It's a wonder anyone ever gets published. Prowling the internet yesterday I found these words reported in 2008 from a masterclass with agent Luigi Bonomi on the blog Wondering-Mind
Of 200,000 books sold per year, 190,000 sold less than 3000 copies. Of 85,000 debut books published – 60,000 sold an average of 18 books. It costs a publisher £7,500 to publish a book (printing, marketing, design, distribution) and that doesn’t include any advance – generally it is reckoned that 20,000 must be sold to cover costs.
The new writer therefore has to stand out and should check the market to discover what is selling. Literary Fiction takes about 5% of the market and has to have a big theme rather than small town ideas. Somwhat dependant on winning the Booker or some such award to make sales. Original structure and good writing is important – e.g. The Book Thief.
Commercial Fiction takes about 95% of the market. Despite gloomy reports, sales are vibrant – but in specific areas – so check the market.
The agent’s goal is to find the next talent – but they are overworked so they aim to reject – to weed out. The writer’s aim is therefore not to give the agent a chance to reject her. The writer provides a synopsis (3-4 pages maximum), 3 chapters or less, 1 short page covering letter.
Luigi’s agency receives approximately 5000 submissions a year (100 a week). – of these they will look at 60 (5 a month). If the submission has anything more than a simple rubber band for binding, it is rejected. If the cover letter has any spelling mistakes or it is badly presented, it is rejected. The first paragraph of the first page of the text (not the synopsis) is read – then the second paragraph – if it looks interesting it is put aside, otherwise it is rejected.In half an hour he will process 40 submissions and put aside possibly 4, of those he will read pages 2 and 3 – and probably reject – resulting in perhaps 1 a week.He will then read that submission (the first three chapters – or less).
If he likes it he will ask to read the rest of the book.There will be no feedback or suggestions re-revision – though if he is really interested he may send it to a reading agency for a critique. The language, style, rhythm, sound – is very influential. So it is important to listen to other people reading it (reading aloud to yourself is valuable, but hearing other people read shows better how it will be received). Then he looks at plot, storyline and characters.
Frightening to see what we're up against, isn't it?