I’m proud to present this guest post by author Michael J. Martinez, whose debut novel The Daedalus Incident was published recently in paperback format. (You can read my review here.) In this revealing post, Michael J. Martinez discusses his experience getting published by Night Shade Books right when it was going through a time of crisis.
The Night Shade Book Saga: Dude, where’s my book?
When Night Shade offered to acquire The Daedalus Incident in June of 2012 (on my 40th birthday, no less!), my answer was an unreserved yes. I had heard inklings that they were perhaps a quirky operation, and that SFWA had placed them on probation a year or so prior. But they were now off probation, they had a reputation for producing really outstanding books…and frankly, they made the best offer.
Here’s what happened after that.
First, we needed a new name for the book, and settled on The Daedalus Incident over a few emails with one of the two publishers, Jeremy Lassen. Jeremy also moved quickly on hiring an artist for the cover. Given that the artist was Sparth, whose works have adorned Halo novels and video game covers, I was beside myself. I think the final cover rocks.
Ross Lockhart was my editor and, as it turned out, my book was the last one he edited for Night Shade. He did a fantastic job. He not only critiqued, but also offered ways to make things better. He found plot holes and typos with equal facility. Frankly, I liked his editing style a lot. The book wouldn’t be where it is today without him. We edited through the fall, and I soon received copyedited galley pages to review.
Here’s the thing, though: I still didn’t have a contract in January 2013, when I got those copyedits.
My agent, Sara Megibow, is both unflappably cheerful and doggedly persistent. She was told repeatedly through the Fall that the contract would be along shortly. In a few weeks. Soon. Et cetera. She stayed on ‘em like white on rice. She’s fantastic.
At the same time, Night Shade authors began to grumble publicly about late payments and unanswered calls. Ross Lockhart left at the end of 2012, after finishing my book. Since I don’t want to put words in his mouth, you can check out what he had to say about it here. Today, Ross is doing awesome work at Word Horde, and has released a Jack the Ripper anthology that’s pure scary and lots of fun. You should check it out. I’m thrilled for him.
With Ross gone, I feared the worst. But to my surprise, my contract arrived in February (which I signed quickly), so I figured we were still on track. I began blogging at the Night Bazaar, the NSB author group blog. I also began reaching out to reviewers and others in the SF/F community.
Night Shade went dark in late February.
Now, it didn’t fold, per se. It was more like it just went…dark. No calls or emails answered. I had been expecting printed advance review copies (ARCs) and ebook files to send to reviewers. Less than 20 copies of the book existed in print, and these were uncorrected galley proofs, for only the earliest reviewers. I was two months from launch. I had nothing.
Meanwhile, the paperback was up for preorder at Amazon, but the ebook wasn’t. I thought they were leaving money on the table, especially as I ramped up my promotional efforts in March. I was starting to get noticed a bit. There was, dare I say, a bit of buzz. Yet, neither my agent nor I could get anybody at NSB to answer multiple calls and emails.
Finally, I got an e-mail from Jeremy in late March, and he was exceedingly apologetic. He had been busy trying to save his company. And there was a buyer lined up. (He also sent me ebook files to send to reviewers.)
My reaction to this was…complex. I was happy to see that Jeremy and his partner, Jason Williams, had understood that it was time to find a savior. I also knew, from years covering Wall Street as a reporter, that dead silence before a business deal was completed was not only typical, but often necessary. But this was my debut that was on the line. I signed a deal. I kept up my end. More than a month of silence, with just a month to go before my debut? Of course I was angry.
When news of the deal broke, my fellow Night Shade authors, many of whom had a longer and more frustrating history with the publisher, were even angrier. And when initial contract terms were released – and bandied about in the press and in public – the anger rose. That was a problem, because Skyhorse and Start wanted a critical mass of authors to agree to the buyout – they wanted their money’s worth, and rightly so. But the authors felt they could be going from bad to worse.
Thankfully, that’s when the agents went to work. I trust my agent when it comes to the business end of things, but my only desire was to get the book out the door. If the sale didn’t go through, then Night Shade would be in bankruptcy and The Daedalus Incident would be merely an asset to be sold off in court. Screw that.
The contract terms that got publicized were changed, and then the agents tailored those boilerplate terms to each author’s situation. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America – Mary Robinette Kowal, in particular – did a great job of keeping a weather eye on things, responding to concerns, keeping folks talking to each other. Say what you will about SFWA, but it came through for authors on this one.
Eventually, enough authors signed on. Skyhorse and Start bought Night Shade. My debut was saved…but would arrive late.
It took until early June for the deal to wrap up. It took several weeks more to get a firm date on my print and audiobook releases. Start Media, which runs the ebook program as a joint venture with Skyhorse, actually got ebooks out for sale in early June. That was awesome, because I could still leverage all those early great reviews I had garnered while waiting for my book to happen.
And finally, this month, it’s out there. I’ve seen it. It’s freakin’ beautiful. And the new Night Shade team at Skyhorse is responsive and eager to get rolling. There’s a publicist. She’s awesome. The editors are busy figuring out how best to relaunch things. They find new issues and new stuff to deal with almost every day as they discover both the good and the bad of the acquisition. Personally, I’m encouraged.
Looking back, I genuinely believe Jeremy and Jason did their level best to protect their authors by agreeing to sell to Skyhorse Publishing and Start Media. One could certainly argue whether it was too little and too late, and one could reasonably question their business acumen overall. Jeremy explains his view of things here, and I’m gonna take him at his word. (Justin Landon has an excellent, impartial take on Night Shade here, as well.) They tried, and they lost a lot of their own money trying – I respect them for having skin in the game, if not for balancing the books well. The fact that Jeremy and Jason now consult on acquisitions for the new owners of Night Shade speaks volumes about their editorial eye.
In the meantime, Night Shade was saved. Will it pay its bills on time? Yes, I’d bet on that. Does the new ownership want Night Shade to remain that bastion of strange ideas, quirky novels and new voices? I believe so. Will it? They have a staff of talented editors, working hard to create a new Night Shade. It’s a great start. Time will tell.
For now, The Daedalus Incident is out, and it’s the first debut from the new Night Shade. And that’s enough. I hope you guys read it and enjoy it.
Michael J. Martinez has spent 20 years in journalism and communications writing other people’s stories. A few years ago, in a moment of blinding hubris, he thought he’d try to write one of his own. The result: The Daedalus Incident is in stores now, with The Enceladus Crisis and a third book in the series coming out in 2014. Mike currently lives in northern New Jersey with his wonderful wife, amazing daughter and The Best Cat in the World. He’s an avid traveler and homebrewer, and since nobody has told him to stop yet, he continues to write fiction. He is a proud member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.