Saturday, April 06, 2013

My Tuppence-Worth on Night Shade Books

While I meticulously study contracts I see that the whole Night Shade Books debacle is being written about all across the internet. I won’t provide links here – just go to Google Blog Search and get up-to-date posts on Night Shade Books. There’s some insightful stuff available; there’s some bitter stuff out there too.

The essence is this: NSB is on the point of bankruptcy so is selling assets to a publisher called Skyhorse Publishing and another called Start Publishing (ebooks for the latter). The apparent aim of this on the part of Jeremy Lassen and Jason Williams is to ensure that authors can be paid what they are owed. The crux of the matter is that those ‘assets’ are the rights to those same author’s books. It means, for the sale to go through, that the authors must agree to changes to their NSB contracts as they are taken up by the other companies.

The authors are in a cleft stick.

If they don’t sign up to this they risk losing the royalties they are owed and the books dropping into legal oblivion (scare tactics?). If they do sign they get reduced royalties.


Ebook royalties are chopped in half. However, a read somewhere of writers supposedly having to sign over Ebook rights they never sold to NSB. Well, the contract I’m looking at doesn’t say that. It should also be noted that NSB were paying twice ‘industry standard’.

Skyhorse is claiming audio rights even if they weren’t sold … again at ‘industry standard’.

My main bone of contention concerns this 10% of net receipts. Here’s my contractual bit with NSB:

8% on the first 50,000 copies, 10% on 50,001-100,000 copies, and 12% over that, of the retail price of all MASS MARKET PAPERBACK copies sold.

 Note that ‘retail price’. Publishers sell books to booksellers at half and sometimes 40% of cover price. Going with half this would mean on a $10 book, and supposing I wasn’t over that 50,000, I would be taking a cut in income per book from $0.80 to $0.50.  

But at this point it is worth noting that if you’re not being paid, then percentages are irrelevant.


The whole thing is a bit of a bastard and the decisions of the individual authors concerned will be based on a number of things: how many books they have with NSB (and whether they have books with other publishers), how much NSB owes them, what they think their future earnings might be from the NSB books, how much financial pain they are in …etc. It’s not easy. I really feel sorry for those authors who have one or two books ONLY with NSB. It’s probably heartbreaking.

In my case it’s five books. However, the Owner series – The Departure, Zero Point & Jupiter War – were sold to them by Macmillan who aren’t exactly lightweights. I’m confident that Macmillan will have their contracts department scrutinizing the deal very closely. But personally, at the request of NSB, I wrote Prador Moon & Shadow of the Scorpion for them and sold them the American rights, and it is for these books I must sign up to the contract changes, or not.


I’m not a one-book wonder. The two books are two, thus far, of the twenty books I’ve had published. I have Jupiter War yet to be published and as you know I’m close to finishing the third Penny Royal book, so after JW I'll have another three in the bank. And, because I keep producing books and keep getting published I’ve been doing okay, which is why I never lawyered up and went after NSB. As a consequence they owe me a shitload of money. I might decide to sign up so that I get that money, and consider those other two books loss-leaders – in America, since they are still published here in Britain and in translation. I’m certainly going to push for some changes to that contract. Or I might just say fuck it, shove your contract.  

I’m still undecided.

Update:


Jarred and I have been listening to and thinking through what the Night Shade authors and agents have said on blogs, on facebook, over email, and during several very long phone conversations. Skyhorse and Start now have a much more complete picture of what the Night Shade authors been through and it’s helped us to understand the reaction that many of them have had to the deal as offered. Both Jarred and I have decided to make a strong attempt to see this deal through. We’ve decided to take the long view, the view that what we want to do is build a publishing company, build on the Night Shade backlist, and we’re willing to offer a deal that we feel is very favorable to the Night Shade authors and will trade short run profits for long-term relationship. Here are the revised terms:
7 1/2 % of retail for all printing books.
25% of net receipts on all ebooks up to 15,000 copies sold and 30% thereafter
50/50 on audio, with a reversion if we don’t sell the rights in six months. Audio rights money to flow through within 30 days of receipt of payment, provided that the advance has earned out.
The assignment clause, clause 7, would only apply if the assignment is part of a sale of “all or substantially all of the assets of the company” purchased by either Start Publishing or Skyhorse Publishing.

12 comments:

daniel ware said...

Hadn't realised you were caught up in this - sucks for anyone owed money in this climate - you're going to lose whatever, only the degree will vary :-(

4ef4a514-9f16-11e2-b09e-000bcdcb8a73 said...

I wonder if that's why Amazon was selling "The Departure" several weeks early here in the states? Mine shipped on January 14. It's a shame - Nightshade also published another series I really liked, George Alec Effingers "Buyadeen" trilogy. They had been out of print for over a decade when NSB rereleased them, and I was very glad they did.

Any idea what this will do to the publishing of the other two "Owner" books? I already have the second one preordered.

JamesWMH said...

Sorry to hear about the trouble you and a lot of other authors are having with NSB. It sounds like a real dilemma, if you decide not to agree a new contract for the take over are you free to take the books that were published by NSB to other publishers? And another quick thought, if NSB is taken over but you don't sign the contract would you be able to put in a legal claim with the new owners for the money that you're owed?

Neal Asher said...

Quite probably right, Daniel.

Next guy ... I don't know what the situation will be with the Owner books until Macmillan tells me.

James, if a publisher stops publishing a book the rights usually revert to the author. However, if NSB goes bankrupt the books might be viewed as company assets and end up in a legal tangle. Anyway, that's what I'm hearing. And no, the new owners would not be so daft as to open themselves up to that.

Neil said...

My concern with the new guys is that their terms seem very sharkish, so who is to say they will be around for the long term.

Personally let Macmillian have a look, see if they can get the rights back, and offer them a better deal on those 2 books.

Neal Asher said...

Neil, the point here is that Macmillan have the British and foreign rights to those books. If they had the US rights it would just be a case of them selling them to a US publisher, if they can find one and while taking their cut. They would not be publishing the books in America.

Tasty Rabbit said...

I would have thought that if you bought a company that had contracts thus buying those existing you would have to honor those contracts as is . Guess not . I could see letting Zero Point & Jupiter War come over to the US as loss leaders to get more exposure to Americans - especially for people whose first Asher book was The Departure & are looking forward to the sequels (Although I already have Zero Point - thanks Neal!)My lady pointed out that she & many people she knows discover new to them authors while browsing the bookstore & noticing cover art that catches their eye . With Jon Sullivan I am sure the Zero Point cover will make many prospective readers take a second at your book .

Trainer John said...

A dilemma.

If you do sign you may - emphasis may - get the royalties you are due. But you could easily lose down the line on future royalties from print, audio and ebook sales. If you don't sign you might get only a fraction of your royalties to date if the company goes bankrupt (I would assume you'd be an unsecured creditor) - but you might regain all rights to your work and generate a higher income in the future.

Only you know the financial aspects of the choice but assuming that you are going to be productive for a good number of years to come your back catalogue is going to be an increasingly valuable resource. You should be controlling that, not a pair of companies whose intentions might be good - or might not.

What you can't afford to do is to personally get heavily involved with the American legal system. It seems to be a very good way of ensuring that the best way to make a small fortune is to start with a large one and get the lawyers involved. Let MacMillan take the risk.

Neal Asher said...

Tasty Rabbit, you're missing the point. It was not Zero Point & Jupiter War I was looking at as loss-leaders but Shadow of the Scorpion & Prador Moon. The Owner series is being dealt with by Macmillan.

Trainer John, Macmillan can't take the risk on the two older books I mention above because they don't have US rights for them. I sold them direct. As for my back catalogue, they are two books, only in the US, out of twenty thus far. And, unless I somehow lose my ability to write, I intend continuing to do so until they nail me in a coffin.

Neal Asher said...

Update (from Io9):

Jarred and I have been listening to and thinking through what the Night Shade authors and agents have said on blogs, on facebook, over email, and during several very long phone conversations. Skyhorse and Start now have a much more complete picture of what the Night Shade authors been through and it’s helped us to understand the reaction that many of them have had to the deal as offered. Both Jarred and I have decided to make a strong attempt to see this deal through. We’ve decided to take the long view, the view that what we want to do is build a publishing company, build on the Night Shade backlist, and we’re willing to offer a deal that we feel is very favorable to the Night Shade authors and will trade short run profits for long-term relationship. Here are the revised terms:

7 1/2 % of retail for all printing books.

25% of net receipts on all ebooks up to 15,000 copies sold and 30% thereafter

50/50 on audio, with a reversion if we don’t sell the rights in six months. Audio rights money to flow through within 30 days of receipt of payment, provided that the advance has earned out.

The assignment clause, clause 7, would only apply if the assignment is part of a sale of “all or substantially all of the assets of the company” purchased by either Start Publishing or Skyhorse Publishing.

Tasty Rabbit said...

My brain fails me at times :(

David Farmer said...

Well, rather than order "Jupiter War" from Amazon.com here in the USA, I went ahead and placed my order with The Book Depository. It's a few days more shipping, but I know I will get it if US publishing doesn't happen or is delayed.

I hope the NSB problem works out to your satisfaction, Neal.