Interview with Lou Aronica

- by Lina Gardiner

A special welcome to Lou Aronica.  We’re so pleased to have you as our guest.

-Can you tell us about the Authors First, First Annual Novel Writing contest at The Story Plant?

We created Authors First because we realized that our roster of authors was particularly interested in sharing what they’d learned about the craft and business of being a writer and that this could be very helpful to a huge audience of aspiring writers. Once we decided to launch the site, adding a contest seemed like a natural thing to do as a way to both promote the site and give writers – especially new writers – a way to be heard.

The contest rules are all here, but we’re looking for book-length submissions of novels that have not been previously published. The first contest closes on September 30, and we’re going to announce the winner on December 1. The winner will receive $5,000, publication by The Story Plant and some other fun stuff.

We’re also running a short story contest where winners will be published in an annual anthology.

-How successful are virtual writers’ conferences and are they finally coming into their own in terms of successfully engaging authors?

I can’t speak for all virtual writers’ conferences, but I’m very happy with the traffic we’ve been getting our first couple of months. I think the key to successful engagement is constantly offering new and valuable material. We release a new session every week, which gives people reason to keep coming back to the site.

-Will you make virtual writers’ conferences an annual occurrence at the Story Plant?

To be clear, Authors First is an ongoing, permanent site. We didn’t create this as an event, but rather as a community center for writers, especially aspiring writers. We are definitely planning to run another contest for 2015.

-Let’s talk about your publishing company, The Story Plant. What prompted the decision to open your own publishing company?

I spent the first twenty years of my career in Big Five publishing (there were more than five back then). When I left to pursue my writing career, I thought I’d left that part of my life behind, but I found that it kept calling to me. I’ve always loved the process of publishing and I love developing writers, so I guess it was inevitable that I’d jump back to that side of the business even as I continue to write.

-How many books do you release a month?

 We do two or three books a month.

-How do you promote your author’s books?

 -In every way that makes sense. Our Marketing Manager Aaron Brown (a fellow Ninc member) and I have spent most of this year trying to parse out marketing tools that actually sell books as opposed to raising awareness. We focus heavily on bookseller promotions, because booksellers are far more effective at finding readers than publishers are. We do BookBub and other e-mail promotion, and we’re aggressively building our own e-mail list now. We spend a lot of time going after reviews, and we will on occasion hire publicists or embark on advertising campaigns. We have a good-sized social media presence that we’re always building, and we have a street team that we call the Spread the Word Initiative (always looking for new members, by the way). And then of course there’s Authors First, which is a great tool our writers can use to communicate with a community of readers.

-Do you have a foreign rights section?

Our foreign rights are sold by Trident Media Group.

-How are your royalties paid? eBook percentages, Trade book percentages?

Our trade royalties are industry standard and paid on cover price. Our e-book royalties are better than most traditional publishers and paid on net, which is the only realistic way to pay e-book royalties because pricing is so dynamic.

What would you love to see come across your desk?

 Anything with great characters and relationships. If a manuscript has those, I’m open to all kinds of plots and settings. Our first five titles this fall are about a tragic love affair, a young woman’s experiences in Israel in the early sixties, a “memoir of seduction,” a man campaigning for political office and for the future of his marriage, and a psych unit in a military hospital during the Vietnam War. All very different books, but all strongly character-centric.

 -Has the upsurge of independently published books changed the way you acquire authors, if at all?

Not really. Writers come to us because they like our publishing philosophy and the way we continue to work books years after publication (or because they don’t know any better). Indie is a great option, and as you know I’ve been a vocal supporter of indie publishing for years. We’re just another option.

-Given your vast knowledge of the publishing industry, is there any advice you’d like to share with fellow members of NINC?

Between the conference and my bimonthly columns in NINK, I think they get enough of me already.

 

lou-aronica

Lou Aronica is the President and Publisher of The Story Plant. He has thirty-five years of high-level experience in the book business. He was Publisher of two of the industry’s largest imprints, Avon Books and Berkley Books, and Deputy Publisher of a third, Bantam Books. As a writer, he is the author of twenty-four books, including the New York Times nonfiction bestsellers The Element and Finding Your Element (with Ken Robinson), and the nonfiction national bestseller The Culture Code (with Clotaire Rapaille), the USA Today bestselling novel The Forever Year, and the national bestselling novel Blue. Lou is also former president of Novelists Inc.

Writing Wild: 7 Questions with Tina Welling

- by Dara Girard

WildWriting.inddIn Writing Wild you discuss how writing changed your life, even caused disruption, can you tell us about that?

WRITING WILD is about awareness, about waking up through our senses and discovering our interconnection to all things. This realization changes a person. In my case, it affected my relationship with myself and that created a domino series of changes in my marriage, in my mothering, in my position with my original family. In the book, I discuss how exhilarating this was for me and perplexing for the others.

Who is this book not for?

WRITING WILD, Forming a Creative Partnership with Nature is a book about becoming more awake to ourselves and the natural world. Who wouldn’t enjoy that? I have written the book in terms of creative writing and journal keeping, because that’s what I know. And it’s the path that has worked for me. Joseph Campbell said, “People say that what we’re seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive…” For anyone who wishes to enjoy a greater experience of being alive, creative energy and a relationship with the natural world are the paths outlined in WRITING WILD and they sure worked for me.

Most members of Novelists Inc are multi-published writers with plenty of ideas, what can they gain from nature?

Nature is the macrocosm; personal energy is the microcosm. What is true for the larger is true for the smaller. Nature provides patterns for us to use in managing our creative energy. For example, the natural world demonstrates that we cannot continuously produce creative material, nature has seasons and so must we as writers. We need to honor our winter time and attend to our inner lives, in other words, rest and grow our roots.

You talk about “lowering your standards” to open the flow of creative energy; how does that work?

When we hold high expectations of ourselves we put up an immediate obstacle to moving forward. We can so easily freeze up and do nothing. Lowering our standards is a phrase I borrowed from the poet William Stafford, who taught me that by lowering our expectations and the demands on ourselves we are free to move onward, to create wholly original work. We must drop our urge to compare our work to others or to our past work or to our expected work. We want to be surprised, so we need to be vulnerable and wide open to whatever occurs to us at each moment.

You say that nature triggers stories, does that really happen?
I have seen it happen over and over to students in my workshops and have experienced it myself. Although it feels mysterious with something of theTina Welling, author. CREDIT: David J Swift divine to it, science backs this process up. And it all begins with the senses. So simple. So enjoyable. I have found storylines for my novels and personal insights for my inner work. I lay it out in 3 easy steps in WRITING WILD.

Why is a book like this important now?

WRITING WILD offers reminders to go within and experience ourselves rather than react to the relentless distractions and demands of the outer world. And, of course, any way of being that points to the value of our earth may lead people to forego plastic bags, to turn off lights when leaving a room, bicycle or walk those couple miles to the store or work. The earth is required to feed and support an ever growing population without the population feeding and supporting it.

What do you mean by “there are no failures”?

Wonderful inventions have come to us through so-called mistakes – Velcro and chocolate chips cookies for example. Mistakes are openings that create a whole new set of choices for us. Failures – meaning a creative project that didn’t turn out the way we hoped – show us to let go of our expectations. They remind us that outcomes are none of our business.

Find out more  about WRITING WILD  and Tina’s other works at tinawelling.com

Covers, Covered

- by Charlotte Hubbard

an amish christmas quilt The cover of a book is supposed to lure potential readers to take your book from the store shelf—or click it, online—and read more about what’s inside. The typical path is: you like the cover, you read the back cover copy, you open the book to read inside a bit, and—hopefully—you proceed to the checkout. Cover art does these things mostly by revealing the genre of the story, telling the reader what awaits her inside, and conveying the setting and the general mood of the story.

For instance, you can see at a glance that this is an Amish story because the young woman on the front is wearing a kapp, and there’s a horse-drawn vehicle on it, and a picturesque snow-covered countryside sets the scene. Even if you didn’t see the title, AN AMISH CHRISTMAS QUILT, you’d know it was a Christmas book because of that red and green quilt on the young lady’s lap. Most of the readers and reviewers in the Amish-interest Facebook groups I belong to have raved about this cover and can’t wait to read this anthology, so this cover is doing its job. It helps that Christmas anthologies sell very well, and that Amish Christmas anthologies are a huge draw for readers who enjoy those simple, homespun, faith-based stories. In all humility, while I think my fans (not to mention fans of Kelly and Jennifer) will flock to this anthology, this book would sell pretty well no matter whose name was on the front.

Yet when I saw this cover the first time, I snorted iced tea through my nose! Why was that?

Well, think about it! Ask yourself why this attractive young woman is seated on an unhitched wagon in the middle of a snowy field—yet she’s smiling as though there’s nowhere on earth she’d rather be. Where’s the horse? Why’s she off the road?

I have no idea.

The scene has nothing to do with my story, “A Willow Ridge Christmas Pageant,” and reading the other two blurbs doesn’t suggest a connection, either. Had I gotten a preview peek at this cover—and usually I do—I would’ve pointed out the perceived discrepancies immediately.

Do I like this cover? You bet I do—the colors and the mood it conveys are perfect for this genre and holiday. I’m also pleased that in the inspirational market, we get to call it a Christmas anthology rather than a holiday book. And I will say that the cover art for my Seasons of the Heart series for Kensington have been awesome—and that the cover of my upcoming HARVEST OF BLESSINGS is the loveliest, most spot-on cover I’ve ever had on a book.

But sometimes you just have to say huh? and chuckle at New York’s renditions of country life. If the young lady on the cover is sitting in the snow, with no apparent place to go and no horse to take her there—and she’s smiling—then I will smile, too. Maybe she knows a lot more than I do!

Who Lives Here, Really?

- by Charlotte Hubbard

collageLast year I sold a new Amish series to Harlequin’s Love Inspired line. I quickly concocted a new setting, new characters, and the ideas for several potential stories, and then when the editor bought my series I wrote a complete first chapter of the first book. Because I’ve had two other Amish series in publication for a while, I then went back to those worlds to complete some books. Now I have this new collage hanging above my computer so I can write the rest of this Harlequin book, entitled DEBORAH’S CONFESSION.

 

But who are these people?? (You can probably name several of them, but because I haven’t watched TV for more than 20 years, only Johnny Depp and Sean Connery conjure up any meaning for me. The others are merely compelling, provocative faces rather than real people who’ve led various lives on the screen.)

 

When I concocted this collage to give me a visual reminder of traits and emotions I’ll be dealing with in this series, I knew I’d be coming back to this point of writing about them after living in those other two series worlds . . . and even though I’ve reread the first chapter I wrote, and have now written a couple more chapters, these folks still feel like relative strangers to me. It’s not a comfy, cozy feeling. It’s more like Who are you people? And why did I think you had stories to tell?

 

I know my heroine Deborah—middle row, far right—the best, and I know Noah, next to her, second-best. I totally understand why she’s hiding the ordeal she’s just endured at the hands of the bishop’s bully of a son, just as I understand why Noah hesitates to forgive Deborah for breaking their engagement a few months ago. And I know that all the other characters are siding with Deborah rather than Noah.

 

And I truly love the new setting—an abandoned church camp, which Noah’s mom and her two sisters have bought by selling their farms in Coldstream, Missouri so they could start a new Amish colony at Promise Lodge. Can you picture the timbered lodge building and the long wooden tables in the dining hall? Can you feel the breeze in the shade of tall old trees as you squint at the sun diamonds sparkling on Rainbow Lake? Can you smell the chicken Rosetta fried for dinner?

 

Me, too.

 

So how do I make these characters feel like longtime friends who find themselves conflicted about the hometown they’ve left? How will Deborah confess what she walked into, unawares? And what happens if she tells the truth and Noah won’t believe her?

 

Only one way to find out: stop writing this blog post (and turn off the email and Facebook) and start writing on this book again! It’s a discovery process that only happens when the author is fully engaged in coaxing her characters to reveal themselves and their deepest needs.

See you next month.