Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Interview: Richard Eoin Nash

Every Tuesday, I'll have an interview posted.

Richard Eoin Nash ran Soft Skull Press, now an imprint of Counterpoint, from 2001 to 2007 and ran the imprint on behalf of Counterpoint until early 2009.

What made you decide to finally decide to leave Soft Skull Press?

We're on the edge of a radical transformation of the process whereby writers are connected with readers, a process that ought to be called publishing, were it not for the fact that we publishers too often fail to actual connect writers with readers (as opposed to ship books to retailers...) The necessary change will be radical, and I thought I should embody that radical change personally!

Currently, what are the projects you plan on pursuing?

In the very short run, lots of consulting and freelancing, as much as possible with , since I am resigning amidst the worst economic downturn in living memory! I don't expect to work solely on my own indefinitely though. I expect wherever I will draw a salary from in 2010 will be a company that didn't exist, or barely existed, in 2008. I also know I'll continue to consult, though, as I want to be as helpful as possible in helping put together the new business models that will allow us to connect writers and readers better than ever before.

With all the experience you've accumulated, what are some of the things that you've learned working as Soft Skull's publisher?

How much I don't [yet] know!! Seriously, I learned that I publish books in order to find out why I published them. Because it wasn't until they were out in the world that I could really understand what they meant. My entire time in publishing was one of significant change—one tweet reporting my departure suggested that it represented the beginning of the end of the first post-Internet period of independent publishing. A bit of an exaggeration obviously but also points to a truth, that I've been contending with significant change from the get-go.

How did you first get involved with the independent publishing scene?

My predecessor at Soft Skull, Sander Hicks, was a playwright also, and I was a theatre director—I directed his plays, and that working relationship bled over into his publishing work. When he took a leave of absence, I offered to help out, and I just fell in love with indie publishing.

What is it's current state now?

Very tough times in the short run, because of how much pressure retailers and wholesalers are putting on publishers. The supply chain is constricting, and the publishers have to absorb all the inventory risk. And independents just don't have the capital...

In your opinion, what steps should publishers take to adapt to all the changes that's happening, everything from eBooks to Amazon to the economy?

Listen to your readers. If you do that, all else will follow. (They will tell you they want great writers, and that you should take care of them, but listen first to the readers—your writers rely on you to do that for them...)

What are the books or who are the authors that currently excite you?

Michael Muhammad Knight, born white Catholic, now a convert to Islam, who is embarked on no less a project that to understand the making of Americans. Immensely ambitious. Zachary Mexico, who will be in the Philippines shortly, who has written a book on the Chinese underground and in so doing has begun the process of helping Westerners grasp who China is going through a lot of the same stuff Europe and North American went through in the 19th & 20th centuries, just much bloody faster! Martin Millar, of course, through whose books I first came to your blog—we've two more reissues this year, and two more next year...

What was the biggest challenge in running a company like Soft Skull?

Cash flow cash flow cash flow. Boring answer I know, but its the truth. And the new business models will need to address that. The new models will have to be much more sustainable, and allow publishers to operate with much lower working capital needs. (Because the emotional pressure of poor working capital/poor cash flow? Is intense. Involves retching with anxiety.

Any advice for aspiring writers?

Be part of your community, whatever it is.

Advice for aspiring publishers?

The same! Books are a conversation.

Anything else you want to plug?

David Ohle and Paul Fattaruso. Two writers I tried and failed to break out. Both minor geniuses (and when I say "minor," I consider Beaudelaire to be a "minor" genius.) David's books are Motorman, The Age of Sinatra, and The Pisstown Chaos. Paul's book with us was Travel in the Mouth of the Wolf. Just gorgeous rich reading experiences. Books you'll remember for the rest of your life.

No comments: