I've been reading a small debate on a writing forum. Someone stated that only 50-60% of first novels (represented by an agent) actually get picked up by a publisher. Their source is an agent's blog post. Another person questioned whether that agent's estimates are accurate. I'm sure some agents have different rates, this is supposed to be a rough average.
Is it true that even if someone signs with an agent, their odds of successfully getting a publisher for that book are only 50-60%? At first glance, that seemed a low figure. I'm afraid it really is accurate. But I'm curious about your thoughts on this. I want to recall a post by you about this (though maybe it didn't give actual figures?), but I can't find it again now.
You're missing two key pieces of information: time period, and number of books.
First, if an agent hasn't sold a novel within a day of signing the client, that's not a problem. A month isn't a problem either. Six months either, particularly in this acquisition climate. I've got several novels I've had on submission for longer than six months right now. There are a couple strategic reasons, and a couple just have editors who are backlogged as hell right now.
So it's entirely possible that I won't sell half my novels on submission within six months.
I have sold books that I've had on my list for nine years.
And let's all remember that Philip Spitzer, an agent I revere, had a James Lee Burke novel on submission for something like seventeen years before selling it.
The amount of time is hugely important for assessing something like this.
And here's the other factor: if I can't sell the novel I signed a client for, generally s/he's going to write a second or a third. We'll hit on one of them, we hope, eventually, but it makes the stats look bad if you're only considering the first novel an author writes.
But, more important here, your question tells me you're having doubts. Stop it.
As a writer, you must be determined to be the exception to any statistic that says you will fail. You must be willing to see that bleak truth, and refuse to let it apply to you. There's a lot to be said for vision and tenacity as keys to success.
Don't focus on statistics right now. Focus on your writing.