Cuspical Data

Last post I talked about the uncertainty of “that time” between an agent submitting a manuscript to a publisher and when a writer gets a response from the publisher in the form of a rejection or a contract.

Thing the First: A Conversation on Time on Cusp

I posed these questions to Marshall Ryan Maresca, a local Austin published author:

  1. Is there a correlation between the number of requests for a full manuscript and the possibility that it’ll get picked up?
  2. Are there months where publishers generally make decisions on contracting to publish a novel?
  3. How long would a publisher sit on a manuscript they’ve asked for before coming back with a decision? I’d heard a few snippets back at the last ‘Con, but… you’ve been through the grinder a few times now.
The following is a quote, edited to preserve anonymity where necessary, of Marshall’s response:
“Man, let me tell you, that interstitial period in a writers career, where you’ve made that massive level-up achievement of Getting An Agent, but still haven’t sold… it’s rough.  And it is just because you’re in limbo.  You’ve got people asking for it, so that’s good.  But it can just take forever.  I mean, it was about two and half years for me.  [Author], I think four.  As for months when things happen and when they don’t? I mean it all depends.  I hear that a lot DOESN’T happen in the summer months, for example, because editors are often going to cons and such each weekend.  I know that it was about a year between when my agent sent Thorn to [publisher] and when she started reading it, and she really didn’t read it until I went up and said a polite hello at WorldCon.  And my agent was just telling me a story of one editor who kept going, “Yeah, I know, I’m going to read that soon” on someone else’s manuscript for years.  I think Martha Wells made the joke of “glaciers honk at the publishing industry to move faster.”
“(But, on the flip side, you get something like [another author], whose agent sold his manuscript a week after signing him.)
Thus, the big unhelpful answer is, “Who knows, man?”
Well… okay, then. The crystal ball continues my future opacification. All I know is Marshall has a glass of a good scotch coming his way.

Thing the Second: Odds of Getting Agent Representation

Someone posted this article on Austin’s Indie Authors Society Facebook page [link to Nelson Literary Agency here]. Keep in mind this is from an agent, not a publisher. So the numbers and “successes” only mean the author received an offer of representation, not a publishing contract. The crux of Kristin Nelson’s post was this: for four agents, the agency received over 20,000 query letters. Of those, they requested about 440 manuscripts. And of those, a quarter of those authors received an offer letter from the agency to represent the author and try and get their manuscript published.
Bottom line: The agency looked at the manuscripts of 2.25% of the query letters they received. And only 0.56% of all query letter writers were given offers of representation. I strongly recommend reading Kristen’s full blog post for precise numbers and more (and funnier) odds.

Wrapping This Up

Neither of these items is directly connected, except to make a single point: the odds of an author, even with a great book and query letter, are literally minuscule. Not lottery minuscule, but certainly nothing you’d want to pin your mortgage payment on selling that Great Novel. Sigh.