Thursday, March 8, 2012
What are the odds? by Terry Burns
I thought we might talk about that this morning. One of my clients put it on my mind. She is talking to a group of young people and wanted to know how many manuscripts from all of those submitted will be published. Not easy to answer because it varies from time to time, agent to agent, publishing house to publishing house. And we also ought to define 'published' as anybody can put a book up these days anytime they want to. I prefer the term 'credibly published' which does not depend on who published the book or how it was published but on how credible the sales of the project was. That's the bottom line, how many people did it reach? Book sales is how we keep score.
Using that as a criteria I said she would be in the ballpark saying that 5% of the projects that people submit end up credibly published. Wow. That's tough. How many projects will eventually publish in some form? That would be much higher, and I have no idea how to quantify that off the top of my head. But a huge number of these sell to family, to friends, and then are pretty much through. That's not credibly published.
How about the odds on getting an agent? I can't speak for anybody else, but if it will help I've looked at nearly 3500 submission over the past year and a half and I have 62 clients. (That's just my submissions, not the agency) You can add in another dozen or so writers that came through and are no longer clients. That's just about 2% but because I handle a lot of debut authors I get to see a lot of submissions from people who are simply not ready yet.
How about the odds on being successful submitting for them? Over the past 18 months I've sold 124 projects by submitting over a thousand times on their behalf. That's a 12% rate of success. It also means I've had to make over 8 submissions to find the right home for a project. This number is deceptive because a huge amount of targeting and trying to find exactly the right match goes into that. If an author just starts going down the market guide submitting can they expect to find success within 8 submissions? Not hardly. Chances are without a thoughtful, targeted approach where they know the one they are submitting to is the right person and why they are the right person, all of the submissions might fail, no matter how many there are. And it is true that submissions from agents are treated differently because editors know how many submissions we went through getting those few we decided to represent.
Over 70% of my clients have published since they signed with Hartline and 24 of them were with multi-book deals. Sixteen clients have nothing submitted on their behalf at present because they are either busy fulfilling contracts or have sold what they have until they complete some more projects.
Did this give my client the stats she was looking for to talk to the class? Hopefully so. Are they encouraging or discouraging? They are realistic. Those who find success in the publishing industry do so because they know EXACTLY what they are up against, have patience, and take steps to overcome the obstacles they encounter, Rose colored glasses don't get you very far in this business. But I have a group of clients that are staying with it, that are learning and growing, that are attending conferences and working in critique groups. They are learning their craft, not just writing. And it is working.