Friday, March 25, 2011

Why You Shouldn't Buy Books from Dorchester

(Jim's Editor's note: All this crap may not be 100% correct. Don't believe everything you read on the Internet. Especially when its author is known to drink more than Richard Burton. But everything below is delivered sincerely, with passion, like a Torpedo of Truth, so as always, keep that in mind.)

Came home from work this morning to find that Brian Keene has launched a campaign to boycott Dorchester Publishing, home of Leisure Books. I don't like just jumping in as I'm not a soldier in anyone's army, so I figured I'd clear my throat on the subject. Especially since I didn't see a lot of people asking questions I asked myself, investigated, and found the answers. This will be a short one as I gotta work tonight and I got me some Rockford Files to watch and some scotch to drink. Yeah, and some writing to do, but I don't like to talk shit about my writing on the Internet because I've decided that jinxes it.

Since readers of my blog may not know - Leisure books, an imprint of Dorchester, has been one of the big publishers of mass-market paperback horror for the last 10-15 years or so. Most of the famous names in horror these days either got their start there or broke outta the gate there. The genre was widely believed dead - again - before these people started putting books on shelves and selling them, too. Recently they went into quasi-bankruptcy and that's when shit started to get hinky.

(This is all before my time so I'm just giving the short version, their history has been covered in detail on the blogs of Keene's and other authors as well as industry watchers.)

I generally think boycotts are stupid. They don't work most of the time, and they often hurt more people who didn't really do anything wrong than they touch the people at the top who the organizers are after. Other than the famous Montgomery Bus Boycott I can't think offhand of one that's actually worked. Usually they're like during the Gulf Gusher incident last year, when people were trying to boycott BP gas stations. It wasn't big enough to hurt BP's bottom line more than the massive cleanup/settlement costs, and it mostly hurt poor bastards who were just trying to run their small gas station and put their kids through school and send money home to Momma.

So the first question I asked was, "What about the poor shlubs who are stuck with Dorchester/Leisure contracts and trying to sell books? Aren't you just screwing them? It's not like these authors can just tell the publisher to get bent and go make money somewhere else."

Well, the answer is that D/L is no longer putting out paper books. They've gone entirely to an ebook format. Any books you see on deep discount in Walmart or wherever are mostly old stock that the stores are getting rid of if they can. And, more to the point, the whole crux of this issue is that a lot of authors are not getting paid. Writers whose books are officially out in ebook format are being told they have no sales when that's clearly not the case. Worse, writers like Keene, who cut deals to get the rights to their books back, are seeing them put up for sale as ebooks by D/L anyway. This isn't even a case of the whole thing about ebook rights being a gray area - it's a dead-bang win in any court in the land. Basically claiming ownership of something they know damn well they don't.

So not buying from D/L isn't going to hurt anyone except the poor devils that still work for them - assuming those people are still getting checks, I have no idea. Let me speak from personal experience here - if you're schlepping mail in the D/L offices, answering their phones, whatever - it's time to bug out. I know the job market sucks. I know working in publishing is your dream and scrubbing the men's room toilets is your stepping stone to editing your own imprint someday and getting to go to all those suh-wanky Manhattan cocktail parties. You're not a rat fleeing a sinking ship. You're the guy at the AC/DC concert who realizes there's about to be a stampede and gets out of the exit row. Your landlord will thank you (and me) by not evicting you.

Another question I had was, "What is the point of this?" Because I'm not convinced that it'll be all that possible to hurt D/L's bottom line that much. Most people don't participate in boycotts because they don't give a shit. They just want their stuff/service/whatever. They don't necessarily believe everything they read on the Internet, and they figure maybe there's two sides to the story.

Well, here's what I've been able to find out from looking around, reading, and paying attention. First thing is, it can't hurt to let people know what's going on. Social media has started protests, riots, flash mobs, and made people famous who were nobodies the day before. So it's so crazy it just might work. Second, if D/L gets knocked off of their precarious perch, they might actually have to cut more deals, and if they actually go all the way out of business, everyone gets their rights back if they didn't have the juice to cut a deal. The margins in publishing are pretty thin, so who the hell knows?

Third and last question. "Why are authors tweeting/facebooking/blogging about this instead of..." whatever? There have been lots of good suggestions made as to things writers in this situation could do instead of just stomping around and blowing on their vuvuzelas and ginning up hate for this publisher's bad behavior. This especially because writers are notorious for rolling over and taking it in the ass because they don't want to make waves, or enemies, or God forbid a wave of enemies. Harlan Ellison's famous "pay the writer" monologue was relevant because it's an endemic problem. Writers don't get paid and don't make a fuss about it, or even volunteer their time and services for free in the hopes of breaking into the secret clubhouse where Stephen King, Dean Koontz, JK Rowling, and other people who write actually get paid the big bucks and treated like rock stars.

The answer to this is going to be a bit murky because I can't really comment on anyone's motivations or personal plans. But, along with the reasons I stated above for what the point of the boycott is, maybe Keene marshaling the troops will get writers off their asses and doing something productive, like putting the books that belong to them on Kindle, Nook (please) and Smashwords and wherever else as the official, authorized editions, since D/L can't say boo to that. And while legal help is expensive, this will probably help get the attention of some lawyers who want to work on spec or for nothing (since D/L will probably be a dry hole as far as money goes). Mostly this boycott is for the people that don't have a dog in this fight, like me, other new writers, and fans; a way to help a small bit before the legal defense fund gets established.

Well, okay, I kind of do have a dog in this fight. Namely that I'm a writer and this shit has been going on since the day Akhmet said to Akhen-Aton "I like this scroll, I'll pay you thirty shekels now and a shekel for each copy I sell" and then lit out for Macedonia six months later with a sack full of coins. Maybe more writers will grow a damn pair and start standing up for themselves instead of treating every dime-store dirtbag who claims to be a publisher like they're goddamn Bantam Paperback and falling for stupid shit like reading fees and whatever. Maybe more writers will actually get paid for what they do, and some respect, even though "everyone knows the goddamn alphabet."

Well, okay, that doesn't strike me as a sure thing, but it ain't a utopian fantasy either.

I read a blog the other day by a writer who submitted a novel to a publisher and waited TEN YEARS for them to make a decision before she finally withdrew it. TEN FUCKING YEARS and all it took to string her along was a couple of nice emails saying "You're next in line". That shit is pathetic, no offense to the writer in question but just damn.

I've learned the hard way that the law is one thing and justice is another. And frequently the law is less about who is right and who is wrong, and more about who has the balls to stand tall before the Man and plead his case, and who sits at home figuring it's pointless and a waste of money.

And besides, this case, like I said above, is dead-bang easy. It's wrong versus right. How often do you see that? It's most of my favorite things to write about happening in real time. And I'm usually the guy who likes to see suckers get taken, because to me there's no excuse for being a sucker. That's what great about this whole thing. It really is as simple as "Desperate Publisher Rips Off Writers". What's the other side to that? "Misappropriated Royalty Payments Used for Feline Chemotherapy?" Well, shit, that would probably work so whoever's manning the helm at D/L better hope he comes home to find that Mittens has a tumor the size of Lichtenstein on his fuzzy-wuzzy little neck. Otherwise I don't see an upside for them here.

So, if you're a friend or follower on social media, ditch them. If you're wanting to send them your latest paranormal romance, take a deep breath and just put it up on Smashwords for free because no one will buy that shit anyway (and you can leave that totally hot anal scene in - eh, not that I read stuff like that). And if you're just a guy who likes to read books, do us all a favor and borrow it from the library, steal it on the torrents, whatever. Know who you're buying from if you gotta buy. Don't let these chiselers have a damn nickel until they cry uncle.

And for the record? Dark Regions' checks always clear.

1 comment:

  1. When shit gets bad, you find out what people are really all about. Clearly, like the top dogs at Enron before the collapse, the executives at Dorchester are grabbing for every nickel they can squeeze before the implosion.