By C. Hope Clark
Mark Gottlieb is an agent with Trident Media Group, a strong literary agency well known for its successes. FundsforWriters was lucky enough to land him for an interview, and with his great answers, our features for the month of November (National Novel Writing Month – NaNoWriMo) will be dedicated to this interview. This is Part 2 of a four-week feature. (Find Part 1 here.)
HOPE: We keep hearing how traditional publishing is sliding, losing traction in this crazy business with indie publishing impacting the price of books and brick-and-mortar bookstore success. What is your opinion about traditional’s future, and, therefore, the future of agents?
MARK: Don’t believe the hype. You can’t believe everything you see and read. I remain a firm believer in that no matter how far technology takes us, there’s always a need for the human element, and I’m not talking about a “ghost in the machine.”
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. 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.
One day I see traditional publishers having an even bigger presence in the digital sphere for books in terms of placement among online retailers in buying co-op deals, key site-placement, and more, exactly the way music and movie companies originated subscription services and digital access. Print won’t become a thing of the past but perhaps a nostalgia, much like the way in which music aficionados appreciate vinyl records. Like the LP, the hardcover book is a technology that has been perfected and is ideal to the experience of reading. Regardless, readers will always opt for their preferred format, whether that be print, audio or ebook.
HOPE: Let’s throw out a couple of rumors about agents. For instance, do agents ever consider representing a self-published author? If you do, what makes you accept one and decline another?
MARK: Usually the sales numbers need to justify an agent’s role in the life of a self-published author trying to move toward traditional publishing. That usually requires bestseller status from a self-published author, but I have taken on self-published projects that sounded interesting to me and evaluated them on a purely subjective-basis. For instance, my client Taylor Bayouth self-published to little or no success HOW TO STEAL THE MONA LISA AND OTHER WORLD FAMOUS TREASURES, a step-by-step guide to the craft of high stakes thievery and heists, meticulously describing the knowledge, techniques, and tools needed to steal priceless art, such as the “Mona Lisa” and Rodin’s “Thinker,” and rare artifacts like the Archaeopteryx fossil and the Hope Diamond. Like Spartans wearing red in battle to hide their wounds, we remained quiet about the fact that the book was self-published. HOW TO STEAL THE MONA LISA ended up selling to Tarcher/Perigee Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House, and Ron Howard’s company Imagine Entertainment optioned it for film/TV when Jason Bateman attached himself to the project.
But what makes me decline? When projects do not speak to me subjectively, despite positive sales numbers, I am reticent to take them on for literary representation.
HOPE: If an indie author publishes a book that does not sell well, would you consider it? Or would you rather pass and consider something more fresh and new? Or does a bad selling book hurt the odds of an agent representing the author at all?
MARK: The self-publishing sphere has become something of what the farm league is to major league baseball. However, the odds of an author’s success can be lower fighting up from self-publishing than if an author were to try to approach a literary agent for 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. Were an author to self-publish and create a bad track record, it would be difficult for a literary agent to sell that author to a major trade publisher. An author experiencing a modicum of success in self-publishing should ask themselves if they want more in moving into major trade publishing, or if they can make more in self-publishing. It’s a big time and money investment to self-publish. At least traditional publishers usually pay risk money upfront in the way of a book advance. That’s like free money as an author doesn’t have to pay the book advance back, unless they want out of the publishing contract. Were the advance to earn out in the sale of books sold, then the author can rest assured they’d see money on the back end in royalties and in larger numbers from wider distribution and promotion than they could on their own.
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.