Mid-List Blues, or, I Sing A New Song

Unless you’ve been sleeping under a rock, you’ve no doubt heard the news that my main publisher, Leisure Books (a division of Dorchester Publishing) is immediately switching to e-book format only, with select titles to be published down the road as trade paperbacks. Or maybe not. Or… maybe so? In truth, it’s hard to follow the story because the story changes or contradicts itself by the day, if not the hour. The bottom line, from the perspective of some of the authors, agents and even a few of Dorchester’s former employees, is that the company’s solvency is in question, and this might be a last-ditch Hail Mary pass. If true, then it’s sad.

There’s been a persistent belief among some, over the years, that an author couldn’t make money writing for Leisure. I’m living proof that this isn’t true. During my decade writing for them, I managed to get a significantly higher advance with each book, and racked up a back-list of eleven titles, all of which remain in print and continue to sell well and thus, make me money. Indeed, as a mid-lister, those regular royalty and advance checks from Leisure accounted for roughly 45% of my annual income. Although many of my peers have indeed gotten raw deals in the past, I was always treated fairly well by Leisure. My checks arrived in a timely fashion. The sales staff did a remarkable job of pushing my books. I was content. I’ve made a decent, blue-collar income level living as a mid-list writer for the last decade. It wasn’t always easy, but neither was working in a foundry or on the loading docks or any of the other decent-paying blue-collar jobs I held before I became a writer. Writing is hard fucking work, but it’s also rewarding work, and I’ve done pretty well for myself. I never wanted to be Tom Clancy or Dan Brown or James Patterson. My heroes were always the guys like Ed Gorman and Richard Laymon and Robert Randisi, mid-listers all, and the heart and soul of the paperback trade. No, I’ve never been wealthy, but I’ve done alright every year, and Leisure accounted for almost half of that sum.

Which is why it was hard yesterday, after several days of back and forth negotiations, to choose not to continue publishing with them. I mentioned above that my checks always arrived on time and I was always treated fairly. That’s true, but not so much for the last year. I don’t think I’m talking out of school here, because I’ve seen dozens of other Leisure authors saying the same thing in public, including an official reprimand from the RWA. Fact is, over the last year, my checks haven’t been showing up on time. I’m owed a significant amount of money — money that pays for the next six months of bills. That is why, when those checks stopped arriving, you saw me start doing things like offering the Lifetime Subscriptions and writing more comic books. It was a way to keep the lights on while I waited for things to fix themselves. Understand, Leisure wasn’t the only publisher to pay me late. Many others did, as well, on account of the economy. But the late payments from Leisure were significant because they were substantial. I wish I had confidence and faith that I will eventually see that money, but right now, I don’t.

Sadly, given the payment issue, the confusion both in public and in private as to what the company’s new business model actually entails, and the overall instability of the marketplace and industry in general, I’ve elected not to continue with Leisure for the foreseeable future. If they are able to turn things around and demonstrate that they can start paying authors in a timely fashion again, I’d certainly reconsider. I’ve enjoyed working with my editor, Don D’Auria, and I’d write for him no matter which company he’s working for. But I also need to do things like eat and pay child support to two ex-wives and have an apartment to store my books in, and therefore, I’ve decided to take my brand elsewhere for the time being.

What this means for you, the reader, is that Entombed (the follow-up to Dead Sea), With Teeth (my vampire novel), Bad Ground (the next Levi Stoltzfus novel), and Suburban Gothic (the sequel to Urban Gothic) will not come out from Leisure as expected. All rights have reverted back to me. You’ll see them, eventually. I’ve had a number of offers from other mass-market publishers, as well as a number of small presses. I’m currently mulling those offers over. I’m in no rush to decide, because in truth, I’m considering another possibility.

Earlier this year, we talked about self-publishing, and whether or not it’s acceptable for a professional, brand-name author with a dedicated fan base to self publish. Also earlier this year, I announced that Fear of Gravity, Unhappy Endings, The Rising: Selected Scenes From the End of the World, and Earthworm Gods: Selected Scenes From the End of the World would all be reprinted in 2011. What I didn’t announce then, but am announcing now, is that I intend to experiment by self-publishing all four of those titles, making them available in both digital and trade paperback formats. I’m convinced that, given the size of my fan base and the demand for the books, this will be a successful venture for me. At the very least, I can pay myself on time. (Note: This has nothing to do with the Maelstrom teasers you’ve been seeing. Maelstrom is something different, that will have more of an impact on the collectible, limited edition market than it will on the mainstream. But more on that next month…)

Anyway, the point of this rather long-winded ramble (which it wasn’t supposed to be when I started typing it) is that for the first time in over a decade, I’ve got a bunch of different options to choose from, and the luxury of taking my time with whatever decision I make.

And I like that.

I’ve just got to figure out how to get some more money in the meantime…

Writing Updates: (keep in mind that everything is behind deadline, due to this year’s near-apocalyptic stress, both personal and professional)

Novels in Progress (already sold to various publishers): Vanishing Point, Hole In The World and Deluge.
Novellas in Progress (already sold to various publishers): The Witching Tree, The Rising: Deliverance, and two untitled works

Once those are finished, I plan on taking a deep breath and then sitting back and pondering things a bit more.

65 thoughts on “Mid-List Blues, or, I Sing A New Song

  1. Rhonda

    So sorry Brian, this all sucks. But you DO have a very dedicated fan base and we will continue to purchase your work and support you in any way we can. In whatever format is available to us.
    We love you, Man!!

    Reply
  2. Jamie

    Brian, best of luck to you with this new direction. No doubt it will be have its own trials involved and a learning curve which you will, no doubt, master in short order. I look forward to seeing what you come up with next. Good luck.

    Reply
  3. John Channing

    Brian

    Good luck with all your endeavours, I enjoy our books immensely and look forward to reading many more from whatever source they arrive from, hope your money situation sorts itself out quickly.

    All the best John :)

    Reply
  4. Geoff Guthrie

    Yea, the Leisure news sucks for all authors who were under contract. It’s just bad news for fans of cheap horror titles. I hope things work out for you, and they should, as you have a rabid fanbase and any publisher should be able to see that.

    Reply
  5. augie

    It’s a damn shame to hear this news about Leisure. many of the writers I enjoy reading, I discovered through Leisure. I will continue to buy your books and many of the other writers I enjoy reading. Just hope I’ll be able to afford them…….

    Reply
  6. Yoyogod

    Somehow, I knew that you were going to try self publish with that out of print stuff. I’m not really surprised about you pulling your new stuff from Leisure either. Good luck man.

    Reply
  7. Doug Bolden

    If you keep publishing, no matter what venue, I’ll do my best to keep buying.

    On the Leisure front: I’ve been a horror book club subscriber for a bit (where you get two books in the mail every month) and this month there hasn’t been a peep from them. No direct withdrawal on my account, no letter saying “Hey, we are changing”. I’ve shopped on their site as well, and haven’t gotten an e-mail from them on it. That strikes me as a bit icky. I’ve liked what they have done, and I realize they may be hitting the ground running, but it seems like a quick “by the way…” would have been nice.

    Reply
  8. Thomas A. Erb

    Chin up Brian! You’re right when you have a good, solid fan base and we will be here to support you!
    As a newbie writer all this news and turmoil is unsettling but I truly appreciate you explaining this insanity to us. As you have always done.
    best of luck.

    Reply
  9. Steve

    I’m just a reader and wannabe writer, but Jon F. Merz’s blog post makes a lot of sense to me.

    In the ’90s, a number of comic book creators like Frank Miller, Mike Allred, Mike Mignola, and Art Adams came together under a banner at Dark Horse Comics called “Legend.” The imprint eventually went away, but I can’t help but wonder if it’d be advantageous for authors do a digital version of the same thing. Get together some writers like Keene, Jeff Strand, Wrath James White, J.F. Gonzalez–peers who know and respect each others’ work–and create your own digital imprint, brand, whatever you want to call it.

    I’m just brainstorming, but if they were to gather under the same banner and put together a centralized website and work together to push that on their individual social networking outlets, it may work out to the benefit of everyone involved. You could work out a print-on-demand service, sort out limited edition runs with a small press publisher, and find whatever works best.

    Self-publishing seems a little scary, but if you get some talented people involved, there’s no reason you can’t self-publish TOGETHER.

    Just a thought.

    Reply
  10. Rafael Martinez

    The self-publishing option is a good one, but it can also have some disadvantages. I am from Spain, and I use to buy your books via The Book Depository, which means delivery is free. If you self-publish your new books, will they be available in that web, or in Amazon? If not, postage expenses may make difficult for me to buy them…

    Reply
  11. Rodi

    Having no concept of the writing business, I only hope that whatever path you choose works out well for you. I’m also not sure what “mid-list” is compared to anyhing else, but from what I can tell you’ve got a pretty huge following…hell I find myself cursing your name every time a new chapter of “Deluge” isn’t posted or when I hear of another of your projects being delayed. I can’t get enough!

    Reply
  12. Erica

    thanks for keeping us in the loop. plenty of people forget that their readers/fans matter!!! we’ll follow you wherever you go, just don’t forget to let us know where that may be :)

    Reply
  13. Dark Intruder

    Brian,

    I will support you whatever medium you use to publish, except maybe limited editions, due to my own economic status. But I think you have the right ingredients to be successful in a self-publishing venture. You have name recognition, dedicated fans, modern communication savvy (Twitter, Facebook, blog, etc.), and you have a drive to be successful. I see nothing but good coming from this.

    Wishing you all the best in the future.

    Reply
  14. Sheldon Higdon

    The fact is, Brian, is that you’re one of the top writers—mid-list or otherwise—and your fans and readers alike will follow you anywhere. Your work speaks for itself and more importantly, “you” are the reason for your success. It’s always been you. And so as you move forward “you will” succeed in the endeavor you choose. There is no doubt. Just know that you have all the backup you need; your fans and readers are waiting with baited breath.

    Hang in there brother.

    Reply
  15. Del Howison

    Best of luck. One point to make. Don’t get caught up in the e-book Amazon $9.99 contract where you supposedly get 70%. If you take that deal they are allowed to reprice your book and charge other fees. It’s not the sweetness it seems to be initially.
    Just trying to cover your rear

    Reply
  16. keri

    hey Brian, sorry to hear about your publishing woes, that’s just awful. you are a fantastic author that i am positive MANY, MANY,MANY…. fans would hate to see go away. i’ve read almost all your books and always look forward to the next release. good luck to you, please keep us all posted.

    Reply
  17. Ed Gorman

    Brian this is the most sensible and well-written piece on Dorchester I’ve read anywhere. You not only accurately describe the Leisure quandry; you describe the quicksand we’re all in. I’m going to link to this tonight on my blog. Thank you very much for writing it.

    Reply
  18. Neil Clench

    These are most definitely interesting times. I’ve enjoyed reading the Leisure books by Brian and a host of other authors that I have discovered through this website. It seems that all good things really do have to come to an end, and while I’m sorry to see the back of those little paperbacks, I will continue to support good writing however it comes.

    However Brian gets his stories out I will buy them, and will carry on trying to convert people over here in England to the F.U.K.U cause (2 people at last count, just another few thousand and it will be worth Brian’s while to hop on a plane and do some signiings ;-)).

    Whatever you do I know it will be a success, so keep writing and I’ll keep buying.

    Reply
  19. swands

    I know you will not have any difficulty getting your fans to support your independent ventures–myself included. Brian Keene is the label, not Leisure.

    Reply
  20. Efren Rodriguez

    I had been wondering why authors have not gone the self publishing route. It seems that same amount of money is being charged for e-books as physical books but I never hear about authors being paid more. I really think self publishing would be beneficial to the author but again it would have to be an author with a fan base.
    I would definitely do my part to lend my support, financially :-)

    Reply
  21. Helen A Rosburg

    Very interesting, indeed. I am compelled to add my two cents. Leisure/Love Spell published my first two novels. Becoming, as an author, privy to some of the inner workings of the publishing business, I found myself appalled. Publishing is based on a fundamentally flawed business model. So, tired of listening to my own moaning and groaning, I put my money where my mouth is and founded my own company. Needless to say, I designed my own business model. My independent pub house, Medallion Press, has even expanded during these tough times, into media: music, movies, etc. Since it seems everyone needs a good laugh, check out my media group’s Webisodes on YouTube: Medallion Mondays. And, Brian, good luck.

    Reply
  22. Txjack

    It’s really sad about Leisure Books. Their website mentions the transition to to e-books and trades. It was great to be able to read an unknown author and not have to shell out big books to only be disappointed. It’s through Leisure that I came across one Brian Keene, and never looked back. Honestly, I would have never considered spending $15 on an unknown. I tried, and even was a member of a trade pb book club, but after getting three books I didn’t like and spending about $40 including shipping for them, I stopped.

    Nowadays, I easily spend that and much more for a Keene book (and obviously many more writing here will as well), but it’s sad that I probably won’t find that next Keene or a Richard Layman or Paul Bagdon or at least it will be much more difficult.

    Self pub? Cool. Maybe I won’t have to wait a couple of years after a pre-order to get a book (CD — I’m lookin’ at you!) Could it affect the value of the books I sometimes paid too much for?

    Regardless, count me in with all the others.

    Reply
  23. rabidreader

    Readers can be a complex bunch of people, give them a writer they love and they’ll follow them to hell and back. One of the many things I admired about this site is the accessaibility they have to their favorite writer, namely you Brian. You actually take the time to talk to your fans, ask them their opinions on certain subjects and then “gasp” actually respond to what they’ve said. No matter whose publishing your books its still a Brian Keene book and therefore I shall be buying it.

    Reply
  24. wolfnoma

    B,

    While I think it is a sad situation for you and Dorchester as well as guys like Mr. Skipp who was supposed to be having his back catalog re-released at one book per year over the next several years. I also think it is going to make things tougher on up and comers like Thomas Erb, Kelli Owens, Bob Ford and many others who I could name.

    But I do think that if you get into publishing your own books it will eventually lead to another way for those authors to get out to a wider reading audience. Plus, you have a codified body of knowledge to draw from with not just your experiences but with those from Thunderstorm and other “Houses” you have worked with.

    Best of luck to you and any and all involved in this endeavor.

    wolfnoma.

    PS. I can kick in some doors for you if needed.

    Reply
  25. Jon F. Merz

    Del said: “Don’t get caught up in the e-book Amazon $9.99 contract where you supposedly get 70%. If you take that deal they are allowed to reprice your book and charge other fees. It’s not the sweetness it seems to be initially.
    Just trying to cover your rear.”

    I’m not sure you have all the facts on this, Del. The only stipulation to qualify for the 70% royalty is as follows: The book’s list price must fall between $2.99 and $9.99 and be at least 20 percent below the lowest price of the physical edition of the book. It also has to sell on Amazon for the same price, or less, as it does with competing book sellers. And it has to be available everywhere the author or publisher has intellectual property rights.

    The only “fee” that Amazon may add on is for the transfer of large files. if your ebook file is massive due to cover art or some such thing, then it may cost you an extra 25 cents. Right now, my file transfer fee is about 3 pennies. And I still make a lot more than the 35% royalty they give you otherwise.

    Additionally, Amazon routinely prices things as they want. For example, my next book, THE KENSEI, due out in January from St. Martin’s as a trade paperback, retails for $14.99 but Amazon currently sells it at a 32% discount for ten bucks and change.

    Amazon’s goal through this process is not to shaft authors; rather it is to make ebooks as attractive as possible via their Kindle device.

    Apple’s royalty rate for iBooks is much the same and features much the same guidelines.

    Reply
  26. A.P. Fuchs

    Michael Laimo’s right: time to start your own publishing company.

    Speaking from years of experience, please don’t go the tomato route and use Lulu or Createspace. You’ll just hurt yourself big time in the end.

    You need to self-publish for real if you’re serious about this, and know that self-publishing is far more than just uploading eBooks.

    See my reply on the Shocklines thread or my blog here: http://canisterx.com/?p=1931

    I’m interested to see how this all pans out for you.

    Peace.

    Reply
  27. Amanda M Lyons

    Damn it :( I was hoping to submit and maybe get published through them once I got one of my books completed. Any idea if there are any publishers consistently paying and hiring on new horror authors?

    I hope you do well whatever you decide to do with publishing from here on out. I can certainly understand needing to leave Leisure and go with different options. From what i hear self publishing is far better for the author than it was even a few years back with the popularity of ebooks.

    Reply
  28. Nicole Cushing

    Brian:

    “Every new beginning comes from some other beginnings end”

    – Roman Philosopher Seneca The Younger (Quoted By Semisonic, in the song “Closing Time”)

    My thoughts are with you at the moment of this new beginning.

    Nicole

    Reply
  29. Adam

    Well if you go the self publishing route, I wish you the best of luck. I’m not an avid buyer of Leisure because honestly I can’t stand having thousands of paperbacks sitting around on my shelves. I do like reading them, but to me it’s no big loss that they aren’t going to make them. I will read e-books no problem at all. But if you are doing e-books, what the hell is the point in using a publisher anymore? What does the publisher actually do at that point? I mean I’m sure you have plenty of contacts and can work out cover art and formatting yourself.

    At any rate, I hope whatever you do is a success!

    Reply
  30. R. Thomas Riley

    When I first saw the Leisure announcements, the first person I thought of was you and I told someone, Brian’s going to leave and go his own way, had this gut feeling…where ever you end up, I will support and continue to buy your work, no questions asked :)

    Good luck, bud! I’m rooting for you.

    Thomas

    Reply
  31. swampdonkey

    We are with you, no matter what you decide. Unfortunately I won’t stay with the book club, because I was in it for your books. But I’d certainly pay trade paperback prices, if it was going to you. Good luck with all your decisions.

    Reply
  32. Monica S. Kuebler

    I am sure your books will do great with whomever they land. I’m personally still unsure of what to make of all this going digital stuff – it seems us old-fashioned book lovers, who enjoy nothing more than holding an actual paperback or hardcover in our hands while we read it, are soon going to be left in the dust.

    Reply
  33. Zeke

    If you don’t already, J A Konrath’s blog is worth reading for tips on ebook publishing. The main thing is to make them available worldwide, you have no idea how frustrating it is finding something you want and then being told you can’t have it because you live in the wrong country.
    http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/

    Reply
  34. Ty Johnston

    Sorry to hear about all the troubles, but congrats on having the spine to step out there on the edge and try something different. The publishing industry is changing drastically, and it’s good to see a quality author bold enough to make changes accordingly.

    Reply
  35. Nick

    Sounds good, Brian! I love all your books and look forward to whatever you’ve got up your sleeve. As long as everything’s affordable, I’ll be buying everything you make! I’m not able to foot the bill for the collectible stuff though — but anything trade paperback price is something I’m going to jump for.

    Thanks for all the great stories dude!

    Reply
  36. tom

    Brian,

    While it is indeed a shame to hear about your parting with liesure, as i own each and every one of them, from The Rising to your latest masterpeice A Gathering of Crows, as I was so looking to each of them, it is encouraging to hear that you have options, which could mean very good tings for us, the readers.

    It all started with me going out and searching for a zombie novel. I found The Rising, and was instantly hookied to your brand of horror. I cant wait to read this next bunch, and will be waiting patiently for their release.

    You keep writing them, and we’ll keep reading them.

    Reply
  37. Kory Kane

    Whatever pays the bills Brian & whatever keeps you & that brilliant storytelling & sexy mind of your a float.Love that you’re doing sequels to Dead Sea & Urban G

    Reply
  38. Lou

    This makes me sad. At least with Leisure your books were widely available (ie. could get at any Walmart) and with Leisure they were also affordable. I buy both horror selections every month from Leisure as they offer top quality (most of the time) horror from many of my favorite authors. Can’t afford higher prices of companies such as Cemetery Dance and most of the time they do not print enough anyway. I buy your books because they are great entertainment and hopefully you can find a publisher that will ensure you still have a wide circulation and respectable prices. You deserve hardcover first print editions that sell at all major retail outlets.

    Reply
  39. paul84

    Regardless of what medium or publishing company you utilize to get your work to the public, I’ll continue to read it. I’m very excited to hear you have plans for a sequel to Urban Gothic down the line. That’s awesome news.

    Reply
  40. Steve

    Scott Sigler, a horror/thriller writer who publishes with Crown has self published two of his novels, The Rookie & The Starter and has done quite well.

    Reply
  41. Ryan

    Just wanted to voice my support for what ever you do. You are by far my favorite author. So you keep writing them and Ill keep buying them.

    Reply
  42. Chris Brodman

    So this issue with Leisure….is it the reason that I can only find like two or three of your books at the local Borders or Barnes and Noble? Just curious about that….

    BTW you do what you gotta do and we’ll do what we gotta do to get our hands on your work.

    Reply
  43. Lola

    I would sue Dorchester to get your money. I believe if it is in your contract you should be paid. This is ridiculous. From what I know from friends at DP their PR person just left to go to Penguin. Best of luck

    Reply
  44. Mark

    Keep writing and i’ll keep reading. Digital, trade paperback, stone chisel along the wayside. Here’s wishing you the best and saying no one as talented as you can be kept down. you’ve too much to say and we need to listen. You’ve millions of fans for a good reason.

    Reply
  45. Dave

    I love your books and I hope you decide soon as I can’t hardly wait for Entomed!!! Your zombie shit rules!!! It’s awesome to see also that you have a sequel to Urban Gothic planned and another Levi Stoltzfus book. I’m looking forward to seeing your take on vampires. With everything you’ve listed that’s coming in the future you have us all drooling with anticipation. Keep up the great work!!!

    Reply
  46. Jan Strnad

    Brian,

    Seems like ages ago (because it was) your book The Rising and my Risen came out and we had the signing at Dark Delicacies in Burbank. My experience with Kensington convinced me to get a day job. I hope you find a way to avoid that fate!

    The late payments are indeed a bad sign and I think you’re wise to cut bait.

    Best of luck, pal,

    Jan

    Reply

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