Content Tagged ‘Lookout Books’

Julie Barer Busts Eight Myths about Literary Agents

—Compiled by Lookout intern Caroline Orth from Julie Barer’s UNCW Writers’ Week presentation

Congratulations to Xhenet Aliu, University of North Carolina Wilmington MFA ’07 on her novel, Brass, published this month by Random House. We were fortunate that her agent, Julie Barer, was among the literary luminaries at UNCW’s 2017 Writers’ Week. On this occasion, we’ll share her wisdom on agenting.

A founding partner of The Book Group, Barer first worked as a bookseller at Shakespeare & Co. in New York before joining Sanford J. Greenburger Associates and later starting her own agency. At The Book Group, she represents Nicole Denis-Benn, Celeste Ng, and UNCW alumni Garrard Conley and Xhenet Aliu, among other clients. Her authors have been finalists for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics’ Circle Award, and have won of the PEN/Hemingway Award, the Kirkus Prize, and many other accolades.

“I think there’s a mystique about what agents do,” Barer began. “My son still thinks I’m a secret agent.” While recounting how she pitched and sold The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, a novel set on Mount Olympia, Barer helped dispel five myths for the audience about the role of a literary agent in the publishing landscape.

Myth #1: Authors have to navigate the publishing process alone.

 “I say to my clients that I’m like a second spouse,” Barer said. “I’m the first person that communicates to the outside world about your book.” That makes agenting the most fulfilling job she could imagine in publishing. “You get to be involved every step of the way.”

Barer also recognized that negotiating contracts, marketing campaigns, publicity, and book tours shouldn’t fall to the author—their job is to write. “I am your liaison so that you don’t have to know all of this stuff,” she said. “I know all of this stuff, and I can get it for you.” She joked, however, that the author’s main focus—on writing—means that he won’t also hold sway in every publishing decision. “Just because you’re the best person to write your book does not necessarily mean that you are the best person to title your book,” Barer said.

 Myth #2: You should sign with the first agent who offers you a contract.

Barer emphasized how important an author’s relationship with her agent is to success. The best person for your book might not be the first agent to offer you a contract. “Really feel like this person gets what you’re trying to do,” she said.

While that might make the task of securing an agent sound slightly more daunting, Barer recommended a strategy. “Look in the back of the books you love and see who represents them,” she said. Agents are often thanked in authors’ acknowledgments. Chances are that the right agent for you might already be sitting on your bookshelf.

 Myth #3: Literary agents request payment upfront.

Under no circumstances should a reputable literary agent request money from you before they’ve sold your book. Barer noted the industry standard of 15 percent commission on an author’s advance and royalties. That’s how agents make money. “When you win, we win.” Any agent who asks for payment when you sign a contract should be avoided.

Myth #4: A large advance means a successful book.

Not every book will end up in an auction with multiple houses bidding over it, but that doesn’t mean those books won’t still find a robust national audience or be well reviewed by critics and readers alike. “It doesn’t have to be ten people bidding and spending a million dollars,” Barer said. There’s not one way a book can be successful.

 Myth #5: Authors need a social media presence to sell books.

 “Step away from the Twitter.”

That was Barer’s first caution to writers concerning social media. The most important thing to do is to work on the book, she said—building an audience on Instagram comes second. Besides, as Barer explained, the reach of a book is rooted in much more than Facebook ads and catchy photo captions. Your publisher will have established relationships with magazines, booksellers, and book clubs, and can help you achieve wider marketing and publicity goals. “You do not need social media to sell a book.”

Myth #6: The business of publishing is impersonal.

“It’s so personal,” Barer said. The decisions she makes about books are inextricable from her “interests, likes and dislikes.” When she reads a query, “Either I am completely head over heels, and I can’t wait to tell everybody about it, or I don’t sign it.” While this might leave the future of your book up to an agent’s personal taste, Barer views it as encouragement to get your manuscript into even more hands. “Try a lot of agents because you never know what someone is going to be interested in.”

Myth #7: An MFA and/or ivy-league education are prerequisites for a book deal.

“That’s not the only path,” Barer said, “and I have a list of clients to prove it.”

Myth #8: If an agent doesn’t respond immediately to a query, it’s not going to happen.

Barer said that she reads every email in her slush pile over lunch at her desk, and that inbox dings hundreds of times per week. While she considers every author who sends a pitch her way, Barer gives her time first to her current clients. That means it can take a little while to get back to new writers in whom she’s interested. “It’s my job to juggle all of the stages,” she said, “but my priority is to the writers I already represent.”

UNCW Writers’ Week annually brings together visiting writers of local and national interest, UNCW students, and members of the general public with an interest in literature and writing. Activities throughout the week include workshops, panels, and readings. Click here for more information and event archives.

Photo by Melissa Crowe


News Roundup

2Qeno0hFriends, writing can be such a lonely business! The computer knows not the sound of your beating heart, and yet perhaps you spend more time with it than any other beloved. Writers being experts on the topic, and thank goodness, there’s no shortage of great books about loneliness. In this week’s roundup, a few other perspectives on togetherness and connection.

First, a peek behind-the-scenes at Lookout’s teaching-press model, where students and faculty work together to bring books they love into the world. “I imagine that at a bigger press, you would be in one department focusing on a specific aspect of publishing. But because we are a small press with a small number of interns, we get the chance to see and experience it all,” says first-year student Marissa Flanagan. Collaboration and creativity in the name of literature!

And of course when a manuscript finds the right home, it’s a connection worth celebrating. Ecotone poet Melissa Range’s second collection, Scriptorium, was one of this year’s National Poetry Series competition winners. Not only was Range’s collection selected by the incredible Tracy K. Smith, but it will be published next fall by Beacon Press.

Lookout author Steve Almond offers some perspective on getting social through social media in an article for Cogniscenti of WBUR Boston: “The essential work [writers] do is solitary. It consists of weaving words into sentences and sentences into narratives that help us see the world more truthfully—the world around us and within us.” While writers are often pleased to reach out to broader readerships through social media, Almond urges writers never to forget their ultimate purpose: to write!

In short: Be lonely! But not all the time. We hope your week is filled with togetherness and apartness in perfect measure.


Publication Day!

Today Lookout Books releases its debut novel, Honey from the Lion by Matthew Neill Null. We could not be more excited to bring this book to an audience of readers. Lyrical, suspenseful, tender, gritty, this book tells the story of a group of timber wolves at the turn of the century in the West Virginia Alleghenies who, complicit in profound environmental devastation, attempt to wrest control of their own fate.

Matt is a writer to pay attention to (his book of short stories is forthcoming from Sarabande too), and here—in his own words—is the story behind this unforgettable book.


Honey from the Lion reclaims a vanished past—a history of daily toil and desire. It is a book of dreams, of the drifter and the clerk, of the washerwoman and the panther. I wanted to write America’s shadow story—the characters popular history crops from the frame. My home state of West Virginia has produced no great men, in the old sense of that phrase, no presidents, but hundreds of thousands have lived and died there, a rich human pageant. This novel is my bid to give them back their stories.

My dad had a good buddy on Fenwick Mountain named Brown. He was a mine foreman from Richwood, one of the boomtowns on which the novel’s Helena is based, in Nicholas County, where I was born. One summer day when I was eight or nine years old, Brown took us to visit a friend of his, an ex–coal miner. The friend was hunched over and shuffled as he walked—he lived off a disability check. After a long round of talk, he led us to what he called his museum, a cramped room in the attic of his farmhouse. Tables overflowed with shellacked hornets’ nests, shed antlers, obsolete hand tools, arrowheads and pestles, the skulls of bobcats, and stone-hard clutches of burrs from the American chestnut, gone a hundred years. But most impressive to me: on the backside of his mountain, the remains from a logging camp. He had picked his way down there and raked the earth to find what was left. He placed a spent pineknot in my palm, no bigger than a hand grenade, and explained how the loggers lit their way of a night, using the pitch as a torch. He had found their bottle dump and its wonders, like the three-sided blue bottles that once contained arsenic, bringing up visions of poisonings, of jealousies and fist fights in high mountain camps, far from the law. Last he led us to the garage, where he kept antiquated logging tools: drag chains, harnesses, the crosscut saw the loggers called the misery whip. After we’d waved good-bye to his friend, Brown spoke of the man’s loneliness. I looked back through the window of the truck, where I sat on the bench seat between Brown and my dad. He had gone back inside. Like that man, the keeper of those things, a novelist desires objects, textures, physicality. A novelist reconstructs vanished lives.

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Honey from the Lion Broadsides

Leading up to publication day for our debut novel, Honey from the Lion by Matthew Neill Null, we’ll be posting digital broadsides—one of our favorite lines from the book paired with a compelling image. We hope they whet your appetite for more from this fabulous book, in which a turn-of-the-century logging company decimates ten thousand acres of virgin forest in the West Virginia Alleghenies—and transforms a brotherhood of timber wolves into revolutionaries. You can find out more and preorder a copy here in advance of September 8. Stayed tuned for more broadsides, too.


Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, and you can also find our digital broadsides on Pinterest.

Lit News Roundup

We’re back from a fantastic week in Minneapolis for the Association of Writers & Writing Programs annual conference. Thanks to everyone who took our books home with you and subscribed to Ecotone. We especially enjoyed meeting readers at our Thursday evening mingle and talking with you during the panel discussions throughout the conference.



Now that all 12,000+ of us have dispersed, we’re excited to continue the conversations virtually, and the Literary Hub, launched April 8, is the perfect gathering place. The featured daily content includes interviews with authors and cover designers, among others; and this week Ecotone 15 contributor Megan Mayhew Bergman and Musings editor Mary Laura Philpott discuss Southerners with a dark(ish) hearts, work ethic, and the fertile ground for storytelling between history and literature.

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Seven Questions for Parnassus Books

After returning from this year’s Winter Institute, where we met hundreds of dedicated booksellers from across the country, we decided to take a virtual road trip to learn more about their stores. For the next several weeks, our interview series, Seven Questions, will spotlight some of our favorites—including Parnassus Books, Quail Ridge Books, and Hub City Bookshop, among others. You just don’t find better people than the good folks who own and work at them.


The impressive book selection at Parnassus

Parnassus Books, which opened in 2011, is named after the sacred Grecian mountain known for its poetry, song, and knowledge. And the Nashville bookstore is indeed a home for literature and learning, with regular author readings and weekly story-time events for children. Co-owned by bestselling author Ann Patchett and publishing veteran Karen Hayes, the beautiful store offers an intimate and thoughtful selection of books.

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Lit News Roundup

We loved meeting all of the smart, dedicated booksellers at the American Booksellers Association’s Winter Institute in Asheville last week. Thanks to everyone who came to our NC Speakeasy, joined us for the rep picks lunches, and added Lookout’s debut novel, Honey from the Lion, to your tote bags. If you weren’t able to snag a galley, please e-mail us.

Four years after the collapse of Borders, “Independents are looking at adding locations and taking back some of the physical bookshelf space that had been lost,” writes Judith Rosen of Publishers Weekly. We couldn’t be happier to read about the ongoing resurgence.

Speaking of bookstores, this “carousel of light” just opened in the heart of Bucharest. Read on to discover six beautiful floors of more than 10,000 books. The space will also host cultural events and concerts.

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The Giving Spirit: Lookout Books in the Little Free Library


As Lookout staff members head home for the holidays, they’re carrying along copies of our books to distribute to various Little Free Libraries, those adorable little boxes of books sprouting up across the country, where anyone can pick up a book (or two) and bring back another to share.

Check your nearest Little Free Library for Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman, God Bless America by Steve Almond, River Bend Chronicle by Ben Miller, When All the World Is Old by John Rybicki, and the Ecotone fiction anthology, Astoria to Zion. Books are on their way to Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Iowa, and Nebraska, as well as libraries in Lookout’s hometown of Wilmington, North Carolina.

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Lit News Roundup

It’s the final week of classes here at UNCW, and we’re beyond grateful to the student staffers who are the heart of our enterprise. This semester, they’ve dedicated their energy and talents to threading a book interior, researching and pitching covers, hand-lettering titles, fact-checking, proofreading, writing media materials, and planning the marketing and publicity strategy for next year’s release. Thanks to Abby Chiaramonte, Liz Granger, Justin Klose, Katie Prince, Bethany Tap, and especially Becky Eades, who has managed our social media platforms, including this blog, with diligence and care over the past few years. You all will be missed, and we wish you every success in your future writing and publishing endeavors. (Good luck finishing up your portfolios and exams too!)


As 2014 draws to a close and we hit the bookstores for holiday shopping, we thought we’d round up a few best-of lists that caught our eye:

Time released lists of the Top Ten Everything in 2014, including the Top Ten Fiction Books and the Top Ten Nonfiction Books.

Was 2014 the year of the debut? Electric Literature thinks so, but we recommend keeping an eye out for Lookout’s debut novel, Honey from the Lion, in 2015.

We’re always eager to see which titles make the “100 Notable Books of 2014” from the New York Times.

Slate issued the “22 Best Lines of 2014,” featuring Astoria to Zion and Ecotone contributor Rebecca Makkai. Head over to read her sentence and twenty-one others from some of the year’s “most enjoyable books.”

Speaking of sentences, Salon published a terrific collection of ”Two-sentence Thanksgiving Fiction,“ featuring authors Brock Clarke and Rebecca Makkai.

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