Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sales Percentages

I am wondering what percentage of the works you accept to represent actually get a deal?

You know, of course, that there’s no easy answer to this question, and to really get figures I’d have to go back over 10 years of paperwork to get the numbers.

Here’s what I will tell you. There have been many, many times when the “work” I accepted to represent didn’t get a deal, but the author later did for another work.

I can’t imagine there is any agent out there with a 100% success rate when it comes to submitting projects and selling. Each project we take on is a risk, a calculated risk, but still a risk.

I take on a client for her voice, writing, and the life of her work, so even if I don’t sell that first book, I’m determined we’ll work until we sell the next one.

As my career advances my sell rates go up. That being said, I’m taking on fewer new authors now than I was 10 years ago, so I guess that makes sense.

In the end, though, I would say somewhere around 90% of the authors I offer representation to eventually get a book deal, the percentage of “works” I offer representation to that get a deal might be lower.



Pia said...

Very interesting. It's encouraging to see that you - and ergo, some other agents probably as well - are willing to keep representing an author, even if one of his/her books doesn't find a home at a publisher.

Does this also apply to newbie authors, whose first book you couldn't sell, or only to more or less established authors, who've already shown their "publishability" before?

kris said...

Pia, I can assure you that this applies to unpubs as well as those with a track record. Jessica has shepherded me through a LOT of submissions. We have yet to make that selling connection, but even when I've thrown in the towel (and I can't count how many times that's happened!), she's stayed the course. When she says it's for the voice and the writing and the life of the work, she means it.

Phil Hall said...

"As my career advances my sell rates go up. That being said, I’m taking on fewer new authors now than I was 10 years ago, so I guess that makes sense."

I'd say that makes total sense, taking on fewer new authors means you take on more established ones, which in turn ups your rate of publication--makes sense; however, the question I have (related to this, naturally) is how are new authors to get a deal when practically every agent has the same methodology? It almost seems that new guys and gals (like myself) are facing more than an uphill battle when people (like yourself) who are in the perfect position to assist our fledgling careers seem to be dropping out of the habit of helping the new in favor of expediency of the old.

Or am I reading into it WAY too much?

Anonymous said...

And this is part of where the writer's frustration comes from. We're advised to pitch a BOOK, not OURSELVES in a query.

I've been told by numerous agents they LOVE my voice in all its manifestations (different voices for different works) and that my writing is top notch but the books are a little too cross-genre to fit neatly on any one shelf. But though my subs are all *thisclose* (and have made it to editorial board meetings), no agent will take me on when I pitch book by book and not as a body of work.

So it seems a mixed message. Is it all about the book until an agent can't sell it and then it becomes all about the voice and writing? What's to say an author's second book will be any more sellable than their first?

I do know of agents who've parted ways with authors of books they couldn't sell in order to free up time for other books they might have a chance of selling. I suppose it's a gamble all the way around...

Pia said...

Kris, thanks for the answer - that's exactly what I wanted to hear! :-) Good luck to you for snagging a publishing deal soon!

Phil, don't forget there are also always new up-and-coming agents who are looking to build their client list. I imagine that if you find the right one, you can "grow" together.

Phil Hall said...

Pia, yeah, I know a little about the up and comers, and I've queried a few of them too, and the reply I get back is "there's something compelling here, but we're new and can't take a chance" (or a variation thereof.) It's sort of a maddening catch-22: the new won't take a chance, and the old want to preserve their revenues.

At least that's been my experience so far, but keep in mind, I've queried only about 50 folks so far. So things could change (I hope!)

Kate Douglas said...

FWIW, I was one of those Jessica took on without ever making a sale for that first book. However, since then, she's gotten contracts for me on almost thirty novels and novellas since 2005.

And Kris, hang in there. A few years passed between my original query to Jessica and that first sale, but she didn't give up on me. That means a lot to a writer, doesn't it? :-)

And Anon 9:38--when it comes down to it, the book IS your voice and your writing, so each book you pitch, you're pitching yourself. Your work represents who you are and what you write--the first one that Jessica sold for me didn't fit an established genre, either, but a publisher created a new imprint in order to give my series a home. It can happen.

Penelope Wright said...

It makes sense to me that an established agent wouldn't take on that many new authors.

If the agent is comfortable with, say, 20 clients and he/she has 20 clients, then how much room is there for a new author? None until one of the 20 author's on the agent's roster retires.

Maybe that's oversimplifying the way things work, but it sounds reasonable to me.

BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...

Pia: It really applies to anyone and everyone I believe in. I'll hang on with the author for as long as she still wants to hang on with me and as long as we continue to have the same vision for her career.

Phil: When I used the term "new" I don't necessarily mean unpublished. I mean new additions to my client list. I'm working with a client right now who signed in December. Never published and we're whipping her manuscript into shape for submission.

Anon 9:38: Because it is about the book. I can't sell voice without a plot and I can't sell plot without characters. It all has to be there, in one book. I do not offer on a book unless I believe I can sell it. That doesn't always happen, but in the end it's the voice and the author's style that lets me know that we're going to be comfortable together for the long haul if that sale doesn't happen.

There is nothing to say the author's next book will sell any better, but if I'm going to commit to an author, and possibly read 10 books I can't sell, although I'll try, then I need to know I'm going to enjoy all of those books and that first book is an indication of that.

As for agents not wanting to take a chance. Agents take a chance with every single book we offer on. We chance that we're getting the author's hopes up and won't be able to sell the book, we chance that we'll spend months working with an author on what we deem minor revisions only to learn the author can't make them, we chance spending months of our time trying to sell a book that won't sell.... The thing is that we need to believe in what we're taking a chance on.

Penelope: And every agent is different in terms of workload and what they want to do and how they want to handle it.

Thanks Kris & Kate for making me look good as always. Treats are on their way ;)


Sally Hepworth said...

Oy. Having recently signed with a really great agent (after months of revisions, night sweats, and hair-pulling), I am happy to have graduated to the school of worry about whether my ms. will sell to a publisher. With any luck, I'll soon be worrying about whether people will buy it. Cripes. Lucky I love to write.

lena said...

That's a great sales percentage, and I'd bet your clients appreciate it. I admire the dedication of any author who can go through the process of having a ms not sell and having to start over from scratch. Eek. It's good to know there are agents out there who will stick with an author for the next work.