So far I’ve sent out 6 agent inquiries concerning the first novel in the Salon Postisme Suite; I’ll probably send another half-dozen over the next week. While sifting through the online information about the agents in order to target those I deemed most likely to respond favorably to my writings, I couldn’t help but think about the business milieu in which these people — and me too, tangentially — are embedded.
My data are sketchy, so I’m making some educated guesses. Let’s say that it takes half a year to write and edit a novel. Maybe one novel out of 300 submitted to agents gets published. The average published novel sells 3 thousand copies. At a 15% royalty rate on a cover price of $25, the author of the average published novel makes about $11,000. The other 299 unpublished novelists make nothing; or, if they self-publish, they sell an average of 50 copies of their books, which is next to nothing.
The agent makes 15% commission — the same as the author’s royalty. So the agent, like the author, averages $11K earnings on each published novel. Let’s say that the typical agent represents 50 writers and that, between them, these writers put out 10 new published novels per year. The agent can devote maybe 3 weeks’ time on each client’s new novel — the same pay as the author for a tenth the work. For 10 published novels, the agent makes commissions totaling $110K per year from his or her stable of fiction writers — ten times the average royalties paid to each published author in that agent’s stable.