In this edition of the 5x5 series, we asked 5 female literary agents 5 questions. Who better to speak about books than the people that get them published?
If your dream is to be a writer, getting a literary agent is an essential key to getting your work to a wide audience. Here are some tips on finding yours!
This article was written exclusively for Bookstr by Mark Gottlieb, literary agent at Trident Media Group. Here he discusses some of the major bestselling authors many of us have come to know and love. More importantly, he explains why we know and love these authors.
It always seemed that I was growing up with a prophecy hanging over my head. Both my parents worked in major trade book publishing, my father as a literary agent and my mother in contracts departments at various publishing houses, so it always seemed I was destined to go into book publishing. Or maybe it began with my beatnik grandparents. My grandfather was a poet who founded The Woodstock Times and bought Bob Dylan’s house from him in Woodstock. My grandfather also read Wilhelm Reich and sent his children to Summerhill, considered to be the first alternative “free” school. My grandmother was a practicing socialist, was previously married to Rod Steiger (On the Waterfront and Al Capone) and she taught acting to Sidney Poitier at the Lee Strasberg Actors Studio. They had Mary Travers of the band Peter, Paul and Mary babysit my father.
It was a very colorful way to grow up, surrounded by the vibrancy of literature, authors and other creative types. Along the way, I met many major bestselling & award-winning authors and can recount many fascinating tales, several of which I offer up here. Please allow me to be clear that this not about name-dropping but rather displaying the fireside lives of authors.
In growing up around book publishing, I’m lucky enough to be able to provide a glimpse into what it was like growing up observing writing, literature and book publishing going through their various changes over the couple of decades or so, until now.
The Dean Koontz we know: Dean Koontz is a New York Times bestselling author. His novels are described as suspense thrillers, though they have a lot of fantasy elements to them, in addition to fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and even satire. He has written kids books too. Many of Koontz’s books have been made into movies and TV shows, namely ODD THOMAS. Lots of readers have turned to his books as one of the biggest names next to Stephen King in horror novels.
The Dean Koontz we love: When I was a kid, I recall eating sushi for the first time with Dean Koontz in a washitsu (tatami room) at a Japanese restaurant. We didn’t know he was there at first since he surprised us. It made eating sushi for the first time all the more exciting since eating sushi was still a new thing for many New Yorkers (the thought of raw food, especially fish, was scary). Dean had an amazing home in the California hills with thousands of lights in his home with a loveable golden retriever.
The Tom Clancy we know: Tom Clancy was a #1 New York Times bestselling novelist most known for his techno-thriller espionage and military-science storylines set during and after the Cold War. His novel THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER put him on the map. Many of his novels were bestsellers, and more than 100 million copies of his books were sold. His books have been turned into movies and TV shows, namely THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER and THE SUM OF ALL FEARS. Military leaders and politicians have flocked to his books over the decades, in addition to fans of the Jason Bourne novels.
The Tom Clancy we love: I can recall playing with Tom Clancy and his toy soldiers in the penthouse/60th floor of 3 Lincoln Center. Tom had an exact replica of the building he lived in at the time reconstructed with figurines, trees and birds. It was all encased in plexiglass, almost like a ship in a bottle. Tom would even have his toy soldiers interact with some of the residents. Did I mention that Tom also happened to live in the same apartment building as us? We were on the 49th floor.
The Janet Evanovich we know: Janet Evanovich is a New York Times bestselling writer. Originally, she began by writing short contemporary romance novels under the pen name Steffie Hall, but she later gained fame authoring a series of contemporary mysteries known as the Stephanie Plum mystery series. There are now dozens of books in that series and the first, ONE FOR THE MONEY, was a film. Each of her books are numbered and often carry a clever or humorous title.
The Janet Evanovich we love: I can remember visiting Janet Evanovich, her husband and son at her home in snowy Hanover, NH. We got to tour her home, see the Porsche she owned and to have breakfast together at a favorite neighborhood spot near Dartmouth. We got to see a bit of the campus and town with Janet and her family, too.
R. L. Stine
The R.L. Stine we know: R.L. Stine, sometimes known as Jovial Bob Stine (due to his joking nature) and Eric Affabee, is a New York Times novelist, short story writer, television producer, screenwriter, and executive editor. Stine makes regular appearances at writing conferences such as ThrillerFest. He is most known for having created the Goosebumps franchise of books.
The R.L. Stine we love: The kids in school couldn’t believe that I would get a hold of every Goosebumps book before it would come out. They were even more excited to see that each book was signed and inscribed by R.L., himself. He and his assistant really took the time and care to make sure I got each of his books to keep me avidly reading. The books made for great couch companions to the TV shows.
The Deepak Chopra we know: Deepak Chopra is a New York Times bestselling author, public speaker/thought leader, alternative medicine supporter, and a prominent figure in spirituality and wellness. He has become one of the best-known and wealthiest figures in alternative medicine thanks to his books and videos. Deepak first came to prominence on Oprah’s TV show and he has been a mainstay ever since.
The Deepak Chopra we love: Having Deepak Chopra select a love poem by the ancient Persian poet Rumi for my wife and my wedding was one of the highlights of that evening. Deepak was also kind enough to write us a short introduction to that poem. We will forever remember and cherish that moment.
is a highly ranked literary agent at the Trident Media Group literary agency in New York City where he works within major trade book publishing. He has ranked first across the book publishing industry both in overall volume of deals and other individual categories and genres. Using that same initiative and insight for identifying talented writers, he is actively building his own client list of authors. He is excited to work directly with authors, helping to manage and grow their careers with all of the unique resources that are available at book publishing’s leading literary agency, Trident Media Group. One of his core values is helping writers realize their dream of becoming published authors and in helping published authors become highly successful in their publications. This is all while ensuring their enjoyment of the book publishing experience.
During his time at Trident Media Group as a literary agent, he has represented numerous New York Times bestselling authors, as well as major award-winning authors. He has optioned and sold numerous books to film and TV production companies. Throughout the year, he meets with major studio heads, independent production companies, agencies and managers in pitching the works of his clients for book-to-film/TV adaptation. He previously ran the agency’s Audiobook Department as an Audio Rights Agent. In that role he helped the Audiobook Department more than double its sales revenue in number of audiobook deals and amount of money for audiobook deals. Prior to that position he served as Executive Assistant to the literary agency’s Chairman. His first role within the literary agency was in the Foreign Rights Department, where he worked closely with the Director of the department, in seeing books sold to foreign publishers from around the world. He continues to work in the area of foreign rights on behalf of his clients in continually attending the major international book fairs, such as the London Book Fair and Frankfurt Book Fair. This is in addition to meeting with foreign book publishers throughout the year.
Prior to his time at Trident Media Group, he worked in Production at Penguin Books, handling production for various book imprints. Before his start in book publishing, he attended Emerson College where he obtained a degree in Writing, Literature and Publishing with a minor in Photography. While at Emerson College, he was a founding member of the Undergraduate Students for Publishing and later served as the organization’s President. He also co-founded Emerson College’s Wilde Press. He is also a highly sought-after keynote speaker at writers’ conferences and writers’ workshops. In giving back to the writing community, he has moderated and been a guest on panels, led critique groups, classes and workshops. He has also been deeply involved with charitable and philanthropic organizations such as PEN America, the Housing Works Book donation program and Habitat for Humanity. He is actively seeking submissions in all categories and genres, whether fiction, nonfiction, children’s books or graphic novels. He continues to look forward to bringing authors to the curious minds of their future readers.
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.