I'm a little confused, Miss Snark. You posted stats on 3/21 that, extrapolated, show you receive about 4800 queries per year and only take on about 4 new clients. Kristin Nelson receives 20,800 queries and last year signed 8 new clients (but doesn't say how many of those came from referral or slush). Likewise, Lori Perkins says she gets 30,000 queries and signed 15 new clients last year between referrals and slush. And I recently read an agent's blog who admitted she had NEVER taken a client from the slush pile.
Yes, people do get pulled out of the slush. And one blockbuster client from the slush may be worth the time invested. But is it worth the gamble? What the person posting the question seems to be asking is whether or not there's a better business model. Obviously not, or everyone would be on it. But the ROI really isn't there for agents with the current model.
ROI means return on investment for those of you French majors who think it means Louis XIV.
Return on investment measures what you get back for what you put in. The only thing ROI should be used to measure are quantifiable things: capital investment, income earned, those kinds of things.
When you use ROI to discuss the slush pile, what I'm investing is my time and my knowledge. Knowledge can't be quantified, so it doesn't have a place in this discussion. Time however can be measured, and there's a finite amount of it in a day (even for Miss Snark in her 36-hour alternate universe)
When I invest my time reading the slush pile, I can't invest it doing something else (opportunity cost) but the key piece of information you're missing is how much time I'm investing in reading those submissions.
Kristin takes her submissions electronically so she can read them quickly and efficiently.
I received a very sweet email from a Snarkling who blogged about her "fastest rejection ever"
Here's the calculation you're missing: 100 queries a week takes less than 200 minutes to read on paper; and about 100 minutes probably if you send it electronically. Truth be told, some of the stuff I get doesn't get ten seconds let alone 60.
So, the investment is two hours of my time. Kristin obviously spends more, Lori Perkins too.
The thing is I don't have to pay myself for that, and the opportunity cost (doing something else) is marginal. If I were to use the two suggestions of the origianal querier, my opportunity cost rieses dramatically: attending conferences is a MUCH less efficient way to see a lot of people.
In the course of two days or 16 working hours I might give a workshop to 100 people, chat with another 100, and do face to face presentations with 50. I can read 250 query letters in 500 minutes at the most (8.3 hours for you divisionally challenged). In addition, there's travel time and the inconvenience of being out of the office.
Here's the other piece of information you're missing: even people who meet us at conferences have to send queries. EVERYONE gets counted in the slush pile. I don't track how many of those 100 queries a week came from people I met at conferences, or are referrals. I did it one week solely for discussion on this blog, but I don't keep those stats cause it doesn't matter how you get here. It only matters to me if you write something I think I can sell.
Publishers "pay" agents in the form of higher advances and more author favorable contracts when they insist only on agented submissions but they also save payroll costs for people to read incoming submissions.
The thing I find interesting is the only people who think this model doesn't work are not-agents and not-publishers, in other words the people IN the slush pile.
Rather than tell you you're wrong though, I'll ask you: what other model do you suggest, and given this information, show me how it's to my (mine, not yours!) advantage and I'll be glad to read it. Feel free to email me and I'll post it.