Content Tagged ‘writers’ week’

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



It’s Time for Writers’ Week!

Ecotone and Lookout staffers are gearing up for the 18th annual Writers’ Week, held Monday, October 30 to Friday, November 3 on UNCW’s campus. More than a dozen notable authors and publishing professionals will participate in readings, craft talks, and panels, including 2017 Buckner Keynote speaker and poet Ross Gay, fiction writers Kristen Iskandrian and David Jauss, and graphic memoirist and Believer editor and art director Kristen Radtke. All events are free and open to the public.

Lookout’s own Emily Smith will moderate a publishing panel that includes Radtke, The Book Group agent Julie Barer, and poet and Northwestern University Press/TriQuarterly Books editor Parneshia Jones. The panel, which takes place Wednesday, November 1 at 2 p.m., will be preceded by a talk with Barer, whose clients include such literary heavy-hitters as Celeste Ng (Little Fires Everywhere), Joshua Ferris (To Rise Again at a Decent Hour), Ecotone contributor Bret Anthony Johnston (Remember Me Like This), and UNCW MFA alum Garrard Conley (Boy Erased).

For more information about Writers’ Week, including a full schedule, visit

Behind the Scenes: Making Broadsides for Writers’ Week

Each year, the University of North Carolina hosts Writers’ Week, five days of workshops, panels, and readings where writers of local and national interest are invited to share their knowledge and work to students and Wilmington at large.

The Publishing Laboratory creates promotional materials including posters, the brochure, and (drum roll) commemorative broadsides! Heaps of them. Each writer provides an excerpt of their work and the Pub Lab’s six TAs then create a handheld design for audience members to take home after the nightly reading. Each broadside is a limited edition of forty prints that we produce right here in the lab.

Here’s what the process for creating a broadside looks like:

Getting acquainted with the work is key if we want to do it justice aesthetically. We read it many times. We brainstorm various adjectives, feelings, colors, and ideas that we associate with the work’s tone, language, form, mood etc.

We think.

We rummage through images in our brains, get inspired during walks, or while making coffee.


We get an idea! To make this idea perfect, we will need to make a dirty lip. We cover one of our lips with coffee (coffee looks more like dirt than dirt does, folks).

We take photos.

We import the photographs into Photoshop and NEVER forget to change the image mode to CMYK, to make sure the photo is saved at 300 dpi at the appropriate size, and to save the photograph as a tif.

Screen Shot 2015-11-10 at 9.48.55 AM

We fail.

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Honey from the Lion Book Launch today!

Today’s the big day! Join us tonight at 7 for a reading to celebrate the launch of Honey from the Lion, Lookout’s debut novel. Matthew Neill Null will be reading with Pulitzer prize winner Edward P. Jones. A reception will follow the reading, and there might (read: there definitely will) be pepperoni rolls, the food of West Virginia. Trust me, you want to eat one. And this lineup of great writers is not to be missed either.

HFTL Broadsides WritersWeek

News Roundup

All through the next week, friends, there is an embarrassment of riches in our small coastal Carolina town. If you haven’t heard of Wilmington, it’s time to get with two very particular programs: Writers’ Week at UNCW and the film festival Cucalorus, which bring writers and filmmakers to Wilmington in spades.


All free and open to the public, next week we’ll host readings, panels, craft talks, and demonstrations from Edward P. Jones, Jill McCorkle, Sarah Messer, Tayari Jones, Ilya Kaminsky, James Campbell, agent Peter Steinberg, and book artist Rory Sparks. A panel of UNCW alumni will talk about careers after graduation. And we’ll host a reading and book launch of Honey from the Lion, Lookout’s debut novel from Matthew Neill Null. It’s a week of nonstop activity and inspiration–if you can get here, I’d do it.


If you’re not yet in the car, let me entice you further: Cucalorus offers an incredible selection of films, and this year launches Cucalorus Connect, which explores entrepreneurship and venture capital through a variety of panels and talks. Ecotone contributor John Jeremiah Sullivan and Ecotone and Lookout publisher Emily Smith are part of the Cucalorus Connect media marriage panel, about the creative and commercial potentials of integrating video and audio into traditionally text-driven publications. The conversation will include Ecotone contributor Jeff Sharlet and his Instagram essay, “A Resourceful Woman,” which is open to readers on our website for a week or so around the festival.

book-refund-storiesWe’ve also got a National Book Award finalist in our midst. Wilmingtonian–and Lookout and Ecotone contributor–Karen E. Bender is on the short list for her fabulous book Refund. Current UNCW MFA student Jonathan Russell Clark interviews her for Lit Hub.

In yet another happy marriage of locals, Ecotone contributor George Singleton has released a new linked story collection from Dzanc Books called Calloustown and UNCW alum Rachel Richardson writes all about it for the Spartanburg Herald-Journal.

It was a year ago this time when we hosted a community dinner right here in Wilmington to celebrate Ecotone‘s Sustenance issue. We’re so glad to see poet Elizabeth T. Gray Jr.’s fascinating interview with The Cloudy House, in which she discusses her poetry book projects, part of which was featured in that issue.

Whether by plane, train, or automobile, we hope we’ve enticed you to visit Wilmington, full as it is of artistic people and things to do. If you can’t make it, we hope wherever you are is filled this week with as much inspiration and connection as you can rightly handle.

Honey from the Lion Book Launch

We’re gearing up here for UNCW’s annual Writers’ Week November 16 through 20, where we’ll also celebrate with the official Wilmington book launch of Honey from the Lion.  Matthew Neill Null will read with Pulitzer Prize winner Edward P. Jones. If you’re local, please join us–all Writers’ Week events are free and open to the public, and we’d love to see you there!

HFTL Broadsides WritersWeek3

Lit News Roundup

At UNCW, we’re abuzz about our upcoming annual Writers’ Week, which will celebrate the tenth anniversary of national award-winning magazine of place, Ecotone. From November 3 until November 7, contributors from across the country will gather on campus to read, workshop, and talk about the craft of writing. For more information, visit the Writers’ Week web page, which includes the complete schedule of events and author bios. Visiting writers include Brock Clarke, Belle Boggs, Heidi Lynn Staples, Chantel Acevedo, Randall Kenan, Alison Hawthorne Deming, Patrick Phillips, and Mark Spitzer, as well as agent Michelle Brower and managing editor of Milkweed Editions, Patrick Thomas. A keynote reading by Kathryn Miles will take place on Wednesday, November 5 at 7 p.m. in the CIS building, room 1008. We will cap off the week with a ticketed farm-to-table supper celebrating the launch of Ecotone’s fall Sustenance issue in collaboration with nonprofit food system initiative Feast Down East.


Congratulations to Lookout’s debut author and winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Binocular Vision, Edith Pearlman, whose forthcoming book of stories, Honeydew (Little, Brown), has garnered a starred review from Kirkus. Shewrites with the wisdom of accumulated experience … Without quite the moral gravity of Alice Munro but with all the skill: Pearlman serves up exemplary tales, lively and lovely.”

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A Lookout Intern’s Guide to UNCW Writers Week


Broadside created by John McShea for John Jeremiah Sullivan’s reading at UNCW’s Writers Week 2013.

As an intern with Lookout and TA in UNCW’s Publishing Laboratory, sometimes I find my work overlapping. And if my work isn’t quite the same, I still operate within the same workspace for both jobs. So when Lookout takes a brief pause to celebrate Writers Week, the week in which UNCW invites national writers, editors, and agents to engage our community, I continue to head into the office to support the university. Here is how I do this:

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