About Mark Gottlieb:
Mark Gottlieb attended Emerson College and was President of its Publishing Club, establishing the Wilde Press. After graduating with a degree in writing, literature & publishing, he began his career with Penguin’s VP. Mark’s first position at Publishers Marketplace’s #1-ranked literary agency, Trident Media Group, was in foreign rights. Mark was EA to Trident’s Chairman and ran the Audio Department. Mark is currently working with his own client list, helping to manage and grow author careers with the unique resources available to Trident. He has ranked #1 among Literary Agents on publishersmarketplace.com in Overall Deals and other categories.
In your opinion, what differentiates Trident Media Group from other literary agencies?
A misconception I see among authors, who are just plain happy to have found a literary agent, is that they don’t always choose the right sort of agency. We are book publishing’s leading literary agency as we rank #1 for overall and six-figure+ deals (highest monetary category an agency can rank for) on publishersmarketplace.com, both for fiction, nonfiction, and agencies. We have ranked that way for over a decade, which is how long Publishers Marketplace has been around. That means we have numerous #1 NYT bestselling authors and many award-winning authors. When a new author looks at a big agency like ours, which is close to fifty employees and takes up the entire 36th floor of a Madison Ave building, they often think they will get lost in the shuffle, when in reality it is really quite the opposite. This being a big agency means that we have devoted legal, accounting, audio, digital, office management and foreign rights departments, which means I can spend more time with my clients, focusing on their careers. This is not to speak ill of other agencies, but the same cannot be said of a very small agency tight on resources where agents there, by-and-large, must work in a vacuum, and therefore have little time to properly handle audio and foreign rights, unlike an agency of our stature.
I think that I am unique as far as literary agents go, since I’ve been around this business all my life, having grown up with parents working in the book business. I’m not merely a journeyman literary agent that could be here in publishing one day and gone the next; book publishing is my passion and this being my family business, I’m not going anywhere soon. Also for that reason, none of my decisions are informed by fear over my job security. That’s lucky for most any client of mine, since rarely is a good decision ever made out of fear.
What can clients expect their literary agent to do for them, and what will they be expected to handle on their own?
Literary agents exist to provide services to authors, such as finding a publisher, handling contract negotiation as well as ensuring payment and proper accounting. A good literary agent will mediate between the author and publisher.
Researching the potential literary agent is important. I usually suggest to authors that they visit the literary agency’s website and read about them online. It’s highly advisable to check out the agency’s rankings on Publishers Marketplace or an author can read about us on our website http://www.tridentmediagroup.com/ to see our services and other offerings.
What are a few things you see in the query process that make you want to reject something immediately? What about a few things that make you want to immediately request a sample?
My advice to authors along the querying process is to really nail the writing of that query letter. A query letter that reads well is usually a good indication to the literary agent that the manuscript will similarly read well, inclining the literary agent to request a manuscript. Often the query letter can go on to become the publisher’s jacket copy, were the publisher to acquire the manuscript via the literary agent.
A good query letter is: upfront in one-two sentences what the book is about in hook or elevator pitch fashion (should mention the title, lend a sense of genre, and contain one-three competitive/comparative titles that were bestsellers or award-winners, published within the last few years). If the author has pre-publication blurbs, those can appear before those first two sentences.
Next is a couple of body paragraphs detailing some of the plot details without too many spoilers and in that space the literary merits of the manuscript can be mentioned. The last paragraph is usually reserved for a short author bio, mentioning relevant writing experience/credentials, and a link to an author site or social media page(s) can be included there.
The Trident Media Group literary agency prefers to be queried by authors via our website at http://www.tridentmediagroup.com
Our query letter instructions are there.
Incorrect word count will usually make me reject a query letter flat out. It shows me right away that an author does not understanding publishing practices and norms. Secondly, a query letter that is poorly-written is usually an indication that the manuscript will not be well-written.
What is it about being a literary agent that you find most exciting?
The interesting thing is that there really is no average day in the life of a literary agent, or at least there shouldn’t be, for when a literary agent’s days begin to stagnate and look the same, then that person’s career is in trouble.
Every day that I walk into the office, I think of ways to try to reinvent myself in a way to make myself competitive, while improving the careers of the authors I work with in creative and innovative ways. Every day should not be about drudgery—life is an adventure.
Of course there are a few things typical to most every day in the life of a literary agent, such as reading query letters, meeting/calls/lunches/drinks with editors and publishers as well as clients, pitching manuscripts to publishers, meeting with film/TV companies to adapt books for the screen, attending conferences/workshops, looking for new talent, etc.
What are some of the most common problems you see in the work of beginning writers?
There are many mistakes that I’ve seen in query letters, but I will name just a few that would absolutely deter me from requesting the manuscript from an author.
What qualities would your ideal client possess?
I’m finding that the importance of platform in an author’s career has also made its way into the world of fiction, to an extent. In looking for an ideal fiction client with a platform, I look for authors that have good writing credentials such as experience with writing workshops, conferences, or smaller publications in respected literary magazines.
Having awards, bestseller status, a strong online presence, or pre-publication blurbs in-hand for one’s manuscript is also very promising in the eyes of a literary agent.
Platform is even more important in considering nonfiction authors. It is not enough for an author of nonfiction to be a respected authority on their subject matter—it’s important to publishers to know that such authors have a big online presence or social media following.
That’s why selling celebrity fiction to publishers is almost a no-brainer. Publishers get this strange thought in their minds that if any given celebrity has 100,000 followers or more, if even just ten percent of those followers buy the book, then the publisher is already in good shape.
Self-publishing has changed the entire landscape of the publishing industry. Does your agency work with self-published clients? If so, what does the agent/client relationship look like when the author isn’t working to sign with a publishing house?
It has become all too easy for an author to feel discouraged and turn to self-publishing or small indie publishing. However, many successful self-published authors eventually go into traditional publishing in order to take advantage of having a team of professionals who help them take their work to the next level.
A literary agency with industry knowledge and expertise can bring a huge value add to the table for an author, evidenced by many of the success stories we’ve created for our clients, the bulk of which are award-winning and bestselling authors. We’ve actually built a lot of self-published success stories into mega-bestsellers, giving authors a Godzilla-like footprint in the industry.
Trident Media Group is a full-service literary agency for authors, handling accounting, legal review, management, foreign rights (books in translation), book-to-film/TV, audio books, etc. We’re also a literary agency with tremendous clout in the industry, so we can get many things for authors from publishers and film / TV buyers that an author otherwise would not be able to get on their own.
I’d like to think that a literary agency would save an author a lot of headaches in order to help the author focus in on their own writing, thereby allowing the author to become more prolific. Meanwhile, the literary agent would work in concert with their subsidiary rights people and departments within the literary agency. In looking at a literary agent and considering paying them a commission on a deal, an author should be asking what they stand to gain in having a literary agent.
With the publishing industry changing so rapidly, do you think the literary agency model will evolve, and if so, how?
The digital landscape has seen our literary agency evolve. Thanks to the tremendous resources available to our company and our Digital Media and Publishing department, Trident Media Group often helps our clients in their marketing/publicity efforts. We also try to put the publisher on the hot seat in encouraging them to perform marketing/publicity tasks for the author, by sharing ideas and having in-depth meetings with publishers.
Trident will also make recommendations to our clients on how they can think about improving their social media presence and look to online efforts to market / promote their books. Otherwise, book publishers normally devote their marketing dollars and other resources toward authors that are huge successes or are making a major debut.
We at Trident might even recommend a private book publicity firm to a client, but that doesn’t come cheap. An author should still know that their role in marketing and promoting the book is integral to the process since, at the end of the day, readers / fans will want to hear from the author.
It is no lie that an author receives a larger share of royalties in the digital space in self-publishing, but there’s still a common misconception there. In self-publishing, authors sell in smaller numbers than a literary agent and publisher could do for an author.
Authors that self-publish are primarily in the digital format, rather than being in the other revenue tributaries of major trade publishing. Overall it’s better to diversify one’s publishing portfolio with a major trade publisher, offering various publishing formats, online and physical retailers, etc.
The zombie apocalypse has hit (as we all knew it would one day). Which TV or movie characters do you want as part of your crew? (no superheroes…that’s cheating)