We had the pleasure of asking agent Mark Gottlieb from Trident Media Group a few questions about being an agent, what he looks for in clients, and what makes Trident stand out among other agencies. Thank you, Mark, for taking the time to answer our Q&A!
Can you describe your history before Trident Media and why you pursued becoming an agent?
I have been working in major trade publishing since 2009 when I started at Penguin Books. I’ve grown up around books all my life, since both my parents worked in major trade publishing, and my father happens to own/operate the literary agency where I work—Trident Media Group. So I like to tell folks that I’ve been publishing from the womb! There was always the expectation that I would study book publishing in college in order to one day go into the family business. That is why I attended Emerson College in Boston, since at the time it was one of only two schools to offer an undergraduate study in book publishing. From there, my company bio charts the rest of my journey.
What does your client list look like now and what are you looking for in new clients?
My client list is a mixture of authors writing the the spaces of debut fiction, general/other fiction, mystery/crime, thrillers, women’s fiction, SFF, YA, MG, PB, GN, and various areas of nonfiction. My full client list can be viewed here.
As a general ballpark, is your client list made up of writers who solicited you from queries or did you reach out to them?
It’s a mixture of the two but some great clients have come by way of the query letter system on our website.
It says you’re currently interested in all genres. As a literary fiction publication our readership is most interested in knowing what you look for in literary fiction queries. Anything specific?
Qualities that I look for in literary fiction are things like character development, style, message, as well as accessibility.
Do you take on debut writers and if so, do you take on writers with just story collections or do you prefer selling a collection in conjunction with a novel? If so, why?
Most of my clients are authors making their debut or major debut. My preference is to sell a full-length novel since story collections can be tough. For me, it’s better for an author to first become a household name as a novelist, before trying the short story route.
What is your best advice for debut writers querying an agent? And what do you value most in a writing sample?
My advice to authors along the querying process is to really nail the writing of that query letter. A query letter that reads well is usually a good indication to the literary agent that the manuscript will similarly read well, inclining the literary agent to request a manuscript. Often the query letter can go on to become the publisher’s jacket copy, were the publisher to acquire the manuscript via the literary agent. I only request full manuscripts, rather than samples if the query letter is good. I suggest picking the strongest aspect of a manuscript for a writing sample. It doesn’t necessarily have to be chapter one.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
Book publishing is a highly-subjective business. Finding an editor that shares the same editorial vision/goals for a book is probably one of the more challenging aspects of book publishing.
What do you look for in partnering a publisher with a novel or story collection?
Finding a publishing house for an author is about trying to find the best quality publication for the book. We’re typically looking for a big five publisher or a larger independent publisher, although we sometimes approach smaller presses. We seek to garner a high advance for the client, while helping them hold onto as many rights as possible, such as audio, foreign, film/TV, etc.
What sets Trident apart from other agencies? What sets you apart?
What makes our literary agency unique is that we rank #1 on Publishers Marketplace for fiction, non-fiction and literary agencies, both in overall volume of deals and six-figure+ deals. We’ve ranked that way for over a decade. That ranking is a result of the tremendous resources at Trident Media Group. For instance, I think one would find it difficult to find another literary agency that has a Digital Media and Publishing department, focusing in large part on digital marketing and publicity strategy for our authors. Many clients of ours have greatly benefited from such a service by hitting the New York Times and USA Today bestsellers lists.
Most literary agencies tend to be very small (several employees in a home office setting), and therefore they farm a lot of their work to third party companies. They are more inclined to give rights away to publishers where they either can’t fend the publisher off or just plain don’t have the resources to properly sell those rights on their own. However, at Trident, as a company of close to fifty employees with the entire 36thfloor of a Madison Avenue building in NYC (huge for a literary agency and bigger than most independent publishers), we do not farm our services out to third party companies. Trident Media Group’s contract review, accounting, foreign rights, audio books, film/TV, etc. is performed within our company walls. We’re more inclined to keep communication between departments rather sharp and we hold onto more film/TV, foreign and audio book rights for our clients in order to help them properly exploit those rights with other publishers. The economics are not entirely in favor of the author in sharing those rights with a domestic publisher.
Because of the clout of our agency having many #1 New York Times bestselling authors and award-winning authors, and the fact that our business really goes to the bottom line of most publishers, we can get the very best things for our clients in their book publishing deals and contracts.
Many clients have come my way from literary agents that suddenly disappeared from book publishing. This is because incoming clients know that I’m not going anywhere soon, as I am grateful for having the blessing of working at a highly-established company, one that happens to be my family-owned and operated business. Authors inevitably come our way because Trident Media Group is a very robust literary agency with many resources available to us and our clients. (Our literary agency is close to fifty employees, occupying the entire floor of a Madison Avenue building, and that’s bigger than most independent publishers!) This also enabled me to do interesting things for a client outside of only deal-making that most other literary agents would not bother with. We can look at the horizon together and try to see over it.
Any exciting news or accolades from your client list?
I have clients who have hit the NYT, WSJ and USA lists. I also have some clients with awards to their name such as the Benjamin Franklin, PEN, National Jewish Book Award, Pushcart, etc.
Interviewed by Kimberly Guerin