Today, we have literary agent Mark Gottlieb of Trident Media Group on the blog. Thank you, Mr. Gottlieb, for being with us!
AN: Sometimes, an agent/editor will reject an author’s manuscript because they feel that they didn’t connect with the author’s voice/it wasn’t strong enough. How do you define voice in fiction? And do you have any tips for a writer about how to make their voice stronger?
MG: With fiction, the voice or the writing itself is just as important as the meat of the story being told. In nonfiction it is less so the case since nonfiction is subject-driven.
It can take a long time for an author to build a voice in fiction, whether it be the voice of the narrator or the voice of the character. I find that reading one’s work aloud really helps. One author I know actually takes it a step further, in that he dresses up as the characters from his novels and speaks before a mirror, to get into the voice of his characters. When I heard that I thought it was a really nifty idea and true to the story form which began in the oral tradition by fireside.
AN: Another common reason for rejection is not connecting with the author’s characters. What makes a reader care about an author’s characters? How can a writer make their characters stronger?
MG: Cardboard cutouts of one-dimensional characters are not relatable. Often a character that does not have any personal growth by the end of the novel is not relatable.
There’s a lot of talk about “high concept” fiction lately. Can you define it for us? Do you feel that it’s become more and more important for books to be high concept?
High concept fiction would be more like what I like to call “big idea fiction.” An example of a big idea in fiction would be from the forthcoming graphic novel by William Neal McPheeters:
On the lower level of an eight-hundred-year-old building, among the cannibalized scraps left over from the robot war, is discovered a crated, unassembled, untested time machine that the robots were building at the time they were defeated. Among other oddities, there’s an assembled, but inactivated, very human like “Companion Robot.” In secret, the city’s best scientific minds assemble and test the time machine and finally establish that it is designed to transport robots only—humans, or any living organism, will not survive transportation through time.
Low concept fiction would concern more of the day to day life of characters in a book, so that robot’s interactions or life drama with other characters.
AN: As an agent, you see a lot of manuscripts from beginning writers. If there was one area you could tell a writer to focus on, to work toward improvement in, what would it be?
MG: A few things:
-Learn to speak of your work in one breath or two sentences. This is also known as the elevator pitch.
-Starting out, a writer should focus on keeping their work at 80,000-120,000 words.
-Include a one-paragraph author bio with your queries that contains relevant writing experience.
AN: How did you become an agent?
MG: I’d like to say that I was publishing from the womb, but that’s just not the case. Truth be told, both my parents got their start in publishing. Currently, my father is the chairman at Trident Media Group, the literary agency where I work. My parents fostered in me an interest in storytelling and publishing from a very young age. While at Emerson College, where I studied writing, literature and publishing, I established a small press called Wilde Press. They publish four chapbooks per year now and are a mainstay of the Undergraduate Students for Publishing.
AN: Many of my readers are aspiring authors and are actively looking for their first agent. Can you tell them a little bit about what the author/agent relationship is like? What can they expect after they sign with an agent?
MG: Every experience for a writer with an agent can be different as this is a subjective business and every work of writing is unique in what its need are. I could share a couple of pieces of advice, though…
Sometimes the submission/editorial process can be long and arduous since publishing is often slow-moving. Patience is a virtue.
In terms of what to expect from a good agent, their work should be entirely commissionable (instead of fee-based) as to keep their interests aligned with the author. That is why our work is commissionable, as opposed to a lawyer charging an hourly rate. In the lawyer’s case, it’s oftentimes in their interest to drag matters out since it’s more billable hours for their firm. In the case of an agent, their work is a service they do for their clients so it is entirely performance-based. Also make sure that your literary agency choice is legitimate and based in NYC, as book publishing is New York-centric.
AN: What are you looking for right now in fiction submissions and not getting? Are there any subjects or genres that are near and dear to your heart? And on the flip side, what are you getting too much of?
MG: I am looking for more military science-fiction and epic/military fantasy. I enjoy comedic writings from most every genre. I’d like to do some more celebrity memoirs, horrors, and thrillers.
I am getting too much dystopia, urban fantasy, paranormal romance/paranormal women’s fiction and personal memoir. The market is also tired of vampires and zombies at the moment, unless it’s a fresh new take on the genre.
AN: What is one thing about you that a writer would be surprised to learn?
MG: I am a practitioner of kendo (Japanese fencing) at the national level and hold a black belt degree. Much of the tenants of the martial art, which are grounded in bushido (code of warrior ethics), have informed my book publishing outlook as a literary agent.
AN: Best piece(s) of advice you can give a writer we haven’t talked about yet?
MG: Don’t be discouraged by rejection and be prepared to ride the wild wave that is book publishing.
AN: Are you open to submissions? If so, how should a writer go about submitting?
MG: I am open to submissions and Trident prefers to be queried via our site:http://www.tridentmediagroup.com/contact-us
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You can learn more about Mark Gottlieb here.
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