Unreliable Statistics

Facts can lie…depending on how that are presented or understood. Today I’ll keep this blog post focused on writers choosing a literary agent, based on one question.

When choosing a literary agent, authors need to make assessments. Some authors ask agents questions such as, “How many deals did you make last year?” or other questions requiring a response involving some sort of number.

Unfortunately for both writers and agents, even the best numbers don’t tell the whole story. For example, Agent A might have made 10 deals last month, whereas Agent B made one deal. So Agent A is more successful than Agent B, right?

But what if I told you that Agent A made ten deals for $10,000 each, while Agent B’s deal was for a $100,000 advance?

Now which agent is more successful?

If you are thinking, “I want to go with Agent B because his deals bring in more money,” that can be a valid response. But as a writer, are you in the league of an author who can demand a $100,000 advance? Authors at this point have usually worked extremely hard to gain this level of advance. If you are a newbie, this probably won’t happen for you, at least not right away. Perhaps you would be better off with the first agent making smaller deals.

Then again, the statistics might flip the next month, with Agent A making the bigger deal and Agent B achieving smaller deals. So now who’s the better agent?

And consider that, based on these simple facts alone, the writer doesn’t know the nuances of the deals. How many books were sold under each contract, for example? What if the $100,000 contract obligates the author to write ten books, while the $10,000 contracts obligate the author for one book each? (I don’t know of any author writing ten books for $10,000 each under one contract – this is just to keep the math simple.)

Please know that an agent cannot reveal contract details to other authors. Some publishers include confidentiality clauses in their contracts. Further, I advise my authors not to share their contract details. Those are too personal. Think about it: most Americans wouldn’t ask a doctor or dentist, “How much money do you make in a year?” So you will never know the nuances of other authors’ publishing contracts.

All this to say, don’t fall into the trap of using alluring and impressive statistics to make a crucial decision. They seldom, if ever, tell the whole story.

Your turn:

How valuable do you think statistics are when you make a decision?

What are some questions you would ask an agent?

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