February 3rd, 2017

A Day in the Life of a New York Literary Agent

Mark Gottlieb

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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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View from Trident's New York Office

View from Trident’s New York Office

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

aaeaaqaaaaaaaak4aaaajdljnmfkyzgwlwyzzdgtndkxni05nze5lwu1mdczmzljmmmxmgMark 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.

tridentmediagroup.com/agents/mark-gottlieb

 

39 comments to A Day in the Life of a New York Literary Agent

  • Sending the link to this to my novel critique group. Very enlightening. Thanks.

    • Hi Mary,

      Thanks very much! I am delighted to hear that you feel inspired enough from the article to share it with your novel critique group.

      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

  • Rijvan Husain Rehmani

    I’m working on second book and almost completed. My first novel was on women oriented. I’m finding a literary agent to represent my next novel. Please help me.

  • As someone currently searching for an agent, your post is very timely – and refreshing. I can only imagine how amazing it must be to work with such a wide variety of talent. Kudos to your agency for consistently ranking #1, an indication of how hard you work every day.
    I clicked through to your page on the Trident site, and am intrigued that you consider all genres. What pet peeves do you have regarding submissions? And what makes a sub stand out for you?
    Thanks for your insight.

    • Thanks for your kind words. Please do not be shy in querying us.

      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.

      It must also be of normal book length.

      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

  • Very interesting peek inside your world! Thank you for the insights on a part of the industry that is too often a mystery to authors!

  • Thank you Mark for letting me know what your company is all about. It sounds like a dream to me.
    JMC

  • Santina Cross

    Thank you for the valuable information.

  • Thanks for this timely blog post. I am wondering if an author is writing in two completely different genre’s (children’s books and women’s fiction) if a larger agency such as yours might be a good fit?

    • Personally, I represent a mixture of genres/age groups. Some clients of mine writer between genres and age groups. Not every agent is that way, though.

      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

  • christopherlentzauthor

    Insightful post. Thanks. I’m currently an independent who’s tempted to go hybrid. Any special advice for crossing that bridge?

    • Hi Christopher,

      If you happen to have sold 50K copies of any indie-published title at a decent price, then that will pique the interest of an agent or editor.

      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 Mark, I could feel your energy and love for your work throughout this post—well done (if I may be so bold as to comment on your writing, lol), and an entertaining read!

    • Hi Kathryn,

      Good to hear from you again and I hope all is well. Enjoyed your keynote address at Pennwriters My thanks to you for the kind words and it’s nice to know that the energy and love shined through the article. Maybe our paths will cross again…

      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

  • Mark, we’re delighted to have you here at Writers In The Storm! Thanks for swinging through and answering comments. I predict the questions will flow once people realize they can get an answer.

    My own personal question: How many manuscripts do you acquire each year, and what are you actively looking for right now?

  • Hi Jenny,

    Thanks, I’m glad to answer most any question. I also hope that this article comes across in a positive light. As Kathryn wrote in her comment above, this is about seeing the light shine through the cracks. It’s my sincerest hope that authors would find much light and a loving home at the Trident Media Group literary agency.

    Authors will also find that I keep an open mind and try to make the very best of what I see as good writing from an author, whether it be a debut or an award-winning/bestselling author. While I have several-dozen clients, they are all at different stages in their careers (editing process, submissions, acquisitions process, publishing process). Some might write several books per year, while others might only write one book in their entire lifetime, so I’m still on the search for new clients. In the last twelve months, according to publishersmarketplace.com, I’ve done 25 deals. That’s about two or three books deals/month I’m doing, and I’m leading the agency both in the last six months and the last twelve months for overall volume of deals. This is not to brag but rather to indicate that it’s safe to say that an author would stand a very good chance with me, especially since I work with a mixture of genres, between fiction, nonfiction, children’s picture books, YA, MG and graphic novels.

    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

    • Thanks, Mark! We have many genre’s here, but most of us behind the scenes fall in the romance, scifi or women’s fiction categories. Are any of those of interest?

      Other questions:

      1. What is the average response time for your agency?
      2. How do you like querying authors to check on their manuscript? (Call or email? Wait 4 weeks, 6 weeks, 10 weeks?)
      3. Do you send out rejections or simply do no response if you aren’t interested?
      4. Describe what makes you send out a “revise and resubmit” rejection.

  • Thanks for a refreshingly candid and informative article which does not make a mystery out of a molehill, if I may mix a metaphor or three!

  • Fae Rowen

    Thanks for helping us see “agent” as a three-dimensional human with feelings, Mark. I’ve heard good things about Trident Media Group, and for good reason, from what you’ve shared with us.

    • Hi Fae,

      I’m glad this article helped and it’s nice to know that you’ve heard good things, thanks.

      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

  • Dear Mark:
    I sent you a questionair concerning the Birmingham, Alabama conference. Did you get that?
    JMC

    • Hi Jim,

      I do not recall seeing such an email… Do you want to try sending it again?

      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

  • Thank you for being the gap-to-be-addressed on this blog. Your answers to the questions are most helpful; I’m waiting to see your answers to Jenny Hanson’s questions. They are mine as well.

  • Is the psychological suspense market robust at the moment?

    • Hi Debbie,

      I think there’s still a lot in the wake of some psychological suspense books that were blockbusters. Editors will always tell you that they’ve had enough of any one particular genre after a wave of books. That is, until the next big one comes along, of course!

      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

  • Mark, I have one more question (from an author who prefers to remain anonymous): “How does an author ethically change agents?”

    • Hi Jenny,

      I would actually venture to say that there is nothing unethical about changing agents when it is really about the health of an author’s career. If a literary agent has not done well by an author in mismanaging their career, then there is nothing wrong about making a career change in terms of how an author is represented. As literary agents we have a fiduciary responsibility to our clients. If an agent falls short of meeting that basic need for an author, then it’s the agent who was unethical and the career change for the author is the logical next step in their progression.

      The proper thing for an author to do would be to notify the agent by email that they plan to terminate their representation and to abide bye the terms set out and agreed to in their agency agreement if the agreement is still in place. Before any of that were to happen, a good thing to do is to first point out that the agent had been making mistakes or not living up to their promises, and to try to come to some sort of reconciliation. Short of that, the agent and author should go their separate ways.

      In working with clients it is my feeling that people need to be happy in order to do good work together, but at the same time I would like to know if a client were displeased and if there was anyway I could repair that.

      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

  • I’m copying this question from above so you see it, Mark…

    We have many genre’s here, but most of us behind the scenes fall in the romance, scifi or women’s fiction categories. Are any of those of interest?

    Other questions:

    1. What is the average response time for your agency?
    2. How do you like querying authors to check on their manuscript? (Call or email? Wait 4 weeks, 6 weeks, 10 weeks?)
    3. Do you send out rejections or simply do no response if you aren’t interested?
    4. Describe what makes you send out a “revise and resubmit” rejection.

  • The fact that you not only wrote this welcoming piece but are responding to everyone’s comments is refreshing. Given the typical brevity of most agent responses to querying writers, there’s something delightfully anomalous about that! 🙂

    To be honest, I find the entire arena of literary agents to be an enigma. We writers who wish to be traditionally published need and want their collaborative help, but (as one querying again after a few years of self-publishing) I continue to find the “what do they REALLY want?” a great mystery. Even when agents describe a “MSWL” that sounds profoundly aligned to the completed manuscript in hand, the typically quick dismissal of “it’s not right for me” proves the most prevalent response.

    So you, the writer, continue beating the bushes, particularly if you’ve put in the work and believe your book warrants the effort, but the sense remains that snagging a literary agent is as wildly unpredictable and elusive as winning the lottery. Someone usually does, but they’re a tiny, tiny percentage of those trying.

    But still you keep buying your ticket… 🙂

  • Thanks so much Mark for opening yourself up and sharing your insights. I love that Trident’s great success comes from a rather simple humanity and passion. “Life is an Adventure!” says it all.

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