Getting an agent: What are the odds? (Eek!)
I just got my new issue of POETS & WRITERS, a pretty good writing mag that has a large section in the back full of writing contests, retreats, etc. Anyway, the latest issue has a story about a day in the life of a literary agency. Take a gander at these words:
Folioroughly a hundred thousand queries a year, or slightly more than two hundred queries every week for each of the nine Folio agents currently accepting unsolicited queries. ...Hoffman, for his part, took on four new clients in the past year, only one of whom came to his attention via an unsolicited query -- meaning that, in an average year, the odds of an author without connections finding representation with Hoffman are one in 11,111.
Holy mackerel. I figured maybe an agency gets 200 queries per week (I heard that number years ago), not 200 for each of nine agents.
I think a lot of this has to do with the relatively recent trend in being able to find and contact agents via e-mail, which is pretty much how everyone does it these days. Several agents have blogs, too, making them more visible easy to find than in the old days. It used to be that you had to go to the library, pull a hulking director of agents and publishers off the reference shelf, sit at a table, and make notes on what their preferences were (and the book was often a year or more out of date anyway). Maybe you'd start with a few agencies to contact. Then, of course, you had to print out your manuscript (or a few chapters) and mail it with a self-addressed stamped envelope. Then you'd wait months and get the whole thing back with a three-line form letter.
Now, you can spend a few minutes on the internet and shoot your query off to a bunch of agents if you want to do it that way. It's no longer a process that weeds out the less-than-dedicated.
I'm glad I managed to get published before things got this way -- I don't know if I'd have ever gotten an agent if my chance was 1 in 11,111.
(If anyone is reading this and seems daunted, good writing will always catch someone's attention, so don't give up. Also, if you lack "connections," attending a writing conference is a good way to meet agents. Then you can say in your query letter that you met the person at such-and-such a conference, and it helps.)