Content Tagged ‘Publishing’

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


UNCW Partners With HarperCollins

UNCW has recently developed an affiliation with HarperCollins, the world’s second-largest English-language publisher, to provide opportunities for BFA and MFA students that are typically available only to students in NYC-based publishing programs. The mentoring program will pair individual students in two advanced book practicum courses (BFA and MFA) with senior publishing professionals at HarperCollins for regular Skype conversations to answer questions about the industry, provide post-graduation career advice and resume counseling, as well as additional networking opportunities with other publishing professionals, authors, and agents—both within and outside of HarperCollins.


For the first time yesterday, MFA and BFA students Skyped with Brian Perrin, Senior Director of Marketing for Harper Wave and Harper Business, and Sarah Murphy, Senior Editor at Harper Wave, about what they do, how they got where there are, and advice for students looking to break into the industry.


“Publishing has always been an industry learned by apprenticeship. Everyone working in it today is grateful for the time and mentoring they received and genuinely happy—eager, even—to give something back. We’re very much looking forward to sharing what we know about this crazy, frustrating, wonderful business with students at UNCW,” Perrin said.

HarperCollins staff also will visit campus periodically to participate in the department’s annual Writers’ Week programs and to serve as the biannual four-week visiting publishing professional, next slated for fall 2017. Publishing arts students also will be eligible to apply for HarperCollins New York-based internship programs, offered in spring, summer, and fall. As a general-interest, broad-based publisher with global operations, HarperCollins will be able to offer students connections to every facet of the book business, across all consumer book categories, according to each student’s specific interests. We’re so excited for what’s to come from the partnership!

For more information about the partnership and other goings-on at UNCW, check out this article in Diverse Issues in Higher Education.

Making A List: Four Typographic Websites That Will Make Your Design Brain Happy

One of the cool things about the MFA program here is the emphasis of what you’re putting on the page. Not like similes or metaphors and whatnot, but whether you’re using a slab serif as your body text (big mistake, that). As the semester winds down and as the Bookbuilding students here begin their final project (designing and creating a chapbook of their own work), I thought I’d share some of my favorite websites about typography and design.

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The “Teaching Press” Model at UNCW

One of my favorite aspects of being a Lookout intern is getting to be a part of a teaching press. We work on our Lookout projects in the Publishing Laboratory, and on any given day the lab is full of Bookbuilding students designing layouts and putting together chapbooks, undergrads compiling the UNCW BFA anthology, and Pub Lab TAs tweaking the design of a Writers Week broadside or doing treatments for Ecotone’s next issue.

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Make Yourself a Box Book

Box Book by Anna Sutton (Lookout Intern)

I used this tutorial to make a beautiful paper box for my Bookbuilding class here at UNCW (taught by Lookout’s own Emily Smith).

Make it cooler! Print a poem, short short, manifesto, or image on the inside of your paper before folding. Make sure you print a directive on the front corner of your page, like open me or unfold me. If you use a slightly bigger piece of paper, you can make a top for your box, too.

Bonus! If you make your own, send a photo our way and we’ll post it here on the blog!

Literary Playlist

I tend to get work done while listening to music… possibly to the chagrin of the Lookout Books crew. Sorry, guys. Recently, I’ve been trying to combine the two by finding songs or artists with literary themes. Here’s a list of book-related music I’m listening to this week:

A few song titles to fit the mood…

  • Wrapped Up in Books by Belle & Sebastian
  • Books Written for Girls by Camera Obscura

A nicely named album or concerto titles that seem appropriate for reference…

  • Album: Libraries by The Love Language
  • Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 17 “The Tempest”

And, of course, band names!

  • Titus Andronicus
  • Ivan & Alyosha (And if you can’t get enough Dostoyevsky, check out their song called Fathers be Kind.)

What book-related music do you listen to?

– Ana Alvarez, Lookout Books Intern

Poet John Rybicki, breathing life into desolation

A powerful silence graced the room as Rybicki weaved through anecdotes of time spent with his wife and passages from his books. As he finished, most felt not a deafening sense of sorrow but rather a promised notion of his fortitude in overcoming a grave loss.

“He makes his poems out of true feeling — he lives his poetry,” said creative writing professor Robert Fanning, who introduced Rybicki to an audience of more than 100. “He’s doing things that are so far beyond what we can do in our best hour with our sharpest pen.”

This excellent article was published by CMU’s student-run publication, Grand Central Magazine. Read onward (more photos included).