Daunt me no daunt!

Dear Miss Snark:

We've all heard the daunting statistics. Agents receive anywhere from 5,000 to 30,000 queries a year. Some have never taken on a client from the slushpile. Others say they've taken on maybe 4 or 5 over the years. Best case seems to be 2 or 3 a year from the slush. They ALL complain there's simply no time to read and respond to everything sent them.

So why do agents even bother reading the slush? From a business perspective, the return on investment doesn't seem to justify the query process. Why does the practice exist, and why does it continue when agents could easily solicit manuscripts from other avenues such as conferences, contests, organizations, etc.?

I'm not sure what the source of your statistics is but they do not jibe with mine. Fully half my clients came over the transom (not literally, although there was that one girl...) and when I started up, more like 85%.

One of the smartest most successful agents I have had the privilege of guzzling sake with says "there's gold in that there pile" and refuses to even use the word "slush". I look at her sales record and I pay attention to what she says.

Every time I talk to Kristin Nelson, another very smart VERY savvy agent, she talks about how she reads her submissions and finds people there.

I question your data and thus your conclusion.

I've found more clients via the transom then I have from contests, and conferences.

The only source that comes close to the transom is referrals. Publishers or editors or clients who gave my name to people who write well provided me about half my client list right now.

Of the last five books I sold, three were from transom clients, two from referral.


Anonymous said...

Miss Snark,

Thank you! You give up to those of us who have been working intently for years. I believe in the slush pile.

Anonymous said...

Slush-pile submitter with a contract from Penguin waddling to duty, Sir!

Anonymous said...

-- why does it continue when agents could easily solicit manuscripts from other avenues such as conferences, contests, organizations, etc.? --

All of this means very little if the writer's story doesn't work from the start. He could write an awful story with every cliche under the sun and have the prose of a ten year old, pay for a ticket to a writer's conference to meet an agent--but he will still have the same luck with queries because the story needs to work first. You won't get your foot in the door no matter what you do if the story doesn't work.

Even an organization is no guarantee of finding good writers. I was looking at a regional organization that's been around for 88 years. Sounds like they might have a lot of successful writers, right? Every single one of the "published" writers had self-published. Those Organizations are no guarantee of anythng other than meeting people--and that doesn't necessarily mean the right people.

It still all comes down to the story.

Anonymous said...

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.

Of course, the ratio of fiction to non-fiction slush may skew in favor of non-fiction slush being a better bet.

Something seems wrong when publishers start turning to agents to prescreen their submissions and agents seem like they need prescreeners of their own to keep up.

Anonymous said...

I believe in the slush pile, too. I didn't know anyone in the industry; I live in the wilds of Georgia. It happens.

Anonymous said...

Miss Snark, this post left me with a big shiny helium-filled "Yay!" bouncing around the interior of my skull. Ta, muchly.

Anonymous said...

It has been my impression that agents come in two varieties - those who get most of their new clients from referrals, and those who get most of their new clients from slush, with contests and conferences being quite minor. The ones who get the majority of their clients from referrals tend to be so famous and successful that they get more good clients referred to them than they can ever take on.

Don't allow yourself to get scared by statistics. If you ever get any exposure to real slush you'll realize that about 90% of it is written by obvious nitwits. It's like being in a race where a few people are professional athletes but most are 8-year-old kids.

Starstruck said...

I think the slush pile needs to be renamed; after all, words have power! How about it being a haystack instead?

As I interpret what you've explained, every new author has to be in the haystack at some point. Even a referral would have to have been found in another agent's haystack first.

Chris Eldin said...

Hey JamieHall,
It's like being in a race where a few people are professional athletes but most are 8-year-old kids.

I had to laugh at that one....You haven't been hanging around 8-yr-old kids!!

I am curious which genres have the largest slush piles. In children's writing, picture books aren't in as much demand. But YA is in demand.


Anonymous said...


Yep, eight-year-old kids do go and go. But they still can't win races against professional athletes.

(My word verification is: "xumsnrk")

Nick Travers said...

"... and when I started up, more like 85%."

So the moral of the story is to target new agents. Thanks, I'll keep that in mind during my research - big agency, big reputation, new agent - done.