Recently I read a lively discussion about the purported absurdity of agents insisting they “fall in love” with a novel from a pre-published author before they choose to represent it. Essentially the complaint came down to “if it’s at least as good as the stuff you can buy at the book store, why isn’t that enough?”
A quick refresher in agent economics may shed some light on the question. Let’s say Ms. Agent has decided she needs to clear $75,000 to make a go of the agenting business. Further assume 25% of her gross will go for overhead: rent, supplies, a part-time reader maybe, lunches with editors. By golly, that means she needs to earn $100,000. [I've made up all the numbers, but they’re sufficient for our purposes here.]
Ain’t going to happen.
Turn this around: If she can make a sale a week (which would be spectacular) each sale needs to generate almost $13,000 and at a more realistic, but still pretty good, twenty-five sales a year, author royalties need to exceed $25,000 a book.
On average – and that’s the rub. What makes this whole industry work (currently) is not the average, but the positive outliers. A best seller covers a lot of minimal advances that never earn out—even though they might be just as well written as the best seller. Furthermore, it is rare for a first book to be a best seller.
A bunch of really good books, one per author, won’t generate nearly as much revenue for anyone as a series of good books by a single author. Haven’t we all read something by a new-to-us- author and then gone back to read their earlier books? That’s why agents want to sign people who can write multiple books.
This means the agent must invest time and effort on pre-published authors before they are profitable; and time and effort are precious resources for an agent. Like the rest of us, there is no way to get hours back once we have expended them. With so many pre-published authors vying for agent representation, why would an agent choose to represent an author whose first work they didn’t love?
It makes complete sense to me [but hey, I’m probably better at the finances stuff than the love angle anyway.] Now I just need to develop a strong enough query letter so an agent will want to read my stuff. Once they do, I know they’ll fall in love!
WWK Blogger Paula Gail Benson has two short stories running in Kings River Life Magazine this weekend, "Pelican Spring" and "The Mama Factor." Both are Mother's Day short stories. You can read them by going to: http://kingsriverlife.com/category/kings-river-reviewers/terrific-tales/
Linda Rodriguez is a finalist in two categories for the International Latino Book Awards (given out at BEA the end of May)--one for Every Last Secret and one for editing Woven Voices: 3 Generations of Puertorriquena Poets Look at Their American Lives (with Gloria Vando, Anika Paris, and Anita Velez-Mitchell). Congratulations, Linda!
The second SinC Guppy anthology, Fish Nets, has been released by Wildside Press. WWK authors, Gloria Alden, Warren Bull, Kara Cerise and E. B. Davis have short stories in this volume, which can be bought at Wildside Press, the usual retailers and will be available at the Malice Domestic Conference. Look for "the story behind the stories" on May 1 here!
Upcoming Salad Bowl Saturdays include authors Carolyn Mulford on 5/25 and Liz Mugavero on 6/1. If you are interested in being a guest blogger, send a message to Jim Jackson at firstname.lastname@example.org.