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