Straight From An Agent: YOUR Questions Answered

Mark Gottlieb of Trident Media is back, this time answering YOUR questions. There were quite a few responses (thank you!) so I didn’t manage to include all the questions sent in, but I definitely included most. Thank you again Mark for making yourself available to answer these questions.

1. You mention ‘struggling’ genres. What genre trends have you seen come and go? How long do they stay? Which genres are agents looking for at the moment and which do you anticipate making a comeback in the future?

Generally speaking, I am not interested in struggling genres such as cozy mysteries, erotica, urban fantasy, horror, paranormal romance, and personal (non-celebrity) memoir. I’d say that some genres come and go then come back again. Some authors will write within what is sometimes considered to be a struggling genre and still make a success of it, though. For instance, one of our clients, Justin Cronin wrote CITIES OF MIRRORS which was a #1 New York Times bestseller. It was essentially a vampire horror novel and many thought those genres to be long gone until he spun them in a new and interesting way.

2. Narration: I’m writing in omniscient 3rd person with deep focus on various characters and settings within that frame but I’ve recently been told that omniscient narration is out of favour now. Help!

You must write what feels natural to you rather than pandering to what might be considered to be in vogue at the moment, so go with what you know! Otherwise it might just feel awkward to you and the reader.

3. You said that if a writer gets a no it means they are not quite good enough as of yet. But you also said ‘it’s a subjective business’. Is it possible that the writer IS good enough, but the agent isn’t the right fit for them?

That’s entirely possible which is why this is a subjective business. Editors will even pass on authors that go on to become mega bestsellers elsewhere. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder when some one tells you you’re not good enough yet.

4. Manuscript idea pitching: Is it wrong to take advantage of a pitching opportunity if your MS is not yet complete? How much of a novel is enough to dare show up with (assuming the full plot is there)?

Fiction really needs to be sold on a full. Literary agents and editors are really looking for that in a pitching scenario. Only nonfiction can be sold on proposal. I’d suggest working with other groups on a partial, such as beta readers, etc.

5. If an agent isn’t hooked on the query/cover letter, will they actually read the first chapter (or sample) or will they move onto the next one?

I for one won’t request the manuscript if the hook and/or query letter doesn’t grab me. Other literary agents might feel different about that. Some agents ask for a 5-10 page sample for that reason. Recently, I’ve been getting more into the writing workshop scene, as opposed to the conference scene, for a chance to experience the writing over the pitching since not every author knows how to talk about their work and at the end of the day it’s just about good writing.

6. In this ever changing, rapidly shifting publishing landscape, how has your role as an agent had to change and evolve with the advent of eBook publishing and self-publishing?

The digital landscape has seen our literary agency evolve. Thanks to the tremendous resources available to our company and our Digital Media and Publishing department, Trident Media Group often helps our clients in their marketing/publicity efforts. We also try to put the publisher on the hot seat in encouraging them to perform marketing/publicity tasks for the author, by sharing ideas and having in-depth meetings with publishers. Trident will also make recommendations to our clients on how they can think about improving their social media presence and look to online efforts to market / promote their books. Otherwise, book publishers normally devote their marketing dollars and other resources toward authors that are huge successes or are making a major debut. We at Trident might even recommend a private book publicity firm to a client, but that doesn’t come cheap. An author should still know that their role in marketing and promoting the book is integral to the process since, at the end of the day, readers / fans will want to hear from the author.

7. Can a book that’s set in an Australian city be just as appealing as one set in an American one? Or, if we are hoping for an American publisher are we better off setting it in America? I understand that rural settings are their own market, but what about your average romance, where the setting might not be that important?

Good writing is good writing, regardless of a book’s setting.

8. I am interested in attracting a U.S. agent for my book series because I think it would suit that market (a few teens from have enjoyed an early copy and are keen to read the sequel). However, because it is being published by an Australian publisher, only the rights (for the first book) are now available overseas. Is it worth approaching agents regarding the sale of rights? If no, then is it worth approaching them when there some good sales on the board? What sort of sales figure would be consider good enough to attract the interest of an overseas agent? 10,000 copies? 50,000 copies? Or is it a waste of time approaching agent because only the rights (for the first book, anyway) are for sale?

Since the cat is already out of the bag on that one, most literary agents would want to wait and see how it performed in Australia first. The other issue with English-language markets is that unless there’s simultaneous publication, UK books will get shipped into the US market, vise versa were it a US deal first. That creates a problem for a publisher in another English-language market since it cannibalizes potential sales. Most publishers need close to a year in lead time to acquire and publish simultaneously.

9. I’d like to know how does a writer get their royalties out of a bad publisher?

I’m assuming this is a question about royalty statements, rather than payments. Either way, I’d suggest reading the publishing contract again to see what recourse there might be when a publisher is not living up to the contract. I’d suggest having a lawyer send the publisher a warning.

10. I had a wonderful agent who stayed with me through two YA novels. We got some good rejection feedback from editors and I learned a lot through the process, but we did not sell either novel. My agent had to move on. Now that he isn’t representing me is it OK to try to find another agent (he suggested I do) and if so, do I tell that agent right away about my former agent? I want to follow protocol but am confused as to what is appropriate.

Since very few people are willing to give the benefit of the doubt in trying to succeed where others have failed, I’d suggest going forward with a new literary agent, but let them know of your past and have them present you to publishers as an author trying to make a major debut.

11. Do agents care if a writer is living in the USA or not? The reason for my question is I live in Australia, however my books are YA Sci Fi so not set in Australia.  I’m not sure if where a writer lives will count against them.

Personally, I work with authors all over the world. We sort out everything in that process with publishers and authors. We do tax filings for our clients to reduce their tax penalties or do away with foreign taxes altogether. The only tricky thing can be the time zones.

12. What do you look for in a bestseller/award-winner; what is it that keeps you engaged, reading and eager? What is that specific something  (that you look for)  that will increase a writer’s chance at getting published?

An ideal project would carry an important social message or moral to the story, and while not only being beautifully written, it should be accessible or have some aspects of commercialism to the writing, even if it is literary fiction. I always say when in doubt, blow something up, since action and conflict will help to drive a story forward.

Thanks Mark, its a great opportunity to have had our questions answered by someone in the industry.

Have a wonderful week everyone,


Mark G.jpgMark 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 in Overall Deals and other categories.

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