Querying a novel: a 1 in 5000 play?

I always knew that querying a novel was a long-odds play.  I always had in my head that the odds were like 5000 to 1 against.  Unfortunately it looks like I was right. I hate it when that happens.

Roll a dice

Just read some stats from a smaller literary agency, the Nelson Literary Agency, based here in Colorado.  They posted their stats from 2013 in a recent blog post that I follow.  Their numbers for 2013 looked like this:

  • 35,000 queries received
  • 972 requests for sample pages
  • 67 requests for full manuscripts
  • 7 new authors signed up

This basically means that they only asked for sample pages ~3% of the time.  Of those that they read samples from, they only read the full manuscript (or at least asked for it) ~7% of the time.  And of those that they did read the full manuscript, they only signed ~10%.  The full odds: 1 in 5000, or 0.02%. Ouch.

Of course most writers will query multiple agencies, so the overall numbers are better, maybe 1 in 500.   But landing an agent is just a step toward the real end-zone, landing a book contract.  So it’s still better than winning the lottery, but not exactly attractive odds either.

All this said, I knew this going in, and I’m still working on my query for Ragnarök Willie.  Gotta beat those odds.

Who is with me?

CR Hodges

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6 Responses to Querying a novel: a 1 in 5000 play?

  1. You go guy! Those stories will never forgive you if you quit.

  2. CR, that’s in keeping with everything I learned at Gotham, including it’s unusual for an agency or publisher to read an entire manuscript. And if they do it’s usually assigned to an intern. Whether an author self-publishes or beats the odds on the stats, the author is expected to do the lion’s share of the promotion, especially for authors not on the A-list. If an author has written a great book and is willing to promote the heck out of it, I don’t understand why they would *want* to traditionally publish (other than the prestige issue). Trad-pub contracts for unknown authors often have no advance (or advances that must be paid back if the book doesn’t sell) and 15% royalties. This is as opposed to self-published royalties from Amazon of 70% for eBook and less for print books. In this day and age a successful book might sell 500 copies in it’s lifetime (about 5 years), and a best seller is about 1000 copies. Thinking that lightning will strike is what we authors always dream of; but you can count the runaway best selling authors on two hands.
    And still we write. Because we must. Because the story in us refuses to remain unwritten.

  3. crhodges says:

    Actually best I can tell the odds on self publishing successfully are equally long. Again it’s like only the top fraction of a percent sell more than a few thousand copies of a mss. It is a tough row that we hoe, and yet every year there are those who do break out, those who do beat the odds.

  4. Pingback: Blog Hop: My Writing Process | CR Hodges, Author

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