Interview with Literary Agent Mark Gottlieb

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Today’s post is an interview with Literary Agent Mark Gottlieb of the Trident Media Group, which represents over 1,000 bestselling and emerging authors in a range of genres of fiction and nonfiction, many of whom have appeared on the New York Times Best Sellers Lists.

A huge THANK YOU to Mark for this opportunity to pick his brain on what agents are looking for, how an author can best prepare to query, and what he would personally like to see more of from authors.

Many authors assume that having awards and previous publications under their belt gives them a leg up when it comes to getting an agent. Is this true? Do agents only look for authors who have already had some success, or are they willing to take chances on totally unknown emerging writers?

If an author is involved in the writing community at a grassroots level with conferences, workshops and has published in esteemed literary magazines, 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, so author platform is not entirely the only deciding factor.

In your opinion, what will be the hottest-selling genre in 2017? What other interesting trends are you seeing in books these days?

As I do not have a crystal ball, I cannot predict such things. My suggestion to writers is to not only know the classics but also to stay current in their reading of moderns works to know and be able to follow trends right as they are happening. Of course, it is always better to be making the wave and riding out in front of it, rather than behind it.

What kind of stories/topics would you love to see more of from writers? What kind of fiction (or nonfiction) gets you personally excited?

I am very open to most any kind of genre, excluding poetry, short stories and textbooks. There are also struggling genres that I am generally not open to such as horror, erotica, cozy mysteries, paranormal romance. My current list is generally comprised of science fiction, fantasy, crime, mystery, thriller, literary fiction, women’s fiction, young adult, middle grade, picture book, graphic novel, creative nonfiction, humor, celebrity memoir and pop culture. In addition to more commercial books, I would like to see some more serious nonfiction on my list and perhaps some more literary fiction.

What’s the best thing authors can do to sell themselves—and their work—when they query an agent?

There are so many things an author can do incorrectly in approaching a literary agent, whereas there are very few things one can do correctly in approaching a literary agent. One of the biggest mistakes I see from authors approaching literary agents is when an author queries a literary agent with an incomplete fiction manuscript. Fiction can only be sold on a fully written manuscript.

First, really nail that query letter and hook. A good query letter is upfront with the hook, in 1-2 sentences, what the book is about. Then a couple body paragraphs on plot and literary merits of the writing.

Why did you choose to become a literary agent?

Unlike many people that might have fallen into book publishing as an accidental profession, it was always expected of me that I would go into our family business at the Trident Media Group literary agency. For that reason I sought out an undergraduate study and book publishing at Emerson College in Boston. From there my company bio charts my professional journey to today.

Are you also a writer? If so, what are you working on now?

I find it hard enough to read for pleasure with all of the manuscripts I must read, so it leaves very little time for writing. Although I used to write music journalism for Junk Media.

What’s your absolute favorite book, and why?

My favorite book is Ralph Ellison’s INVISIBLE MAN as it helped me through a difficult time in my life and made me feel as though I had a friend in that book.

Do you ever get queries from authors who have already self-published? Does this give an author an advantage when querying?

The self-publishing 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 to interest a literary agent and publisher.

What’s the most important thing for writers to do (or know) before signing any deal with a publisher?

Researching the publisher is important. I usually suggest to clients that they visit the publisher’s website and read about them online.

For more on Mark, you can visit his bio page here and you can find more on Trident Media Group here.

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3 Comments

  • Reply Alison Brodie 25 October, 2016 at 11:01 am

    This is a fascinating and informative interview with major US literary agent, Mark Gottlieb. Two great tips for authors to get noticed by an agent: contact a best-selling author for a review, and publish in a literary magazine.
    Literary agents will only be keen on self-published authors if they are selling 50,000 or more. The bar is certainly high!
    Thanks for the post Lauren!

  • Reply Hilary Custance Green 26 October, 2016 at 12:25 pm

    Interesting, but not, I fear, encouraging.

  • Reply Tina 26 October, 2016 at 9:42 pm

    It is all in who you know. Sometimes people get lucky breaks and other very deserving people go unnoticed. I remember being in the conference where Mark Victor Hansen announced for the first time his plan for the Chicken Soup for the Soul books. He never wrote a word but how many best sellers bear his name. He was a tops sales guy in a Network Marketing company and had thousands so of connections. He was already famous.

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