The Story Plant: Growing Authors
BY ELAINE ISAAK
Founded by authors and industry professionals Lou Aronica and Peter Miller, The Story Plant is a small press with a commitment to nurturing authors’ careers in the way (in days of yore) the big houses used to. The intent of the press is to bring out each author in-depth, with multiple titles, to create longevity for the authors, rather than to produce single works by a broad section of authors in the hopes that one or two will make it. In addition to his publishing background, Miller also has a background in Hollywood and works toward taking the novels published by The Story Plant and marketing them as film or television properties.
The firm’s latest title, Betty’s Little Basement Garden by Laurel Dewey, is emblematic of the firm’s strong commitment to authors. It’s Dewey’s seventh book with The Story Plant—and the others have been part of a thriller series. For this new title, Dewey drew upon her other professional interest—herbs and how to grow them (one particular herb in this case), and a visit to TheStoryPlant.com reveals that she’s coming out with a humorous herbal companion as well. While many publishers are happy to commit to book after book in a series, allowing the author to explore other areas, especially under the same name, is often a problem.
At The Story Plant, this diversity is part of the plan.
The Story Plant focuses on mainstream, commercial fiction, with offerings ranging from love stories to thrillers and contemporary fantasy. A visit to the website provides information about six authors, most with five or more titles each—and that’s in only four years of publishing. Lou and Peter started the press with two titles in 2008, with the goal of supporting authors through multiple projects—a mutual commitment between author and publisher. They choose to limit the number of titles to 16 to 20 per year, to focus all of their strengths on promoting this smaller list. If you visit their Twitter feed, you’ll find links and enthusiasm for three current titles, including giveaways through the company’s Facebook page.
A little Googling shows that the books are widely reviewed by bloggers and traditional venues. At the start of the digital wave, shortly after the Plant’s launch, the founders made the vital decision to go digitalfirst, though they maintain a strong print distribution system. Digital-first publishing allows Story Plant to position its titles for an interested readership, with less concern over initial bookstore orders. Lou says, “Our bestselling book last year came from an author whom physical bookstores had written off because his previous book took heavy returns.”
So what does it take to be a Story Plant author? Because of the tight list and personal attention of the principals, Lou and Peter need to love the author’s work. Past sales performance is no longer critical to the decision to sign, as some of their successful authors have seen. However, in order to create the market presence and career depth they desire for their authors, Story Plant looks for writers who are able to commit to two or more books a year. Right now, their focus is on suspense and contemporary women’s fiction, but they are considering expanding into other genres in the next year or so.
With the recent enthusiasm for indie publishing, is an author, especially one who may already have a following (albeit a small one) better off going indie? Small presses like the Story Plant offer an attractive al-