Ben Peek (benpeek) wrote,
Ben Peek

The Night Shade Drama

Over the last few months, Night Shade Books have come under fire for not treating their authors correctly. The stories have been around for a while, though they were nothing new: failure to communicate, failure to pay, and stolen rights. In fairness, I hadn't heard of the last until I started reading the posts by authors. Eventually these posts developed into a bit of public backlash and a bit of negative press--though it was a fairly low key, at least to my gaze. Authors tend to fear speaking up for themselves or on the behalf of other authors because getting published can be so difficult, and a lot tend to just keep their heads down. Certainly it is not a practice that I can argue against, and I find myself in constant flux over the situation myself. On one hand, I think the treatment of authors in general is fairly awful, but on the other hand, everyone likes to work, right? It can be a hard situation to find yourself in.

However, back to Night Shade: an apology was issued:

First and foremost, we at Night Shade Books would like to apologize for any problems we’ve caused any of our authors. The last three years have been brutal on us, although not in any way we could have expected. While we’ve faced the same difficulties every small and independent press has suffered in this age of sales downturns, higher-than-expected returns, and other challenges, what has caused us the most trouble have been our successes. Night Shade has grown faster and more uncontrollably than we had any idea how to handle. What started as two guys shipping books out of a garage now consists of a full staff working out of an office in San Francisco. We’ve shuffled around a lot of our responsibilities, but in many ways, we’re still figuring this out as we go.

This has led to some major miscommunication, and sometimes flat-out lack of communication, with our authors, sometimes, even amongst ourselves. We screwed up: Details were missed, one of us assumed another was handling a situation, or a reluctance to deliver bad news turned into an unprofessional excuse to procrastinate. The issues that have come up today, at their core, are really ones of communication. All this could have been avoided through simple phone calls and emails, through us letting people know what was happening.

It's a fairly standard apology: admit wrong was done, promise to righten things, and so on and so forth. Hopefully this will happen, but anyone who has passed a business of remote size that has been caught out for doing the wrong thing will recognise the apology. Still, like I said, maybe it'll be genuine and maybe it'll work out. The time I met Jeremy Lassen, he had a real passion for what he was doing, and that would make a difference to such a statement, but really, only time reveals all.

What is interesting, however, is the SFWA response, of putting Night Shade on probation:

We are heartened that Night Shade has issued an apology and has pledged to correct its problems. These are needed first steps for a growing publisher that has published some memorable science fiction and fantasy in the last few years, including this year’s Nebula Award winner for Best Novel, The Windup Girl. Regardless of reasons given, such behavior by a publisher to its authors is unacceptable.

With these facts in mind, by vote of the Board, Night Shade Books is on probation as a qualified SFWA market for a period of one year, effective immediately.

In this case, “probation” means that although Night Shade Books remains on our official list of qualified SFWA markets, during the term of probation, acceptance for SFWA qualification of fiction contracted for publication by Night Shade is suspended. If Night Shade successfully completes its one-year probation period, fiction contracted by Night Shade during that time will be viewed as acceptable for qualification for SFWA membership. If it does not SFWA will remove Night Shade Books from the list of approved markets.

No fiction contracted and paid for (by initial advance payment) before the term of probation will be affected by Night Shade’s probationary status.

During the period of probation, we expect the following from Night Shade in order for it to remain on the qualifying list after its probation period:

1. That it fulfills its contractual and financial obligations to the authors it has already published, including full and accurate accounting of royalties per contract, with payment of any royalties outstanding;

2. That it examine its catalogue to ensure it is no longer offering fiction in formats for which it has no rights, and makes whole those authors whose rights it has violated;

3. That it institutes procedures and hires sufficient staff to ensure accurate record keeping for contracts and payments, both for previously published and future authors;

4. That there are no instances of contractual violations on the part of Night Shade Books against authors signed to publishing deals after the start of the probationary period.

It's a good thing to see, even if I do think the probation is a touch meaningless--though in this, perhaps I am under estimating the interest and or power of being on the SFWA list of publishers. Living where and as I do, it's not as if the SFWA has a huge baring on my day, week, or year, but it's done some good things, and with any luck, their stance on this will be one of those good things as well.

Time, however, will tell.


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