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. I have thought a lot about the Dorchester debacle, even posted about it, but one of the things that stuck with me after reading the above comments was the continued resistance to ereaders among a number of readers. I certainly understand the cost issues-although Kindle is now available for $139- and for people who buy romance books, the lower costs of ebooks would more than make up the cost fairly quickly.

    However, I couldn’t help but think what a life saver my Kindle has been. My father has Alzheimer’s and I have been traveling to see him every other month, and since there is often not a lot I can do for him but just be with him, having books to read makes this process much easier. Before I got the Kindle I would pack about 7 books, and still run out before the end of the trip. Now, all I have to take is my nice slim, leather encased Kindle, and I never run out.

    But four months ago I experienced the most profound asset of the Kindle-my ability to download instantly. I had just moved my father into a memory care facility, and I was staying with him (sleeping on the floor) for 4 days to help him adjust. This was extremely painful as he was confused and frightened. He was off with one of the aids and I was trying desperately not to completely fall apart from having watched him try for ten minutes to remember how to put his pants on, and I knew that none of the books I had on the Kindle was going to get me through this.

    For nearly 40 years my comfort books have been Georgette Heyers, I own every one, and have read them multiple times, but my Heyers were thousands of miles away, and what I needed right then and there was Cotillion, and within 60 seconds I had it. Yes it wasn’t formatted all that well, and it wasn’t encased in the musty, falling apart paper cover I had at home. But the words and the story was there, as was the smile Freddy always brings to my heart.

    And as an author and a reader, this is the message I want to bring, it is the content not the delivery system that matters, and sometimes the new medium can actually be superior to the old delivery system, something I hope Dorchester authors and readers will discover in the coming years.

  2. meganb says:

    I can’t imagine how this must affect Dorchester authors; my heart goes out to you.

    And now, to be the Voice of Doom:  Dorchester appears to be making some rash decision in reaction to their financial situation (which has to be baaaad), and I can’t see them making any sort of good faith effort with their authors if they aren’t forced to or required to by contract.  This is a Cover Your Ass situation.

    My big question is, what formats will the ebooks be published in, and what outlets?  This is info you need to get to your readers as you market.  You would hate to market it to everyone, then find out that all those iPad readers (me) can’t download the proper format without stripping the DRM.  And someone above mentioned the international market—find out the geographic restrictions on the release and make that clear, too.

    As a reader, I admit I read completely different sub-genres in ebooks than in mass markets.  Even though I read a ton of ebooks, this would be a big shock to me.

  3. Meoskop says:

    @Louisa Locke – beautiful comment. Only thing I want to add is that for many of us ereaders books are now more expensive rather than less. I am not yet giving up my favorite agency 5 authors but I am buying far fewer books overall. So making up the ereaders cost only works for those willing to abandon some authors.

  4. I love the digital/POD format as I’m a small press author, but I CHOSE to go that route. The Dorchester authors did not. I feel especially bad for the authors whose books are coming out in the next few months—I can’t imagine their inner turmoil right now.

    If Dorchester wanted to make this change, why couldn’t they have decided that every book contracted after today would be released in the digital/POD format?

    While I hate to support Dorchester after this author-unfriendly move, I DO want to support their authors. So I will be buying as many Dorchester books as I can afford to read on my Nook.

  5. Like other commentors, I have to call shenanigans on this one.  Announcing it *this* close to the wire…well, it’s clear that either Dorchester are in a financial hole, or they’ve treated their authors rather shabbily.  Books for September release should’ve been at the printers weeks.  In fact, shouldn’t authors with books coming out in September/October have the proofs by now?

  6. cate says:

    RE:M Louisa Locke….Thanks for a sweet uplifting anecdote….But what has that got to do with the price of fish ??
      The Dorchester Authors have to be able to pay the gas water ,electricity & what passes for the council tax in the USA. from thir current royalties….I don’t think they’re going to be able to do this on what’s proposed as an acceptable royalty payment from their ebooks

  7. Liz says:

    i am not an author, but i agree with the others that have suggested checking out facebook ads.  because my facebook shows that i read romance novels, a lot of different ads come up about reading specific authors that are similar to the ones i listed that i like.  most of the time i click the ad to see if the book is one that i would like.

    Good Luck!

    PS Dorchester should be ashamed of itself.

  8. Dawn Green says:

    RE: M Louisa Locke – I’m one of those that does not care for the ebook format. Not that I am resistant to it, I simply don’t prefer it. For me, it isn’t just the content. I love looking at my bookshelves and anticipating the next read. However, I don’t travel much. If I did, or if I had a long commute, it would be a completely different situation. I truly hope this Dorchester issue is not a trend in publishing. Hopefully there are enough of us who still purchase books to keep the market strong and profitable for all.

  9. Dot says:

    I feel for the authors.

    I really enjoyed the books I have bought from Dorchester.  I have absolutely no interest in ebooks.  If everything turns to ebooks, I will happily re-read from my library the rest of my life.

    I am very tired of the the attitude that if we will all just try ebooks,  we will convert.  I like books.  There are reasons I like books, non-virtual books, but real life books on paper that I own.  I use technology all the time but for reading, I prefer books, not ebooks.  I will not buy ebooks.  If I want something electronic, I will play games, not read or do a million other activities.

    I wish the Dorchester authors well.  I wish this particular author well.  I am sorry to see this happening to this publisher in particular.

  10. Dawn Green says:

    Dot – Well said, and ditto.

  11. dorothean says:

    This is making me really unhappy. Rose Lerner, a new author whose blog I follow carefully because I think she’s bringing some really important ideas to the genre, is published with Dorchester. She’s just put up an announcement about this. Her new book, scheduled for publishing in January, is now coming out as an e-book then and MONTHS LATER, a trade paperback.

    Like Dot above, I’m not interested in e-books. I have nothing against them at all, but I have a RELATIONSHIP with print books. I can’t afford an e-reader, I wouldn’t buy one in the next couple of years anyway as it seems the various companies making them are still making them significantly better, and it MEANS sometime to me to have a book on my shelf that I can physically thumb through and write notes in. Well, I can write elsewhere about the experience of paper books if I like … and I really don’t want to make e-book fans feel like I look down on them, as I don’t. But I’m incredibly disappointed in this decision! I would probably pay Dorchester *extra* for a mass-market paperback of A Lily Among Thorns if I could get it in, say, February instead of waiting until July for a trade paperback. RRRRGHH.

  12. Dear Dorchester Ebook Author

    The suggestion to join with the other Dorchester authors to create a web presence is a very sound one. For some time now Dorchester has presented books that were slightly off the beaten track (much to my delight, by the way). Now you are on the digital frontier along with many of the rest of us, and the biggest issue is to get online eyeballs and associated sales.

    Get with a group of authors about to go out the same time you are. Put together a blog, go onto reader’s loops where you can permittedly advertise it. Make it clear that you are seizing the day here and are delighted to be pushing your books to the Kindle, Sony, iPad reading audience. Give away a few ARCs to reviewers if Dorchester hasn’t done it already, and clarify that these are ebooks. At this point you have sympathy and the focus of the publishing world. Take advantage of that!

    Try to stay positive to avoid problems with the publishing house but make some noise about your books.

    Yes I’m being too cheerful but if life hands you lemons… well you get the point.

  13. Christine says:

    I will be happy to host any Dorchester author on my blog who has releases coming out. Are they able to go to all e-readers or just Kindle?

    I do feel bad for the readers out there who aren’t able to buy an e-reader—the readers who buy romances while they’re shopping at places like Walmart because they’re on tight budgets. Romances provide an escape from reality. And I don’t want them to lose that escape.

    By running contests where readers can win e-readers so they can access their authors and books would be perfect.

  14. Lise says:

    I have read a number of the posts, and feel as everyone does, very sorry for the quagmire the Dorchester authors now find themselves in, from marketing standpoint, a legal standpoint, and an emotional standpoint. What I didn’t see (at a glance) is what I think the problem probably is. The recent announcement by RWA that Dorchester’s appointments/appearance was cancelled for the national conference because of not fulfilling contractual obligations (I’m thinking $$$$), comes after several years of financial rumblings about Dorchester’s shaky state. By cancelling so abruptly mm releases what they are doing, I would think, is saving a huge outlay of cash. And they’ve fired their entire sales staff, so they’ve saved salaries, health benefits, etc. It sounds like they just don’t have the money to keep a print operation going. And I also agree that if they’re going this route, they’d better be burning the midnight oil doing their homework. There are some big boys (or girls) on the block these days: Ellora’s Cave, Samhain, Carina and Harlequin, Wild Rose Press, and all the digital books the other print pubs are generating.

  15. DorchAuthor says:

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

    I have a sneaking suspicion Dorchester won’t play fair on this one. They don’t seem to care much about their authors.

    BUT most of the Dorchester authors I know (myself included) have not received royalty payments or advance payments on time – if ever. They are years late paying authors. Therefore, Dorchester is in breach of contract and we can take our books anywhere we want. I suggest Dorch authors consider their options.

  16. SD says:

    Hello, a Dorchester author here…a little late to the discussion, but I can assure you myself and fellow Dorchester authors are absolutely livid. My agent is asking for all rights to be returned so we can walk away. For the last year they have been horrible about royalty payment and advances. I know they owe one author almost $10,000 and he is starting to realize he won’t see a dime. Unfortunately, I see the company inundated with lawsuits over the next few months, and closing their doors by January….

  17. lennie says:

    Ahh—I feel for the Dorchester authors. I agree with the last post even though I am not a Dorchester Publishing author. I fear you are right; they won’t play fair. I haven’t gotten paid, period, writing for the Trues. And I don’t know any other writer over there who is either. I’m owed thousands. Is there any recourse, I wonder? Can’t all Dorchester writers from the book and mag divisions get together and do something?

  18. lennie says:

    hmmmm—I am on smartbitches now, so I appreciate the word fuckery now that I and other Dorchester Media (the mag division) writers aren’t getting paid. Anyway—I’m owed thousands myself, so I’m not making light of all the authors who are losing even more than me. BUT it appears we are all getting a screwing. AND that is no surprise. Do some research and see where the publisher of Dorchester Publishing worked before. I’m sure some smartbitches (like myself—tee hee) can track that info. down. I’ll just dangle that tidbit and leave it to others to do what they may with that info. But when smartbitches breaks the info. and digs—it might become more apparent why people all over the web are using terms like screwing, fuckery, etc. and being prophetic and not even knowing it.

  19. Tina says:

    I have to agree with many of the writers here.  I don’t do ebooks.  I don’t plan on doing ebooks.  I spend 8 to 10 hours a day staring at a computer screen and have no desire to do so during my leisure time.  As so many others have said, Dorchester obviously no longer desires my business.  I too buy dozens of books a month.  I buy them in grocery stores, department stores, and bookstores.  I do not buy them online.  Although I do have several authors that I buy faithfully, my other purchases usually impulse buys.  I very rarely buy trade books bacause I can buy two mass markets for one trade.  I hope that as soon as their contracts are up some of the authors I love with Dorchester will move to other publishers.  I would hate to have to give them up as well.
        Also, I reat that the ebooks will be approximately 6.99 each.  Why such a high price?  I’ve always heard that books have become so expensive not because the authors are making a lot on the books, but because of publishing and distribution costs.  Why such a high cost on a computer file that will be distributed by downloads?  I hope with that cost and few expenses that the authors will be given a higher percentage of the sales price.

  20. jimy says:

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  21. SteveAsClay says:

    The insidious thing here is that this was not a sudden plan. You can see that with the sudden change of publishers for a number of writers.  My genre is Westerns.  Dorchester used to be a great place for the old pulp stuff from the ‘40s as well as for newer authors.  Well, you can see from listings at Amazon that these Western authors are now with other publishers.  In fact nearly all of the established writers appear to have left Dorchester enmasse so that their September, October, November books are coming out in mass market paperback under a new publisher’s banner.  Heck, even some of the cover art is lifted directly from Dorchester.  This couldn’t have happened without advanced notice.  It had to have been planned, and some authors had to have been told about it while still others were not.

  22. lennie says:

    Wow—SteveAsClay! I’m not in the book division—but was talking online with a mid-list author who was royally screwed there. My question is: what are authors doing about this? She feels this was deliberate as you are observing. I read elsewhere (can’t remember) that it was a “dirty, little secret” for over three years that Dorchester was very late or no pay—but folks were afraid to speak. The RWA thing brought it to light a little. I’ve NEVER gotten paid. I “know” people (other mag contributors) who are waiting almost a year now. So what do we do? If Wal-Mart wasn’t paying vendors—most people would quit shopping there. Why is this not more public? Why aren’t authors (in mag division) contacting Dorchester’s bigger-name advertisers and letting them know about the breach of contracts?

  23. SteveAsClay says:

    Hey, Lennie – I don’t doubt that this has been a dirty little secret for a while – maybe even three years.  Publishers, even more than execs in most industries, have to plan out far in advance. And it is clear that this is an economic measure designed to keep Dorchester above water.  Frankly, I don’t think they can.  Romance novels (and all their sub-genre) are fairly lucrative, certainly more than Westerns or the Leisure Adventure line.  So, if Dorchester is going all-electronic, then it appears to this observer that their Romance division wasn’t healthy either.  That suggests a sickly company, and they may well be heading for another Chapter 11 or worse.  As for why no one is talking … well, that’s Human nature, isn’t.  I mean, each writer thinks he’s alone in this; can’t be happening to others.  Or there’s fear of someone blacklisting you as a writer, regardless of how unfounded that fear may be.  And then, if you do tell others, odds are they won’t care.  Other publishers may be glad to have the competition reduced; B&N and Borders and other large book retailers have their own massive problems; and the public just doesn’t care.  If Dorchester can’t supply them with books, someone else will.  If they are forced to give up paper books and go electronic, most people (as of today) will simply say the heck with it and turn the TV up louder.  The only people who are going to fight for writers and their rights are writers.  But the only way we can do that is if we also command the distribution arm of the process.  But organizing writers into a coherent, effective group for change …  I’d rather herd cats.

  24. lennie says:

    Thanks! I loved your post. It’s a slap of reality I needed to hear. This world is new to me. I’m a former small-town journalist and writing for the Trues was my first foray into the “bigtime.” I was wondering why writers were not banding together. I even heard glimmers that the RWA knew and acted too little and too late. Can’t comment on that since I’ve only been a member for a short time and am not actively involved yet. Herding cats! I think I believe that! I’m pretty mild mannered, but this is inflaming me as I wonder why writers aren’t getting together. I think you answered it quite well. I’m ticked because I feel even the lowly confession writers need to politely warn the newer ones not to submit at this time. And I’m not happy that some folks are continuing to teach classes on writing for the confessions market. Since Dorchester is really the only confessions market outside of New Love Stories (which isn’t technically confessions) I couldn’t do that in good conscience. I asked another ticked Dorchester book author (on a blog) if she knew if Dorchester media even had a comptroller. That’s the story at least one confession writer has been told recently—not the check is in the mail, but the info. is being turned over to the comptroller. Even though I have nothing to do with Dorchester Publishing, I imagine Dorchester Media is almost one in the same. I agree, this doesn’t seem like an overnight decision. I can’t speak to the book division, only the mags. I’ve received a few emails from mag writers (almost timid ones) saying this is nothing new and expect to sorta get paid, maybe someday—and they stopped submitting quite some time ago.

  25. lennie says:

    Okay, I’ve made up my mind. You are correct. Authors need to control the distribution arm. I’ll start Cathouse Publishing and Distribution—with a meow, meow nod to your analogy. I’ll run it with a silken claw since coming from journalism, I have a semi-logical frame of mind. We’ll accept westerns and horror since I well know they are niche markets. Romance will only get by my claws if it’s not totally predictable and can pass a smartbitchytrashy pre-review. I won’t take a salary since I don’t need to for awhile. My main job besides filtering out crappy submissions will be making sure NO writers are self-sabotaging. Only authors and editors can work at Cathouse—no executive types. Even small potato authors like myself will be trained to be smart, logical and not accept junky deals.
    p.s. I’m more of a dog person than a cat lover—but I’ll make concessions!

  26. SteveAsClay says:

    Lennie … sounds like you’re on to something!  When you start up your publishing and distribution outfit count on a submission from me.  BTW … I used the “herding cats” line simply because it’s a phrase that defines the impossible.  It’s dogs for me all the way.  Definitely not a cat person. 🙂

  27. lennie says:

    Sounds like a plan! I was at the Dorchester website last night. Are you the Steve over there who writes westerns? If so (or even if not) what are your future plans for your work?

    I’ve been chatting online with another Dorchester author and she’s quite the cat herder! She’s flamed. She’s been contacting RWA and others about the Trues, which I write (or wrote) for. I think that’s nice, because she’s a novelist and is advocating for the mag writers.

    And I am glad to report that the True writers are getting together about sharing the info. so we can make decisions on future submissions. There is slight hope! We may never see a penny, but we (I) learned there are lots of good, supportive folks out there who help even the lower-level writers.

    I’ve been slightly anonymous since I thought coming out might ruin my chances of getting paid. But now, I don’t care. Lots of interesting posts on Absolute Write water cooler between me and the Dorchester author and others. So much drama and intrigue over at Dorchester that I might write that book after all!

    Please let me know what westerns you write. I won’t buy them from Dorchester though! My husband is a westerns fan and I’m getting into it.

    Since many authors have their own websites, I’ll have to check and see if any of them have gotten together and started a centralized one, selling their books.

  28. SteveAsClay says:

    Lennie … I’m not one of the Dorchester writers.  In fact I’ve had only a little luck with getting published, and the past four years I’ve completely stayed away from the keyboard for health reasons (not that the keyboard was the problem…).  Before that I had a handful of Westerns published by a British publisher.  That is just about the extent of my bona fides.  All of my books are out of print and impossible to get as the publisher’s print runs are purposely microscopic.  If you live in England you might find one in their library system.  Had a website but I let it fall into disrepair.  All of my observations come from 40 years of watching the publishing industry.  I’m glad that folks are getting together; I’ll check in on that Absolute Write site.  But, hearing about writers being worked up and talking to each other, I’m reminded of the townhall scene in Blazing Saddles where all the Johnsons gather to complain about the attacks on their town by a gang of outlaws.  A lot of harrumphing followed by a sternly worded letter to the governor.  Or if you prefer more literary comparisons:

    Life ’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
    That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
    And then is heard no more: it is a tale
    Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
    Signifying nothing.

    Oh, but I am melancholy today ….. 

    Still I do like the Writers Bookshop (BookShoppe?) idea.  An online source not only of physical books, but author and title information.  Sounds like Amazon, of course, but this one would benefit the writers only, not stockholders.  A sort of collective.  A lot of details to work out, and seed money to sponge up.  Someone with enterprising blood could make this happen.

  29. Cindy Lanner says:

    John Prebich was the COO of Penthouse Media Group. Also, an editor at the media part tended to keep contracts from over 6 months ago on her desk, unfiled. It was no secret. The employees really wanted to get writers paid.

  30. lennie says:

    Thanks Cindy. That’s interesting. I sorta suspected when I heard the payment info. ( almost a year late) would be FINALLY turned over to the possibly imaginary comptroller that the decision had to come from the top. I suspected that most employees would want to see the writers get paid—but would have little to no say in that if they wanted to keep seeing their paychecks. Didn’t Penthouse Media Group file bankruptcy back around 2003?

  31. lennie says:

    Wise, wise words SteveasClay! I appreciate the literary version as well as the Blazing Saddles one! I haven’t thought of that great scene for years. I know you are right. Getting writers together is not easy. Some are hinting it’s not professional to want to be paid. I suggest that it’s totally professional to demand fair treatment. I can’t imagine people telling the plumber he is unprofessional or whatever for wanting payment for services. Your decades of observation are right on the money. I’ll have to check out that website. I think many writers are thinking about taking their own publishing future into their own hands. Interesting to watch all the changes happening in the publishing world. And sad too.

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