Note to members regarding Dorchester Publishing Co.

Dear SFWA members:

As many of you are aware, over the last year, Dorchester Publishing Co, inc, which publishes books by several SFWA members, has been undergoing a number of changes to its business and in how it publishes its authors. The board of SFWA has been following the developments as they’ve occurred, and had asked members with Dorchester contracts to make us aware of if there were any improprieties involving payment or regarding their rights.

In the course of this inquiry, we became aware of several instances in which Dorchester acted against the contractual and legal interest of authors, specifically by not paying royalties when contractually specified, or distributing books in a medium for which it had not legally secured rights.

Dorchester does not dispute these events, and when it became aware of our inquiry, it contacted SFWA to offer us information and background to help answer our questions.

We feel this cooperation has been a positive first step by Dorchester and we look forward to its continuing efforts to rebuild their brand and their business, and to do well by our members and other writers with whom it works. That said, we cannot overlook the troubles the company has had, which have adversely affected our members.

Thus, by vote of the board, Dorchester Publishing is on probation as a qualified Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America market for a period of one year, December 10, 2010 – December 10, 2011.

In this case, “probation” means that although Dorchester would remain on our official list of qualified SFWA markets, during the term of probation, fiction published by Dorchester may not be used to apply for membership until after the probation is completed.

If Dorchester successfully completes its one-year probation, fiction contracted during that term will be viewed as acceptable for qualification for SFWA membership. If it does not SFWA will remove it from the list of approved markets.

Fiction contracted and paid for (by initial advance payment) before the term of probation will not be affected by Dorchester’s probationary status.

After a conversation between the Board of Directors and Dorchester, SFWA asked Dorchester to meet a series of benchmarks as a measure of a good faith effort to return to a solid standing. During the period of probation, SFWA expects the following from Dorchester in order for it to remain on the qualifying list after its probation period:

  1. That it fulfills its contractual and financial obligations to the authors it has already published, including full and accurate accounting of royalties per contract, with scheduled payment of any royalties outstanding;
  2. That it examine its catalog to ensure it is no longer offering fiction in formats for which it has not contracted rights, and makes whole those authors whose rights it has violated;
  3. That there are no instances of contractual violations on the part of Dorchester against authors signed to publishing deals after the start of the probationary period;
  4. That Dorchester assist those authors wishing to revert rights, consistent with the company’s existing policies regarding rights reversion.

During the probationary period, and depending on member participation, SFWA will be in contact with its members known to have outstanding Dorchester contracts to assure Dorchester is fulfilling its contractual obligations to them, or is actively and affirmatively working to correct previous violations.

While SFWA may act at any time to deal with a member complaint against Dorchester, at or near the six month mark of the probationary period it will perform a formal review of Dorchester’s progress on tasks above, with the results to be provided to the members of SFWA via our normal means of member communication.

Dorchester has pledged to work with SFWA during this probationary period. Dorchester Senior Editor Chris Keeslar has informed us that his company is “working to clean up every mistake that has been made, and we categorically affirm our desire to meet the criteria SFWA lists.”

This pledge from Dorchester to improve its practices and to work with SFWA for the benefit of our members strongly encourages us that writers, our members among them, will soon once again find Dorchester a congenial market for their work.

We look forward to working with them to make it so, and are hopeful that in a year’s time we will be able to retain Dorchester as a SFWA qualifying market.

John Scalzi
President, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America