Q&A: Julie Barer, Literary Agent and Founder of Barer Literary

What are some upcoming trends for 2014?

I like to believe that we’re having a short story renaissance. Not that great collections ever went away, but there was a period when both publishers and readers seemed to shy away from them, and now there are little signs that attention and appreciation for the short story is coming back, which makes me very happy. Last year the Nobel Prize was awarded to Alice Munro, “the master of the contemporary short story.” This spring will bring new collections from two incredibly talented short story writers—Elizabeth McCracken and Lorrie Moore—as well as some exciting newcomers like Molly Antopol and David James Poissant. I’d say that’s cause for celebration.

What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?

I love books that are transporting. Whether they are set in Papua New Guinea in 1930 (Lily King’s Euphoria, 2014), Ancient Greece (The Song of Achilles, 2011, by Madeline Miller) or a small town in Texas (Bret Anthony Johnston’s Remember Me Like This, 2014), I’m always looking to learn something new from the fiction I read and to be taken somewhere I’ve never been before. I also love fiction that plays with genre and has a fantastical element or science-fiction element to it.

What topic don’t you ever want to see again?

I’m a firm believer in that old adage “never say never.” One of the things I love about my job is constantly being surprised and falling in love with the unexpected. A great book is all in the telling, isn’t it? The voice is what makes each story unique. So, I may think I never want to read another book about X again, but if it’s written in a new and original way, it doesn’t matter if the subject has been covered before. 

What is unique about your corner of the industry?

I started my own agency in 2005 with a mission to focus almost exclusively on fiction. At the time, it was probably considered a bit crazy—nonfiction was much more predictable and lucrative. But fiction is where my heart is. I decided to trust my gut and pursue those novels and short story collections I truly loved, regardless of how “commercial” they were. I just wanted to work with writers I admired. I think that has paid off, and I hope I am known for representing fiction writers across a broad spectrum. Some write best-sellers, some win prizes, some of the lucky few even do both! I also think that different agents have different strengths, and one skill I’m proud to bring to the table is my passion for editing. It’s one of the reasons I got into the business and one of my favorite things about working with writers. I know not every agent is interested or has the time to do significant editorial work, but for me, that’s part of what makes this job so much fun.

Anything else you’d like to add?

It sounds so obvious, but I really believe that it’s our job as good literary citizens to support writers as much as we can. The way to do this is actually very simple: Go buy their books. You’d be amazed at how many hopeful unpublished novelists I meet who don’t actually read contemporary fiction. We need to foster those new voices and continue to champion the old ones. Go pick up a debut at your local independent bookstore, go to a reading by an author you’ve heard about but never read, check out a literary magazine at your local library. It’s that easy.

Julie Barer established her own agency after six years at Sanford J. Greenburger Associates. Barer Literary is a full-service boutique agency that represents a variety of writers across a literary spectrum, with an emphasis on fiction. Clients include Joshua Ferris (The Unnamed, 2010, Then We Came to the End, 2007), Paula McLain (The Paris Wife, 2011), Kevin Wilson (The Family Fang, 2011), Madeline Miller (The Song of Achilles, 2011) and Helen Simonson (Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, 2010). Writing by her clients has appeared in The New Yorker, the New York Times, Best American Short Stories, The Atlantic Monthly, Tin House, Granta and various other publications and has received numerous awards and honors, including grants from the National Endowment of the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, the PEN/Hemingway Award, the National Book Award Finalist medal, the Barnes & Noble Discover Award, the Los Angeles Times First Book Award, the Flannery O'Connor Award and the Orange Prize. Before becoming an agent, Julie was a bookseller at Shakespeare & Company in New York.