On December 18, 2010, agents Kate Testerman and Kristin Nelson shared their query stats for 2010.
- Kate signed one client out of 4987 queries.
- Kristen estimates her agency received about 36,000 queries, from which they signed nine new clients.
I'll let you take a moment to get over the shock of the apparent odds of 1 in 4000.
Now let me try to help you restore some equanimity.
I've heard a number of agents say that 90% of the queries they receive are non-starters: the query is addressed to, "Dear Agent," or to the agent and hundreds of other agents; it's a genre the agent doesn't represent; the word count is outside industry norms; the author sounds desperate, crazy, or both; and so on. If 90% of the queries are non-starters, then the odds for your well-crafted query sent to well-researched agents are probably in the neighborhood of 400 to 1.
400 to 1 isn't great, but it also isn't terrible.
If you look at it as purely a numbers game, it simply means that you've got to send about 400 queries. But before you fire up your trusty spam generator, consider that there are probably only about 100 agents who might be interested in a given project. You can't query those hundred agents four times unless you have four different projects.
Elsewhere I've heard that four seems to be the average number of novels people write before they get published.
I wouldn't blame you if, at this point, you're still a bit discouraged because the numbers seem stacked against you unless you're willing to put in a great deal of effort over the long term.
The thing is, that's exactly right: writing for commercial publication does take a great deal of effort.
That said, what I find comforting about all of this is that the picture here is generally consistent with the publishing advice I've seen on the interwebs.
Image: Photography by BJWOK / FreeDigitalPhotos.net