As editor and, until last week, owner of Soft Skull press, Richard Nash had the kind of bumpy year that no one bargains for: first, PGW, his distributor, went bankrupt, leaving Soft Skull and many other publishers in the lurch. Then, Perseus book group took on the distribution of many former PGW clients, Soft Skull among them, paying a reduced percentage of what publishers were owed. The press was in trouble: “I knew that Soft Skull was not going to be able to thrive without access to deeper pockets,” said Nash. In swooped Charlie Winton, who'd recently bought Shoemaker & Hoard—and partnered with its editor Jack Shoemaker—and Counterpoint, forming a company called Counterpoint LLC. Winton bought Soft Skull from Nash and appointed him executive editor of Counterpoint and editorial director of Counterpoint's new Soft Skull Imprint, saving Soft Skull.
Nash's road to becoming an editor was an unlikely one. After graduating from Harvard in 1993, Nash, who was born in Ireland in 1970, was a theatre director and performance artist until 2000. Then, he said, “I worked at Oxford University Press, not at all with any vocational aspirations. I temped, then decided to go on staff, and rose through the ranks to where I was in charge of permissions and also doing some foreign rights and electronic rights.” He became involved with Soft Skull when he directed a play featuring the press's controversial founder, Sander Hicks, who had his first big break publishing Fortunate Son, a much-debated George W. Bush bio. Hicks brought Nash in to help with the press, then, Nash remembers, “when Sander left, I took over, initially, temporarily, but I found that I loved it.” Since 2002, Nash has made the once flailing Soft Skull into a highly respected outfit, with books being distributed and reviewed nationally, most recently, Jamestown by Matthew Sharpe.
Despite a few big successes and many well-loved books, like Lydia Millet's My Happy Life, Soft Skull has not been financially stable. According to Nash, “A book would be delayed, but we'd have a big publicity opportunity in place. In order to get ready for that big reading or convention, we'd go to Lightning Source and print 100 or 500 copies, and the unit cost would be four times what we would have been paying had we been able to get the normal print run done. Trying to operate an independent publisher on our scale is almost impossible to do purely out of cash flow.”
But Nash believes the sale of the press to Winton—which, in fact, was first discussed during a random late-night encounter between the two in a bar early this March—will solve those problems. “Charlie Winton has done very well for his investors, and therefore has people quite willing to help him create a very properly capitalized company, and we get to be a part of that.” Nash said. “I'm absolutely thrilled.” Nash will still be the guiding force behind Soft Skull, but will also be responsible for editing some Counterpoint titles. Winton, Shoemaker and Nash will determine which titles will be published under which imprint.
Unfortunately, Soft Skull's current staff of two will not be going along for the ride. “That's the biggest bummer of them all,” said Nash.
As far as what current Soft Skull authors can expect, there will be some rescheduling of delayed books, but none will be canceled, and “they basically get the same TLC they always got, if not more,” said Nash. Authors are optimistic. According to Matthew Sharpe, “The asset Mr. Winton is buying is not Soft Skull's massive coffers, but the vitality and vision of Richard Nash.” Novelist Amanda Stern, author of The Long Haul (Soft Skull, 2003), sees Soft Skull as “the scrappy, tough kid who raised himself without parents. I assume he'll stay true to his original vision, but I hope now Richard will be able take a nap once in a while.”