EDITED 10/13 TO ADD: Mark Teppo has confirmed that Jason Williams has resigned from Resurrection House.
I had this post ready to go on Friday, but it was pre-empted by news of Ann Crispin’s death. I was considering letting the blog sit silent for a week–but in light of the fools and trolls who are dreaming of Writer Beware’s demise, I’ve decided to carry on as usual. It’s what Ann would have wanted.
A brand new publisher has hung out a web shingle: Resurrection House. As of this writing, its website is pretty bare: a single page with a mission statement, a call for submissions, and a link to a cryptic YouTube video. As yet, no books have been published; there’s also no information about staff. You can’t even tell what genres Resurrection House is interested in.
I always advise authors to be cautious about approaching a brand-new publisher. There’s a high attrition rate among new small presses, and it’s really safest to hold off on approaching them until they’ve proven they can operate without getting backlogged or running out of money. In practical terms, that means waiting at least a year after the press has started issuing books. This also gives you a chance to assess quality, and to get a sense of how (or if) the publisher markets its list. And it allows time for complaints, if any, to surface.
Also a concern: a publisher that doesn’t disclose its staff. If you don’t know who owns the publisher and who works for it, how can you determine whether they’re experienced and competent–or, worse, have ties to questionable ventures? Inexperienced staff is a major reason for publisher death. And a publisher that crashes and burns under one name may start up almost immediately under another.
In this case, a little Googling quickly discloses that Resurrection House’s owner is author Mark Teppo. Teppo has industry experience, which is certainly an encouraging sign.
What Google won’t tell you is that Resurrection House has another staff member: Night Shade Books founder and publisher Jason Williams. (Though Williams’ involvement with Resurrection House isn’t publicly disclosed, Writer Beware has seen a message posted by Teppo to a mailing list for Night Shade Books authors.) If that name doesn’t ring a bell, here’s a bit of background.
An independent publisher established in 1997, Night Shade Books quickly became known for high artistic standards and an edgy, eclectic list. A few years ago, however, it ran into financial trouble, and began having problems making royalty payments. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America put it on probation in 2010.
Probation was lifted a year later, but Night Shade continued to struggle. Then, in April 2013, Night Shade abruptly announced that it was selling its assets to two companies: Skyhorse Publishing (which has a special program for buying up backlist titles from struggling presses) and Start Publishing. The deal averted bankruptcy proceedings (which would have placed authors’ contracts in limbo), and money owed to Night Shade authors was promised to be paid in full–but in return, authors were asked to agree to revised terms, including lower royalties and a less favorable contract. Authors and agents took to the Web to voice their displeasure (Tobias Buckell provides a roundup of links). Ultimately, Skyhorse and Start agreed to raise royalty rates, and the deal went through
Mark Teppo has stated that Jason Williams will be working with Resurrection House only as an employee, with the title of Acquisitions Editor, and won’t have a hand in running the company. By all accounts, Williams is a talented editor. Still, even as an employee, his association with Resurrection House is a data point that writers should have the opportunity to factor in to their decision to submit. I don’t think I’m alone in finding it troubling that Teppo is holding that information so close to the vest.
If you’re a SFWA member, Resurrection House is also being discussed in the SFWA forums.
UPDATE 4/12/15: Resurrection House is now doing business as Underland Press.
Mark has writer and business creds, and though I don't know him well, he strikes me as grounded and honest. A big, big point for Resurrection House is that (since this was posted) they have PGW (Publishers Group West) for distribution. This means their books have a good chance of getting into stores, as PGW does well with small presses. To get PGW in his corner, Mark had to convince them that his company would be worth their while, in terms of stability, marketing, literary worth — they don't want a bunch of dead books in their warehouse. So this isn't an "anyone can do it" operation. It's always a risk to sign with a new, small press, but writers can die at big houses, too.
The Worldcon launch party was held in the SFWA suite, but from what I've heard, SFWA didn't authorize the suite to be used for that purpose.
I attended the Worldcon party and asked what books they were looking for. The editor said they had various interests. I found the vagueness and lack of promo materials a bit surprising, though he was busy pouring drinks.
This brings back memories for me. I was burned once by a new publisher/packager who commissioned a series of education books written to a very specific formula, for a specific market and then, after issuing a dreadful contract which we had to sign as we'd written the books and had nowhere else to send them, she emailed us all to say she couldn't publish as the money hadn't come through from her overseas market, etc. and very kindly told us we could have our rights back, though, as mentioned, they were really not saleable. Thing is, my regular publisher, himself a writer, had known her when she was working for a large publishing house and said she was fine then but, as he added,"It wasn't her money then." He, too, had been burned by this, with years of experience. She didn't even have a web site! Her only online mention was in an editors' newsletter announcing she was striking out on her own.
BTW, I followed your link to Twitter – are these people for real?!?
I'd like to echo a previous comment that Jason didn't do much of the heavy lifting, that it was generally others at the company doing most of the work, especially Lockhart. I'm surprised Resurrection House didn't do due diligence to find this out. It wouldn't have taken all that long. 🙁
More on Resurrection House, Night Shade Books, and Jason Williams:
From Jeff Vandermeer
From Rachel Swirsky
Jayme: See the SFWA forum topic “Resurrection House announcement” for details about the Resurrection House party. It was indeed problematic and I feel bad for everyone who had to clean up that mess, afterwards, on a number of levels.
Re: Frances Grimble – If you think Jason Williams was a good editor, you should talk to some of the writers he worked with, and read Jeff VanderMeer's post at Ecstatic Days.
To put it another way, when Ross Lockheart, the former managing editor of Night Shade, left the company in January, lots of reversion requests went out. The real talent at Night Shade was Ross, and he has his own company now, called Word Horde, which is celebrated and is not posted about at Writer Beware.
Although I wouldn't recommend that any writer sign up with a totally unknown publisher, Jason Williams does seem to be a good editor, if a lousy businessperson. It would seem a shame if his editorial career were totally destroyed, if he and his employers have learned that he should focus exclusively on editing.
Interesting. Resurrection House hosted a party Sunday night at Worldcon in the SFWA suite. One would think someone gave them at least a cursory vetting before giving the go-ahead.
These days anyone can become a publisher. Going with a brand new publisher is usually about as good as self-publishing since they aren't probably going to have much of a machine in place to promote your book.