Lit Agent, Julie Barer Tells Writers to “Keep Your Day Job”

By Jeff Rivera Comment

After working for years at Sanford J. Greenburger Associates, literary agent, Julie Barer began Barer Literary. She has a lean organization that allows her to give her clients individualized attention. In our interview with Barer today, she talks about how she helps build author’s careers, why she advises writers not to rely solely on their writing as a means for supporting themselves and why following trends can mean doom to a writer’s career.

Julie, why do you think so many writers are interested in you for representation?

Having my own agency gives me the freedom to keep my client list focused and relatively small, and to take on only those projects I truly love and believe in. Because I’m extremely selective about what I represent, I’m able to offer my clients the time and attention they need.

And because the agency has a focus on fiction, I think I’m especially suited to helping launch new voices in fiction. For me, it’s about more than just making the deal, or getting the most money, it’s about the author’s career.

This means helping get the work in the best editorial shape before it goes out on submission, finding the right editor and the best house for each individual project, and working with the author on every step of the publication process from jacket copy and website development to publicity, social marketing, paperback publication and beyond. The best part is that I love what I do, so even though I work incredibly hard on my clients’ behalf, I usually have fun doing it.

It can’t be easy for your clients now, no matter how good they are with the way the economy and the business has been the last few years. What do you do to help them?

I think that the best thing I can do for myself, my business, and my
clients is to continue to be extremely selective about taking on
new projects, and then working hard to get those books in the best possible shape editorially before sending them out. The smaller my
list, the better able I am to help my clients work with their publicity and marketing departments to ensure that their books are published as successfully as possible. To me, the recent changes in the market mean we all have to focus more, and publish more carefully and thoughtfully.

I know it’s somewhat of an unpopular opinion, but I think it’s unrealistic to expect that you can support yourself solely as a writer in this economy. Most of the writers I know teach, or have other day jobs to support themselves, so the best way to avoid eating ramen noodles is to not rely completely on your book advance to pay your bills. In the end, the better you make the book, the better the chances that you’ll get a healthy advance, and the harder you work with your publisher to promote the book by publishing stories or nonfiction essays to raise your profile, by blogging and keeping your website active, by thinking outside of the box in terms of marketing and publicity, the better your book will do. But at the end of the day it’s the quality of the work that matters the most.

Are you excited or scared about how devices such as the Kindle, iPad, WePad and others coming out are shaping the reading experience?

I think it’s too early to definitively say how recent technological changes have and will continue to affect the way we will sell and
publish books, because we’re really in the eye of the storm at the moment.

I think the worst thing we can do is stick our heads in the sand and
pretend it’s not happening just because some of us may not like it.

Are there any trends writers should be aware of, what are editors asking you for?

I try not to sell by trend, especially because I work primarily with fiction and with a good novel it’s not just what the story is, it’s how it’s told. I’m interested in good storytelling, quality writing and original voices. I believe there are always going to be editors looking for those things.

I love historical fiction and international fiction, and I always want to see more of that. I also love books that play with genre. They can be challenging to sell, but I’m a (not so closet) fantasy and sci fi reader, as well as a huge fan of YA and literary crime/ mystery, so while I may not be submitting much to the genre publishers in those areas, I do find books that play with crossing those lines very interesting.

All right, so how do writers reach you if they’re interested in pitching you?

A straightforward query to either or our mailing address is best. I get frustrated by those who clearly haven’t done any research or haven’t taken the time to even attempt to personalize their queries to me. Writers who send out mass emails over and over and over again using a different email address (you know who you are) are working against themselves. At this point I’m deleting those on general principle. Also, lately I find writers accepting representation before even giving me the opportunity to read the manuscript I’ve requested, and that just seems shortsighted to me. Wouldn’t you want to talk to as many interested agents as possible?

Julie, what’s something about you that very few people know?

I love karaoke. And I am very good at it.