Behind the Scenes

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.

Store photo blue

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!

Continue Reading

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.

20151109_132039[1]

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.

Continue Reading

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

Continue Reading

The Giving Spirit: Lookout Books in the Little Free Library

image

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.

Continue Reading

A Lookout Intern’s Guide to UNCW Writers Week

image

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:

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

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

image

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?”

Continue Reading

John Rybicki Begins North Carolina Book Tour

Lookout is proud to announce that poet and Lookout author John Rybicki will be heading out on a North Carolina tour this coming week. The tour, made possible with generous support from the North Carolina Arts Council, will include stops at oncology centers, a library, and a bookstore.

Planning this tour for John has been such a pleasure, and we are so excited about creating some new platforms for him to read his incredible work and to share his powerful messages of grief, hope, and healing.

(For the full tour details, including venue addresses, please go to http://www.lookout.org/Rybickireadings.html.)

image
Above: Tour kits sent to reading venues

On the evening of Sunday, April 7, John will be a guest on “That Cancer Show,” which airs from 8 – 9 p.m. on WPTF 680 AM in Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill and WSJS 600 AM in the Greensboro-Winston Salem-High Point area. You can listen to the program on the “That Cancer Show” website: http://www.cancersupport4u.org/that-cancer-showtrade.html. “That Cancer Show” is a program from Cornucopia Cancer Support Center in Durham.

Continue Reading

Designing the Interiors of The Debut Voices of Lookout Books Chapbook

Lookout Books is getting excited about AWP. We hope you’ll stop by our table at the Bookfair, and that you’ll attend The Debut Voices of Lookout Books, which is happening this Friday at 1:30 p.m. This reading will be the first time all four Lookout authors are in the same place, and the event will be followed by a book-signing at our Bookfair table. You’ll be able to grab signed copies of all our Lookout titles. We’re also excited about unveiling the limited edition chapbook that we printed in-house to commemorate the Debut Voices event.

We did a blog post about creating glyphs for the chapbook (read it here). Now we’re going to share how we designed the interior of the chapbook, which features complete stories from our three prose authors’ Lookout titles and two poems from our Lookout poet . Here’s a look into the process of designing and printing the book:

As the interior designer, I met with the interns doing cover design and together we decided on a trim size of 6” x 6”. Then I got to work on designing a page layout, asking for feedback as we worked.

image

1. An early version, with handwritten feedback. We needed to feature the author name more prominently, to group the name and title differently, and to give the text more room to breathe with some larger margins.

Continue Reading