Nightshade Books Unloading Contracts

Filed under:Business,Writing — posted by Angie on April 5, 2013 @ 8:42 am

Via a writers’ mailing list I’m on, plus a bunch of blog posts, Nightshade books, a small SF/Fantasy press, has been having financial difficulties for a couple of years now. They’ve come up with a way to make enough money to pay their writers all the back royalties and late advance money they’re due, which sounds like a good thing. Unfortunately, they’re doing it by selling their fiction contracts to another small press called Skyhorse, and Skyhorse will require any writer who agrees to have their contract sold (the rights transferred) to sign a new contract, which gives them only 10% of net on paper book sales. Mike Stackpole explains why this is bad:

The agreement requires authors to accept a royalty rate of 10% of Net income. Net is defined as the amount of money the booksellers and distributors pay Skyhorse—usually 50% of cover price. For me this net amount is a 50% reduction in my royalty rate.

More importantly, net income is illusory. Let’s say that Skyhorse, in order to get more of my books into a store, offers a distributor or chain an extra 30% off, on the condition that they buy an extra dozen books. So, 36 copies of a $15 book pays Skyhorse $189, of which I make $18.90 as opposed to the $27 I’d make if all 36 had been sold at a normal price, or the $54 I’d make under the NSB contract. (Extra discounts for promotion happen all the time, and might even rope in my books to promote another author’s work.) Moreover, the accounting to make sure that all the right amounts were paid will be all but impossible without an audit.

Or as Phil Foglio, whose Girl Genius books are with Nighshade, says, “If I was a monkey, I’d be throwing this.”

Skyhorse is also reducing e-book royalties from 50% to 25%. Someone in the comments to Mike’s post pointed out that 25% of net is industry standard. My response is that 25% of net is a sucktastic standard that the big publishers have all colluded to offer their writers. 50% of net is on the high end of average for a small press. Nightshade’s writers were getting a high-average royalty, and are now told they should be satisfied with half that, because after all, it’s what the big New York publishers offer.

Just because my neighbor got ripped off by his car dealer doesn’t mean I’d volunteer to double the payment I’m making to my own honest dealer.

Skyhorse also wants audio and second serial rights, which Nightshade didn’t have, and they’re not willing to pay anything in advance for them. That’s right, they want two new sets of rights — and audio in particular is picking up and has the potential to be very lucrative — and they’re not willing to advance a dime to the authors for these rights. Authors will have to wait for a 50/50 split on the back end.

Mike Stackpole again:

This can lead us to an interesting situation for which there is ample precedent in the publishing world. The publisher forms a sister corporation to handle audio book production and sales. They sell a property to the sister corporation for a tiny advance and pitiful royalty. The sister company makes the money actually selling the product, and yet the publisher can say that they’re following the letter of the contract because they’re splitting all income half and half. (Harlequin just had a lawsuit dismissed against them for doing a similar thing with ebooks.)

I’m not saying Skyhorse will do this, but someone who buys them out just might. And, it should be noted, that all digital publishing rights are already assigned, in the agreement, to a sister corporation called Start Publishing, LLC. (Start Publishing LLC is a subsidiary of Start Media, a privately held media company with interests in, among other things, feature film production.) Skyhorse and Smart are not buying books here, they’re buying Intellectual Properties, and at a bargain price.

[The Harlequin thing is a whole other issue, but yes, a court just ruled that subbing the rights to a related company for a pittance and then paying the author their percentage on that pittance, rather than on the cover price or what the actual vendor of the book pays, is perfectly legal, even if said subbing to a related company isn’t mentioned in your contract anywhere. Check out whose contract you’re signing, and be suspicious. As SF writer Charlie Stross said, “Contract law is essentially a defensive scorched-earth battleground where the constant question is, ‘If my business partner was possessed by a brain-eating monster from beyond spacetime tomorrow, what is the worst thing they could do to me?'” Personally, I wouldn’t touch Harlequin with a ten foot pole clutched in someone else’s severed hand, for this and other attempts to mess over their writers going back decades.]

Read the rest of Stackpole’s post. I don’t always agree with him, but he explains in great detail why this deal is horrible, and I agree with him completely in this case.

And I see Stackpole just posted a follow-up, where he talks about the lack of numbers in what Nightshade has shared with their authors.

Contract lawyer Passive Guy comments on Mike Stackpole’s posts:

Speaking generally, Michael’s essay describes a horror show of terrible contract provisions in publishing contracts.

What is worse, Skyhorse, the would-be new publisher, didn’t make up a lot of new contract clauses, it just used provisions that are common in the publishing contracts of many publishers, including most large ones.

Again, the fact that a contract clause is common, or even industry standard, doesn’t mean it’s good, or even tolerable.

On io9, Jeremy Lassen, Nightshade’s Editor in Chief made a statement about the situation:

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.

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.

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.

Note that if enough authors don’t sign off on the deal, Skyhorse will back off and the company — and all its book contracts — will most likely end up in bankruptcy court. That’s not good for anyone; best case scenario is that the rights are tied up for months while the mess is sorted out. It could be years. It could be forever. And even if someone buys the contracts (or some subset of the contracts) there’s no guarantee that the new publisher will be any good at the business, or will have any interest in treating the writers well.

I’m willing to give Lassen the benefit of the doubt and assume that he honestly believes this is best for everyone. His goal is to make sure that all the writers are paid the money they’re currently owed, which also gets him and his company out of debt and lets him walk away knowing he did right by everyone. Okay, it’s clear why he’d want that.

But for the writers, it’s not that simple. All right, it’s good that they’ll get paid money they’re currently owed. Even SFWA thinks this is a good thing — they’ve recommended that their members who are caught up in this sign off on the deal. But as Stackpole points out, getting a stack of cash (of whatever size) right now is only part of the situation, and not necessarily the largest part. Is it worth it to get money you’re owed now, if it means getting (best case) a fraction of what you expected to make on future sales of these books? Forever, because this new deal is a life-of-copyright contract with easily weaseled reversion language. (See Stackpole’s analysis for a discussion of that.)

I suppose if a writer is owed a lot of money on a completed series or a bunch of stand-alone books, and is in dire financial trouble and needs that cash now, this looks like a good deal. And it might even be a good deal, for that writer. But if you’re a writer like Stackpole or Foglio, who each has an in-progress series published through Nightshade, this deal could slash your income, or if things go really wrong, prevent you from continuing your series.

Foglio says, “So what’s going to happen? Don’t know. unlike many authors, I actually have an entertainment lawyer look over our contracts before we sign them, so I’m hoping we’re covered, but this is by no means a given.”

For anyone who didn’t have an entertainment lawyer look over their contract, or for anyone whose contract still has gotchas in it, no matter who went over it before signing, this is a coin toss. If enough writers balk at signing on and the deal falls through, everyone’s contracts end up in bankruptcy court and that could be very bad for everyone. But there are writers whose best interests are definitely not served by signing. Unfortunately this means that the writers who shouldn’t sign are going to be feeling some pressure not only from Lassen, but also from the other writers whose situations require that the deal go through. No one’s told the writers how many of them have to sign on to satisfy Skyhorse, so everyone’s guessing and no one knows how many might be enough.

Unless Darkhorse gets a White Knight offer like Triskelion did in 2007, this is pretty much guaranteed to be bad for at least some people, maybe a lot, and quite possibly everyone. And at this point, I doubt anyone’s going to step in and make Darkhorse an offer anywhere near the one Triskelion got, since it hasn’t happened yet in the years that they’ve been in trouble.

Whatever happens, I hope as many writers as possible come out of it in decent shape and with their book rights and their on-going income intact. For the rest of us, we can be damn careful whom we sign with, do our due diligence before we sign, and keep in mind Stross’s comment about contract law.

Angie

Chuck Wendig on Being a Happy Writer

Filed under:Cool Stuff,Writing — posted by Angie on March 27, 2013 @ 11:06 am

Thanks to Tobias Buckell for linking to Chuck Wendig’s post, 25 Ways to Be a Happy Writer, or at Least Happier. One of my favorite bits:

20. See Failure as an Instruction Manual

Failure is illuminating. It reveals every broken board beneath our feet, every crack in the wall, every pothole in the road. Do not shun failure. High-five it. Hug it. Engage in lusty pawing with it. Failure means you’re doing. Everybody fails before they succeed. Failure is how we learn. Failure is part of the grand tradition of figuring out how to be awesome.

Totally correct. About anything, really, but in particular anything having to do with the creative arts. It takes a lot of practice, a lot of experimentation, a lot of try-fail-try-fail-try-fail, and did I mention a lot of practice? to make it up the Creative Arts Mountain. If you can’t learn from your mistakes, you’ll never make it to the top of that mountain, and if you’re afraid of making mistakes, you’ll be so paralyzed you’ll never make it past the foothills.

Read them all, noting that most of them are delightfully profane. :)

Angie

February Stuff

Filed under:Business,Excitement,Sale,Workshop,Writing — posted by Angie on March 4, 2013 @ 10:04 am

I’ve been on the Oregon coast for the last week and a half, doing two workshops back-to-back. It was a grueling experience, as the single workshop I did last year was. And it was awesome, and I’ll definitely be doing it again. I got lots of writing done, and I SOLD A STORY!! Which got the all-caps treatment because it’s my first professional sale, as in more than five cents per word, holy freaking yay!!! :D

I’m going to have a story in Fiction River’s anthology How to Save the World, edited by John Helfers. (Scroll down a bit — it’s the second book.) Holy sheep, I’m gonna be in a book with David Gerrold!

I’ve been trying to break into mainstream SF/F for ages, so this is a huge deal for me. I’m still getting this really silly grin on my face whenever I think about it, so I beg pardon of anyone who sees me and thinks o_O about my state of mind. :)

I wrote almost 29K words in February, which is good — I’m still well ahead of quota for making my 2013 goal. My wordcount meter says I’m at 27%, so I’m where I was hoping to be at about a week into April. That’s great; I love having padding on my quota. I was hoping for more in February (January was over 35K) but there were several days when I was in the workshop and frantically reading rather than writing. I count those days well spent, though. I also killed my streak, but I was anticipating that, too. No prob; doing an Oregon workshop is one of the better reasons I can think of for having days with no actual writing.

The workshops I did were The Business and Craft of Short Fiction, and the Anthology Workshop. The Antho Workshop is a repeat for me; it’s worth doing over and over, and many writers do. I took a ton of notes, especially at the first one, and learned a lot of stuff I didn’t know before, which is the point. (Wow, a story that’s in a continually extended option with Hollywood can make you a buttload of money, even if they never make the movie!) Great info; it’s going to take a while to absorb it all.

Currently I’m sitting in a hotel room in Portland; I have a flight home at 2:30. I’ll do some writing today, then fall into bed (ten hours last night, still not caught up) and my next Thing To Go To is a dentist’s appointment on Thursday.

Oh, yeah, didn’t blog about that before. :/ So on Wednesday two weeks ago, Jim and I were having dinner at this little cafe across the street. They have these really good ice cream sandwiches — two chocolate chip cookies, made in-house, with in-house ice cream in the middle, then freeze the whole thing. So I was eating my ice cream sandwich when one of my crowns (upper incisor) snapped off at the gum line. :( Luckily I had a root canal before they put the crown on, so it didn’t hurt; I was just damn startled, and then all ACK!! when I realized what’d happened. And that I was getting on a plane Saturday morning to go to the workshops. [headdesk]

I went to my dentist the next morning and they put in a very fragile, non-functional, temporary tooth-like object, cemented to the teeth to either side on the back. I was warned not to bite anything, and not even to brush. And when your dentist tells you not to brush, you know your fragile dental work is FRAGILE. I was very careful, but it was a bit wiggly within about 24 hours. I had some vague hope that it’d last at least until the second workshop, but no luck; it came out just a bit over three days after having been installed. So I’ve been going just over a week now with this huge gap in my front teeth, and talking a little funny.

I feel like I’m seven again. :P

Anyway, this is fixable, although it’s going to be expensive. Civil Service has notoriously lousy dental insurance, and the Pacific Northwest has notoriously expensive dental care, for whatever reason. So the bill for an implant is going to be very large, and our insurance isn’t picking up a dollar of it. This is our tentatively planned cruise for this year, going into my mouth.

I just hope my other crowns last longer. At least I know to stay away from the Market Cafe’s ice cream sandwiches; that was the most expensive dessert I’ve ever eaten, by a couple of orders of magnitude.

Angie

January Stuff and Onward

Filed under:Writing — posted by Angie on February 2, 2013 @ 8:27 pm

The Koala is still missing, but I’ve joined a challenge through a mailing list I’m on. Participants each picked a wordcount goal for the year, and we divide it by fifty to get a weekly goal (assuming two weeks of vacation per year) and report our progress each week. There’s a secondary challenge to see how long we can maintain a writing streak, meaning writing every day for X number of days, “writing every day” meaning producing at least 250 words — no adding one word and calling it a writing day. :) So far I’ve written every day since January 2nd (I didn’t do any work on the first) and I’m well over quota for making my goal for this year of 250K words, yay. I’m not counting on that lasting, since my productivity is at the mercy of my brain chemistry, but it’s great to see a buffer building up.

I added a wordcount meter-thingy to the sidebar of Angie’s Desk to track my progress. Apologies to folks who read the other sites, but I don’t want another separate thing I have to update regularly across three sites. Hopefully I won’t completely embarass myself over the course of the year, having this out in public. [crossed fingers] I’ll update the meter-thingy every Sunday night or Monday morning, when I send my wordcount to the guy who’s organizing the challenge.

My total for January was 35,454 words, which is my best month since December of 2011. (I think I mentioned a little while ago that 2012 was a massively sucky writing year? :P )

I finished the third Sentinel Novel a few days ago, which is another major milestone. It still doesn’t have a permanent title; I’ll figure that out before I submit it. This is Manny’s story, and since Manny used to drive an ambulance, I’ve gotten some feedback from a couple of friends in the medical profession on how I’m handling medical type stuff. I need to incorporate those comments, and also go over the whole thing with sandpaper looking for typos and stray commas and inconsistencies and such. I expect to get it subbed soon, though, and that’s pretty awesome.

Since wrapping Book3, I’ve been kind of bouncing around, doing a bit of this project and a bit of that, not really finding anything I can settle on. I have a lot of partials on my hard drive, and I’ve worked on a few of them. I also started something new, but that was more in the way of getting an idea down in pixels before I lost it, rather than being ready to do serious work on it; I think that one’ll probably stew for a while before I focus on it. But I’m feeling like a whole litter of popcorn kittens right now — I always have a lot of ideas/stories I could work on, but having just finished a big project, I also have an opportunity to work on whatever I want, and it’s hard to commit to any one thing because so many things look cool and interesting. :/ I figure I’ll let myself bounce around for a few more days, then settle into something. Note that I almost always work a bit here and there on various projects; what I’m looking for is something to be my main project, that one that gets most of my attention.

Until then, I guess I’ll keep poking around, working a little here and a little there. Eventually it’ll all come together like biorhythms and I’ll finish three things in a week, and that’ll be cool too, LOL!

Angie

A New Year Starting With Free Stuff

Filed under:Business,Cool Stuff,Writing — posted by Angie on January 9, 2013 @ 4:08 am

I hope everyone had a great holiday and is humming along back at work. I’m doing well — could hardly be worse after 2012 — and have a couple of major goals for this year. One is to write at least 250K words of fiction. I’ve done that before, should be able to do it again, and have joined a challenge through one of the mailing lists I’m on to help encourage me along the way. On track so far, yay.

The other is to get into indie publishing this year. I have backlist stories that are sitting on my hard drive, unavailable to anyone who doesn’t hang out on pirate sites, and I need to get those back up and available. I also have stories that’ve collected multiple positive rejections — the kind that say, essentially, “Good story, well written, not buying it, enjoyed reading it, looking forward to reading more from you.” If you have to be rejected, that’s the kind of rejection you want to get, but it’s still a rejection. I have some stories that’ve gotten multiples of these, from multiple professional editors. I figure any story that multiple pro editors thought was well written and enjoyed reading would probably be enjoyed by readers too, so I’m going to start putting them up myself.

To help me along with that, I downloaded and printed out the Smashwords formatting guide, figuring that was a good place to start. Then, in a great piece of serendipity, I heard that Adobe is giving away free copies of a lot of its older-version software, stuff that it’s been using phone-home DRM on for a number of years while newer versions have been released. It’s no longer cost effective for them to maintain the validation servers for their older packages, so rather than cut off all the customers who’ve handed them money for their software packages, they’ve released free, non-DRMed copies of this stuff, and it’s open for anyone to grab. The list includes both Photoshop and InDesign, and I’ve grabbed copies of both. If you’re thinking of indie pubbing, or if you’re doing it already but have been saving up for expensive high-level software, I highly suggest you grab it too: Free Adobe Software. I have no idea how long this is going to last, so get it while you can.

And major props to Adobe for being cool about this. Plenty of companies in the same position just say, “Too bad, buy the new version, here’s a percent-off coupon,” and leave it at that. Making sure that the honest customers who’ve handed them money in the past can keep using the software they’ve paid for is a class act. Letting other people (like me) try these older versions for free is also very classy, and might make them some money in the future, if I like these tools and decide to upgrade.

Angie

Duotrope Transitioning to Pay

Filed under:Business,Writing — posted by Angie on December 12, 2012 @ 1:37 pm

For anyone who uses Duotrope and hasn’t seen yet, they’re switching many of their features over to pay-only on 1 January. According to their announcement, they’ve been trying to keep the site completely free, supported by voluntary donations, but the fact is they haven’t made any of their monthly goals since 2007. They’ve been saying for some time (at least as long as I’ve been using the site, almost three years now) that if they couldn’t fund the site through donations, they’d have to switch to charging a fee, and that’s what’s finally happened.

On another page, they talk about how the change will affect their statistics collection, and it sounds like they won’t be taking much of a hit there.

After our subscription model was agreed upon, we went back to those numbers and determined that while a significant drop in the user base was fully expected, we should be able to retain somewhere between 75% to 80% of the submission reports we normally receive.

Equally important is the fact that we will also decrease the amount of unreliable data. On average every year, 28,000 submission reports get ignored in the statistics for a large variety of reasons. Once again, looking at the type of user submitting this information, we predict the unreliable data could decrease by as much as 90%.

It sounds like they were getting most of their good data from people who were voluntarily donating money anyway, so that shouldn’t change.

I love Duotrope. I use it as a major source of my anthology listing posts, and I also use it to track my own submissions, and to find markets for my work. I’ve signed up for a year’s subscription, which cost $50 if paid all at once; paid month-by-month, a subscription is $5/month.

I encourage anyone writing, particularly anyone submitting short fiction to magazines and anthologies and webzines, to support Duotrope. They’re an awesome resource for writers, and I look forward to using their services for many years.

Angie

Guest Post: What Does Love Look Like?

Filed under:Guest Post,Writing — posted by Angie on August 3, 2012 @ 12:09 pm

I have a guest post up at Jessewave’s today called What Does Love Look Like? where I’m talking about how a writer shows the reader that the characters love each other. One might think that’d be pretty basic, but plenty of romances seem to have a hard time getting the idea across.

Also, today is my birthday! (I’m 49, if anyone cares.) To celebrate, I’ll be doing a drawing from the names of all the people who comment on my post at Wave’s today, up through noon Pacific time tomorrow, and the winner will get their choice of one of my published e-books, including the out-of-print books. So come over and read and let us know what you think. :)

Angie

Survey for Writers

Filed under:Business,Writing — posted by Angie on June 14, 2012 @ 7:54 am

Michael J. Sullivan is conducting a survey for writers. This includes writers of long fiction, short fiction, poetry and non-fiction, and who’ve been published traditionally (New York or small press) or indie, or not published. From the intro:

The publishing industry is in great flux and traditional publishing paradigms are breaking down. The recently released Taleist Survey looked at self-published authors but ignored those published traditionally (both through big-six and small press) and also didn’t take into consideration “hybrid” authors who have feet in on both sides of the door. In order to get a better picture about the CURRENT publishing landscape, as well as what paths writers are pursuing I’ve created a survey and need writers (both aspiring and published) to help bring some clarity to today’s publishing climate.

The survey is designed so that you can skip sections that don’t apply to you (for instance if you are not yet published). As a way of saying things, I’ll provide my analysis AND raw data to all those who participate (minus any identifying information – such as email address).

I thank you in advance for helping myself, and other authors, get a better handle on what to expect in regards to publishing in 2012.

I think this is a great idea. The Taleist Survey is being discussed pretty widely, but as Michael points out, it had a number of blind spots. If you’re a writer, I encourage you to take this survey and toss your data into the pot.

Angie

April Stuff

Filed under:Excitement,Writing — posted by Angie on May 7, 2012 @ 8:51 am

Writing: 5058 = 1pt
Editing: 67,875 = 13pts
TOTAL = 14 pts

Koala Challenge 9

No subs last month, sucky writing, but lots of editing. That’s probably not going to change this month, either, with my novel in process. I’m going to have about 5 days to do edits on 114K words toward the end of May, then it’s going through two rounds of proofing (which I’ll get to go over and make changes on) and they’re looking to release in late July. [flail] This one’s definitely going through faster than the last one, and once I get edits back I’m not going to have time for much else. Oh, did I mention the spousal unit and I are going on two out-of-town vacations…? We leave for a cruise (Alaska) this coming Friday, edits should be waiting for me when we get back on the 18th, I hope, and they’re due on the 25th, which is when we fly down for BayCon so I have to get it all done in time to send it before I go.

I’m actually lucky my vacations dovetail with the schedule so well, otherwise we’d have to do some scrambling, and with a schedule this tight, that could’ve been awkward. On how long we have, I guess it’s just a matter of what they have in the pipeline at the time and which slot they decide to put a book into. Hidden Magic got slotted far enough down the line that the schedule was almost leisurely (although it didn’t feel quite so slow then), while Emerging Magic was slotted sooner and needs to hustle.

Still wish I were writing more, but at least I’ll have a new book out soon, which is very cool. :)

Angie

New Contracts and a Sale

Filed under:Business,Excitement,Sale,Writing — posted by Angie on April 23, 2012 @ 1:09 pm

I just sent back the contract for Emerging Magic, the full length sequel to A Hidden Magic. At the same time, I signed a contract for a paperback edition of A Hidden Magic, which is awesome. :) I’ve been hoping for a paperback for a long time; I’m looking forward to signing a copy and handing it to my mom. I’m also interested to see whether there are any differences in the process, from my POV, for a paperback. I don’t know whether Torquere does paper galleys, frex.; I never had a reason to ask before. I’ll find out now.

Hidden Magic took almost exactly six months from acceptance to publication, and Emerging Magic is about 50% longer, so I imagine it’ll take at least six months. At least it’s in the pipeline, though. I haven’t had anything new out in a while and I’m looking forward to getting back into it.

While I’m on the subject, Amazon has two of my books at 20% off:

A Hidden Magic is $5.59
A Spirit of Vengeance is $3.43

I have no idea how long these prices will last, but if you’ve been thinking of getting one or both, this is a good time.

Angie


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