A few weeks ago I read (and reviewed) the awesomely-titled and fun book The Mall of Cthulhu by Seamus Cooper (pen name of Brendan Halpin). Turns out he's having trouble with his publisher, Night Shade Books, which is screwing him over regarding ebook rights and his royalty statements. There's a good overview of the situation over at The Speculative Scotsman, or you can go to Halpin's own blog for a bit more information. Apparently author Liz Williams (author of Snake Agent, which is sitting close to the top of my to-read pile) is having similar problems with Night Shade Books.
Night Shade is (was) a well respected small SF/F press. Now they're proving that they have the business ethics and practices of a start-up POD publisher run by a failed PublishAmerica author out of his apartment. And the really scary thing is: Night Shade Books doesn't take unagented submissions. The authors being screwed over not only have agents, they have very good agents. If even a good agent can't get a respected publisher to A) return calls, B) fulfill contractual obligations, and C) issue corrected royalty statements, what kind of treatment can we unagented authors expect from less-well-respected publishers?
A few months ago I was offered a contract by An Unnamed Small Publisher for The Taste of Magic. The contract they offered me was a shocker. I forwarded a copy to Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware, and emailed the publisher to request clarification and see if any of the offending points could be negotiated. The contract wasn't negotiable so I withdrew my manuscript, and good thing too: Victoria Strauss wrote me back and pointed out a few other things wrong with the contract that I hadn't known enough to flag.
It's a dangerous world out there for writers who want to be published, even if we're careful and do our research. I'm starting to see the wisdom of joining a professional group like SFWA or The Author's Guild just for the legal backing they can provide in situations like the ones going on now with Night Shade Books. I just hope the Night Shade authors can get their issues sorted out fairly without having to resort to legal action.
Update: Night Shade Books have apologized to their authors and readers and promise they'll do better. Halpin talks about the apology here in an update to his blog.