Book Broker: an interview with Mark Gottlieb
Agent: Mark Gottlieb
Personal Website: literaryagentmarkgottlieb.com
Preferred genres: Fiction, nonfiction, children's books, and graphic novels.
Bio: Mark Gottlieb is a literary agent at Trident Media Group in New York City. He ranks highly among literary agents in overall deals and other categories. With that insight and initiative, Mark Gottlieb is actively building his client list of new authors. He manages and grows author careers at publishing's leading agency. One of his core values is helping writers realize their book publishing dreams. Since his time at Trident Media Group, he has represented New York Times
1) What stands out in a good submission?
A good submission will be accompanied by a tightly written query letter that has a strong hook, description of exciting plot details, and interesting character development, along with an author bio paragraph listing relevant writing experience and credentials. Personalizing the address in the submission is also important. I would much rather read "Dear Mark Gottlieb" than "Dear Literary Agent." Aspiring writers will do much better if they take that sort of care, especially one who reviews our submission guidelines on our website.
2) What is the most common error or flaw you see in query letters?
It is easy to get a few things wrong in a query letter. For instance, I see a lot of aspiring authors writing to me with query letters that list manuscripts far in excess of normal word-count range. On a few occasions I have requested a manuscript after expressing my interest, to then be surprised when the writer tells me the manuscript is not written yet since it was merely an idea. Fiction needs to be sold on a full manuscript. Only nonfiction can be sold on proposal and a couple of sample chapters. The other common error I see from those sending a query using our submissions page is from hopeful writers wanting to learn how to get published. That is not the purpose of a query letter since those letters are meant to exhibit why the writer is worthy of getting published.
3) What's a typical warning sign that a manuscript isn't ready for representation?
Word count. If a manuscript exceeds normal word-count range (80,000 to 120,000 words) or falls short of normal book length in the territory of novellas (roughly 50,000 words) then that is an instant sign the manuscript is not suitable for most major trade publishers. This has to do with the cost of printing and production in the case of manuscripts in excess of 120,000 words. In the case of shorter manuscripts, the margins for profit are too small on a shorter book. After word count, I begin looking at the quality of the writing in the manuscript itself and I seek out an exciting plot with good character development.
4) What advice can you give to writers who are submitting their work?
I would suggest researching a literary agent's social media pages. For instance, writers can read about me and some of the books I represent on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. That will lend a good sense for the type of books I have worked with and what I am currently looking to represent. A smart writer might want to review my personal page on the Trident Media Group website or read an interview with me to learn more. With all that information, a writer can really personalize their query letter.
5) You've just decided to represent an author and the contract is signed. What steps do you take to prep the manuscript for submission to publishers?
From there we make a further evaluation to see if the manuscript needs any editorial guidance. If the manuscript feels fully polished, then I craft a pitch and a submission list of editors. Assembling comparative/competitive titles can be very helpful in the submissions list process since I can figure out which editors at which publishing houses published a similar book. We then go out on submission to various editors at different publishing houses. That process can sometimes go very quickly (in some cases I have sold books within a day or two) and in other instances it can take more time, like a few months on average. In the rarest of instances, I have sold books to editors sight unseen... simply based on my pitch!
6) What is your strategy for a client whose manuscript isn't selling?
If a manuscript is not selling, then it is important to regroup and see what the editorial or market concerns might be, based on the feedback of the editors. That is an opportunity to make some quick adjustments to the manuscript before plugging it back in along a submission. In other cases it might be worth trying a new manuscript out on the marketplace before revisiting that submission again. It worked for Stephen King very early in his career when earlier novels of his did not sell as well under the name of Richard Bachman and they were later published again under the name we all know and love, Stephen King. I have worked with authors that hit a home run their first time at bat, as well as those that had to strike out first before they could get another chance at hitting that homer.
7) What's the best (non-client) book you've read recently, and how did it hook you?
I recently enjoyed reading SLADE HOUSE by David Mitchell, the author of CLOUD ATLAS and BONE CLOCKS. I enjoyed the movie based on CLOUD ATLAS too. I was hooked by how naturally the author transitioned us between worlds within his novel. It made me an instant believer, despite the fantastical elements of the novel. I also had the pleasure of meeting David Mitchell at a writers convention in San Antonio, Texas. I just wish I'd had his books with me in order to get them signed.
8) Can you tell us about an exciting author you're working with at the moment?
I am very proud of all of the authors I work with. Rather than pick something randomly from the stack, I can mention my most recent book deal: ELI'S PROMISE by Ronald Balson, National Jewish Book Award-winning author of ONCE WE WERE BROTHERS, KAROLINA'S TWINS, and THE GIRL FROM BERLIN. This work of historical fiction spans three eras: Nazi-occupied Lublin, Poland; post-war displaced person's camps in Allied-occupied Germany; and twenty years hence in a peaceful Chicago neighborhood. This sold to George Witte at St. Martin's Press in a six-figure+ deal.