DarkEcho Horror
Blowgun by Rick Berry
by Paula Guran

First appeared in
DarkEcho: 05.04.00 [V.7 #16]

[May 4, 2000: Next week at the World Horror Con in Denver, Don D'Auria will receive a special award from the International Horror Guild for the mass market horror series he edits for Leisure Books.]
A couple of years ago, *DarkEcho* got the word out on a reworked horror line from Dorchester's Leisure imprint and editor Don D'Auria. As D'Auria explains: "Before we revamped the horror line a few years back, it was aimed at a younger readership, was less sophisticated in terms of content and packaging, and was creeping along at just eight titles a year. When the company was sold and a new staff came in, we decided to take the horror line more seriously. We changed the content, the direction, and the packaging to reflect an audience that was no longer reading mostly Goosebumps books."

Today Leisure is publishing eighteen horror titles a year, with an eye to even more growth. D'Auria also feels Leisure's commitment to horror has had a positive impact on other New York publishers. "If you look at what's coming out from many of the other houses, you see titles are being labeled horror for the first time in years. Some houses are bringing out their horror backlist to test the waters. Others are actually coming out with new books. And horror authors with track records are getting more of a push from their publishers. I knew we wouldn't be alone out there for long. Once the other houses began to see that horror was working again, they were more than happy to jump back in."

Don D'AuriaWhy did Leisure make the leap into the supposed abyss of horror to start with? "When [the new staff] took over and looked at the state of the horror line as it was, it was pretty clear it needed to change. There was a lot of room for improvement in some of the choices that were made and the messages that the books' packaging was giving the audience. Our idea was to aim the books at real horror fans, people we knew were out there but who weren't seeing the kind of books they wanted. In a sense, if we were going to publish horror we knew it could only work if we treated it with the same respect the readers did. We wanted to show readers that we thought of the horror titles as real books, written by good authors, not just product thrown out to fill bookstore shelves."

Almost immediately, once readers saw the changes, Leisure's sales began to increase, and they continue to grow. "Right now," says D'Auria, "we achieve feature title status at most chains and distributors, which is something we didn't have in the old days. We're getting more books out there and our returns have been lower, which is the best combination. In terms of sales, I'd say our two most successful authors have been, not too surprisingly, Douglas Clegg and Richard Laymon. Response to them has been terrific."

"We have some of the best writers in the genre on our list," claims D'Auria. "We've been able to introduce some very talented writers to a mass-market readership, like Mary Ann Mitchell and Barry Hoffman. Our sales have increased steadily and the horror book club we started surprised us all with its success. Before we changed it the horror line was struggling and largely unnoticed. Since the revamping it's taken off."

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Leisure became a pioneer in e-publishing last year with sponsorship of Doug Clegg's e-serial, NAOMI and will be publishing the revised, expanded print version of the novel in book form next spring. They may do more of the same if the right opportunity presents itself.

Leisure is definitely open to submissions. "We can't publish books if no one submits manuscripts," says D'Auria. He has no preference as to agented vs. unagented manuscripts, either. "The important thing to me is the quality of the writing," he explains. "It's completely up to the author whether or not they feel more comfortable having an agent. He's looking for anything well-written that fits within the broad spectrum of horror. Manuscripts should be between 80,000 and 110,000 words long, roughly. The best way to find out if a particular manuscript might be right for Leisure is to send a query letter. Then, if it looks like something they might be interested in, D'Auria will request a synopsis and the first three chapters or a complete manuscript. "But definitely send a query first," cautions the editor. "It saves everybody a lot of time and speeds up the whole process.

Lisa Rasmussen has just been named as the new president/CEO at Dorchester. Will this impact the direction of the horror line? "Lisa Rasmussen just started, so it's a little early to tell exactly what sort of changes will come," says D'Auria "We're looking forward to new marketing ideas, fresh input, stronger momentum, and possibly publishing in additional formats. I don't see the direction or content of the horror line changing, since it's working."

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Leisure titles for this month are NAILED BY THE HEART by Simon Clark, and NIGHT FREIGHT, a collection of horror stories by Bill Pronzini. In June they have THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT by Graham Masterton, and FRIGHTS OF FANCY, a collection of J. N. Williamson's best horror stories. In July there's THE DAWNING, a new original novel from Hugh B. Cave. August is another two-book month; THE DECEASED by Tom Piccirilli, and IN THE SHADOW OF THE ARCH, the sequel to Robert J. Randisi's ALONE WITH THE DEAD. Leisure's next Doug Clegg book, MISCHIEF, (which D'Auria describes as "a wonderful, haunting novel") comes out in September. And in October there are two books he "can't wait to see in the bookstores -- Richard Laymon's AMONG THE MISSING, and Robert Devereaux's SANTA STEPS OUT, a book that should blow a lot of people away. It's going to be a very cool next couple of months. And there's always more to come."

In general, the aspects of horror D'Auria likes most right now are its originality and its diversity. "There's so much new stuff out there, it's amazing. The established authors, of course, are writing as wonderfully as ever, but there's also a whole new generation of young writers who have been polishing their talents in small presses and magazines. And they're not all writing in the same voice. You can walk into a bookstore now and pick up an armload of books that have absolutely nothing in common except that they're horror. And that's something we've tried to foster with our line. What I dislike is the way most of the other houses still seem to be publishing horror the same old way. Even their new titles are treated the way they were fifteen years ago."

Two years ago D'Auria told *DarkEcho* that Leisure saw a stronger market for horror in the next few years; that we'd seen the bottom of the horror "bust" and the market was moving back up. Does he stand by his prediction? "Yeah, I'd say things have certainly picked up in the last two years. Sales seem to be improving, more titles are appearing, and horror is getting more attention than it has in a long time. I think there's a sense of optimism now that was sorely missing two years ago. I'd say horror is headed straight into a nice growth period. How long that growth will last and how much growth we'll see depends on a lot of factors; other publishers, bookstores, and the readers themselves. The most important thing is that the readers have to continue to want the books...That means publishers have to provide the kinds of quality horror that people want to read, good books by good writers."

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