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.
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: