Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Exclusives: Time's Up

As much as I preach against it, every once in a while some of you will go ahead and offer an agent an exclusive. Well, you know how I feel about that, or at least you should. I hate exclusives and think they are unfair to the author. I’ve written about this before so I’ll stay off my soapbox.

Instead I’m going to tell you how to handle that exclusive when you’ve gone and done it. Believe it or not, there are definitely times when it’s okay to offer an exclusive (although I would still never recommend it). If you’ve given one to an agent you know you want to work with and you know would be a good fit, then by all means go ahead and give that exclusive, but on your terms. In other words, nothing longer than four weeks and, if you ask me, nothing longer than two to three weeks.

The problem with an exclusive of any kind is that three weeks can be shot in a minute. If an agent has a conference, is out of the office for an emergency, or is suddenly handling a rash of sales, a week can go by in the blink of an eye. So what does it mean if she hasn’t responded in the allotted time frame? It could mean that she’s lost interest and it could mean that she’s been just too busy. In other words, in could mean anything. My advice to you is that when time is up, send a nice email reminding her that the exclusive period is up, that you are still anxiously awaiting word, but that you need to continue to submit to other agents.

Remember, exclusives don’t do the author any justice. Don’t sit around and wait for any agent, the same way you shouldn’t sit around and wait for any man (or woman) because yes, this is like dating. Nothing gets someone’s interest faster than a little competition, so if you really want to grab the agent of your dreams, dangle another man, (ahem) agent, in front of her face.

And because I know that no one ever listens to me, I’ll open this up to readers. How have you handled exclusives in the past?



kris said...

What do you mean, no one ever listens to you? Pshaw. We hang on your every word :-)

As for exclusives, the one time I was asked for one, I couldn't grant it because there were a half dozen other agents with either fulls or partials. So I called up the requesting agent (and asked for her assistant - but from the way she was talking, I think I got the agent herself but she was faking). I told her, sorry, would love to, but other folks already have it. Should I still send it? I was told to send it anyway, but it would take longer for me to get a response. Fine by me.

Aimlesswriter said...

If an agent asked for an exclusive and we said no wouldn't that turn them off? Make them think we didn't know how to play the game?
As an prepublished writer I'd be afraid to tell an agent no.
As for Kris's response above would she had been better off just not to tell the agent that it was in the hands of others? I think the agent telling her now it would take longer to get a response that the agent had her nose out of joint. I mean if she really thought it looked good why was it suddenly back in the slush?

BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...


I discussed exclusives at great length last December. I think I answered your question here: http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/2006/12/handling-exclusive-requests.html


Christopher M. Park said...

We do listen! This is great advice, as usual.


kris said...

Ah, Aimless, who knows what eveil lurks in the hearts of - well.

Maybe she didn't like my answer. Maybe she knew I was someone who would honor my word. Maybe her interest moved a little higher, since she knew others were interested. maybe she thought I was lying to try to build up a mystique around the book. I mean really, who knows?

I didn't know that exclusives were bad at that time, but I did know I couldn't lie. So I did what felt right to me. If she didn't like that, well, then that in itself was an indicator that we wouldn't have been able to work well together.

Anonymous said...

There are a couple of agencies who are well-known for their preference for exclusives. I've queried both a few times, and each time they say they want it exclusively, I simply say, "It's already out with x number of agents -- would you prefer to wait until they're finished?" And their response has always been, "Send it anyway." I think most agencies realize the exclusive is running out of steam ;)

Anonymous said...

When I was querying, an agent requested a 4-week exclusive on my full. I couldn't grant it because I had other material out. She read the full anyway and eventually signed me.

So Aimless, don't be afraid of making an agent "mad." This is a business. They know that. And even if other agents aren't reading requested material, you can still say, "I'm unable to grant an exclusive at this time." Period.

By the way, all the writers I know who've granted exclusives have either never heard from the agent again or received a rejection letter.

jbstanley said...

When an agent requested a two-week exclusive from me, I told her that I had other interested agents waiting for my MS and that I could only offer her one week. She agreed. If you're sending out your work to folks, don't let it get held up in one place. You can sacrifice one week, but not four. This is your shot, take control of it!

Anonymous said...

I listen, Jessica, and thanks for answering my question!

I did send her an email, and she responded back saying she had just been busy and was hoping to get to it this week. I was really happy with her the couple of times we talked over the phone and she seemed geniunely interested, but if I don't hear from her this week, I am moving on.

Anonymous said...

I've had two experiences with exclusives. The first was "I can only read this if I have an exclusive". (yucky!) The second was "I would like a 2 week exclusive". I actually granted both and had to put Jacky on pause until that two weeker was up! But I don't regret it. Two weeks wasn't too long in my opinion. He knew I had send queries and partials to other people and when he didn't get to the book in said period he had no problem dropping it.

All things considered I think an exclusive can be a warning sign, at the very least of someone I wouldn't get along with. I don't even plan to grant more than two weeks at this point. And only then to my top choices.

Anonymous said...

Question: (And it might be an obvious one)
If the agent has lost interest (as you suggested), even if they are busy, why wouldn't they email to say this at least?

Dwight's Writing Manifesto said...

So far, half of my RFPs came with a request for exclusivity.


Okay. Fine. Agents have their reasons. I granted the exclusive reads. I actually honored the terms of the exclusive. One day we might end up as business partners and I wanted to do my part to start things off on the right foot.

But, after keeping my ms out of circulation for eight to 12 weeks of an open-ended "exclusive" relationship, the agents respond with a "Dear Author" form letter.


No. That's wrong. That's not "just business, Honey." That's plain ol' rude by any human standard of conduct.

Agents of the world, if you want an exclusive, you owe us at least a one sentence critique/explanation, even if its as brief and brutal as "Your writing sucks."