Monday, May 6, 2013

Doin' Hard Time at Night Shade Books

How often, how many times, have you asked yourself, What have I done with my time? What have I really accomplished?

I've been asking myself this very question quite a bit of late; or, at least, more than I normally do....

I spent about nine years of my professional career working for Night Shade Books. If you are a genre writer and/or reader, then you probably have seen an online article, or blog post, about the publisher's demise. Essentially Night Shade Books is bankrupt, they just haven't declared it legally (yet), but are hoping to sell the assets of the company to a pair of publishing houses. I won't go into any of that here; you can just search for "Night Shade Books" and you'll find enough to read: posts from authors talking about the deal with the new buyers, posts from bloggers both objective and subjective about Night Shade, and so on.

But what I see is the demise of a publishing house that had the potential to make it into the "big leagues" as an independent. I recall an early telephone conversation with publisher/owner Jason Williams, in which he told me that he wanted Night Shade to be the next Baen Books. And they could have been, I honestly believe that, but they squandered it all away....

But six months from now, a year from now, will new readers even know who Night Shade Books is? And for those of us who know of them now, what will we think of them going forward? Will readers think of the books with positive memories: the great books like The Algebraist and The Windup Girl; the beautifully designed covers and interiors? Or will they remember the orders not fulfilled, the books promised and never published? Will former Night Shade authors remember Night Shade as the publisher who gave them their first break, bought and published their first book, bought and published the book that they were unable to sell to any New York publisher? Or will they remember that they were never paid their advance, never paid royalties, or if they did get paid, that they had to fight for every dollar, or that their book never even got published as promised?

But getting back to my original question: Just what have I accomplished in nearly nine years with this publisher? And what will I remember?

I sat down and reviewed all my invoices -- 190 of them -- dating back to 2004, and compiled a list of all the books I touched, so to speak. The first book was Adam Roberts's short fiction collection, Swiftly; the last book was Jonathan Strahan's anthology, The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume Seven, just this past January. And in between were a helluva lot of books.

2004
Adam Roberts – Swiftly short story collection (May)
M. John Harrison – The Course of the Heart novel (June)
Iain M. Banks – The State of the Art short story collection (August)
Manley Wade Wellman – Giants from Eternity novel (September)
Manley Wade Wellman – Strangers on the Heights novel (September)
S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, editors – H. P. Lovecraft's Letters from New York (December)

2005
Joe R. Lansdale – Dead in the West novel (February)
Joe R. Lansdale – The Boar novel (February)
Steven Erikson – Blood Follows novella (March)
Terry Lamsley – Conference with the Dead short story collection (March)
Matthew Hughes – The Gist Hunter and Other Stories (May)
Steven Erikson – The Healthy Dead novella (July)
Gwyneth Jones – Bold As Love novel (July)
Joe Haldeman – War Stories (August)
Liz Williams – Snake Agent novel (August)
David Drake – Hammer’s Slammers, Volume 1(October)
Douglas Lain – Last Week’s Apocalypse short story collection (November)
Joel Lane – The Lost District short story collection (November)

2006
Neal Asher – Prador Moon novel (January)
Ray Manzarek – Snake Moon novel (January)
Tricia Sullivan – Maul novel (January)
Liz Williams – The Demon and the City novel (February)
Elizabeth Bear – The Chains That You Refuse short story collection (March)
Andrew Migliore and John Strysik – The Lurker in the Lobby: The Guide to Lovecraftian Cinema (March)
Kage Baker – Dark Mondays short story collection (April)
Glen Cook – A Cruel Wind Dread Empire omnibus (May)
Alexander C. Irvine – Pictures from an Expedition short story collection (June)
Jay Lake – Trial of Flowers novel (July)
Alastair Reynolds – Zima Blue and Other Stories (July)
Glen Cook – Sung in Blood novel (September)
David Drake – Hammer’s Slammers, Volume 2 (September)
Matthew Hughes – Majestrum novel (September)
Walter Jon Williams – Hardwired novel (September)
Jon Armstrong – Grey novel (October)
Tim Pratt - Hart & Boot & Other Stories (October)
George Saunders - Imaro 2: The Quest for Cush novel (November)

2007
Jonathan Strahan, editor – The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume One (January)
Glen Cook – Passage at Arms novel (January)
Glen Cook – A Fortress in Shadow Dread Empire omnibus (February)
David Drake – Balefires short story collection (February)
Lucius Shepard – Softspoken novel (February)
Jon Courtenay Grimwood – 9 Tail Fox novel (March)
Laird Barron – The Imago Sequence and Other Stories short story collection (April)
Richard Kadrey – Butcher Bird novel (April)
Nathalie Mallet – The Princes of the Golden Cage novel (April)
Liz Williams – Precious Dragon novel (April)
Walter Jon Williams – The Voice of the Whirlwind novel (April)
Matthew Hughes – The Spiral Labyrinth novel (May)
Alex Bledsoe – The Blonde-edged Sword novel (June)
S. M. Stirling – Ice, Iron and Gold short story collection (June)
Elizabeth Moon – Moon Flights short story collection (July)
Jonathan Strahan, editor – Eclipse One (August)
John Joseph Adams, editor – Wastelands (September)
David Drake – Hammer’s Slammers, Volume 3 omnibus (September)
Paolo Bacigalupi – Pump Six and Other Stories (October)
Glen Cook – The Dragon Never Sleeps novel (October)
Jonathan Strahan, editor – The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume Two (December)

2008
Walter Jon Williams – Implied Spaces novel (January)
Greg Egan – Incandescence novel (January)
Neal Asher – Shadow of the Scorpion novel (May)
Harry Turtledove – After the Downfall novel (May)
Liz Williams – Shadow Pavilion novel (May)
Mark Teppo – Lightbreaker: Book One of the Codex of Souls novel (June)
Nathalie Mallet – The King’s Daughters novel (June)
John Joseph Adams, editor – The Living Dead (July)
Matthew Hughes – Hespira novel (July)
Seamus Cooper – The Mall of Cthulhu novel (August)
Tim Lebbon – Bar None novel (August)
Ann VanderMeer and Jeff VanderMeer, editors – Fast Ships, Black Sails (August)
Stephen Baxter – The H-Bomb Girl novel [note: never published] (September)
Glen Cook – An Empire Unacquainted with Defeat Dread Empire omnibus (September)
Jonathan Strahan, editor – Eclipse Two (September)
Graham Joyce – How To Make Friends with Demons novel (October)
Steven Erikson – The Lees at Laughter’s End novella (November)
Jay Lake – Madness of Flowers novel (November)
Jonathan Strahan, editor – The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume Three (December)

2009
John Langan – House of Windows novel (January)
Glen Cook – The Swordbearer novel (February)
Paolo Bacigalupi – The Windup Girl novel (April)
John Joseph Adams, editor – By Blood We Live (May)
John Joseph Adams, editor – The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (June)
Glen Cook – Darkwar Trilogy omnibus (July)
Ellen Datlow, editor – The Best Horror of the Year, Volume 1 (August)
Jonathan Strahan, editor – Eclipse Three (September)
Mark Teppo – Heartland: Book Two of the Codex of Souls novel (October)
Liz Williams – The Iron Khan novel [note: never published] (November)

2010
Laird Barron – Occultation and Other Stories (January)
Greg Egan – Zendegi novel (January)
Walter Jon Williams – The Green Leopard Plague and Other Stories (January)
Fritz Leiber: Selected Stories (February)
The Best of Kim Stanley Robinson (March)
John Joseph Adams, editor – The Living Dead 2 (April)
Jon Armstrong – Yarn novel (May)
Michael A. Stackpole – At the Queen’s Command: The Crown Colonies, Book One novel (July)
Catherynne M. Valente – The Habitation of the Blessed: A Dirge for Prester John, Volume One novel (August)
Phil Foglio and Kaja Foglio – Agatha H. and the Airship City novel (September)
Kameron Hurley – God’s War novel (October)
Will McIntosh – Soft Apocalypse novel (October)
Martha Wells – The Cloud Roads novel (October)
Jonathan Strahan, editor – The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume Five (December)

2011
Jonathan Strahan, editor – Eclipse Four (January)
Michael Swanwick – Dancing with Bears novel (January)
Ellen Datlow, editor – The Best Horror of the Year, Volume 3 (February)
Marty Halpern, editor – Alien Contact (May)
Glen Cook – Reap the East Wind novel (May)
Kameron Hurley – Infidel novel (May)
Richard Cox – Thomas World novel (June)
Glen Cook – An Ill Fate Marshalling novel (July)
Rob Ziegler – Seed novel (July)
Glen Cook – A Path to Coldness of Heart novel (August)
Catherynne M. Valente – The Folded World: A Dirge for Prester John, Volume Two novel (August)
Michael A. Stackpole – Of Limited Loyalty: The Crown Colonies, Book One novel (September)
Will McIntosh – Hitchers novel (October)
David Williams – Pillars of Hercules (November)

2012
Jonathan Strahan, editor – The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume Six (January)
John Joseph Adams, editor – Other Worlds Than These (May)
Joseph Adams, editor – Brave New Worlds, 2nd Edition (August)
Kameron Hurley – Rapture novel (August)
Mazarkis Williams – Knife Sworn novel (August)
Zachery Jernigan – No Return novel (October)
Mark Teppo – Earth Thirst novel (October)
Neal Asher – The Departure: The Owner, Book 1 novel (November)
Laird Barron – The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All novel (December)
M. John Harrison – Empty Space novel (December)

2013
Jonathan Strahan, editor – The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume Seven (January)
Alien Contact
125 books. Count 'em! Some of these dates are relative, of course. For example, my work on Liz Williams's Detective Inspector Chen novel, The Demon and the City, covered a span of about four months, from February through May 2006, during which time I worked with the author on a full edit of the manuscript, copy edited the layout pages, and then proofed the ready-for-print layout along with the book's dust jacket. And then there was my own anthology, Alien Contact, in which I spent more than two years reading, compiling, and then acquiring stories, copy editing and proofing the layout pages, etc. -- not to mention blogging about each of the stories, one story per week for 26 weeks.

Also, what you don't see on this list is an additional 66 books through the years in which I copy edited only the book's cover, and/or front matter, and/or back matter -- the earliest instances of this being the dust jackets for Iain M. Banks's The Algebraist and Lucius Shepard's Trujillo in July 2005, to July 2012, when I worked on four book covers: Ellen Datlow's The Best Horror of the Year, Volume 5, Michael J. Martinez's The Daedalus Incident, Peter Rawlik's Reanimators, and Carol Wolf's Binding. There were also press releases, catalog copy, ARC book covers, ebook covers, and reprint editions, none of which are listed here.

So, this is what I will remember... I never read a Hammer's Slammers story or a Dread Empire story until I had the opportunity to copy edit the works of David Drake and Glen Cook, respectively, for Night Shade Books. That I had an opportunity to read some phenomenal stories by such authors as Laird Barron, Alex Irvine, Elizabeth Moon, Alastair Reynolds, and Adam Roberts -- and that's not to mention the hundreds of individual stories in anthologies compiled by John Joseph Adams and Jonathan Strahan. And novels: whew! Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl, Kameron Hurley's Bel Dame Apocrypha trilogy, the first two Prester John novels by Catherynne M. Valente, books one and two of Mark Teppo's Codex of Souls, and, dare I not forget, Liz Williams's Detective Inspector Chen novels.

I'll remember how Night Shade Books was there when I decided to go freelance full time, and how they kept me working when the economy tanked in 2008.

But I'll also remember how month after month after month, for the past handful of years, I felt like I practically had to beg to get paid even a portion of the money that was owed to me at the time. In a blog post on April 5, 2013, author Kameron Hurley wrote:

For two years, I have equated writing fiction with grinning and bearing it. Getting promised the moon and then fucked over. Waiting for breach of contract. Waiting for expected payments. Being made promises full of sand that trickled just as quickly through clenched fists.

Simply replace her word "writing" with "editing" and you get the gist of how I've felt over the past two or so years working for Night Shade Books. When I read Kameron's post, and I came to that paragraph, I actually had tears in my eyes, because my love of editing had become a chore, had become painful: as I worked on each Night Shade project I worried about getting paid, knowing that I would have to email them again and again to ask for payment -- and should I talk with Jason on the telephone, I'll have to listen of all his tales of woe. I kept telling myself I needed to stop working for them, that this was just becoming too distasteful, but then a check would arrive, typically money owed from three-plus months back, but money nonetheless. I started to back off from the amount of work I accepted, hoping that Night Shade would catch up on money owed, but unfortunately that never happened. And here we are....

I'll keep my remaining vitriolic criticism to myself as that isn't going to change anything, but only make a bad situation worse. However, I am waiting to hear from someone, anyone, about the money that is owed to me for open invoices dating back through October of last year.

And not once that I recall, from May 2004 through January 2013, did I ever miss a promised delivery date on any of those 125 books. Never.

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