Mark Gottlieb Literary Agent at Trident Media Interviews Online
I had the pleasure to sit down with Inc. Magazine’s columnist Dakona Shane to discuss the process of entrepreneurs getting published, prior to his article Ever Thought About Pursuing a Book Deal? Here's How to Get Started …here’s what he asked me and what we discussed in this Mark Gottlieb Agent interview.
What do most thought leaders/entrepreneurs get wrong when it comes to trying to publish a book?
On occasion I have seen a number of things outside of the norm when thought leaders/entrepreneurs set out to publish a book. Namely, many writers do not realize that they need to have a platform in place before trying to publish a book. For example, people would more likely want to read a book by agent Mark Gottlieb with one million social media followers, than agent Mark Gottlieb with just a few hundred social media followers. Book publishers want to work with an author that has a million social media followers, since even if just a fraction of that audience buys the book, the publisher will still be in good shape financially. That is also one of the reasons why publishers love authors that do speaking engagements at events with hundreds, if not thousands, of audience members. Speaking at such events presents opportunities for authors to sell their books to audience members.
Thought leaders and entrepreneurs that set out to write a book need to make certain that they have a strong platform in order. There are obviously books written on the subject about how one goes about building a platform but it helps to have one organically in place. A platform can also mean a number of things, whether that is a huge social media following, a massive newsletter subscriber base, tons of website visits, ties with powerful organizations and so on. An example of a piece of my platform would be my Jericho Writers Mark Gottlieb literary agent interview.
What makes non-fiction book publishing different from other segments?
Nonfiction is unique in that it can be sold to a book publisher based on a proposal and a sample chapter or two. That certainly saves more time and effort than trying to write an entire manuscript and then sell it! This is because nonfiction is more so idea-driven, since it tends to be about the subject matter of the book. (Fiction is a lot more about the quality of the writing and the story itself, leading to a fiction author becoming a household name by extension of their writing. Fiction needs to be sold on a full manuscript because editors will not know where the story ends otherwise). Readers seek out nonfiction books with a specific purpose or prescription in mind. So editors that read nonfiction proposals can see where a book idea is headed from the book proposal and get a good sense of the writing from the sample chapters.
The other thing that is unique about nonfiction is that the platform is not only key (mentioned earlier) but the author should also be an authority on their subject matter. A simple example of an authoritative writer would be a history professor from Yale that has chosen to write a history book on World War II; or a world-renowned and respected spiritual guru that wants to write books on the subjects of mindfulness, spirituality and wellness; perhaps the owner of a tech giant company that wants to write a business book about where technology could be taking us in the future of industry, etc. Readers tend to want to hear from experts in their fields.
What's the best way to land a book deal in 2019? What has changed over the past 10 years that entrepreneurs should know about?
The book publishing landscape has become highly data-driven. Publishers now like to drill down on what the sales numbers of a book could be by examining comparative and competitive books. It is important for authors to hold their work in high esteem by making the right kinds of comparisons. Writers need to be familiar with the current publishing trend lines by looking at bestsellers lists such as the New York Times, USA TODAY and the Amazon Top 100. Part of what goes into the data drilling is the author platform that I mentioned before.
The publishing landscape is also currently something of a buyer's market with publishers wanting to focus their attention on publishing a select list of books to the best of their abilities. This puts the pressure on to make sure authors get it just right when it comes to the writing and publishing of their books. The mantra among some book publishers has become, "Fewer, bigger books." An writer needs to present their book as the very next big thing to be published.
From an agent's perspective, what things immediately make one writer stand out from the rest?
I speak about this a bit in my Writing Coop literary agent Mark Gottlieb article. A strong hook and elevator pitch and a well-written query letter will always make a writer stand out. The hook should be concise and unique and the elevator pitch needs to be attention-grabbing. It also helps to use good comparisons, such as “My book is such and such book mixed with this or that book.” A writer should know how to describe about their work with ease and in a way that is attractive to a listener or reader.
From there, I will often look at the meat and potatoes of the writing itself alongside the idea behind the book by looking at the description of the material in the query letter. Then I turn my attention to the writer’s bio to see what type of relevant writing experience or relevant writing credentials they might have. Do they have an MFA or have they attended prestigious writing workshops or writing conferences? Maybe they have publications in magazines or journals. That is usually contained within an author bio paragraph where the author’s platform can be mentioned, and links to a website or social media pages can be provided.
Once an author has what they believe is a good idea for a book, what's the next best step?
Normally, I would say that the author should simply write the book, especially if they have the writing bug. Although I think it is also worth doing some market research to see how similar books are performing in the book publishing marketplace. I would encourage writers of a potential book to assemble a list of competitive and comparative titles. Such a list is comprised of books in the marketplace they feel are similar in some way. These books should be bestsellers published within the last five years. That is one way for a writer to hold their books in high esteem but to also see how well their own book might perform in the marketplace and to see if there is room in the marketplace. Some towns just ain't big enough for two books.
After a bit of market research, the writer should begin writing the manuscript, or writing one to two sample chapters. The sample chapters should be assembled with a book proposal if it is to be a work of nonfiction. A writer will want to polish the writing and the proposal by getting feedback from other writers or at conferences and workshops. When ready to approach a literary agent, the author should have a query letter (cover letter) ready to accompany their submission materials. That way, when it comes to the moment of there is Mark Gottlieb at the Writer Conference they are ready to go.
Is self publishing a book a viable alternative to traditional publishing today?
While there once was a better time in the self-publishing space, eBook sales have by and large leveled off. Furthermore, mostly genre fiction is read in the eBook space, compared to nonfiction, literary fiction, illustrated books and children's books. Now there is simply a glut of material out there and an author really needs to be a marketing guru in order to get their book to stand out in the overcrowded self-publishing space. Not only that, self-published authors have undercut each other's prices where it's now a race to the bottom in terms of competitive pricing. That is why there are so many $0.99 eBooks. Authors selling at that level need to sell many eBooks with such a small profit margin. It becomes the McDonald’s hamburger effect of needing to sell many thousands of hamburgers for it to make good business sense.
For the authors that were wise enough to diversify their business portfolios, they are now much better off in the long run. In approaching literary agents and traditional book publishers, authors that went traditional or “hybrid” (by publishing in both spaces) were able to get into other revenue streams such as print, audio, foreign rights and even film and TV adaptations of books. It has become harder to engineer self-published authors back into traditional book publishing after they remained in self-publishing for too long. I have not seen many traditionally-published authors return to the self-publishing space. Mostly, I have seen authors very pleased with the transition into traditional publishing, especially before the bubble burst in self-publishing.
Dakota Shane is a social media consultant and the co-founder of Copy Buffs, a content marketing agency based in Los Angeles that specializes in copywriting, ghostwriting, and social media. Dakota has been a featured speaker at some of the top marketing and writing conferences across the United States and Canada. He has also made interview appearances on industry-leading podcasts like Social Media Examiner. In 2017, he was the No. 2 writer on Medium.com for social media, alongside Gary Vaynerchuk. He is currently working on his first book on content marketing. Through his writing, Dakota strives to inspire his readers, clients, and associates to reap all the benefits content marketing has to offer them.