How can you find a publisher to publish and release a business book? One of the top literary agents in New York City, Mark Gottlieb, explains how to sell and negotiate a book publishing contract on this episode of CxOTalk. He also discusses the importance of building an author website and platform.

Mark Gottlieb is a literary agent at the Trident Media Group literary agency in New York City, where he works within major trade book publishing. He has ranked first across the book publishing industry both in overall volume of deals and other individual categories and genres. The agency he works at ranks number one for book sales across the industry. While there he has worked alongside #1 New York Times bestselling authors and authors that have won awards such as the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award and the Booker Prize.

Transcript

This transcript has been lightly edited.

 

Introduction

Michael Krigsman: So many people want to get a book published and it's really, really tough to get a book contract. That's why, today, we are speaking with one of the best literary agents in New York City, Mark Gottlieb. He is with the literary Agency, the Trident Media Group. Mark, tell us about your work. Tell us what you do.

Mark Gottlieb: We are a talent agency for authors. It's really no different than what a talent agency out west in Hollywood, California, would do for actors, screenplay writers, or directors. Only, we are specific to book publishing, which is really based here in New York City. We work with a huge list of authors.

Michael Krigsman: Well, it's a family business. Tell us about that. Your company has represented some very well-known authors over the years.

Mark Gottlieb: There are a lot of #1 New York Times Best Selling Authors here, Pulitzer Prize-winning authors, you name it. If there's a major award, one of our authors is probably up for it. In fact, this year, at the National Book Awards, we have two clients of ours who are up for that award: Marlon James for Black Leopard, Red Wolf; and Laila Lalami who wrote The Other Americans.

How Can an Author Get a Business Book Publishing Contract?

Michael Krigsman: What's the shortest, fastest, easiest path to get a business book published?

Mark Gottlieb: You not only need to have a great idea, a unique and interesting idea, but you need to be an authority on that subject matter. I think you also need to really have a strong platform. By that I mean, whatever you're saying, you need to be saying it from a Broadway stage and not a soapbox.

That can come to mean any number of things. It can mean a million social media followers. It can mean a huge newsletter subscriber base. It can mean lots of website traffic or someone who does speaking engagements to hundreds if not thousands of people throughout the country, throughout the year.

What is the Book Proposal, Contract, and Publishing Process?

Michael Krigsman: Give us an overview of the overall process. Then I definitely want to drill down into each of those pieces and especially dive into the platform piece that you mentioned because it's so important.

Mark Gottlieb: An author who is looking to do at least a nonfiction book, you can sell it on a proposal basis, which is comprised of just a book proposal with things like a table of content, a couple of sample chapters about the author, perhaps a marketing plan, competitive overview, things of that nature. Hand-in-hand with that, you want to be demonstrating in the proposal that there's a very strong platform there because what's really going through the minds of publishers is, if this author has, let's say, a million followers and only 10% of those people end up buying the book, the publisher is thinking they're still in good shape financially. That is going to be key to having that all together with the book proposal.

I would say the book proposal, all told with the sample pages and the different sections of the proposal, you could be looking at easily 50 to 75 pages within the book proposal. Again, as much as you can in terms of the platform, to be really throwing those numbers in the eyes of publishers.

Michael Krigsman: It seems that expertise is kind of the initial gating factor but expertise alone is not sufficient to get you a publishing contract.

Mark Gottlieb: That's true. You can be an amazing writer, you can have a wonderful idea that can really stand up in the marketplace, and you could be the foremost person on your idea but, unless you have that platform, it's very hard to convince publishers. There are ways around that. There are ways to construct a platform, but it's going to be one of the first things on a publisher's mind.

Michael Krigsman: That is because of the economics. Essentially, the publishers want you to be marketing the book.

Mark Gottlieb: That's right. They want a built-in audience. If someone has a huge, multinational company, they want to do a book, and they can make it required reading, essentially, for their company, that's a built-in audience right there. If they're doing speaking engagements where maybe they're someone who tends to do things like TED Talks or things of that nature, they can go to those audiences, do a Q&A at the end of the show, do a book signing, and talk about their book. That's an opportunity there to be selling copies of their book.

Michael Krigsman: Historically, it was the role of publishers to help you market your book. Now it seems like it's turned around. It's like, "Okay, you publish my book, but what are you doing and why am I going to you when you want me to sell the book?"

Mark Gottlieb: I think book publishers tend to look at their biggest titles and they devote their resources for marketing and promoting those books, those biggest books of theirs. I would say you have lead titles. You have a section of key titles. Then you have a broader list of titles beneath that like maybe some make books or things like that.

Yeah, the publisher will do some marketing and publicity, and they certainly have some in-house teams that do that, but I also see a lot of authors who go out and some of them hire their own publicists, which can be very expensive. Some of them, if they work at big companies, they can utilize the resources they have there.

Others, it's like flipping a switch. I have a client who, he'll publish a book and then he'll tell his followers on Twitter about it and they'll be out there buying the book.

What is an Author’s Publishing Platform?

Michael Krigsman: Given the importance of that platform, let's talk about that. You mentioned a few things but describe for a business author who is not a celebrity but they're an expert in their field and they're on Twitter. What constitutes a sufficient platform in order to sell a book contract?

Mark Gottlieb: A platform that would be submission worthy for someone could be, you could really say, "I'm tied in with all of these different people and organizations. By extension, here's what their social media numbers are. Here's what their followings look like. This is the kind of pull they have. They're going to come around me and the book, and they will be my community. They will be that tide that really lifts the boat."

That is another way, I think, really to construct a platform in the eyes of publishers.

Can an Author Get a Book Contract Without a Strong Platform?

Michael Krigsman: Give us an example of a platform that's, say, not sufficient? I'm asking about that boundary condition because I think, if you've got a million followers on Twitter where you're a CEO of a multinational company, that's kind of a no-brainer. At the other extreme, if you don't have any followers and nobody has ever heard of you, but you're a niche expert, as somebody on Twitter, Arsalan Khan, just commented, then it's not going to work. That's why I'm kind of exploring that middle ground that's the gray area.

Mark Gottlieb: I would say that once you get outside of maybe the tens of thousands of followers and closer to the hundreds of thousands, publishers start to get a little bit more interested. Sometimes, again, there are ways to construct a platform to convince publishers.

I think when we spoke before, Michael, I told you sort of a funny example. I had a client who was very well connected in the industry. Her mother founded a lot of famous publications like Bust and places like that. She wanted to write, actually, a teen memoir. She was something of a Gretta Thunberg but, actually, in the world of, I would say, feminism and things like that.

The strange thing about her was, she had done all these things like she had done a Moth Slam. She had given a TED Talk. She had spoken at the UN. She wrote for HelloGiggles and places like that, but she was very antisocial media.

She had locked her accounts, which was a strange thing for someone of her generation, so we had to sort of convince publishers because we couldn't directly show them the numbers but we could show them things like these are the talks she had given, these are the organizations, and these are the people she knows, like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. They can endorse the book. They have big social media followings of their own.

We really constructed a platform around her and I think that was a really good example of someone who, at first glance, if you look at their social media numbers, they would surprise you. You might think they were poultry, but there was actually a lot more there under the surface.

Michael Krigsman: The platform is not simply a function of social media numbers. Is that correct?

Mark Gottlieb: That's correct. It can mean any number of things and it's not everything. Sometimes books have sold without a platform. There are the rare few, the exceptions, but it's something that publishers are going to think about. It's one of many things in the nonfiction process because nonfiction is idea-driven, but it's also that person writing the book.

The world of fiction is so different from nonfiction. It's totally about the quality of the writing and then the author, by extension of that, becoming a household name. In nonfiction, the author almost already needs to be close to a household name.

How can an Author Build their own Platform?

Michael Krigsman: What are some of the strategies? You began to talk about that. Let's say we have an expert that's got 10,000 followers on Twitter, say, and they're well-known in their field. Let's say it's even a field that's a popular field these days like AI or, less so, digital transformation. How would you evaluate it? How would you evaluate whether you're going to represent that person? You're the proxy for the publisher, right?

Mark Gottlieb: There are a lot of other factors in play. We're looking at the marketplace. We're looking at if there is room in the marketplace for such a book; how competitive is it; if there's a similar book that's doing really well.

Every time a successful book is published, I can tell you publishers are going back into their previously published books. They're looking at their backlist and they're trying to dig something up to publish quickly to meet that need in the marketplace. If they can't find that book within their own list, then they're going to seek it out.

Sometimes, a book can come along and just surprise you and meet a certain need. I think a good example of that, actually, to use a fiction book as a good example but it's very much so connected to nonfiction in the business of publishing, is Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code because, when that book published, every publisher was scrambling to do their own version of that kind of book. They went into their backlist. They were looking for new kinds of books to be chasing that wave.

One publisher went back into their previously published books, into their nonfiction backlist, and they saw there were a lot of people reading about church conspiracies. There are plenty of, I suppose, church conspiracies and maybe having to do with the Catholic Church but, specifically, there were a lot of people interested in Mary Magdalene who were seeking that kind of book out in the nonfiction space. What the publisher realized was, there was this big underrepresented audience that couldn't find a book like that.

Dan Brown—I mean you want to talk about platforms—this is a guy who was essentially what we call a midlist author in book publishing. He just has some very quiet publications. He wasn't a big bestseller. He had sort of moved along with his editor, Jason Kaufman, from publisher to publisher. I think he had gone from St. Martin's Press to HarperCollins then eventually to Random House.

By the time The Da Vinci Code was published, no one could have seen this coming. It was totally organic what happened. Overnight, it spun into something like that.

Michael Krigsman: In the realm of business books, again, I'm still harping, focused, fixated on this platform because it seems that for an expert business author, the platform is the most difficult hurdle to overcome. Again, let's go back to an expert who is known in their field, is a good writer, doesn't use social media all that much, they're desperate to get published, what can they do?

Mark Gottlieb: Sometimes, I meet authors like that who they have a great idea. They're an expert. They're close to something.

The platform is not quite there and, oftentimes, what I have to tell them is, "It's a little bit cart before the horse," but I say, "There might be ways to beef up your platform." If there aren't ways to construct it, I don't want to say, "Fabricate it," but to show publishers that there's a platform there, then you have to begin to build one.

Sometimes, we do a social media audit for our clients. We look at their website and their online presence, and we see areas for improvement, other ways they can engage with followers, and really begin to build out an audience so they can come back to a publisher with metrics.

That's what the age of the Internet has done. It's made everyone obsessed with those numbers.

Again, yeah, I have met people like that at conferences and sometimes I'll refer them to books on the subject of building one's platform. There are plenty of books out there about it. You read any book about nonfiction book publishing, I'm sure it will come up.

I think that putting yourself out there, whether it's doing online talks, whether it's blogging or something, something can catch and it can go viral. It's not merely just throwing pebbles in a pond because, even when you do that, I think pebbles in a pond make ripples and there are many fish living underneath the surface of the water there. That's usually what I advise when someone needs to be looking at their platform that's not just quite there yet.

How has Digital Transformation Changed how Publishers Work with Authors?

Michael Krigsman: Great advice. We have a number of questions that have come up on Twitter. Sal Rasa makes the comment that you're really talking, in a way, about the digital transformation of getting book contracts. At least from the author's standpoint, it's basically this change from expertise to digital broadcasting, in a way.

Mark Gottlieb: After the Internet, it's like there was no going back, like Pandora's Box was just opened. Whereas before, there wasn't really a way to measure any of this stuff.

There are authors who I have sold who, again, I can say they're connected to organizations and the numbers just aren't there on the Internet, but it's so much easier. It's almost a no-brainer when you go to a publisher.

If I was to say to a publisher, Richard Branson or Elon Musk wants to write a book, then again, they can write the book idea on a napkin. But for someone else, they need to commit themselves to that proposal and the sample chapters and then show some kind of audience. If they don't have the audience in terms of the numbers, if they can say they do a lot of speaking engagements, that goes a long way with publishers.

Michael Krigsman: Arsalan Khan again makes a comment. He basically says, "So, basically, you have to be famous before you get more famous."

Mark Gottlieb: There are people who have gotten famous off of their books. There are authors who got their start, I think, doing a show on NPR. Malcolm Gladwell probably had a much smaller audience before The Tipping Point.

There are some authors who do luck out and who don't end up having very quiet publications. The book ends up being like a springboard for them onto bigger and better things. That's why I said platform is key but it's not everything.

Traditional Book Publishing vs. Self-Publishing

Michael Krigsman: We have another question from Twitter. Zachary Jeans asks, "Under what circumstances would you advise a writer to self-publish versus working with a company, an agent like you, and a traditional publishing company?"

Mark Gottlieb: Well, the first thing I'll say is in regard to a traditional publisher. Most every book publisher, certainly every major trade, big five book publisher, will not accept an unsolicited submission unless it comes by way of a literary agency. They just prefer not to deal with authors who might be a little wet behind the ears.

At the same time, a literary agency will keep a much stronger contract with book publishers. They'll know the inner workings of a publishing house and be able to secure a much better deal, much better contract, and a more enjoyable and successful publishing experience. You call the main line of any book publisher and you'll probably hear something like that on the main line.

In regard to self-publishing, especially when it comes to nonfiction, I would usually recommend against it unless it's simply for vanity purposes, simply to have a book to show friends and family or things like that because, in the average lifetime, in the lifetime of the average self-published book, they maybe sell between 10 and 12 copies. A lot of that is because there is just a glut of material out there in the self-publishing world. There are millions upon millions of self-published books.

Anyone can go out there and self-publish a book. A lot of it is very low-quality stuff because it's not professional publishing. There aren't a lot of mechanisms in place to make for a better publication and you really have to be a marketing guru in order to get your book to stand out in the self-publishing sphere.

Even more than that, if you're looking at it, self-publishing by the numbers and as a profit center, it's really become a race to the bottom. If you look at the Amazon top 100, you're going to see a lot of $0.99 books. You're going to see a lot of books which are given away for free just so that they can gain more visibility.

If you're lucky, you'll see a $2.99 or a $4.99 book, but it's like two gas stations across the street from each other. One gas station lowers their price just by a little bit. The other one sees that and they undercut their prices. Then it just ends up cannibalizing the business on there.

I think, early on, there were some authors who did hit the jackpot in self-publishing and were successful; less so now. I think authors who became what we in the industry call hybrid authors where they were smart enough to keep a foot on both sides of the saddle: one side in self-publishing; one side in traditional publishing. Those who made it into traditional publishing were a lot better off.

For nonfiction, specifically in self-publishing, most people tend to read the genres. Again, look at the Amazon top 100 and most of what you're going to see there is science fiction, fantasy, thrillers, women's fiction, romance, books like that. You're not going to see a whole lot of nonfiction. If you do, it tends to come from traditional publishers and very, very few have I ever seen from self-published books.

Advantages of Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing a Book

Michael Krigsman: Mark, let me play devil's advocate for a moment. We're talking about the value of a traditional publisher versus self-publishing. In the case of somebody that's got this platform that knows how to market, what is the advantage for that person to go with a publisher as opposed to self-publish because they have the platform and they know how to sell?

Mark Gottlieb: There are some authors who have gone the self-publishing route who, yes, again, they feel like they have a built-in audience, a strong platform. There is a certain level of risk to doing that because there's the time expenditure, the cost in self-publishing, in going out and hiring an editor, a copy editor, a proofreader, a cover designer, a marketing person, a publicist. You could make a big time and financial investment and it does not pan out.

When you go the route of a traditional book publisher, what they do is they pay what's called a book advance, which is like a large lump sum of money upfront. It's essentially risk money where the publisher is betting on the book. Even if the book doesn't live up to everyone's expectations, God forbid, that's money that you, essentially, can borrow from the bank and never have to pay back. It's just money in the author's pocket.

Obviously, the place we all want to get to is where a publisher has sold so many copies of the book that it has earned its advance back and, as a result, the publisher is now paying moneys on the backend in royalties. The author already has the advance and then they're making steady earnings over a quarterly period or biannually, however, the publisher pays out their royalties. Some publishers pay monthly. That's a good place to get to.

Then, at the same time, a publisher has a lot of distribution mechanisms. When you're essentially an e-book author, even if you make a print on demand book, you're going to live in just one ecosystem, which is essentially on Amazon. If people don't find your book there or they only come to it really in one format, you're missing out on a lot.

To give you a good example, our company, about a third of our overall income, is comprised of foreign rights. That's for books in translation.

I'm actually shipping off next week to the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany to pitch a lot of foreign publishers to get our books translated and published overseas. It's extremely rare that self-published books get translated and published overseas, especially without a traditional book publisher in the picture. For any one particular author looking at one book of theirs or a catalog of books, they might be missing out on a third of their overall income, for all we know. Their books, well, probably wouldn't make it into physical retail stores, places like Barnes and Noble, independent bookstores, other major retail, trade outlets.

Again, when you're self-publishing, you're going to just be pigeonholed into this one ecosystem. If it doesn't go well for you in that one ecosystem, you're stuck there. That's it.

How can Authors get a Literary Agent?

Michael Krigsman: Let's shift gears a little bit, Mark. Again, you're a top literary agent and that means that folks are coming to you all the time because you have the track record for placing contracts with publishers. It means that you're saying no all the time. I'm putting words in your mouth, but I assume it has to be the case.

Mark Gottlieb: That's right. Essentially, we're the gatekeepers in book publishing. I don't like saying no. It's not a fun thing to say no. I would much rather say yes. I want every book to go on and be a success but it just simply doesn't work that way. Not everything can get published, and so we cull down the list of what comes in.

You know, I would say 99.9% sometimes of what comes in is not going to be publishable. Then even from some of those things which look promising, you're culling down that list even further.

You really want to just make for the best chances you can. I think in querying a literary agent or a literary agency, obviously write a knockout hook or elevator pitch, put together a great query letter because that's an opportunity to really showcase your writing abilities, and it's just going to be your storefront and everyone's first impression of you. If I'm not grabbed right away by the first few sentences in a query letter in an email, I have to delete and move on to the next one because there are hundreds of those coming in every day sometimes.

Michael Krigsman: I curate shows on CXOTalk. In a way, there are some similarities because I get pitched pretty much all the time for people to be a guest on CXOTalk. I can just tell immediately, almost immediately, if there is promise. I'm sure it must be the same with you. You must have that intuition.

Mark Gottlieb: Absolutely. You do this enough and you see so much of it that you definitely get a feel for it and you know what will work, not just in the marketplace, but in terms of who the author is, their writing abilities, and how the book will ultimately read. Sure, you get a natural feel for it.

Michael Krigsman: All right. Tell us, then, what are the characteristics? You were starting to describe it. What are the characteristics of a proposal that comes in that you look at it and you say, "Yes"? Somebody sends you an unsolicited letter or an email. What is included in that email and what's the composition of that email to make you say, "I need to follow up on this"?

Mark Gottlieb: I think, upfront, in two sentences, what the book is about in hook fashion, something that really excites me, and it can just be a really unique idea and sound well written. I think making a couple of comparisons there right away, like, we call them comp titles in our industry. Basically, my book is this meets that maybe with a little bit of that thrown in. That's sometimes a good way to do that.

Yes, something that will grab me right away and just seems unique, that will draw me into the rest of the letter. Then I think what makes for a good query letter after that is a couple of body paragraphs describing what some of the plot details of the book might be or where the author is going to take us through the book, through their idea. Then I think the last paragraph in the letter is really best reserved for the author listing off their relevant writing experience, writing credentials, their platform, their background.

Some authors want to include a photo or a headshot. Some want to include a link to a social media page, website, or publications where their work has appeared. That's great too.

Michael Krigsman: When should they pitch you and when should they not pitch you?

Mark Gottlieb: I wouldn't say there's a time seasonally that's good or bad. I'm always open to submissions. I would say that there are bad ways to go about that, though. I think that we don't take submissions over the phone or anything like that.

They really need to go through the website. They would go to tridentmediagroup.com/submissions and we have a form there. We ask them to fill that out. You won't really get a good result by bucking the system with anyone.

I would say, other than that, sometimes I get the odd query letter that it sounds really good. I say, "Great. Send me the proposal or the sample chapters." Then the author says to me, "Well, it's not written yet. This is just an idea." Well, then you're not ready to be approaching an agency. You need to kind of have these ducks in a row where the proposal is written, the sample chapters are together, and it's accompanied by a cover letter or a query letter.

Michael Krigsman: Do you read every single pitch that comes across your website?

Mark Gottlieb: Personally, I do because I trust my own opinion, at the end of the day. It's a lot, but you're not reading all the way into every letter. Sometimes, you get less than a sentence in and you know it's not going to be right. It's not as though I'm going through an entire email of each of these emails.

Michael Krigsman: All right, so the summary then is, on your website is a form with a description of the process and what you expect. The best thing an author can do is follow that process and you will make an evaluation on every single one that comes across.

Mark Gottlieb: Unless, again, the agent is putting themselves out there like, if I go to a writers workshop, a writers' conference, or an event, or I meet someone and they hand me their business card or they speak to me, that's fine too. Yeah, we tend to prefer that they go through the website. They can read about the agents there. They can read their bios, look at the individual kinds of books they're doing, get a sense of them, and see who they might want to query.

Michael Krigsman: You have accepted somebody. The author is one of the less than one percent of folks that approach you that you have accepted. Now you're talking to the publishers. Is getting the most money the most important thing for the author?

Mark Gottlieb: I would say, who wouldn't like that? [Laughter] But it's important in terms of a couple of different factors. One is, a big advance will obviously please the author the way it would please an agency because our work is commission-based.

The closest thing to my industry is real estate. Someone sells an apartment or a house for you and they take a commission on that. We sell a book for an advance to a publisher and we commission that.

Yes, it will please an author and what a big book advance can do with a book publisher is interesting in that I can tell you any publisher walking into one of their first meetings whether it be a sales meeting or an editorial meeting and they're saying to their staff, "Okay. We paid X number of dollars for this book. How are we going to make our investment back?" is the first thing they're saying. Right away, the publisher is deeply invested in your book and wants to do a lot to make that advance back.

Oppositely, though, it's not necessarily a bad thing when a smaller advance comes about because, look, there are books where they come out of nowhere and completely surprise us. For instance, there's a popular nonfiction sort of prescriptive book. You'll have to pardon my French. It's called You Are a Badass. It's being sold in a lot of airport bookstores. It has a bright yellow cover. Running Press publishes the book.

It was a book that had gone into their backlist that the publisher had forgotten about. It just blew up out of nowhere maybe for the title of the book or the vibrancy of the cover. Who knows? Suddenly, an author who probably had a nominal book advance immediately earned their book advance back and was making a lot of money in royalties. Then what that spelled for that author was the next book meant there would be a very big advance and a big investment from the publisher in terms of the resources they'd be willing to put behind the book.

I wouldn't necessarily be put off by a small book advance and, in terms of a big book advance, again, beyond what a publisher is willing to do, it might just mean that the advance takes longer to earn out or the publisher might turn their attention to other books to try and offset that cost for themselves. Penguin Random House paid over $32 million for the Obamas and all their books, which the Obamas haven't delivered most of them yet. What's the publisher doing? They're looking at other books and trying to find ways to offset those costs until those manuscripts are delivered and those books are successfully published.

What are the Book Publishing Issues for Fiction Writers?

Michael Krigsman: We have a couple of questions from Alberto Mansur who has been very patiently waiting. You covered this a bit. Very briefly, can you just describe differences between nonfiction, as you've been talking about, and fiction, the process of selling a fiction book? Just really brief, please.

Mark Gottlieb: Fiction is sold on a full manuscript. It's a big commitment for an author because what if the book doesn't sell? Then you've spent all this time writing what could be an 80,000-word manuscript or more. That's because the editor at the publishing house is thinking, "Well, the first part of this manuscript is good, but I don't know how it's going to end." Again, fiction is driven by the quality of the writing and that author becoming a household name by extension of that, whereas nonfiction is really more so idea-driven.

If we really get the idea, we know who the author is, they have a strong platform or something of an audience or we can reach an audience in some way, if we know the idea and we can see a few random sample chapters from the book and a proposal, we kind of know where it's going. Obviously, a nonfiction book should be well written, but they're not coming to that book for the quality of the writing. They're really coming to it for a particular need, a particular subject, or idea.

Michael Krigsman: Okay. To quickly summarize then, nonfiction, it's all about the idea and the caliber of your platform. Fiction, you've got to be a great, great writer.

Mark Gottlieb: Be a great writer or God help you. [Laughter]

Michael Krigsman: [Laughter] Okay. Alberto Mansur asks another question. "If you are already a published author, must you use the website or can they send an email?

Mark Gottlieb: If authors come to us by way of referrals or they're a highly successful author, I won't expect a New York Times best selling author or someone like that to necessarily go through the website. If they pick up the phone and call me, that's okay. At some point, we'll probably want them to acknowledge our terms and conditions on the site, but it's fine if they want to reach out directly and they're a traditionally published author.

Ghostwriting and Publishers

Michael Krigsman: Very good. Ghostwriting: I have a platform. I have an idea. You think it's a good idea. I think it's a good idea. I don't have the time to write a book. I want to get a ghostwriter. I want you to get the publishing company to pay for it. Is that realistic or not?

Mark Gottlieb: I have seen it go that way. A lot of book publishers want a provenance with the proposal. Even if the author can write, like let's say it's a business executive and they want to write their own book. It makes the publisher a little bit nervous when that person, even though they can write well, doesn't have a lot of writing experience. Sometimes, if we bring in a co-writer or a ghostwriter, they can make the publisher feel a little bit easier.

We can sometimes provide a co-writer or ghostwriter. Either that's done for a fee to the co-writer or ghostwriter or they split the proceeds in some way like maybe the primary author gets the lion share, assuming they're willing to cover the expenses of the co-writer or ghostwriter. Otherwise, the co-writer or ghostwriter will maybe sometimes get upwards of 50% of the proceeds.

If it's a really, really big book, though, sometimes the share is smaller. Yes, sometimes a publisher can provide the co-writer or ghostwriter.

How can Authors Negotiate the Best Deal with a Book Publisher?

Michael Krigsman: What can an author do during the negotiation phase to get the best deal? I guess that's your job, right? That's what you do.

Mark Gottlieb: During the negotiation phase, I would say if we have multiple offers that come in and a lot of the editors want to interview the author, meet them, or speak to them over the phone to get a sense of their personality, make sure that all meshes well, and if they share a common vision for the book, what the author can then do that's very helpful in that process is to jump on a call with me and the publisher to see how we might excite them. The best thing the potential author can do on such a call to help that process is to just be a cheerleader for themselves, their book, their idea, and to just show excitement to the publisher because that becomes infectious and that can work its way all the way through the publishing house.

Michael Krigsman: Okay. We have about a minute left, and so I will just ask you, given all of the things that you described, what is your considered advice, your ultimate advice if you want to get a business book published?

Mark Gottlieb: Ultimately, my advice is, do a little research to look at the market. Have a very strong and unique idea that stands out. Be an authority on your subject matter and try to put forth a very strong author platform or begin to construct one.

Michael Krigsman: All right, well, we are out of time, unfortunately, but we sure did cover a lot of ground. We've been speaking with Mark Gottlieb. He is a literary agent, one of the top literary agents in New York City, and that means the world, with Trident Media Group based in New York. If you want to publish a book, you can go to their website and submit a book proposal. Mark Gottlieb, thank you very, very much for taking time to be with us today.

Mark Gottlieb: Thank you, again, for having me on the show.

Michael Krigsman: Everybody, before you go, I want you to subscribe on YouTube. Tell a friend as well. Actually, tell everybody you know and hit the subscribe button at the top of our website so you can get our newsletter. Thank you so much. We have awesome shows that are coming up with great guests and we'll see you again soon. Have a great day. Bye-bye, everybody.

This transcript has been lightly edited.

 

Introduction

Michael Krigsman: So many people want to get a book published and it's really, really tough to get a book contract. That's why, today, we are speaking with one of the best literary agents in New York City, Mark Gottlieb. He is with the literary Agency, the Trident Media Group. Mark, tell us about your work. Tell us what you do.

Mark Gottlieb: We are a talent agency for authors. It's really no different than what a talent agency out west in Hollywood, California, would do for actors, screenplay writers, or directors. Only, we are specific to book publishing, which is really based here in New York City. We work with a huge list of authors.

Michael Krigsman: Well, it's a family business. Tell us about that. Your company has represented some very well-known authors over the years.

Mark Gottlieb: There are a lot of #1 New York Times Best Selling Authors here, Pulitzer Prize-winning authors, you name it. If there's a major award, one of our authors is probably up for it. In fact, this year, at the National Book Awards, we have two clients of ours who are up for that award: Marlon James for Black Leopard, Red Wolf; and Laila Lalami who wrote The Other Americans.

How Can an Author Get a Business Book Publishing Contract?

Michael Krigsman: What's the shortest, fastest, easiest path to get a business book published?

Mark Gottlieb: You not only need to have a great idea, a unique and interesting idea, but you need to be an authority on that subject matter. I think you also need to really have a strong platform. By that I mean, whatever you're saying, you need to be saying it from a Broadway stage and not a soapbox.

That can come to mean any number of things. It can mean a million social media followers. It can mean a huge newsletter subscriber base. It can mean lots of website traffic or someone who does speaking engagements to hundreds if not thousands of people throughout the country, throughout the year.

What is the Book Proposal, Contract, and Publishing Process?

Michael Krigsman: Give us an overview of the overall process. Then I definitely want to drill down into each of those pieces and especially dive into the platform piece that you mentioned because it's so important.

Mark Gottlieb: An author who is looking to do at least a nonfiction book, you can sell it on a proposal basis, which is comprised of just a book proposal with things like a table of content, a couple of sample chapters about the author, perhaps a marketing plan, competitive overview, things of that nature. Hand-in-hand with that, you want to be demonstrating in the proposal that there's a very strong platform there because what's really going through the minds of publishers is, if this author has, let's say, a million followers and only 10% of those people end up buying the book, the publisher is thinking they're still in good shape financially. That is going to be key to having that all together with the book proposal.

I would say the book proposal, all told with the sample pages and the different sections of the proposal, you could be looking at easily 50 to 75 pages within the book proposal. Again, as much as you can in terms of the platform, to be really throwing those numbers in the eyes of publishers.

Michael Krigsman: It seems that expertise is kind of the initial gating factor but expertise alone is not sufficient to get you a publishing contract.

Mark Gottlieb: That's true. You can be an amazing writer, you can have a wonderful idea that can really stand up in the marketplace, and you could be the foremost person on your idea but, unless you have that platform, it's very hard to convince publishers. There are ways around that. There are ways to construct a platform, but it's going to be one of the first things on a publisher's mind.

Michael Krigsman: That is because of the economics. Essentially, the publishers want you to be marketing the book.

Mark Gottlieb: That's right. They want a built-in audience. If someone has a huge, multinational company, they want to do a book, and they can make it required reading, essentially, for their company, that's a built-in audience right there. If they're doing speaking engagements where maybe they're someone who tends to do things like TED Talks or things of that nature, they can go to those audiences, do a Q&A at the end of the show, do a book signing, and talk about their book. That's an opportunity there to be selling copies of their book.

Michael Krigsman: Historically, it was the role of publishers to help you market your book. Now it seems like it's turned around. It's like, "Okay, you publish my book, but what are you doing and why am I going to you when you want me to sell the book?"

Mark Gottlieb: I think book publishers tend to look at their biggest titles and they devote their resources for marketing and promoting those books, those biggest books of theirs. I would say you have lead titles. You have a section of key titles. Then you have a broader list of titles beneath that like maybe some make books or things like that.

Yeah, the publisher will do some marketing and publicity, and they certainly have some in-house teams that do that, but I also see a lot of authors who go out and some of them hire their own publicists, which can be very expensive. Some of them, if they work at big companies, they can utilize the resources they have there.

Others, it's like flipping a switch. I have a client who, he'll publish a book and then he'll tell his followers on Twitter about it and they'll be out there buying the book.

What is an Author’s Publishing Platform?

Michael Krigsman: Given the importance of that platform, let's talk about that. You mentioned a few things but describe for a business author who is not a celebrity but they're an expert in their field and they're on Twitter. What constitutes a sufficient platform in order to sell a book contract?

Mark Gottlieb: A platform that would be submission worthy for someone could be, you could really say, "I'm tied in with all of these different people and organizations. By extension, here's what their social media numbers are. Here's what their followings look like. This is the kind of pull they have. They're going to come around me and the book, and they will be my community. They will be that tide that really lifts the boat."

That is another way, I think, really to construct a platform in the eyes of publishers.

Can an Author Get a Book Contract Without a Strong Platform?

Michael Krigsman: Give us an example of a platform that's, say, not sufficient? I'm asking about that boundary condition because I think, if you've got a million followers on Twitter where you're a CEO of a multinational company, that's kind of a no-brainer. At the other extreme, if you don't have any followers and nobody has ever heard of you, but you're a niche expert, as somebody on Twitter, Arsalan Khan, just commented, then it's not going to work. That's why I'm kind of exploring that middle ground that's the gray area.

Mark Gottlieb: I would say that once you get outside of maybe the tens of thousands of followers and closer to the hundreds of thousands, publishers start to get a little bit more interested. Sometimes, again, there are ways to construct a platform to convince publishers.

I think when we spoke before, Michael, I told you sort of a funny example. I had a client who was very well connected in the industry. Her mother founded a lot of famous publications like Bust and places like that. She wanted to write, actually, a teen memoir. She was something of a Gretta Thunberg but, actually, in the world of, I would say, feminism and things like that.

The strange thing about her was, she had done all these things like she had done a Moth Slam. She had given a TED Talk. She had spoken at the UN. She wrote for HelloGiggles and places like that, but she was very antisocial media.

She had locked her accounts, which was a strange thing for someone of her generation, so we had to sort of convince publishers because we couldn't directly show them the numbers but we could show them things like these are the talks she had given, these are the organizations, and these are the people she knows, like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. They can endorse the book. They have big social media followings of their own.

We really constructed a platform around her and I think that was a really good example of someone who, at first glance, if you look at their social media numbers, they would surprise you. You might think they were poultry, but there was actually a lot more there under the surface.

Michael Krigsman: The platform is not simply a function of social media numbers. Is that correct?

Mark Gottlieb: That's correct. It can mean any number of things and it's not everything. Sometimes books have sold without a platform. There are the rare few, the exceptions, but it's something that publishers are going to think about. It's one of many things in the nonfiction process because nonfiction is idea-driven, but it's also that person writing the book.

The world of fiction is so different from nonfiction. It's totally about the quality of the writing and then the author, by extension of that, becoming a household name. In nonfiction, the author almost already needs to be close to a household name.

How can an Author Build their own Platform?

Michael Krigsman: What are some of the strategies? You began to talk about that. Let's say we have an expert that's got 10,000 followers on Twitter, say, and they're well-known in their field. Let's say it's even a field that's a popular field these days like AI or, less so, digital transformation. How would you evaluate it? How would you evaluate whether you're going to represent that person? You're the proxy for the publisher, right?

Mark Gottlieb: There are a lot of other factors in play. We're looking at the marketplace. We're looking at if there is room in the marketplace for such a book; how competitive is it; if there's a similar book that's doing really well.

Every time a successful book is published, I can tell you publishers are going back into their previously published books. They're looking at their backlist and they're trying to dig something up to publish quickly to meet that need in the marketplace. If they can't find that book within their own list, then they're going to seek it out.

Sometimes, a book can come along and just surprise you and meet a certain need. I think a good example of that, actually, to use a fiction book as a good example but it's very much so connected to nonfiction in the business of publishing, is Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code because, when that book published, every publisher was scrambling to do their own version of that kind of book. They went into their backlist. They were looking for new kinds of books to be chasing that wave.

One publisher went back into their previously published books, into their nonfiction backlist, and they saw there were a lot of people reading about church conspiracies. There are plenty of, I suppose, church conspiracies and maybe having to do with the Catholic Church but, specifically, there were a lot of people interested in Mary Magdalene who were seeking that kind of book out in the nonfiction space. What the publisher realized was, there was this big underrepresented audience that couldn't find a book like that.

Dan Brown—I mean you want to talk about platforms—this is a guy who was essentially what we call a midlist author in book publishing. He just has some very quiet publications. He wasn't a big bestseller. He had sort of moved along with his editor, Jason Kaufman, from publisher to publisher. I think he had gone from St. Martin's Press to HarperCollins then eventually to Random House.

By the time The Da Vinci Code was published, no one could have seen this coming. It was totally organic what happened. Overnight, it spun into something like that.

Michael Krigsman: In the realm of business books, again, I'm still harping, focused, fixated on this platform because it seems that for an expert business author, the platform is the most difficult hurdle to overcome. Again, let's go back to an expert who is known in their field, is a good writer, doesn't use social media all that much, they're desperate to get published, what can they do?

Mark Gottlieb: Sometimes, I meet authors like that who they have a great idea. They're an expert. They're close to something.

The platform is not quite there and, oftentimes, what I have to tell them is, "It's a little bit cart before the horse," but I say, "There might be ways to beef up your platform." If there aren't ways to construct it, I don't want to say, "Fabricate it," but to show publishers that there's a platform there, then you have to begin to build one.

Sometimes, we do a social media audit for our clients. We look at their website and their online presence, and we see areas for improvement, other ways they can engage with followers, and really begin to build out an audience so they can come back to a publisher with metrics.

That's what the age of the Internet has done. It's made everyone obsessed with those numbers.

Again, yeah, I have met people like that at conferences and sometimes I'll refer them to books on the subject of building one's platform. There are plenty of books out there about it. You read any book about nonfiction book publishing, I'm sure it will come up.

I think that putting yourself out there, whether it's doing online talks, whether it's blogging or something, something can catch and it can go viral. It's not merely just throwing pebbles in a pond because, even when you do that, I think pebbles in a pond make ripples and there are many fish living underneath the surface of the water there. That's usually what I advise when someone needs to be looking at their platform that's not just quite there yet.

How has Digital Transformation Changed how Publishers Work with Authors?

Michael Krigsman: Great advice. We have a number of questions that have come up on Twitter. Sal Rasa makes the comment that you're really talking, in a way, about the digital transformation of getting book contracts. At least from the author's standpoint, it's basically this change from expertise to digital broadcasting, in a way.

Mark Gottlieb: After the Internet, it's like there was no going back, like Pandora's Box was just opened. Whereas before, there wasn't really a way to measure any of this stuff.

There are authors who I have sold who, again, I can say they're connected to organizations and the numbers just aren't there on the Internet, but it's so much easier. It's almost a no-brainer when you go to a publisher.

If I was to say to a publisher, Richard Branson or Elon Musk wants to write a book, then again, they can write the book idea on a napkin. But for someone else, they need to commit themselves to that proposal and the sample chapters and then show some kind of audience. If they don't have the audience in terms of the numbers, if they can say they do a lot of speaking engagements, that goes a long way with publishers.

Michael Krigsman: Arsalan Khan again makes a comment. He basically says, "So, basically, you have to be famous before you get more famous."

Mark Gottlieb: There are people who have gotten famous off of their books. There are authors who got their start, I think, doing a show on NPR. Malcolm Gladwell probably had a much smaller audience before The Tipping Point.

There are some authors who do luck out and who don't end up having very quiet publications. The book ends up being like a springboard for them onto bigger and better things. That's why I said platform is key but it's not everything.

Traditional Book Publishing vs. Self-Publishing

Michael Krigsman: We have another question from Twitter. Zachary Jeans asks, "Under what circumstances would you advise a writer to self-publish versus working with a company, an agent like you, and a traditional publishing company?"

Mark Gottlieb: Well, the first thing I'll say is in regard to a traditional publisher. Most every book publisher, certainly every major trade, big five book publisher, will not accept an unsolicited submission unless it comes by way of a literary agency. They just prefer not to deal with authors who might be a little wet behind the ears.

At the same time, a literary agency will keep a much stronger contract with book publishers. They'll know the inner workings of a publishing house and be able to secure a much better deal, much better contract, and a more enjoyable and successful publishing experience. You call the main line of any book publisher and you'll probably hear something like that on the main line.

In regard to self-publishing, especially when it comes to nonfiction, I would usually recommend against it unless it's simply for vanity purposes, simply to have a book to show friends and family or things like that because, in the average lifetime, in the lifetime of the average self-published book, they maybe sell between 10 and 12 copies. A lot of that is because there is just a glut of material out there in the self-publishing world. There are millions upon millions of self-published books.

Anyone can go out there and self-publish a book. A lot of it is very low-quality stuff because it's not professional publishing. There aren't a lot of mechanisms in place to make for a better publication and you really have to be a marketing guru in order to get your book to stand out in the self-publishing sphere.

Even more than that, if you're looking at it, self-publishing by the numbers and as a profit center, it's really become a race to the bottom. If you look at the Amazon top 100, you're going to see a lot of $0.99 books. You're going to see a lot of books which are given away for free just so that they can gain more visibility.

If you're lucky, you'll see a $2.99 or a $4.99 book, but it's like two gas stations across the street from each other. One gas station lowers their price just by a little bit. The other one sees that and they undercut their prices. Then it just ends up cannibalizing the business on there.

I think, early on, there were some authors who did hit the jackpot in self-publishing and were successful; less so now. I think authors who became what we in the industry call hybrid authors where they were smart enough to keep a foot on both sides of the saddle: one side in self-publishing; one side in traditional publishing. Those who made it into traditional publishing were a lot better off.

For nonfiction, specifically in self-publishing, most people tend to read the genres. Again, look at the Amazon top 100 and most of what you're going to see there is science fiction, fantasy, thrillers, women's fiction, romance, books like that. You're not going to see a whole lot of nonfiction. If you do, it tends to come from traditional publishers and very, very few have I ever seen from self-published books.

Advantages of Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing a Book

Michael Krigsman: Mark, let me play devil's advocate for a moment. We're talking about the value of a traditional publisher versus self-publishing. In the case of somebody that's got this platform that knows how to market, what is the advantage for that person to go with a publisher as opposed to self-publish because they have the platform and they know how to sell?

Mark Gottlieb: There are some authors who have gone the self-publishing route who, yes, again, they feel like they have a built-in audience, a strong platform. There is a certain level of risk to doing that because there's the time expenditure, the cost in self-publishing, in going out and hiring an editor, a copy editor, a proofreader, a cover designer, a marketing person, a publicist. You could make a big time and financial investment and it does not pan out.

When you go the route of a traditional book publisher, what they do is they pay what's called a book advance, which is like a large lump sum of money upfront. It's essentially risk money where the publisher is betting on the book. Even if the book doesn't live up to everyone's expectations, God forbid, that's money that you, essentially, can borrow from the bank and never have to pay back. It's just money in the author's pocket.

Obviously, the place we all want to get to is where a publisher has sold so many copies of the book that it has earned its advance back and, as a result, the publisher is now paying moneys on the backend in royalties. The author already has the advance and then they're making steady earnings over a quarterly period or biannually, however, the publisher pays out their royalties. Some publishers pay monthly. That's a good place to get to.

Then, at the same time, a publisher has a lot of distribution mechanisms. When you're essentially an e-book author, even if you make a print on demand book, you're going to live in just one ecosystem, which is essentially on Amazon. If people don't find your book there or they only come to it really in one format, you're missing out on a lot.

To give you a good example, our company, about a third of our overall income, is comprised of foreign rights. That's for books in translation.

I'm actually shipping off next week to the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany to pitch a lot of foreign publishers to get our books translated and published overseas. It's extremely rare that self-published books get translated and published overseas, especially without a traditional book publisher in the picture. For any one particular author looking at one book of theirs or a catalog of books, they might be missing out on a third of their overall income, for all we know. Their books, well, probably wouldn't make it into physical retail stores, places like Barnes and Noble, independent bookstores, other major retail, trade outlets.

Again, when you're self-publishing, you're going to just be pigeonholed into this one ecosystem. If it doesn't go well for you in that one ecosystem, you're stuck there. That's it.

How can Authors get a Literary Agent?

Michael Krigsman: Let's shift gears a little bit, Mark. Again, you're a top literary agent and that means that folks are coming to you all the time because you have the track record for placing contracts with publishers. It means that you're saying no all the time. I'm putting words in your mouth, but I assume it has to be the case.

Mark Gottlieb: That's right. Essentially, we're the gatekeepers in book publishing. I don't like saying no. It's not a fun thing to say no. I would much rather say yes. I want every book to go on and be a success but it just simply doesn't work that way. Not everything can get published, and so we cull down the list of what comes in.

You know, I would say 99.9% sometimes of what comes in is not going to be publishable. Then even from some of those things which look promising, you're culling down that list even further.

You really want to just make for the best chances you can. I think in querying a literary agent or a literary agency, obviously write a knockout hook or elevator pitch, put together a great query letter because that's an opportunity to really showcase your writing abilities, and it's just going to be your storefront and everyone's first impression of you. If I'm not grabbed right away by the first few sentences in a query letter in an email, I have to delete and move on to the next one because there are hundreds of those coming in every day sometimes.

Michael Krigsman: I curate shows on CXOTalk. In a way, there are some similarities because I get pitched pretty much all the time for people to be a guest on CXOTalk. I can just tell immediately, almost immediately, if there is promise. I'm sure it must be the same with you. You must have that intuition.

Mark Gottlieb: Absolutely. You do this enough and you see so much of it that you definitely get a feel for it and you know what will work, not just in the marketplace, but in terms of who the author is, their writing abilities, and how the book will ultimately read. Sure, you get a natural feel for it.

Michael Krigsman: All right. Tell us, then, what are the characteristics? You were starting to describe it. What are the characteristics of a proposal that comes in that you look at it and you say, "Yes"? Somebody sends you an unsolicited letter or an email. What is included in that email and what's the composition of that email to make you say, "I need to follow up on this"?

Mark Gottlieb: I think, upfront, in two sentences, what the book is about in hook fashion, something that really excites me, and it can just be a really unique idea and sound well written. I think making a couple of comparisons there right away, like, we call them comp titles in our industry. Basically, my book is this meets that maybe with a little bit of that thrown in. That's sometimes a good way to do that.

Yes, something that will grab me right away and just seems unique, that will draw me into the rest of the letter. Then I think what makes for a good query letter after that is a couple of body paragraphs describing what some of the plot details of the book might be or where the author is going to take us through the book, through their idea. Then I think the last paragraph in the letter is really best reserved for the author listing off their relevant writing experience, writing credentials, their platform, their background.

Some authors want to include a photo or a headshot. Some want to include a link to a social media page, website, or publications where their work has appeared. That's great too.

Michael Krigsman: When should they pitch you and when should they not pitch you?

Mark Gottlieb: I wouldn't say there's a time seasonally that's good or bad. I'm always open to submissions. I would say that there are bad ways to go about that, though. I think that we don't take submissions over the phone or anything like that.

They really need to go through the website. They would go to tridentmediagroup.com/submissions and we have a form there. We ask them to fill that out. You won't really get a good result by bucking the system with anyone.

I would say, other than that, sometimes I get the odd query letter that it sounds really good. I say, "Great. Send me the proposal or the sample chapters." Then the author says to me, "Well, it's not written yet. This is just an idea." Well, then you're not ready to be approaching an agency. You need to kind of have these ducks in a row where the proposal is written, the sample chapters are together, and it's accompanied by a cover letter or a query letter.

Michael Krigsman: Do you read every single pitch that comes across your website?

Mark Gottlieb: Personally, I do because I trust my own opinion, at the end of the day. It's a lot, but you're not reading all the way into every letter. Sometimes, you get less than a sentence in and you know it's not going to be right. It's not as though I'm going through an entire email of each of these emails.

Michael Krigsman: All right, so the summary then is, on your website is a form with a description of the process and what you expect. The best thing an author can do is follow that process and you will make an evaluation on every single one that comes across.

Mark Gottlieb: Unless, again, the agent is putting themselves out there like, if I go to a writers workshop, a writers' conference, or an event, or I meet someone and they hand me their business card or they speak to me, that's fine too. Yeah, we tend to prefer that they go through the website. They can read about the agents there. They can read their bios, look at the individual kinds of books they're doing, get a sense of them, and see who they might want to query.

Michael Krigsman: You have accepted somebody. The author is one of the less than one percent of folks that approach you that you have accepted. Now you're talking to the publishers. Is getting the most money the most important thing for the author?

Mark Gottlieb: I would say, who wouldn't like that? [Laughter] But it's important in terms of a couple of different factors. One is, a big advance will obviously please the author the way it would please an agency because our work is commission-based.

The closest thing to my industry is real estate. Someone sells an apartment or a house for you and they take a commission on that. We sell a book for an advance to a publisher and we commission that.

Yes, it will please an author and what a big book advance can do with a book publisher is interesting in that I can tell you any publisher walking into one of their first meetings whether it be a sales meeting or an editorial meeting and they're saying to their staff, "Okay. We paid X number of dollars for this book. How are we going to make our investment back?" is the first thing they're saying. Right away, the publisher is deeply invested in your book and wants to do a lot to make that advance back.

Oppositely, though, it's not necessarily a bad thing when a smaller advance comes about because, look, there are books where they come out of nowhere and completely surprise us. For instance, there's a popular nonfiction sort of prescriptive book. You'll have to pardon my French. It's called You Are a Badass. It's being sold in a lot of airport bookstores. It has a bright yellow cover. Running Press publishes the book.

It was a book that had gone into their backlist that the publisher had forgotten about. It just blew up out of nowhere maybe for the title of the book or the vibrancy of the cover. Who knows? Suddenly, an author who probably had a nominal book advance immediately earned their book advance back and was making a lot of money in royalties. Then what that spelled for that author was the next book meant there would be a very big advance and a big investment from the publisher in terms of the resources they'd be willing to put behind the book.

I wouldn't necessarily be put off by a small book advance and, in terms of a big book advance, again, beyond what a publisher is willing to do, it might just mean that the advance takes longer to earn out or the publisher might turn their attention to other books to try and offset that cost for themselves. Penguin Random House paid over $32 million for the Obamas and all their books, which the Obamas haven't delivered most of them yet. What's the publisher doing? They're looking at other books and trying to find ways to offset those costs until those manuscripts are delivered and those books are successfully published.

What are the Book Publishing Issues for Fiction Writers?

Michael Krigsman: We have a couple of questions from Alberto Mansur who has been very patiently waiting. You covered this a bit. Very briefly, can you just describe differences between nonfiction, as you've been talking about, and fiction, the process of selling a fiction book? Just really brief, please.

Mark Gottlieb: Fiction is sold on a full manuscript. It's a big commitment for an author because what if the book doesn't sell? Then you've spent all this time writing what could be an 80,000-word manuscript or more. That's because the editor at the publishing house is thinking, "Well, the first part of this manuscript is good, but I don't know how it's going to end." Again, fiction is driven by the quality of the writing and that author becoming a household name by extension of that, whereas nonfiction is really more so idea-driven.

If we really get the idea, we know who the author is, they have a strong platform or something of an audience or we can reach an audience in some way, if we know the idea and we can see a few random sample chapters from the book and a proposal, we kind of know where it's going. Obviously, a nonfiction book should be well written, but they're not coming to that book for the quality of the writing. They're really coming to it for a particular need, a particular subject, or idea.

Michael Krigsman: Okay. To quickly summarize then, nonfiction, it's all about the idea and the caliber of your platform. Fiction, you've got to be a great, great writer.

Mark Gottlieb: Be a great writer or God help you. [Laughter]

Michael Krigsman: [Laughter] Okay. Alberto Mansur asks another question. "If you are already a published author, must you use the website or can they send an email?

Mark Gottlieb: If authors come to us by way of referrals or they're a highly successful author, I won't expect a New York Times best selling author or someone like that to necessarily go through the website. If they pick up the phone and call me, that's okay. At some point, we'll probably want them to acknowledge our terms and conditions on the site, but it's fine if they want to reach out directly and they're a traditionally published author.

Ghostwriting and Publishers

Michael Krigsman: Very good. Ghostwriting: I have a platform. I have an idea. You think it's a good idea. I think it's a good idea. I don't have the time to write a book. I want to get a ghostwriter. I want you to get the publishing company to pay for it. Is that realistic or not?

Mark Gottlieb: I have seen it go that way. A lot of book publishers want a provenance with the proposal. Even if the author can write, like let's say it's a business executive and they want to write their own book. It makes the publisher a little bit nervous when that person, even though they can write well, doesn't have a lot of writing experience. Sometimes, if we bring in a co-writer or a ghostwriter, they can make the publisher feel a little bit easier.

We can sometimes provide a co-writer or ghostwriter. Either that's done for a fee to the co-writer or ghostwriter or they split the proceeds in some way like maybe the primary author gets the lion share, assuming they're willing to cover the expenses of the co-writer or ghostwriter. Otherwise, the co-writer or ghostwriter will maybe sometimes get upwards of 50% of the proceeds.

If it's a really, really big book, though, sometimes the share is smaller. Yes, sometimes a publisher can provide the co-writer or ghostwriter.

How can Authors Negotiate the Best Deal with a Book Publisher?

Michael Krigsman: What can an author do during the negotiation phase to get the best deal? I guess that's your job, right? That's what you do.

Mark Gottlieb: During the negotiation phase, I would say if we have multiple offers that come in and a lot of the editors want to interview the author, meet them, or speak to them over the phone to get a sense of their personality, make sure that all meshes well, and if they share a common vision for the book, what the author can then do that's very helpful in that process is to jump on a call with me and the publisher to see how we might excite them. The best thing the potential author can do on such a call to help that process is to just be a cheerleader for themselves, their book, their idea, and to just show excitement to the publisher because that becomes infectious and that can work its way all the way through the publishing house.

Michael Krigsman: Okay. We have about a minute left, and so I will just ask you, given all of the things that you described, what is your considered advice, your ultimate advice if you want to get a business book published?

Mark Gottlieb: Ultimately, my advice is, do a little research to look at the market. Have a very strong and unique idea that stands out. Be an authority on your subject matter and try to put forth a very strong author platform or begin to construct one.

Michael Krigsman: All right, well, we are out of time, unfortunately, but we sure did cover a lot of ground. We've been speaking with Mark Gottlieb. He is a literary agent, one of the top literary agents in New York City, and that means the world, with Trident Media Group based in New York. If you want to publish a book, you can go to their website and submit a book proposal. Mark Gottlieb, thank you very, very much for taking time to be with us today.

Mark Gottlieb: Thank you, again, for having me on the show.

Michael Krigsman: Everybody, before you go, I want you to subscribe on YouTube. Tell a friend as well. Actually, tell everybody you know and hit the subscribe button at the top of our website so you can get our newsletter. Thank you so much. We have awesome shows that are coming up with great guests and we'll see you again soon. Have a great day. Bye-bye, everybody.