Tuesday, March 1, 2016
This week I'm going to be sharing some interviews with agents. These agents graciously agreed to answer my questions, and I can't tell you how much I appreciate their participation. I really enjoyed corresponding with them, and I enjoyed the answers they shared. I hope you'll enjoy them as much as I did!
Mark Gottlieb ~ Trident Media Group
Mark Gottlieb’s focus on publishing began at Emerson College, where he was a founding member of the Publishing Club, later its President, overseeing its first publication and establishing the Wilde Press.
After graduating with a degree in writing, literature and publishing, Mark began his career with the Vice President of Berkley Books (Penguin), working with leading editors.
His first position at the Trident Media Group literary agency was in foreign rights, selling the books of clients around the world. Mark later worked as Executive Assistant to Robert Gottlieb, Chairman of Trident, with responsibility for organizing/managing diverse authors and their complex business transactions. He next assumed the position of audio rights agent. Since Mark has managed the audio rights business, the annual sales volume has more than doubled. Mark showed great initiative and insight in identifying talented writers.
In passing the Audio Department's torch, Mark is building his own client list of writers. He is excited to work directly with authors, helping to manage and grow their careers with all of the unique resources that are available to Trident. Since that time he has ranked as high as #1 in Agents on publishersmarketplace.com in Overall Deals. He has also ranked #1 in categories such as Science-Fiction/Fantasy, Children's, and Graphic Novels. He has ranked in the top five for Thriller, Mystery/Crime, Womens/Romance, Young Adult, and certain nonfiction categories such as Pop Culture, Memoir, How-To, and Humor.
1. What do you represent?
I represent many genres between fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels and children’s books, so it would probably be easier to look to books that I do not represent (see answer to question #3). While I am mostly open to a lot of things, I tend to prefer literary fiction, thrillers, crime/mystery, sci-fi/fantasy, YA, MG, history, pop culture, celebrity memoir, humor, advice, illustrated/art, science, health and lifestyle books.
2. What are you looking for right now?
Again, I am open to most anything. Although I would like to represent a book on autism and see it published in the right way. It is my feeling that this condition is largely misunderstood by the general public and that we’re all more or less “on the spectrum,” since there really is no such thing as normal. We really need to be worried about or watch out for people who think they are “normal.” My preference would be for that book on autism to be a fictional work.
3. What is something you absolutely DON'T want to see?
I do not represent poetry, short stories, novellas, textbooks, essay collections without a common narrative thread or theme, personal memoir without a platform or world implications, and romance/erotica/new adult is tough unless the author has already been established in the eBook space as a bestseller.
4. What made you decide to become an agent?
Most people sort of fall into publishing through the humanities. That’s one of the reasons why publishing is referred to as “the accidental” profession. For me, though, it was always expected that I would come into publishing since Trident Media Group is a literary agency family-owned and operated. Growing up around books all of my life fostered a love for creativity, reading and writing. That is why I pursued a degree specifically in publishing at Emerson College in Boston, where I helped found the Emerson College Publishing Club and Wilde Press.
5. Why did you choose to work with your current agency?
Rather than going right into my family business at Trident Media Group after studying writing, literature and publishing at Emerson College in Boston, I resolved to first try work at a publisher to get some real-life work experience. So for a time I was at Penguin Books, until I felt that I had grown and learned all that I needed from there.
6. What is your favorite part of the job, and what is your least favorite part?
One of my favorite parts of the job is helping the positive message of a book get out there by first finding the right publisher and then connecting the book with its audience. I feel strongly that books have the power to change the world for the better, so I am honored to be in a profession where I can help spread the good word. Of course the least favorite part of my job would be that sometimes a project does not always connect with a publisher or its intended audience, since not every book can be a winner. Although it can be just a matter of time before a book connects in the right way. For instance, Herman Melville’s MOBY-DICK was misunderstood by critics most all of the author’s life. It was not until after his death that MOBY-DICK became a true and respected classic. It would have been wonderful for Melville to have lived to see that, but there’s solace in having left his mark upon the world.
7. Sometimes authors develop misconceptions about agents or the publishing industry as a whole. What is one misconception you feel is common, and what would you say to dispel it?
A lot of authors are mistrustful of their literary agents and how their money is handled. At Trident Media Group, we are very transparent about our commissions (we list them on our website for the world to see) and in being a legitimate literary agency in the business for over fifteen years, we do not have the sort of problems that an illegitimate literary agent or literary agency might have. We’re comfortable in following industry practices and norms. Every deal we do for a client, for instance, carries our agency clause, which stipulates that monies and agreements flow through Trident Media Group. Deals are commissioned by us with our standard commission, and we pay on the remaining monies to the author, with fully-signed copies of their agreements, accounting and royalty statements.
Another misconception I see among authors is that publishers will market and promote their book fully and to the best ability of the publisher. This seldom happens as publishers have huge lists to manage and only lead and key titles get the attention of the publisher where a huge printing is in following a big advance. Oftentimes various imprints at one publisher will have to share a publicist or publicity dept. Any marketing/promo promises made to an author by publishers are really immaterial and will never find their way into a publishing contract. Most every marketing/publicity plan I have seen from publishers is cookie-cutter at best and there’s no guarantee of follow-through on the part of the publisher. This is part of the reason why I think it is important for authors to be willing to hop into the driver’s seat when it comes to marketing and promoting their publications. Especially for authors just starting out, it’s best to only think of the publisher as a printing press that prints and distributes the books in stores and online.
8. What makes you connect with a character?
A character needs to experience some sort of personal growth or change along the way. That can be a positive or negative change in the character, but it must certainly happen. A character that's stagnant is seldom interesting to read about. Even Herman Melville's character, Bartleby, who simply preferred “not to” when it came to most anything, arrived at that decision early on in the narrative and had outside forces impose changes upon him, or at least the world began to change around him as a result of his stance.
9. Most authors have "Dream Agents". Do agents have "Dream Authors"? How would you describe your "Dream Author"?
Ideally a “Dream Author” would not only be an amazing writer in terms of their query letter and manuscript; they’d also be able to sit comfortably within the driver seat of marketing/promoting the book once a publisher was found. An author is central in the role of getting news about a new publication out there since fans want to hear from the author first and foremost.
10. What makes a query letter stand out for you in such a way that you HAVE to request more pages?
An extremely well-written query letter will stand out. Bonus points for a query letter that carries a lot of author credentials, such as awards, nominations, bestseller status, writer group/workshop participation, successful publications in literary magazines/anthologies, and especially advance praise from other authors of note.
11. Is there anything that will make you automatically reject a query letter?
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.
12. What are some common problems you see in queries or manuscripts?
Misaddressed emails is a common mistake I see in queries, in addition to word counts outside the normal range in manuscripts, query letters that are too short or don’t contain enough information, and frankly, authors that have not taken the time to research a literary agent and their website’s submission policies.
13. What words of wisdom would you like to share with an aspiring author?
I call them “the three peas in a pod,” and often look at them in this order:
Persistence: Don’t be discouraged by rejection. This being a subjective business, that is bound to happen many times over. It does not mean that you’re not good—it means you’re not quite good enough as of yet. Learn from constructive criticism and grow.
Patience: This being a “hurry-up-and-wait business,” since reading and editing can take time, it is important to be willing to wait patiently for editors/publishers to consider work once it is submitted by a literary agent. There have been instances, though, where I’ve sold a project in as little as four days. In other instances, it has taken months. It may seem like a nail-biting experience while rejections start to flow in along the submission process, but it is often worth the wait once an offer finally arrives.
Participation: As I mentioned before, an author has a central role in the book publishing process. Authors that merely want to write their manuscripts, then check out, rarely experience successful publications. Asking one’s publisher or literary agent how they can help leading up to publication and in the months thereafter, is a great starting point. Being curious about a publisher’s marketing/publicity plans and commenting on them is also of key importance.
14. What are some of your favorite books by authors you don't represent?
Ralph Ellison's INVISIBLE MAN
Tom Robins's FIERCE INVALIDS HOME FROM HOT CLIMATES
Herman Hesse’s SIDDHARTHA
Hunter S. Thompson’s FEAR & LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS
15. What is something you want authors to know about agents in general, or about you in particular?
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.
16. The dreaded synopsis. How do you feel about it?
The synopsis can be helpful in crafting the pitch to publishers but should rarely be part of the submission to them. The synopsis should be limited to one page, if possible. Less is more when it comes to writing a synopsis and it is important to focus on the key elements of the story arc: exposition, conflict and resolution.
A special thank you to Mark Gottlieb for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer these questions!