From time to time, I’ve been asked what a typical day is for me, as a literary agent in New York City. Not surprising to get this sort of question, as to authors, many literary and talent agencies are shrouded in mystery…
Mystery is especially the case, since when visiting the sites of many a literary agency, an author hits a wall in seeing a mere landing page with nothing but a company name and basic contact information. I can understand why a literary and/or talent agency would want to put up walls—it’s the same reason why night clubs and country clubs want to put off an air of exclusiveness—so the outsider feels as though they want to know what’s going on inside of those places. Sometimes there are very interesting things going on behind those walls. Other times a literary agency might put up a wall to lend the sense that something’s happening on the other side, when in reality, it’s actually very quiet over there. (How funny would it be to gain entrance to a supposedly trendy night club, only to find several elderly people slow dancing in a retirement home?) Or maybe the literary agency is just too lazy to update their company website beyond a landing page with contact information—a bad quality in any company.
The truth of the matter is that putting up walls merely alienates authors from a literary agency. I’ve heard it described that an author can feel like Spider-Man, stuck to cold, black, tinted glass windows on the side of a skyscraper they can’t see inside of. That just feels like a horrible feeling to me, and not just because I have a natural fear of heights. When I heard that sentiment, in designing our company’s website, I resolved to open the doors and windows to let everyone see inside at Trident Media Group, book publishing’s leading literary agency. I would rather authors feel that we’re approachable as a literary agency and have always hoped that our site would lend a sense of what it’s like for a literary agent day to day.
Beyond what our website can convey, the interesting thing is that there really is no average day in the life of a literary agent. Or at least there shouldn’t be, for when a literary agent’s days begin to stagnate in looking the same, then that person’s career is in trouble. That ought to be the canary in the coal mine for an author situated with or considering a literary agency. Of course none of this is to speak ill of the competition, but rather to give authors the information they truly deserve to know. It’s just plain sad for me to see so many authors wrongly mislead in their careers.
Stagnation among literary agencies is especially the case, since most literary agents are very transactional people by nature—they’re more so interested in getting in, doing the deal, and then getting out. (It’s kind of like the one-night stand who quietly leaves in the morning without a note or kiss goodbye). I know this to be the case because I am a literary agent and I’ve worked with literary agents for my entire professional career. Bear with me, now…
But why would that be the case when a literary agent is meant to be an author’s advocate?
The fact of the matter is that most literary agents don’t know if they’re going to be at the literary agency they’re working at tomorrow. They also face the uncertainty that they don’t know if they will be in book publishing tomorrow. Thus literary agents are more so interested in churning deals while they can, before the floor is ripped out from under them.
Many clients have come my way from literary agents that suddenly disappeared from book publishing. This is because incoming clients know that I’m not going anywhere soon, as I am grateful for having the blessing of working at a highly-established company, one that happens to be my family-owned and operated business. Authors inevitably come our way because Trident Media Group is a very robust literary agency with many resources available to us and our clients. (Our literary agency is close to fifty employees, occupying the entire floor of a Madison Avenue building, and that’s bigger than most independent publishers!) This also enabled me to do interesting things for a client outside of only deal-making that most other literary agents would not bother with. We can look at the horizon together and try to see over it.
The sad reality is that most purported literary agencies tend to be very small, perhaps several people in a home office setting, focusing on churning smaller nonfiction deals or hitching their wagon to one or two big name authors. We do a higher level of business at Trident Media Group. Clients do not get lost in the shuffle at a big literary agency such as ours because the literary agents here work in concert with various support staff to free the client of headaches and make for an awesome publishing experience. In wearing many hats, most other small literary agencies mismanage an author’s career, rarely keeping foreign and audio rights for a client in dealing with a domestic publisher. Nor do they personally attend the major foreign rights book fairs such as the London Book Fair, Frankfurt Book Fair and Bologna Book Fair in order to see their clients successfully published overseas—instead they might use co-agents or have a tiny presence at book fairs. At Trident Media Group, we personally attend those book fairs to hand sell to foreign publishes via a contingency of half a dozen literary agents from our company.
None of this is to be braggadocios, but the spirit of reinvention and innovation is what is truly commensurate with Trident Media Group being Publishers Marketplace’s consecutively #1-Ranked Literary Agency for over a decade. Every day that I walk into the office, I think of ways to try to reinvent myself in a way to make myself competitive, while improving the careers of the authors I work with in creative and innovative ways. Every day should not be about drudgery—life is an adventure!
That could mean working in concert with our Audiobook department to turn an author’s book into an audiobook, or working with our Foreign Rights department to see the books of clients translated and published overseas. Other times, commenting on the marketing/promo plans a publisher has for a client, helping an author at Trident set up a Reddit AMA Author Spotlight session, working alongside our Digital Media & Publishing department to help market and promote an author’s career, setting up a bookstore reading or online promo, or it could even mean setting up a book-to-film/TV option for a client. Of course there are a few things typical to most every day in the life of a literary agent, such as reading and evaluating query letters, taking meeting/calls/lunches/drinks with editors and publishers as well as clients, pitching manuscripts to publishers, meeting with film/TV companies to adapt books for the screen, attending conferences/workshops, looking for new talent, and so on.
Interesting and comical things outside of the run-of-the-mill happen here all the time, though. Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi might come into the office with a box of cannoli for the Trident Media Group staff, or Billy Ray Cyrus might stumble into a company-wide staff meeting to express his keen observance: “I can really feel the power in this room.” One might even see World Fantasy Award nominee Christopher Brown touring the offices, or New York Times bestselling author & Goodreads Choice Award nominee, Kate Moretti meeting with her literary agent, preparing for a marketing/promo meeting with her editor and publicist at Atria Books. That’s what makes for fun working at the Trident Media Group literary agency—there’s really no average nor boring day here—anything can happen!
Here’s your chance, WITS readers….have any questions for Mark?
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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. For more than ten consecutive years, TMG continues to rank number one for sales according to publishersmarketplace.com in North America. TMG is the only U.S. literary agency to consistently be in the top ten in both UK fiction and UK non-fiction and has ranked as highly as number one in UK fiction deals. tridentmediagroup.com
Mark 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.