Note: Check my Query and Publish series: one “episode” per agent.
My blog posts so far are mostly about learning how to write after I finished my unagented novel, but this one is a look at the agents themselves: how many are out there, who they are, what genres they prefer, and what does it take for them to love me. Okay, maybe not the latter.
The numbers here are from querytracker.net, which is an awesome site I use to track my downward spiral into depression.
In February 2017 querytracker.net had 1515 agents in their database. 1193 of them were in the US and 912 were accepting queries:
This is a staggering number. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates 136500 writers in the USA for 2014 (the latest numbers available) – but this includes writers of all media. If half of them have agents, there’d be 50-60 published writers per agents (based on the 1193 US total). But there are probably millions of books out there unagented, and they’re flooding the same agents you sent your query with their own letters. Tough!
Let’s take a better look at these numbers.
Note: unless specified, the charts below show what genres the agents open for queries in the US prefer.
It’s weird that the genres are mixed up with audience (Young Adult, Children, Adult, etc.), writing styles (Literary, Commercial, Upmarket), and some odd ones like General Fiction. Regardless, for this article I’m separating Literary, Upmarket and Commercial.
The numbers are not mutually exclusive: agents are often open to multiple genres. So if one is accepting Young Adult and Thrillers/Suspense, he or she is included in both. Also, I’m highlighting Science Fiction in most charts since my own unagented book is Science Fiction and I’m selfish like that.
Note: click on the charts for a higher resolution version, in case you can’t read them.
Young Adult, Thrillers/Suspense, Women’s Fiction and Mistery are way ahead of others such as Romance, Historical, Fantasy and Science Fiction, with at least 30% more agents looking for them. Military/Espionage, Erotica and Western are at the bottom, and Action/Adventure and Religious are not doing so well. I feel bad for you if you write poetry. There’s only one agent in the database that’s looking for it.
This is a numbers game and the numbers are not that high. Of all the agents, only 10% are looking for Science Fiction:
In fact, even if you write for the most popular genres, your pool of agents is below 50%. Only 46.5% of agents open for queries are looking for Young Adult. Genres such as Fantasy (18%) and Science Fiction (16%) fare even worse.
Narrative, Memoirs, Pop Culture, History and Science and Technology numbers lead this list, and at least 20% more agents look for them than the remaining genres. Juvenile, Pets, Gardening, Decorating, LGBT and Military are at the bottom, and I don’t know what Reference is in this context, although I like to think it’s when my query says I’m friends with a famous person like Arnold Schwarzenegger. I’m not. But Arnold, you can always follow me on twitter and we can have a beer together.
The picture below shows the percentage of agents open for queries that are accepting each one of the non-fiction genres. Only 40% of them are looking for narrative.
Between 62-73% of agents are identified as women, 25-26% as men, and the rest do not identify gender. Obviously, no one should infer sexual orientation from these charts, and we should all support the LGBTQ community, which is between 3 and 4% of the United States population.
Since we have more female agents, they also dominate most genres.There are more women looking for Young Adult, Women’s Fiction, Middle Grade and Thrillers/Suspense. Fewer women are looking for Erotica, Action/Adventure, Western, Military/Espionage and Poetry.
Like women, men prefer Young Adult, but they also flock to Thrillers/Suspense, Mystery, Science Fiction and Fantasy.
The next charts normalize this distribution. For instance, for fiction genre preference normalized, of the all agents looking for Science Fiction (100%), 61.6% are women and 38.4% are men.
There are not enough agents in Poetry for us to reach any conclusions. 100% of the people looking for Poetry are women, but there’s only one person. Ignoring that, the chart indicates that more women than men prefer New Adult, Chick Lit, Women’s Fiction, Erotica and Romance, while more men are into Military/Espionage and Action/Adventure. Humor and Satire is a toss-up, too close to call.
Women agents look for Narrative, Memoirs, Pop Culture and History. After that we have a gentle slope with several other genres like Science/Technology, Food, Biography, and many others. Non-fiction books about Pets, Gardening, Decorating, LGBT, Military and Reference are not that popular with women.
Most men that are open for non-fiction queries prefer History, Narrative, Pop Culture, Memoirs, Science/Technology, Current Affairs/Politics, Sports, Biography and Business/Finance. Few male agents look for Pets, LGBT, Decorating/Design, Gardening, Juvenile and Reference.
If we look at the proportion of men vs women in non-fiction, it’s clear that women prefer Women’s Issues, Juvenile, Parenting, Psychology, where less than 20% of the agents are men. More men than women prefer True Adventure/Crime, but not by that much (50.7% vs 47.9%), and they definitely are more into Sports and Military than women.
See more charts in the appendix below.
Thanks to my lovely daughter for the stick figure drawing.
Conclusion: Which Genre Should You Pick?
After analyzing all the data available, relentlessly studying these charts day and night for less than 5 minutes, I have come to a conclusion that you should pick the genre that you know and like the most. Do your research, play to your strengths and have fun. No one likes a crappy novel in any genre.
And don’t worry about my downward spiral towards depression: my kids are always at the bottom to help me bounce back!
Here’s a game for you: there’s at least one typo in one of the genres; let’s see if you can find it! I did it on purpose, and it’s going to be in the test. I noticed it after I finished creating all the charts, and I made a snap decision to pretend it was not an accident. Editing note: remove last sentence.
Appendix – Even More Charts
Yay, it’s the first time I have an appendix for my blog!
Check this link for fiction and non-fiction charts combined, plus a few useless treemap charts of the same data.
Disclaimer: I’m not a writer, I have a hard time paying attention to detail, I overuse adverbs, I start a lot of sentences with ‘I’, and I often confuse words that are similar. More importantly, I reserve the right to change my mind at any time, in which case I’ll deny I ever wrote it. Please let me know if you find something that is too embarrassing. This blog is riddled with typos and creative grammar problems, but it’s mine. Luckily, I can always blame my mistakes on the fact that English is not my first language. Or hackers.