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Deadly Night Shade

Deadly Night Shade

Night Shade Books is or was a science fiction and fantasy publisher. Justin Landon explains Night Shade’s position in the industry, comparing its 37 new titles, 33 of which were novels, published in 2012 alone.

…Night Shade had to have some bestselling books… Examples include Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl and John Joseph Adams’ collection The Living Dead. …big success can result in cash flow difficulties. There have been times when Night Shade owed authors (or editors) six-figure royalty payments. Allegedly, legal action had to be threatened in order for those royalties to be paid. Good business practices, if applied, result in these problems being overcome and success begetting success—or at least stability… Instead there seemed to be mismanagement or, at least, questionable management choices…

This failure to pay led the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) to put Night Shade on probation twice, with the last time under the mandate: Get your house in order or you’re done. To that end, news broke last night that SFWA officially delisted Night Shade as an approved publisher for SFWA membership.

[emphasis mine – ed]

Remember the Hydra debacle, SFWA’s action and the result? The SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America – membership is not restricted to US residents) acts like a sort of union for authors. However, in this case the SFWA seems to have given Night Shade Books too many warnings and too much leniency.

On July 9, 2010 John Scalzi (SFWA) posted

This week, we became aware of three recent instances of Night Shade Books acting against the contractual and legal interest of authors, specifically by not reporting royalties when contractually specified or reporting them inaccurately and/or distributing books in a medium for which it had not legally secured rights. Night Shade does not dispute these events, and shortly after these incidents came to light contacted SFWA as well as released a public statement apologizing to the authors affected

Night Shade Books was placed on probation for a year then given a three month extension to comply with the terms of the probationary period. On November 30, 2011, Mary Robinette Kowal (Vice President, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) posted

…term of probation for Night Shade is lifted….

and 17 months later the shit hit the fan once more. In the present Justin goes on to say

…Night Shade sold a lot of books. According to 2011 Bookscan numbers, they sold just over 75,000, which of course doesn’t take into account things like library sales, non-standard stores, and does not count digital sales at all. This is a publisher with million dollar gross revenues. This should be the story of an independent publisher finding success in a difficult market.

The guys in charge at Night Shade Books apparently aren’t business oriented and apparently didn’t hire a business manager.

Then this tweet happened.

This post by Publishers Weekly dated January 5, 2012 says

Skyhorse Publishing has announced an unusual program under which it will pay cash to acquire the backlist of publishers with cash flow problems.

On 3 April 2013 Publishers Weeky said

After several years of financial struggles, the science fiction and fantasy publisher Night Shade Books is preparing to sell its assets to Skyhorse Publishing and Start Publishing. That is, if its authors will sign off on the deal.

So Night Shade isn’t being sold, some of its assets are being sold off to a traditionally NON-FICTION publisher. This is not necessarily good news for a science fiction or fantasy author, even more so when you realise that

Night Shade owners Jeremy Lassen and Jason Williams will be working as “consultants in the role of acquiring editors.”

So the guys who fucked up monumentally will STILL be involved.

It gets worse.  Weirdmage quotes a letter from Night Shade Books to one of its authors:

As you probably know, Night Shade Books has had a difficult time after the demise of Borders. We have reached a point where our current liabilities exceed our assets, and it is clear that, with our current contracts, sales, and financial position, we cannot continue to operate as an independent publisher. If we filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, or liquidation, the rights to your books could be entangled in the courts for years as could past or current unpaid royalties or advances. However, we have found an alternative, which will result in authors getting paid everything they are due as well as finding a future home for their books, subject to the terms and conditions stated in this letter.

Provided that a sufficient number of Night Shade authors agree to certain changes to their contracts with Night Shade, Skyhorse Publishing, Inc. and Start Publishing, LLC have agreed to acquire all Night Shade Books assets. To be clear, this is an acquisition of assets, not a purchase of the company as a whole. The revenue received from the sale would go towards paying off the debts of the company. If you sign below, and a sufficient number of other Night Shade authors and other creditors also agree to these terms, you will receive full payment to bring all royalties and overdue advances current.

Justin’s final comment:

… there are actually two publishing companies involved in acquired the rights to Night Shade’s titles. Start Publishing and Sky Horse, with Skyhorse taking print, and Start ePublishing taking the eBooks. Authors are facing having their rights split apart, and going to two different companies (who are working together, but who have no strong brand/history).

Night Shade Books’ website doesn’t mention any of this: the closest they come to revealing this on their site is their recent news mention that Eclipse Online will close effectively immediately.

Kameron Hurley swears a lot about the no-win situation for authors; it’s no-win when a new author is trying to get signed up, no-win when authors don’t get paid and no-win with the choice Night Shade Books is giving them.

Harry J Connolly proposes that the SFWA rolls up its collective sleeve and take action to protect authors in situation like this one with Night Shade Books.

In these difficult times where culture and technology are rapidly changing the publishing industry, authors need some degree of certainty and control, especially when publishers do not comply with the letter nor the intent of contracts. I feel for all the authors involved and others whose reputations may have been tarnished by association. I hope some good can come of this mess.

Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.


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