Interview: Agent Mark Gottlieb of Trident Media

Literary agent Mark Gottlieb of Trident Media kindly subjected himself to an interview. Here’s an abbreviated bio derived from Mark Gottlieb’s profile at Trident:

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. He’s worked as thee Executive Assistant to Robert Gottlieb, Chairman of Trident, and as Trident’s audio rights agent. Mark is currently building his own client list of writers. He is actively seeking submissions in all categories and genres.

Did you always want to be an agent or were you tempted by other careers in publishing?

While at Emerson College in Boston, it wasn’t until my senior year studying Writing, Literature and Publishing while in my Book Editing class, that I realized I wanted to be a literary agent. Before then I had always thought I might like the track of a book editor. We were reading A. Scott Berg’s Maxwell Perkins: Editor Of Genius. When I read stories about the famed editor who edited the likes of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolf, I realized that Perkins sounded more like a literary agent than he did a book editor, at least by today’s standards. Passionately advocating for authors the way that Perkins did is what appeals to me the most. I realized literary agents operate on the ground level as some of the first hands to touch the manuscript in the book publishing process.

You’ve got a family connection to agenting via your father, the founder of Trident. How much did that determine your eventual career choices?

I always knew I wanted to work with books in some capacity, having grown up with books all my life. Mentioned above, it was a role as a book editor that initially drew me to book publishing but I soon realized that literary agents work much more closely with authors than book editors.

If someone wants to be an agent, how important is the undergraduate major? What advice would you give would-be agents?

A literary agent should have some real business acumen, rather than merely a degree in the humanities. That’s why I specifically sought out an undergraduate degree in book publishing and was a founding member, then later president, of Emerson College’s Undergraduate Students for Publishing club where I started a small press called Wilde Press, which is still operational and producing four chapbooks/year.

Who / what books do you represent?

My client list is available for viewing on our website at this link to my profile page. I represent a mixture of fiction, nonfiction, children’s books and graphic novels.

I notice that you’ve placed several books with Month9. Are you aware of the widely-reported problems at Month9, as described by SFWA’s Writer Beware  and as well as here on this Absolute Write Bewares and Recommendations thread  about Month9 ?

I’m aware that Month9Books has caused problems for authors who were unrepresented, whereas I have not had problems with Month9Books. The publishing house had to cancel contracts on unrepresented authors due to health and financial problems the publisher was having, since that would have a direct impact with the publisher being a small outfit, like many smaller independent publishers. We have not had the same problems with Month9Books due to the quality of our representation and relationship with the publisher.

What kinds of books are you interested in representing currently? Anything you’d especially love to see?

In addition to the types of books I already work with, I would like to build more of the upmarket fiction aspect of my list, as well as fold in some nonfiction from authors with very big platforms, and perhaps do some more children’s books in the YA and MG categories.

Can you offer any advice regarding constructing a query?

I think a good query letter simply upfront in one to three sentences what a book is about in hook sort of fashion where the most salient of information is listed and two or three comparative/competitive bestselling titles may be listed. That’s followed by two body paragraphs, detailing the plot/some of the synopsis without too many spoilers. The last paragraph is best reserved as something of a short author bio, listing relevant writing experience and credentials. It should all fit on one page.

What single piece of advice do you wish writers would pay attention to in terms of submitting to you?

Authors should not be querying literary agents for a fiction manuscript unless the manuscript is fully-written, since fiction can only be sold to publishers on a full manuscript. Fiction is all about the quality of the writing and the author becoming a household name by extension. Nonfiction is different in that it is idea-driven and can therefore be sold on a proposal accompanied by at least three to five sample chapters.

What books can we look forward to from Trident represented authors in the next few months?

This is a short list of some of the books by clients of mine publishing soon:

New York Times bestselling author Kate Moretti’s The Blackbird Season, in which after an accusation of statutory rape, a couple find themselves at the center of a homicide case where the police have one suspect: the husband, and the key to his exoneration lies within diary pages-words of a troubled girl from beyond the grave, which may or may not be the truth (Atria Books, September 26, 2017)

Social media sensation James Breakwell’s Only Dead On The Inside: A Parent’s Guide For Surviving Zombies, styled in the tradition of Max Brooks’s The Zombie Survival Guide and The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook, providing practical advice on how to raise happy, healthy children in the midst of the zombie apocalypse, by joining the genres of parenting advice books and undead survival manuals in an unholy union that is both ill-advised and long overdue—the narrator, an inept father of four young daughters, uses twisted logic, graphs with dubious data, and web comics that look like they were drawn by a toddler to teach families how to survive undead hordes (BenBella Books, October 10, 2017)

TEDx speaker, The Feminist on Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls at the Party, Mashable journalist, MOTH Slam winner, comic and host of the monthly Hello Giggles show at UCB, Ruby Karp’s Earth Hates Me: True Confessions From A Teenage Girl, pitched as the handy Lean In for the Rookie generation, on what it’s like to be inside a teen’s mind, how social media impacts a teenager and what all their “angst” is really about, from an actual teenager offering life lessons (Running Press Kids & Teen, October 3, 2017)

What have you read lately by someone who isn’t one of your authors that you really liked?

I’m currently reading Paul Beatty’s The Sellout and rather enjoying it. The novel was recommended to me since I’m a fan of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.

What question would you really like to answer that hasn’t been asked?

Where do you see the future of publishing going?

I’m sure that many people coming of age in World War II thought that the world was coming to an end, and yet they found a way to go on. I’m sure they never would have foreseen the Pax Americana, directly following the war in 1945. Similarly, book publishing, like many other industries and forms of media, has always been obsessed with predicting its own demise, and yet we’re still here today. I’m sure that when independent bookstores were being eaten up by places like Barnes & Noble and Borders, everyone in book publishing must’ve been thinking that it was all coming to an end. Then when bigger fishes, like Costco and Sam’s Club, ate big book retailers, again, professionals in the industry must’ve though with much doom and gloom. Well now we’re in the age of Amazon and a bigger fish such as the Chinese e-commerce group Alibaba, will one day come along to eat them, I’m sure as it has happened before and history has a tendency to repeat itself.

You can find Mark Gottlieb and Trident at the Trident Media Group Website, on Twitter and on Facebook. You can find Trident Media’s submission page here and Trident Media’s  ebook submissions page here.