What if My Agent can't sell my book?

Dear Miss Snark,

How many times do you take on writers who you eventually find you cannot sell?

From my point of view, it seems that if I get an agent, my chances are very good that I will get published, but what I am afraid of is that I am wrong and that there are lots of agented writers who don't get published. My random shot in the dark is that about 90% of agented writers get published (the hurdle of getting an agent seems so high to me that I can't really imagine that number
being lower), but I really don't know enough about the industry to validate that number; could you give me a better idea of how this part of the agent & publishing world works please?

PS--You'll be happy to know that I am so terrified of making a grammatical mistake in any correspondence to you that I've checked over this e-mail three times! If I've still messed up, then I'm just going to dunk my head into a gin pail; it's been a head-dunking-in-gin-pail kind of day!

No mistakes, but you sent it twice. Prepare the pail!

Right now what you are doing is the equivalent of what 15th century mapmakers in Spain did.....they drew pictures of monsters at the edge of the map. Right now you're in Spain preparing to set sail and you're looking at the map seeing only the unknown. Just remember that where they drew monsters is present day Hawaii.

There is no way to quantify how many agented writers don't sell. It does happen. But here's the thing: you can't worry about this. It's totally out of your control and it's just worry that drains the tank, nothing that will help you write better faster stronger.

Reassure yourself with this: agents don't make money till you sell, so we are REALLY motivated to sell your work. Focus on writing well. Let Miss Snark worry about the fleshpots of Waikiki.


Anonymous said...

I'm surprised Miss Snark didn't slap this writer to shake loose the hysteria...believing that 90% of agented writers get published? Well, whatever fantasy motivates one to write, I guess...

SherryD said...

And I thought I was the only coward. Sheesh. Time helps, though. I used to be afraid to send out a submission. Got over it. I was afraid of rejections. Over that now, too. Believe it or not, the acceptances and seeing my work in print worries me now; worried it won't get reviewed or if it does, the reviewer will hate it. We writers are a walking group of ulcers, expecting a wolf around every corner.

Glenda Larke said...

I never assumed my agent would sell my work - I just hoped. And wrote the next book. And the next. And the...

And the years passed. She sold the fourth book first, and it was published 8 years after I first became her client. She sold the first book eventually - it was published 13 years after I sent it to her! (And was shortlisted for a national prize, is now published in 4 different countries and 3 languages.) The second book I sent to her - in 1993 - is being published at the end of this month.

If you are a writer, you go on writing. And you hope.

spaulson said...

Glenda: I'm glad to hear that your perseverance and faith in your agent (and yourself) paid off in the end. Your story gives hope to those of us who are still languishing in the ranks of the unpublished. Congratulations, and thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

And sometimes what an agent can't sell, another can. Or the market shifts and your novel that was unpublishable before is now hot. As long as you don't insist on being published tomorrow, there's no reason to despair. There's no forever in publishing. (Either way. Remember that later.)

My first published short story was written eight years before it saw the light of day. I sold it to the first market I found that was perfect for it. (It had been rejected by 87 markets -- yes, 87 -- it didn't fit, in the meantime.) The market was four months old.

The secret to getting published is very simple -- provided you are trying to improve and have enough cells to rub together in order to produce a room-temperature IQ -- Write, submit. If it comes back rejected submit again. Repeat.

Look -- if I could do it, anyone can.

Paying attention to Miss Snark's Caveats won't hurt you either.

I'm not a blogger and I don't really want to be anonymous, so I'll sign,

Sarah A. Hoyt

Anonymous said...

I've had an absolutely terrific agent for two years. She spent a long time trying to sell my novel. Really, really, really worked hard on it.

It didn't sell.

I'm working on another and it's better because I've had the opportunity to work with my agent.

Lady M said...

Just a side note - if you haven't visited Glenda's site, you should.

She's a very interesting writer with the story of how she finally got published on her site.

A good voice of reason.

Thank you Miss Snark for the information - you do an excellent job here - ALL the time.

Kirsten said...

That 15th century map analogy is inspired. It's so easy to waste time & energy turning what is merely unknown into something Scary!