Founded in 2008 by two veteran publishing professionals—former Berkley publisher Lou Aronica and literary agent Peter Miller—Story Plant is a publishing venture originally intended to focus on a list of hardcover genre fiction. But after releasing its first two hardcover books last fall, Aronica acknowledged that he and Miller have had to rethink the whole venture. Story Plant originally planned to release four to five hardcover novels priced around $25, but the first two books, Aronica said, “didn't do well.” Part of the problem, he said, is an ”abysmal market for new fiction,” but he is also convinced that the publishing industry “has walked away from developing new commercial writers.”
Aronica believes publishing needs a new model, or rather a qualified return to an old model. “Rather than compete for the hot writers and try to buck up their diminishing sales,” Aronica explained, “publishers need to find new writers with promise, commit to multibook deals and work to polish their manuscripts.” So Story Plant has been reconfigured to focus its efforts on a core of relatively new (although previously published) writers who Story Plant is publishing in paperback series with books released in quick succession, priced generally for less than $10. The importance of pricing was reinforced for Aronica when he noticed that the e-book versions of the hardcovers on his original list (priced at $9.99) got good reviews and sold in numbers equal to the hardcover.
To help familiarize audiences with new authors, Story Plant has teamed up with DailyLit.com—a site with a circulation of about 150,000 readers that usually serializes excerpted content using daily e-mails—to release a series of original short stories by suspense writer Laurel Dewey. The stories are being released for free daily with a new and complete story each month for five months, all released before Story Plant's publication of Dewey's mass market paperback novel Protector in February 2010. All the promotional short stories are focused on Dewey's main character, Denver police detective Jane Perry, a character Aronica said had been featured in Dewey's first published works. Aronica plans to follow Protector, which was originally published in 2006 by Safe Goods, with the release of new Dewey novels in June (Redemption) and October (Revelations) of 2010.
“To create a market, you need to publish quickly and economically,” Aronica said. Fiction, he added, needs a platform; “you can't really browse Amazon; you need to create demand. If you don't drive readers to a book, they won't find it.” And, Aronica continued, “When you get passionate responses from readers, you better have another book ready.” The house has also just published Michael Baron's When You Went Away, a $7.99 mass market paperback; Aronica said he's “liking the sales numbers so far.” Story Plant was able to retrieve rights to past books by Baron and “stockpiled” a number of titles that will be re-released in succession in new editions in January and May 2010.
Story Plant is basically a two-person operation, Aronica said. “Everything else is freelance. With so many layoffs in publishing, there are some very good people available.” Books are distributed by Perseus.