Sunday, May 6, 2007

Time and Numbers

I was talking to a friend who recently became a single mother (less than one year) and she confessed that she felt overwhelmed by the new responsibility to do everything by herself and her two teenagers. I told her it gets a little easier with time, but that the nature of being a single mother is to feel that there is always too much to do and that you're never really sure you're doing any of it well enough, because you're measuring yourself against an antiquated model from the 50's based on a two-person household.

She told me I was just more organized than she was, and I assured her I wasn't. Then I went on in the course of the conversation to say that I take a five minute shower every day except on the weekend, that I work out for half an hour five days a week, that I stop working every day exactly at 6:00 when I begin cooking and call my mother while I cook, and realized that she's right. The only way I can manage this business and single motherhood is to be on that treadmill at all times. I am always clocking myself, and I'm always running numbers through my head.

I thought it was the nature of the agent business, and part of that may be true, but I think it's also my personality.

And that's why I know how many query letters we get in a month (between 2000 and 3000), how many hours it takes for me to read a 300 page manuscript (6), how many major New York publishers there are (7) and how many sales it takes to make the New York Times best-seller list (55,000 in the winter, 65,000-70,000 in the summer).

Publishers have become obsessed with numbers too. The major New York publishers are not really interested in any kind of book - hard cover, trade or mass market - that they can't come up with a real good solid reason for 25,000 people buying. And that's why it's so hard to sell a first novel now.

But that's a another post, which I promise I'll write shortly.

This post is about my time and numbers.

A few years ago, I realized that I could only handle having 20 books on submission at a time. Every time I've sent out more than that, I've been overwhelmed.

Right now, I have 23 books on submission - 13 fiction and 10 nonfiction. Even when I've read something and it's ready to go out, I have to wait until I sell something to move it onto the active list.

Some of my existing clients can't understand that once I've read something and said it's ready for submission, that it could be up until a month until I actually send it out. Part of that reason is that for certain books there are only a handful of editors who read those kind of books. It I have one 300 page vampire novel on submission, I have to wait until I've sold it until I offer another, because I do not want the editor to choose between my two clients.


Sam said...

What you say makes a lot of sense. It's also scary seeing numbers when you're an author, because you're always writing against the odds.

Anonymous said...

Lori--I think clients understand waiting to go on submission so long as the reason is explained to them. My agent provides no explanation at all for 6 and 7 week delays in submitting my manuscript. Because I know the business and because my agent is a reputable veteran, I surmise that the delay is due to the reasons you cite in this post. But my agent--and many agents across the country--need to do a much better job of communicating with their clients.

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Interesting post (I was a single mom, too, for 13 years). One question regarding the bestseller numbers--how is that measured--over a week? a month? Just curious.

David L. McAfee said...

I never really thought about the number of books an agent would have on submission. I knew my agent had other clients, so I try not to bother her too much, but posts like this help put it in perspective for me. Just goes to show how little some of us know about the business end of writing. I'd wondered how many copies it took to get on the NYTBL. Now I know.

Thanks for this post, it was very informative.

Anonymous said...

You're good with numbers, and this keeps you organized (you probably have a routine; I can usually predict when the blog will have a new post by now). But I know an agent who wouldn't know how many queries he gets if his life depended on it. And he's good, too; this is no reflection on his abilities. It's just that some people are naturally more organized than others.

I also have a friend with three kids, and she has a husband, and two sets of in-laws helping her out. She's still a mess. And nothing's going to change that.

Ravenous Romance said...

Best-seller list is by the week.

Mizrepresent said...

Glad to finally learn about those NYT numbers.

Stuart said...

I had no idea what it took to be on the NYT best-seller list... For some reason, I thought 100k was the minimum mark. :)

Thanks for the clarification. And I'm looking forward to your "selling a first novel" post.

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