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The Unfairness of an Exclusive Submission

An exclusive is when a literary agent asks you to give them an exclusive look at your manuscript. You agree not to send it to any other agent until you’ve heard back from this person.

I hate exclusives.

This is a soapbox I’ve long stood on and one I don’t plan on getting off. Exclusives, no matter how well-meaning, are unfair to the author. They limit an author’s ability to have a choice of agents and hire the agent that is right for them.

How Exclusives Take Away an Author’s Power

At the end of the day, no matter how it feels during the querying process, authors are hiring agents to work with them as business partners.

When an author receives an offer of representation it is their time to interview all offering agents and make a choice of who would be the best fit for their vision of their career.

Giving an agent an exclusive takes away the opportunity to interview all possible agents. Simply because no one else has your material. It would be like hiring the first contractor who shows up at your house without the chance to get bids from others.

Responding to Exclusive Requests

An agent who is hungry enough and interested enough in your work will accept the fact that you can’t offer an exclusive.

If an agent requests an exclusive my suggestion is to send the material with a note thanking them for their request but letting them know you can’t offer an exclusive at this time. Someone who is truly interested will read the book fast. They’ll also be willing to compete for it.

If they won’t read it without an exclusive you need to decide if that’s the kind of business partner you want to work with.

The Exception

There is one exception to the exclusive rule. There are always exceptions. Revisions. If an agent has offered extensive revisions, its reasonable they’ll also ask for an exclusive.

In this case, the agent believes in your book enough to give you feedback with the possibility of no reward. They love it, but they need to know that you have the ability to do the work to make it something they can submit.

A revision (or R&R) puts both you and the agent at an advantage. It gives you an idea of what it would be like to work together.

A revision is the only place where I would offer an exclusive, but I would set a time limit. Any agent should be able to respond to a revision in 2-3 weeks. If not, I would let them know you are continuing to submit to other agents.

This won’t take them out of the running. It also won’t slow down your querying process. Publishing takes long enough as it is.

For more on this you can see the videos we’ve done on exclusives:

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3 comments

  1. I’m surprised agents still request exclusives. I understand them when they’ve gone to the time and effort of suggesting revisions, but otherwise there is no benefit to an author. Especially as there is no guarantee the exclusive agent is going to make an offer.

    Not the sort of business partner I would want to work with.

  2. I’d like to submit my manuscript to DAW and they require a 3-month long exclusive (no agent involved). I have never published anything and could use some advice. DAW seems like a really great publisher, but is it worth it? Also, how would they know? Does exclusivity mean I cannot submit to agents as well, or just not to other publishers?

    Their words:
    “We will not consider manuscripts that are currently on submission to another publisher unless prior arrangements have been made with a literary agent. It may require three months or more for our editors to review a manuscript. If we take longer than three months to review your manuscript, we no longer require an exclusive submission.”

    At the same time, they also state in their FAQ:
    Do you accept works that have been previously published (self-publishing, e-publishing, etc.)?
    DAW can consider all submissions as long as the author currently retains all rights. If you do currently retain all rights, then you may submit the work to us for consideration.

    Thanks for any help!

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