Monday, November 17, 2008

Selling Statistics

Once I have an agent, how likely am I to be published? Do you have any books that you really like, but just can't sell?

This is a great question and one that I’m surprised I haven’t addressed yet. In fact, just the other day I was mentally going through the list of some of my clients, processing those I sold, those I never sold, and those I sold but it wasn’t the first book I went out with. Frankly, I really thought that the numbers of those I sold but not the first book we went out with was going to be a lot higher than it was.

Here is an entirely unscientific look at my own facts and figures. And keep in mind these are just a random selection of my clients over the years and not necessarily everyone. For example, I only looked at fiction and didn’t include those clients who came to me with a book deal in hand.

  • Sold first book: 9 clients (and in all cases have sold multiple books, sometimes to multiple publishers)
  • Sold later works: 5 clients
  • Haven’t yet sold: 5 clients that I could think of off the top of my head, but 3 of them disappeared after the first book didn’t sell and 2 of them I have all the confidence in the world we’ll be selling very soon.
So to answer your question, there is no guarantee that you’ll be selling that first book an agent takes on, but if you stick with it and work with your agent there is a very, very good chance you will sell. I think that 14 sales out of 19 clients are pretty good odds. That’s nearly a 75% sell rating, and I know that I’ll be able to shift those figures around as long as those clients keep writing.

One of the things I did notice was how much persistence played into it. Those clients who only gave me one chance (they never sent me a second book) had lower odds of getting published. But those who were willing to stick with me, as I was willing to stick with them, were likely to get a book deal. Remember, I take on a client for her voice, not a book. If I love your writing I will do everything in my power to find a place to get it published. In fact, I took on a new client earlier this year (February, I think) and while we weren’t able to sell that book, I just made a three-book deal for her for something new, different, and, more important, something she’s excited about writing.

Oh, but to answer your last question, yes, absolutely. I have definitely had books that I can’t stop thinking about. In fact, one of them is being reworked right now and we’re going to sell the dang thing if it kills me, because I love that book.



Anonymous said...

I personally love the fact that you never give up! Good luck on selling that one book, you always hear those wonderful stories like J.K. Rowling or Sherrilyn Kenyon who finally after months and years of sweat, blood, and tears, not only sold, but became mega sellers.

Makes me hopeful my day will soon come as well.

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

It's very encouraging to know that even if a first book isn't perfect, there's still a chance an agent will look beyond that and be willing to take a writer on for the chance of future books!

Richard Mabry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Richard Mabry said...

Sorry--forgot to turn off "autocorrect" and it changed a word or two. I should learn to "preview."

I've been told by an experienced editor that the first book or two should be considered like the first waffle--the one that gets thrown away. Glad you and the authors persisted.
Although I realize the figures you quote here are skewed because of the way they were selected, the numbers bring up another question. How many clients does the average agent have?

Anonymous said...

Actually, that's a much higher percentage of sales than I imagined.

Good luck on that one that you are trying to sell now!

Anonymous said...

I have to agree that your drive is invigorating. It's great to know that there are agents who look beyond that one big best selling book to the potential for a writing career.

I think every author - that does their research - has come to realize the first book they have written will probably find itself completely over hauled years later, or be tucked away in a box under the bed.

While I love my first now know it isn't salable. Actually, looking back it was quite - bad. Now, after studying and learning the craft, my current novel is good. One I consider salable. One that could catch an agents attention...BUT, who's to say that'll be the one to sell. I might look back in a year and find that one under my bed as well.

Hoorah to the agents who see this potential!!!

Anonymous said...

Somewhere very early on as I started to submit my writing, I heard that persistence is the key to getting published.
Even right now I've got a partial in with two agents and a publisher but I'm half finished with a second book just in case the one I've pitched doesn't work.
The other great advice I've gotten that's kept me going is that the best promotion is the next book.

Anna Claire said...

I loved this, especially the part about your clients who only ever submitted one thing, and how they had a lower chance of being published. It's good "data" in favor of persistence! Thanks for the insight.

Unknown said...

I wonder how many of those who didn't get you a second book were because they went with another agent, or because they just didn't have a second book in them. I've noticed recently that a lot of people (for example on blogs, at writing conferences) write one book and never move past it.

Anonymous said...

This post comes at a perfect time for me! I was just picked up by an agent two weeks ago, and I've been wondering what the "stats" might be.

Anonymous said...


What do you mean by "3 clients who dissapeared after the first book didn’t sell"? Did they just stop communicating with you or did they actually break their contract with you?

BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...


I've had clients do both after books didn't sell. Some felt that I had lost faith in them and dissolved our relationship. In this case though the three clients literally disappeared. Communication stopped and at some point I don't even know how to reach them.


About Me said...

Persistence is key. And it's refreshing to hear it on the agent side as well as the writer's side.

Stephanie J. Blake said...

It's nice to know that you "stick" with clients.

Casey Something said...

This is a great question, and thanks for posting your statistics!

Julie Weathers said...

Thanks for this information.

I really like the idea you, "buy the voice, not the work."

I also like your bulldog tenacity.


Kate Douglas said...

Persistence is definitely key--both for the author and the agent. I first signed with Jessica in 2001. She was unable to find a good home for that first book, which eventually went to a small press/epub. (not Jessica's fault at all--almost eight years ago it was not easy to sell a romance with a hero who had sexual identity issues!)I puttered around with small press sales, developed my skills and my voice and kept in touch with Jessica over the next couple years, though I didn't really have anything I felt she could pitch for me. Eventually Jessica heard there was a growing interest in NY in erotic romance, which I was currently writing and selling on my own to epubs--I sent in Wolf Tales, (the first few chapters were already published as an online serial) and ended up signing a three novel/three novella contract with Kensington in August of 2005. The first book of what has since grown to eighteen titles released in December, 2005. I've referred to Jessica as my own personal pit bull in the past--she's very tenacious and I have a wonderful visual of editors cowering in fear when she shows up with a submission. Probably not quite accurate, but it gives me confidence.

Kristin Laughtin said...

I'm so glad to see someone post figures like this, even if they are unscientific! Lots of agents talk about the fact that getting an agent isn't an insta-sell and sometimes agents have to shop multiple books before making a sale, but no one's really volunteered this sort of information before. It's nice to see.

Anonymous said...

This was my question - thank you for the terrific answer! I only have one book with my agent, and now I will talk to her about the next one to help work through my impatience! Thank you!

Karen Duvall said...

I think we hear mostly about agents who drop clients whose book don't sell quickly. Now that's scary. It's nice to know there are some agents who will stick it out.

Unknown said...

That's an encouraging ballpark figure! Certainly higher than I was expecting.

Do many of your first-time sales get major revisions to them first? Or is that when the authors just write a stronger project and sell that?

Anonymous said...

You know, I'm amazed there aren't MORE posts like this in this industry. If there is one component that i see as a must-have for succeses its persistence.

I signed an agent in Jan 06 and did not sell until June 08--with a different novel, one which garnered 26 rejections, multiple revisions, and one complete rewrite.

And i wouldn't change a thing. I learned a lot about my weaknesses and my strengths, and I appreciate my two book deal like no other! :-). I am so impressed by my agent for sticking with it.

Prada & Prejudice
Razorbill/Penguin 2009

Other Lisa said...

Boy, did this post come around at a good time for me.

I'm with an agent I really really like. My first book is out in the cruel world right now, and in the meantime, I'm cranking away on the next.

Thanks for these very encouraging stats. Especially welcomed after having just read that bookstore orders are down, making it even harder to sell debut authors.

Dal Jeanis said...

OOooo OOoooo -


If it's 75% of clients sell eventually, how many percent is it of manuscripts?

Of proposals?

And is it me, or has the word verification started prodicung really cool words?


The Extedati are coming.

The patient has an extedati of the left ventricle.

The hunters brought down three extedati and a smallish verglit.

We were about to go to hyperdrive but the extedati failed.


Anonymous said...

Good answer. My first novel was rejected 21 times over a 6 month period and then went to auction. Go figure...