Monday, October 09, 2006

What are your chances, really?

I have a question about standard business practice at agencies. Is it common for someone in your position to put something in the "maybe" pile and then have the agent reject it outright? Have you read any great submissions that your boss then rejected?

Actually, most of the maybe pile is fairly immediately rejected. I would say about 95% of the letters are initially rejected by me. The other five percent are passed on to my boss, who then rejects most of them immediately, leaving about 1% that she actually makes requests for partials from. Of those partials, most are rejected.

A good agency will only take on a couple new clients a year. If you read Jeff Herman's Guide to Literary Agents, his listings indicate that most agencies say they accept 1% of their submissions. Actually the number much lower, but it's rather hard to calculate because it varies widely year-to-year.

Even the best agencies have good years and then dry spells. A good year is when at least one person on the client list has hit the NY Times bestseller list and/or gotten a large advance, large enough to pay out for the agent, who only gets 15%. A dry year is when the agent's "stable" of clients are not turning in new material that's publishable or going for big money. It's usually during a dry year that the agent freaks out and takes on a bunch of new clients in hopes that at least one them will take off.

None of this affects you in a way you can predict. The best thing to do is write a good novel and cast a wide net. If your material is publishable, you will get some bites.


Nigel said...


My lady wrote a marvellous thriller, sent off an excellent query letter, had a couple of nibbles, then nothing. In the end, she gave up, and we published the story in a Yahoo group. I'm not biassed, I think, but I thought the novel was as good as P.D James or Minette Walters. We're a family of writers -- sons, daughter, father-in-law -- and spend a lot of time discussing our stories and what constitutes "good" writing. She was so discouraged by the experience that she gave up writing, and I -- whose writing is not nearly so polished as hers, and in an even more unpromising genre (romantic m2m) -- never even bothered to try. If *she* can't succeed, what chance do I have?

I'm still writing. I can't *not* write, or I get deeply depressed. I love the difficulties and intricacies of balancing plot, character and character development, description, and dialogue, and I find it immensely satisfying when, after all that, my readers are moved to tears or laughter by my creations.

Who needs publication, already? ;-)


The Rejecter said...

Out of curiousity, how many agents did you query?