Behind the Scenes

Meet Lookout’s Fall 2021 Practicum Team

Students in the UNCW’s MFA and BFA publishing-certificate programs help power Lookout Books through their work in the Publishing Practicum, taught by faculty publisher Emily Smith. To introduce this semester’s staff, we asked each of them to share a book that offered comfort or served as a source of joy throughout remote learning due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Get to know our team below, and then visit your favorite local bookstore to pick up these titles. You can also follow the provided links; sales through our Bookshop storefront benefit both independent booksellers and the work of Lookout Books. Win-win!


Amanda Ake is a third-year MFA candidate in creative nonfiction and the graduate publishing assistant for Lookout Books. With a background in website and social media management, she’s particularly excited to help Lookout’s next title make its way into the hands of readers. 

Recently, she enjoyed the themes of inheritance, intimacy, and identity found within the essay collection Spilt Milk (McSweeney’s, 2021) by Courtney Zoffness.


Zoe Howard is a senior earning a BFA in creative writing and a Certificate in Publishing. She looks forward to lending a hand in the care and identity that a year of Lookout’s attention can cultivate for a debut author or underrepresented voice.

She keeps returning to the work of poet Gabrielle Grace Hogan, especially her debut digital micro-chapbook Sentimental Violence: Some Poems About Tonya Harding (Ghost City Press, 2020).  


Olivia Loorz is a second-year MFA candidate in fiction. They work in the Publishing Laboratory teaching publishing and bookbuilding classes. This is their first year working with Lookout, and they can’t wait to help bring the next book into the world.

Olivia’s most loved book published by an indie press recently is Fiebre Tropical (Feminist Press, 2020) by Juliana Delgado Lopera. 


Luca Rhatigan is a second-year MFA candidate in fiction and a teaching assistant in the Publishing Laboratory. They are excited to continue their work with Lookout, carrying through the projects they began last semester.

Luca is inspired by Mariame Kaba’s reflections on police and prison abolition in We Do This ’Til We Free Us (Haymarket Books, 2021).


Gabi Stephens is a second-year MFA candidate in fiction and the designer for Chautauqua literary journal. In her first semester of Lookout, she is excited to create digital content that invites readers behind the scenes to see the care that goes into every Lookout title.

With its dark humor and very human narrator, Problems (Coffee House Press, 2016) by Jade Sharma especially helped her through this year. 


Laura Traister is a second-year MFA candidate in creative nonfiction at UNCW, where she also serves as a coordinator for Young Writers Workshop. Having worked at a small educational publishing company before returning to school, she is excited to learn how the worlds of educational publishing and literary publishing overlap and diverge.

An indie book that has been a source of joy for her in the past months is Translation as Transhumance (Feminist Press, 2017) by Mireille Gansel, translated by Ros Schwartz.

Behind the Scenes: “What We Fed to the Manticore”

At Ecotone, we carefully consider interior layout, text treatment, and design because we want the held object to be a pleasing vehicle for the written content. The Ecotone design team works to create an individualized design for each opening page of fiction and nonfiction. They are charged with creating a visual feel, considering images and type, to accompany and amplify the impact of the piece. In this blog department, staff designers highlight past Ecotone spread designs that inspire them, and discuss design principles they incorporate in their work.

Ecotone staffer Alexis Olson considers Talia Lakshmi Kolluri’s “What We Fed to the Manticore” spread from Issue 21, designed by Morgan Davis.

The blend of hand-lettering and photography really draws me to this design. “What We Fed to the Manticore” is grounded in place, much like the spread is grounded by the mangrove roots. I love how the shape of the letterforms mimic the flow of water or silt while acknowledging the playfulness of the story’s animal first-person point of view. The mangrove roots were designed by taking the original image via Flickr and using the magnetic lasso in Photoshop to eliminate the background. This isolates the creeping roots of the tree while leaving plenty of white space for the text to live in. The image, title, attribution, and text work together to communicate a fantastical tone, perfectly complementing the story.

Catch the Publishing Lab on C-SPAN!


The C-SPAN Cities Tour came right here to Wilmington to highlight our literary culture, including a segment focusing on the Pub Lab with the Lookout Practicum and director Emily Smith.

Check out the video here, and the rest of the segments too, including:

  • Dana Sachs, “The Life We Were Given: Operation Babylift, International Adoption, and the Children of War in Vietnam”
  • New Hanover County Library’s North Carolina History Room
  • Literary Walking Tour of Wilmington with Old Books on Front Street Bookstore

Behind the Scenes: How To Be Independent

I’ve worked at a local bookstore as long as I’ve known about UNCW’s Publishing Laboratory. They’re both small, independent, and full of people I want to be when I grow up. They both give loving homes to books that might be ignored at larger institutions.

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But here’s the thing about being small: it takes big effort. Huge, in fact. Let’s just go ahead and call it a gigantic labor of love. Small presses like Lookout compete with larger publishers before the book even makes it to the shelf (if it does that). Most indie publishers have limited budgets from which to offer authors advances for their manuscripts, and it’s not surprising that big numbers consistently compel great writers to sign with the big houses and their imprints.

Even when indie publishers bring great titles into the world (or, like Lookout, only one per year), it’s especially difficult for bookstores to sell the books of small presses. At Pomegranate Books, where I work, we often receive boxes of press kits and advance reading copies for the big books that big publishers want us to stock. Sure, we’d love to shelve every novel by our favorite indie presses, but will those titles move as fast as the mass-marketed books that everyone and their cousin want to read?

Pomegranate Books is small, but even for larger independent stores with more shelf space and more customers, there are different challenges to selling indie books. Trade publishers often offer volume discounts, or additional in-store advertising money to incentivize stocking and prominently displaying their books. So big-publisher books get coveted window display and shelf space even if a bookseller would prefer to give attention to her new favorite by an indie press. The New York Times wrote about this back in 1996, and it’s still a tiresome obstacle.

Instead of advertising money, Lookout offers gratitude to indie bookstores in the form of author visits, signings, and readings in their stores. At Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, Lookout’s publisher and editors tagged along with authors Steve Almond and Matthew Neill Null to offer free publishing workshops and to serve on panels after the authors’ readings. And Lookout celebrates indie stories such as Brookline Booksmith, which to date has sold almost six hundred copies of its first title, Binocular Vision: New & Selected Stories by Edith Pearlman! That collection found its way into the hands of hundreds more readers thanks to the generous support of booksellers at Harvard Book Store, Porter Square Books, and Politics & Prose, which hosted Edith Pearlman for one of her first public readings from Binocular Vision.

Millions of books exist in this world—in fact, I encourage everyone to purchase So Many Books by Gabriel Zaid, an exhilarating read published by another indie press, Paul Dry Books—but our store has fewer than five employees. Perhaps, if we had the time and human capital to dedicate regular hours to discovering new books by small presses, we’d be able to better hand sell their books. Instead, we struggle simply to stay up-to-date on the titles brought to our attention through large mailings and marketing budgets.

The better an independent press can convey its mission, purpose, and we-consider-every-little-detail attitude, the more inclined a bookstore’s owners and staff will be to share that appreciation for thoughtfully made books with their customers. It’s extremely difficult to verbalize or advertise that feeling, but Lookout serves as proof that it can work.

These five best practices from Lookout Books include things I wish I saw more of as a bookseller—from every press, big or small.

RiverBendChronicle1.    Authors

Lookout seeks works by emerging and historically underrepresented writers, as well as overlooked gems. Unlike large trade publishers, they aren’t beholden to stockholders or corporate owners, so they tend to be less motivated by profit margins. Bookstores know that they consider their publications works of art by literary artists, not just best-selling retail items (though they hope for that too!).

 

2.    Marketing

coasters
In developing media kits, Lookout makes or buys materials, when they can, from local or independent sellers. If a bookstore receives a promotional kit that includes unique, handmade materials, they’ll be more likely to give it attention. When Lookout staffer Anna Coe created coasters to celebrate the recent release of Matthew Neill Null’s Honey From the Lion, she ordered the wood slices from a supplier on Etsy and personally stamped and sealed every coaster!

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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.

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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.

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We fail.

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Behind the Scenes: How to Stitch a Handmade Book

Undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in Book Building courses here at UNCW learn how to design, print, and bind their own chapbooks. They can use our perfect binder (cranky as she sometimes is), which holds pages together with hot glue, or they can stitch their books together with needle and thread. You probably don’t have a perfect binder like we do, but maybe you can think of a loved one who deserves a handmade book just the same. So we thought we’d share this step-by-step guide for creating your own chapbook and using the three-hole pamphlet stitch to bind it (sans, of course, the sentiments you will use to fill its pages–that’s up to you).

1_Supplies

Supplies you’ll need:

  • Paper for the interior: As many sheets and any type of paper that you want, but know that the more pages you include, the harder it will be to thread. I’m using 20lb white letter paper.
  • Paper for the cover: One sheet the same size as your interior paper. You can decorate the cover with stamps, stickers, photographs, or anything else you like. I’m using 110lb white letter paper so the cover is heavier and thicker than the interior paper.
  • Needle: Any size will work just fine
  • Thread: While the Pub Lab prefers waxed thread, you can use any thread you’d like. The thread will be visible on the spine of the book, so think about how the color will complement your cover when you’re picking out thread.

Optional supplies:

  • Bone folder
  • Awl
  • Paper trimmer

Step 1: Folding the Paper
Fold all of your paper in half. You can fold each sheet individually, or fold them all (including the cover) together. Folding each sheet separately gives you a crisper fold, especially if you use a bone folder to make a defined crease, but folding all of the sheets together will create a nice nested look for the pages while rounding out the spine. For this book, I folded all of the interior pages together, but folded the cover separately.

2_BoneFolder

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The Giving Spirit: Lookout Books in the Little Free Library

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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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A Lookout Intern’s Guide to UNCW Writers Week

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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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The Larger Literary Community at UNC Wilmington

At Lookout Books we find inspiration not only from the publishing world but from the literary community in which we are housed. As part of the Department of Creative Writing at University of North Carolina Wilmington, we’re surrounded by other writers—students and teachers alike—whose careers encourage and influence us.

Here’s a recap of some of the literary events on campus this semester:

Faculty Readings

The first faculty reading of the semester featured poet Mark Cox and fiction writer Rebecca Lee, in celebration of Lee’s recent collection, Bobcat and Other Stories. In early October, visiting writer Jason Mott read from his recently-released novel, The Returned. Mott, who graduated from both the BFA and MFA programs at UNC Wilmington, spent October teaching a graduate fiction workshop. The third faculty reading of the semester featured Wendy Brenner and Nina de Gramont. The latter’s new young adult novel, Meet Me at the River, was released on October 15.

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Ordering Astoria to Zion: Twenty-Six Stories of Risk and Abandon from Ecotone’s First Decade

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One of the most rewarding aspects of being a Lookout intern is that I consistently have the opportunity to work on projects that I didn’t even know were projects until the time I begin working on them. The most recent (and possibly my favorite) example was establishing the order for Lookout’s forthcoming anthology Astoria to Zion: Twenty-Six Stories of Risk and Abandon From Ecotone’s First Decade.

If someone had asked me a few weeks ago how one might arrange stories in an anthology I might have answered, “Alphabetically? Draw the names out of a hat? Pin them on the wall and throw darts?”

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