2018 Literary Agent Analysis – Genre Edition

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Check my Query and Publish series: one episode per agent.

2018litagpic
Click here for the Gender Edition

Unless stated otherwise, the data here is from QueryTracker.net. The charts are my own interpretation of those numbers.

In 2017, I began analyzing literary agents open for queries in the United States. This year, I adapted this content into an annual series divided into two posts: Genres & Genders.

This is the 2018 Literary Agent Analysis – Genre Edition.

Note: if you want to learn about single agents, check my Query and Publish series where I analyze six different agents based on their tweets. See also my Science Fiction special focused only on SciFi queries.

So, without further ado, here are the 2018 numbers. As I already said, the data used here is from  querytracker.net, which is an awesome site to track how many agents tell you this business is subjective by nature.


Notes:

  • Unless specified, the charts are about agents open for queries in the US.
  • Click on the charts for a higher resolution version in case you can’t read them.

Overview

In February 2018 querytracker.net had 1591 agents in their database. 1237 of them were in the US and 909 were accepting queries:

2018literaryagents_qtc

Compared to 2017, querytracker.net has more agents in their database. Still, the number of agents open for queries in the United States has actually decreased by 3:

literaryagenst20182017comp.jpg

According to statista.com, in 2016 there were 44690 writers and authors in the United States:

writersandauthors
Data from statista.com

This is a staggering number. For simplicity, if we assume they all have agents, each agent would have about 30 authors to work on. 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. That’s why most queries are rejected:

querystatus_qt

If you ignore the queries that are still out, about 9.5% of them result in requests (partial or full). And requests are far from a guarantee of representation.


Agent Analysis

The data mixes up audience (Young Adult, Children, Adult, etc.), genres, and writing styles (Literary, Commercial, Upmarket). For simplicity, I broke those numbers into Writing Styles, Fiction and Non-Fiction.


Writing Styles

Writing style may be a misnomer, since some may consider any genre fiction as commercial. Still, others say we do have Literary Science Fiction. Annie Neugebauer says that commercial fiction is for entertainment, while literary fiction is art. Upmarket is the intersection of those two:

literaryupmarketcommercial
As for Venn Diagrams, I like some, dislike others, and the rest I like and dislike at the same time.

In Commercial fiction, the story is easy to follow and there may be a little hand-holding and overexplaining. Literary fiction, on the other hand, is supposed to make you think.

literarycommupmarketdiff20172018c.jpg

If you want to know what a real agent thinks about this, read Sarah LaPolla’s explanation in this blog.


Fiction

Click on the charts for a higher resolution version.

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.

2018litagficwl.jpg

Young Adult, Thrillers/Suspense, Middle Grade, Women’s Fiction and Mystery are way ahead of others such as Historical, Romance, Fantasy and Science Fiction, with at least 30% more agents looking for them. Military/Espionage, Erotica, Western, and  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 two agents in the database that’s looking for it. Still, it’s one more than in 2017.

In fact, even if you write for the most popular genres, your pool of agents is below 50%. Only 44.3% of agents open for queries are looking for Young Adult. Genres such as Fantasy (16.8%) and Science Fiction (16%) fare even worse.

2018litagficbarswl

Still, these numbers don’t tell the whole story. If you, like me, are searching for agents who are looking for Adult Science Fiction, you may assume that there are 145 places you can send your query. But there are two problems with this assumption.

First, this is an upper bound. Some agencies have more than one agent that accepts queries for Science Fiction, and many agencies do not allow you to query more than one of them.

Second, the information from the graph also includes agents that are looking exclusively for Young Adult Science Fiction, since agents may be searching for more than one genre/audience. In fact, even if you separate those numbers, the information may be misleading:

agentslookscifi.jpg

Based on the chart above, only 32% of the agents are open for Science Fiction and not Young Adult, or a total of 46 agents (out of 145). However, agents accepting both often are also looking for Adult Science Fiction, and the only way to know for sure is to go to the agent’s website.

Of course, this doesn’t mean the information here is useless.  It still gives you an idea how popular the genre is.

Fiction Trends

Since this is only my second post in this series, it’s too early to detect any long-term trends. Nevertheless, we can already see some interesting changes:

20182017litagficdiffwl.jpgYoung Adult is the preferred Fiction genre in both 2018 and 2017, but it’s down 5% from last year (403 agents in 2018, and 424 agents in 2017). The largest absolute gain is in Action/Adventure, followed by Contemporary and LGBT.

20182017litagficcompg.jpgIn relative numbers, Poetry doubled from last year – from 1 agent to 2 agents. Yay! Contemporary grew 31%, LGBT 29%, while Graphic NovelsHumor/SatireMulticultural and General Fiction all grew between 6% and 10% from 2017.

The largest drops were in New Adult, Erotica, Short Story, Romance and Fantasy. Science Fiction dropped 1%.


Non-Fiction

2018nonfiction.jpg

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, LGBTGardening, PetsDecorating, and Military are at the bottom, and I still don’t know what Reference is in this context.

The picture below shows the percentage of agents open for queries that are accepting each one of the non-fiction genres. Only 40.2% of them are looking for narrative.

2018nonfictionperc.jpg

Non-fiction Trends

Compared to 2017, Memoirs and Cultural & Social Issues has the largest absolute gain, each with 14 more agents in 2018. Science and Technology, Juvenile, and Current Affairs/Politics have between 10 and 12 more agents.

20182017compnonfiction

Percent-wise, Juvenile and LGBT had the largest growth, while Reference is down almost 20%. Psychology, Relationship/Dating, How Tos, and Pets, all are at least 7% lower.

20182017litagnfpercgood.jpg


Conclusion: Which One Should You Pick?

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Despite what the data says, you shouldn’t write in a genre just because it has more demand than the others. Instead, 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.

Also, check Kristen Lamb’s hilarious post about choosing your genre.


Acknowledgments

Thanks for QueryTracker.Net to let me use their data here. Also, thanks to my lovely daughter for the stick figure drawing.

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