Maybe I’m out of line asking this, but could you give us a feel for the percentage of clients you take under contract whose work you go on to sell to a publisher?
Maybe someone needs to create an independent, self-reporting database for authors to register their sales success rates with various agents. I’ll consider hosting it if enough people think it’s a good idea.
I thought this was a really interesting concept. The problem is that it’s just not that easy. Do you want my fiction vs. my nonfiction clients? Romance vs. mystery? And when do they have to be sold by? I think that right now a very high percentage of my clients are published, however very few of them were sold on the first book they sent or the initial project I took them on with. And what about those clients an agent was able to sell one book for, but not any others? Or, how about this . . . what about career building? There are definitely agents who can sell books, but do they have the ability to take their clients to the next step and make the bigger deals?
I have no idea what the percentage is for clients I take on whose work I sell. What I can tell you is that right now I have a small handful of clients who haven’t yet been published. We’ll get there, I know we’ll get there, but for now we’re still plugging away. In all honesty, I hope that for quite some time I always have a small handful of clients who have yet to be published. It means I’m still giving new and unpublished authors a chance and hopefully that big first sale, because there are few things as exciting. I also take on the occasional risk, the book I will tell the author straight off the top why I think it’s going to be a particularly tough sale, but I’m willing to take that chance because I love the author’s voice, the idea, and I really want to give it a shot. Taking that risk could very well bring my numbers down, or it could account for a big success. Would I want to take those kinds of risks if I knew people were tracking my percentages?
I think the more important thing to consider is how long agents are willing to stick by clients, how well they can build a client’s career, and of course track record. You wouldn’t want an agent who sells no books, of course, but I think you want someone who is happily in the 60%-75% range. Someone who is willing to take a few risks, but also willing to stick by authors knowing that this project or that project might not sell, but the author’s voice is amazing enough that the next one will.
Publishers Marketplace does a great job of tracking self-reported deals (of course not all deals are listed and not all agents list deals). I think by looking at this you can get a sense for what agents are doing.