About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Do The Right Thing

I feel good today, as Skyhorse and Start have announced better terms to facilitate their purchase of certain assets of Night Shade Books, hopefully avoiding a bankruptcy for Night Shade, allowing the two companies to invest themselves in the market for new science fiction and fantasy, and giving certainty to upwards of 150 authors who had been published by Night Shade.

Credit for this goes first and foremost to Tony Lyons of Skyhorse and Jarred Weisfeld of Start.  We don't know how many authors they needed to get on board for the program or how many they had or seemed likely to have.  We do know that their introduction to the world of full-blown involvement in sf/fantasy was overwhelming.  They may have been lacking in forewarning or preparation; Tony was prepared to hear more from 20 or 30 authors about the deal than some 200 or more from all corners.  But ultimately, they did the right thing.  They reached out, spoke to people, and came to the plate with a considerably improved set of terms.  They didn't have to.  They could have gotten the minimum number of authors or titles or billings to make the deal happen.  They could have washed their hands of the idea of being involved with the community.  Instead, they decided to come in with an improved deal that makes it many times easier to get to yes.

I will give myself a little credit.  I've had my blog going for more years than I can quite believe.  Most of the year, more years than not, I find I don't have the time to blog as much on as many things as I'd really like to.  Quite honestly, I didn't have the time now; it's our busiest season, London Book Fair is around the corner, and I had one title caught up in the Night Shade imbroglio with only a modest royalty due or likely at stake in the process.  But I feel like this is why I've had the blog all these years, and it was Brillig's moment.  Thanks to linking from io9 and Tobias Buckell and others, my original Night Shade post had more page views than any other post in the blog's history.  And it's a post I'm proud of.  Like a lot of things I do, even that one post was a team effort, with input and suggestions from everyone on the JABberwocky staff.

But that said, the post didn't operate or exist in a vacuum.  Michael Stackpole looked a lot more closely at the ramifications of specific contract clauses than I did.  Another agent, Andrew Zack, did a series of posts, spent a lot of time on the phone with Tony Lyons, said some things that I might have said, chose not to, but which probably did need to be put into the conversation by someone.  Justin Landon at Staffers Musings filled in some blanks as well.  Charlie Jane Anders was like the Lois Lane of io9 on this one!  There were a lot of other people, many of them with modest direct interest, who took the time to talk about this.

Anyone who wants can quibble still with aspects of the revised Skyhorse offer, and I don't want to hear from those people!  The royalty rate is low, but I've done a lot of deals with lower royalties than this, especially with small press.  And this reasonably low royalty rate considering is on top of promised full payment of current arrears with a publisher that has a an awfully big arrear end.  I'm not thrilled with the revised audio language, and I don't want to hear from myself on that; this isn't one of those times I get to be thrilled with everyone.  The revised language on assignments -- well, it seems a lot like something I had in my own suggestions to Tony Lyons, which is sweet!

Under all the extant circumstances, this is a deal that's about making it easy to say Yes.

We can't let up.  I'm still not sure who the arbiter is supposed to be to decide which of at least three possible figures for how much of a royalty is owed on Elizabeth Moon's MOON FLIGHTS is the correct one.  Concerns have been expressed about the mechanism for paying people.  I don't know who it is who communicates with my clients and I about the revised terms in a formal way, and provides the formal document for signing.  Stuff like that.

And I'm going to dump a little more on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.  I've heard a gazillion excuses for why, even after this whole kerfuffle became public, they were still hiding off in a back room communicating in secret private ways like they were guarding access to a speakeasy, and I'm not convinced of any of them.  Just at the level of the lowest hanging fruit, how could they have signed off on indicating to members that they were cool with the assignment language in the original agreement?  That kind of broad assignment language is one of the most basic things I as an agent would negotiate away in any contract negotiation.  And now, after e-mails to me that had a "go away, stop bothering us, and go give your clients whatever damnfool advice you want on the deal" kind of tone to them, and hiding off in a dark corner, and having some responsibility for not forewarning and preparing Tony Lyons (I don't know, maybe they did and he didn't listen, but it doesn't sound that way to me), they come out with some happy smug little statement about the new terms like it was all their idea and all their hard work.  "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."  Just to say, I've been a dues-paying affiliate member of SFWA for pretty much as long as I've had JABberwocky, and their close communication never included me, as an agent, with clients who had interests in this and were affected by it.  I've been a staunch supporter of SFWA, I've encouraged all my clients to join the organization as active members when eligible, and this is the and continues to be the darkest moment I can remember in my 27 years in this field.  I don't know the extent to which SFWA has been involved behind the scene in talking to people over the past week, and I will happily change this tune if there's some different sheet music put in front of me.  But they can't even be bothered to stick in a "listening to authors and their agents" to acknowledge the work of an Andrew Zack on a deal that SFWA had blessed?

The best way to close is to reiterate my heartfelt thanks to Tony Lyons and to Jarred Weisfeld for listing and revising and improving, and to thank all of those who took their time to get things to "go."

Onward and upward with the arts.  And:

Excelsior!

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