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Interview with Lou Aronica

Today, I'm very excited to have Lou Aronica joining me. Lou is an author and publisher who has been working in the book business for more than 30 years. He's launching a new publishing imprint, The Fiction Studio, which will publish his novel, Blue, later this month. I'll be reviewing Blue next week, but first I wanted to find out a little more about the new imprint and the new book.

Q: Welcome to My Book Retreat and Happy New Year! You have such extensive experience in all aspects of the book publishing industry. I'm sure you've worked on some exciting projects over the years. What's one of your most satisfying projects, whether as writer, editor or publisher? And which role do you enjoy the most?

A: After more than thirty years, it's difficult to pick one. Certainly, one of the most memorable experiences I've ever had in the business was sending Ray Bradbury out on his first book tour in 1995. For most of his life to that point, Ray had been afraid of flying, so he'd never done a national tour. When he joined me at Avon for his collection, Quicker than the Eye, his agent told me that Ray had gotten over his phobia and wished that his publisher would put him on the road. I was only too happy to oblige. At every stop, because this literary legend was coming to town in many cases for the first time, the crowds were enormous. And at some point at each signing, a fan would bring his or her book to Ray, start talking about how much Ray's writing meant, and start crying. At this point, Ray would start crying, then other people would start crying and things got very emotional for a stretch. I'd been in the business for sixteen years by then, and I'd been affected by many, many books, but I'd never seen a more powerful example of the importance of books in people's lives and the unmatched value that great writers have.

I'm not sure that I could easily say that I prefer one role over another. I love developing publishing programs and helping writers reach their audiences. I love working closely with writers and helping them to bring the most out of their work. And I love inventing my own work and digging deep to try to bring something new to life. I suppose that's a fairly wishy-washy answer, but I really wouldn't be juggling these three enterprises if I didn't care deeply about each of them.

Q: On your website, you state: "The Fiction Studio imprint will be the home for very good writers who have as yet to win the lottery. It is an invitation-only publishing program – I consider no submissions – for writers whose work I love who have decided to try a different path to publishing success." Could you expand on this a bit? How did you find these authors? And do you expect to open the Fiction Studio imprint to submissions in the future or will it always remain invitation-only?

A: The first half-dozen writers I'll be publishing through the imprint are all people I've known for a while through various publishing circles. This is important to me because in many ways, the Fiction Studio imprint is a "writer's collective," a place where writers will share information, best practices, advice, etc. I want to know that the writers on this list understand how publishing models are changing and have a true commitment to putting in the work necessary to make their books successful. That requires a different level of relationship than one can have simply considering submissions. That's why I'm using a no-submissions policy, at least at the start. However, I meet writers in a variety of circumstances all the time and I am extremely open to starting new relationships with writers. I'm actually hoping that the launch of the imprint leads to many new conversations with writers and that several of these conversations turn into invitations.

Q: Will the Fiction Studio imprint focus on specific genres? How will this differ from the books you choose to publish through your other imprint, The Story Plant?

A: The Story Plant and The Fiction Studio differ in two significant ways. One is in the nature of the model. The Story Plant model involves the publisher absorbing more of the risk and keeping more of the profit. This is very close to the standard publishing model. The Fiction Studio model is much more of a collaboration between the publisher and the writer where the writer actually keeps most of the profits.

The other significant difference is that The Story Plant is focusing on two particular genres – contemporary romance and suspense – while The Fiction Studio will publish anything that captures my fancy. (This includes nonfiction, by the way; I'll use a different imprint name for those titles, because it'll only confuse the heck out of people if I have nonfiction books coming from The Fiction Studio.)

When Peter Miller and I started The Story Plant, we intended to publish a broader range of books. What has become clear about the enormous shifts that are happening in the book publishing world, though, is that the next generation of publishers needs to do one of two things: become experts in particular genres or build publishing plans from the ground up for each title. The Story Plant and The Fiction Studio fulfill these distinct roles. The Story Plant will strive to be an excellent publisher of contemporary romance and suspense (adding an additional genre from time to time if we feel we have the capacity) while The Fiction Studio will collaborate with the individual writers to build an individual publishing program specific to that writer's work.

Q: The first book being published by the Fiction Studio is your own book, Blue. You say on your website that this book "is closer to my heart than any fiction writing I've ever done." Can you tell me about the inspiration for this book and why it touches you so deeply?

A: I started writing Blue six years ago when I began stressing about my oldest child going to college. We were (and still are, thank goodness) extremely close, and I wasn't sure how I was going to adapt to her being away and what it was going to mean that she wouldn't be home with me any longer. I also wanted to write about divorce and the consequences it has on families because that had a huge impact on my life and on the lives of my two oldest kids (and even in some ways on the two kids that came after I remarried). Finally, I wanted to employ elements of fantasy in my writing for the first time. I'd been running away from that because, when you've worked with writers like Ray Bradbury, Neil Gaiman, and Ursula LeGuin, the idea of even attempting what they do is fairly intimidating.

Blue doesn't have anything to do with a child going off to college. While that was a big deal to me, it was difficult to imagine that I could write it in any way that would make it seem like a big deal to anyone else. Therefore, the conflict in Blue is considerably larger, though it's all a metaphor. I do address divorce directly, though I changed all of the circumstances. The fantasy components develop directly from the relationship between the two main characters, which made it less scary for me and actually a real pleasure.

I wrote my second novel, Flash and Dazzle, in three months. This one took me six years. I think the difference was how deeply I felt everything that I put into Blue. I didn't want to let it go until I felt that I'd done what I'd set out to do as honestly as I possibly could. The characters in this story and the messages in this story are enormously important to me, and I wanted to make sure I did justice to them.

Q: You have so much going on right now between publishing, providing editorial services, ghostwriting, writing and publishing your own book, and starting up the new Fiction Studio imprint. What's your secret to staying on top of everything?

A: I can't say that I always am on top of everything. I regularly wake up in the middle of the night anxious about the possibility of a missed deadline. What I've discovered, though, is that I want to do all of these things, I think I'm pretty good at all of them, and that my life would feel diminished if any of them were gone. Therefore, I need to have a system in place to make it all possible. When I commuted into Manhattan to work, I had to get up very early to catch the train. When the commute went away, I made myself keep waking up early. Fortunately, I don't have trouble getting started in the morning. Long hours are essential if I'm going to keep this many balls in the air. However, I also learned that I work extremely well in short bursts. After a couple of hours on a particular project, the quality of my work goes down dramatically. If I switch to another project, though, I recharge. On most days, I have a chunk of the day where I just take care of business, and then three two-hour slots where I'll work on a specific book or editorial gig. That discipline keeps me moving forward.

Q: Do you ever find time to sit and read for pleasure? If so, what do you enjoy reading?

A: Pleasure reading is certainly a casualty of my intensive work day. After spending a dozen or so hours dealing with words in one way or another, I find it difficult to read even more at night. Fortunately, my nonfiction work has me reading everyone from Daniel Pink to Malcolm Gladwell to Po Bronson for research purposes so I can do some very pleasurable reading that way. Fiction, which is my first love, is tougher. Right now, I'm looking for an opportunity to read Jonathan Franzen's Freedom, William Gibson's Zero History, and Jamie Ford's Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, which everyone tells me is wonderful.

I have Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet on my wish list as well ~ I'm hoping to get to it at some point this year! Thank you so much for visiting My Book Retreat today, and good luck with all of your endeavors!

For more information about the Fiction Studio imprint, or Lou Aronica's new novel, Blue, visit The Fiction Studio website. And be sure to stop by here next week for my personal review of Blue. In the meantime, you can read an excerpt.

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