Night Shade Books: Clusterfuck and a Half

So, much of the Internet’s time, at least on the spec-fic side of things, was taken up this week by recent convulsions surrounding Night Shade Books.

Night Shade Books is a small press run by Jeremy Lassen and Jason Williams. Among the books they’ve published are Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl, Iain M. Banks’ The Algebraist, the novelizations of the Girl Genius books by Phil and Kaja Foglio, and on and on. In short, they publish excellent stuff.

Night Shade’s been having problems for years. SFWA, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, got involved in 2010. Within the past few months, the authors have been asking SFWA what’s up with Night Shade. Here, I get a little confused. I find it difficult to believe that any publisher is quaking in their boots at the threat of being delisted by SFWA. All that being delisted does, as far as I can tell, is prevent that publisher from being considered a “professional market” that people can use to qualify to become a member of SFWA. Big whoop. If this is the biggest club an author has in their arsenal, we are all in terrible trouble.

But perhaps I am misunderstanding that part. Anyway, what’s come out is that Night Shade has sold its list to another publisher, or rather a confusing combination of publishers Skyhorse and Start Publishing, but for that sale to go through, all of the authors involved must sign new contracts. And by all accounts those new contracts are shit. Some writers report that they are in the process of renegotiating those contracts, and that it’s a good sign that the publisher is open to amending them at least. However, those contracts ask for rights that were not included being in the original contracts, are substantially lower terms, and are presented in a way that forces authors who are willing to sign to pressure authors who are not willing to sign. And that is backed up by a letter from SFWA that apparently underscores that if the deal does not go through, Night Shade will most probably declare bankruptcy and everyone’s rights will be in limbo.

In all of this, no one seems to be clear what exactly SFWA accomplished, nor is the organization (and in the interest of full disclosure, I am a SFWA member, with access to its internal boards, and without betraying confidentiality, information on those boards has come pretty much entirely from people posting links to outside discussions) itself disclosing what’s up and whether they negotiated the terms from an even shittier state to the current crapfest or even what, exactly, they did, or why there is this Impenetrable Veil of Secrecy surrounding the proceedings. The first piece of information that came out during the period that the SFWA board was saying “Any day now we’ll have a statement,” was an ill-timed and now, it turns out, somewhat inaccurate tweet from Lassen:

Jeremy Lassen ‏@jlassen 2 Apr
My exciting news is that Night Shade is being bought by a larger publishing company! NS authors are recieving formal notification now. #nsb

Other people have analyzed the controversy better than I. Here’s some of the links:

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About Cat

Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches by the shores of an eagle-haunted lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her 200+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov's, Clarkesworld Magazine, and the magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Her story, "Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain," from her collection Near + Far (Hydra House Books), was a 2012 Nebula nominee. Her editorship of Fantasy Magazine earned her a World Fantasy Award nomination in 2012. She is the current President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). She is currently working on Exiles of Tabat, the third book of the Tabat Quartet. A new story collection, Neither Here Nor There, appears from Hydra House this fall.
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