Thursday, October 2, 2014

Query Questions with Mark Gottlieb

Writers have copious amounts of imagination. It's what makes their stories so fantastic. But there's a darker side to so much out of the box thinking. When a writer is in the query trenches, their worries go into overdrive. They start pulling out their hair and imagine every possible disaster.


Here to relieve some of that endless worrying is a new series of posts called Query Questions. I'll ask the questions which prey on every writer's mind, and hopefully take some of the pain out of querying. These are questions that I've seen tossed around on twitter and writing sites like Agent Query Connect. They are the type of questions that you need answers for the real expert--agents!

If you have your own specific query question, please leave it in the comments and it might show up in future editions of Query Questions as I plan to rotate the questions.

It's always nice to see a love of books running in the family. Welcome to new agent Mark Gottlieb of Trident Media Group.

Is there a better or worse time of year to query? The best time is the Spring or Summer as things start to slow down in publishing during that season. A bad time would be the Fall as everyone is just getting back from their summer vacations and settling in. A lot of professors on sabbatical and summer break are getting back in the Fall and flooding us with queries.

Does one typo or misplaced comma shoot down the entire query? No but it is still considered poor form.

Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strong? Only if the query letter is strong. An author must know how to speak of the self and their work. A poorly-written letter demonstrates that an author can do neither and may not be a good writer, even.

Do you have an assistant or intern go through your queries first or do you check all of them? I personally check all of them as I trust my own opinion most. It is much easier for an assistant to say no to something than to give it the time it needs.

If the manuscript has a prologue, do you want it included with the sample pages? The selection of sample pages is up to the author but I usually request a manuscript in-full.

Some agencies mention querying only one agent at a time and some say query only one agent period. How often do you pass a query along to a fellow agent who might be more interested? Some agents pass stuff along to another agent if it isn't for them, but only when it is good. Usually when it is a pass, it is a pass on behalf of the entire agency. If an author wants to query us again, we ask that they wait 30 days. That will afford them time to revise their letter manuscript.

Do you prefer a little personalized chit-chat in a query letter, or would you rather hear about the manuscript? I am not one for idle chatter and small talk.

Most agents have said they don’t care whether the word count/genre sentence comes first or last. But is it a red flag if one component is not included? Not a red flag since upon receiving the manuscript, the agent can determine the page length and word count. Upon receiving the query, they can determine the genre. It helps to know these two things, though. A manuscript should not exceed 120,000 words.

Writers hear a lot about limiting the number of named characters in a query. Do you feel keeping named characters to a certain number makes for a clearer query? Only the primary characters should be mentioned, or just the protagonist and antagonist.

Should writers sweat the title of their book (and character names) or is that something that is often changed by publishers? It is often changed so authors shouldn't dwell on it.

How many queries do you receive in a week? How many requests might you make out of those? On a slow week I might receive 125 queries in a given week.

Many agents say they don't care if writers are active online. Could a twitter account or blog presence by a writer tip the scales in getting a request or offer? And do you require writers you sign to start one? An author needs an online presence as marketing is key. At the very least theory should have an author website, blog, or a social media page.

Some writers have asked about including links to their blogs or manuscript-related artwork. I’m sure it’s not appropriate to add those links in a query, but are links in an email signature offensive? Links in email are OK if relevant.

If a writer makes changes to their manuscript due to feedback should they resend the query or only if material was requested? Only of requested. It is frustrating to read a manuscript while the author is secretly revising it again into a different iteration.

What bio should an author with no publishing credits include? As much relevant information to their interest in writing as possible.

What does ‘just not right mean for me’ mean to you? A pass.

What themes are you sick of seeing? Nothing, honestly. There's sometimes a fresh new take on something familiar.

Do you consider yourself a hands-on, editorial type of agent? Yes, depending on how much work a manuscript needs, but I often feel that less is more, editorially.

What’s the strangest/funniest thing you’ve seen in a query? Honestly there has been a lot but parody and tongue-n'-cheek humor usually leaves me in stitches.

What three things are at the top of your submission wish list? A comedic detective novel, or a sweeping space opera. Perhaps even a medieval fantasy or a dystopian novel.

What are some of your favorite movies or books to give us an idea of your tastes? Many of the classics as much of everything written today is owed to what has already been spun. My Goodreads page lists my favorite books as well as the books I have read.

Trident has had great success at "home growing" talented individuals from entry level positions into leading agents in the publishing industry. With Mark Gottlieb, the term "home grown" agent is literally true.

From an early age, Mark showed a passionate interest in his father's work, his founding of Trident with Dan Strone, and the growth of the company. And his father Robert took great pleasure in being "grilled" regularly by Mark.

This focus on publishing continued at Emerson College, where Mark was a founding member of the Publishing Club, then its President, subsequently overseeing its first publication under the Wilde Press imprint.

After graduating Emerson with a degree in writing, literature and publishing, Mark began his career as an assistant to the Vice President of the Berkley imprint at Penguin, working with leading editors at the firm.

Mark's first position at Trident was in the foreign rights department, assisting the department's agents in selling the books of clients around the world.

From there, Mark went to Trident's "boot camp," working as Executive Assistant to Robert, the Chairman of the firm, with responsibility for organizing and helping to manage diverse authors and their complex business transactions.

Mark continued to follow the customary Trident development process by next assuming the position of audio rights agent. Since Mark has managed the audio rights business, the annual sales volume has doubled (for more information on audio books, please see the Audio Books page under our Services tab).

While at Trident, Mark has shown great initiative and insight in identifying talented writers for the firm's agents. Now while continuing to head up audio rights, Mark is building his own client list of writers. "I am excited to work directly with authors that I bring to Trident, helping to manage and grow their careers with all of the unique resources that are available to me at Trident."

1 comment:

  1. Excellent, and very informative interview. Mark appears to be a top notch agent. He cuts straight to the point without a lot of sugar coating. He obviously has an unbending personality when it comes to achieving his goals. That's the guy I want on my team! -BB