Dorrance Publishing is a provider of self-publishing services for authors and the company was founded by Gordon Dorrance in 1920. Based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the United States, the company can now be considered the oldest existing provider of self-publishing services since the demise of Vantage Press in 2012. These services include book production, promotion, distribution and ghostwriting. The company provides limited marketing services for its authors on a standard publishing package.
According to the Dorrance Publishing website, Gordon Dorrance wrote a book in 1920, entitled The Pocket Chesterfield, and wanted to publish it. The work was rejected by traditional publishers, including New York publisher Scribner. In order to proceed with publishing his book, Dorrance decided to create Dorrance Publishing and made the company’s services available to anyone else with something to communicate in book form. The company has also operated under a number of other business names and imprints, including I-Proclaim Books, Rose Dog Books, and Whitmore Publishing Company, which all appear to be various attempts to present Dorrance’s services at various packaged price points over many years — anything from $295 to $2400+. In reality, Dorrance Publishing service fees run into four to five figures. Some of the above linked websites are now nothing more than online bookstores which look considerably dated. The Whitmore Publishing website has a copyright date of 2006!
There is a lot of reference to company founder Gordon Dorrance on the website, and much is made about the history of Dorrance and its philosophy in the field of publishing. I was curious to check out Gordon Dorrance’s book, The Pocket Chesterfield. I couldn’t find it for sale anywhere and it appears the 1920 edition is the only edition published. I would have expected the book to be available in the Dorrance online bookstore at the very least. More to the point, this listing and the database details cite Philip Dormer Stanhope (Earl of Chesterfield) as the primary author, with Gordon Dorrance providing ‘an Apology’ (whatever that means) and listed as the editor of the book. To all intents and purposes, The Pocket Chesterfield looks more like a guide or literary compendium of Stanhope — an 18th Century British statesman and man of letters.
Visitors to the Dorrance website will be greeted immediately with a photographic depiction of Gordon Dorrance, looking studious in front of a bookshelf with the words ‘Trusted by authors for nearly 100 years.’ The footer of the main webpage reveals that the photograph is not the real Gordon Dorrance, but merely an actor. Gordon Dorrance — a member of the Main Line Philadelphia family who owned the Campbell’s Soup Company — was both modest and shy or he just didn’t like having his photograph taken. While I appreciate Dorrance Publishing is proud of its origins and serving authors for nearly 100 years, the late Gordon Dorrance’s depiction reminded me of those sketches created by English comedian Harry Enfield featuring the character, Mr. Cholmondley-Warner, an early 20th century TV presenter. I mention this lightheartedly here, but there is a more serious point I would like to expand upon in relation to this at the end of the review.
During its time, Dorrance has often been referred to as a vanity publisher because it bears some of the hallmarks of what I would consider an old-style vanity house. It accepts most submissions for publication at a high cost to authors, pursues a particular print-centric business model (even during a time of considerable e-book growth) and it offers limited marketing services unless the author wants to purchase additional services for a fee.
Our philosophy is simple: the freedom to publish should be available to everyone with something to communicate. A book created for a few people is as worthy of publication as a book written for millions. […] We’ll work with you to customize a turnkey publishing package — including full-service production and distribution, and limited or full-service promotion — if that’s right for your book.
The man behind Dorrance today is current company president David Zeolla. This is Zeolla in Dorrance’s promotional video introducing the company’s services.
Again in this video, Zeolla is being interviewed by ‘host’ Joanne McHolme. The video is presented in the guise of a cheesy, daytime chat show, but it really belongs on a TV network shopping channel. McHolme is certainly no chat show host. She is in fact a Philadelphia-based professional, talent spokesperson offering marketing services to businesses. I’m really wary of self-publishing service providers promoting themselves in this way. It’s folksy, but ultimately tries to appeal to the first time, non-savvy author.
Every prospective author looking to contract the services of a paid-publishing company wants information and transparency. Dorrance advertises a call-to-action option on its website for more information and a ‘Free Author’s Guide’. Expecting some sort of downloadable brochure, I clicked it and instead I was taken to a sign-up page that ultimately led to an invitation to book a slot to speak to a Dorrance publishing consultant. The information referred to is in fact just a link to the promotional video I referenced above. Needless to say the follow-up email from Dorrance arrived in my inbox a few hours later suggesting I book a consultation or go straight to loading up my manuscript. And I got the same email the following day… and the day after that…
Dorrance Publishing itself found its way into literary history with work such as The Bonapartes in America, which was published in 1939. In 1955, Dorrance published a volume of poetry titled Ommateum by A.R. Ammons. This publication catapulted Ammons’ career, and he went on to win the National Book Award in 1972 and the National Book Critic’s Circle Award in 1981.
I’m not sure Dorrance catapulted Ammons’ career as a published poet. He really didn’t reach any kind of national prominence until the 1960s when he was picked up by Norton, who published the majority of his work over several decades. The Bonapartes in America is actually a book co-authored by Gordon Dorrance and Clarence Edward Macartney in 1939. It is now a public domain title. Like Dorrance’s earlier title, I couldn’t find any of the above books available for purchase on Amazon or even Dorrance’s own online bookstore. The vast majority of Dorrance’s most popular and recent titles I checked on Amazon.com have a ranking of #100,000 or higher.
Okay, enough of the history lesson and statistics. Let’s dig deeper into what Dorrance Publishing offer authors.
Dorrance has a liberal approach to submissions. It will publish titles so long as the content is not considered libelous or racist material, hate literature or pornography.
We do not review or evaluate manuscripts for literary merit or market potential. However, there are categories that we do not accept: libelous or racist material, hate literature, or pornography, for example. We reserve the right to reject any work that we may find to be unsuitable for our company.
It’s important to note that Dorrance don’t carry out manuscript assessments for literary merit, but will provide mechanical editing (very basic editing).
Packages & Services
Dorrance list publishing services here, but in truth the details are pretty sketchy. All publishing packages include the following:
- Mechanical editing (spelling, grammar, punctuation & subject-verb agreement)
- Layout and cover design (author may provide materials and input)
- Printing and binding (includes digital publication)
- Distribution & Order fulfillment (Ingram/Lightning Source)
- Copyright registration
- ISBN allocation (Dorrance registered as publisher of origin)
- Enrollment in Amazon Advantage Program (for physical copies)
- Pitch submission to Baker & Taylor
- Data Submitted to Books in Print
- Press kit
- Listing on Dorrance Pressroom (online housing for press releases, media information and requests for review copies)
- Inclusion in Dorrance email newsletter
- Online news releases
- Search engine marketing
- Industry trade directories (it would help if Dorrance stated this was based on submission for consideration or an actual listing)
- Bookstore outreach (contacting stores to see if they will stock a title)
- Direct mail
The above list looks extensive, but it really includes nothing more than many full service providers offer for $1000-2000. Dorrance use an Author Resource Portal so authors can monitor and check on the production of their books. Additional promotional services can be added, and these include:
- Audio book
- Baker & Taylor announcement (a paid ad)
- Book presentation kit (postcards, posters, bookmarks and t-shirts)
- Los Angeles Times Art and Book Section advertisement
- New York Times Book Review advertisement
- Personalized t-shirts and tote bags
- Professional book reviews: Clarion ForeWord and Kirkus Reviews (paid review services)
- Publishers Weekly announcement (PW Select announcement)
- Radio-TV Interview Report announcement (it’s another ad)
- Trade Show and Conference Exhibits (readers don’t generally attend trade shows or buy books there)
- Video book trailer
The more you dig down into the Dorrance website, the more it reveals (sometimes important details buried in blog posts instead of FAQs), but it’s still tough getting the kind of information an author needs before the process of file/manuscript submission. I don’t like this one bit and there are gaping holes when it comes to hard and fast details.
We customize our publishing packages to each book. Binding type, page size and whether illustrations are required are several factors that affect the price. Once we have received your manuscript, we will provide you with a full-service publishing proposal that outlines the fees. We’ll also outline the general production specifications of your book and how long it will take to complete.
Often, we can offer our new authors attractive and flexible, interest-free payment plans. It may be possible for you to get started with as little as the first payment of 24 installments.
Sorry, but that doesn’t wash with me, or any serious author worth their salt who looks at Dorrance as an option for his/her book. You can’t say to an author in the current world of self-publishing: ‘Submit your book. We deliver tailored services, and when we do see it, we’ll talk fees.’ Unless of course you are only interested in publishing authors who have no interest in the cost of services or whether their book will ever earn enough in sales to offset the initial fee paid to a service provider.
Royalties & Pricing
Dorrance clearly states that many self-published authors should not have an expectation of sales, and authors should only proceed with Dorrance because they want to see their books in print.
Dorrance authors receive a percentage of the retail price of each book sold. You should proceed with Dorrance because you want to see your work in print, not because of expectation of sales. Typically, self-published books do not earn enough from sales to recoup the expense of publishing. Some of our authors have received national attention; however, most self-published books do not sell as well as their authors hope.
While I applaud the frankness, I have little truck with this being used as a reason why Dorrance won’t talk proper publishing fees and royalties upfront. If you don’t apply manuscript assessment, then the work is simply a block of content that can be quickly evaluated for production and distribution costs. Hundreds of other full service publishing providers have no problem costing publishing services and listing prices on packages or providing costing examples before a manuscript is submitted. There is nothing in publishing (once the issue of literary assessment is removed) that can’t be immediately priced. Dorrance seem to want to present themselves as a full service publishing provider, and yet want to hide behind the traditional veil of publishing.
I took a snapshot of recent Dorrance titles on Amazon.com to get an idea of the retail price of books. It should be noted that a number of titles included Amazon’s discount for consumers. In many cases the listed retail price was actually a dollar or two higher. In general, I found the retail pricing a little above competitive prices of similar books in the marketplace. Cover design, interior layout and design were average, rarely spectacular by any means. Hardbacks and illustrated books were particularly expensive.
60 to 120 pages – $8.49 to $12.00
120 to 170 pages – $12.00 to $14.00
170 to 220 pages – $14.00 to $17.90
Prices varied – $6.00 to $14.00
Dorrance need to do two things here. Have the balls to put its latest author contract online for scrutiny and provide proper detailed costing of publishing packages.
This is what has been reported to me by authors during 2012-13 about Dorrance’s terms of contract:
- Royalties are paid at 40% of retail price for print books sold through Dorrance
- Royalties are paid at 20% of print wholesale through third parties
- Royalties on e-books are 80% of retail through Dorrance and 40% through third parties
- Royalties are paid twice yearly provided a payment ceiling is reached
- Authors pay approximately half the retail price to purchase books directly from Dorrance
- Authors are locked into a contract for a period of 2 years
- Publishing fees reported to TIPM vary from $2,400 to $18,000
- Publisher controls the retail price of the book
- Dorrance has the right to sell secondary/subsidiary rights on behalf of the author
- 30 day notice of termination after the term of contract (usually 2 years)
- Production files may be return upon negotiation (ISBN & logo may need to be removed at author’s expense)
- Authors report getting 24 copies complimentary copies on publication of book
- Additional fees apply for changes after PDF proof is supplied to author
- More than one contract I have read sets an expenditure and time cap on the amount of marketing carried out as standard
- Authors can pay an agree fee upfront or enter into installment payments across two years
Dorrance Publishing is a provider of self-publishing services, but I find little to separate it from what I would consider an old-style vanity press, apart from the fact that it acknowledges charging fees for publishing and openly admits that there are considerable limitations to success (including financial ones) when it comes to self-publishing. That may be an honest assessment for most self-published authors, but equally, most authors today are now unwilling to pay very large fees to one single company when they can piecemeal work out to freelance professionals or undertake the DIY route with far cheaper publishing platforms like Blurb, Lulu and CreateSpace. I’m in no way using such companies to rate Dorrance, but even against providers offering a similar array of services; it doesn’t stack up very well against them.
While Dorrance Publishing titles are produced through print-on-demand, I find it presents a rather negative and outdated perception of self-publishing — one that is print-centric and no longer commercially viable for savvy author-publishers. It’s hard for any self-publishing service provider to justify four to five figure fees in today’s highly competitive services market when the publishing package is based on print-on-demand supply and pitched to authors who simply want to fulfill dreams of seeing their books in print. For me, if an author just wants to see his/her book in print, be it for fun, personal pleasure, or simply to publish a personal memoire or small book of poetry, then you don’t need a juggernaut of a self-publishing provider with a matching fee. There are cheaper and more efficient ways of doing it for a few hundred dollars.
After nearly 100 years, Dorrance Publishing has a right to be proud of its longevity in the publishing business, but the publishing business is not quite like selling tins of wholesome, creamy soup or Ovaltine. Dorrance Publishing reminds me a lot of Vantage Press — another long, long established self-publishing service provider in the United States which struggled to shake off the label of vanity press over the past two decades, while also trying to come to terms with the new age of digital technology and its effect on self-publishing.
Sometimes it is much easier for a new kid on the block to enter the fray than it is for a long established company to dispense with an image and service products which don’t reflect the modern self-published author. This is about how a company goes about presenting its services. It’s not just about plugging shiny new bits onto an existing publishing model or forming business partnerships with the dashing new kid on the block.
Reviewing Dorrance Publishing was like visiting grandma, looking through old family photographs, remembering how good things were in the old days, and at the same time explaining how she can now text on her iPhone, and not just pick up calls.
There is a confused dichotomy at work here. Amid the smell of wintergreen oil, carbolic soap and books: do you invite authors to step backward and enjoy your experience of what publishing was, or step forward and support the experience of modern authors? Dorrance Publishing needs to cut its coat according to its cloth, instead of expecting authors to pay for the privilege of something that no longer exists. Otherwise, Dorrance is likely to go the same way as Vantage Press pretty soon.
- Long established company
- Production files returned to author on termination of contract (2 year term – author may be liable to remove logos, branding etc)
- One-on-one support from publishing advisor
- Publisher has online bookstore
- Publishing fees can be paid in installments (after first $500 payment)
- Amazon Advantage program used for print copies.
- High publishing fees
- Limited marketing services for standard publishing package
- Print mark-ups for author copies
- Publisher sets retail price
- Average to high retail prices set for third-party retailers
- Publishing fees not disclosed until after manuscript submission
- Publisher can sell secondary rights
- Contract not available online or prior to submission
- Lack of full transparency about many terms on website
- Publisher owns and registers ISBN
- 2 year contract term
RATING: 4.5/10 (PROVISIONAL)