Wednesday 23 June 2010

Dead Dog Blues

You all remember The Mall of Cthulhu, right?

You should. I reviewed it here on The Speculative Scotsman back in February, calling it "a great, break-neck read, with a tight-knit cast of appealing, charismatic characters and a narrative packed full of whimsy and darkly fantastic wonders. Equal parts comedy, horror and action as madness and mythos intertwine, Seamus Cooper has created in The Mall of Cthulhu a book that's hard to beat in terms of its sheer energy and exuberance," and those are words I stand by. Click on through to read the rest of 'em.

I was new to the game in February, I suppose - hardly a grizzled old veteran these days though, am I? - so when I logged into Twitter to pimp the write-up up a bit, as is my way, I was pleasantly surprised to hear from Seamus himself; or rather Brendan Halpin, who writes as Seamus Cooper (presumably because his agent didn't think "Brendan" conjured quite enough of the Irish charm). We chatted for a bit, I bugged him about a sequel to The Mall of Cthulhu, and a few months later, I got the whole sordid story.

As a matter of fact, you might have heard it by now. Brendan posted it over on his own blog, Food Court of Fear, and though I would stress you hop on over and read his entire account of the problems he - and others - have had with his publisher, Night Shade Books, I'm going to repost a little of it here for convenience's sake:

"Night Shade has stolen the eBook rights to The Mall of Cthulhu. They do not own them and are offering an electronic edition for sale through, which is affiliated with Baen Books, a real publisher who should know better. Nine months ago, Night Shade made a verbal offer to pay me a small sum for the rights. I agreed. They've never paid me. They claimed their unauthorized edition was an oversight, and that was somewhat credible at the time. Nine months later, it's clear that this is not an oversight. It's a theft of my intellectual property."


"I was due a royalty statement from Night Shade Books on March 1. Some time in April, they sent an inaccurate royalty statement. It listed a smaller advance and a higher cover price than was accurate. My agent told them they had made errors in my favor, and they agreed to send a corrected statement. We're now staring down June, and I have no idea how many copies The Mall of Cthulhu has sold or if I'm owed any money. I would not be owed anything other than the revenue from the stolen eBook rights if the sales figures on the first royalty statement were accurate. But since none of the other numbers on that statement were accurate, I don't have any reason to trust the sales numbers.

"I was paid my advance for this book, but I have no confidence that I'll ever know if I'm owed more money. If I were to be owed money, I have no confidence that I'll ever be paid. Night Shade's business model appears to be disappearing for months at a time, offering elaborate apologies, and then disappearing again."

Not a side of a respected genre publisher you expect to see aired in public, is it? If true - and I've no reason to doubt Brendan's story here, and every reason to believe his complaints about their patented disappearing act - I don't understand why this scandal hasn't lit the blogosphere on fire. This is grounds for legal action. By all rights, his case should have its day in court...

Except that court is expensive, isn't it? And The Mall of Cthulhu is small potatoes in the grander scheme of things. Were Brendan to go to court, it'd be him against the corporation, Erin Brockovich all over again, and further, were he to win, whatever small sum he'd be awarded would be diminished into insignificance by the amount it'd have cost him to win the money that we are to understand is rightfully his.

Frankly, it sounds like Night Shade are banking on that fact. They might not be rolling it in - they're a small press after all, however (formerly) respected - but they can afford, I'm sure, to pay whatever pittance Brendan is due for the stolen electronic right of The Mall of Cthulhu eBook. Except that they've gotten away with it for this long, haven't they? The mindset has to be, well... why suddenly wear the honest trousers now?

Personally, I'm outraged. If I had the means, the reach, I'd organise some sort of campaign, take signatures and march to Night Shade's offices demanding that they give Brendan his rightful, lawful due. As is, I'm blogging about it, and asking that any of those amongst you who feel similarly miffed by this publisher's at best dismissive treatment of a fine and upstanding young author get in touch with Night Shade Books to express your dismay. The hope being that if enough of us email "info [at] nightshadebooks [dot] com" to voice our concerns about their integrity, they might see reason.

Here's bloody hoping.

In the interim, it's not all bad news. Having all but given up the ghost on Night Shade - and who could blame him? - Brendan has started to parcel out The Mall of Cthulhu sequel free of charge on his website. It's called Dog Walk of the Dead, and it's every bit as madcap and entertaining as its predecessor. Go here to download it, and readers: spare a dime, why don't you. There's a PayPal button right there on the blog post. You don't have to give much, nor indeed anything at all, but consider how it would be to finally have your manuscript published only to find its publishers behaving as Night Shade have towards Brendan, and please, give the dog a bone here. What are you going to do with that dollar in your PayPal account anyway? Pay for some postage on a bit of tack from eBay?

So there. You have your homework. It'll cost you a few pennies and the time it takes to draft an email, but you'll make a good man's day - Brendan's, not mine (though you'll have my gratitude too) - and not only that, you'll get the first part of book that I'm sure anyone who's read The Mall of Cthulhu would agree deserves a chance.


  1. This is not the first time I have heard about the negative side of Night Shade Books. It was not long ago that I stumbled across a post from Liz Williams, author of the Inspector Chen novels, about her unpleasant experience with Night Shade Books (which is also linked from Brendan's blog and now I remember how I stumbled across the post in the first place).

    That's two of their authors speaking out against them... how many more are being fucked over?

    News like this is sad and yes, this sort of thing should be talked about more. We get discussion enough about how TOR screwed over Daniel Abraham (and readers), but it is not often that we hear anything from the small press side of publishing.

  2. I wrote a non-fiction book that came out in 2008 and my publisher has yet to provide any royalty statements. After repeated e-mails they claimed I haven't earned any royalties yet, but have not sent me the regular statements required by our contract. I don't have an agent to bug them for me and know that it would cost too much to take them to court. It's depressing, but what can you do?

  3. I guess you blog about it?

    I think it's safe to say the vast majority of us bloggers have designs, however far-fetched, on writing fiction one day, and even if that weren't the case, it's in everyone's interests to see writers treated fairly and decently. The happier the writer, the better the writing.

    Is that true, I wonder?

    In any case, this seems to be a larger problem than I'd imagined. Small presses in particular seem to be chancing their luck by bullying their authors into knuckling under. How in God's name to seek recourse, I wonder. Any ideas?

    I mean, any ideas that aren't going to court?

  4. I've sent Night Shade an email and mentioned it on my blog. Hopefully, the publicity from all this will make Night Shade change their ways, at least in this one instance.

  5. Good man, Hat. I'm beginning to suspect you're not so evil at all!

  6. There's always the possibility of going to court pro se (on your own) and/or only hiring a lawyer partially to at least deal with the procedural aspects.

    This is only recommended if you have the time and again comes back to whether it's even worth it at all.

    I know many law libraries are public, so finding legal info isn't actually that difficult.

    It's still one (of the many) shortcomings of the legal system and most likely still not worth it.

  7. Shouldn't the SFWA or comparable organization throw their weight into stuff like this?

    NSB does seem to miss their release dates on a frequent basis.