Friday, April 30, 2010

Lets Talk Statistics by Terry Burns

I had a terrible time with statistics in college. I barely passed and even then I think it was the mercy of the professor. But now? I keep logs of submissions I make for my clients, logs of submissions that I have worked, logs of sales, and all of them automatically total up a variety of things. They can tell some interesting things.

One thing I often point out when I am presenting workshops is that 85% of all manuscripts will never be significantly published. People just don't spend the time learning their craft or doing submissions the proper way to be successful. They take themselves out of consideration more than they are actually being rejected. But this also means people that are really in the game are only up against 15% of what is available for sale. The 15% tend to be the people who are agented and being aggressively pitched to editors.

My logs bear this out. I have taken 60 clients out of over 2000 submissions. I am pitching 185 projects on them, or 9.25% of the projects that have been submitted to me. I have 47 proposals pending for me to consider them which means I have turned down 91.88% of submissions. That's a bit more than the 85% but then I'm getting close to my client capacity so the number is going up.

At present I have 221 proposals out and under consideration for these clients. Those are the ones that are still active out of the 746 that have gone out since I've been an agent. I've sold 62, which is 12% of the total proposals I have sent less the ones that are still in play.

These numbers (sales) would be less than a high profile or more experienced agent, but not too out of line across the industry on a percentage success to submission ratio. A large agency would have a number of agents feeding into the process and generating a large number of contacts and submissions but resulting in similar percentage numbers on the number of submissions out into the marketplace per agent.

One number in the log that is not particularly significant except as a matter of interest is the fact that I include the word count in the entry if it was given (everyone should have given it but quite a number of them don't). This column also totals and currently says that I have had 75,474,226 words submitted for my consideration. No wonder I have five editorial assistants helping me read, and of course on a bulk of them only the sample chapters were read or only so far as it took to determine that it simply was not a contender.

What do all these numbers mean? It means this business is very competitive and backs up the fact that most people are not doing what they need to do to meet that competition. Those that are, in fact, are only competing against 15% or less of those making submissions. Unfortunately, instead of doing what they need to do to raise their submission up to where it needs to be in order to be successful, quite a number of them will simply put it out themselves to avoid doing it. There are a lot of good reasons to self-publish but putting an inferior product out to keep from having to do the work to make it competitive is not one of them.

Who would have thought that statistics course would have ever come in handy?


Millie Samuelson said...

As a former prof, I have to kid you a bit. Since you "barely passed" statistics, how do we readers know your statistics in this article blog are "correct"? Hey -- fascinating post! I DO trust your numbers and what they reveal. Thanks for sharing!

patriciazell said...

Terry, this is an excellent analysis and is quite helpful. I agree with your insight on self-publishing that many of those books are not ready for submission. Since I understand that I am not equipped to do a DIY book, I have decided that I need an agent and a legit publisher. Right now, I am working on getting my book written and on building an audience for it. Your post is confirmation that I should continue on this path. Of course, I have no guarantees, but at least, I will have given my book my best shot. Thank you for your stats.

P.S. Can you believe that I have my B.S. and M.S. in education and I've never taken a stats course? I don't whether to be glad or sad about it.