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An Open Letter from Jeremy Lassen at Night Shade Books

Friday, April 5th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

Jeremy LassenThere’s been a great deal of debate among authors and editors over this week’s announcement from Night Shade Books regarding a sale to avoid bankruptcy.

SFWA sent an advisory note to members, advising them that the settlement is “likely in the best interest” of writers. Respected authors such as Michael Stackpole strongly disagreed, pointing out that the contracts offered by Skyhorse/Start cut ebook royalties in half and demand audio and second serial rights — whether or not NSB originally purchased them.

It’s a painful situation for all involved. For readers anxious to see Night Shade’s future releases — including several volumes of popular ongoing series — this sale is the only way to avoid the rights to those titles ending up in bankruptcy court (where the majority may well simply die).

There’s no question that Night Shade made mistakes and burned a lot of bridges over the past few years, and that this latest unpleasantness has brought out more than a few writers with an axe to grind. As a publisher who ran a fantasy magazine as a labor of love for over a decade, until the mounting losses simply became too great to bear, I know well the kind of pain owners Jason Williams and Jeremy Lassen are experiencing now. Night Shade was one of the most dynamic and exciting publishers in the genre, willing to take extraordinary risks buying and promoting work from many new writers, and it’s undoubtedly painful to see so many of those writers apparently delighted to dance on their corpse.

Jeremy Lassen has written an open letter to his writers, and the industry at large, articulating just what’s at stake with this offer from Skyhorse and Start. The complete text of Jeremy’s letter follows.

By now most of you had have probably heard that Night Shade is in the process of being bought out. As many of you know, for a long time, Night Shade has been struggling financially. In evaluating our long-term outlook, Jason and I determined that those struggles would continue for an indefinite period of time. During that time, authors would continue to be paid late, and Night Shade’s reputation would continue to be dragged through the mud because of late payments, which would in turn make the day-to-day process of publishing books in a profitable manner all the harder.

In looking for a buyer, our first priority was to find someone who would make sure all of our authors got paid in full. That was my first priority. I have always promised that while we might be late, authors would eventually get all the money that was due to them. Our second priority was to find buyers who could do justice to the diverse and talented stable of writers that we have at Night Shade. And we wanted someone who would ensure that books under contract would come out and be sold and promoted well, and that books already out would continue to be sold and promoted.

Those were our requirements, and we feel that we found buyers who could fulfill those requirements. One of THEIR requirements is to make back their investment. And part of that is to put some things in place that authors need to sign off on. I always knew this would be difficult, but Night Shade worked closely with SFWA to ensure that the terms our buyers were asking for were fair and equitable to the authors involved. And frankly, this is the best I could do. I tried very hard, and this was the best solution I could come up with to ensure that ALL authors are paid ALL of the money they are owed.

Let me be clear. Under the terms of this deal, all current and back royalties will be paid at the originally contracted rate. All outstanding advances and sub-rights monies owed will be paid at the originally contracted rate.

Let me also be clear… the buyers need a certain amount of the authors to sign off on the deal, or the deal doesn’t happen. I can’t say exactly what will happen if the deal doesn’t go through, but if it doesn’t, there will long period of uncertainty, for Night Shade, and for our authors.

I also want to be frank. There are many authors in the community who do not like Night Shade — some for reasons that are perfectly legitimate (we paid them late, or still owe them money, or their book didn’t sell enough copies), and some for reasons that continue to baffle me. I wish this was not the case. I have always tried hard to be open and friendly and honest, and I have always tried to do right by my authors. And even when authors are, IMO, irrationally angry, or publicly lambast me for things that I do not think I have done, I have never taken shots at them or contradicted them. I have stoically accepted criticism of Night Shade, and of myself personally, and as a rule, do not respond to those criticisms publicly.

Many of these people are using this deal as a whipping rod, publically lambasting Night Shade, in public forums and in private. That’s fine too. I simply ask that you view their opinions in the proper context. Are those opinions about the relative merits of the deal, or is there a personal axe that is being ground?

I have lost friends, because business gets in the way of what used to be a solid personal relationship. This simple fact has caused me grief that I can not begin to convey to you. I wish I could make it up, in some way, to all the people who feel that I have let them down. Partly, that is what this deal is about. Making sure my friends and former friends get taken care of financially.

This business has taken a huge toll on me personally, professionally, and financially. But I have never asked the genre community for sympathy, because it as a road that I chose to go down, of my own free will. Right now, I’m asking for sympathy, and I’m asking for help.

This deal is the last chance I have to keep my promise. This is the last chance I have to make sure that ALL OF MY AUTHORS GET PAID ALL OF THE MONEY THEY ARE OWED. Right now the deal is in the hands of the individual authors, and their agents. I am asking you. Please. Sign off on this deal. Help me make sure all my authors get paid.

If you are one of my authors(or their agent), you have my direct email address and phone number. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns you might have, and if you want the view of an in impartial group who is intimately familiar with the details of this deal, please contact SFWA.

Sincerely,

Jeremy Lassen
Co-Owner,
Night Shade Books

[Thanks to Locus Online.]

14 Comments »

  1. John, I looked around the internet and it shows that NSB seems to have made it a habit (since 2010 or earlier) to not pay their authors until the authors start to get difficult.

    The letter blames people that don’t like them (for assorted but some are legitimate reasons like Brendan Halpin’s) but quite frankly, Stackpole talks directly about the contract as do the other authors and agents involved. There seems to be an impression from the NSB letter that Jeremy is the victim, he isn’t, the authors that never got paid are.

    Is it a good deal for the authors, I have no idea as I am not in the industry, but I do recognise that NSB has done (from an author’s point of view) some things that should not have been done.

    I don’t know if the publishing field is better off without NSB, but I think some new authors will be.

    Comment by JLB - April 5, 2013 3:55 pm

  2. JLB,

    You’re absolutely right that “looking around the internet” would give one the impression that NSB was frequently (very) late in making payments to authors.

    However, I’ve also noticed a very consistent theme: none of the reports accuse Jeremy and Jason of being crooks. Poor business practices, yes. But there doesn’t seem to have been any malice involved.

    What we’re talking about here is a failed company. I’ve seen a lot of failed companies in my time (and I’ve been part of more than a few). When companies fail, people are left hurt, unpaid, and unemployed.

    NSB exhibits a lot in common with the failed companies I’ve worked for: hubris, over-ambition, catastrophic money management, poor communication, and more.

    But I also see a few things that are very admirable. For one, Jeremy and Jason have shown integrity in their commitment to unwind the company in a way that will pay authors what they’re owed. On time, no. But in the midst of a failing company, to make such a public commitment to get authors paid is rare.

    Believe me — I’ve seen much, much worse.

    I’m not trying to defend NSB’s previous business decisions. God knows many of the authors speaking up against them have legitimate grievances.

    My message (such as it is) is pretty simple: I encourage the authors who are angry at NSB to read Jeremy’s letter, and Michael Stackpole’s article, before deciding on what course they would like to take. And for everyone else, I hope they will keep mind that Jeremy and Jason kept a struggling publisher afloat for a long time making what had to be very, very tough business decisions.

    Comment by John ONeill - April 5, 2013 5:15 pm

  3. […] An open letter from Nightshade owner Jeremy Lassen. […]

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  4. Believe me — I’ve seen much, much worse.

    One of my pearls of wisdom (built layer upon layer as competitors were dropping like flies in the late ’90s): “You can tell a lot about people by how they put their affairs in order before going out of business.”

    Comment by Jeff Stehman - April 5, 2013 7:02 pm

  5. Well said, Jeff.

    Comment by John ONeill - April 5, 2013 7:14 pm

  6. John, in response to your question:
    Brendan Halpin used this exact quote in reference to NSB in 2010:
    “Night Shade has stolen the eBook rights to The Mall of Cthulhu.”

    They later made it right by way of apology, but I am skeptical if a company does not know what it owns the rights to.

    Liz Summers talks about how they were deliberately avoiding replying to her about her Inspector Chen series.

    These are not the habits of a professional company.

    Jeff: I have no dog in the fight but the way Michael Stackpole describes the contract, the writers give up rights to get paid, yet, NSB does not give a number of writers they need to tip this balance.

    This whole thing seems fishy, but then again, I have no dog in this fight, only my skepticism.

    Comment by JLB - April 6, 2013 2:49 am

  7. JLB, my response was specifically to the line from John that I quoted. He and I have been through similar business deals. Just sharing a moment of understanding.

    But from what I’ve read on this deal, NSB was pushing hard to make sure their authors get paid what they are already owed. That’s more character than I’ve seen in a lot of failing companies.

    The contract offers authors reduced royalties going forward (among other changes). That’s compared to the higher-than-norm royalties in NSB’s contract which they were unable to pay and helped put them out of business. Can’t say I’m surprised. And individual authors can still try to negotiate. (Is there a publisher of significance whose boilerplate book contract shouldn’t be negotiated?)

    I’m guessing the math for NSB authors is going to be getting paid what they’re already due plus the new contract going forward versus what they think they might make self-publishing reverted work or shopping it at another publisher.

    As for Stackpole, he has a lot of experience and is a vocal advocate for authors. He’s also big on “do this or your career is doomed” pronouncements. I followed one of his podcasts for a while. Good interviews, but I couldn’t stomach the “this is the way it is” tone of his advice. I recommend reading his views with a healthy dose of salt.

    Comment by Jeff Stehman - April 6, 2013 4:33 pm

  8. > Brendan Halpin used this exact quote in reference to NSB in 2010:
    > “Night Shade has stolen the eBook rights to The Mall of Cthulhu.”
    > They later made it right by way of apology, but I am skeptical if a company does not know what it owns the rights to.

    Hi JLB,

    I’m not aware of the specifics of that incident. But I am aware how many contracts I signed as editor of a small press magazine — well over 300.

    Now, I operated at nowhere near the scale of Night Shade Books. And I made mistakes with contracts all the time. I forgot what rights I bought, and which I didn’t. When I made mistakes, I apologized and hastened to fix them.

    NSB operated at a much bigger scale than I, and their mistakes were bigger. But to all those around me so eager to throw stones, and indignantly asking why I’m not joining in, all I can say is: When I’ve been a publisher as long as Jeremy and Jason, and published and paid a fraction of the authors they have, maybe then I will be able to judge.

    Until then, all I have to offer is sympathy.

    Comment by John ONeill - April 6, 2013 8:33 pm

  9. […] the more vocal of the Night Shade duo—has since written a public letter, acknowledging the criticism he’s faced and pleading “Right now the deal is in the hands of the […]

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