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"We're much more likely to keep an author if he or she has seen the other side," says Nash, whose roster boasts a number of big-house alums. Matthew Sharpe had already published two books with Villard, a Random House imprint, before moving to Soft Skull for his second novel, The Sleeping Father (2003), which hit paydirt when it was selected for the Today Show Book Club. Soft Skull will release Sharpe's next book in a joint deal with Harvest, the paperback imprint of Harcourt.
"One major benefit of working with a small press is the human scale of it," Sharpe says. "As much as I liked the people at Villard, they would start sentences that went, 'It was decided that . . . ' There's this mystifying corporate decision-making process, and the novice literary author is often on the fuzzy end of the lollipop." With Soft Skull, Sharpe explains, "If I want to talk about the cover or marketing or distribution, I just pick up the phone and call Richard Nash. There's a personal and emotional investment, and a real material investment, in every title that they do."
And if the author is lucky, even the disadvantages can have their perks. "I got what I'd call an unhealthy four-figure advance for The Sleeping Father, and it's more of an uphill struggle in terms of distribution and marketing. At the same time, while no publisher can make their book get on the Today show, Richard did absolutely everything he could to put the book on that path. And once the book passed a relatively low sales threshold, I started getting royalty checks," Sharpe adds. "In corporate publishing, royalties are the equivalent of a Bigfoot sighting."
The Brooklyn Book Festival takes place Saturday, September 16, at Borough Hall Plaza. The Small Press Center hosts Archipelago Books as the closing event of its "Emerging Voices" series on June 6.