors and let them keep their advances.  This is complete bullshit.

    You GO, girl.
    When was this decision made?

  10. Meg says:

    Actually, assuming the contracts with Dorchester are fairly standard, then they are only obligated to publish the books in some form, ebooks included, so this is not actually a legal issue. An ethics issues, yes. Not very nice or smart to fail to give your authors advanced notice of the change in plans.  And not very good business sense, because of the marketing issues.

    I’d say, marketing-wise, besides all of the very good suggestions above, maybe look into Google ads or Facebook ads, which are pretty cheap (you pay for number of clicks on the ad and for each 1000 views, something like $0.60 a click/1000 views, and you can set a cap on how much you want to spend), and allow you to target a really specific audience.  This is something better handled by the actual marketing team, but if they’re being uncooperative, maybe do it yourself.

  11. I feel really, really bad for all the authors involved. To be told that your book will be out in a specific format and then to have something like this happen … I would be screaming and crying and pulling out my hair. I can’t imagine how frustrating and disappointing this is, especially for the debut authors.

    I would definitely go ahead with the virtual tour—I think those are invaluable no matter what format you’re published in. And ditto what other folks have said about social networking. I think selling books is all about getting the word out, and online is definitely the way to do that.

  12. SB Sarah says:

    @julie: Dorchester editors were not taking pitch appointments at RWA National due to unfulfilled contractual obligations not related to this decision. Nor did they have a publisher spotlight, as per RWA’s decision prior to the national convention, per Dear Author

  13. SB Sarah says:

    Oh – and thank you for suggesting Facebook ads, @Meg. I’ve been experimenting with them casually (and on a very low budget) and have found that interactive ones, like ads that ask a question, are rather successful in generating clicks. Plus, the degree to which you can customize and target a Facebook ad is rather amazing.

  14. Angela James says:

    In addition to the suggestions already mentioned here, I would suggest a large online contest of some sort surrounding the digital reading experience. Maybe with the ultimate prize a digital reader of some sort (even a refurb Kindle or iPod Touch, or a new Sony, Kobo, nook, etc.) I’d also suggest looking for not just the social networks, but the online areas (forums, blogs, etc) where digital readers of that genre are and starting to converse (not promo) there.

    But ultimately, I’d tell the author to take heart, because at the end of the day, even digital publishers/authors promote in print venues, and marketing for digital can be remarkably similar to marketing for print, so a good portion of your efforts won’t have been wasted. Your name and your book’s name are still getting out there, and will hit people in the digital venue!

  15. Julie says:

    @SB Sarah,

    Thank you for the info. I wasn’t at National this year, but I wondered about it.

  16. dreadpiraterachel says:

    Is there no legal protection for these authors? This is about the crappiest thing I’ve heard today. 🙁

  17. Ann says:

    This is pure bollocks. Most contracts state the book will be published in a certain format within a certain number of months or the agreement is null and void. For one of my series, I believe it’s two years. If I were an affected author, I would implore my agent to go over the contract with a fine-tooth comb and see how I could get out of it. If I wanted that work with e-publisher, I would go with Samhain, who has a proven track record and is not in trouble for defaulting on other deals.

    The authors involved have my sympathies, and I will be happy to run a contest for anyone who contacts me.

  18. First, my best wishes to all of Dorchester’s authors who were caught unaware by this sudden shift in business.

    I think the virtual tour is, as many have said, a brilliant idea, even more so with the release of an ebook.  For those who might have arranged an actual book tour with signings, they will need to come up with something like small posters or giveaways to autograph. 

    Get the word out to those who you send email/snailmail to of the change so they know where to find your book.  For the people who haven’t made the eReader transition, let them know that a physical book will eventually come out.  And that they can always read on their computer (not the best solution, but better than nothing).

    And definitely contact bloggers and potential readers through Twitter, Facebook (not a place most of my friends are a member of for many reasons), LiveJournal, etc. 

    Finally, see if any of your already done ads can be reworked to include a web address to buy your book.

    Again, good luck to all.  With the right mindset, you could turn this fiasco into a winner.

  19. AgTigress says:

    Just a tiny off-topic nitpick, Sarah:

    Sitting on my countertop right now are a number of printed bound galleys for books coming out in November.

    Unless this is a really weird AE/BE difference, those are not galleys but page-proofs.  For those of you who don’t remember galley proofs in the old days of letterpress printing, they were the first proofs, long, banner-like sheets, not yet paginated.  It would have been hard to bind them at all.  😉

    Sorry to distract from the serious message of this entry.  I really feel for the authors involved in this upheaval:  publishing is harrowing enough without having the ground shifting beneath one’s feet in this way.

  20. SB Sarah says:

    OH. Dude. I had no idea.

    Galley proofs sound like something my cats would want to play with for hours.

    Thanks for the correction!

  21. Ridley says:

    Honestly? I think Dorchester is circling the drain with this one.

    The ebook first market is not quite as open a field as it seems. In order to succeed in it you need to have extensive web presence, a sparkling visual style and a solid net commerce site.  Dorchester has none of these things.

    I have no idea who their editors are or what authors they have, unlike for Carina, Samhain and Dreamspinner who are a presence on Twitter, blogs and banner ads. Their covers are ugly cliches and their website an amateurish looking throwback to 5 years ago. Their links are underlined text. Way to go, basic HTML skills.

    If they want to be a player, they need to take a good look at their acquisitions process, develop a discernable style, make some internet friends and get a big-kid website. Right now, they look like knockoff sneakers next to existing e-pubs’ genuine Air Jordans.

    For their authors’ sakes, I hope they get a clue.

  22. Treva Harte says:

    Wow.  Back when ESPAN published all the calls for change with RWA (just over a year ago) and, among other things, I said authors had to be aware of their e-pub rights because, like or not, it was going to be important…I had no idea how dramatically that was going to be shown to be true.

  23. Perry says:

    Pretty unprofessional behaviour on the part of Dorchester. I would think it’s the first sign of a long journey down a drain.

    I agree with everyone on the continuation of the virtual tour and would suggest setting up a blog about your progress. If you can team with a few other Dorchester authors in the same boat, you can probably attract blog followers to learn how best to recover and thrive after such an event.

  24. MaryC says:

    Elise said

    believe me when I tell you that authors are going to WANT to help fellow authors screwed in this manner.

    I totally agree.

    I’m sure this must be an incredibly difficult time for Dorchester authors,  but I hope they will take heart from the support we offer.

    I also agree with previous posters who have said to continue with the promotion efforts. It wasn’t long ago that I thought I’d never be an eBook reader just because I loved the feel of a book in my hands, but I now regularly purchase books for my iPod and Nook.

  25. ~Sia McKye~ says:

    First, my heartfelt sympathy to Dorchester authors and I know many. For one, author’s should have been given more of a heads up on this and the chance to either renegotiate or been allowed to choose whether they wanted to stay with this or have their agents query other publishing houses.

    There is no shame in e-pub, and savvy authors and agents want book print and digital, but if your expectations were strictly mass market, this has to be a bitter pill.

    As far as promotion, I concur with several who have offered the same advice, keep your blog tour intact. Whether you’re print or digital, that aspect is the same promotion process. I have guest authors on my blog who are strictly e-pubbed and who are print. I provide buy links to Amazon, Borders, Barnes and Noble, and etc. I do that regardless of whether it is a print or digital book. A good book is a good book and at least with Dorchester keeping their editors (and art department), you know the quality of the stories and covers will be superior to a vanity press story and many of the POD pubs that don’t have an editing staff. Tell your author friend not to despair although I understand the outlay of money in preparation of a mass printed book.

    As you know Sarah, bloggers are generous souls who do like to help and there are many out there for her to choose from.

    Many of us who have been watching this whole e-pub/print on demand/trade print technology the past three years knew this day would be coming and will continue to come. Fact of the matter is print on demand (POD) is more cost effective for publishers. The digital market far surpasses print right now. With the advent of machines, that can print on demand any book, being stationed in libraries the past few years, why are we surprised when a major pub decides to go that route. They also call it the Espresso machine and envision a future of having them in coffee shops, for goodness sake.  E-books are here to stay and paper books can still be had—it’s not like they’re going away any time soon. Most of the e-pubs have trade paperbacks for sale. Talk to the Aussie authors and you’ll find that trade paperbacks have been there for years.

    My understanding is Dorchester is planning to release some of those contracted books as trade paperbacks through their national distribution system for bookstores. I’m curious to see what their plans are. I don’t think they will be the only major publisher either seriously considering this business platform, or setting themselves up for that platform in the next few years.

  26. Patrice says:

    Well although I love ebooks I think these Dorchester authors have a right to feel shocked by this sudden turn of events. I wondered what was going on back when Dorchester sold several of their most popular authors contracts. And I’ve noticed there are several older books on the catalog now reissued with new covers, some Feehan and Dara Joy titles for example. On a different note, I’m a member of the Love Spell book club. I find it odd there has been no notice that in the future they won’t be printing paperbacks. There was no information, or even a flyer stuck in with the book club books. I wonder what they will be sending me for my 2 books each month? I’ve been considering ending my membership…maybe this is a sign.

  27. Dawn Green says:

    I agree with Donna in the first post. I, also, don’t do ebooks. Sorry, but I just don’t like the idea of curling up with a good computer (Kindle, Nook, whatever) at night. I, also, don’t know a thing about publishing. I’m just a reader who loves romances. So, like Donna, I guess Dorchester doesn’t want my business either. I am very sorry to hear that the world of publishing is just as impersonal as other corporate entities. It’s all about the money.

  28. My deepest sympathies. Dorchester is doing a terrible thing to their authors if they switch to epublishing without offering competitve epublishing royalties. At the very least, those outstanding contracts should be renegotiated as a matter of good faith.

    As for marketing ebooks online, I’d like to invite all the new Dorchester ebook authors to do an interview on my Kindle Author blog. i did 59 author interviews last month, and plan to do many more. It’s a great way for ebook authors to get some online exposure with links to their ebook, website, blog, facebook page, and/or twitter account.

    For more information on setting up an online interview with me, visit the Kindle Author blog.

    Best of luck to all the Dorchestor authors, and please hang in there. The world is changing fast, but it’s a good thing. Readers need writers.

  29. cate says:

    I too, do not do ebooks, so that’s Dorchester down the Swannee for me.
    But-  hasn’t there been rumblings about Dorchester for quite some time now ?  So, perhaps this news is not altogether unexpected.
    My very best wishes to those authors published by Dorchester…..& a final thought.
    Perhaps a certain barking author wasn’t as barking as we all thought (Still highly irritating though – needs a brilliant editor, &  a decent cover artist to even halfway make the grade )

  30. Anj says:

    Somebody mentioned above that some Dorchester authors get together and start a blog. I think this sounds like a great idea. If a few Dorchester authors started a blog to advertise their new e-books, it would be a great place for people to go and see who is may be affected by this change. And then they could combine some of their advertising power

  31. Lori says:

    Is it legal? Were people contracted for paperbacks or just for the novels in any form?

  32. Deb Kinnard says:

    Like the rest of us, I feel for the authors. One note—as a mixed-media pubbed author since ‘02, there are loads of ways to promote an e-book. Stick with the blog tour. Print up cards if the budget allows, and snail-mail to your contact list.  Announce your release on the e-loops to which you belong, and any e-contact list you have built up.

    However…can the Dorchester authors’ agents not get their print rights back? There are houses that will consider reissues. If the authors have reversion of their print rights, that may become possible. I have two titles out right now that were originally print books and have now been reissued as e-books after the rights reverted.

  33. Kismet says:

    I’m with those that feel Dorchester no longer wants her business. I am among the unwashed masses that do not have a digital reading device and I don’t really want one either. However, I buy paperback books every month, usually close to a dozen, but sometimes more. Just looking at my shelves, I have more than my fair share of books published by Dorchester. Apparently, they do not feel that my patronage is worth their while, so I will no longer be supporting them.

    I am truly sorry for the authors this affects.

  34. Susan says:

    I feel sympathy for all authors involved and vehement corporate outrage. 

    But I want to say that my favorite part of this post, Sarah, is:


    Good luck, everyone!

  35. R. H. Rush says:

    My understanding is that those books would have to be nearly ready by now, if not already shipping out. If mass markets were printed, what happens to them?

    It means that retailers are going to start the returns process.  I’m speculating wildly, but knowing retailers, anyone doing business directly with Dorchester is going to start looking at returning any titles they can, because they might not be able to do that once Dorchester moves to print-on-demand, especially since it sounds like they’re going to use Ingram Publisher Services for the POD titles.

    So…yeah.  Even the books that have been out for a while might be heading back to Dorchester while there’s still time to return them; bookstores don’t like to sit on inventory, and with this amount of advance warning, anything that can be returned, will be.

  36. Qadesh says:

    A number of the authors I used to read who were published by Dorchester had both their frontlists and backlists sold to HarperCollins.  Future releases and reprints will be done under the Avon banner.  That was announced in January.  Authors included in this group were, Victoria Alexander, Nina Bangs, Christine Feehan, Sandra Hill, Marjorie M. Liu, Katie MacAlister, Lynsay Sands and CL Wilson. 

    I’m assuming that this decision, of publishing as ebooks is across genres?  After stumbling through their website, and oh man that thing needs help, their are 20 titles scheduled for release in September and October.  Of those 10 are reissues.  Not sure how this correlates to what their release schedule used to look like. 

    Best of luck to all the authors.

  37. Esther says:

    Perhaps a certain barking author wasn’t as barking as we all thought (Still highly irritating though – needs a brilliant editor, &  a decent cover artist to even halfway make the grade )

    I thought the same thing too.

  38. SonomaLass says:

    @Patrice I think the PW article said that the book club would continue. I’m not sure what that means, exactly, but that’s what I remember reading.

    Obviously there have been problems at Dorchester for some time. I hope they can make this work, but it sure is rough on their authors.

  39. If I even try to pretend I know enough about promotion to offer advice, lightning (or my editor) will strike me down, but I have one tiny suggestion and that’s to try to present a positive, upbeat spin to the readers.

    Perhaps, playing up to one of the strengths of digital, make the blog tour a Pajama Party. It’s finally here and you don’t even have to get dressed because you can buy it in your PAJAMAS!

    Obviously, the affected authors will have to put a note on their websites, but I’d avoid negative words such as “unfortunately” or “sadly”, or any wording that implies obligation on the part of the reader to support the book/author/publisher. Just a note explaining that Dorchester has gone digital, with links to where to buy. And I’d also include a link to Sarah’s post on how to read a digital book if you don’t have a digital reader.

    And finally, I’d write up a response to “why can’t I find your book in print?” email from readers NOW (or in a few days, when the dust settles), so when release date comes and you’re angry and depressed and more angry because your publisher screwed you and you get that email, you’re not tempted to vent in that direction, nor will your response be written while you’re angry.

    While I’m very happy being digitally published, I chose that route, and my heart goes out to the Dorchester authors because they didn’t and that totally sucks. For their sakes, I hope this transition is successful and wish them all the best of luck.

  40. Anon76 says:

    My heart goes out to the Dorchester authors.

    What chaps my butt is the royalty rates (probably low) and the lack of certain companies to even begin to understand the market they are getting in to. Will they offer books in multiple digital formats? Have they considered the effect of reader loss overseas due to restrictions? Have they truly, truly considered the pricing and impact on sales? Have they rolled out a major marketing blitz to accomodate this switch?

    I honestly believe they look at places like Samhain and think, “hey, if that smaller place can do it, we can blow them out of the water.” Horse pucky. Places like that have been in the game for a while, and are probably salivating at the opportunity this presents to them, via grabbing your authors for all the questions I listed above.


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