Today I’m thrilled to have agent Mark Gottlieb here. He is a literary agent at Trident Media Group.
FYI, I’m taking over the agent spotlights from Casey. I will be providing all the same information we’ve shared in the past in an interview format. In addition, one lucky commenter will win a query critique from the agent being interviewed.
Status: Open to submissions.
Hi Mark! Thanks so much for joining us.
1. Tell us how you became an agent, how long you’ve been one, and what you’ve been doing as an agent.
Unlike many people who choose book publishing as somewhat of an accidental profession, it was always expected of me that I would one day work at Trident Media Group, a family-owned and operated literary agency. I think it comes as a comfort to many of my clients that I’m not leaving the literary agency, nor book publishing anytime soon. Anyway, you could say I was sort of groomed for the position at a young age. That’s why I chose Emerson College in Boston, as they were one of the only schools at the time offering an undergraduate study in publishing. My company bio expresses my professional journey from my time at Emerson College, onward:
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.
About the Agency:
2. Share a bit about your agency and what it offers to its authors.
What makes our literary agency unique is that we rank #1 on Publishers Marketplace for fiction, non-fiction and literary agencies, both in overall volume of deals and six-figure+ deals and higher. (Of course we do deals for more than six-figures, but that is what publishersmarketplace.com allows one to report). We’ve ranked that way for over a decade, which is about how long Publishers Marketplace has been around for. That ranking is a result of the tremendous resources available to us at Trident Media Group for advancing the careers of our clients. For instance, I think one would find it difficult to find another literary agency that has a Digital Media and Publishing department, focusing in large part on digital marketing and publicity strategy for our authors. Many clients of ours have greatly benefited from such a service, by hitting the New York Times and USA Today bestsellers lists.
Not to speak ill of the competition, but most literary agencies tend to be very small (several employees in a home office setting) and therefore they have to farm a lot of their work out to third party companies and they are more inclined to give rights away to publishers where they either can’t fend the publisher off or just plain don’t have the resources to properly sell those rights on their own. However, at Trident, we as a company of close to fifty employees with the entire 36th floor of a Madison Ave. building in NYC (huge for a literary agency and bigger than most independent publishers), do not farm our services out to third party companies. Trident Media Group’s contract review, accounting, foreign rights, audio books, film/TV, etc. is performed within our company walls. This is a huge benefit to a client, since we’re more inclined to keep communication between departments rather sharp and we hold onto film/TV, foreign and audio book rights for our clients more readily, in order to help them properly exploit those rights with other publishers. Were those rights to get tied up with a domestic publisher, they might never get made or properly exploited, plus the economics are not entirely in favor of the author in sharing those rights with a domestic publisher.
Ultimately because of the clout of our agency having many #1 New York Times bestselling authors and award-winning authors, and the fact that our business really goes to the bottom line of most publishers, we can get the very best things for our clients in their book publishing deals and contracts.
What He’s Looking For:
2. What age groups do you represent—picture books, MG, and/or YA? What genres do you represent and what are you looking for in submissions for these genres?
We represent all genres, generally excluding poetry, short stories, novellas, and textbooks.
We are always seeing a high demand for commercial fiction, genre fiction, thrillers, women’s fiction, romance, YA, literary/general fiction, high-end nonfiction and health books written by authors with major platforms in the areas of history/politics/current affairs, business books and celebrity nonfiction.
3. Is there anything you would be especially excited to seeing in the genres you are interested in?
An ideal project would carry an important social message or moral to the story, and while not only being beautifully written, it should be accessible or have some aspects of commercialism to the writing, even if it is literary fiction. I also 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/platform, or pre-publication blurbs in-hand for one’s manuscript is also very promising in the eyes of a literary agent.
What He Isn’t Looking For:
4. What types of submissions are you not interested in?
I am not interested in cozy mysteries, erotica, urban fantasy, horror, paranormal romance, and personal (non-celebrity) memoir.
5. What is your philosophy as an agent both in terms of the authors you want to work with and the books you want to represent?
In the case of literary fiction, lending some accessibility is what I find to be important. The literary community as a whole tends to be very insular and the books themselves also read like they're too cool for school. Uncompromising literary fiction often contains prose that are more concerned with being stylish and flowery, thereby torturing the narrative and losing the reader in the poetics. A piece of advice I tend to share with clients in such a pitfall is a famed quote from the author Charles Bukowski: "An intellectual says a simple thing in a hard way. An artist says a hard thing in a simple way." That will help the moral of the book shine through, which is ultimately what attracts me to a manuscript, since many of the books I represent are concerned with important social messages.
For genre fiction and commercial fiction, it is important to be aware of the genre conventions and tropes, in order to either generally avoid them, or spin them in a new and interesting way. For instance, I find it the strangest thing that in most every zombie novel, the protagonist wakes up in a hospital bed from a coma, to suddenly realize they're in a world full of zombies. I'm sure that was a neat trope when it started out, since the motif of dreaming/waking kind of plays with the zombie theme in reverse (our protagonist wakes from the world of the living to the dead, whereas his antagonists have fallen asleep from the world of the living to a dream-like state in the world of the dead). Nowadays that trope is just old hat to most readers of zombie books.
In nonfiction, I mainly make an evaluation based on the author’s platform.
A manuscript that recently spoke to me that I decided to take on, and subsequently sold to a publisher, is World Fantasy Award-nominated author Christopher Brown’s TROPIC OF KANSAS. Description: on the front lines of a revolution whose fuse they are about to light, a fugitive brother and sister are harboring explosive government secrets; pitched as a novel of political dissent akin to the Americana of THE ROAD, the brave new corporate world of JENNIFER GOVERNMENT, or a post-9/11 MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE; the story of ordinary people seeking to refresh democracy in a mirror America ruled by a telegenic dictator of a businessman. The famed and award-winning editor David G. Hartwell of Tor Books had bought the book in his very last book deal, but suddenly passed away in a terrible freak accident. We were able to move the project over to David Pomerico of Harper Voyager where the project now happily resides and is slated for publication in 2017.
What initially drew me to the project was that the author not only had a lot of “street cred” as an award-nominated author and short story writer—he had already collected pre-publication blurbs from William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, and Cory Doctorow, as well as trade reviews from Locus, Boing Boing, Tangent, and many other trade review sites and notable authors. Christopher had also tapped into the heart of near-future sci-fi with an important social message—a hot topic for right now in SF.
Christopher’s writing focuses on issues at the nexus of technology, politics, and economics and often fit within the literary subgenre sometimes denominated avant-pop—"pulp fiction for smart people," in the words of the author, answering questions such as “Whatever happened to the guest appearance of Jorge Luis Borges on The Love Boat?” or “What if Beltway psychological warfare operatives co-opted Saddam’s Frazetta-dealer?”
Harper Voyager has also compared TROPIC OF KANSAS to READY PLAYER ONE, STATION ELEVEN and HIGH-RISE.
6. Are you an editorial agent? If so, what is your process like when you’re working with your authors before submitting to editors?
If interested in a manuscript, I tend to offer representation upfront, with the expectation that an author will remain open to editorial discussion, if need be. Every manuscript is different; I have read manuscripts that read very tightly and needed few if any editorial comments from me. In those instances I might provide just a few bulleted points or so for the author to keep in mind. In other instances I have written ten or twelve-page editorial letters. While that may seem like overkill, it expresses my firm belief in an author’s career growth.
Query Methods and Submission Guidelines: (Always verify before submitting)
7. How should authors query you and what do you want to see with the query letter?
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. Oftentimes 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.
In addition to what I mentioned above in terms of what attracts a literary agent to an author, once an author has gone as far as they can go with the writing / editing of the manuscript and honed in on a knock-out query letter / hook, then it is time to begin the process of querying a literary agent.
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.
8. Do you have any specific dislikes in query letters or the first pages submitted to you?
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.
-Submitting queries for novellas, short story collections, poetry or textbooks will usually turn a literary agent off, as most literary agents do not represent such things. Publishers tend not to buy from literary agents in those areas in the first place.
-Word count is also very important. Traditional book length is 80-120K, and commercial fiction tends to be in the 80-90K-word range. Going outside of normal book-length will not produce good results for an author querying a literary agent for a shot at going into major trade publishing.
-Writing within struggling genres such as cozy mysteries, erotica, or urban fantasy is also another way to turn a literary agent off in the querying process. We tend to be weary of that at Trident Media Group.
9. What’s your response time to queries and requests for more pages of a manuscript?
Literary agents differ in their response time to a manuscript. This will also depend on the length of the manuscript, how full the literary agent’s plate is already, etc. I think a reasonable response time is within a month’s time, though. Of course this is a hurry-up-and-wait sort of business, so it could take longer as it takes time to read. In my case I prefer to read within the first few days or week of receiving a manuscript from an author in order to express my level of enthusiasm, rather than just sitting on my hands.
Self-Published and Small Press Authors:
10. Are you open to representing authors who have self-published or been published by smaller presses? What advice do you have for them if they want to try to find an agent to represent them?
The self-publishing/indie sphere has become something of what the farm league is to major league baseball, but the odds of that success can be lower than were an author to try and approach a literary agent as an author attempting to make their major debut in trade publishing. The bar is quite high in terms of self-publishing to attract an agent or publisher. An author usually needs to have sold at least 50,000 copies at a decent price.
If an author is involved in the writing community at a grassroots level with conferences, workshops and has published in esteemed literary magazines, then that can help. As far as an insider tip goes, it’s great to see an author that comes to us with pre-publication blurbs from bestselling and award-winning authors. So it certainly doesn't hurt to reach out to well-known authors and ask them to review your work, if they're interested and if they indicate they do like it, see if they'll provide a short blurb.
Also Listing a few competitive / comparative titles that were bestsellers and / or award-winners, published within the last few years, is also key for a literary agent’s consideration.
At the end of the day, though, the manuscript must be an amazing read.
11. With all the changes in publishing—self-publishing, hybrid authors, more small publishers—do you see the role of agents changing at all? Why?
Yes, it is 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.
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.
12. Who are some of the authors you represent?
The Trident Media Group literary agency’s client list is viewable here: http://www.tridentmediagroup.com/
Interviews and Guest Posts:
13. Please share the links to any interviews and guest posts you think would be helpful to writers interested in querying you.
Links and Contact Info:
14. Please share how writers should contact you to submit a query and your links on the Web.
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.
15. Is there any other advice you’d like to share with aspiring authors that we haven’t covered?
The most important advice I can give to writers just starting out is to learn and grow from constructive criticism and rejection, rather than being discouraged by that feedback. It is not an editor or literary agent saying the author’s writing is not good—we’re saying the writing is not good enough, at least not yet. So, hang in there…
Thanks for sharing all your advice, Mark.
Mark is generously offering a query critique to one lucky winner. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (just click the follower button if you're not a follower) and leave a comment through 1/28/2017. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter either contest. If you do not want to enter the contest, that's okay. Just let me know in the comments.
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Note: These agent profiles and interviews presently focus on agents who accept children's fiction. Please take the time to verify anything you might use here before querying an agent. The information found here is subject to change.