Lookout Books made history with its 2011 launch as the first independent press to have its debut book, Edith Pearlman’s new and selected story collection Binocular Vision, featured on the cover of the New York Times Book Review. The collection went on to be named a finalist for the National Book Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the Story Prize, and the National Book Critics Circle Award, which it subsequently won—a feat that prompted Washington Post book reviewer Ron Charles to call it “one of the most auspicious publishing launches in history.”
And the successes kept coming. Steve Almond’s story collection God Bless America won the Paterson Fiction Prize, and was longlisted for the Story Prize. Ben Miller’s memoir in essays, River Bend Chronicle, was shortlisted for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing. Matthew Neill Null’s novel, Honey from the Lion, was shortlisted for the L.D. and LaVerne Harrell Clark Fiction Prize.
Then in 2016, Clare Beams’s story collection, We Show What We Have Learned, swept prestigious national finalists lists for debut fiction, including the Young Lions Fiction Award, the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize, and the Shirley Jackson Award for a single-author collection.
“Risky books are finding their way to smaller houses, and we’re increasingly adept at helping them reach their readers,” publisher Emily Louise Smith wrote in “The Overnight Success of Lookout Books,” an essay about founding the imprint that was published in Milkweed Editions’ Literary Publishing in the Twenty-First Century. “We might just preserve the culture of literary publishing—that penchant for the original and the new, risk and innovation, bequeathed to us by our editorial predecessors.”
Championing such books is, in fact, Lookout’s mission. As a boutique press, Lookout focuses on thoughtful editorial relationships, beautifully designed paperback originals with trademark French flaps, tailored marketing and publicity campaigns that result in national media coverage, expanded book tours that include classroom visits and community engagement, and connections with booksellers. The single title published every year receives dedicated attention from its staff, including both faculty editors and innovative students in UNC Wilmington’s publishing arts programs.
As Smith puts it: “We evangelize for our books.” Every applicable title is nominated for regional and national awards. That exposure is invaluable; whether Lookout titles take home the win or not, they reach the hands of judges and influential readers across the country.
Award-Winning Lookout Titles
- PEN/Robert W. Bingham Award for Debut Fiction, finalist
- Young Lions Fiction Award, finalist
- Shirley Jackson Award for a single-author collection, nominee
- L.D. and LaVerne Harrell Clark Fiction Prize, shortlist
- Gold IPPY (Independent Publisher Book Award), anthology category
- William Saroyan International Prize for Writing, shortlist
- Paterson Fiction Prize, winner
- Foreword Book of the Year, honorable mention in the short story category
- Story Prize for Outstanding Collection, longlist
- Frank O’Connor International Short Story Prize, longlist
- Bronze IPPY (Independent Publisher Book Award), short story category
- National Book Critics Circle Award in Fiction, winner
- PEN/Malamud Award, winner
- National Book Award in Fiction, finalist
- The Story Prize, finalist
- Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Fiction, finalist
- Foreword Book of the Year, short story category
- Edward Lewis Wallant Award
- Harold U. Ribalow Prize