Literary agents are the glue that hold the publishing world together—from shopping manuscripts at international book fairs, to negotiating the most lucrative publishing deals for their authors, to securing foreign publishing rights and film deals, they are the essential go-between, connecting authors with the industry.
But how does one become a literary agent? And just how crucial is the role of an agent to the career of a writer? We caught up with Trident Media Group’s Mark Gottlieb who answered all this and more!
q: How does one become a literary agent?
A: Book publishing was historically something of an accidental profession where people stumbled out of the humanities into book publishing. Although that has begun to change in recent years, even for those on the literary agent side of the book business. In recent years, more colleges have been offering undergraduate studies in book publishing. I attended Emerson College in Boston to study in their Writing, Literature and Publishing program, where I helped found the Undergraduate Students for Publishing club, as well as the small press at the school, Wilde Press. From there, I went to work at Penguin Books for a short stint, before coming over to the Trident Media Group literary agency.
Q: What does a day in your life look like?
A: You’re asking what a day in the life of Trident Media Group literary agent Mark Gottlieb is like? One of the things I love about being a literary agent is that there really is no average day in the life of a literary agent! Anything exciting can happen. I learned that my very first day at the job. It’s also very interesting and dynamic to be able to work with creative people such as authors. Certain things can be expected to happen on a regular-basis, though. For instance: reaching out to potential writers, reading/editing manuscripts, pitching books to publishers, negotiating book deals, contract review, pitching our books for film/TV adaptation in Los Angeles, pitching our books to foreign publishers from around the world throughout the year and at the London, Bologna and Frankfurt Book Fairs.
Q: You must get so many manuscripts and inquiries sent your way— what makes a manuscript stand out?
A: When it comes to fiction, the first thing I always look at as a literary agent is the hook contained within the pitch or query letter. As with the plot and character development, that’s really where the meat and potatoes of a story will be. From there, I turn my attention to the quality of the writing itself, in looking at sentences by-the-line. Lastly, I look at the comparative/competitive titles in doing some market research to see how similar books are performing in the book publishing landscape. In the case of nonfiction, I first look at the author’s platform before making an evaluation of the subject matter of the manuscript and the quality of the writing.
Q: The job of a literary agent is very diverse— from attending international book fairs, to dealing with foreign rights and audio book companies— do you have a favorite part of the job?
A: One of my favorite parts of being a literary agent at Trident Media Group is our regular meetings and yearly trips to Los Angeles, where we meet with studio heads, producers, managers, lawyers and agencies in Hollywood to get our books turned into movies or television shows. Some of our recent book-to-film/TV projects at TMG include: Dune (2020), The Passage (2019), A Dog’s Journey (2019), Wonder (2017), among many others.
Q: You’ve spoken of ‘interesting or comical’ occurrences at your agency Trident Media such as “Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi [coming] into the office with a box of cannoli for the staff”— what other instances come to mind?
A: I have seen lots of celebrity memoir clients around our offices. One of our newest clients is Billy Dee Williams, who played Lando in the original Star Wars franchise, in addition to many other roles!
Q: How important is the role of a literary agent to a writer’s career?
A: I would say that a literary agent is central to the career of an author. A literary agent will advocate for an author at every turn since literary agents exist to provide services to authors. Some of these services include but are not limited to: Book Sales, Editorial, Film and TV Sales, Foreign Rights, Contract Negotiation / Business Affairs, Accounting and Information Tracking, Audio Books, eBook Sales and Marketing, Publishing Management
Q: What have been some of your greatest achievements as an agent?
A: A search for my name, Mark Gottlieb among literary agents in places such as Publishers Lunch will yield my dealmaker page. There you will see over 150 book deals performed and some six-figure deals. I’ve previously ranked first among literary agents across book publishing in overall volume of deals and I’ve ranked just as highly in other individual categories by volume of deals. Along the way I have represented numerous bestselling and award-winning authors and have sold a number of projects into the book-to-film/TV market.
Q: What would be your advice for aspiring writers who might be ready to start sending out enquiries
A: Write a knock-out query letter to really grab the attention of literary agents and aim high: start from your top list of literary agencies and work your way down the list.
Mark Gottlieb is a highly ranked literary agent both in overall volume of deals and other individual categories. Using that same initiative and insight for identifying talented writers, he is actively building his own client list of authors in fiction and nonfiction. Mark Gottlieb is excited to work directly with authors, helping to manage and grow their careers with all of the unique resources that are available at leading literary agency, Trident Media Group. During his time at Trident Media Group, Mark Gottlieb has represented numerous New York Times bestselling authors, as well as award-winning authors, and has optioned and sold numerous books to film and TV production companies. Mark Gottlieb is actively seeking submissions in all categories and genres and looking forward to bringing new authors to the curious minds of their future readers.