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Handling Exclusive Requests

We got so many great questions in response to a recent request to readers. Here’s just one of many I’m going to address:

What would you recommend in this scenario?

An author queries twenty agents or so. Half a dozen respond with requests for partials or fulls. One agent requests an exclusive for three weeks, but the author has already sent out some requested fulls. What does the author do?

A) Wait for responses from agents who already have the full manuscript, at which point author would be able to grant an exclusive (of course, by that point, said agent may have lost interest);

B) Regretfully decline, because it’s not possible to provide an exclusive; or

C) Send the manuscript anyway with an explanation that it has already been sent out but that author will not make a decision or send out any more fulls during the requested three-week period?

Can you shed some light on what an author should do in this case? Many thanks.

If you haven’t seen me there before, here’s a chance to watch me climb up on my soapbox. I HATE exclusives. I think they are unfair to the author and lazy on the part of the agent. I have heard agents defend exclusives by saying that they ask for them because they don’t want to compete with other agents or, frankly, think they can’t. And yes, I have heard agents say those exact words. If you can’t compete, don’t play the game.

Except in the case of an option clause, publishers don’t demand exclusives from agents and therefore I don’t think agents should ask any differently from authors. In fact, right now I’m in the middle of a bidding war with four different publishers over a book. Can you imagine how unfair it would have been to the author had the lowest-bidding publisher demanded an exclusive? It certainly wouldn’t have done much for the contract, or the final advance numbers.

So what’s my suggestion? C. If the agent is interested enough in you and your work to make it worth your while, she’ll read it whether or not other agents are also reviewing it. Be honest. Send it out and let her know that while you can’t grant an exclusive you will certainly let her know if any other agent makes an offer and give her a chance to also offer. If she won’t read it then she’s probably not that excited about your work in the first place.

—Jessica

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4 comments

  1. Amen. You said a lot here, Jessica, and though I’ve not queried any agents yet (as I really haven’t had anything to query and even when I finish my YA/middle grade story) I doubt I’ll need an agent for one story – so may never get to this stage. Anyway – I think it is also harmful to everyone involved to request an exclusive, especially even after requesting a full ms -there is no guarantee that you will be signed on and there is no guarantee that the agent requesting the exclusive can actually sell your ms –

    That old saying, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen comes to mind – when you say that the agents have stated that they can’t compete – their loss then – they need to take some lessons from someone who can show them how to stay on top of everything – E 🙂

  2. Jessica, what’s your take on Poisoned Pen Press’s policy of exclusive submissions? I understand the time and energy involved in reviewing a manuscript, but holding a writer’s novel hostage for up to a year seems terribly unfair. Does PPP insist on exclusive submissions from agents? Do they read agent subs faster?

  3. I don’t agree with exclusive submissions from any house–whether it’s Poisoned Pen, Random House or Harlequin. I think they are unfair to the author whichever way you look at it. My advice is that if you feel a place that offers exclusives is your only alternative than go ahead and send that book while working on and/or submitting your other work.

    And you are correct, there is a lot of time and energy that goes into reviewing submissions which is why it often takes so long for agents and editors which is why it is unfair to ask for an exclusive.

    –Jessica

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