Inside the Mind of Literary Agents

I was digging through my files and found a very interesting rejection letter from a literary agency. They were unusual in that they provided some insight into their process for deciding whether to take on new authors and books. So, I thought I would share some key parts from the letter (which I received in 2009).

“Like the rest of the arts, publishing is a very subjective business. Even though the founders of the agency have written and coauthored 14 books, most of which have been successfull, they still get rejected. And although we have sold book to more than 100 publishers since 1972, our clients’ work is still rejected. Nor do all of the books that we sell succeed.

“[We] are eager to find new books and writers, and we love to get excited about them. But the only way we can make a living is by selling books to the large and medium-sized New York publishers, and selling small books by new writers to big publshers is becoming more difficult. So, finding new writers is the hardest part of our job. And it’s getting harder.
[emphasis added.]

“Like editors, we recieve thousands of submissions a year and reject more than ninety percent of them. This forces us to use a form letter. But rejecting manuscripts that become successful books is a publishing tradition.”

(Frankly, I sometimes wonder if agents can do basic math. If they receive 1,000 books, the last statement implies they accepted 100 new authors/titles on average. This is highly unlikely. It’s probably closer to a dozen, and that probably represents new titles from current clients.)

For more, see my earlier articles on (Secret) Literary Agent Math, when it’s time to approach an agent, and literary agent “fishing.”