Recently some of the blogging US literary agents have posted their stats for 2007 - Kristin Nelson's are here. I was fascinated to read that out of 30 000 queries read last year, she requested only 74 full manuscripts from which she signed 8 clients. Which kind of made me feel better about the amount of full manuscripts I don't request, and also made me wonder whether I'm taking on too many clients ...
Obviously there are less submissions to Australian agents but they still number in the four figures annually and, while trying to manage all the other business of an agency, hopefully prospective writers can understand why we often take a long time to read their manuscripts. For Kristin, reading those 30 000 queries no doubt took a LOT of time, and then she had 74 manuscripts to read at an average of 8 hours per manuscript - not counting the manuscripts her existing clients were sending her. Frankly, her figures made me feel a little ill because I sometimes become paralysed by fear looking at all the manuscripts I have to read and realising that I'm never going to get them read unless I sleep only three hours a night for the next three years - and such a lifestyle choice may, in turn, make me an ineffective judge of literary merit. I guess this is may way of saying to any of you who are sending out submissions - please be patient! And please don't yell at us if we're slow!
The other reason I mention Kristin's stats is to give prospective authors an idea of how much competition there is for agents and, ultimately, publishers. Each one of the 30 000 writers who queried Kristin would have believed that they had written something worth publishing. She felt only 74 had something maybe worth publishing, and it turned out that 66 of them didn't. This is even more reason to remember that, when you are preparing your own submission, it has to be the absolute best it can be - take your time to draft and draft again; do your research on the market (Has someone already published a book like yours? Is anyone reading books like yours?); think about the sales, marketing and publicity aspects of being an author because they are also important.
In other words: be professional. I may post more about this some other time. But for now ... I need to have a nap in order to get by on only three hours of sleep tonight.