An indie press on the rocks

Things fall down…

By now you’ve probably heard: Night Shade Books, an independent publisher of sf/f/etc, is pursuing a sale to Skyhorse Publishing (which, incidentally, just inked an expanded distribution contract).

Night Shade has struggled financially for some time, and there’ve been a few blemishes on its financial record and record of dealing fairly and transparently with authors in the past, but for the most part, they’ve been an inspiration. They publish fantastic books, and they have really high production values. You see Night Shade books in most indie bookshops, and that’s quite a feat for a publisher without corporate backing.

Nonetheless…they fell prey to some insidious forces. Basically, they grew too big, too fast. That’s what caused the author-dealings problems some years back – they grew faster than they refined their accounting system, or so it appeared. And now, they’ve grown faster than they were able to finance safely.

If the sale goes through, authors can migrate over to an imprint of Skyhorse, and the guys running Night Shade will still have some acquisitions input – which is great, because they have really good taste in sf/f.

For authors, the sale is sort of a grey area – different contracts specify different things for transfer of assets and obligations, and licensing rights are a part of that. Part of the terms of sale apparently hinge on authors agreeing to contract modifications, which makes me a little twitchy, but is that preferable to having the press go completely belly-up? That’s for writers to decide, based on their own best interests.

All I can say is – I’m really sad to see such a quality press end up in such a predicament, but at the same time, it vindicates some of the choices we’ve made at Candlemark & Gleam. We’re growing, and we’re making a name for ourselves in the fantastika field, but we’re doing so relatively slowly. Sure, there are ways we could grow a lot faster – a huge marketing campaign, vastly expanded print runs and traditional third-party distribution, etc. – but all of those cost a lot of money. Money that involves taking on debt. If even one thing goes wrong, or gets bumpy, it could jeopardize the entire press.

I don’t want that.

I would rather have C&G grow slowly, selecting only the best books and producing only the best packages, than to explode and then…well, explode. Controlled, sustainable growth and expansion, smart choices, and careful budgeting are how we’ll succeed here. It might not be overnight, but then, the same thing is true of an author’s career and of building a publishing house: it takes years of hard work to become an overnight success.

There are a lot of things we’d dearly love to do to help C&G grow, but we’re always carefully evaluating each of them for what’s doable right now, with the resources we actually have – taking on crazy amounts of debt might let us do awesome things in terms of advertising, neat tech tools and toys, and distribution, but it also puts us at serious risk if something goes kerflooey.

I’ll say it here and now: I want Candlemark & Gleam to grow, to flourish, and to become a star of the publishing world, both in and out of the fantastika field. But I will not ever pursue that at the expense of our authors, of our quality, or of the experience and delight we give our readers. I will not ever pursue that at the cost of the business’s stability – and a small press is just that, a business, and one that must be very, very carefully managed, as the Night Shade situation shows. It’s a business with razor-thin margins, in a field where it’s rare to make even a slight profit, and it’s tough to navigate all of this and keep up with the intense change of pace…particularly when struggling for market share and attention against vast corporate pocketbooks.

But I have faith that we can navigate all this. Because you know what? We’re small, we’re scrappy, and we’re smart. Each and every person at C&G, from lil’ ol’ me the Mastermind to Commanatrix Sarah to Art Demigod Chris to all the freelancers and contractors and assorted other creative geniuses (hi, Anna Linden, Rio, Brooke, Brigid, Courtney, Katie, Patti…the list goes on…) who have signed on to this crazy venture, is smart. And dedicated. We’ve all drunk the Kool-Aid. We’re all in this for the love of the book, of the story, of the experience.

And we’re not going to let our eagerness to succeed stop us from succeeding.

So we’re gonna keep on doing it smart, making careful choices, and planning ahead.

And we’re gonna rock this world.

Thank you for coming along for the ride.

 

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  • http://www.facebook.com/vidholf Dan Campbell

    This reminds me to say: Thank you!!! I originally discovered C&G by way of a friend (Natania), but *every*single*C&G*book* I’ve read is one I’ve loved. There’s a certain quality to the story, to the characters, to the portrayals of C&G books that is all about why I read books. I think I’ve read over half your stock now, and I’m getting tempted to pick up some titles that don’t sound like my kind of thing. :-) Right now, I’m in the midst of The Spark — while Debris Dreams was fantastic!

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  • http://www.candlemarkandgleam.com Candlemark & Gleam

    Dan, you just made my day. Seriously. One of my hopes for C&G when I founded the press was that we would become a trusted brand, a place you can go and pick up a book, even one that might not normally be your thing, because you trust the quality of what we do. And that you know that “If this is the sort of thing you like, you will like this sort of thing!”

    Quirky fantasy noir? Politically-tinged superhero sci-fi? Existentialist zombies? World-hopping love stories? We’ve got it all. If it’s strange and it’s wonderful, we’ll give it a home. And hopefully expose readers to some stories they might not’ve considered elsewhere, but that they fall in love with!

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  • http://twitter.com/leaflette leeanna @ leeanna.me

    I love that ya’ll are so transparent and open.

  • http://www.candlemarkandgleam.com Candlemark & Gleam

    Thank you! I think it’s really important for a small press to be as transparent as possible – there’s a lot of vanity presses and scams these days, and “small press” that is just not run very well, too. It’s an exciting and a scary time to be an author, and I think people are rightly wary of little teeny presses. One way we try to stand out is by just being /honest/. Yeah, it’s not always the prettiest picture, because small press and publishing in general is kind of a struggle, but at least that way, authors know what they’re getting into…and readers can see some of what goes into making the stories they love!

  • http://twitter.com/leaflette leeanna @ leeanna.me

    I admit, as an aspiring author, yeah, I’d love to be published by a big name press someday, so that my stuff could really get out there. But, at the same time, I like how smaller presses publish quirky stuff that otherwise wouldn’t be available. It’s not the same book with different names every time — there’s truly unique stuff coming out of publishers like you. Ideas that otherwise might just stay unpublished and unseen. Also, having a close relationship with the publisher is appealing.

    As a reader, I like that you share information like this. I like knowing that the authors whose work I enjoy are getting paid (so they can write more!). It’s also nice to get insight into how you want to grow and how you’re trying to grow at a responsible pace. It makes me want to support C&G.

  • http://www.candlemarkandgleam.com Candlemark & Gleam

    I’m a big believer in choosing the approach to publishing that works best for you – and for each individual project! There are some authors and projects that would do really well with a Big Six press; there are others that would do really well with self-publishing, or a small press. I know authors who publish with the Big Six but ALSO do both self-publishing and small press – it’s all about the best fit for that project. I totally support that!

    And you’re the kind of reader I really want to reach out to and grow alongside! The kind who really gets involved and interested, and just loves the whole shebang, from stories to authors to editors and publisher.