Deal/No Deal: Why I Am Considering the Skyhorse/Night Shade “Buyout”

I’ve been reading a lot of responses to the “deal” proposed by Night Shade Books and Skyhorse/Start Publishing, and as pretty much everything has been leaked every which fucking way (kicked off, no less, by a stupidly inaccurate and ill-timed Tweet by one of Night Shade’s own owners, which should surprise no one used to dealing with them). Myself and dozens of others have collected a lot of information and shared it round with folks affected.

And amid all the chatter, what gets me is how everybody goes on and on about how stupid writers must be to sign these things. And without weighing their options and personal situations and having all that information, I’d agree. The deal is seedy. It’s made to fuck writers in all sorts of interesting new ways. But guess what? So are a lot of boilerplate contracts sent to unagented authors from major and minor publishers all over the world. In fact, the SFWA just got a few fixed recently that have been in play for a bit now. That Hydra bullshit? That was from a major house, guys. One without a Writer Beware rep.

Fucking authors is not a new thing. Our job is to try and get fucked less (Or fucked better. Glass half full/half empty thing).

Night Shade fucked the shit out of a lot of people, and they did it with a smile and a wink and asked us to consider just how hard this was all for them, when they fucked us. They owe thousands and tens of thousands of dollars to our friends and colleagues, to writers and artists and editors and freelancers we hang with every year at cons and harass on Twitter and buy drinks at the bar.

But when a writer weighs their options and collects the information and negotiates this boilerplate into something palatable (because yes, writers have agents, and no, you are not obligated or expected to sign a fucking boilerplate contract – has anyone said that publicly yet?) and signs, that’s their decision. And there are a number of people who need $5,000 or $10,000 or $25,000 right now – not a promise of 50% of retail ebook sales over the next ten years. These are people with medical conditions, crappy living conditions, and debt piled high because Night Shade kept promising to pay them next week, next month, next year.

Then Night Shade fucked them.

Now they have to make a choice. It’s a shitty choice.  And there’s a whole lot of gambling involved.

I am reminded of Roger Zelazny dying in poverty.* I am reminded of how often we are fucked because we’re poor.

MD-BEMUM91But I have the privilege of not being poor right now. So I haven’t made my decision yet. I’m still unimpressed by this boilerplate, obviously, for all the reasons pointed out publicly (and some not so publicly) and I’ve requested revisions, as any author considering this deal at all should be requesting. There will likely be many rounds of revisions. If it doesn’t improve, it’s no deal. But I have the privilege of doing that, because I have a decent paying day job. If I don’t get paid out, I have to scuttle some cons this year, and there will be messy legal battles. But I won’t suffer for it.

Deal/no deal means a lot more to some other people. To your friends. Your colleagues.

So if this goes through, I want you guys to think about them too, before you judge that choice.

But most of all, when the dust clears and whatever happens happens, I what you to remember EXACTLY who it was who fucked us. It was not Borders, or The Big 5, or even opportunists like Skyhorse and Start, who are doing what Big Media Businesses do.

It was Night Shade.

I want it said again, because we’ve all been so afraid to say it while holding our tongues in the hopes of getting paid, while our books were rushed to production and released with little to no editing or marketing support, and promised checks never came.

It was Night Shade.

The people who put us here. Who gave us this choice.

It was Night Shade.

Yeah, their contract terms were better. They promised more money. But money people promise and money in your fucking pocket are two entirely different things. People are running around like chickens with their heads cut off, saying what assholes Sky/Start are, in an absolutely un-ironic way. Does anyone remember what horrible business people J&J are? Because some of the stories you’ll hear will turn your shit white. They’re like that abusive ex who’d say they worshipped the ground you walked on one minute, and then be screaming and throwing plates the next, then tell you it’s OK baby I just love you so much! That’s why I get so emotional!

Publishers are in this to make a profit. They are a business. So let’s keep this all in perspective as we rush off to say Sky/Start are run by greasy media people who will fuck us. Don’t say that unless you’re pointing back at the slick salesmen at Night Shade who’ve been trying to fuck us, too.

We’re leery of Sky/Start because they aren’t “one of us.” They don’t go to cons with us on weekends. They don’t buy us drinks. We haven’t hung out in the bar together. They look and act a lot like the high school jocks with the rich parents who you hated in high school. But let’s put this in perspective, here. These folks are business people (with all the good and bad that implies). That means they actually want to run a profitable and successful business. But I get it. We’re SF/F people. We want folks who understand SF/F. We want to hear from them, directly, that they love and read our books, and that they plan to involve genre folks we “know” in the operations of the business. We need known quantities. And we need to know they’re not only not fucking us, but not fucking our friends, too. Changing the boilerplate and giving that “net receipts” a solid floor is something they should do for everyone. At the very least. I can’t speak for others, but I can tell you now that knowing they’d not only change that for a few people with lawyers but for everyone would go a long way toward demonstrating they have good intentions here.

Are Sky/Start the riders of the apocalypse? Let’s put it this way: Are they worse than J&J? It’s easy to put up with abuse from people you know. I think people are more anxious because these folks swooping in are unknown, so the few links we dig up about how some guy was a jerk or four years ago Sky was charging a $100 “rush reading fee” are all the information we have to go on, and people freak out.

But where are the Writer Beware link roundups for J&J? Nobody’s passing those around anymore.

We should have put out more Writer Beware stories about them. We should have talked publicly about the abuse, so all these new authors who recently signed and now have books tied up in escrow wouldn’t be in this position. I should have known before Night Shade came to me with a deal that things were rotten. Instead, I got an email immediatley upon announcing that I’d inked the deal saying “You know they aren’t paying people, right?” Everything authors knew about the rotten abuse at Night Shade was shared in private. With a few exceptions (Moon and Williams, most notably) no one was talking out loud about what was happening. The SFWA was accomodating and gracious and gave them chance after chance. We should have spoken up. All of us.

But we didn’t. Because these guys were “nice guys” we knew, not “big megacorp unknown entity.”

Well, guess what? The majority of people who abuse other people generally aren’t strangers. Most abuse comes from people you know.

So remember that. And remember whose lap this is all in.

This is Night Shade’s fucking mess, and it enrages me that once again, it’s us authors left to pick up the pieces, and make the best of being fucked every which way.

But don’t call us stupid. Don’t question our choices. Don’t think we’re not fully, painfully, agonizingly aware of how fucked this choice is and doing everything we can to cover our asses and make the best of it.

We totally fucking get it.

And we know exactly how we got here.

The real horror show here is for the Night Shade guys to walk. To try and salvage some scrap of their old business whether or not this deal goes through, and trundle along paying out back payments to writers in dribs and drabs while fucking over a new crop of desperate young writers who don’t know any better for another year or 18 months before their ceiling of debt collapses on them.

Last night, after some more emails with my agent(s), I opened up the manuscript for the new project I was working on. And you know what? For the first time in two years, when I opened up a piece of fiction — I wasn’t angry. It didn’t feel like it was shit. In fact, I could actually kind of finally see the shape of the book.

For two years, I have equated writing fiction with grinning and bearing it. Getting promised the moon and then fucked over. Waiting for breach of contract. Waiting for expected payments. Being made promises full of sand that trickled just as quickly through clenched fists.

I don’t yet know the fate of the Bel Dame Apocrypha, but I can tell you this – whatever happens, its future will no longer be with J&J (one way or another). And that, my friends, makes me full of the sort of grim optimism that ran Nyx through thirty years of bug-infested deserts.

It will get me through this.

Good luck to everyone else working hard to make their own decision. It’s a shitty choice for folks no matter what you choose, and I have great love and respect for all of you.

P.S. I’ve been asked by readers if they should keep buying my books from Night Shade. The answer is YES. If the deal goes through, I get paid that money. If it doesn’t, then those sales numbers will contribute to my sales record and help me find a new home with another project at a stronger publisher. Do please continue to support Night Shade’s authors. We love our readers and fans, and we wouldn’t have survived this without you.


*Of all the angry hate mail I expected to receive for this post, hate mail from angry Zelazny fans was the least expected. I read about Zelazny dying in “relative poverty” in an introduction to a short story collection of his about a decade ago. However, either that source or my memory could be incorrect, as I’ve given away over 800 books in the last 5 years and can’t find the reference. So let’s amend this to, “I am reminded that most writers don’t die millionaires.” Which should only get me angry mail from the few hundred writers in the US who are actually millionaires. The moral of this story is not to say anything about Roger Zelazny in a post that will be read by more than 10 people.

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