The Romance History of Dorchester

The history of Dorchester Publishing began before the company got started. 

Leisure and Dorchester, Separate Companies

Leisure Books commenced operations in 1957. It specialized in printing horror and thrillers. Leisure also published fantasy, science fiction, westerns books. In the company’s early years, it produced the Wildlife Treasury card series.

Later, when the historical bodice ripper revolution of the 1970s hit, Leisure entered the field as a notable publisher of romance novels.

Dorchester Publishing started in 1971 as an independent, mass-market publisher. For a long time, they were the oldest of their kind in the United States.

Originally, Dorchester was the home of the Hard Case Crime line of pulp mysteries in its early days. For many years, Dorchester was a thriving publisher of the mystery and horror genres.

A Merger Creates a Romance Powerhouse

In 1982, Dorchester purchased Leisure Books as an imprint. They shifted Leisure’s focus away from fantasy and science fiction towards more horror and romance.

Like Kensington’s Zebra romances, Playboy Press, and Pinnacle books, Leisure would eschew tight editing and quality control for salacious covers and plots. Authors like Karen Robards, Robin Lee Hatcher, and Connie Mason would find their starts with Leisure.

Island Flame, Karen Robards, Dorchester, 1981, cover artist unknown

Line & Imprints: Leisure, Love Spell, & BMI

Dorchester created the Love Spell line in 1993. The line would focus on the hot new trend of paranormal romances. Love Spells would incorporate tropes such as time travel, shape-shifter, fantasy elements, aliens, and vampires.

In the mid-1990s, Dorchester would add Book Margins, Inc. (BMI) to its stable, which was a book discounter. BMI would repackage and sell Dorchester romances at a discount, resulting in lower authors’ royalties.

Dorchester branded some of their romances as “Gloria Diehl Selections.” According to the company, a special panel of editors looked over these novels to ensure they contained “originality, reading interest, plot, and character development.” One would have hoped that was the standard for all Dorchester’s books, but apparently not.


Dorchester Picks Up Zebra’s Authors

In the mid to late 1990s, Zebra dropped many of its midlist authors. Many like Penelope Neri and Cassie Edwards would transition to Dorchester.

Other big-named authors like Rebecca Bandewyne and later Jennifer Ashley would publish romances through Dorchester as well.

Dorchester’s Dark Decline

Unfortunately, the changes in publishing in the new millennium were too much for Dorchester to handle. In August 2010, after two years of significant drops in sales, they made a radical change. Initially, they planned a temporary shift away from printing books on paper. Instead, they wanted to focus on e-books and “print-on-demand” services.

Dorchester also announced they would be setting new royalty rates for their authors.

By September 2010, Leisure Books and the remainder of Dorchester’s mass market paperback lines were canceled as print publications. Future titles were slated to be available only as e-books.

The Crash

In October 2010, the Mystery Writers of America removed Dorchester from their list of “Approved Publishers.” The reason cited was a failure to pay authors their advances and royalties.

Dorchester scrambled to find funds. Soon after, Dorchester announced the publication of the Hard Case Crime imprint would be transferred to Titan Books. In early 2011, Dorchester also sold the names of several of its discontinued magazines.

In March of that year, horror author Brian Keene announced a boycott of Dorchester. He claimed the company still was not paying authors. He also asserted Dorchester sold books to which it did not own the legal rights. Keene was joined by dozens of other authors, editors, artists, and organizations.

No More Dorchester

The publishers pledged to suppress sales of reverted books. In addition, Dorchester promised to pay its authors what they were owed.

However, the pushback was too tremendous for them to overcome. Leisure suspended operations entirely.

Quickly after that, Dorchester went out of business.

At the end of 2011, BroadLit purchased the subscriber databases and content of True Romance and True Love magazines. This included more than 12,000 stories, photos, and illustrations from the 1920s to 2011.

In August 2012, Amazon Publishing announced that it had acquired the publishing contacts of over 1000 books from Dorchester Publishing at auction.


1 thought on “Dorchester”

  1. Thanks, Jacqueline. Love the covers! Dorchester was remarkable in this department.

    I also appreciate your history of the company. How sad that it ended the way it did. But I’m sure there are lessons to be learnt here by anyone who wants to publish books in these uncertain and rapidly-changing times.

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