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Interview with Literary Agent Mark Gottlieb

PublishersLink had the opportunity to sit down with Trident Media Group literary agent Mark Gottlieb who provided an exclusive interview to PublishersLink. We have worked with Mark in the past and were excited to have the opportunity to learn from his experience and provide an insight into the life of a literary agent.

Mark Gottlieb is a highly ranked literary agent both in overall volume of deals and other individual categories. Using that same initiative and insight for identifying talented writers, he is actively building his own client list of authors. Mark Gottlieb is excited to work directly with authors, helping to manage and grow their careers with all of the unique resources that are available at a leading literary agency, Trident Media Group. During his time at Trident Media Group, Mark Gottlieb has represented numerous New York Times bestselling authors, as well as award-winning authors, and has optioned and sold numerous books to film and TV production companies. Mark Gottlieb is actively seeking submissions in all categories and genres and looking forward to bringing new authors to the curious minds of their future readers.

Mark, you work at a top literary agency, Trident Media Group. What, in your opinion, separates your agency from others?

The Trident Media Group literary agency has ranked first across the publishing industry for overall number of deals and for amount of money for deals across book publishing, every year since 2004. This is a direct result of the fact that the Trident Media Group literary agency's business goes to the bottom line of most every book publishing company, making for submissions from the agency that get read more readily at book publishing houses, in addition to stronger deals and better contracts for clients of the agency. It is simply much easier for our agency to get things done with book publishers when we do such a large volume of business with them and that many of those authors are bestselling authors that will ultimately win the day for book publishing houses. This makes for a better overall book publishing experience for authors.

Can you take us "behind the curtain" of a successful agency to talk about what happens when an agent picks up a manuscript?

Before choosing a manuscript, I evaluate a writer's query letter to see if the letter itself is well written and contains some exciting plot details and/or character development. From there, I will request the manuscript and conduct a reading of the manuscript to make sure that the writing and story are indeed strong within the pages and I will also consider if the manuscript can fare well within the current book publishing landscape. If the manuscript excites me, I will call the writer to offer them literary representation. In such a call, I will tell the writer a few things that makes our agency unique and will give them my brief bio or encourage them to visit my page on the Trident Media group website.

Can you describe your personal style working with clients?

I would say that the Trident Media Group literary agent Mark Gottlieb style of working with authors is that I keep a very easy and open line of communication. I try to make sure that my clients feel that they can reach me whenever they need me, whether that be via phone or email, or even another easy means of communication. I am happy to have regular check-ins with clients if need be. I like to think that I am sort of like a doctor on call.

What do you find to be the most rewarding part of your career, and can you define a career highlight or accomplishment for us?

They can write on my headstone that literary agent Mark Gottlieb made the dreams of authors come true. That is what I truly live for and I think it is an incredible thing when that happens for authors. This is especially the case because it is very difficult to get published in today's book publishing landscape. It is an amazing thing when an author gets their book published, especially if it is their first book as a debut author. Along these lines, one of my career highlight for me was climbing into the top three ranking for literary agents performing debut fiction deals.


When you are looking through submissions, what would stand out and make you take notice? Conversely what would turn you off immediately?

A query letter that stands out from the submissions pile is one that has a very strong hook or elevator pitch, right upfront in the query letter. That will immediately grab my attention and help most any literary agent sifting through query letters. A good query letter should be well written, contain a very short description of the book and have a one-paragraph author bio with relevant writing experience/credentials. A bad query letter would be a letter that is far too short or too long, is poorly- written or lacks information and depth.

Do you think it is necessary for a writer to have had their manuscript professionally edited prior to submitting it for consideration to an agency? While it can be very expensive for an author to have their manuscript professionally edited, it is still worth taking the manuscript as far as possible, before showing it to a literary agent. If that is not to be an outside editor, then that sometimes means critiquing the manuscript at conferences and workshops or showing it to others for feedback. Of course, some editorial guidance happens at the level of the agency, but most book publishers will expect a manuscript to come in as fully-polished as possible, so it is best to get an early start on that before submitting to agencies.


How many submissions do you typically receive on a monthly basis and how many are you able to represent. Do you think this would be typical throughout the industry?

Every literary agent and literary agency will receive a different amount of submissions. Sine many authors know us across the book publishing industry, Trident Media Group probably receives hundreds of query letters daily and therefore many throughout the months, but we manage to sift through it all in searching for that needle in the haystack. I personally take the time to read all of my query letters daily, as they come in. I cannot speak for other literary agencies, as to whether or not they receive too many or too few query letters, or if they take the time to go through the letters. Many in our industry do feel that the best submissions come by way of referrals, although I have procured many of my book deals through the query letter process.

Do agents take notice of self-published books that are selling well or have a large crowd sourcing base? If so, have you seen those books picked up by a literary agent for representation?

It is generally the case that threshold for success in self-publishing is set very high. Most book publishers will look for a book that sold close to 50,000 copies at a decent price. That is very difficult to do, given that the self-publishing space has become a glut of material and as a result, has made for a crowded marketplace where a self-published author really needs to be a marketing guru in order to stand out. Many eBook sales have also leveled off in recent years and a lot of self-published authors have been undercutting each other's prices in a race to the bottom at $0.99. When an author has sold many copies, but at such a low price, it becomes difficult to entice a book publisher when they are trying to be mindful of their own price margins and the costs associated with professionally publishing a book. Sometimes a self-published work can stand out, though, especially if it manages to climb into the Amazon Top 100 or if it manages to hit #1 in its individual categories. Other times a terrific story or concept will simply win the day.

After receiving an offer of representation, are there any questions an author should ask their potential agent?

These are some good starting points: -Does the manuscript need any editorial guidance? If so, how much work and are you willing to provide any editorial feedback? -Are there any particular services, such as foreign rights or film/TV adaptations, your agency provides that you would like to highlight? -What does the submissions process look like? May I see the submission list and will I be kept updated along the way? -Will we be signing an agency agreement and may I review the agency agreement before signature?

Do you have any words of encouragement for hopeful writers looking to become published authors?

Remain persistent by realizing that this is a highly subjective business, so while one literary agency might feel one way about a writer's manuscript, a different literary agency might have another opinion. It is also important to learn and grow from editorial guidance, rather than letting it gnaw away at one's ego. Try to also remain curious about the book publishing process itself and understand how an author can play a role in the process.