I’ve been a Leisure (Dorchester) author since mid-2005, when my Bram Stoker Award-nominated novel WOLF’S TRAP was reissued in mass market paperback. I had the distinct pleasure of being told my book “had legs” and that a sequel would be most welcome, and so that one sale became two, and then three, and then four (although the fourth would turn out quite differently). Leisure published my three novels between mid-2006 and mid-2010. In fact, the third was published only two months before the implosion of which we now speak.
I’ve held back saying too much about the Dorchester fiasco – and the resulting boycott – due to many reasons, but foremost because I feel some sympathy for the people there I’ve met and/or corresponded with over the years. In my experience, everyone I have ever dealt with personally at Leisure has been unfailingly friendly, professional, responsive, and helpful. From the famous editor of the horror line, Mr. Don D’Auria, all across the board, I can honestly say I’ve never had a conflict with anyone there and I’ve felt nothing but good will for everyone. Unfortunately, we all know something has changed, and I’ll get to that part in a minute, if you will bear with me as I approach this overall issue a bit more obliquely.
It’s not my intention to “defend” Leisure’s tactics of late, but I want to present an alternative point of view to the perhaps all-too common “Leisure sucks” response now making the rounds. Let us all agree, Leisure Books was never a place to get rich. Advances and royalties were low by industry standards. I knew this going in, and I still chose to publish with them. I had heard many say that Leisure never paid royalties, but in my experience, I was paid and on time – up to 2009. The way the contracts are worded, it takes a full year after publication before authors see a sales statement, and if the advance hasn’t earned out, there are no royalties. In my case, there were royalties because the first book earned back its advance quickly. There were second and third printings of WOLF’S TRAP. The timing of the second and third books was such that I would only have seen a statement for the second book in late 2010 – and I did not, because the implosion had taken place. Several things coincided: no statement (which probably would not have carried royalties with it yet), and no payment for the aforementioned fourth book, which had been turned in mid-2010. The advance was to be paid in two installments, one on signing the contract and one on turning in the book, and neither of those took place. And then, suddenly (to me, anyway), at the beginning of August 2010 the problems led to a sudden change of course, dropping the mass market line, and shortly after that, the release of the editor who had made the line legendary.
Let me take a moment to explain why I call it legendary. As mentioned earlier, it wasn’t the money that made one aspire to write for Leisure. There were two good reasons. One, everyone knew distribution was good. Your book would reach grocery stores and bookstores and drugstores and truck stops across the country. Who doesn’t want their book seen by that many people? Sure, paperbacks have a shelf-life barely longer than that of the fruit fly, but it’s better to burn out than to fade away – and what’s a six- or eight-week stint on the shelves but a quick flaming and disappearance? Unless… unless your book “has legs.” It sells well, it’s reprinted, and still sells well. And you write a sequel, and despite the odds you have something of a career. Leisure Books gave me that. Fulfilled the dream I’d had since I was, oh, probably seven or eight years old. That was one thing. Distribution was good, and it led to fan mail and an occasional check. I could live with that.
The second reason to aspire to write for Leisure was the sense of community with “everyone who was everyone” in the horror field. I mean, you can’t downplay the fact that your books were now appearing along with books written by the likes of some of your idols (Richard Laymon, Edward Lee, Jack Ketchum, Gary Braunbeck, Tom Piccirilli, John Skipp, Graham Masterton, Ramsey Campbell, and Doug Clegg, to name a few) as well as a whole new crop of great writers, of which you were now legitimately a part. No, you weren’t going to get rich, but you were going to feel like a legitimate author.
And then the implosion happened and things changed overnight. Sure, everyone knew the economy was struggling and books are a luxury after all, so sales were down. Maybe this would mean fewer titles published. Rumors had circulated for a while about Dorchester’s dire straits, and the possibility of Bad Things to Come was certainly in my mind, if not everyone’s minds. But I didn’t predict what would happen. Staff let go, warehouses shut down, creditors lining up. A new business model was floated. Ebooks – the future is now! – and trade editions in, and mass market paperbacks out. All right, I was willing to stay on board with that notion. Why not, I had a book just out and a book coming in the pipeline. And then the release (let’s be kind) of the editor who had gathered all that talent, Don D’Auria, among others. That was the beginning of the end for me, though I gave it a pass for a couple months.
Now the distress was multiplied. Not only was your editor gone, not only was the staff decimated to the point where it seemed nothing could get done, but the company bigwigs, the executives, the suits, the CEO-types, whatever you want to call them, insert epithet here, they decided that the way out of the mess was to stop paying writers the pittance royalties and advances we already expected, and to continue publishing and selling until they could get themselves out of the mud. But how long would that take? And what of the money earned but not paid out to authors? Would we ever see it?
Think about this for a minute. Here’s a company dependent on the content writers create, openly deciding to simply do away with author payments.
What an incredible solution to a problem, couched in utter disrespect for the very content that makes you a publisher and the people who create it, without whom, does it need to be pointed out, a publisher wouldn’t exist in the first place. According to the suits, you see, everyone BUT the writers deserves to be paid for their work or services. Everyone BUT the writers must be paid to keep the company afloat, even if the leaky ship is afloat only by riding the backs of the underpaid writers who always did keep it afloat. What kind of sick karma is that, one wonders, shaking one’s head.
Frustration was why I pulled that fourth WOLF novel from their clutches. After all, they as much as admitted I wouldn’t get my advance. Not in advance of publication, and possibly never. Royalties? Well, it might take two years after publication to see legitimate royalties, and the company might well have gone belly-up within weeks or months, so you do the math… how smart a move would it be to give away a year’s work for (maybe) a chance at the pittance they only sort of possibly promised except it wasn’t really a promise, more of a hope or wishful thinking? Of course I pulled that book, and now it is elsewhere, again in the pipeline toward publication.
Even then, given all that, I stayed aboard the leaky ship a little longer. Maybe they’d resurrect. Maybe a white knight, or more likely a white light, would appear. Maybe, possibly, hopefully. I stayed partly because I still like all the people I’ve ever met and/or dealt with there, at Leisure. I don’t know the suits. I only know the people who were left to bail out the bottom of the hull as the ship dipped into the dark waters. I know people there who’ve always been nice to me, helpful and friendly, and yes, even responsive and wonderful. And they’re still there. And I feel terribly bad to have decided to abandon ship. I did it reluctantly. As the year began, I allowed and enthusiastically endorsed several promotions guaranteed to sell more of ebook editions of my three WOLF novels (the paperbacks were locked away, impossible to find). I purchased small stocks to sell my fans (I still have some, please write!). I Facebooked and Tweeted prompts for people to buy these books at discounts and full price and everything in between. I was sincere about helping sell some books. After all, someday I might reap the meager rewards. Meanwhile, my agent had repeatedly requested at least part of the money owed and, when that failed to elicit any response other than the equivalent of “We’ll see,” he had begun to request simple sales statements – because other publishers courted for possible reissue of the three WOLF novels wanted to know, rightly, what some of the sales numbers might tell them. Months passed and, despite, continued politeness and good will, no sales statements arrived.
Two months ago as I write this, I lost the last shreds of my thinly-stretched patience and instructed my agent to request rights reversals to the three WOLF books. Leisure has been in breach of contract by not providing even mere sales statements. Please note, we requested statements, and received nothing. Weeks later, one of the better-known authors that made Leisure such a good place to be, Brian Keene, realized that books the rights to which he had been granted, were still being sold as ebooks, and some were being added even after his initial request had been granted, he had complained again, and he had been assured the practice would stop. Brian Keene wields a fair amount of power in the author community, and the boycott of Dorchester was born, starting with a handful of authors (of which I was one, if not exactly among the first) and eventually spreading to hundreds of small presses, reviewers, publications, authors and fans. It was with some amount of sadness that I chose to join and endorse the boycott, because – once again – I have never had a negative word to say about any of the wonderful Leisure people I met or dealt with over the years. I recognize that this irritating, frustrating fiasco is not their fault, and I do not blame any one of them for it. Only the suits. You know, the people who probably have nothing but disdain for the “product” their own company needs to survive. The people who cannot understand that they have cut their own throat, while sacrificing the wonderful people who worked for them. I recognize that we will probably end up killing the very publisher that granted some of our authorial wishes and fulfilled our fantasies. Perhaps if the suits had listened and understood what the writers were saying, this wouldn’t have happened. All I can do is offer apologies to anyone who will doubtless be hurt by this – anyone who works for Dorchester (Leisure) and will suffer due to the outdated and unimaginative practices of the people who now run the company. It appears their disdain knows few bounds, because some sales statements are now being mailed (“suddenly” you might say, when before there was only silence – the boycott at work!), but apparently small payments owed are being reserved for those authors who stayed, not those who left… and whose books are still being sold in both paperback and electronic versions. The state of limbo has just grown in size.
Leisure Books may not survive the situation. I, for one, will be sorry to see them go. They were not the end-all and be-all, but they fulfilled MY dreams in many ways, even if not financially. I want them all to know I thank them – everyone there I ever dealt with and anyone who helped me struggle through my earliest days as an author. I want you to know I don’t blame you. When I think back on my days as a Leisure author, all your names will come to mind as people I respected and admired, and I thank you for all you did for me and my colleagues.
April 7, 2011