An Interview with Agent Mark Gottlieb


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Happy Tuesday, everyone! Before we get started, I just wanted to remind everyone that we’re currently running two Goodreads giveaways: one is for a print copy of The Urban Setting Thesaurus and the other is for a print copy of The Rural Setting Thesaurus. Just click on the links to enter. The giveaways run through 12/5.

So…have my American friends woken up from your Thanksgiving-induced tryptophan comas yet? I hope so because we’ve got a treat for you today: an interview with Mark Gottlieb of Trident Media Group. Can you believe that in over 8 years of blogging, we’ve never interviewed an agent? Yeah, we can’t either, so when Mark contacted us, we thought it was high time.

Knowing that many of you are seeking traditional publishing contacts, we conducted an informal poll on social media to see what questions you might have for an agent. Mark has graciously answered them. I hope this information comes in handy.

1) Mark, would you say you are an editorial agent or not? How much feedback and help do you provide your authors on their manuscripts?

Every manuscript is different in terms of the editorial guidance that it may or may not need. In certain instances I have written editorial letters in excess of 10 pages, whereas in other instances I have provided only bulleted notes in the way of sparse editorial feedback, while in other instances I have seen manuscripts come in that are very tightly written and feel ready to go.

2) A big concern for authors who become clients of an agency is communication. Because one of the best things a writer can know up front before signing is the agent’s communication style, can you talk about yours? What can clients expect when it comes to email turnaround to their questions, wait times for reads, following up on information requests, etc.?

Communication is important to any relationship, whether it be a business or personal relationship such as a friendship. This is why I make a point of making myself readily available to authors by way of any means they would like to communicate. Some of my clients talk to me on Skype, while other clients talk to me via Facebook messages, and of course I receive phone calls and emails from other clients all the time. I tend to think of my role as a literary agent like that of a doctor on call with a beeper. For me, book publishing is more of a lifestyle than a career and so I am always happy to hear from my clients.

3) Do you represent clients on a per-project basis or are you more career-focused when bringing authors on? If it’s the latter and a project doesn’t sell or doesn’t sell well, does this change anything for you?

I am more interested in careers than I am in book deals, but if an author were only up for a one-off book deal for something like a celebrity memoir, then I would be fine with that. It is important in terms of working with careers over time to not only be able to see the horizon but to also be able to see over it. This is especially the case since you cannot put a price on genuine talent. Were an author’s book to have struggled in the marketplace, I would continue to believe in them and we would take strides to reposition them in a new way, whether that meant creating a pen name or switching genres, etc.

4) What is your position on hybrid publishing, and do you have any policies in regards to the self-publishing side? For example, some agents insist on authors going with their publishing company or service while others do not. Can you tell us a bit about your agency’s self-publishing model?

I tend to think that hybrid publishing can oftentimes be complementary to traditional publishing since major trade publishers are not open to publishing novellas, short stories, and other non-traditional works that fall out of normal book length. The e-book market is a better space for those projects to live as self-published works. Sometimes when an author has a book online, that publication can benefit from the marketing efforts of the major trade publisher and vice versa.

In general, my opinion of self-publishing is that it is something of what the farm league is to Major League Baseball. Authors who experience a modicum of success in the self-publishing sphere can often go on to bigger and better things by obtaining a deal from a major trade publisher, thereby taking their business to a whole new level of success that they otherwise could never obtain on their own in self-publishing. Again, generally speaking, once the move is made into major trade publishing, I tend to discourage clients from doing the hybrid model except for projects the publishers are not open to publishing. Furthermore, we as an agency mainly only commission deals we do for clients, so we prefer that clients be faithful in working with us.

image1Through Trident Media Group’s Digital Media and Publishing department, we can offer our clients industry knowledge and expertise in their self-publishing endeavors. It is a huge step above an author publishing on their own. The proof is in the pudding as we have had many New York Times and USA Today best-selling authors coming out of the program. There are even backlist titles we have breathed new life into. TMG/DMP also serves as a marketing and publishing resource for our clients in the program as well as major clients of the agency.

5) What do you look for in a client? Is it only great writing, or do you also consider prior sales? Does it help to have a referral or some sort of direct connection like participating in a pitch slam at a conference?

I am finding more and more that platform is becoming important to fiction writing, whereas in the past it was mostly important to nonfiction authors. Platform tends to look like what an authors online presence or social media following is. An author that comes to me with a lot of “street cred” in the way of advance praise before publication and perhaps some award for best-seller status is very attractive to me as a literary agent. Any sort of relevant writing experience or credentials an author can gain along the way from prestigious writers workshops and conferences is also of help.

I speak to this above but I find that platform is ultimately most important to nonfiction since it is idea-driven and the author must not only be an authority on their subject but must also be able to reach a wider audience. Fiction is mostly driven by the quality of the writing and the author as a brand-name but I find that platform is still helpful in the area of fiction.

6) Let’s talk wish list. What are you looking for? If you were stranded on a deserted island with three amazing full manuscripts to read, what would they be?

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, and 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 fiction on my list and perhaps some more literary fiction.

7) Any further advice you would pass on to writers looking to query you?

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.

Three general pieces of advice:

  • You must persist despite rejection and learn and grow from that.
  • You must have patience along the way; this is a hurry-up-and-wait sort of business as it takes time to read and consider a manuscript.
  • Once a publisher does enter the process, you must be willing to participate in the book publishing process since an author is central to the marketing and publicity role of getting the books sold to readers.

aaeaaqaaaaaaaak4aaaajdljnmfkyzgwlwyzzdgtndkxni05nze5lwu1mdczmzljmmmxmgMark 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 in Overall Deals and other categories.


Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
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Eileen Neal Gordon
Eileen Neal Gordon
2 years ago

Wonderful interview, Mark. Thank you so much for the information about querying agents that handle a specific genre. I consider my novel to fall under the historical fiction genre, but then again, it does hold a time travel element, i.e., “Outlander” by Diane Gabaldon. Although fiction, all the historical points were researched in Paris, London, and New England. Would this genre be of any interest to you?

James M. Copeland
3 years ago

I read your interview with great interest. I am considering the conference in Birmingham, AL on Feburary 24th, and am looking for an agent to choose for a pitching agent. I saw your statement about your desire for genre and included in it was ‘crime’ and ‘mystery.’ My novel has both.

When I went to the last conference at that location the pitch agent I had signed up for said when I got to the meeting that she did not do novels of the type that I was pitching. I did not get to do my pitch at all. Her information within the noted advertising information said that she did. I don’t want to go to the conference unless the agent I choose can receive a pitch on my novel. The title is, Incarcerated, a crime/mystery novel about a private detective that gets thrown in jail…by his best friend.
If you can review this novel please let me know at once. My going to the conference will depend on you answer.

James M. Copeland

3 years ago

Thanks so much for peeling back the curtain a bit, Mark. It is always so valuable to hear things straight from an agent and better understand what your position is in today’s market and of course have insight on what happens beyond the “yes.” 🙂

3 years ago

Thanks Becca and Mark, these were great questions and answers 🙂

Mark Gottlieb
3 years ago
Reply to  mshatch

Thanks, glad to hear you enjoyed it!

carol Baldwin
3 years ago

Thanks for all the information, Becca and Mark.

Mark Gottlieb
3 years ago
Reply to  carol Baldwin

Surely, glad to hear you enjoyed it!