Sander Hicks responds to Soft Skull Press article

A few weeks ago, I mentioned a NY Press article about the history of Soft Skull Press, a small publishing company founded and formerly run by Sander Hicks. The article contends that many writers weren’t paid for their work while Hicks was publisher at Soft Skull, but says current publisher Richard Nash rectified the troubled finances of the company and ensured that writers were paid for their work.

Late last night I received email from Mr. Hicks, saying, “I can understand sympathizing with writers you think are being ripped off, that’s noble, but that piece you praise on your site is actually libellous and hurtful.” Here’s his full response to the claims made in the NY Press article:

With the publication of Henry Flesh’s, “Boning Up: The Resurrection of Soft Skull Press” I have been maligned. Not only by the writer, but by his subject, my ex-best friend, Richard Nash, current Publisher of Soft Skull Press. Their loose allegations have blown up into exaggerated talk elsewhere, online and on the street. It’s getting out of hand. I’d rather not resort to lawyers immediately. I just want to give my side of the story.

Flesh writes, “…there are the independent book publishers who didn’t pay their authors a dime. …[paragraph break]… This happened to many authors at Soft Skull Press under former publisher Sander Hicks.”

That’s just not true. Soft Skull Press, Inc, (SSPI) under my leadership paid modest advances and then fair royalties under good contracts. SSPI has accounting records to prove it. Yes, sometimes we were late. Yes, the legal bills with Fortunate Son ($15,000 in 2001 alone) did slow down our payment schedule. But notice that of the 65 authors I published in my time at Soft Skull (1996-2001) NOT ONE is quoted in Henry Flesh’s article. Why? And why is this article appearing now, in October of 2003, a full two years and a month after I took a leave of absence from Soft Skull, and handed over the reins to my (former) best friend Richard Nash?

The time has come to let the public in on a few secrets inside the cryptic world of Richard Nash and his dilletante henchmen. Since filling a power vacuum in my absence, and stepping into an (un-elected) position as Publisher, Nash made it a point to alienate yours truly. Right away, he claimed for vague reasons that I could not come back to the company. So, I lived for about two years out on Long Island, licking my wounds, and working other jobs. I didn’t understand Nash. Angering me and pushing me away couldn’t be in the SSPI shareholder’s larger interest. I was the one who acquired the best-sellers, Fortunate Son (about Bush), and two other books which made the LA Times and Washington Post Best-Seller lists. I had developed an explosive little e-commerce engine at softskull.com and had gotten us national distribution.

Things became clearer one day last April. A special Emergency Shareholder’s Meeting was urgently called for April 30th, announced about a week prior. Nash told everyone that due to a bureaucratic snafu our NY State corporate status had been dissolved (due either to an accountant’s misfiling of (S) Corp status, or due to SSPI falling behind on State income tax, it’s still not clear to me which). Under the advice of business consultant Neil Reshen, Nash proposed that the company re-incorporate in Delaware, and that he be given 51% of that new company. His two right-hand men, Tom Hopkins and Don Goede, were also to be given sizable chunks of the new deal. I communicated quickly with a majority of the shareholders, and we rapidly formed a majority that said No. It was an easy argument to win: for the current management to gain that much equity, someone had to lose. The Nash Plan called for all current shareholders to have their share sizes CUT down to 33% of what they had paid cash for. I had sold friends and family $115,000 worth of stock in the Soft Skull vision. Nash was about to cut their dream down by two thirds.

April 30th came. I could not attend the meeting, and didn’t need to. I let Richard Nash know that I had the majority of shares on my side. We would not vote in favor of his proposal. Richard Nash opened up the meeting by issuing stock to his yes-men, Tom Hopkins and Don Goede, just enough so that they would gain a majority of votes to approve their rapacious plan. In any other country, that’s called stuffing the ballot box.

I decided to move on. I got a Honda Silverwing off Ebay for $650 and headed out West for a while, instead of filing a lawsuit, (at the time). I decided to try to let Nash attempt to resuscitate the beleagured Soft Skull Press, Inc. without further input from me. A few other shareholders weren’t opposed to Nash’s proposal, they felt that the debts were fearsome, and that Nash was doing an OK job. But the April 30th massacre of the equity that I had worked hard for showed that Nash was developing an incredibly pragmatic set of ethics. What happened to the brilliant, non-linear, poetic, Foreman and Yeatsean, experimental theater director we all knew? Is this what Enron and crony capitalism have taught us?

As a professional courtesy, I recently let Richard Nash know that I was incorporating a new publishing company, the Drench Kiss Media Corporation. I guess I meant that to give us some closure, but now regret such a gentlemanly move. Shortly after, this piece by Henry Flesh appeared in the New York Press. Nash deals in vague complaints (here in the NY Press, and earlier in the Brooklyn Rail) but the Shareholders have NEVER received any serious documentation of his case: what exactly does the company owe, what’s in the bank, what have we paid off, what have we made? Henry Flesh praises Nash and Tennessee Jones for their “interest-bearing bonds” to creditors but Nash was actually seriously late on the June 2003 payment to the bond company. When I asked him about this, he said something like, it’s OK, they won’t default on us, it’s easier for them to just wait.

I have attempted to communicate with Nash several times about the Flesh’s defamatory piece. He has not returned phone calls or emails about this story. I am beginning to think that he may have planted it. It’s certainly odd that Flesh never contacted me for my side of things.

So, we have a piece now online and in print where Nash claims that accounting was “a disaster” when he took over Soft Skull Press, Inc. OK, now, we know it wasn’t perfect, but I was working with a good accountant, OSB, at the time. Funny. OSB are now suing Nash and his version of SSPI. Why? Well, they want to get paid. And maybe they’re also tired of Nash’s bombastic, undiplomatic style.


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