Check my Query and Publish series: one episode per agent.
Unless stated otherwise, the data here is from QueryTracker.net. The charts are my own interpretation of those numbers.
Take a look at Enemy of the Gods – Sometimes Dreams are Overrated–the sequel of my debut Science Fiction and Fantasy novel Challenges of the Gods. Click here to read the reviews. If you like my writing style, please check it out!
In 2017, I began analyzing literary agents open for queries in the United States. It became an annual series. Initially, I divided the series into two posts (Genres & Genders), but this time I’m only doing the genres version. Although I love writing these posts, they take a lot of work, and they rarely result in direct book sales.
This is the 2020 Literary Agent Analysis.
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. There’s also a Science Fiction special focused only on SciFi queries.
So, without further ado, here are the 2020 numbers. As I already said, the data used here is from querytracker.net, which is an awesome site to track how many agents wish you the best in your writing and publishing journey.
- 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.
Previously on this series:
In January 2020, querytracker.net had 1627 agents in their database. 1275 of them were in the US and 898 were accepting queries:
Compared to previous years, querytracker.net has slightly less agents in their database for 2020. Still, the number of agents open for queries in the United States has increased a bit to 898 (up from 886 in 2019):
According to statista.com, in 2018 there were 45210 writers and authors in the United States.
In fact, a 2018 survey revealed that just 21 percent of full-time published authors made one hundred percent of their income from books.statista.com
This is a staggering number. For simplicity, if we assume they all have agents, each agent would have about 36 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:
If you ignore the queries that are still out, about 8.1% of them result in requests (partial or full). And requests are far from a guarantee of representation.
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 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:
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.
Note that there isn’t a significant change for Literary Fiction and Commercial, but Upmarket is adding more and more agents since 2017. I guess Upmarket is.. up.
If you want to know what a real agent thinks about this, read Sarah LaPolla’s explanation in this blog.
Now, let’s analyse Fiction trends first.
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 and Fantasy in many charts since my awesome debut novel and its sequel are both Science Fiction and Fantasy and I’m selfish like that.
As always, Young Adult dwarfs everything else. Next, we have Thrillers/Suspense, Middle Grade, Women’s Fiction, and Mystery, which are ahead of others such as Historical, Fantasy, Romance and Science Fiction. Military/Espionage, Western, Erotica, and Poetry are at the bottom. Action/Adventure, Short Story, New Adult and Religious are not doing so well. Poetry is getting better despite the low number of agents. There’s only six agents in the database that’s looking for it. Still, it’s three more than in 2019.
What these charts also tell us is that 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 (19.5%) and Science Fiction (17.8%) fare even worse.
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 160 places you can send your query. Oh, you sweet summer child. 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 or audience. In fact, even if you separate those numbers, the information may be misleading:
Based on the chart above, only a third of the agents are open for Science Fiction and not Young Adult, or a total of 54 agents (out of 160). 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, or stalk his or her home. I’m joking. Please don’t do that.
Of course, this doesn’t mean the information here is useless. It still gives you an idea how popular the genre is.
This is my third post in this series, and it’s getting harder to show the information. Here, I only show the data label for the current year (2020). You can check the chart to see the trend. Click on the chart to see the original picture and have a better look.
Young Adult is still the preferred Fiction genre since 2017 (when I started gathering the data), but it’s down 0.5% from 2019 and down 6.6% from the year 2017. The largest absolute gain is in Picture Books (28 more agents), followed by Graphic Novels (+24) and Middle Grade (+22). Large absolute losses are in General Fiction (-10), Religious/Inspirational (-2) and Young Adult (-2).
Here’s the same chart in form of line trends (this time including literary fiction, commercial, and upmarket):
The next chart shows percentage growth (or decline) from 2019.
Most genres had more agents or stayed the same in 2020 when compared with 2019. In relative numbers, Poetry gained 100% from last year – from 3 agents to 6 agents. Yay! Graphic Novels 37.5%, Short Stories 35.3%, Picture Books 34.1%.
The largest drops were in Religious/Inspirational, General Fiction, Young Adult.
And here are the trends for the top 11 fiction genres. I added picture books because of how much it’s been increasing since 2017.
And here is the growth comparison between 2020 and 2017–the year I started gathering the data:
Memoirs is still in first place (surpassing Narrative in 2019), but barely. These two are the most popular non-fiction genres by a lot. They’re followed by History, Pop Culture and Science and Technology.
Gardening, Pets, Decorating/Design, 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 41.6% of them are looking for Memoirs.
Compared to 2019, History and Journalism had the largest absolute gain, each with 28 and 18 more agents in 2018 respectively. Sports (-8) and Current Affairs/Politics (-7) had the largest absolut losses.
Again, click on the picture for a better look.
Percent-wise, LGBTQ+ had 28.2% more agents looking for it, followed by Juvenile and Pets. Current Affairs/Politics, Sports, and Military are at the bottom.
Conclusion: Which One Should You Pick?
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.
Thanks for QueryTracker.Net to let me use their data here. Also, thanks to my lovely daughter for the stick figure drawing.
This is the place where I usually have links to my other articles–my awesome posts on writing, or my agent series (scroll down for single agent analysis), but no one ever gets here, or, if they do, they never click on them. So, instead, I’m going to tell the best joke of all time.
Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He’s not breathing and his eyes are glazed. The other guy whips out his cell phone and calls 911.
“I think my friend is dead!” he yells. “What can I do?”
The operator says, “Calm down. First, let’s make sure he’s dead.”
There’s a silence, then a shot. Back on the phone, the guy says, “OK, now what?”