4.27.2006

Writing well is not a comparison, it's a standard

Dear Miss Snark,

I'm interested in finding out how many submissions various publishers and agents receive versus how many titles or authors they actually publish or accept. I believe market guides used to offer this sort of information, but I'm coming up empty handed. Any suggestions on where I can find this sort of thing? I want to let others know how stiff the competition is, and be able to quote real statistics.


There is no reliable way to measure the acceptance ratio at a publisher because there is no reliable measure of what's pitched. Do you count manuscripts received? Do you count each version? Do you count pitches that fell so flat the editor said "ix-nay on the rap-cay". Do you count things as published if they are bought but not accepted? bought, accepted and not published?

And that's just publishers.

I can give you an idea of how many written queries I get: 100 a week. I can tell you how many (roughly) fulls (1) and partials (3-maybe)I look at. I've only taken on two new projects since last October. That's a pretty fierce rejection rate..and that doesn't even count the nitwits who e-query me.

And none of it counts the clue free who e=query this blog.

Sufficient unto the day is this: we ARE looking for good work. Write really really well and you won't need to worry about who else is there cause you'll rise to the top of the heap. The fact that there is a lot of other stuff out there is no indication of the quality of that work. Most of it is dreck.

15 comments:

Benja Fallenstein said...

Generalizing shamelessly from my personal experience, I think obsessing about acceptance rates is something you don't just stop doing because somebody explains to you why they're meaningless. It's something that happens gradually as the truth of it sinks in over the course of many explanations.

Rejection "rates" continue to fascinate me, as does all the associated data -- how many submissions, how many this and that and bought and accepted and pubbed. But it's in a much more abstract way.

Hmm. I wonder, would putting "Fair warning: The acceptance rate for e-queries on the blog has been less than one in a thousand. Other agents are much more approachable" manage to scare off the nitwits?

Then again, there is of course the other kind of acceptance rate junkie, who thinks that querying especially selective agents is a smart thing to do...

Karen Lee said...

You wrote: "...bought, accepted and not published?"

I cringed when I saw these words. Of course, I've heard that this happens, but I really didn't want to believe it.

Please tell me it doesn't happen often.

kitty said...

I've only taken on two new projects since last October.

Only TWO? How do you keep the gin pail filled and little KY fed?

BuffySquirrel said...

We writers. We're all Skinner pigeons...

bill said...

My statistics as a writer querying his first novel are:

Queries: 181
Request for partials: 12
Request for fulls: 2

Offers of representation: 0

Still querying. "I haven't failed because I haven't given up."

Miss P AKA Her Royal Cliqueness said...

Boy am I glad I didn't see this post several years ago i.e. before securing an agent and a book deal.

It would have freaked me out, completely.

Hearing Miss Snark's rejection rate along with the advice to "write really really well" would have only paralyzed me with fear each time I sat to write.

I never sought out this info (see reaction above for why). I've always known the competition is stiff. But hearing it verbalized is quite the reality check.

Mikosama said...

Thank you, Miss Snark, for this post. Meanless statistics are one of my hobby horses.

If this were a random draw, then yes, knowing that (I dunno) Agent X took on 2% of submissions last year might have some meaning. But this not random. It just means that only 2% of the work Agent X saw was right to take on.

Whether you are up against five other writer or five thousand, it is the quality of your work that will get you in or not. DOn't look at the rates. Just be awesome.

MTV said...

It is good to remember this: education in terms of professional parameters is very important - but don't let THAT or the data limit you in anyway. Miss p, indicates an interesting issue - had she "known" the odds she would have been freaked.

I sat in a writer's conference listening to an agent's presentation - one of the things he said was "you don't write your first novel and send it to William Morris Agency." Good thing he mentioned that because that's exactly what I had done about a year before and they requested a full. Had I "known" that I "probably" would not have sent it!

So... I agree with Miss Snark (like she cares - but you might) have a good premise in your genre, write well and your talent will be seen. It is as important to have a good premise as it is to write well. They must come together, though. Your characters and character arc's must engage the reader both through your quality prose and the constant vision of your story.

Then comes primary marketing to get an agent. That's where networking and the query are powerful allies. A well written query that powerfully conveys both your premise, plot and story vision will get attention.

The only other thing I will add is that you need to have a vision both for your work AND your life. Just writing a novel or non-fiction is not enough - What is your highest vision for your life in that context? What do YOU see happening? How many no's will you take? How much faith do you have in what you have? Are you willing to listen to feedback? Are you willing to act on it? And, most importantly, are you willing to be successful? Sounds funny, but many self-sabatoge themselves. We are afraid of success. To survive "success" you must know who you are.

In every sense, writing challenges who you are and you are willing to be.

So ... statistics - nice information to have a handle on what others have attempted ... what will you attempt and how will you succeed ... those definitions are far more important then "just" the manuscript you have.

Kalen Hughes said...

When I look at the #s they seem meaningless. Ugly. Impossible to understand. And, did I mention, meaningless?:

31 queries to agents
8 partial requests
5 full requests
---------------
31 rejections

3 queries to editors
3 full requests
---------------
2 rejections
1 sale

with sale on the table

3 queries to agents
3 requests for a full
---------------
1 rejection
1 non-response!
1 offer of representation

Moncrief Speaks said...

Harsh facts, but they're facts we must know.

Jaime Smith said...

I had no idea either just how steep the competition was.

It doesn't bother me because I know I'm a good writer. But then, so do all the other writers that query and query and get rejected.

Gulp.

giggles said...

I am glad you are addressing the query issue. My problem with the system in its current form is that some stuff you are rejecting is bottom of the barrel writing, more than deserving of a standard rejection. Others have been written exactly as explained on web sites, following every rule, crossing every T, and dotting every I, probably making their books sound mundane and boring (IMHO), but how are writers going to improve this process without knowing what they are doing wrong?

I realize, having volunteered to read slush for a publishing house for over a year now, that you can not respond personally to everyone, but those that are nearer to the top do you consider sending them a, "maybe try this" type letter rather than standard rejection. I know I would be happier having a "new Butthole" ripped for me in a personal rejection, rather than receiving the "This is a very subjective business, and I just didn't love the story." Bull crap that usually gets sent out.

Chrissie

giggles said...

I am glad you are addressing the query issue. My problem with the system in its current form is that some stuff you are rejecting is bottom of the barrel writing, more than deserving of a standard rejection. Others have been written exactly as explained on web sites, following every rule, crossing every T, and dotting every I, probably making their books sound mundane and boring (IMHO), but how are writers going to improve this process without knowing what they are doing wrong?

I realize, having volunteered to read slush for a publishing house for over a year now, that you can not respond personally to everyone, but those that are nearer to the top do you consider sending them a, "maybe try this" type letter rather than standard rejection. I know I would be happier having a "new Butthole" ripped for me in a personal rejection, rather than receiving the "This is a very subjective business, and I just didn't love the story." Bull crap that usually gets sent out.

Chrissie

McKoala said...

Statistics, shmatistics. I ceased paying any attention to them when I found out that there's something like a one in two and half thousand chance of throwing up so much in pregnancy that you end up in hospital. Guess who that one was. Yup, McK was hanging off a drip instead of a eucalypt.

What happens to everybody else doesn't matter. They're not you.

Benja Fallenstein said...

Jamie, Miss P, anyone else freaking out, I don't know if you're still reading this comments thread, but in the hope that you are--

I said in the first post in this thread that (generalizing shamelessly from myself) I think people don't hear why they shouldn't obsess about rejection rates the first time it's explained to them. It needs multiple explanations to sink in.

Well, you just provided some evidence for the first part of my theory, I think. So let's test the second part and let tell you what I think Miss Snark just told you, only in my own words. :-)

You look at Miss Snark's rejection rates and say that you didn't realize how fierce your competition is. You're wrong. Miss Snark's rejection rates have nothing to do with what your competition is.

You want to know your competition? Go to your local bookstore. Buy five first novels in your genre. This is your competition. The size of Miss Snark's slushpile doesn't come into play.

If your writing is as good and saleable as these novels, it will get published. If it isn't, it won't.

"You say this to make me feel better!" you say. "The fact is that I'm still competing against the one HUNDRED queries Miss Snark gets each week!"

But I'm not, and you aren't.

If Miss Snark's slushpile contains said five novels, plus your novel, plus nothing else, she will pick your novel if it is as good as or better as these five novels.

If her slushpile contains said five novels, plus your novel, plus 10 other queries -- same story.

If her slushpile contains said five novels, plus your novel, plus 100 other queries -- same story.

Plus 500 other queries -- still the same story.

Miss Snark isn't telling you, "yes, what with 100 queries a week, the competition is fierce. But if you write well enough, you can make it."

She's telling you that "100 queries a week" doesn't tell you anything about your competition. Because you are NOT competing against the part of her slush pile that doesn't get published.

Let's say that Miss Snark gets 100 queries per week, and one of them is yours, and she passes on it.

If your query were the only one she got all month, she would still pass on it. Because it would still not be right for her.

(But if you write well enough, you can make it.)