Recently I had the opportunity to interview Mark Gottlieb of Trident Media Group. He’s a second-generation literary agent whose family business inspired a love of literature and cultivated a talent for spotting great stories.
Mark, how did you get into agenting and why children’s literature?
Unlike many people who choose book publishing as somewhat of an accidental profession, it was always expected of me that I would one day work at Trident Media Group, a family-owned and operated literary agency. I think it comes as a comfort to many of my clients that I’m not leaving the literary agency, nor book publishing anytime soon. Anyway, you could say I was sort of groomed for the position at a young age. That’s why I chose Emerson College in Boston, as they were one of the only schools at the time offering an undergraduate study in publishing.
My company bio expresses my professional journey from my time at Emerson College, onward:
Mark 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.
And to answer your question about why children’s literature in particular? I am still relatively young and therefore feel more so in touch with my younger self that someone that might be a lot older and therefore have difficulty reaching their inner-child. I really subscribe to that belief of “Live Free and Die Young” as I want to live a full life and remain young at heart up until my dying day. Also, YA is particularly a good area of interest in book publishing as it is the fastest growing area in publishing.
So one could say you were born to be a children’s literature agent!
You must have been surrounded by books from an early age. What are some of your childhood favorites?
I certainly grew up surrounded by books and authors all my life.
Growing up, my favorite children’s book was THE LITTLE LUMP OF CLAY by Diana Engel. The book has gone out of print but it can viewed via a video reading at this YouTube link:
THE LITTLE LUMP OF CLAY taught me the importance of hope, a sense of belonging and what it means to be loved.
I also remember reading HOLES by Louis Sachar all in one evening, late at night. It was the first such book I had ever read in one sitting. It’s fun to remind myself that I now work at the literary agency that represents Louis Sachar! I smile when around our office I see the Disney movie poster for HOLES, starring Shia LeBoeuf and Sigourney Weaver.
So what do you typically look for in a picture book manuscript you want to represent? Do they share any similarities with THE LITTLE LUMP OF CLAY?
Many of the works I seek out nowadays share some kinship with THE LITTLE LUMP OF CLAY in that I enjoy reading manuscript with important social messages.
Those are some of the most difficult picture books to write. How does a writer successfully deliver an important message without being too didactic?
I agree that it is difficult to convey a moral or lesson within a 32-page children’s book. Especially with very sparse text, without sounding to “preachy” or “teachy,” but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. For instance A BALL FOR DAISY by Chris Raschka was a recent winner of the Caldecott Medal and it is a wordless children’s picture book that I feel accomplished that conveyance of message, an impressive feat without the use of text. A big part of it is giving kids a lot more credit than we do in understanding a picture book, especially since they will often have a parent or teacher reading with them.
What else makes a PB manuscript something you want to represent?
I really prefer to lean on Maurice Sendak’s perspective of children and writing for them; children are brave, and things go wrong, and as adults, we can no longer understand the complex nature of what they are going through. So instead of reading a manuscript that attempts to speak to a child, and to relate to them, I prefer to see narratives that are written for a human being—a real person, with real fear, curiosity, and courage—that might possibly interest a child’s mind. This, in my opinion, is what makes for wonderful picture book stories.
Are there any recent titles you wished you could have represented?
Jory John’s PENGUIN PROBLEMS, any and all of Emily Winfield Martin’s books (THE WONDERFUL THINGS YOU WILL BE being her most recent) and FASCINATING: THE LIFE OF LEONARD NIMOY by Richard Michelson; illustrated by Edel Rodriguez because he was such a wonderful man and that book really did his life’s work justice in a delicate and beautiful way.
What is the best piece of advice you can give a picture book writer who is seeking representation?
Never underestimate the mind of a child and the meaning they are capable of gathering from a story. Children often see beyond words and pictures on paper, and give deep thought to nuances in a story that otherwise might be overlooked by an adult. So don’t be afraid to write a challenging story for a child; just make sure that you’re dedicating every word and image to their imagination, not just your own.
Thanks for speaking with me and sharing your love of children’s literature, Mark.
Mark Gottlieb is currently open to new clients.
You can review his profile and newest client releases at: http://www.tridentmediagroup.com/agents/mark-gottlieb.