Companies go under all the time, so when news circulated last week that Night Shade Books was folding I didn't pay much attention. That was a mistake on my part, because it left an incredibly important story uncovered. Fortunately for me a reader sent me a link today and recommended I look into the story. Thanks, Igor!
Late last week Night Shade Books sent out a letter to the authors they had under contract, announcing that the company was going under. all of a sudden the assets, namely the contracts that the authors had signed, had to be sold off toot de suite in order to avoid bankruptcy.
This publisher, which was widely regarded for releasing high quality SF, had long held a reputation for financial mismanagement. Some authors and agents reported that NSB had regularly missed royalty payments, released ebooks that NSB didn't have the rights to, and other chicanery.
Afters years of struggles, last week appeared to be the final straw. Night Shade Books sent out a letter to their authors and announced that they are selling the assets. Note that the company wasn't being sold, just the assets.
You can read the letter on Scribd, but the tl;dr version is the letter bullies authors into not just letting the contracts be sold; it also forces the authors to agree to a radical rewrite of their existing contracts. The new terms are offered take it or leave it, without negotiation, and they aren't as favorable as the terms that some of the authors had in their existing contract. Furthermore, Night Shade Books pressured the authors by holding the threat of bankruptcy over their heads. That would likely tie up existing contracts for years while generating no income.
But as bad as that sounds, this story gets worse.
Night Shade Books has also decided to sell the print and ebook rights separately. The print rights would go to Skyhorse Publishing, a small publisher that specializes in nonfiction. As strange as it may sound for a nonfiction publisher to suddenly develop an interest in SF and Fantasy, the ebook situation is even crazier.
At this point I hope you're sitting down.
Night Shade Books wants to sell the ebook rights contracts to Start Publishing LLC. Start Publishing is a relatively unknown firm with obscure ownership, at least one division run by a literary agent, and questionable experience in publishing ebooks. In fact, Start Publishing's total current catalog consists of some hundreds of public domain titles.
But wait, there's more.
Jarred Weisfeld, the literary agent in question, is a principle agent at Objective Entertainment. That agency has in the past rejected authors while suggesting that the authors consider self-pubbing with AuthorHouse (now a part of Author Solutions). Why did Objective do this? Because they got a commission from AuthorHouse. Here's more about that story:
But Objective isn't just suggesting that rejected clients check out a self-publishing service--it's encouraging them to do so in a wholly misleading manner. Not only is AuthorHouse described as a "publisher" they "trust," it's described as "our Publisher" and an "amazing opportunity for you."
So Night Shade Books wants to sell the ebook rights to a sleazy literary agent with questionable ethics and no real experience in publishing. Yeah, I'm sure that's going to go well.
I had this whole rant written out, but in light of a late breaking detail I am going to leave the rant unpublished.
As much as I might not like this situation, let me be fair and point out the latest twist in this tale. Skyhorse and Start have gone public with an offer of better contract terms. They're still pretty bad, IMO. I'm still not sure that I would want to do business with Start, but at least the deal doesn't suck quite so much as it did last week.
- The Night Shade Writers of America (Brillig)
- Night Shade Books: What went wrong? (Staffer's Book Review)
- The Night Shade Books/Skyhorse Publishing Deal: Why I’ll Take A Pass (Stormwolf.com)
- Publish & Perish. (Girl Genius Adventures)
- Deal/No Deal: Why I Am Considering the Skyhorse/Night Shade “Buyout” (Kameron Hurley)
- Another indie publisher on the ropes: Night Shade Books plans an asset sale (io9)
- The Embarrassment of the Night Shade/Skyhorse Deal (all that's new(s) from A to Z)
- My Tuppence-Worth on Night Shade Books (THE SKINNER)
- A Better Deal for Night Shade Books' Authors (io9)