Monday, February 15, 2010

Don't Tell me the Odds

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)

Pretty daunting.

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,


Try Ghost Notes, the award-winning novel, for just $5.


Randy said...

The ugly truth. Sounds about as likely as making it in music. Trying to become a household name in any of the arts can a class in brick wall etiquette.

Mark M said...

Good thoughts....It depends on the definition of success. If success means your book is purchased and published by a major publishing house, and you will settle for nothing less, then you pretty much have no choice but to slog away in the agent world. I've seen people who are in their 50's who have been shopping the same manuscript for decades, hoping they break through. No thanks.

But if on the other hand, success means you have created a story that you love, and you enjoy the process of editing, typesetting, working with artists, designing websites, networking with other writers and bookstores, and building your platform from the ground up - and owning this entire process, keeping creative and financial control in a vice grip... and then presenting your work to the world to have it embraced and ignored. That's more appealing to me. My most successful moment as a writer was when a book club invited me into their house to talk about my first book. To sit in that living room with a dozen folks who had read my novel and field questions was one of the most rewarding things I've ever done.

You can slog away hoping to land an agent - which does not mean your book will be published - or you can focus your energy on moving forward with your project and enjoy the process as much as the payoff.

Sending queries to agents and hoping for a response? That was not fun.

Writing a book and publishing it myself - that's an experience I will always love.

James W. Lewis said...

In my experience, I was able to secure two reputable agents the past seven years. Guess how many book deals I got? None. Which is why I'm self-publishing. Getting an agent (even a high-powered one), doesn't mean automatic book deal.

And even if you get a call from Random House, it could be two years before you see your book on the shelves. Through the process, they can edit the hell out your book, too. That's another reason I'm choosing to self-publish.

Selling a self-published book is hard, but I'm willing to take my chances than with a big house chopping up what I wrote.

Art Edwards said...


I too genuinely enjoyed the self-publishing process, getting the chance to do the whole package right, or otherwise.


If I were a salesman for self-publishing--and I'm not-- control of both the art and the business would be my main selling point.


LM Preston said...

I believe the writer should first try all avenues. Publishing is a business - a sales business. A lot of writers don't have the ability to see their crafted piece of art as a 'product' to sell. If you don't have a business minded perspective then go the traditional route. Take the time to figure out what you can do, will do, and want to do with your writing career.

Brent said...

... The answer depends on the definition of success.

If the definition of success is money hand over fist, an individual might experience a large amount of frustration and hairloss based on the numbers.

If the definition is fearlessly pursuing your dream, breaking down doors and relentlessly laying down the law then you are successful.

You are a success ... An award winning musician and writer. It doesn't matter if it is aligned with the world's definition.

Anonymous said...

Ebooks have changed the odds for the self-published author.

I tried the traditional route, you know -- query, query, query, rejection, rejection, rejection (repeat 100 times). Discouraged, I put my MS away for 4 years.

Then Amazon introduced the Kindle store, and they encouraged indies to upload their work. It cost me nothing to do that (my daughter designed the covers and I did the uploading).

It was the best investment I've ever made. I'm not getting rich (ha, not yet), but I'm making some money -- enough to motivate me to finish the third book and continue on to book #4.

Will I ever have an agent? Who knows -- if someone comes forward with an offer I'll certainly consider it. Right now I like being my own agent. I control the price, artwork, and editorial, and I retain the rights to my work.

Anna Murray

Art Edwards said...

Congrats, Anna.

There always has to be a way for artists to go it alone, and for as cheaply as possible. POD and ebooks have finally made that possible for writers.

Sara said...

Yup. Gotta write that killer query. :)