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  1. #1
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    Possibly Useful Statistics

    Recently a US agent (Janet Reid) and a US editor at a major house (Betsy Mitchell at Del Rey) posted some statistics on what they had rejected and why in the past (but recent) period (10 months for editor, less for agent.)

    Both the stats and the reasons might be useful to people who want to know what to work on before they submit a proposal. Their posts are copyrighted (and since Betsy's my editor, there's no way I'm going to annoy *her* by snagging her stuff and bringing it here!) However, I can say that the agent is reporting on rejections of completed projects--in other words, the proposal had passed muster, but when she got the completed manuscript, it didn't. Her reasons range from "just not good enough"--was in the top ten percent but not the top one percent--to specific problems with the characters, plot, or quality of writing. The editor reported on submissions (probably agented, but that's not specified.) Of 133 rejections, 36 were for "not what we're looking for" and 18 for subgenres not doing well in the market now. That's 54/133 "not right for the market" (either Del Rey's specific market or the market in general) and 43 were "just not good enough." (Other in-book problems are also listed.)

    Both agent and editor expand a bit on these categories, so it's worth reading their actual posts, even though it means leaving this venue:

    Agent: http://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com/...f-with-in.html

    Editor:
    http://www.suvudu.com/2010/01/what-i...-i-say-no.html

    Though I never advocate writing to the market, once you've written the book, it's important to know what current market conditions are. If the market is flooded with the exact sub-genre your book's in, or if that sub-genre's sales are off right now, you might consider holding off on submitting that one as you write something else...once you get that first sale, it's easier to get others and the book that would've been rejected one year may be gladly accepted three years down the line.

  2. #2
    We Read for Light Window Bar's Avatar
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    The stats

    These are daunting numbers indeed -- kind of like wanting to be a pro baseball player. I've spent my adult life in small business, where failure rates run about 90%, but that's almost a sure thing compared to these stats. Ah well, what's a fellow to do?

  3. #3
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    Write anyway. If you love it, that is. If you feel the rush of excitement and sheer glee now and then (it's never always, but always some) when suddenly the plot untangles and you see what next--when the character turns around in the story and shows you something you'd never seen or grasped before.

    It's not a reason to quit. It's a reason to do it better.

  4. #4
    We Read for Light Window Bar's Avatar
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    stats

    Yep, you hit it. When a page, after many edits, comes into focus it lets off a little sparkle. And at times the world of one's manuscript seems more genuine than the one that most folks call real.

    We do it for the same reason we do most things: We choose it.

  5. #5
    Book of the Black Earth
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    "Never tell me the odds!" -- Han Solo.

    You have to pursue your dreams, even when they seem impossible. No, especially when they seem impossible. Nothing worthwhile was ever achieved without some degree of pain or sacrifice. Ignore the overnight success stories (if such even exist outside our imaginations); the vast majority of great artists had to claw and struggle to get any notoriety. You could be on that list someday, but only if you persevere.

  6. #6
    KMTolan kmtolan's Avatar
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    If an agent or editor (most likely the agent if they're any good) tells you that you are "not right for the market", remember that this is not a death knell anymore than New York is the only marketplace.

    There are quite a few indies doing e-book/pod who can afford to take on someone with a unique well-written story. Oh, you won't have the $$$ or distribution that comes from being in bookstores, but your work will be collecting royalties just the same instead of dust.

    Kerry

  7. #7
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    About the only thing I got out of it was the news that Del Rey doesn't do a lot of horror, which I already sort of knew. They do most of their horror in other imprints like Ballantine, Random House, and sister imprint Bantam Spectra, etc.

    But by and large these categories boil down to two:

    1) I didn't like it enough; and

    2) I'm not interested in those types of stories right now/not my thing

    Which is pretty much par for the course, as is the combination of the two. Not right for the market means number 2, and it tends to be the more short-sighted answer, but agents like to play to their natural strengths and editors have inventories they have to manage and panicked bosses over the bottom-line right now. It's also a softer way of rejecting authors who you think write decently, but I think it causes more problems than it solves as a rejection excuse.

    The bigger publishers can't always jump ahead into the curve because of that, which is why it's great that we now have a viable smaller press market, because they can go forth with a limited run on things that are a bit trickier to position. Then the bigger publishers start to acquire more in that area, and next thing you now, we have a thousand contemporary fantasy detective titles or steampunk on the market.

    And there is also the general fiction market, both larger houses and smaller presses. Don't be afraid to go into that market if you don't succeed with the category market. Especially if you are doing horror/dark fantasy, ghost stories, contemporary or historical fantasy, future thriller, etc., all of which are published regularly in general fiction. It may, in fact, give you more flexibility later on.

    What was also surprising to me is that they were taking on/buying like 2 titles out of 124 or so. That's a better ratio than I would be expecting these days. It wasn't entirely clear whether those two were from established writers or not, or their regular authors or not, but even so, it wasn't the worst news in the world.

  8. #8
    bcitsndslkSKEETSKEETSKEET keatskeatskeats's Avatar
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    reading posts like that are disconcerting in the superlative, largely because I never like to see people in those positions making such highly subjective calls: eg, "I didnt like the way the plot turned there"; equally disturbing was the phrase "good writing but this is not the story to launch an author with."

    However, I guess that is where having a good agent really comes into play since they will know a good editorial fit with ones MS, and remove as much as the subjective element as possible.

    "Never tell me the odds!" -- Han Solo.
    haha, nnniiiceee.

  9. #9
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by keatskeatskeats View Post
    reading posts like that are disconcerting in the superlative, largely because I never like to see people in those positions making such highly subjective calls: eg, "I didnt like the way the plot turned there"; equally disturbing was the phrase "good writing but this is not the story to launch an author with."

    However, I guess that is where having a good agent really comes into play since they will know a good editorial fit with ones MS, and remove as much as the subjective element as possible.

    haha, nnniiiceee.
    The subjectivity is the point. The entire fiction market is subjective because no two people experience a story in the same way. The job of the editor is to use their subjective judgment combined with the needs and plans of the publishing imprint or house to assess which works are going to be best, subjectively, for them. Which is why perfectly good works that may get sold elsewhere may be turned down. The job of the agent is to assess which works they subjectively most believe in and that fit that particular agent's interests, bearing in mind that an agent can only handle so many clients effectively at a time. And when the book comes out, readers subjectively assess it and argue about it.

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