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Rameish
09-29-2008, 04:19 PM
The average success rate of new writers seeking representation, I am given to believe, is less than 1%.

I wonder what is the average success rate of agents submitting new writers' works to publishers! Can the agents here please give their opinions?

I am like a thirsty man walking a vast desert. I suddenly see a glass of water placed a little ahead of me and even as I am struggling to reach for it, not even sure whether the glass is really there or it's merely a mirage, I hear a voice telling me:: Beware, that glass is half empty!

I look around for the speaker but there's nobody in sight!

Will somebody please advise while I try reaching for the glass?

Danthia
09-29-2008, 07:24 PM
My agent sells first time authors a lot (I want to say 6 in the last year but could be off a tad), myself included, and she typically sells multi-books deals for very sweet advances. I believe she got $500K for one last year (not me). What's more, I was a slush pile query. No previous publications. All I had going for me was a great idea and a great book. And she got me a three-book deal for a six-figure advance.

Agents and editors are looking for fantastic books. If you have one, it'll sell. No one cares if you're a first time author.

The stigma with first-time authors is that a high percentage of them start querying before the books are ready, and they haven't quite gotten their work up to professional level yet.

Reach for the glass with both hands :) It IS possible as long as you're willing to put in the time and effort to learn your craft and write an original story that knocks people's socks off.

dawinsor
09-29-2008, 07:28 PM
I don't know about new writers but Miss Snark used to say she sold 50-70% of what she took on.

ezc_19
09-29-2008, 10:15 PM
My agent sells first time authors a lot (I want to say 6 in the last year but could be off a tad), myself included, and she typically sells multi-books deals for very sweet advances. I believe she got $500K for one last year (not me). What's more, I was a slush pile query. No previous publications. All I had going for me was a great idea and a great book. And she got me a three-book deal for a six-figure advance.

Agents and editors are looking for fantastic books. If you have one, it'll sell. No one cares if you're a first time author.

The stigma with first-time authors is that a high percentage of them start querying before the books are ready, and they haven't quite gotten their work up to professional level yet.

Reach for the glass with both hands :) It IS possible as long as you're willing to put in the time and effort to learn your craft and write an original story that knocks people's socks off.

If you don't mind me asking, who's your agent?

ChaosTitan
09-29-2008, 10:32 PM
My agent has made two good, multi-book sales for first time authors (me included) this year. Kristin Nelson has sold several first books in the last year or so, including AW-er Jamie Ford.

Danthia
09-29-2008, 11:57 PM
Kristin Nelson. She's amazing.

Teriann
09-30-2008, 01:07 AM
This is from Jodie Rhodes' website:

You should know that it’s virtually impossible to sell fiction by an unknown author and we take on only a handful of novelists each year. On the other hand, we eagerly accept nonfiction books by acclaimed experts on areas of keen current interest to the public.

To give you an idea of how well nonfiction sells vs fiction, we sell 70% of all the nonfiction books we represent (and can do so on the basis of just a short proposal), 25% of YA/Teen books and 5% of adult novels.

ezc_19
09-30-2008, 02:45 AM
Kristin Nelson. She's amazing.

Yeah, I hear very good things about her.

ChaosTitan
09-30-2008, 02:54 AM
To be fair, I checked out her website. She's a one-woman show who says she's different from all other agents in background and how she markets, and that she opened her agency with the express purpose of agenting unknown writers.

If she only manages to sell 5% of the adult novels she reps, I wonder more at her experience, than at what publishers are buying.


This is from Jodie Rhodes' website:

You should know that itís virtually impossible to sell fiction by an unknown author and we take on only a handful of novelists each year. On the other hand, we eagerly accept nonfiction books by acclaimed experts on areas of keen current interest to the public.

To give you an idea of how well nonfiction sells vs fiction, we sell 70% of all the nonfiction books we represent (and can do so on the basis of just a short proposal), 25% of YA/Teen books and 5% of adult novels.

Teriann
09-30-2008, 06:32 AM
Hi ChaosTitan: Thank you for following up. I thought about that too, after I posted her numbers. Initially I thought perhaps she wasn't the best agent to approach with adult fiction. Then it occured to me that because the 5% represented new writers, it may in fact be representative of the numbers most agents experience with debut writers. An agent selling only, say, third novels of successful novelists will have a 100% success rate. If an agent say she sells 50% of her novels, debut novels could well sell at 5% rate. Now, statistics isn't my strong point, I'll admit, but if 5% is anywhere near the success rate across the board for new novels, that would certainly explain why new novelists have trouble getting an agent!

Stacia Kane
09-30-2008, 11:41 AM
New novelists only have trouble getting agents when their books aren't good enough. Period.

Gary Clarke
09-30-2008, 03:17 PM
That's a tad sweeping, December. There are plenty of factors involved in why an author may not hook with a novel. Rejection doesn't necessarily mean your work isn't good.

WendyNYC
09-30-2008, 04:02 PM
New novelists only have trouble getting agents when their books aren't good enough. Period.

I'd tweak that and say new novelists have trouble getting agents when there isn't a market for what they've written, or it's saturated.

Stacia Kane
09-30-2008, 04:27 PM
Yes, that's true; I should have said "the number one reason". I just get extremely irritated seeing people who should know better talking about decks being stacked against new writers, or how new writers can't attract any interest, when that's demonstrably not the case.

Being new has nothing to do with it; if you've written a publishable book (by which I mean not just well written, but original and interesting) and a good query letter (which I firmly believe you should be capable of doing if you've written a publishable book) you will find an agent, whether it's your first book ever or your fortieth.

Danthia
09-30-2008, 05:25 PM
If Jodie Rhodes sells 70% non-fiction, then this is an agency geared toward non-fiction. Expecting this agency to sell your debut novel is a bit like expecting your general practictioner to do your heart surgery.

All agents are not created equal. One who specializes in non-fiction is not the agent you want for your fiction project. You wouldn't send your YA fantasy to Janet Reid, no matter how good an agent she is, because she doesn't do YA fanatsy. But she'd be tops on your list if you wrote a crime novel.

December makes a very good point. If you're talking about fiction, all you need is a great book. Non-fiction needs more these days, but fiction doesn't. But a "great book" isn't just one that's well written. It's one that is well-written, original, has a strong voice that stands out. First time authors do poorly because most first novels suck. Mine did. I sold novel four.

I also think agents are harder to get than publishers these days, because the competition is firece. Agents will usually only take on books they can make money off of. An editor might like a book enough to offer a small advance, but an agent will pass on that same book because it can't make them enough to pay the rent.

Writing is an art, but publishing is a business. You can have the best boy-wizard novel out there, but right now, that idea isn't fresh, so the odds of publishing it are slim. But that same writer can write an original novel and sell it.

You can look at all the stats you want but they're pretty meaningless, because you don't know what the context is. If an agent rejects 100 queries, you have no way of knowing if any of them were any good to being with. And if your query is professional, with a great hook and wonderful writing, it'll get a request for pages even if it's up against 1000 other queries. And the stats are way off because a lot of people re-query their first novel several times. The guy saying "first-time authiors can't get published" might be saying that because he's tried to submit the same multi-revised novel for the fourth time.

Agents are looking for great books they can sell. If you write a great book, you have just as good a chance as anyone else, first time author or not.

IceCreamEmpress
09-30-2008, 07:37 PM
New novelists only have trouble getting agents when their books aren't good enough. Period.

There are people on this board who queried 50+ agents before they found their agent, who then sold their book (or a series of books) in short order to major publishers.

So some books need to find the exact right home, and it may take dozens and dozens of queries before they find the right agent. Quite a few agents passed on Harry Potter, after all.

That said, it's not because the publishing industry is biased against new writers or whatever. It's because some books have a more focused appeal, and other books have a broader appeal.

Karen Duvall
09-30-2008, 07:55 PM
It's so true that it takes more than a well-written book with compelling characters and a strong voice to get picked up by an agent, or an editor, for that matter. I could write a fantastic western-themed erotica fantasy novel set in the frozen tundra of Siberia with a polar bear as the main character, but chances are the market for this kind of book would be extremely slim. You can take originality only so far. Though this hypothetical novel might find an agent, who might sell it to a publisher, the odds of it doing well don't look good.

scope
09-30-2008, 09:48 PM
[quote=Danthia;2803100]

Writing is an art, but publishing is a business.

Absolute words of wisdom!

Gary Clarke
09-30-2008, 11:28 PM
I could write a fantastic western-themed erotica fantasy novel set in the frozen tundra of Siberia with a polar bear as the main character, but chances are the market for this kind of book would be extremely slim.

Maaaan, I'll buy that!

Danthia
10-01-2008, 12:23 AM
A polar bear character work for Phillip Pullman :)

Karen Duvall
10-01-2008, 12:27 AM
Maaaan, I'll buy that!

LOL! I guess there's a market for everything. Hmm... I could make the polar bear gay. Maybe have aliens land somewhere around chapter 14...

donroc
10-01-2008, 01:21 AM
A gay polar bear? Perfect for the Bravo channel. :D

Gary Clarke
10-01-2008, 01:28 AM
A polar bear character work for Phillip Pullman :)

And Edith Pattou!

Oh, I'm buying two copies if he's gay!

Rameish
10-01-2008, 02:45 PM
Well folks, my question was only about agentsí success rate but youíve told lots more; thank you. Though none of the agents here offered an answer, Teriann provided worthwhile information from Jodie Rhodes' website:

To give you an idea of how well nonfiction sells vs fiction, we sell 70% of all the nonfiction books we represent (and can do so on the basis of just a short proposal), 25% of YA/Teen books and 5% of adult novels.
Her 5% success rate only implies sheís no good at selling novels and thatís why she discourages novelists. Else, there are agencies specializing only in novels; 5% cannot be the success rate across the board.

Discounting Ms. Rhodes' performance with novels, her success rate of 70% with nonfiction and 25% with YA fiction gives an average of around 50% and agentsí average success rate too can very probably be around about this; say with different agents (discounting the unsuccessful or marginal agents) performing within the upper and lower limits of 60% and 40%.

Having deduced this much, may I now ask whether the average success rate is slightly above 50% or below and expect some agent to kindly oblige with an answer?

scope
10-03-2008, 03:42 AM
I have no idea about success rates for agent submissions. Why don't we look at it this way:
> Agency has 4 agents.
> Agency receives 400 queries a month (100 per agent).
> Of 100 queries received by an agent each month, she winds up representing 1 new writers (?) each month.
> Yearly, agents represents 12 NEW writers (?).
> Agent has ongoing stable of 20 writers.
> 12 NEW + 20 in STABLE = 32 writers yearly (high?).
> Assuming 1 manuscript yearly from each writer = 32 NEW manuscripts to shop each year (high?).
> If agent has 20% success rate = 6-7 sold yearly (seems high to me).
> Based on 6-7 sold yearly by each of 4 agents, agency sells 24-28 works a year (seems like an awful lot to me)

Using the hypothetical above indicates to me that the real percentage may be between 5 and 15% (?).

Lets start from there and see if we can get some comments. And I agree, the best source would of course be the agents out there.

Darzian
10-03-2008, 09:32 AM
Those numbers look to high. I doubt an agent will take on a new client every month. I don't know much about this business, but a new client each month seems a little..too much.

Joe DePlumber
10-03-2008, 09:40 AM
Kristin Nelson. She's amazing.

you just increased her slush pile by about 10 feet.... hehe

J.Reid
10-03-2008, 11:09 AM
What you're failing to consider is the size of the deal. 6-7 deals a year at $500,000 and up is quite a lucrative practice. 6-7 deals a year for under $10,000 isn't. Debut authors sell in both categories.

Of my last ten sales 7 were debut authors.
They were: Andrew Grant, Amy Minato, Kennedy Foster, Patrick Lee, Lucy Hornstein, Alysia Sofios, and Adam Eisenberg. (I'm listing the names so you can doublecheck them on Pub Lunch; all but Alysia Sofios have been announced)

Two were in the significant deal category, the rest were good deals.

Whether this is the norm for the industry is unknown of course, but my sense in talking to my colleagues is that it's high on debut writers, but about right on how many deals are big versus less big.

Danthia
10-03-2008, 05:49 PM
You also can't really break it down into a formula. Agents don't have to take on any new clients. They take on a client when they fall in love with a book. My agent posted that she typically takes on 3 to 4 new clients a year. Last year, she took on 8. She just happened to find 8 books that blew her away. Many of them were first-time authors. She might not take on any this year, or she might take on 12. Who knows?

My father used to say "figures don't lie, but liars can figure." You can take any set of stats and make a case for whatever side you feel is right. First time authors can't sell vs first time authors can sell. The reality is great books can sell.

scope
10-04-2008, 04:28 AM
My post yesterday was to try and revive the question initially poseted by Rameisch -- nothing more. Personally my guess is that agents take on 1-3 new, previously
unpublished authors at most in any given year -- on average. However, I think the points made by J. Reid and Danthia are absolutely valid.

Rameish
10-04-2008, 09:40 AM
Many thanks to you all. I think, collectively, you've answered my question. An agency whose critic finds for their criticism only that half their submissions to editors do not sell should be considered good rather than bad.

Rather than being half empty, the glass is half full and I should reach out for it and drink it if I get it.

job
10-06-2008, 12:51 AM
I don't think there's any kind of 'average' success rate for selling these manuscripts from new writers.

Some agencies seem to take on only a few, carefully selected clients. They sell most of what they take on.
Some agencies sign on five or ten times more new clients. They select less rigorously; they invest less energy in each client; they have a lower success rate.

The good manuscript, the obviously salable manuscript, does well in either case.
The marginal manuscript -- or one that's not an easy sell for some reason -- needs the second sort of agent.

So both kinds of agencies serve a useful purpose and they're both 'good' agencies.

Moving on to philosophy for a minute here ... I think it's misleading, in any case, to talk about an agent selling 50% of the novice manuscripts, or 75%, or 8%.

A good agent doesn't sign up a 'manuscript'. She signs up a client. If the first manuscript is a bust, then the good agent will sell the second ms. Or the third.

In fact, that original writer-agent phone call probably dwells largely upon ... 'How's the next manuscript going?'

Gary Clarke
10-06-2008, 01:45 AM
A good agent doesn't sign up a 'manuscript'. She signs up a client. If the first manuscript is a bust, then the good agent will sell the second ms. Or the third.

I can't imagine this to be true. I love my agent. She's been amazing, just, amazing. I would be lost without her. But I have no illusions that she'd keep me on just coz I'm me! I expect to have to sub the next manuscript to her, just like I had to sub the first. I don't expect her to accept it and start representing it just because I wrote it. If she doesn't think it's good, I expect her to pass. In that way an agent does sign a manuscript and not an author ( unless that author is a brand name, like King or Gregory or Pullman)

Harris
10-06-2008, 02:04 AM
It is true that an agent will reject a second or third manuscript if the agent doesn't like it. Most agents do sign clients hoping for more than a single book from them. I think they want to gain the rewards once an author has acquired an audience.

My agent's site specifically mentions that they want authors that will continue to produce. She's been in business 35 years and sold to all the majors. She is the second agent of my career and signed me from the slush pile. She loves my voice and wants more of my work even if the first novel she signed doesn't sell quickly.

job
10-06-2008, 02:56 AM
I expect to have to sub the next manuscript to her, just like I had to sub the first.

I can see how this would be true in many cases. So much depends on what market you're working in, doesn't it?

But while some second manuscripts must be sold from a dead start, as it were,
there'll also be many second manuscripts, (and certainly third and fourth mss,) that are sold by proposal and written under contract.
In an ideal world, the writer has the next book outlined and sold and an advance in his pocket before he commits himself to all those months of work.

The good agent, ISTM, is not just a passive recipient of manuscripts. She offers shrewd marketing advice when it is most helpful ... before the story is written. And she's not just looking at book two, but at book five and six and seven. At the whole career.

Gary Clarke
10-06-2008, 10:56 AM
Ah, I see what you're saying and I think I misunderstood your original point. I thought you were saying that, once you were signed with an agent you were set for life, and they'd take your work from then on regardless of what it was. As we both know, the agent/writer relationship doesn't work like that. It's a business relationship, not a friendship.

I sold my second and third books sight unseen based on the fact that they were part of a trilogy. But my forth ( a stand alone book.) I subbed her before she would agree to rep it. (She loves it, but it's very quirky and will be a hard sell apparently.) She's well aware of my up and coming projects and very interested in them, and yes, you're right, she did ask ( or rather I made clear) what was coming next :0)

She is a magnificent source of shrewd marketing advice and has provided wonderful guidance for the rest of my career. But I think it would be very very misguided, and a little smug, to think that she'd just happily accept anything I throw at her because I'm her client now.

What's ASTM stand for, BTW? :0)

job
10-06-2008, 09:10 PM
I subbed her before she would agree to rep it. (She loves it, but it's very quirky and will be a hard sell apparently.))

I wish you the very best. Take encouragement from Peter S. Beagle who has not yet repeated himself and always been excellent.

Glad you felt courageous enough to spread your wings and take that risk.




What's ASTM stand for, BTW? :0)

This is how you spell ISTM if you are tired and rather blurry-eyed and do not proofread your messages carefully.

Gary Clarke
10-06-2008, 09:27 PM
LOL. But what is ISTM?

Vandal
10-06-2008, 10:10 PM
ISTM = it seems to me

slhastings
10-08-2008, 12:27 AM
Hey guys-

I thought it was really cool that Janet Reid stopped by to answer the question at hand.

Thanks, Janet! It's always nice to get agent stats...

Cheers!