Writing Picture Books, A Look at the Numbers (Part 3 - Agents)
#1: Was your debut picture book published with the help of an agent?
About half of picture book debuts were published with an agent's assistance.
However, 73% of debuts at Big 5 publishers were negotiated with an agent. If you want a Big 5 publisher, you probably need an agent.
#2: Are you currently represented?
More authors are represented by agents now than when they signed their first book.
If you sell your first book without an agent, there's a 30% chance you'll go on to sign with one...eventually.
However, most unrepresented debut authors remain unrepresented. Now, are you more likely to sign with an agent if you've published a book than the general query pool?
Yes. I asked a few agents for their typical acceptance rate and the consensus was: less than 1%. A published author has a 30% chance vs a 1% chance of signing with an agent. REMEMBER, these responses are from traditionally published authors, many with Big Five contracts (20%), and not all of them signed with agents. Therefore, self-publishing your work to "establish yourself" is not likely to attract an agent's attention or interest.
So what is likely to attract an agent's attention? I asked. The agents said their #1 reason for signing new clients was the quality of the work.
MY TAKEAWAY: If you are a picture book writer and want an agent...
- write a highly polished story and query letter
- query agents before publishers
- have at least three other polished stories ready to send (most picture book agents ask to see additional unpublished work before signing you)
- don't provide illustrations unless you are a professional illustrator
- don't send mass queries, but do query widely.
- Submit, submit, submit: Set a goal to get 100 rejections in the next year. Beat those <1% odds!
#3) How many agents have you had over the course of your career?
Most published picture book authors (75%) have had one agent or no agents.
However, of the writers with agents, it's not uncommon to have had 2 or 3 agents (32% of represented writers). It's less common to have had 4 or more agents (2% of represented writers) .
#4) How many months from signing with your agent until you sold your first book together?
- (7%) Received the offer before signing with an agent. The agent came on board to help negotiate the contract.
- (2.6%) Less than one month
- (28.1%) 1-3 months
- (20.2%) 4-6 months
- (9.6%) 7-9 months
- (10.5%) 10-12 months
- (16.7%) 12-24 months
- (1.8%) 24-36 months
- (1.8%) More than three years
- (1.8%) Haven't sold anything together yet
About one-in-five authors sold their first picture book more than a year after signing with an agent. 10% sold a story in under a month, but that's partly because 7% come to the agent with an offer in hand.
#5) How many different picture books did your agent send on submission last year?
Most picture book agents (60%) circulated three or fewer stories per client last year.
#6) If represented, how many picture books did you sell last year?
The average published picture book author with an agent sold one story last year. However, a handful of authors sold four stories and many authors sold nothing.
Here's how it breaks down according to how many stories their agents submitted:
- Half of authors on submission with one story sold something.
- 68% of authors on submission with two stories sold something (23% sold two stories)
- 66% of authors on submission with three stories sold something (37% sold two or more stories)
- 77% of authors on submission with four stories sold something (33% sold two or more stories)
- 64% of authors on submission with five to nine stories sold something (35% sold two or more)
- 100% of authors on submission with ten or more stories sold something (25% sold two or more stories)
Sending out multiple stories increases the likelihood an author will sell at least one story. However, agents had a similar chance of success whether they were submitting two stories for a client or nine stories. Submitting more stories (on average) doesn't translate into more sales after the two/three story mark.
#7) If represented by an agent, what percent of your editor submissions receive responses (rejection or acceptance replies) within three months?
Most picture book agents (53%) hear back from 90-100% of editors within three-months.
Agents hearing back from 50% or less by the 3 month mark are in the bottom 5%.
Also, almost all agents (99.1%) will give you a submission list (names of houses and/or editors) if you ask. It's unusual for an agent to withhold this information.
Finally, some authors prefer not to be told where their stories are going on submission. That's totally fine! Your agent should be willing to share this information (or not) in a way that works for you.
#8) If represented by an agent, how many editors did your agent submit to on your most recent round of submitting?
An agent's typical submission round for picture book manuscripts is 5-9 editors.
One author noted that their agent only submitted to one editor because their next book was part of a series. Sometimes an author has contractual obligations that limit an agent's ability to submit more widely. However, 75% of agent submissions went to five or more editors.
#9) What types of houses did your agent submit to on your last round of submitting?
Most agents (77%) submitted to a mix of large and small houses. No agents in the survey submitted exclusively to small houses.
#10 How many trade picture books have you (and/or your agent) sold over the course of your career?
I asked all authors (regardless of representation status) how many picture books they've sold. The most common answer was two-four books.
However, authors without agents were more likely to have only sold one story. Most authors with agents (66%) have sold more than one story. Having and agent usually means selling more stuff.
That said, the author selling the most books isn't represented, so anything is possible.
ANYTHING. IS. POSSIBLE.
These numbers are just that: numbers. Data. They can tell you averages, but they can't define you or your work.
So write that book you need to write.
Find that publishing path you need to take.
And start the journey...