Dorchester

The Romance History of Dorchester

The history of Dorchester Publishing began before the company ever started. Leisure Books started its operations in 1957. At first, it was a mass-market paperback publisher specializing in horror and thrillers. In the company’s early years, it also published fantasy, science fiction, Westerns, and the Wildlife Treasury card series. When the historical bodice ripper revolution of the 1970s hit, Leisure entered the field as a notable publisher of romance novels.

Dorchester Publishing itself was founded in 1971. For a long time, Dorchester was the oldest independent mass-market publisher in the United States. Back in its early days, Dorchester was the original publisher of the Hard Case Crime line of pulp mysteries. They were successful publishers of mystery and horror.

In 1982, Dorchester Publishing purchased Leisure Books as an imprint, shifting the company’s focus away from fantasy and science fiction towards horror and romance. Leisure Books, like Kensington’s Zebra romances, Playboy Press, and Pinnacle books would eschew tight editing and quality control for salacious covers and plots. Authors like Karen Robards, Robin Lee Hatcher, Connie Mason would find their starts with Leisure.

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

Romance Imprints: Leisure, Love Spell, BMI

Dorchester added the Love Spell imprint in 1993 which focused on the hot trend of paranormal romances, including time travel and vampires. In the mid-1990s, Dorchester would add Book Margins, Inc, (BMI) to its stable, which offered Gloria Diehl Selections, romances that had been looked over by a panel of editors which contained “originality, reading interest, plot, and character development.”

In the 1990s when Zebra dropped a lot of their midlist authors, many like Penelope Neri and Cassie Edwards would transition to Dorchester. Other authors like Rebecca Bandewyne and later Jennifer Ashley would publish romances through Dorchester as well.

Dorchester’s Dark Decline

Unfortunately, the changes in the publishing industry were too much for Dorchester. In August 2010, after two years of big drops in sales, Dorchester announced a temporary shift from printing books on paper to e-books and print-on-demand services. They also announced that they would be setting new royalty rates for their authors.

By September 2010, Leisure Books, along with 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.

In October 2010, the Mystery Writers of America removed Dorchester from their list of Approved Publishers citing failure to pay authors their advances and royalties. That same month, Dorchester announced that publication of the Hard Case Crime imprint would be transferred from Dorchester to Titan Books. By the beginning of 2011 Dorchester offered to sell off the names of several of its discontinued magazines.

In March 2011, horror author Brian Keene announced a boycott of Dorchester. He claimed that it was still not paying its authors. He also asserted that it had sold books to which it did not own the legal rights. Keene was joined by dozens of other authors, editors, artists, and organizations.

The End of the Road

Dorchester pledged to suppress sales of reverted books and to pay its authors what they were owed. However, the pushback was too great for them to overcome. Leisure suspended operations entirely.

Its parent company Dorchester shortly went out of business.

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

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

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1 reply »

  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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