NY Literary Agent on platform building

Today we’re chatting with Mark Gottlieb, a Literary Agent with New York’s Trident Media Group. Given that so many of us know all about writing but are often in the dark about the agent process, we thought we’d find out more about the world from an agent’s point of view…

So, first up Mark – why did you become a literary agent?
“Unlike many people that might have fallen into book publishing as an accidental profession, it was always expected of me that I would go into our family business at the Trident Media Group literary agency. For that reason I sought out an undergraduate study and book publishing at Emerson College in Boston. From there I started in foreign rights at Trident, selling the books of clients around the world and later working as Executive Assistant to the Chairman. Next I assumed the position of audio rights agent, more than doubling the annual sales volume. And now I am building my own client list of writers.”

So, who are some of your most significant authors?
“The Trident Media Group literary agency represents many number one New York Times bestselling and award-winning authors of prestigious prizes such as the Pulitzer and Man Booker prize. I myself have worked alongside many of these – Deepak Chopra, Karen Robards, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Robert Ferrigo, T. Jefferson Parker, Barry Lancent and Andrew Klavan, to name a bunch. Of my personal client pool, I have many authors who are bright new stars, namely New York Times bestselling author Kate Moretti and World Fantasy Award nominated author Christopher Brown. Many other clients of mine are also making their major debuts.”

That’s quite a mix. So what's the most rewarding and most challenging thing about being an agent?
“The most rewarding part of being a literary agent is that I am in the business of making people's dreams come true. The most challenging part is that book publishing is a subjective business and so not everyone will feel positively about a manuscript, unless proven otherwise through a successful publication.”

Is there a particular style or genre of book that you prefer to represent?
“I am very open to most genres, excluding poetry, short stories and textbooks. There are also struggling genres that I am generally not open to – such as horror, erotica, cosy mysteries and paranormal romance. My current list generally comprises 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.”

What do you think is the biggest mistake writers make when they approach an agent?
There are so many things an author can do incorrectly in approaching an 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.”

Okay good to know. So if Australian authors were interested in finding an agent in the US, what qualities do the agents look for?
“I am finding more and more that a platform is becoming important to fiction writing, whereas in the past it was mostly important to nonfiction authors. A platform tends to look like what an author’s 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 awards, 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.”

So you’d definitely say an author platform is very important.
“It is most important to nonfiction since the author must not only be in 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 is a brand-name but I find that platform is still helpful in the area of fiction.”

What are your top three tips for aspiring writers wishing to one day be published?
“You must persist despite rejection and learn and grow from that. You must have patience along the way, as this is a ‘hurry up and wait’ sort of business as it takes time to read and consider a manuscript. And finally you must be willing to participate in the book publishing process as the author is central to the marketing and publicity and getting books sold to readers.”


Trident Media Group (TMG) is a prominent literary agency located in New York City that originally formed in 2000. TMG represents over 1,000 bestselling and emerging authors in a range of genres of fiction and nonfiction, many of whom have appeared on the New York Times Best Sellers Lists and have won major awards and prizes, including the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the P.E.N. Faulkner Award, the P.E.N. Hemingway Award, The Booker Prize, and the L.A. Times Book Award, among others. TMG is one of the world's leading, largest and most diversified literary agencies.

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