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Interview with Lou Aronica, Publisher of New Publishing House The Story Plant

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As publisher of Avon Books, Lou Aronica launched the Eos imprint, now celebrating its tenth anniversary. Also at Avon, he built publishing programs for Dennis Lehane, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, J.A. Jance, Stephanie Laurens, Lisa Kleypas, Bruce Feiler, and Peter Robinson. Neil Gaiman, whose work Lou acquired, reached #1 on the New York Times Best Sellers list.

Of course, Lou is known for many other accomplishments. He launched the Bantam Crime Line and Bantam Spectra imprints, has been honored with a World Fantasy Award, and has published more than a dozen award winning-novels. At one point he had acquired five consecutive winners of the Nebula Award.

Authors he’s developed over his career continue to reign over bestseller lists and include Elizabeth George, Diane Mott Davidson, Amanda Quick, Tami Hoag, Iris Johansen and William Gibson. And is there any reader who can’t imagine the thrill of working alongside Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov?

Commercially, his biggest accomplishment is the acquisition and design of the Star Wars book publishing program, which “jump-started” the Star Wars book franchise and was initiated at a time when others had very little interest in the series.

You can visit his new publishing house at on the web.

We welcome the opportunity to interview Lou to find out more about his exciting new venture, The Story Plant.

Welcome to Blogcritics, Lou. Before we begin, would you like to give us a brief background of your publishing experiences?

Thanks. I’m not sure it’s possible for me to give a brief background. The very short answer is that I started as a schlepper at Bantam, I met Ian Ballantine (the man who brought paperback books to America and founded Bantam and Ballantine), he taught me everything I know about the business, I used this to start a science fiction program at Bantam, this did okay and someone thought it meant I could be a publisher, and that turned out to be somewhat true. Eight years ago, I started my own book development company, The Fiction Studio, but I missed publishing books too much. My partner Peter Miller and I sat down one day and in true, hey-kids-let’s-put-on-a-show fashion decided to launch our own boutique imprint. That brings us to today. As I’m writing this, our first book, American Quest, has just gone on sale.

Why did you decide to start a new publishing house?

I love fiction and I love publishing novelists and developing writers. The most enjoyable part of my work over the years was starting with writers like Neil Gaiman, or Tami Hoag, or Dennis Lehane and helping to build programs for them that eventually took them to the bestseller lists. Peter and I believe that this kind of development has waned in recent years. Publishers are less interested in taking a long-term approach to writers. We believe that a house that dedicates itself exclusively to author development can have a very meaningful place in the market.

What are the latest publishing trends in your own perspective?

I think the biggest trend from the business side is the all-or-nothing approach that the major publishers are taking. The reasons for this have more to do with finances than they have to do with the marketplace. To me, there’s a level of disconnect there that’s dangerous. Readers rarely show up all at once for a new writer – especially a new novelist. The attempt to blockbuster-ize new fiction is very dangerous and creates an environment where publishers are afraid to develop any fiction.

You only publish fiction at The Story Plant. Will you be opening up to nonfiction authors as well in the future?

I’m sure at some point we’ll have a narrative nonfiction writer on our list. Our focus is on great storytelling, so that leaves out all of the categories of nonfiction that convey information rather than story (though we might occasionally publish a book like this from a novelist on our list). Since we’ve built our publishing model around long-term relationships with writers, any narrative nonfiction writer we signed would have to be someone who had multiple stories to tell.

Would you like to tell us about the two new books that will be coming out with your publishing house?

The first two books on the list are American Quest by Sienna Skyy, a contemporary fantasy, and Capitol Reflections by Jonathan Javitt, a medical thriller. American Quest excited us because it combines inventive storytelling with memorable characters. It’s part epic quest story, part love story, and part buddy movie. That’s a distinctive and very appealing combination. Capitol Reflections turned us on both because the story is gripping and because of its high level of verisimilitude. Jonathan Javitt is highly accomplished in the medical profession and he’s a true Washington insider. This combination makes Capitol Reflections feel very real – which is scary considering it is about a genetically modified food gone out of control.

What was most appealing about these books was that they heralded talented new writers who have many stories in them. American Quest is the first of a four-book cycle and Jonathan Javitt has enough scary medical mysteries in him to keep us awake for years.

Would this be a good time to get submissions to you and would our readers need an agent to do this?

We’re going to keep The Story Plant small because that’s the only realistic way for us to do the kind of audience building for our writers that we need to do. This makes us ridiculously picky. That said, we’re always open to submissions. Agented submissions would be better, but we’ll look at unagented queries. Writers can send them to me at lou.aronica@thestoryplant.com or to Peter at peter.miller@thestoryplant.com.

How many books do you plan to publish this year? Next year?

We’re only publishing the two books I mentioned earlier this calendar year. Next year, we think we’ll publish ten. By 2010, we’re shooting for a dozen hardcovers a year along with paperback reprints of the previous year’s hardcovers. That’s the level we’re hoping to maintain.

What kind of fiction books would you be more interested in seeing come through your door?

Our focus at this point is on fiction for dedicated readerships. We feel that the best place to start is by developing writers who appeal to the three core genre audiences: romance, sf/fantasy, and mystery. I’m not saying that we won’t publish novels outside of those areas; to do so, though, we would have to feel as though we couldn’t look at ourselves in the mirror if we didn’t publish that particular writer. What we’re really looking for right now are novels that I call “supergenre” novels. These are books with strong genre appeal that also have high novelistic qualities. Neal Stephenson is a supergenre writer. Diana Gabaldon is a supergenre writer. Patricia Cornwell is a supergenre writer. We’re not interested in “category” books. We want nuanced characters, high levels of invention, and original stories.

Last but not least, how do you do everything you do without going insane? Do you have any relaxation techniques to share, lol?

I can’t say for certain that I haven’t gone insane. Some would suggest that starting a new publishing house in this environment is confirmation that I’ve lost my mind. Still, I try to meditate every day. I’ve learned a tremendous amount about this from Dr. Rick Levy (shameless plug: you can read all about his techniques in the book I co-authored with him, Miraculous Health), and this has helped me to focus and to compensate for limited amounts of sleep.

Thank you for this interview, Lou. It has been such a pleasure. Good luck with your new publishing house, The Story Plant, and we wish you much success!

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About Dorothy Thompson

  • Margay

    Thank you for doing this interview. I love getting the behind-the-scenes peeks at the business.

  • http://www.pumpupyourbookpromotion.com Dorothy

    You’re welcome, Margay! And I appreciate the comment! Lou is wonderful and I wish him the best of luck with The Story Plant!

  • http://www.thebookconnectionccm.blogspot.com/ Cheryl Malandrinos

    Excellent interview. Sounds like The Story Plant is going to be a publishing house to watch.

    Cheryl