Money problems that are public are like a social media alert button, like Google alerts, a magic wand that summons author attention to even the most obscure rumor mills of the internet.
There’s a kind of creeping horror that strikes the heart of an author when they discover the company with whom they have two novels out is slowly collapsing into a shambling mound, devourer of careers and eater of all working energy. Let’s be clear: Jason and Jeremy are not the subject of what I am discussing. There comes a point where people just sort of don’t make a difference much, because what matters is that the company is collapsing and it wouldn’t matter who was running the broken space ship into the wormhole. It’s sort of like working at any company that’s failing. It’s easy to play armchair quarterback and wonder at the decisions made. But, deep in the muck of collapse, what is it like?
Publishing isn’t the sort of gig that you go to work and go home and vent with your spouse about your day. It’s not like that at all. I work out of my house, and will have fewer than a dozen emails about a project in a year, unless there’s some serious marketing and promotion campaign happening, and then maybe two phone calls total. It’s not like there’s much water cooler chatter, most of the time. Most discussion channels are public. I can’t tweet about that rising uneasy feeling. I can only watch as news comes over the transom. Money problems, which are private, are sort of a low hum in the background of your mind. Money problems that are public are like a social media alert button, like Google alerts, a magic wand that summons author attention to even the most obscure rumor mills of the internet.
When it happened and was happening, I thumbed through old copies of Datlow’s Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror picking out the names of folks who didn’t seem to be working in the field anymore. It’s always been a rough gig, this writing habit, and there have always been folks cast aside as casually as any rock band at major labels. Mostly, though, the publishers they worked for were still around, and they probably just changed names, or changed fields, or decided it wasn’t worth the bother to keep sending stories into the world when the system was so grueling. Still, I like writing, and I want to keep doing it. I like publishing, and don’t care if a task is grueling. I wanted to keep on. I looked at the debacle unfolding, long before Skyhorse/Start was involved, and had to come to some kind of strategy to move my career forward knowing that I had now been at the center of two failed, dead houses.
Hadn’t I heard? No, I hadn’t.
Meet other authors at events, and they look at you sideways and laugh at your choice to sign with Night Shade, because hadn’t you heard about the thing and the thing and no? No, I hadn’t heard. They looked at me sideways when I was with Discoveries, too. Hadn’t I heard? No, I hadn’t.
And, there’s this creeping horror that comes from the phone call where you find out your book, though it is being released, will not be listed in the company catalog because the company is trying to save itself, and they need a new distributor, and they have chosen titles to sacrifice to their old distribution contract that will receive no support. There’s a powerlessness in your place as an author that could make you very bitter. What can a single author do to turn the tide of disasters that’s taking down a whole company? What is my responsibility to my partners, and to my fans?
Ultimately, if I had a written a better book, if I had done more to promote it, if the distribution crossover had saved the company…
I don’t blame Jason and Jeremy for the success or failure of the Dogsland trilogy, which will be finishing with Word Horde at the end of the year. Ultimately, if I had a written a better book, if I had done more to promote it, if the distribution crossover had saved the company…
Better books than mine had fallen by the wayside. I was at ArmadilloCon and looking for an alternative and talking about the sort of thing I was thinking about to the chagrin of many of the folks in the room. What does the end of a career look like? What did it used to look like when there was no alternative worthy of the name compared to now, when there are almost too many alternatives? A writing career has traditionally been so fragile that simple missteps send us authors into obscurity, never to write again under that name, if at all. Obscurity may be the outcome of small presses and eBooks, but at least there’s still art in the world, and the fans can find it, and good things can happen, maybe, and continuing to publish and build an audience at all is the only way to recover from all the disasters that come tumbling down upon us from above..
As I said, thumbing through old issues of “Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror”, I was often drawn not to the perennial favorites of Gene Wolfe, but the lesser known authors who had made a splash with one book, one story, two prestigious sales, then nothing. I was looking around the internet for the next book by Barth Anderson, for one example, who had written such amazing things and then, almost as suddenly as he arrived, seemed to disappear. No new blogging, no new books. Presumably the death spiral came. Presumably burnout came in the face of unfulfilled expectations. I don’t know Barth. I never asked him what happened to his writing, or his life, to throw him off. I can only wonder at the spark and flame and ashes that seemed to happen to him.
I read stories about a writer who had failed because he had become addicted to Grand Theft Auto. It was as destructive as drugs. I read about drugs, alcohol, and people who had kids and had to stop writing because between work and kids there was nothing left. I guess kids are like drugs, are like Grand Theft Auto.
There’s a creeping dread that rises in me, because my name is dead while I am alive. I have outlived my own name.
If I want a book in Barnes & Noble ever again, presumably I’ll have to use a new name. There’s a creeping dread that rises in me, because my name is dead while I am alive. I have outlived my own name. There’s a story in that, and I should write it and publish it under a new one, to start building up again from scratch.
But, to return to the appropriate timeline of events, it was months later that I learned that the promised new push of promotion to relaunch the 2nd book after the sacrifice to the distribution crossover (that didn’t just impact me, but all the books that came out around the same time as mine, including Kameron Hurley and Mazarkis Williams). The creeping horror of dread as we saw staff fleeing the sinking ship, and rumors swirling of a situation worsening as people became brave enough to start talking to each other.
Weeks go by and e-mails are unanswered, phone calls are sent to voicemail and no one responds. The excitement about your next project dwindles as quickly as the bookscan numbers for a project ejected into the world with no publisher support. Everything and everyone just kind of, professionally, steps back and waits to see what happens next.
And, most importantly, this is a normal thing to happen. This is all perfectly normal. It compares quite well to the creeping dread of working at a failing company of any stripe, with the exception of going for long walks in my neighborhood instead of the cubicles. I worked, for a while, for a company that I became convinced was just a front for some sort of money-laundering scheme, once, and it had that same feeling of powerlessness, and bad inertia, and everyone just backing away and waiting.
I took the deal. I didn’t want my books pulped. I want to have faith in new people that they’ll try to do good, and figure out how to do good.
Some news came through, that Night Shade had secured a buyer. This buyer is new to genre, doesn’t seem to know our normal ways and operational procedures just yet, but they are trying and kudos to them for that, and they have made a few false steps already quite publicly. I took the deal. I didn’t want my books pulped. I want to have faith in new people that they’ll try to do good, and figure out how to do good. I try to see the best in people. I’m very positive about this new deal, regardless, because I know that authors got paid, and a new major player has arrived to join us in our genre, making books and finding readers for them.
It’s still too early to tell whether this is a good development or a bad development. Maybe in a couple months we’ll know if the promises that have been made will be delivered upon. Most of the authors I know involved in this deal can tell you that they are so far thumbs up and things look good. But, it’s still early. Until we are certain, now is an excellent time to strip DRM from your eBooks, and take a chance on Night Shade authors. The former, one should do because there are still too many unknowns for me to feel any security in this new deal or climate. The latter because the best way to welcome these new genre publishers, and help the authors that have been beached upon the shore of a failed publisher – to help them push their boats back out into the stream and get them rowing again – is to pick up their books, read them, and review them that others might know about these books.
It is a truism as old as publishing scam services: The only thing more dangerous than an out-and-out scam artist is a well-meaning amateur. That these particular amateurs put on a good show for a while speaks not to them, but to us authors and genre pros, who so badly want a place like Night Shade to succeed, with different and interesting books, well-designed, and well-written, that other mainstream houses wouldn’t touch. We wanted it so badly that we tried to help the owners along, and we forgave them everything. We still want this.I guess it’s why I’m so optimistic about the new deal. We want this. We want this so badly, and have wanted it for so long, that we allowed Night Shade to shamble all the way down without stopping it in time, warning others appropriately, and scaring off the new victims of the trudging, limping, dread. Not just authors, either, but readers, too. Maybe this time, the experienced publisher in Tony Lyons at Skyhorse, will run a tight ship, and make this thing we want collectively to happen.
I want the new owners to do good, and to be good. Also, I want the authors who have been abused and neglected for so long to have a chance, now, to really shine. We all want this right? Now’s our chance to express that desire, and help it become a reality.
Now is the time. Take a chance on Night Shade Books. Help end that creeping dread that lurks like writer’s block at the end of careers, devouring names and sometimes the will to write.
“And, there’s this creeping horror that comes from the phone call where you find out your book, though it is being released, will not be listed in the company catalog because the company is trying to save itself, and they need a new distributor, and they have chosen titles to sacrifice to their old distribution contract that will receive no support.”
Hadn’t I heard? No, I hadn’t.
Anyway. While there are many authors who may have burned out or flamed out, I think that the key for us is to keep writing books.
Oh, Joe, I want to eat your face off, you are so wonderful. Fantastic, heart-wringing post. It speaks of so much compassion, I can barely stand it. You are, now and as long as I’ve known you, one of the great advocates for authors. It’s appreciated, immensely.
Hopefully, it’s okay to share an anecdote involving you. When I was reading this, it brought to mind the first conversation we had when I found out Night Shade had made me an offer for my novel. I called you, and the joy from your end of the line — your absolute enthusiasm for what I’d achieved — nearly made me cry. We talked about whether or not selling to them was a good idea, and I’ll never forget what I came away with.
Sometimes you take a risk because of love, because of hope. Because you love the thought of reaching people, and because you hope that the benefits outweigh the risk. As long as you jump with your eyes open, knowing the risks, you’re not a fool. Sure, you may end up disappointed — as we all surely have been disappointed by what happened to Night Shade — but you also might gain more than you imagined possible.
It isn’t wrong to take such risks. I don’t whine — at least not publicly, and increasingly not even in the echo chamber of my own skull — about my choice to sell a book to Night Shade. Why? Because I love their books, and there’s only so much time in life. I took a leap, as we all did, and I’m in a better place for it. Even if I haven’t written much in the wake of all this crap (and I haven’t; I’ve allowed this mess to sap my forward momentum), I’ve got readers for the first time in my life.
The fact that people have picked up my book, spent hours in a world I created, and then gone on to write reviews… It still stuns me into near-speechlessness.
Of course, I’m not minimizing anyone’s pain, anyone’s distress. I hear it, and it hurts to hear it. Not only because I feel the same sometimes, but also because I’ve come to really, really love the people published by Night Shade. It’s one of the odd benefits of going through this experience with them, that I’ve become close to them. It’s wonderful, and it’s frightening.
It’s a lot like publishing, in that regard.
xox – Z
(Oh, and just to be clear: I didn’t want to imply, by saying that I’m not whining about the Night Shade situation, that other people are whining. Because that’s not at all the case. Probably not necessary for me to clarify that, but I’m doing so nonetheless.)
“That these particular amateurs put on a good show for a while speaks not to them, but to us authors and genre pros, who so badly want a place like Night Shade to succeed, with different and interesting books, well-designed, and well-written, that other mainstream houses wouldn’t touch. ”
This, so much this. I read NSB books before I was ever published by them, because they published the dark fiction I enjoyed reading and that you just can’t find in the mainstream houses. I have to buy books from the UK in order to feed my addiction now.
Miserere never had a chance and I’m really sorry for that; I spent over two years of my life researching and writing that novel and all the world building that I did now has no home. Hopefully things will work out and Skyhorse/Start/NSB can salvage some sales, but I have to move on before I’m forced to change my name in order to sell books, which I think is sad, so sad, for all of us.
If your books are as depressing as this screed, then yes, you should change your name before publishing more. There are a lot of shitty things regarding Night Shade’s demise/rebirth. “ZOMG, my career is over.” isn’t one of them if you write well. Yes, writing can be a mind-numbing enterprise. That’s the gig you signed up for. For that matter, pretty much every profession will be that way quite a lot of the time. At least you have other options. Complain away if you want, but when you pair it up with “Look at all these people who gave up and maybe I will too” I lose sympathy.
Brother Writer, I feel your pain. Let’s just keep pushing the boulder up the hill until we die. That’s our sentence. Perhaps we’ll never get whatever it is we think we want, but we’ll have lots of words out there when it’s over, even if we have more than one name. Great post and I think this: We write because we must.
Interesting post, Joe. Thanks for sharing. Like Mazarkis, I hadn’t heard about the catalog issue either. I’m sure there are a thousand other small stories that would make us shake our heads. Here’s hoping I never hear them (he said, only half joking). Upward and onward.
Barth just had a smashingly wonderful novella come out in the Foreworld universe. It is quite worth your time. http://www.amazon.com/Barth-Anderson/e/B001J3L5Z6
I don’t know who sets your amazon prices, but $13.50 for a paperback, and $10 for an ebook, is very unlikely to attract readers who don’t know you. Honestly, that’s more than I’m willing to spend on an ebook for authors I DO know and love! More than $8 is the point at which, even when I love an author and am desperate to read their newest book, I will almost certainly forgo the convenience of electronic and go to the library instead. At those prices, there’s no chance I’m going to take a chance on an author I’ve never heard of. There’s too many other authors I’ve never heard of giving the first book of their series away for free, or at least for $2 or $3. I’ve often spent $5 an ebook on several sequels after reading the first book for free or being convinced to spend $3 on the first book (Or even after reading a short story/novella prequel for $1 or $2), but at $10, the literal entry cost is too high. I clicked through your “buy the book link” thinking I’d throw $3 or $5 at a struggling book and maybe find a great new series, but seeing the price at double the high end of what I expected means not buying it. $5 for an ebook is “meh, it’s just a large frapp from starbuck’s”. $10 is “Wow, that’s what I spend on a whole lunch out!” $5 is less than I make in an hour, even after taxes. $10 is more than I make in an hour before taxes. I dunno, maybe you’ve done the math and you’re better off with less readers paying more, but you’re charging almost 1/3 more than any of my “ooo, there’s a new book? I MUST HAVE IT NOW” authors, like Seanan McGuire. I’m not trying to say you have to lower your prices, but I am saying that at the end of your article, I was prepared to buy your book, genre and plot unknown, purely for the sake of supporting indie/small publishing, until I saw the price. Maybe I’m the only sale the price ever cost you, or one of few. But maybe not.
Thanks for your comment. I agree that the eBook prices seem quite high, but I have no control over that. However, compared to other books from other publishers…
If you believe the price on eBooks are a bit high, the place to go is Start Publishing, who are in charge of pricing them, at the moment. I encourage you to let them know how you feel as a reader. Thanks for your comment.