This IO9 post has been making the rounds last night and today, with new details on the deal between Night Shade, their authors, and Skyhorse.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past little while (as I freely confess, I kind of had been, because I didn’t realize for a long time that Night Shade wasn’t quite the awesome publisher that I’d made it out to be), Night Shade is going under. It seems that they had a great eye for fiction and were amazing about taking chances on debut authors (2 things which put them very high on my list of favourite publishers) but less of a great sense of how to handle finance and business matters. And now it’s really caught up with them, and they’re unable to continue.
So the solution was to sell the author contracts and publishing rights to a fairly unknown publisher called Skyhorse, a company I find notable for stating, in a nutshell, “our backlog of submitted manuscripts is so huge that we’re going to take forever to let you know anything, but if you’re really in a rush, send us a cheque for $100 and we’ll get back to you in 2 business days.” $100 for a probably rejection letter sure is steep. I know that’s designed less to make them wads of cash and more to dissuade people from nagging them, but still, it doesn’t speak too highly for them in a time when most people who know about the industry know to be wary of companies that will charge you money for the privilege of them reading your work.
Anyway, Night Shade authors were quick to talk about how the deal they’d gotten was lousy, but for obvious reasons weren’t too forthcoming with the details. It was pieced together that they would have to have revised contracts and probably end up earning less money, but there was very little that was conclusive for a while.
Then the IO9 article cleared a lot of it up for me.
The following quote is taken from a statement made by Skyhorse, regarding the matter:
Jarred and I have been listening to and thinking through what the Night Shade authors and agents have said on blogs, on facebook, over email, and during several very long phone conversations. Skyhorse and Start now have a much more complete picture of what the Night Shade authors been through and it’s helped us to understand the reaction that many of them have had to the deal as offered. Both Jarred and I have decided to make a strong attempt to see this deal through. We’ve decided to take the long view, the view that what we want to do is build a publishing company, build on the Night Shade backlist, and we’re willing to offer a deal that we feel is very favorable to the Night Shade authors and will trade short run profits for long-term relationship.
Now, reading between the lines, here’s what I get out of that:
After making the initial offer, it became really obvious that authors weren’t happy about essentially having their paycheques reduced in exchange for merely getting what was promised to them by NSB in the first place, and what’s more, thousands of fans weren’t happy about it either. Now that the book-loving community at large has informed us that the initial deal was a crappy one, we’re going to be more fair. We admit that we had placed our own profit margins above the authors’ ability to make a living.
It’s good of them to change the deal like that, but like many controversial issues, it ticks me off that if more people than the authors themselves hadn’t been so vocally annoyed about the issue, both companies probably just would have stuck to the original and far less fair deal. And the ones to suffer for it would have been the authors themselves, whose book rights were now owned by a virtually unknown company and whose contracts were revised to make sure they take less home in royalty cheques.
It also worries me when companies give signs that they would, ideally, pay more attention to short-term profits than long-term relationships. That’s usually a sign of a company that isn’t run very well, either. Brand loyalty is a powerful thing; give a little and you can get a lot. Sacrifice that because you’d rather make a quick dime instead of a slow dollar? That shows a company that will spend its time doing more work than it has to, for less overall profit. Long-term investments are key. Show the world that authors are happy with the deals you make with them, and more people are likely to pitch their books to you. And more people will buy books you publish. And the wheels keeps on turning.
This whole issue makes me tense. I discovered so many amazing authors thanks to Night Shade, have gotten on talking terms with many of them, and to see them get a raw deal because their initial publisher didn’t have the business sense to not spend more than it earned really irks me. I worry about how this will affect them, their lives, the future books they may write.
But I’m also powerfully disappointed in Night Shade. For a long time, they were actually my favourite publisher. Yes, they actually bumped Tor from the top of the list, which is no small feat! They took chances on unknowns, they published quality work, and it was practically assured that whatever books they released were ones I would probably enjoy reading. They seemed so very awesome, and then to have the layers peeled back to reveal all this… They could have been so much more than what they became.