Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Numbers Guy by Terry Burns

No, I’ve never thought of myself as a numbers guy. I had to throw my self on the mercy of the instructor to pass statistics so I could graduate college. But this morning I was noticing I seem to collect a lot of numbers, numbers that tell me things.

I noticed it when I entered my response to a submission into a log. I always put down key information in that log for future reference so I know if someone resubmits without my asking for it or if they are someone who has submitted to me before, or a number of other things. I also put down the word count if they give it. I would guess less than half provide that. It should be part of any query letter or proposal along with the genre, but it often isn’t.

At any rate, when I started the log I set that column to total at the bottom just for grins. I just looked and on this current log I have had over 103 MILLION words submitted to me from over 2700 submissions. I don’t read all of them, of course. Like most if not all agents and editors, I quit reading if I reach the point where I realize it just isn’t a fit for the markets that I’m presently working in. But still, that is an enormous amount of words and the number is probably 30% higher than that. Amazing.

Another number I get asked a lot is the percentage that I’m taking to represent. Out of this 2700 I’ve selected 75 clients (have 62 right now) and at present have 226 proposals out. Most of my clients have more than one project available. This is not the number for the agency, this is just for me and other agents at Hartline have as much or more I’m sure. I’m also sure there are agents who carry a much bigger workload than I do. Still, that means I’ve taken a little better than 8% of what has been sent to me.

What other numbers jump out at me? I’ve gotten a little better than half of my clients published, about 90 books, and I’m usually up in the top ten of agents getting debut authors started on the list over at Publishers Marketplace. That number means I need to get more clients who are not just getting started, but it also reflects my desire to help new writers get started. I’ve been an agent for about four years, but the first couple of years were pretty much learning experiences and getting things in progress that would take a while to come to fruition.

More numbers? There are numbers at the bottom of my web page with the counter registering over three million hits with more than 465 thousand unique visitors. The visitors have come from 115 different countries. If a few years ago you had told me some old cowboy over in West Texas would have people from this many countries dropping by to look at my stuff I would have thought you were nuts.

Maybe the numbers that are most critical are the ones at my bank and they could stand to be better, but between my writing and my activity as an agent I get to do this full time, and make a living at it. And I’m getting to do what I love.

The numbers that mean the most to me are one beautiful wife, five kids, ten grand-kids and one great-grandson on the way. And most important, my faith number would be the number three representing the Trinity. My faith is very important to me and it is part and parcel of everything I do in every aspect of my life.

Hmm, for somebody that is not a numbers guy I seem to collect and pay a lot of attention to them. Maybe I should have worked harder in that stats class.


Linda Glaz said...

Never thought of numbers like that.
Nice article. Overwhelming what you do.

Andrea said...


Karla Akins said...


I'll even write it backwards.


Those are some impressive numbers!

Caroline said...

Those numbers reveal quite a lot - for you, for aspiring writers, for publishers, and for agents! Thank you for sharing your interesting reflections here.