The Last Word on Sadistics...it's giving me a pain in my mode

From the comments section came this:

This process could only fairly be represented by several statistics

1) Percent of works submitted that are taken on

2) Odds of sale within one year if a work gets taken on

3) Odds of sale, ever, if the work gets taken on.

4) Average return on successful sale

5) Average client satisfaction with agent after X years or termination of contract, whichever comes first.

These are all statistics, and with them, one could make a pretty nice judgment. Sure, *one* statistic is grossly unfair, but having the whole collection will let you tell Binky Urban from Jane Noname.

Ok, let's take a look at what you'd need to generate those numbers:

1. To get a percentage of works taken on to works submitted, you'll have to measure both things. Let's talk about works submitted. Are you going to count only the people who mail me letters? What about the nitwits who send me equeries; do they count?
What about the people who don't include an SASE; do they count? Or the people who send a genre I don't represent; do they count? And the people who don't send pages and are asked to do so; do they count as a query or a partial? And what about the people I approach? How do you count them?

2. When does the year start? From the date you query me? From the date I read it? From the date you finish revisions? What if sell it and the deal falls through; is that "a sale"?

3. What about the book I sell that came from an idea the publisher gave us when I queried on your novel? He never buys that novel, but he buys the other. Does novel get counted as "never being sold?" even though the other work wouldn't count as a query?

4. Do you mean the advance? What if I get you a great royalty percentage with a lower advance? What if you don't want a big advance so you can earn out and get a multiple book deal? Does that count against "my stats"?

5. Well, the only thing to do here is quote the Rolling Stones.

And even if you could agree on what would be measured and how, here's the dogs honest truth about why no agent would do so: the only people asking for this are writers. And I know this is not fun to hear but it's the truth: you're a glut on the market.

I'm not going to invest ANY time or money in compiling stats to attract authors. I attract enough as it is, and I don't want to attract people who think you can correlate submissions to sales and effectiveness. The more effective the agent, the less they need to attract you. The only people who would benefit from this are frauds and scam artists who could say "we scored 100% on the Agent Effectiveness Benchmark".

If you think I'm blowing smoke, go check out the ICM website. They are the biggest agency in town, and I'm sure they close a lot of deals and high percentage of deals from work they take on. Under "contact us" they tell you as plain as can be-don't. They don't waste a single letter telling you they are big deal. They know it, you know it, and I know it. How do you know it? It wasn't cause you saw any damn statistics on their sales.

There are no guarantees in this biz. There are no across the board benchmarks. There is only the old reliable "what have you sold", and the remorseless teacher called experience.


Anonymous said...

There you have it. Been following this discussion through the various posts, and I think that this is the distillation of it all. The crux of the matter.

We ain't gonna get no stats. Cause it's a seller's market. Agents don't need to convince us of anything, except that they ain't scammers and they do sell books. We send them stuff; they don't usually solicit it. As for 95 percent [or more] of the stuff we send, they just wish we wouldn't. When they do make us an offer of representation, we tend to fall over ourselves with gratitude, faint dead away, kiss their behinds, get drunk, and stand outside the PO before it opens next morning, submission in hand.

What we don't do is grill them for the stats under discussion.

That's the effing reality. Until that changes, they call the shots. No stats.

Dave Kuzminski said...

And certainly not without proper sauce. ;)

Anonymous said...

Is there ever a last word on anything? Love ya, Miss Snark!

But can't resist (sorry): Adding a short bit from my last post to the prior blog entry on this subject (since I am almost always late to the game).

"Some agents will sell 9 out of every ten projects they submit. Other agents will sell 1 out of every 500. Hey authors, we know which agents are which. And so should you." quote from The Man in Black, editor Jason Pinter. 6/13/06.

Deborah Hern said...

How about if agents wanted stats from writers? Like, how many re-writes you had to go through before you wrote something acceptable v how much of what you write is crap??

Or, how many partials turn out to be utter refuse v how many might be something they can sell.

I think asking for stats in a business that is completely subjective from one agent to another is ridiculous. What does it prove??? Nothing.

Sherry D said...

Miss Snark, I think you've explained and defended your position enough, and probably should tell anyone who keeps nagging for more, to take a flying bite.

Sending a nice scratch on the shoulder blades to Killer Yap.

Feisty said...

Why does anyone care about the stats? So you can compare one agent to another? And there's how many agents out there?

I think the correct question to ask an agent is this: how many editors do you know who would be interested in buying my book? How many of those do you know?

That would be enough for me because if they don't know anyone who would buy your book it doesn't matter how many books they've sold in the last year. Or their whole freaking lifetime, for that matter.

I once got a call from a big name agent regarding one of my books. She loved the book. Told me she thought it would do well in the marketplace. BUT, she didn't sell that kind of book and didn't know who might buy it. End of story. I put her in my acknowledgements.

Anonymous said...

First anon, writers grilling agents still won't change that reality. When demand outpaces supply and agents need to woo writers, maybe, but do you ever see that happening?

Even if you get your stats, then what? All the stats in the world won't have any effect on the combination of your particular story, at a given time, in a given market, for an open slot in a given catalogue after reaching the desk of a given editor in a given mood - golden because she's picked five bestsellers in a row, or ultra-conservative because her last five acquisitions have been duds?

So much of this is kismet, karma, timing - whatever you call it. When I came to writing, I was management in a publicly traded company. I thrived on the data, used it to measure success and failure because that was how others measured my performance. I get the need for empirical evidence - it helps make sense of this very subjective business.

Then it took me a couple of years (and manuscripts) to find an agent, and another year to find an editor who wanted to buy. Meanwhile, my agent sold other clients' work in days and weeks. I bet they think our agent has a great track record. So do I because ultimately I got a deal. But my idea of success - a deal even if it took over a year - may not sync with that of the writer who wants the quick sale and nothing less. If I'd gone in search of another agent after a year of no sale, that would have skewed the data. But I stayed, and my agent was persistent well past the point another agent (or another book the agent was less passionate about) would have called for the white flag, and that also skewed the data. Faulty data is less helpful than no data.

HawkOwl said...

Now you're talking! You should have said that the first time around. "You can't make me" is much more to the point than "it wouldn't do anything for you, trust me." :)

Anonymous said...

I can understand wanting the reassurance of "good" stats. However, one nanosecond of logical thought should give one the big picture; and it's exactly as Miss Snark describes!

I say to those of you addicted to statistics: Feel the grind of the divine Miss Snark's stilettos. Maybe they'll let some light into your skulls.

Catja (green_knight) said...

'we don't accept unsolicited material'

I've been told that that was exactly what a query letter was about - saying 'hey, I've got this, do you want it'?

nir said...

All those stats listed assume that all books are equal, and that all publishers are equal, and interested in the exact same things. The agent has to sell your book to the publisher the same way you had to sell your book to him/her.

And how many books are exactly the same level of quality? Even if they were by some objective criteria, whether you like a book is so subjective. And face it, publishers are people. How many books that "everyone" loves, you hate? Just because the agent doesn't sell your book to a publisher that just happens to dislike your book doesn't make them a bad agent.

Now if someone never sold anything to anyone that's not a good sign. Conversely, if you can't sell your book to anyone, that again is not a good sign (the book needs work). I think this latter is ignored by a lot of people, who think that if they can't sell it, it must be someone else's fault.

uKbOff said...


May that be the last on a subject terribly overdone. Thank you Miss Snark for your patience with our mortally -ehem - stubborn breathren. Even those that say - "if you'd said that the first time," cause you did. Again and again. And again. BUT only you could make it awesome every time you trounced the heathen.

ChapterKat said...

This is ridiculous.

The Snarkinator has been way too nice about this whole stat biz. I wish she'd aim her stilettos and give Killer Yap orders to start anklebiting.

Listen up, writers. It's not about statistics. It's not about lucky numbers, stars aligning in the cosmos, mythical muses, or agents/editors not appreciating your genius.

It's about the writing--pure and simple. It's about being professional when you submit, polishing your mss, patience, perseverence, and a heaping helping of hard work. If you're more worried about stats than improving your writing, then I hope you have an empty drawer in your file cabinet for all those rejection slips.

Anonymous said...

Hawkowl, I love ya.