Ambassador of Books ~ Book Club Madam ~ Blogger Gal

Friday, October 17, 2008

Thoughts from a publisher ...

I know I've been absent for the past few days, and I will likely be scarce for the next few as well. I promise to give an update about my uncle as soon as I can. There are book reviews I need to write as well. As for this post, I promised to have it up on 10/15 and you can see that it didn't happen. Lou - I hope you'll forgive me!

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I'm excited to share with you some thoughts by veteran publisher Lou Aronica. Here's a bit about Lou:
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 http://www.thestoryplant.com/. 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.

Check back here from time to time to hear our latest news. We'll also be adding new features all the time, including a blog that will serve as a "virtual writers conference" this fall.
When I was given the chance to "speak" with Lou I wanted to hear his thoughts on the changing nature of the publishing industry and how that influences his new company. Of course, I wanted to know what he thinks about the book blogging community as well! Thank you, Lou, for your insightful answers to my questions.

And now, here's Lou
:

I have been thinking about starting a publishing house of my own for a long time. As far back as the early eighties, I sat around with some colleagues in the industry and we talked about creating a new model for a publishing company. It finally happened after all of this time because my partner Peter Miller and I kept talking about doing it and finally realized that we were actually serious.

Interestingly, if I’d done this in the early eighties, it would have been exponentially easier, even though I have significantly more publishing experience now. It was simply less difficult to publish a book back then. More retail outlets carried books and they sold a much broader selection of titles in quantity. This made it much more possible for publishers to take chances on writers and to build books from sheer excitement. Starting a publishing house now means dealing with a much narrower set of publishing options. This is especially true with publishing fiction (which is the primary focus of The Story Plant). Booksellers are less willing to take chances on new writers than they once were – and with good reason; much new fiction sells at appallingly low levels. It’s very difficult to get attention for new fiction at the store level because the books wind up spine-out on a shelf or on a table with dozens of other books and nothing other than the cover to call attention. It’s genuinely humbling to walk into a bookstore to see one of your books on sale – what seemed so fresh and distinctive back at the office is now just part of a huge mass.

At the same time, I think we may be on the verge of a new bright age for book publishing. One complaint we always had in the business was that it was so difficult to communicate with the readers. We could scream at them through display materials (back when that happened in stores), or we could try to turn booksellers on to a book in the hopes that they would hand-sell it (back when a great deal of hand-selling happened in bookstores), or we could shout from the rooftops via advertising, hoping that a small handful of the people who heard us actually cared at all about this type of book. The internet finally gives us what we’d been searching for: a way to talk to people who actually care about reading – even very specific kinds of reading – and say, “Hey, try a little of this. We think you might like it.” Communities have always been important in the book world and now these communities are visible and accessible in unprecedented ways.

As publishers, I think we’re all still learning how to interact with the web. Obviously, it requires much more than simply putting up a site with a sample chapter and a bio. Part of the process involves creating sites that are rich and layered and that invite readers into the writer’s world. For our first two books, we generated sites that we believe go beyond hyping a book to create a milieu for the novel. For American Quest, a contemporary fantasy (http://www.americanquestbook.com/), the author wrote two original short stories, we created a music video and a Flash video, and we added content about the world of the novel. We intend to continue to add content to the site right up to the publication of the paperback edition. For Capitol Reflections, a medical thriller (http://www.capitolreflections.com/), we focused on the author’s impressive credentials and the controversial subject matter of the novel, creating a blog about genetically modified foods and making the entire thing very topic driven. The idea in both cases was not to say, “THIS IS THE BEST BOOK YOU WILL EVER READ,” but instead to say, “Come enter this world. If you find it interesting, give the book a try.” I think the latter respects the readership much more and connects more closely with how readers choose books.

The challenge at this point is directing readers toward the sites in the first place. The blogging community is a huge help in this, and when they believe in a book (or even in the cleverness of a site), they can spread the word very quickly. We’re going to pay special attention to bloggers (as you might have assumed from the fact that I’m guest blogging here), as I believe the publisher/blogger relationship may be the key to the next stage in book publishing.

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I do hope you'll check out The Story Plant and the other websites they've created. I'm very intrigued by the concept of books having websites to go along with them. I know it's not a new idea but it's not that common either, and its definitely a way to get interaction with readers.

Best of luck to Lou and the rest of the crew at The Story Plant from book bloggers everywhere!

4 comments:

bermudaonion said...

Great post. It was nice to read his thoughts on bloggers.

Ti said...

I think bloggers play a HUGE role in a books' success these days. It's nice to hear from a publisher too.

avisannschild said...

I wrote a long comment to this post and then Blogger ate it. Argh. Great post, anyway, and interesting to hear a publisher's perspective. It's funny because I used to keep an eye out for Bantam Spectra books -- so many good writers were published under that imprint that I'd often pick up new ones (that looked interesting, obviously) in part because they were published by Bantam Spectra. So an imprint can make a difference to readers... I'll certainly be keeping an eye out for The Story Plant.

Note that the link for Capitol Reflections doesn't work!

Heather J. said...

avianschild: Thanks for the heads up - I fixed the link. :)

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