Sadistics for you to torture yourself with

Miss Snark,

I’ve received a request for a full ms based on a partial and synopsis that I dutifully sent off about a month ago. Although I am attempting to keep myself grounded in reality (researching additional agents to query, focusing on book #2, etc.), I still catch myself drifting into happy daydreams about what the future might hold for my brave little ms. Please help me temper this enthusiasm. Realistically, what are the odds that this agent will be the right one for me? How many “sure, I’d love to see a full” turn into “I want to be this writer’s agent” for you?

There's nothing wrong with a little daydreaming. In fact, letting yourself see success is one of those motivational tricks that gunnery sargeants use for us literary agents in boot camp. "Michiko loves me! Michiko loves me" is our cadence song.

You're also right though in knowing the odds are against you. And at this stage it's not cause you're a bad writer. I don't request fulls from anyone who hasn't shown a pretty significant demonstration of talent in those first 50 pages.

However here's a waterfall of reality for you to bathe in:

100 queries a week (x 12 weeks per quarter)
5 partials requested each week
20 partials a month (x 3 months)
5 fulls requested a month (x 3 months)
1 new client quarter (in three months).

1200 queries
60 partials
15 fulls
1 client

Don't look at the numbers though; look at the percentages. Kristin Nelson gets 10x the number of queries I get, and takes on more people but I'm going to bet her ratio of query to representation is within spitting distance of mine.

It only takes one yes. The odds are meaningless because I don't have to take 1 and I can actually take more. If I got 10 great manuscripts in a given month, I'd be nuts, but I'd want to take them all.


Anonymous said...

According to my abstruse mathematical calculations, that is four manuscripts per year. If you are only getting 15% per MS and that is keeping Killer Yapp in dog food living in a place as expensive as Brooklyn, those books are generating some serious money, not the movie money you said earlier.

Get ready to receive the most brutally honed MS since THE ODYSSEY. I promised it and now I feel like sending it. I need to give it another once over and it will be in the mail. No cookie crumbs or glitter or anthrax-resembling white power, just pages.

Yikes. You must be one helluvan agent.

Miss Snark said...

That's NEW clients, not number of sales. I have 20+ clients all busy with projects, plus backlist.
I'm not some sort of money machine.

ORION said...

You have to dream.
You have to.
Dreaming makes it possible.
Working hard makes it probable.

Anonymous said...

Miss Snark, there's one vital stat you left out: of the clients you sign, what percentage get published?

Anonymous said...

Here's a link to Kristen's 2006 stats for comparison:



Mark said...

Kristen is also locatd in Denver and takes on local authors more readily than a NY agent would be inclined to. Local authors there are a different matter.

Anonymous said...

Hey, Mark:

If you check Kristen's blog she says of 20,800 queries she signs 8 clients. That is one client for every 2600 queries. So Miss Snark is easier to please than Kristen. Besides, she is in my favorite town, not off in some snowdrift somewhere.

Anonymous said...

If you are paying yourself a modest $80,000/year (which you must be at least to live in NY) and selling 20 books/year at a commission of 15%, then the average gross per book is about $27,000, which means you are not representing primarily fiction, and certainly not noobs. I have read a LOT of unpublished noob stuff and I don't think Borat could get any of it published in Kazakhstan.

Boffo. All the success in the world to you, Miss Snark. You're doing good.

Twill said...

Wow, the odds are only 1200 to one? And better than that if my writing doesn't suck?


That'll keep BIC for weeks.

J F Quackenbush said...

so you're saying there's a one in fifteen chance of a write with demonstrable talent being signed by any given agent.

What this says to me is that someone who has sent out more than about 60 queries is not demonstrating any talent in those queries. That must mean either a.) Their query is not representative or b.) they have no talent to demonstrate.

If that's the case, don't you think that polite form rejections are actually doing these people a disservice? If they suck, wouldn't it be better to tell them that? If they aren't packaging themselves well, wouldn't it be better to tell them that?

I have yet to send off a single query ever, being a poet, money just is sort of a laughable pipedream for me. But i have to say, when journals reject me, i much prefer people tell me they don't like my work than to say "this isn't right for our magazine" or "needs work." I know people who say those sorts of things are often trying to be polite, but seriously, if somebody thinks i suck, or at least, thinks what i've sent sucks, I would prefer that they tell me that. Otherwise I'm going to keep trying to get published by them, operating under the delusion that they aren't worthless hacks with no eye for talent.

Jeff said...

That's not as depressing as I thought it would be.