Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Interview with Publisher Lou Aronica

Publisher Lou AronicaAs 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 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

I'm delighted to host Lou Aronica today at Bookish Ruth. Lou, thanks so much for sharing your time with me and my readers.

You helped launch the incredibly successful Star Wars book franchise. I'm one of the millions of fans grateful for a look at Star Wars beyond what we see in the films. Can you tell us about the process of turning such a hugely successful movie series into a book franchise? What were some of the challenges you faced with the project?

The most important part of the process was re-thinking the movies in a novelistic way. We wanted the Star Wars books to work as fiction, not simply novelized versions of what people saw on the screen. That meant digging into the story to explore the characters in much greater depth than any film can, giving much more time to backstory and subplots, and concentrating more heavily on relationships and politics. When I made the deal with Lucasfilm, I told them that I wanted to launch with an ambitious trilogy of novels and that I wanted to ask an award-winning science fiction writer to create them for us. They loved this because it showed that we took the property very seriously. We went to Timothy Zahn who wrote novels of real depth and substance. Ultimately, we got what we were looking for – not the movies on the page, but the novelistic equivalent of the movie experience.

The first two books published by The Story Plant, American Quest by Sienna Skyy and Capitol Reflections by Jonathan Javitt, are both works of fiction. Will The Story Plant focus primarily on fiction or branch out into non-fiction as well?

Our first lists contain only fiction because we want to establish ourselves as fiction publishers first. Eventually we will publish nonfiction as well, though all of it will have a strong narrative base. We want people to see The Story Plant as a source for great storytelling.

What were some of the challenges you and Peter Miller faced in starting The Story Plant? What has been the most rewarding part of launching a new publishing house?

There have been numerous challenges, from convincing investors that it made sense to put their money in book publishing, to finding books that we wanted to make a major commitment to, to setting up the company’s infrastructure. It was all very exciting, actually, because it forced us to affirm our dedication to this project.

The most rewarding part of launching a new publishing house is being able to work closely with writers to develop their novels and to develop plans to bring their novels to readers. I missed this part of the business when I was away from this side of publishing and it was exciting to realize that I hadn’t romanticized it – it really was a fulfilling as I remembered it being.

What makes The Story Planet unique compared to other publishing houses?

I think the thing that most distinguishes The Story Plant from other houses is its complete dedication to author development. We aren’t looking for one-shot authors and we aren’t taking a blockbuster-or-bust approach to publishing. Every author on our list has a long-term publishing plan built around that author’s strengths with an eye toward consistent growth.

How has publishing changed since you first became involved with the industry? Do you feel that these changes are positive, negative, or evenly balanced between those two extremes?

Well, I started in publishing before the internet, when mall bookstores ruled the bookselling landscape, and when there were dozens of large independent publishers, so I’d say quite a bit has changed. I think the most negative thing that has happened in that time has been the decline of the independent bookstore. Independents were especially valuable in presenting new writers to the world and there has been no replacement for them. By far the most positive thing to happen has been the growth of the web. The internet makes it much more possible than ever before for writers to find readers, for readers to find writers, and for readers to find other readers. As publishers, I think we’re still a bit behind in learning how to use the internet to publish more effectively, but I think we’re making significant progress.

What's the best advice you've ever received?

My mentor Ian Ballantine advised me early in my career to “zig when everyone else is zagging.” What he meant by that was that the true breakthroughs happened when you operated away from trends. That’s become my overriding publishing philosophy (as evidenced by my being involved in a startup dedicated to new fiction at a time when publishers are running away from new fiction). It has worked out very well for me so far and I hope The Story Plant turns out to be the greatest manifestation of that philosophy.

What qualities do you look for in a book?

I love great characters. Without characters I can connect with, a story falls flat for me. I love writers who can bring the people alive on the page.


  1. What a great interview! Thank you to both Lou and Ruth! It's so interesting to hear from a publisher and get a look into another side of the world of books, which many of us are so passionate about.

  2. Interesting interview. And I have to agree re. his comment about the negative effect of the loss of independent bookstores. I love the ease of reading about, discussing, ordering books via the internet; but it is so sad that we have lost the smaller, more intimate book stores.