I appreciate it when other literary agents blog about their annual or monthly statistics. My blog’s tagline is “97% transparent,” so it’s time for me to be that way.
Robin Mizell Ltd. (you can tell I’m serious about my brand) was established in December 2008. My first client was referred to me by a mutual acquaintance, and that client’s nonfiction manuscript is still a work in progress. I spoke to another writer by referral the same month but offered advice, not representation. The third prospective client sent the first email query in response to the guidelines that were posted on my agency’s website. If I recall correctly, the guidelines were posted in late December. You could say that as of the end of 2008, writers had a 1-in-3 chance of success at obtaining representation by discussing their manuscripts with me. Those unrealistic odds didn’t last long, and they certainly were no preview of the business to come in 2009.
Queries began to arrive in earnest during the first week of January 2009. It’s nice that the following statistics represent a calendar year of agency business. The data are only grief-inducing if you’re not a literary agent. These statistics are pretty normal, as far as I can tell.
Outcome of all queries sent by writers to Robin Mizell Ltd: 2009
- 4 new clients (3 with work in progress, 3 with work on submission)
- 1 agency contract
recently offered to now signed by a prospective client
1,010 1,012 1,013 1,019 1,021 rejections (including 32 after reading full mss)
- 1 suggestion to revise and resubmit a manuscript (which tells you that I don’t employ this strategy lightly)
11 4 0 full manuscripts scheduled for reading through May 2010
5 7 writers who didn’t respond to requests for full manuscripts*
3 1 no queries received in 2009 that remain under consideration
*The seven writers who didn’t reply when I asked to read their manuscripts could have had a variety of reasons for disappearing, including querying before a manuscript was completed or intentionally using my response to motivate another agent who was on the fence. In one case, however, the author was courteous enough to say he’d signed with another agent while waiting to hear from me, and in another instance, the author decided to accept an offer from a new independent publisher. I was sincerely happy to learn the good news, and I have no idea who the other agent was. I always encourage writers to continue sending queries to agents while I’m reading their work. It’s only fair.
I didn’t include in these totals the repetitive queries from the same writers, which I’d prefer to discourage. The number of prospective clients whose queries I received in 2009—a total of 1,034—was relatively low, because my agency was new. Top agents received 20 times more queries, and many of them, though not all, have readers or screeners to help with their workload. I don’t. I read all of the queries I receive. I hope to manage my workflow carefully in 2010 so I can continue to be the person who evaluates all of the queries.
You can conclude from the data that in 2009, I signed one new client for every seven full manuscripts I read, which amounts to less than 15%. Keep in mind that 11 full manuscripts remain in my reading queue. The percentage could change as I work through those manuscripts, which I’ll be doing while my agency is closed to submissions during the first part of 2010. I’ll try to update the 2009 statistics in June 2010 to give a more precise accounting.
If you look at the number of new clients I acquired in relation to the total number of queries I received, you can see that I found one new client among, roughly, every 200 queries. That is, approximately 0.5% (half of one percent) of the queries sent to Robin Mizell Ltd. resulted in an agency contract. This percentage also will change slightly by the time I’ve finished evaluating the 11 manuscripts in the reading queue.
A large number of the rejections, as can be expected, were sent to writers whose projects were wrong for me. They either didn’t know I had a website or were attempting to streamline their process, so they didn’t worry about what I was looking for. If they had, they could have rejected me first.
The figures here aren’t meant to discourage aspiring authors. They reveal the reality of the competitive business of being a writer. Being selective is my job.
I’m very happy with the outcome for 2009. The brand recognition I’ve enjoyed was due to editors Chuck Sambuchino and Zac Petit, who gave me publicity in Writer’s Digest magazine and Screenwriter’s & Playwright’s Market and invited me back for the 2009 Writer’s Digest Books Writers Conference. It’s also a result of being featured by Sharon Cindrich in an article about literary agents published in The Writer magazine, being invited by my friend Christina Katz to participate in a Twitter chat for writers, being mentioned by writers’ forum contributors, receiving from Joanne Liggan an invitation to the Hanover Book Festival pitchfest, and having one of my blogposts reprinted at Henry Baum’s Self-Publishing Review. My gratitude belongs to all of them for letting writers know of my agency.