It seems that Brian Keene has stirred up quite the hornet’s nest with his call to boycott Dorchester (which means we’ll have even more to chat about at this year’s Mo*Con). I was going to write about this sooner, but, as Brian noted in his most recent blog on the topic, it comes down to time (and I have a looming deadline) and me not being sure what to add on the topic.
It’s interesting to not some of the angst, concerns, and drama this has engendered among some of my fellow writers, especially at the thought of publicly joining the boycott. Concerns about backlash (though, honestly, I’m not worried about backlash from a company who wasn’t paying people anyway nor am I especially worried about getting on some sort of imagined blacklist*); concerns about hurting writers (Alethea Kontis wrote a piece vocalizing some of these very concerns); and concerns about what ultimately is hoped to be accomplished.
I’m typically not a fan of boycotts (mostly because, in church circles, it defines us by who we’re against rather than Who we are for). And I do worry about those innocents/bystanders caught up in these things (I’m thinking back to a Bad Moon Books boycott which never quite happened). In the final analysis, the boycott draws publicity, shines a spotlight onto practices, and hopefully that bright light will pressure folks to make some changes. And I’m all for that.
Writers have to make choices about how they want their career to go, where to send stories in order to build toward their goals, and who they want to do business with. Because, as much as we want this to be strictly about the art, this is a business. For some writers, Leisure was the mountaintop. For others, it was a stepping stone. For some, it was someplace to avoid. I had quit submitting to Dorchester a while back. They’ve always had pretty low advances and low royalties for new writers. Plus, rumors about how they treated their writers floated around. The trade off was that they had pretty good distribution and could get their product into the hands of readers. That trade off was worth it for some writers which is why they made the decision to get in bed with Leisure.
Lay down with dogs. Fleas. You know the drill.
Like I said, I’m not looking down on any writer for choosing to try to get published with Leisure as they made those choices eyes wide open. We all make our choices. It’s a rapidly changing publishing landscape and sometimes you take your opportunities where you can get them. However, I do look askance at a publisher whose whole attitude seems to skew towards “how can we screw the writer today?” Dorchester has had plenty of opportunities to do right by their authors—namely pay them or at least not publish e-books they didn’t have the rights to (you’d think that wouldn’t be asking TOO much out of your publisher). This boycott was fueled by frustration of writers after YEARS of poor treatment and a LOT of patience for not getting paid. Many who were ready to continue to be patient while Dorchester righted its financial ship (as their business model went the way of the Dodo bird), as long as the company was willing to demonstrate that they were on the right track.
I’m not in the crowd that would like to see Dorchester burn. I want as many publishers who do right by their writers out there as possible. If Dorchester can return to that, I’m all for them. To encourage them to become the company they ought to be, I’m lending my name, for what it’s worth, to the voices of professionals objecting to their practices.
As I look at my book shelves to see what various Leisure titles line them, I see names like Keene, Braunbeck, Waggonner, Ketchum, Piccirilli, White, Clegg, Strand, Everson, Rollo. These aren’t faceless authors. Some are family. Some are acquaintances. All are colleagues. Now I don’t have the time and energy to fight every battle. Do what I can when I can. Pick my spots. I’ve chosen this spot, if only to lend my voice to the chorus to say enough.**
*Plus, if someone was taking notes on all of this, all anyone’s going to remember is that this was Keene’s fault. Remember, when in doubt, blame Keene.
**Or, as another friend, Bob Freeman, so succinctly put it: “People like Brian and Wrath and Gary have bent over backwards for me and others in our little circle of dark fictioneers. So, if you don’t mind me being blunt, if somebody &@#%$ with them, then I feel it is our obligation to &@#% back. Why? Because that’s what families do.”