The publishing industry has been undergoing a lot of changes over the last decade, and the truth of the matter is: If you're not willing to keep up, you're going to get left behind.
In this interview with Literary Agent, Mark Gottlieb of Trident Media Group, we dig deep into book publishing in the digital era to understand what role a literary agent plays in the publishing process, how important it is to have a personal brand as an author, and what it takes to get your masterpiece in front of the masses.
What drove you to become a literary agent?
Whereas most people tend to stumble out of the humanities into book publishing as an accidental profession, I had always grown up surrounded by books and authors. My dad always worked in book publishing and is in fact the Chairman of the literary agency where I work, Trident Media Group. So you could say that I had the literary agent Mark Gottlieb prophecy hanging over my head from a very young age, which is why I was groomed for book publishing. Of course I still have a love of books and a respect for the lives of creative types such as authors, which is why I read so avidly and sought ought a degree in book publishing.
What role do you play in the publishing process as a literary agent?
Literary agents exist to provide services to authors. This can include, though is not limited to: Book Sales, Editorial, Film and TV Sales, Foreign Rights, Contract Negotiation / Business Affairs, Accounting and Information Tracking, Audio Books, eBook Sales and Marketing, Publishing Management.
Why do authors choose to work with you versus approaching the publishing process alone?
The self-publishing world has become extremely crowded and a difficult place for authors to stand out. A lot of self-published authors have undercut each other's prices in a race to the bottom. Another issue with self-publishing is that eBook sales have mostly leveled off. Not to mention the fact that one has to be a marketing guru in order to get their self-published book to stand out in a sea of material. That's why most self-published books will sell fewer than a dozen copies in the lifetime of the self-published book. There are more opportunities for most authors in traditional book publishing, by way of a literary agency that has a lot of clout with book publishers. If a literary agency's business goes to the bottomline of a book publishing house, then they can often accomplish more in terms of how their deals and contracts will ultimately benefit their clients. It is harder for authors to ask publishers for things on their own, even with the help of a lawyer that does not do a volume of business with a publisher or does not keep a standard agreement with a book publisher.
Do authors need to have a completed manuscript before approaching you with questions about the publishing process?
Fiction needs to be sold on a full manuscript, so it is best that authors of fiction approach literary agents with a query letter and a finished manuscript. Nonfiction can be sold to a book publisher based on two or three sample chapters accompanied by a book proposal, so an author of nonfiction should include those materials with their query letter. I am still open to receiving general questions from writers, even without these materials in readiness, but authors that want to approach a literary agent with a submission will need those aforementioned materials.
What’re some things traditional publishers immediately look for when you present an author and their title?
Publishers of debut fiction tend to look at the quality of the writing, the excitement of the plot and character development, as well as the writer’s relevant writing experience and credentials (awards, publications in literary magazines/journals, conference/workshop attendance, blurbs/endorsements, etc.). When considering an author’s second book, publishers will look at the previous book’s sales track record, since bookstores tend to order to net (however many copies of the author’s previous book was sold). Publishers of nonfiction look at a writer’s platform (number of social media followers, website visitors, newsletter subscribers, etc.), first and foremost, before turning their attention to the book idea, quality of the writing and authority of the writer. When it comes time for the nonfiction author’s next book with a publisher, the sales track record will still play an important role, but there’s a bit more wiggle room in nonfiction, since every new book is a brand new idea. In fiction, every new book is the same writer brand.
From your perspective, how important is it for an author to have a strong social media presence if they want a successful book deal, launch, etc...
Whereas authors of fiction tend to become brands or household names by extension of their writing, a strong online presence will ultimately help sell books. In the case of nonfiction, it is very important to literary agents and book publishers that a writer first have a strong online platform, before becoming a published author. So whereas fiction tends to be writer-driven, nonfiction is very much so platform-driven.
How has marketing in the publishing industry changed over the last decade?
Book marketing has become digitized, for the most part. It’s much quicker to market something digitally, and it’s far cheaper than print or billboard advertising. Not only that, digital marketing is quantifiable in that the metrics, such as click through rates and impressions, can be measured. With print advertising, you only know how many people subscribe to that magazine, rather than how many people saw your ad and bought your book as a result. The same thing can be said of billboard advertising: you would only know how many people use a highway, bus or subway system, but that would not explain how many people saw a billboard and bought a book as a result. Since digital advertising is also cheaper, you could say part of the Trident Media Group literary agent Mark Gottlieb brand of author representation, is that I will often encourage clients and publishers to gravitate toward digital advertising, especially since more of it can be done at a lower cost.
Where do you see book marketing heading over the next 5 years?
There will always continue to be a need for the human element, though I see a lot more automation in book marketing. Publishers such as Amazon Book Publishing have realized that they own their online storefront the way in which publishers such as Scholastic and Scribner once did in physical retail. Amazon Book Publishing will often market to consumers via email newsletters and onsite merchandising. It is my hope that other book publishers will catch on in the same way, perhaps with the help of marketing personnel, by better utilizing their sites and online presence for selling books direct to consumers, rather than merely printing books and placing them in retail stores and online, while hoping for trade reviews.
How will having a personal brand that’s easily accessible via social media impact the success of an author?
Simply put, I think that a strong author brand will ultimately help an author connect with their audience and sell more copies of books and reduce any resistance along the path to publication for another book from the author.
For those who are in the process of writing their first book or are currently looking for an agent and a book deal, what are you best pieces of advice?
There is so much varying advice out there that I think the simplest thing is to measure a literary agency by the number of book deals performed and for the highest amount of money. For instance, among every literary agency, Trident Media Group typically ranks first for overall volume of deals and amount of money for deals, consecutively, since 2004. Authors can also look at other literary agencies that rank nearly as highly and see how they measure up.
Mark Gottlieb has ranked highly among literary agents across publishing in overall volume of deals and other individual categories. Using that same initiative and insight for identifying talented writers, he is actively building his own client list of authors of fiction and nonfiction. Mark is excited to work directly with authors, helping to manage and grow their careers with all of the unique resources that are available at book publishing’s leading literary agency, Trident Media Group. During his time at Trident Media Group, he has represented numerous New York Times bestselling authors, as well as award-winning authors, and has optioned and sold numerous books to film and TV production companies. Mark Gottlieb is actively seeking submissions in all categories and genres.
If you're interested in working together with Mike and the team at Experience Digital Marketing, send an email to Mike@ExperienceDM.com and we'll help get you on the fast track to building your personal brand.