Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Dorchester Blues

I have read a very great deal of Dorchester/Leisure titles. Most of the classic Jack Ketchum and Richard Laymon novels I’ve read were Dorchester. Through Dorchester, I discovered a slew of wonderful and, to me, influential writers like Brian Keene, Wrath James White, Gord Rollo, Ray Garton and J. F. Gonzalez. Like many horror readers, I reached the point where I waited with bated breath for the next month’s pair of titles; sometimes I practically drooled over books promised months in advance. And, as far as I knew for a long, long time, Dorchester Publishing was just about the only game in town.

Of course, it wasn’t then and it sure as hell isn’t now. But I was stupidly unaware of the plethora of marvelous small press publishers out there (lookin’ at you, Deadite), and so when the books suddenly stopped coming, my heart sank. It was Richard Laymon’s Funhouse in particular that clued me in that there was trouble in paradise—the damned release date just kept getting pushed back. Then, the news broke: Dorchester was broke, and they were getting out of the mass market paperback business. My heart broke.

Between the end of 2010, when I discovered this sad news, and March of 2011, I finally caught up with the rest of the genre and discovered the multitude of other terrific venues for horror fiction. Always a day late and a dollar short, but hey, I got there. I bought and read a lot of books and a lot of authors who were new to me. I also bought a shitload of used books. Then, in March, Brian Keene dropped a bombshell on my head—he spearheaded the movement to boycott Dorchester Publishing, because they were screwing the hell out of their authors by denying them their due revenue and selling books to which they had no right. Brian built a mountain of evidence to back up his position, and he gained a hell of a lot of supporters that included authors, publishers, agents and readers. I was among them, because I was pissed. I still am. I’m a burgeoning genre author myself, and it chaps my hide to see respected artists treated this way. And I agree with Brian that readers ought to know where their money is going; I don’t want to spend my hard-earned bread on a copy of The Rising if Brian isn’t getting a penny of it. That’s bullshit. Hell, I even blogged about it. I was one hundred percent on board.

Fast forward a couple of months to World Horror 2011, which I discussed in detail here. As I’ve said before, two of my favorite people from that con were Jack Ketchum and Gord Rollo. Spectacular people, writers I admire. I spoke a little with Gord about the Dorchester kerfuffle, though I never mentioned it to Mr. Ketchum. Here’s the thing—Jack Ketchum had a new book coming out right after the con. It’s called The Woman, and he co-wrote it with Lucky McKee in tandem with their film version (review forthcoming). I was foaming at the mouth over this book. Ketchum is my hero, my favorite living genre writer and the guy most responsible for inspiring me to throw my own hat into the ring. There was no way in hell I was going to miss this novel.

Did I mention it was published by Dorchester?


I knew that, but I ordered it post-haste anyway. Didn’t even give it much thought. The Woman is one of DP’s new line of more expensive trade paperbacks, a chimera whose existence many have doubted, though I saw one of these mythical beasts during the WHC mass signing: Spore by John Skipp and Cody Goodfellow. Even Skipp seemed surprised by it, and it was sitting on his table. (To be truthful, I’d sure like to get my hands on that one, too.) And then there’s Gord Rollo’s latest release, Valley of the Scarecrow, which Dorchester was supposed to have released in mass market paperback last year. Now, in May, Amazon says they have it in stock in a trade paperback edition. The last time I talked with Gord, he said he hadn’t yet heard if anyone has actually held a copy in their hands. Valley is chilling in my Amazon cart as I write this, waiting on my next paycheck. Another Dorchester title for the guy who so vociferously joined the chorus of angry voices demanding the Dorchester boycott.

I feel like a fucking fraud. But I’m loyal to Jack Ketchum, and I’m loyal to Gord Rollo. I love their books; hell, I love them. I want to support their work. I want to read it as a fan. And I want them to get paid, for crying out loud, though whether or not my purchase(s) will contribute to that I don’t know.

What my puzzlement over these few books has made me realize is that it was easy to join the boycott when I didn’t think Dorchester was going to put anymore books out, anyway. Now, it’s not so easy, at least not for me. I still agree with everything Brian has said on the subject. I certainly wouldn’t buy any of his books that were being sold under shady circumstances detrimental to him, or any other author who has asked the same. But does that mean I should boycott The Woman, which Jack Ketchum does not want me to do (he had fliers for it at WHC), or Valley of the Scarecrow, or Spore? In March, the issue seemed pretty black and white to me. Today, I see varied shades of gray. I don’t have an answer yet.

So I’d like to open up the floor to discussion. There’s a comment section below, and I’d like to see authors, readers or anyone else with a stake in this issue chime in. Call me out, educate me, verbally abuse me if you must. I’m a big boy. I can take it.


  1. You are an absolute and utter disgrace. I'm tearing my clothing and ripping at my hair right now as I type this - er, right after I type this. I am marking you off the COOL GUY LIST that I keep in my three ring binder. I hope you're happy with yourself.

    (Um, hey, can I borrow The Woman when you're done?)

  2. It's no comfort if you don't have an e-reader (although you can get the Kindle app for EVERYTHING), but The Woman ebook was published by Crossroad Press & Macabre Ink Digital.

  3. There's at least two authors I consider friends, and another I greatly respect, whose work I am not buying from Dorchester at all, because I support the boycott. All three have new material out since LeisureFail, too. I'm still not going to buy it, because I have no reason to believe the authors are going to get their cut. One's even indicated to me that he's received some money, but another missed a convention appearance last year because he WASN'T getting paid.

    I'm not too worried about eventually reading those books. I've been blessed with real good company, and they'll find a new home once they've gotten fed up with/finished their contracts with Leisure.

    And hey... I have no right to pass judgment on you, and I'm not, but is a moral stance really a moral stance if it can't stand in the face of a difficult choice? Just something to think about.

  4. John: Boy, you really took the invitation to verbal abuse quite literally. But sure, you can borrow it.

    Zom B.: I just can't do the e-reader thing. I need physical books, and with THE WOMAN, that leaves a fairly expensive limited edition from Cemetery Dance and the DP trade pb. Perhaps I should have waited and saved up for the limited? I actually assumed it was in $50 range, which seems to be the norm for that sort of thing, but I just learned that it's only $35, which isn't that bad. The lesson here: better research, although most readers won't even think of that, and the CD edition isn't on Amazon, I don't think.

    Linc: I hear you loud and clear, brother, but I feel like the difficult choice refers directly back to the moral stance. I don't want to buy something for which the creator won't get paid, but I don't want to NOT buy something, thereby causing the creator to not get paid, either.

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  6. Sure, and I can understand why it might be a difficult decision for some. You really have two sides, both of which can be defended by logic:

    A)Since the author isn't going to get paid whether I buy the book or not, I might as well have the book


    B)Since the author isn't going to get paid either way, at least I can keep the company from making money by not buying the book

    I simply went with the one that makes me feel better about myself. =D

  7. For me, the question comes down to this: Author A says, "DP screwed me, don't buy my books from them." Okay, done. But Author B says, "DP is fine by me, so please buy my books from them." Hurm. I respect them both all to hell, and I can act according to individual circumstances. But when Author A says buying Author B's book screws him, too, things get a bit complicated. I feel like it's come down to "Who Do I Want To Screw Less?" And that's a shitty distinction to make.

  8. Good post, Ed. I feel the same way. Boycott Dorchestor!....uhm, except for Mr. Ketchum..

    Its weird that before I read this post this morning I was walking around the house thinking, Why would I boycott a great guy's book like Ketchum?

    I don't know what the answer it, maybe buy their ebook as the royalty rate to the author is much higher and its a compromise between politics and literature.

  9. Unfortunately politics, morals and art often get blended in the mix--I am reminded of the controversy surrounding Victor Salva, who was convicted of various sex offenses concerning children several years back. Now, I really dig his Jeepers Creepers movies; they're not high art, but I think they're fun as hell. I found out about his sordid past between the first one and the second one, but I still went and saw JP2 in the theater, because I wanted to see the damn movie. Later, I felt guilty for putting money in the pocket of a goddamned kiddy-fiddler over a goofy creature feature. Today, I probably wouldn't do that. It just isn't worth it.

    As for the new Ketchum, I wish I'd gotten the Cemetery Dance edition instead, but that's just me. It's a limited, which means it won't be around long for everyone else who wants to read the book. And the Dark Regions limited of Valley of the Scarecrow is just out of my budget's reach, so (for now) it's either the Dorchester pb or nothing at all. It just kills me to think of boycotting these great authors by proxy, though I understand why it's being done.

    At this point, I don't think I'll be procuring any new DP titles unless I get them directly from the authors, though in many cases the authors themselves haven't even seen the damn things. It's just a clusterfuck all around.

    In brief: I support the boycott. I think everybody ought to, but I don't think it's quite as cut and dry as that. The authors who have chosen to stay on with Dorchester have their reasons, but I sure wish they'd fight to get their rights back and go with a *reputable* publisher. Perhaps a bit of patience would do me--and other readers eager to pick up these stories--a bit of good.