Like many writers, I'm interested in getting an agent. That's why I like it when agents post stats on their blogs announcing the number of submissions they receive during a given period, and the number of new clients they take on.
Well, "like" might not be the right word.
Recently, I've read such stats from three different agents, giving us snapshots of their 2009s. The results are pretty interesting.
First, there's Kristen Nelson of the Nelson Literary Agency, who posted such stats at the end of last year. I encourage you to read all of her numbers, but for the purposes of this blog, I'll focus on two.
Number of queries received in 2009: 38,000
Number of new authors taken on by agency in 2009: 6
Assuming these new authors all came by way of query, and assuming I did my math correctly, that gave someone sending a query to the Nelson Literary Agency in 2009 a .0016% (not "16%" but WAY less than 1%) chance of securing representation from them.
And the odds have dropped at this agency since 2006, when they took 20,000 queries and took on eight new clients. Popular agent, Kristen Nelson.
Rachelle Gardner, literary agent, is more ballpark than specific, but she claimed in a 2009 blog to receive around 500 queries a month, and takes on "one or two" new clients a month. Again, if we assume all of her new clients come via query, and we assume the best-case scenario of two authors a month, that put the odds at .4% of you getting the Big Call from Rachelle Gardner. That's still less than 1%, but WAY more than WAY less than 1%.
So that's 500 queries to get one or two authors.
Then there's Jet Reid. Reid's numbers are a little different, as they focus on the number of offers to authors after requesting their full manuscripts, but they're revealing nonetheless. In 2009, she requested 124 novels (all full MSs) and offered representation to two authors, putting the odds of getting an offer of representation from Jet Reid in 2009 after receiving a full MS request at about 1.6%.
There are other agents who have posted stats over the years, but these numbers are pretty current, so the most relevant to those looking for an agent.
What do I make of this?
First of all, these are only the stats of a few agents, and web-savvy agents at that. I suspect high Internet profiles lead to more submissions for them. In other words, less web-savvy agents might receive fewer submissions, which might increase one's odds with them.
Still, these are just the odds of getting an agent, not the odds of getting published. As not all agented MSs get published, the odds of getting published only go down from there. I doubt anyone in commercial publishing would say the odds of success for any aspiring writer in 2010 are any better than 1%.
Now, I don't give much credence to odds. As Rachelle Gardner wrote in the blog linked above: "About zero percent of writers with uninteresting queries become my clients. 100% of writers with queries that knock my socks off will get a request for a partial or full." Either your project is going to succeed or it isn't, and I refuse to put my work in the same soup as every query that comes over the transom at these agencies. How someone who doesn't work as hard as I have for as long as I have fares in commercial publishing isn't really relevant to the possibility of me finding an agent, getting published, or having success.
Still, those percentages.
1.6% (after a request for a full)
So, d0 I bring all this up just to ruin your day?
No. I bring it up because I want to ask you this:
Can the odds of succeeding at self-publishing be much lower than that? Answer in the comments section.
Yours in laying down the law,
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