Best known for reprinting works in the public domain, Dover Publications is adjusting its long-successful business model—which avoids seeking permission or paying fees, thanks to the public domain—and adding a range of titles that require the house to acquire rights and pay royalties. In recent years, the reprint house has added Dover Comics and Graphic Novels, and Doomsday Classics, lines that feature more recent out-of-print titles in new editions with original introductions, as well as new material and previously unpublished content.
Dover publishes more than 200 titles a year, and rights acquisitions have added a new dimension to its program and are attracting sales. “We are paying advances against future royalties,” said acquisitions editor Drew Ford, who is responsible for both of the aforementioned book lines, among others. “It’s an exciting and potentially powerful time here at Dover. We’re not stopping our public domain reprints—that’s our bread and butter—but we’re moving towards a list that looks a lot more like true frontlist publishing,” he said.
When Ford arrived at Dover two years ago, rights acquisitions were new and just beginning to be encouraged. “When I started Doomsday Classics, I knew there were a lot of apocalyptic lit classics in the public domain,” Ford said. “But I said that the line won’t go anywhere if we don’t get books from the 1950s, the 1960s, and the 1970s. We want public domain titles to be our foundation, but we’re looking for out of print titles that we can get the rights to,” Ford explained.
The Dover list overseen by Ford includes the graphic novel line, Doomsday Classics, Dover Horror Classics, Dover Science Fiction, Dover History, and the Dover Travel and Adventure lines, all of which total about 50 titles annually. Ford says his Doomsday Classics list is about “50/50 public domain and rights,” while his graphic novels line is completely rights-based. And he was quick to note that “there’s not a lot of public domain” in the rest of the aforementioned Dover prose lines (9 rights-acquired works out of 15 titles). Although he declined to give a precise breakdown of the PD/rights-acquistion breakdown for the entire Dover program, he emphasized that “a huge majority of new Dover titles are not public domain,” and that figure will continue to grow. Indeed, Ford said that in popular Dover categories such as crafts and mathematics, the house is even commissioning original material and paying advances and royalties, though “some categories at Dover are moving on this faster than others.” Ford said Dover now has three acquisitions editors charged with acquiring the rights to out-of-print titles, as well as taking on public domain works.
In 2015 Ford launched the Dover Comics and Graphic Novels imprint, releasing 12 graphic novels (including several “comics-related” works, or hybrid works that combine prose and graphics). All graphic novel titles are rights based. The line has published A Sailor’s Story by Sam Glanzman, an acclaimed, long-out-of-print collection of graphic nonfiction stories by the legendary cartoonist detailing his time serving on a destroyer during WWII; Puma Blues by Steven Murphy and Michael Zulli, a 400-page hardcover science fiction/ecological broadside, and The Magician’s Wife, a graphic literary fiction by noted novelist Jerome Charyn and artist Francois Boucq.
In Spring 2016 Dover Comics and Graphic Novels will release 9 titles—6 graphic novels and 3 comics-related works. Titles include Billy Budd KGB, another much-lauded graphic novel collaboration by Charyn and Boucq, this one about a Soviet spy in New York City and based on the Herman Melville novella. Out of print in English for more than 20 years (“a disgrace,” Ford said), the graphic novel “sells thousands of copies” each year in its original French. Ford has commissioned a new English translation and a new introduction by acclaimed comics artist Paul Pope.
Dover’s Doomsday Classics line is releasing 11 prose titles in Spring 2016, including Grave Predictions: Tales of Mankind’s Post-apocalyptic, Dystopian and Disastrous Destiny. The book is an anthology of short stories—all of which required rights acquisitions—that will include works by such renowned authors as Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, and Joe R. Landsale, among others.
Ford also acquired rights to The Magic Island by William Seabrook, a 1929 nonfiction account of Haitian voodoo rituals that introduced the concept of the walking dead, or zombies, to the West and inspired the classic 1932 film White Zombie. The book is coming from the Dover Travel & Adventure line in Spring 2016 and features a detailed new 9-page introduction by George A. Romero, director of Night of the Living Dead, who cited its influence on him and jumped at the chance to help support the book.
Ford also acquired the rights to Elleander Morning, a just-published, long-out-of-print saga about going back in time to kill Hitler, which rang up big sales when its very premise turned up in the Republican presidential debates. Other big sellers in 2015 were the graphic novels Puma Blues (featuring 40 new pages of original storytelling to complete the graphic novel) and Sailor’s Story; Ford noted that the house was about to go back to press for both. He also cited The Art of Alfredo Alcala: Secret Teachings of a Comic Book Master, a series of interviews with the comics icon, coauthored by Phillip Dana Yeh and Heidi MacDonald, PW’s graphic novel reviews editor. He said the title “won’t stop selling.”
Ford also emphasized that Dover’s recent prose works and graphic novels—whether rights acquisitions or public domain content—feature newly added original material, new translations, or new introductions by current authors, who are often thrilled to be asked support the classic works that inspired them. “Even if you have a great public domain title, you still need to invest in it,” Ford said.