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Posts tagged ‘Skyhorse Publishing’

And so it begins

Some of you may remember how, approximately two years ago, several of us here started raising concerns about agents and literary agencies branching into publishing. We raised the question of conflict of interest (after all, how can an agent represent an author’s best interest in finding the optimal publishing contract when another arm of the agency is also a publisher?). Then there was the debacle — actually, it was pretty damned good theater — of Sarah’s detailing how she was ending the relationship with her agent at the time over these same concerns (there were other concerns as well, but the agency adding publishing to their duties was the tipping point.) Since then, more and more agencies have added what has sometimes been called agent-assisted publishing arms. The justification for such activities has been not to go into direct competition with traditional publishers but to give their clients an alternate way to bring out their backlist instead of doing it themselves.

Now, if I were a trusting soul, I’d buy that and never worry about conflict of interest. But I’m not a trusting soul and I’ve been waiting for the next phase of this agent/publisher mishmash to occur. Color me not surprised when one of the first pieces of publishing news I see this morning is the announcement that Skyhorse Publishing and International Transactions literary agency have inked an agreement to form a new imprint. Yep, you read that right —  a publisher and a literary agency are forming a publishing partnership.

You may remember Skyhorse Publishing. I blogged about the company back in April when it was announced that Skyhorse and Start would be taking over Night Shade Books. Back then, my concern was how the NSB authors would be treated in the takeover, especially considering the stories making the rounds about a take it or leave it offer from Skyhorse/Start that didn’t seem to come close to being good for said authors. For once SFWA stepped in and finally authors were given better terms and the buzz around Skyhorse died down.

International Transactions has been around much longer than Skyhorse. From their website: “Since 1975, Peter and Sandra Riva have specialized in international idea brokerage catering to multi-national, multi-lingual, licensing and rights’ representation of authors and publishers as well as producing award-winning television and other media. ” So, not your standard run-of-the-mill literary agency.

Or is it?

My concern still comes down to the potential for conflict of interest. According to Publishers Weekly, the new imprint, Yucca, will “feature both new and established authors who have ‘intent, literary strength, and fresh, new visions.'” Yucca will also be overseen by the head of International Transactions, Peter Riva. Yucca becomes the 12th imprint for Skyhorse and will have 20 books (digital and print) at its debut.

Now, I’ll admit up front that there are few — as in almost no — details about how the new imprint will operate or how it will get its new titles. So far, all I’ve seen about this new venture is the link to Publishers Weekly above and a brief note in Shelf Awareness Pro.  From today’s newsletter: Tony Lyons, Skyhorse president and publisher, said, “As authors, agents, and publishers find new paradigms for publication, we want to be flexible and find new partners with new ideas.”

Flexibility is good. Especially right now in publishing. But I am not so sure that a literary agency — even one that may go beyond what most literary agencies do — and a publisher forming an imprint is a good thing. I’ll reserve judgment until we know more about how they will select their books and what their contracts look like. But, cynic that I am, I still find myself wondering how an agent or agency can best serve a writer when their boss is now the editor for a new literary imprint. So, for all who are considering submitting to Yucca when it opens to submissions — if it does. Again, we know nothing right now about their submission process, contracts, etc. — do your homework first. That’s especially true if you are also considering going to International Transactions to be your agent/representative. I’m not saying they are trying to pull anything. After all, I give the same advice no matter who the publisher or agent might be.

What I will also be looking for is any indication that this is the new “trend” in publishing. So, there will probably be more to come on this topic later.

In other news, sales of print books reported through Bookscan’s retail and club channel fell 2.5% last year. Now, before folks get too excited about this and say that isn’t too bad, note that the sales figures included, for the first time, Walmart sales. So the decline is going to be higher than 2.5%. In fact, looking at the decline in sales for the previous years, that decline is probably a great deal higher. That’s especially true when you consider that, according to the article, “BookScan captures point-of-sale data from outlets that Nielsen estimates sell about 80% of print units.” In other words, it probably captures, at most 50% of sales. Now, from an author’s point of view, it doesn’t matter if it is 50% or 80%, publishers use the Bookscan numbers to figure royalties and that means they are knowingly not paying royalties on every book sold.

Read that last paragraph, especially the last two sentences again. Bookscan /Nielsen “estimates” they are reporting 80% of print sales. So they admit their numbers are not accurate. Yet publishers continue to use these numbers to pay us for our work and they treat these numbers as gospel. Worse, too many of us are letting them get away with it. Why? Because these same authors are still so deep into the mindset that you don’t rock the publishing boat or you will never be offered a contract again or they are so enamored with being published by a “real” publisher that they don’t see the forest for the trees. Either way, authors are getting the very pointy end of a short stick.

So, again, do your research. Decide if the money you will get — if you are lucky enough to get an agent and then a publishing contract — is worth the time and effort you put into writing your book and all the promotional stuff you have to do afterwards. Then ask yourself if you might not make as much, if not more, going with a small press or going indie. I can’t answer the question for you because we each have our own needs and desires when it comes to publishing. For me, there is only one major publisher right now I’d go with — Baen. Other than that, I’ll go small press or indie until we see how things shake out in the industry.

(Cross–posted to Nocturnal Lives.)

Of Carnival Barkers and Sleight of Hand

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last week or so, you’ve heard plenty about the problems surrounding Night Shade Books. Now, anyone who is a member of SFWA or who has searched for a science fiction publisher over the few years probably knows that Night Shade has had more than its fair share of problems. There had been talk of de-listing it as a pro publisher by SFWA and authors have reported slow — extremely slow — royalty payments.

Well, everything came to a head last week when Night Shade announced it had decided to sell its assets to Skyhorse Publishing and Start Publishing. That’s when the storm hit the internet and all hell broke loose.

Before getting into why so many of the authors caught up in this situation are worried, let me start by saying this situation is a perfect example of a PR nightmare. It was mishandled in so many different ways. It began with a tweet by one of the owners of Night Shade basically announcing exciting new news. Then came the letter to authors which has been seen by many as nothing more than blackmail. SFWA also hasn’t helped because there has been no official — PUBLIC — statement about the sale that I can find except for a self-congratulatory note about some changes in the terms of the proposed sale (original terms they originally signed off on as best as I can tell).

While I can’t vouch for the authenticity of this “exhibit”, this does seem to be an accurate representation of the letter originally sent to Night Shade authors. Among my concerns with this are: 1) lowering of royalty rates; 2) no accounting to the authors about what they are actually owed; 3) no detailing of the number/percentage of authors who have to ratify the new contract for the sale to go through;. But what really concerns me is the rights grab for audio (and who knows what other rights) not currently held by Night Shade. The way I read the contract — and I am not a lawyer nor am I the only one with this concern — unless an author has already sold audio rights or is currently in active negotiation with someone for those rights, by signing the contract, they are handing the rights over to the new owners for no compensation except 50% royalty on net sales at some point down the line.

I’ll admit right now that I don’t know the folks at Night Shade, nor do I know the folks at the two companies that want to take over its assets. But I know a bad deal when I see it. Nor am I alone. You can read what Michael Stackpole has to say about it here and here. There is also a very informative post by Andrew Zack about the initial announcement and terms. You can find it here.

As I said, this was the “initial” offer of terms. After the internet went wild with disdain (yes, I’m being nice) about the offer to Night Shade authors, there was first an attempt to justify the offer by Night Shade and then the top dogs for the buyers offered their take on things. My biggest issue with all this was the attitude of Skyhorse and Start. We were being told they were the good guys in all this. Of course, if you keep reading, you’ll see they are also wanting to insure they are making their money back — on the backs of authors who have already been harmed by not being paid what they are owed.

So the internet exploded and all was not right in the world of publishing (as if it has been in a very long while).

Then came the announcement that new and better terms have been offered by Skyhorse and Start. From SFWA:

After continuing talks with Skyhorse/Start, SFWA is pleased that the companies have decided to adjust the royalty terms in their author agreement to be more in line with industry standards for Science Fiction and Fantasy. We see this as a positive sign that they are listening to authors and are responsive to their concerns, and we hope that continues. SFWA has remained in close communication with our members who are directly affected by the sale of Night Shade Books assets and will continue to provide them with information and support.

Note that this is after SFWA had already announced it was pleased with the initial offering. Gee, you have to wonder if the powers that be really thought their members would bend over and cough as they accepted the initial lower royalties. Also note that this only deals with royalties and not with the reporting out of the number of authors who need to agree to the new terms for the sale to go through (assuming a bankruptcy court would allow it) or the rights grab or any of the other issues that have been raised about the deal.

Now, I am glad to see Skyhorse and Start have increased the royalty rate. However, I have a real problem with their explanation of why they didn’t initially offer similar terms.

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.

So, they were offering to buy a company that has a history of problems with paying its authors, among other things, and they didn’t do a full investigation of what was going on? Somehow I find that hard to believe. Maybe I’m a cynic, but I have to wonder if they really thought authors would be so glad to be promised payment, any payment, that they actually thought the original royalty rates would fly. Remember, too, they had supposedly been in discussion with SFWA — an authors organization — and SFWA allegedly agreed to the original terms. Color me very skeptical.

The new royalty structure:

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.

Now, I applaud the increase in royalty rates. This is much better than the initial offer. However, I still have concerns. The first is that e-book royalty is 25% of net. If the Skyhorse/Start had any cost involved in getting the ebooks out there, that might make sense. However, these ebooks already exist. The editing, formatting, conversion, etc., is already done. Also, this is merely an announcement and we haven’t seen the actual contract language. That means we don’t know how they are defining net for either print or digital. Then there’s the fact that we still don’t know the magic number of authors who must ratify the contract  before the sale will go through.Finally, it still looks like a rights grab on the audio rights. Again, we are seeing only the announcement and not the actual contractual language. Still….if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck….

I hate seeing any publisher go under. I hate seeing lousy contract terms for authors even more. There is no reason for it in this day and age when there are so many options available to us. I feel for the authors caught in the middle of this carnival of nightmares. If you are an author with Nightshade, don’t just rely on your agent when it comes to accepting or rejecting the offer. Get yourself to an IP attorney as fast as your feet can carry you. While you don’t want to get tied up in bankruptcy proceedings, you also don’t want to give up the farm just to avoid it. All I know for sure is that this is a long way from being over.