Alum recounts life in the publishing world

The Daily Pennsylvanian
January 30, 1998

Loretta Barrett

In an alcove of the Writers House packed with aspiring writers and publishers, Penn alumna Loretta Barrett described her experiences both as an editor at Doubleday and as president of her own literary agency, Loretta Barrett Books, Inc.

Barrett, who graduated from Penn in 1962 with a History major, returned to head a workshop as part of the Writers House Alumni Writers Series, which hosts visits from notable Penn alumni who have an interest in sharing their knowledge with current undergraduates.

According to Kerry Sherin, resident coordinator of the Kelly Writers House, the purpose of the series is to provide students interested in publications or drama with an "informal relationship [with professionals] which you can't get in a lecture."

After a brief introduction of her background in publishing, Barrett opened the floor for a question and answer session, during which students asked the agent about the workings of the publishing industry and the various opportunities available there. Barrett answered these questions with anecdotes that were both thought-provoking and at times comic.

Throughout her discussion, Barrett stressed the importance of the author in her line of work.

"An acquisitions editor is supposed to find ideas and authors," she explained. "I'd rather find authors. They have the ideas."

Barrett also described her role as a literary agent as a person who supports and defends her authors.

"An author really needs protection. It's a tough world out there," she said.

As the advocate of her clients, Barrett explained that she had a responsibility to find the right publisher for each writer and manage the contracts she obtained for them.

Although her love for her work was clear, Barrett warned that publishing could at times be discouraging. She recounted her experience of working on projects for months and having them fall through due to changes in a publishing house.

At such times, Barrett confided, "I share [the writer's] heartaches and their disappointments."

Barrett attributed her career in publishing to her interest in social issues, an interest which shows clearly in the clientele of her literary agency.

Writers like Ann Douglas, author of Feminization of America, and Chastity Bono -- the late Sonny Bono's daughter -- who is currently writing a book about her experience coming out as a lesbian, are among the notables Barrett represents.

On the question of why she chose to create her own literary agency, Barrett simply stated, "I love working with authors."

As executive editor and vice president of Doubleday, she found she "lived in meetings," and wanted to get back to working with the authors themselves. She also attributed her decision to a desire "to try something new."

College junior Sheri Miller, who attended the workshop, she "[Barrett] was very receptive to the audience members and seemed genuinely interested in our welfare."