The Story Plant – Publisher Interview – Lou Aronica

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Paperback Writer is pleased to introduce a new kind of virtual book tour. Rather than presenting an author I thought you would like to hear about publication from a publishers point of view. Lou Aronica graciously stopped by to talk about his new publishing house, The Story Plant.

About the Publisher

As publisher of Avon Books, Lou 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 Robin son. 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, The Story Plant, by visiting

The Story Plant

Started by two long-term industry veterans (you can read about us here), The Story Plant is a publishing company dedicated to commercial fiction. Story Plant books will be involving and engaging reading experiences provided by passionate writers who love the stories they’re telling and have several more to tell. While we understand that no one buys a book because of the logo on the spine, we hope you’ll come to find our imprimatur synonymous with storytelling excellence.
The first two Story Plant books go on sale in the fall of 2008. One is a moving, romantic, and exciting contemporary fantasy. The other is a powerful and frightening medical thriller. Both are by writers whose names you should get to know because you’re going to be hearing from them often in the future.

It’s often difficult to know where a conversation is going to take you. A few years ago, literary manager Peter Miller and I were talking about a project we’d been working on together (him as agent, me as editor). It was a dramatic piece of commercial fiction with a thrilling plot and a couple of emotional subplots. As good as it was, though, Peter couldn’t sell it. I’d heard this same thing from every agent I knew – good commercial fiction was becoming harder and harder to place.

This confounded me for a number of reasons. One was that I knew how painful this was for the writers who’d done everything right and still ended up unpublished. In the early eighties, I’d started a writing seminar by announcing to the attendees that if they wrote honest, inspired fiction that delivered a strong reading experience that someone would publish them. This wasn’t me tapping into my inner inspirational speaker. I genuinely believed this because I knew that publishers at that point had the capacity to find a place for any very good book. A decade later, I knew this was no longer true, but it now dawned on me that the shift was so profound that writing a professional, deeply satisfying manuscript only gave the writer the opportunity to be considered. It had become like the student who scored in the ninety-eighth percentile on her SATs only to discover she was one of the ninety-plus percent of applicants not accepted by Harvard.

Another reason was that I knew the audience for this novel existed and that it was reachable. I’d spent my career developing commercial novelists and the positioning, packaging, and marketing of this work seemed evident to me.

“This is driving me crazy,” I said to Peter. “I know exactly what to do with this novel.”

“Too bad you aren’t a publisher anymore,” Peter responded.

“Well, if I were, this is exactly the kind of novel I’d want. And I know there’s a huge audience of readers out there who feel the same way.”

“Maybe we should start our own publishing house.”

“Tell me about it.”

“Really,” Peter said with more gravity in his voice than I was accustomed to hearing. “Maybe we should.”

That conversation was several years ago. We danced around the topic for a while and then finally got serious about developing a business plan. We were going to need investors, and shopping for these was not in my skill set. Fortunately, it was in Peter’s. It took a while – book publishing is not the sexiest investment – but we finally found a seed investor and that led to others coming on board. Our first two titles, American Quest, a contemporary fantasy, and Capitol Reflections, a medical thriller, have just hit the stores.

Getting from that first conversation to now required several other processes. One was defining the company’s vision. That was easy. We knew that we wanted the house to focus on the development of commercial novelists. That meant seeking writers who had multiple books in them and who were as willing to commit to us as we were to them. The core notion of The Story Plant is that we are going to develop writers over a number of books. We weren’t going to try to make the leap onto the bestseller list in one try and we weren’t going to write an author off after one book if it failed to meet sales expectations.

Another process was establishing the infrastructure. That meant seeking a distributor. Perseus impressed us instantly and we’d decided to go with them by the end of our first conversation. We also needed a name, which turned out to be quite a bit more difficult. We’d settled for a while on one name only to discover that a celebrity was starting a book publishing operation with nearly the same one. We came to “The Story Plant” in a roundabout fashion. Peter wanted to use the name of a tree or flower to suggest how we were going to “grow” the writers on our list. As a long-time rock-and-roll fan, I thought of The Story Plant as a nod to the legendary recording studio, The Record Plant. We both liked the double-entendre in the name: a plant that grows and a plant that builds things.

At the same time, we needed to put together our list. The first two writers were people we’d worked with closely who fit our model perfectly. Our upcoming spring list includes writers with multiple projects in development, offering us a clear path to building a publishing program. As I suspected, finding terrific work has not been difficult because market conditions are so bad for novelists right now. However, we’re going to keep our list very small (no more than a dozen new titles per year), and we’re going to commit to every writer we publish, so making the right decisions is critical.

Now we’re at the marketing stage. This stage is, of course, ongoing and involves trying to sell the books on sale while developing the plans for the next list. We’ve rejected most of the traditional approaches to marketing books because we’ve learned over the years that most of those approaches don’t work. However, this means a continuing series of trial and error. The web is at the center of everything because it’s the best vehicle for generating interest in books. For American Quest, we created a music video, a Flash video, considerable background material, and the author wrote two original stories for the site ( For Capitol Reflections (, we’ve focused on the nonfiction angle of the novel with a blog addressing the controversy surrounding genetically modified foods. The marketing plans for our spring titles range farther.

This all started with a conversation about our frustrations. Now with the house up and running, it’s time to turn those frustrations into action.

THE LOU ARONICA VIRTUAL BLOG TOUR ’08 will officially begin on October 1 and end on October 30. You can visit Lou’s blog stops at in October to find out more about his new publishing house!
As a special promotion for all our authors, Pump Up Your Book Promotion is giving away a FREE virtual book tour to a published author or a $50 Amazon gift certificate to those not published who comments on our authors’ blog stops. More prizes will be announced as they become available. The winner(s) will be announced on our main blog at on October 30!

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