Finding a literary agent: Q&A with Mark Gottlieb

Finding a literary agent - Mark Gottlieb interview

Today we’re glad to interview literary agent Mark Gottlieb of Trident Media Group. Mark shares his insights into the process and benefits of finding a literary agent, the factors that influence publishers’ manuscript choices, and more. 

Primary factors in publishers’ manuscript choices

Q: As an agent at TMG, you’ve seen numerous authors close publishing deals. What would you say are the three most important factors that determine whether or not publishers choose a book?

Mark: If an author is involved in the writing community at a grassroots level with conferences, workshops and has published in esteemed literary magazines, that can help.

As far as an insider tip goes, it’s great to see an author that comes to us with pre-publication blurbs from bestselling and award-winning authors. So it certainly doesn’t hurt to reach out to well-known authors and ask them to review your work, if they’re interested and if they indicate they do like it, see if they’ll provide a short blurb.

Also listing a few competitive/comparative titles that were bestsellers and/or award-winners, published within the last few years, is also key for a literary agent’s consideration. At the end of the day, though, the manuscript must be an amazing read, so author platform is not entirely the only deciding factor.

Finding a literary agent

Q: What are the pros of having agency representation? Could you explain how to acquire a literary agent for our readers who have never been through this process?

Mark: Agents exist to provide services to authors, such as finding a publisher, handling contract negotiation as well as ensuring payment and proper accounting. A good literary agent will mediate between the author and publisher.

Researching the potential literary agent is important. I usually suggest to authors that they visit the literary agency’s website and read about them online. It’s highly advisable to check out the agency’s rankings on publishersmarketplace.com.

Publishing trends aspiring authors should keep in mind

Q: What current trends in the publishing industry should today’s aspiring author be aware of?

Mark: To gather the best sense of the trends, I would say look at the New York Times’ Best Sellers List or even the Amazon Top 100. My suggestion to writers is to not only know the classics. Authors should stay current in their reading of modern works so they can know and follow trends right as they are happening. Of course, it is always better to be making the wave and riding out in front of it, rather than behind it.

Time lag from submitting your manuscript to getting a response

Finding a literary agent - manuscript submission tipsQ: How long does it take an author on average from acquiring an agent to publication? Any insightful statistics from Trident Media Group’s ongoing operation to share?

Mark: Conservatively-speaking, I normally tell clients to give it 3-4 months from submission before expecting responses. With that said, I’ve sold projects in as short a time as a few days and in as much time as a year.

Rookie publisher querying mistakes to avoid

Q: What rookie mistakes are likely to result in an instant ‘no’ for a querying author?

Mark: There are so many things an author can do incorrectly in approaching a literary agent. One of the biggest mistakes I see is querying a literary agent with an incomplete fiction manuscript. Sale only becomes possible with a finished manuscript.

First, really nail that query letter and hook. A good query letter is upfront with the hook, in 1-2 sentences, what the book is about. Then a couple body paragraphs on plot and literary merits of the writing.

Thanks for sharing your perspective, Mark.

Mark Gottlieb, Literary agent

Finding a literary agent - advice from Mark GottliebMark 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 publishersmarketplace.com in Overall Deals and other categories. ​
You can read about how to submit to Mark and Trident Media Group here.

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  • marissa

    So pretty much this confirms that a writer has a better chance of being published if either they were published before or they won a contest, but how are authors supposed to get noticed if no one is giving them a chance? What a vicious cycle.

    • Mark Gottlieb

      Hi Marissa,

      I was hoping that this post would come off in an inspiring way for new authors. There are many ways into major trade publishing as a debut author.

      All the best,

      Mark

      Mark Gottlieb
      Literary Agent
      Trident Media Group, LLC
      41 Madison Avenue, Floor 36
      New York, NY 10010
      (212) 333-1506
      tridentmediagroup.com

    • Hi Marissa,

      Ultimately, if you can prove marketability to publishers that’s a win in their eyes since a sign your work will find a paying audience is a win-win situation. Yet publishers are also sometimes willing to take risks on books based on the quality of writing, too. As Mark said in his first answer, a manuscript should be a great read first. There have been cases where publishers, for example, had their children read manuscript submissions for children’s books and based on the enthusiasm of their response decided to publish.

      Thank you for weighing in!

      • JOHN T SHEA

        Indeed! The most famous example probably being THE HOBBIT, which British publisher Stanley Unwin published on the recommendation of his ten-year-old son Rayner, whom he paid a shilling (about 25 cents at the time) to read the novel and write a report on it.

  • Nissim Levy

    Hi Mark,

    Last year I entered my novel Shards Of Divinities in the Writer’s Digest competition for self-published eBooks. I did not win, but I received a glowing review from the judge who evaluated my novel. Do you advise that I include this review with my query letter to you?

    Thanks,

    Nissim

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