In Which A Publisher Speaks Openly

September 13th, 2006 · No Comments
by Booksquare

We do so love interviews with editors, but so often they are politically correct. You know how it goes: good story, strong writing, make me happy. Always helpful, but not always realistic. Publishing is, after all, as much a business as an art. Maybe that’s why we found MediaBistro’s interview with Richard Nash of Soft Skull Press so refreshing. It felt like a real person was answering the questions, not a corporate entity.

For the one or two of you who are unfamiliar with Soft Skull, they are a New York-based small press. They focus on publishing books that other publishers believe won’t sell. While it’s business model that won’t lead to riches for anyone involved — Nash notes that his staff survives on tiny salaries — it does allow for alternative voices to enter the market. Still, Soft Skull manages to produce a mix of non-fiction and fiction titles that make readers think. If only all publishers could have that as a goal…granted, it doesn’t always lead to big profits, but we’re feeling idealistic this morning.

Hmm, idealism is already clashing with pragmatism. After Nash discusses the way he finds authors (“get authors the same way I try to promote them, through relationships, said relationships forged in all kinds of different ways — me finding them, them finding me. Rather than break things down in given channels or structures, I find it most helpful to think of the process as an attitude, and that attitude has to be one of relentlessness. Find your world, and inhabit it, as fully as possible.”), he, as he discusses advances and other finances, then uses words that make us smile, mostly because we’re sick, sick, sick:

[Advances range from] $300-$1,000. Independent publishing is about managing cash flow. Given that the publisher absorbs that vast majority of financial risk in the entire supply chain of writer to reader (the cascade of returnable product all ends at the publisher, but not to the printer), and that the first cent a publisher sees is 120 days after the book first ships, and yet everyone else has gotten paid already. It’s just not rational for poorly capitalized independent publishers to be assuming all the financial risk.

Anything I can do to make the process one in which risk is more evenly distributed, I will do. This means of course that it’s hard to work with non-fiction writers with opportunity costs (the freelance money or magazine money forgone) since the advance is expected to offset that. By necessity I work with writers who have sources of income beyond selling books. I will note that I’ve worked with several writers who have made far more money with Soft Skull than they made with corporate publishers paying “normal” advances.

Now we send you off to read the whole interview all by yourself.

[tags]soft skull press, richard nash, publishing, small presses[/tags]

File Under: Publishers and Editors