How Many Submissions Do Literary Agents Receive?

Sophie Playle

If you want to be a published author, you have two main options.

You can either self-publish or you can work with a traditional publishing house.

Most publishing houses don’t consider unsolicited manuscripts for publication. Instead, they’ll let literary agents do some of the legwork in finding new and amazing manuscripts. So if you want to be published by a publishing house, signing with a literary agent is often the best first step. Not only will an agent help you get a foot in the door, but they’ll also negotiate the best deals on your behalf using their extensive knowledge of the industry.

It’s not that easy to land an agent, though.

Literary agents receive so many submissions that they simply can’t take on every great writer. And because of the sheer number of submissions they receive, your manuscript might just fall through the cracks.

So how many submissions are we talking about?

The Writers and Artists website has a great series of interviews with literary agents. From these, I’ve pulled out the following submissions numbers:

Clare Wallace, Darley Anderson Agency

Submissions per week: 300+
Submissions per year: 15,000+
Most common mistake writers make: ‘Submitting too early, before the submission really is the best the author can make it.’

Danielle Zigner, LBA Books

Submissions per week: 50
Submissions per year: 2600
Most common mistake writers make: ‘Even if a manuscript has the best plot I’ve ever come across, if it’s poorly written I won’t be able to take it on.’

Juliet Pickering, Blake Friedmann

Submissions per week: 80–100
Submissions per year: 4700
Most common mistake writers make: ‘The opening chapters should show not tell. Take us straight into the action, and don’t worry about the back story.’

Lucy Luck, Lucy Luck Associates

Submissions per week: 50
Submissions per year: 2600
Most common mistake writers make: ‘Sending a manuscript before it’s ready.’

Hellie Ogden, Janklow & Nesbit

Submissions per week: 100
Submissions per year: 5200
Most common mistake writers make: ‘[N]ot having a clear enough idea of what their work is. As soon as you approach agents you are entering a creative but also business discussion and you must be clued up on where your book might fill a gap in the market.’

So, agents receive thousands of submissions each year. And of those thousands of submissions, how many new authors do they take on every year?

Usually between three and ten.

Between three and ten … of thousands.

Once you’ve stopped hyperventilating at the thought of how futile landing a literary agent seems, let me give you some reassurance.

This doesn’t mean your chances of signing with a literary agent are around two in a thousand. No. Because not all manuscripts are equally good. And not all submissions are equally good.

How do you increase your odds? There are a number of ways:

  1. Make sure you follow the agency’s submission guidelines to the letter.
  2. Make sure your book is in a genre the agent actually represents.
  3. Make sure your query letter is up to scratch.
  4. Make sure your synopsis is up to scratch.
  5. Make sure your novel is the absolute best it can possibly be.

If you do all that, you’ll greatly improve your odds of catching an agent’s attention. Even so, be prepared for the possibility that things still might not pan out. Perhaps the market for your book is too small to appeal to a publisher. Perhaps your novel is really, really good – but just not quite as good as some of the other submissions.

Sometimes that’s the way things go.

If following the traditional route to publication is your dream, put your manuscript aside and start writing another one. Publishing a novel is often a combination of skill, grit and luck. Sometimes it takes time for those three things to align.

Alternatively, you might consider self-publishing your book. Self-publishing poses its own challenges, but the beauty of it is that there are no gatekeepers.

Whichever route to publication you decide to take, you should make sure your novel is the best it can be. Working with an editor can be a real help.

Sophie Playleis a professional fiction editor. She specialises in developmental editing, critiquing and copy-editing, and loves working with authors and publishers who are passionate about high-quality storytelling. Speculative fiction, fantasy, science fiction and literary fiction are her genres of choice. She's an Advanced Professional Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading and has a Creative Writing MA from Royal Holloway, University of London. Find out more:

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