Thursday, December 31, 2009

Statistics to torture yourself with in 2010

Periodically I've posted tallies of my replies to incoming query letters. After one of those posts I realized that it might be interesting to keep tabs on what happens when I request a full. I started keeping notes sometime this summer. Between that date and today, I requested 124 full novels.

Here's what happened:

Just plain not good enough: 21 (a novel needs to be in the 99th percentile-these were closer to 90%--not bad, but not good enough)

Good premise, but the rest of the novel didn't hold up: 11

Not compelling or vivid, or focused; no plot/tension: 10

Slow start or the pace was too slow: 9

I didn't believe the narrative voice: 5

Structural problems with the novel: 8

Interesting premise, but not a fresh or new take on familiar plots/tropes: 7

Had caricatures rather than characters: 2
Boring: 3
Grossed me out: 2
Major plot problems: 2

Needed more polish and editorial input than I wanted to do: 2

Good books but I couldn't figure out where to sell them: 7

Got offer elsewhere; I withdrew from scrum: 2

Great writing, just not right for me: 2

Not right for me, refer to other agents: 9

Not quite there/send me the next one: 1

Sent back for revisions with editorial suggestions and I expect to see them again in 2010: 9

Getting second read at FPLM: 1

Got offer from me: 2






(the rest fall into the miscellaneous category of problems too specific to list here)



37 comments:

Stephanie L. McGee said...

Very interesting.

Hope you get those 9 sent back to you this year. Very encouraging statistics. Thanks for sharing.

Bobbie said...

Of all of your stats, I'm most curious about the two that were intriguing enough to make you request them... but then grossed you out. hm.

Chumplet - Sandra Cormier said...

In some freaky, illogical way, that was encouraging.

Amalia T. said...

I prefer to think of it as moving into 2010 with open eyes and fewer delusions! Thanks for the stats!

Gary Corby said...

I want to know about the two that grossed you out.

Suzyhayze said...

Holy impossible stats BATMAN! Thanks for the breakdown... funny, it makes me feel... fuzzy and... ummm... a little giggly. Is that normal?

Livia said...

What do you mean by structural problems? Happy new year!

Mystery Robin said...

Torture's a good word - I keep trying to figure out which category mine would be...

julieduck said...

What a way to open eyes! Nothing like facts and figures that tell a story about the stories that come across your desk.

Good luck with the coffee maker - very important.

- Julie

Christa said...

Thanks for the statistics!

As twisted as this may sound, I actually like that it's so challenging to find an agent and get published. I think if it were easy, and every one could do it with little effort, then it somehow devalues the effort.

Margaret Yang said...

But couldn't all of us make a similar list? Yes! Just go to the bookstore and pull 124 books off the shelves. Choose which ones you want to buy and take home, and then list the specific reasons why you didn't buy the others. I bet your list would be almost exactly the same.

Yet another reason to query widely.

Margaret Yang said...

p.s. I'm not saying that published books aren't good. They are! It's just that tastes differ and writers tend to be picky readers.

Anita said...

This is really great stuff to see. Thanks for taking the time to share with us!

Ronda Laveen said...

Less than 2%? Ouch!

JamieKate said...

Oh, goodness. Interesting and daunting at the same time. Thanks for posting! :)

Jamie

Rachel Hamm said...

I guess I just have a weaker constitution than your other readers, Janet, because I do not find these statistics encouraging at all! haha. Thanks for sharing, it is nice to get some honesty from an agent about why they choose what they choose.

Lexy said...

That... was not encouraging.

However, it wins points for honesty! Yeay?

Lindsay B said...

This begs the question... What is the best way you can fail with agents? I'd think boring them would be the worst, though being guilty of structural and plot problems wouldn't be fun. If I grossed you out, I'd get to assume the problem was your woefully weak stomach (surely not anything I wrote), so maybe that's the winner. :P

Sandy Shin said...

Thanks for posting these statistics. They're eye-opening.

Lumpy Dog said...

Pretty sure I'm one of the two who grossed you out, but it's still an honor to have even made the list.

Rachel said...

I'm amazed that 20/124 were stale or boring (I added "boring" to "not fresh" to "not compelling" to get the 20) when the query letter was good enough to get you to request a full! I thought usually it was the other way around: great (or decent) writer who can't compose a query to save his life. Interesting that there are some who fit into the other category.

Richard Mabry said...

Need to be in the 99th percentile? Gulp!
Thanks for sharing this, though.

woodsfortrees said...

Almost everyone I've ever taken stuff to has said, 'Good, I like it, but I don't know how to sell it'. I'm not loopy, and I know you have to be able to sell stuff, and this is a business, but that's a really depressing thing to hear over and again, because it makes you think (just so you know): 'Who are these agents and publishers, and why do they think that their tastes are so esoteric that they really like something but they can't sell it? Why don't they think they can sell things they like to people who are like them? To me, and of course I am very biased, it sounds like a hopeless failure of ambition and imagination.' I'm not saying this is a fair way for me to have thought, but it is how I thought. I did sell, eventually, and I am doing fine. I'm writing this post for anyone else who routinely gets that reply.

Glynis said...

Just thrown MS into bin and taken up hiking ;0

Interesting to see your stats in the flesh, thanks for sharing.

Katie Hines said...

Wow, seeing that list makes me wonder how a person pedalling their first book comes out on top!

Sandra Patterson said...

Interesting post. Just for clarity, were these fulls requested on the basis of a query letter or had you already read a partial?

inthewritemind said...

Great break down of stats--it gives a clear picture into the process. Well, at least, your process.

There were two that grossed you out? Kind of makes me wonder what they were about...

Ellie said...

Wow. Guess I'll stick to Blogger, thanks!

Susannah Rickards said...

Interesting post.

What surprises me most is that these stats come from the submissions good enough for you to have requested the full manuscript. I am very surprised that the ratio of request for full to acceptance is so low. Thanks for the breakdown.

valbrussell said...

This was interesting to read, full of information and it reflects the first stage of the publishing experience for a writer. Not unlike a cattle call for actors auditioning for a part. Writers play every part in a book without showing themselves. It's all show business either way you look at it.

GalaktioNova said...

Thank you so very much!

And only three were boring, now that's encouraging. :-)

Erik the reader said...

OOOOuch.... I think I gonna send you my unwritten book untitled Empty Page. The no story is hollow like the eye of a dead fish. It's meaningless like the writing of a typing chimp, unless you see something understandable in it ....

Jaycee Adams said...

Very interesting, but also somewhat discouraging. Even after surviving the 100-1000 to 1 odds of finding an agent who will take a few hours out of their day to read my stuff, I still have another 98-99% chance of being rejected.

Thanks for laying it out there!

Nathan said...

What's the most depressing to me is that the market is FLOODED with books, most of which suck, and yet these books are the 2% agents thought were the best of the FULL MANUSCRIPTS they read. Then think about how the full manuscripts they requested are probably the best 2% of the queries they read.

Too many awful stories being told. Hope mine's not one. Of the awful stories, that is. I DO hope it gets told.

maxgrace said...

Dang... you actually keep track of that?

Katy said...

I've probably read this post a dozen times, and after a long time lurking, I have to ask a question -- are these full manuscripts that you requested after reading partials or sample chapters? Or are they just after reading a query letter? Or some mix of the two?

rjones221b said...

These facts are not discouraging. It simply means that a novel is not as trivial an undertaking as many would believe. I got lost writing my first one, and I feel no shame in admitting that. I invested in Sol Stein’s WritePro programs and before I was halfway though the material, I realized I no longer wanted to write the type of story I had written. My second novel is coming along much better--now that I have a better understanding of craft. And though I am certainly looking over some literary agents, I won’t start sending my story around until I know it can hold it’s own. And if you have to ask, “How does one know it’s holding its own?” Then you probably haven’t practiced, studied, or read widely enough to develop a sense of what is generally accepted. Unfortunately, that’s most people who sit down with their first notion to write. Prime example: I met a lawyer, an intelligent woman with a story to tell. And since her characters came from her profession, she even had the experiences to “tell” about. She never heard of the notion of “showing” your story. Nor did she bother to learn the format for submission. However, she managed to find an agent willing to look at her novel. Can you guess what happened?

This sort of enthusiastic plan that gets most first timers into trouble. Or maybe it’s just ego--all lawyers know how to write, don‘t they? Picture meeting someone who never played the piano, but sits down believing they are capable of performing a concert for an audience. Sounds ridiculous, but that is exactly what most writers (most creators of any kind) do when they start out. I was a commercial illustrator for eleven years. I learned a lot about ego vs. dreams. You have to observe the world very precisely through the rules of your media, or fake it so well that no one can smell the difference.