I attended a workshop led by Sara Megibow from the Nelson Literary Agency a while back. Here are some humbling statistics she passed on to the attendees:
Did you know that a literary agent may receive thirty-two thousand query letters a year? And that out of all those queries, she’ll ask for sample pages from maybe twenty-five hundred of those submissions? She’ll read maybe ninety-eight full manuscripts out of those twenty-five hundred. Now, for the fun part. Take a guess at how many authors she might offer to represent out of that thirty-two thousand. Come on, I dare you.
And how many books out of those nine do you think might sell?
Five out of thirty-two thousand. Pretty depressing odds, huh?
Okay, have you scraped your jaws up off the floor?
Now, let’s assume you’re one of the lucky nine. You’ve got your agent. What happens next? Well, assuming your agent finds an editor who’s interested in your book, they may take up to six months to negotiate the contract. Did you know that book contracts don’t typically include a clause that the editor will actually “print” you book? I mean, in times past, if an editor bought your book OF COURSE they meant to print your book. Not true anymore now that ebooks are so big.
So, you’ve got your contract, your editor has agreed to print your book, now it’s time to start sending your relatives to the bookstore, right? Nope. It can take two to three years for a book to get on the shelves once it’s sold.
Two to three years.
So, I guess the question to all of us writers is: why are we wringing our souls out on the page just to be smacked in the face with such lousy odds?
I can’t answer for any of you. All I know is, there’s a scene I’ve got to finish before critique group and only an hour before my two-year-old is bound to wake up from her nap. That’s a statistic I can’t ignore.