Resurrection House and Night Shade

Jeff VanderMeer • September 10th, 2013 @ 5:46 pm • Culture

Writer Beware just posted something about Resurrection House. This is a kind of supplementary post. Writer Beware has a lot of the relevant Night Shade links. I would preface my remarks with the statement that I have nothing but love and respect for my fellow writers and editors. I am proud to be a part of a vibrant and lively publishing ecosystem.

Recently Mark Teppo created Resurrection House, a new publishing company aimed at recruiting new, up-and-coming authors. What isn’t as clear from the website, although it is in a private post that Teppo put on the Night Shade message boards, is that Jason Williams, one of the founders and operators of Night Shade has been hired as an editor there. Now, Teppo says Williams is not an investor in the company—although he won’t say who the investors are—and that Resurrection House was not created while Night Shade was imploding and authors were having to decide on taking lesser terms and in general suffering a lot of stress because of Night Shade’s poor planning and decision-making. (Teppo, meanwhile, was a Night Shade author.) What is also clear is that Williams is no longer with Skyhorse, the company that acquired Night Shade; I have no information on why. (And this post is *not* about Skyhorse—I do not know much about them and have only had communication with them that I would consider professional and courteous.)

So let’s talk about Night Shade a bit…Depending on which Night Shade author you talk to, NS was guilty of lesser or greater sins. Some didn’t get paid. Some didn’t get paid and suffered a lot of passive-aggressive behavior. Some didn’t get paid and had to threaten lawsuits and received crappy, unprofessional behavior. And yet others got paid, didn’t suffer any or hardly any unprofessional behavior. With the result that a whole bunch of writers, none of whom had everyone else’s story at hand, projected in tweets, facebook messages, and blog entries varied impressions of why Night Shade was in trouble and what should be done about it. Some defended Night Shade and others did not based on their own experience. Ann and I, for example, decided never again to deal with Night Shade after doing our pirate anthology with them—despite getting paid. Ann was treated at best rudely by Night Shade and at worst in a sexist way—that project became a living hell for her. Basic things that should be done with a book, like sending out ARCs, were not done and we wound up publishing ARCs ourselves to try to salvage the situation. The book tanked in part because of Night Shade’s negligence—although Ann says “Night Shade didn’t really neglect the pirate anthology as much as they made a conscious decision to not promote it. This was their MO, to not promote certain books they bought.” When we heard about other people’s experiences with NS, some of which were much worse, this solidified our opinion. (We’d had a prior negative experience with Night Shade when they published our Ministry of Whimsy books for a while, but at the time we had been willing to put it down to personality clash and two book cultures that were not compatible.)

Next, let’s talk about SFWA…What does seem clear is that SFWA probably didn’t follow best practices in trying to monitor and correct Night Shade’s behavior. They put Night Shade on probation, then took them off in part based on information received from Night Shade that may not have been correct—or at least needed to be better researched and not taken on face value. At the very least, for example, if you poke around on the inside of the publishing industry you’ll find varying accounts of why Night Shade lost a key distributor. Writers were still owed money at that point, too. Meanwhile, writers like myself didn’t post about our experiences because we assumed (and were relieved to assume) that SFWA was on top of it all…although the fact it got to such a crisis point seems to indicate they weren’t really on top of it in a meaningful way. But I am not privy to the inner workings of SFWA so I can’t know their deliberation process—and that, perhaps, is a bit of a problem: transparency levels seem to need to shift a bit or be thought about more fully. Otherwise, individual writers take the brunt of “whistle-blowing” and don’t benefit from the umbrella protection of an organization like SFWA.

My point in writing this post, which I did not want to have to write because it would be useful if an organization existed out there that could provide transparency in these kinds of situations…my point is simply to say: a founder of Night Shade is now an editor at Resurrection House. And that writers should know this, should look around the internet for information on Night Shade, and then should form their own opinion on whether Resurrection House is a publisher they want to send their manuscripts to. Without knowing the history, and the debate, and with it not being clear from Resurrection House’s website at this time that Jason Williams is on board with this press, it seems like there needs to be some public note about this.

But a larger point cropped up while talking about this on twitter. Steven Gould, president of SFWA, tweeted on his personal twitter account that rumors were false that Resurrection House had been raising funds while Night Shade was imploding and writers were suffering a lot of stress and financial difficulties because of it—i.e., the possibility that a Night Shade founder had been actively involved in a new company while the old one had become so dysfunctional. When I asked him how he knew this, he replied that he had asked Teppo and Teppo had told him it wasn’t true. And then Gould had tweeted, without sourcing the info until I asked him to. (Gould wasn’t SFWA president during the Night Shade debacle, btw.)

I hope it’s clear why it is problematic that Gould simply received information from Teppo and then retweeted it, without any attempt at a fact check. It’s not that I have any opinion on whether Teppo provided accurate information or not. I really don’t, and I’m *not* saying Teppo provided inaccurate info. It’s that no documentation was asked for. Now, could Teppo reasonably be expected to provide such documentation? There might be reasons why he might not, but Gould’s approach, to me, just reflects that SFWA does not have best practices in place when it comes to these kinds of situations. Let me say also that if Gould thought he was acting not as president but just as a writer, you should still apply best practices to such situations.

I think any reasonable person would hope the best for a new publisher, so long as they treat their writers well. I think one would also think that SFWA could be a better watchdog in all of this as well. I do not know if they conducted any kind of internal review of their practices and made adjustments afterwards because, again, just about everything related to these kinds of issues is done either privately or through the SFWA messageboards, which are restricted to SFWA members. But when SFWA backs a plan, like the one that made the shift to Skyhorse, it affects more than just SFWA members. Which is another reason secrecy becomes an issue.

The point here is not to blame anyone for this situation. The point is that in these kinds of situations organizations *must* have best practices in place so that individuals do not have to come up with proper procedures or to exhibit individual heroics to get to the desired result. Which is always: to protect writers, to nurture writers, to make sure writers don’t bear the brunt of things like this…


For the record, I was a member of SFWA for a year over a decade ago, but did not renew my membership. I have no plans to become a member.

Also, we have nothing but good things to say about every other publisher we have worked with over the last 20 years.
Comments are closed because I have a novel to finish and not enough time to moderate, etc.

Comments are closed.