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 4 of a four-week feature. (Find Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 here.)
HOPE: Does an online presence rank high on your list when you consider new clients?
MARK: The importance of online presence in a fiction author’s career is important. In seeking an ideal fiction client with a platform, I look for authors with good credentials such as experience with writing workshops, conferences, or smaller publications like respected literary magazines. Awards, bestseller status, a strong online presence, or pre-publication blurbs in-hand for one’s manuscript are also very promising to a literary agent.
Platform, however, is even more important in considering nonfiction authors. It is not enough for an author of nonfiction to be a respected authority—it’s important to publishers to know that such authors have a big online presence or social media following. That’s why selling celebrity material to publishers is almost a no-brainer. Publishers get this strange thought in their minds that if anyone has 100,000+ followers, maybe ten percent will buy the book.
HOPE: Dispel a myth about agents.
MARK: I find that many authors believe literary agents are A-type personalities and very full of themselves, probably since literary agents prefer to exude success. In fact, I once had an experience at a conference where an author running a booth at the conference called me over to ask me what was the big deal. He found everyone at the conference enamored with the literary agents, probably due to what the authors were perceiving as a holier-than-thou air from some of the attendees. Personally speaking, that sort of standoffish attitude tends to alienate prospective clients. I’m certainly not a holy man and would prefer that people think of me as approachable. There are other down-to-earth literary agents that subvert that stereotype and feel the same. The irony was that the author asking me, a literary agent, that question wasn’t aware of Trident Media Group’s stature as the leading literary agency in publishing. I informed the author about our rankings on Publishers Marketplace and he was greatly surprised to find my attitude kind and uninflated. The high level of work our literary agency does speaks loud enough. Your ego is not your amigo.
HOPE: Describe the perfect dream client.
MARK: An ideal project from a prospective client would carry an important social message or moral to the story, and while not only being beautifully written, it should have some aspects of commercialism to the writing, even if it is literary fiction. I also seek authors with good writing credentials, platform, awards, online presence or pre-publication blurbs in-hand.
From there I would hope that an author understand that their role is central in the process. The biggest myth about book publishing is that once the manuscript is delivered, an author’s role pretty much ends there. That is no longer the case. Authors are key in the marketing/promotional process, as ultimately fans will want to hear directly from the author. Anything an author can do in the way of blog outreach, readings/talks and interviews, will ultimately help their publication.
HOPE: Describe the perfect query letter.
MARK: My advice to authors is to really nail the writing of that query letter. A well-written query letter indicates 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.
A good query letter is: upfront in one-two sentences what the book is about in hook or elevator pitch fashion. It should mention the title, lend a sense of genre, and contain one to 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, a couple of body paragraphs detail plot without too many spoilers. 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).
HOPE: Explain what you love most about being a literary agent.
MARK: There 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 try to reinvent myself to be more creative, innovative, and competitive, while improving the careers of the authors I work with. Of course a few things are daily typical 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, and attending conferences.
If I could attribute my success to anything, it would be my restless soul. Book publishing has become more of a lifestyle than work for me. Spending my time as a literary agent excites me and makes for an interesting life. It’s not always easy but I love what I do.
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.