Long time reader of the blog from Western Australia here. I appreciate you taking the time to share your insights on the publishing biz.
JR: Since I love maps, I thought I'd post this with the question!
I have a question regarding the numbers I see agents use about how many queries they get. Numbers like "I receive 10,000 queries a year and may take on 4 clients". (I just made those up but you get what I mean).
Those are the kinds of numbers that make a writer weep. But I'm wondering if it's wrong to take those numbers at face value. Because as we all know, there is the cliche of the slush pile being stacked full of unintelligible and derivative manuscripts.
An agent may receive 10,000 queries a year, but how many of them are any good? Quality is pretty subjective, but there is probably a baseline competence everyone can agree on. If an author is capable of writing a decent story in a marketable genre, are they really competing with 10,000 other authors? Or are they realistically competing with a far smaller number? I've thought about it like the London Marathon. If you want to win that race, you're not realistically competing against 10,000 runners; you're competing against the 50 people at the front who have trained for years and years to win.
You're smart to realize who your competition is.
It's not the dunderhead who queries me for dino porn set in Czarist Russia.
It's the author who queried me for something I DO want to read; it's the number of requested fulls in any given year.
I may get 100 queries a week, but I've requested only 69 manuscripts so far this year. Last year, 100. 2016 about half that.
Your competition, if you're writing a book I want to read, is 100, not 10,000.
This really isn't a numbers game. I can request as many fulls as I want. There's no limit. Yesterday
I requested four (two weeks of vacation will do that). Today, zip. Some weeks, nada. Some weeks
it's a deluge. (It does seem to come in spurts; I have no idea why that is.)
Thus: don't let the numbers scare you. The only question I'm asking when I read your query is do I want to read this book?
A couple ways to catch my interest: vivid writing, plot twists, deft use of language. All that is entirely in your control. You just have to know it when you see it. Or don't.