Blogger: Wendy Lawton
Lately we’ve heard a number of literary agents citing the number of sales they’ve made, comparing those numbers to other agents. Don’t you think it’s time to dig a little deeper?
Let me state from the outset that this is not a blog post intended to compare Books & Such agents to any other agency, whether an agency that specializes in the CBA market or in the general market. We shy away from making claims comparing our sales to anyone else’s sales for the following reasons:
- There is no way to know how many sales an agent makes unless that agent honestly discloses those numbers.
Most do not disclose those stats for a number of reasons. I can speak for one agent who could easily get caught up in that kind of competition and yet that agent knows that attitude does not please the One she serves.
- Sometimes an agent will make claims based on statistics gathered from Publisher’s Marketplace, an online service that announces recent publishing deals, sometimes including the approximate size of the advance. The site also ranks the number of sales for agents and editors, both for the year and for all sales ever reported. Few of the longtime agents in CBA report all their sales to Publisher’s Marketplace. Some, like Books & Such agents, rarely report sales at all, believing that until a book is released for pre-sales, the information regarding that book is up to the publisher to divulge or not.
- Many times the claims of sales are on par with the claims made by fishermen about the size of a fish that got away. ‘Nuff said.
- There are no rules about what constitutes a sale. Are we talking about foreign sales of the same book? These are legitimate sales but they are very different from the initial sale.
- How about reported “sales” which are little more than placements with a small indie publisher who offers no advance and historically shows precious few book sales. Is that a sale?
- If an agency helps its clients self-publish an out-of-print book or a ministry book, is that a sale?
I could continue to ask questions to qualify what makes a sale, but again, I’m not participating in this numbers game. It’s important for a potential client to ask these questions and hope that the answer is accurate and forthcoming. If I were to seek an agent who claimed “top” sales, and if my goal was to have my book published by one of the respected traditional publishers, I’d ask what percentage of those sales were made to my target publishers. If I were looking to be published by an up-and-coming indie publisher, I’d ask what percentage of those sales came with an advance over x-number of dollars– whatever my bottom line.
I guess I’m just irked when those in my profession sound more like the snake oil salesman of old than the professionals we are. All sales are not equal and one cannot compare quantity to quality. All anyone needs to do is look at an agent’s clients and the books on the bookstore shelves to sense quality.
This blog is not aimed at any of our CBA agents in particular. For the most part we have a fine group of professionals who strategize carefully and take great pride in considering the career path of each writer when we sell a book. And those professionals sell an amazing number of quality books– just look at the shelves!