For thirteen years, from 1997 to 2010, the main outlet for my published work was Leisure Books, which was part of Dorchester Publishing. I began with the company when Don D’Auria was bringing the westerns line back to life. Our excellent relationship began when he acquired One-Eyed Cowboy Wild as a mass-market paperback reprint and Black Diamond Rendezvous as a paperback original. From that point on, we would do fifteen more paperback originals and one other reprint. I thought we were on the crest of the wave at the Western Writers of America convention in June 2010, when Don and Leah (Hultenschmidt) received the Lariat Award for their contributions to the western genre and when I received my second Spur award in paperback original. At that time I had a book that had gone through editing with Don (Gather My Horses), plus two more under contract. One (Dark Prairie) was written and in the pipe, and I was beginning to write the other when Dorchester dropped the bomb.
The story of Dorchester’s vicissitudes became pretty well known, so I do not need to rehash all the details, but on August 6 of 2010, a fellow writer called me up and asked me if I knew that Dorchester was cancelling its mass-market lines. I certainly didn’t, but I was able to find a news item to that effect on the Internet. According to the report, Dorchester was changing from mass-market format to e-books and POD trade paperback. For the next few days, the news and reaction to it showed up in various places, including some author blogs that were not, shall we say, genteel in their comments. Writers were scrambling to try to get their rights back on some works, and those who had recent books out reported that they could not get copies.
Within the next few days, I heard from Don and got an update. The plan was to move forward and into a new market. Basic loyalty (which many other authors also expressed) told me to hang in there. So I continued working on my manuscript.
Then on August 20, another Friday surprise hit the air. Without much warning, Dorchester let Don and Leah go. According to earlier reports, the company had dismissed its sales staff, so now it looked as if it was running on a skeleton crew. Writers were referred to the one remaining editor, who was, as the saying goes, up to his ass in alligators. But he was courteous and prompt about answering questions, and in spite of the uncertain air about the whole upheaval, I had a few little details taken care of.
During this time, I continued to work on my manuscript, which was a curious undertaking. I had it under contract, and I was writing it according to the synopsis I had submitted to Don. But I had no certainty that the work would get produced by Dorchester, as the contract had never been countersigned and returned to me (which meant no advance yet on either book), and in fact I was trying to have the rights reversed. My writing on this manuscript reminded me of an analogy made by Frederick Crews in The Random House Handbook, which I used for many years in the college composition course. Commenting on the futility of writing when one does not have a clear notion of one’s reader and assumes a “nonexistent relationship,” he wrote, “It is almost like composing love letters ‘to whom it may concern’ and mailing them off to ‘Occupant’ or ‘Boxholder.’”
So I finished the manuscript, had the rights to it and the previous one returned to me, and went in search of a new relationship. I had a couple of possibilities come around, but I have always been superstitious about talking about any of this kind of business until the work comes out in published form, so I kept to myself and continued to work on the manuscript that I wrote in a curious vacuum.
I can remember earlier periods in my life, back when I used to write regular letters and mail them to family and friends. When I was going through a difficult or dying relationship with a significant other, I didn’t write anyone until I had something definite to write about. Sometimes my wait entailed long periods of time and tied me up so that I didn’t want to write anyone about anything. That was how it was with my writing of westerns for a while. I was stuck in a nonexistent publishing relationship, composing a long letter to no one in particular, and it had me tied up.
Things improved over a period of time, and I can’t complain about Dorchester’s treatment of me. At my request, the company reversed the rights on the two works I thought I should try to salvage, adjusted the release date of the one work I still had with it, and paid me the second half of the advance on that work. It was an odd time to go through, though, and I will not forget the hollow feeling of writing a three-hundred-page manuscript according to a relationship that no longer existed.