A numbers game

March 18th, 2008 • Kate


Being a writer searching for an agent is hard; believe me, I know. You put your manuscript out there and have to wait… and wait… and wait for someone to respond. And even then, you don’t know — will it be loved? Rejected? Critiqued? It’s a tough game to play, but I wanted to do my little part to help explain the waiting.
Basically, it’s a numbers game; as in: every agent sees a huge number of submissions.
How huge? I’ll use myself as an example:
kt literary has been open since February 1st, so that’s… thirty-four total business days at the time of this writing. In that time, I have received over one thousand emailed queries — roughly thirty per day. I’m the only one reading them, so that means I personally need to read those one thousand emails, most of which include a few sample pages — I suggest three on my website, but assume an average of two page emails. That’s two-thousand pages, approximately. (And doesn’t include all the emails that come in that aren’t queries: contract negotiations, client correspondence and other publisher conversations, for example.)
If I like the look of a query, I’ll request five sample chapters, which will average about 40 pages. I currently have over thirty sets of sample chapters in queue to be read — so let’s say 1,200 more pages.
Finally, I have five or more full manuscripts in my Inbox, averaging 250 pages each. Another 1,250 pages.
That’s a lot of pages to read! (And every day, there’s 30 new submissions added to the list.)
Even if I had someone else to share the initial query reading with (I don’t, and never have 1), if something were spectacular, I’d still need to look at it myself.
So sometimes I — or any agent — may take a little longer to look at something than promised. Hopefully, all those numbers will help you understand why, even if that doesn’t make the wait much easier.
So thanks to all the writers out there for thinking of me, and thanks for your patience while you play the waiting game.
Now, I’m heading back to my reading chair to make a few more of those numbers shrink.


1 – At kt literary, everything gets seen by me, personally. You’re not going to get a rejection because an anonymous assistant disliked your letter, or was having a bad day. I’m not saying that’s what happens in other agent’s offices — I’m simply promising you that that definitely won’t happen here.

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3 Responses to “A numbers game”

  1. Gogirl Says:

    Thanks for that, Kate. I really needed to hear this today because this process can be beyond frustrating, and it's hard not to take a slow or zero response personally. I hope you get through those partials and find some fabulous gems to represent!

  2. H. Pinski Says:

    And then there's all that pesky client work you have to take care of. I swear, I don't know how agents make it through the day without their eyeballs bleeding.

  3. beth Says:

    The good thing is that with blogs and such, writers who are active in the community can still feel connected. You've had a query of mine for awhile, but I don't feel ignored in part because I read your blog everyday, and I understand how busy it is. I can only imagine how much more stressful life as a writer (and agent!) must have been before the internet age, where it seems to me that submissions were sent out into the wild blue yonder with no idea of the process involved. I sent my first querries out with little more than a stamp and prayer, with no idea of what happened to them after the mailman picked them up, then I chewed my nails for months. Now that I understand more about the business side of writing from blogs and internet sites, I don't worry so much and have a better understanding about how long the process really is. Thanks for the blog and keeping us all in the loop!