Monday, April 27, 2015

How Exclusives Harm Authors

Last week I wrote a blog post about exclusives and I received a lot of great comments and questions. Rather than answer in the comments I decided to use the opportunity to write another blog post, or a few blog posts. That way anyone with the same questions can see the answers and I have filled yet another day (or days) on the blog :)

For those who might not know, an exclusive is when an agent asks for you to submit material exclusively to her. That means you stop querying other agents and if you do get a request on a query that is already out you must wait to either hear from the agent with the exclusive before sending to other agents, or wait until the exclusive time period is up.

Why is this a problem?

1. We all know how long agents can take with submissions. It's not because they want to take forever, it's because other things come up. Contracts must be negotiated or reviewed, an author's manuscript needs to be read or edited, or lunches with editors must be lunched. All of these things mean the submission pile grows and before long said agent (ahem) looks at her list and realizes she has requested material from as far back as February 1 (sorry about that).

2. Giving an exclusive, even with a strict time period, means that you've already committed to this agent. You've said, "yes I want you to read my work and if you like it and offer representation I'll sign with you because I have no other options." This is the part about exclusives that tweaks me the most.

When you commit to an agent you are hiring someone to work with you. Repeat this: YOU are HIRING someone to work WITH you. Would you ever agree to have a landscaping company give you a quote only if you give them an exclusive on that? Meaning you can't ask any other landscaping company to give you a quote. I hope not. And that's just to have someone cut your lawn.

By offering an exclusive you are giving someone the opportunity to manage your career, your dream career, without the chance to interview the right person for the job. And that's a big mistake.

One more analogy. You're a business owner. You have a vision for your business and you need to bring on a partner to help make things happen. You find about 10 people you'd like to interview for the job, but one of them tells you she wants an exclusive interview, which means that you eliminate the other 9 people without even having the chance to talk to them.

Would you do it? Because I've just described exactly what an exclusive is.

Later this week I'll discuss how to handle an offer in more detail. As for Exclusives:

Just Don't Do It.



The Other Stephen King said...

"YOU are HIRING someone to work WITH you." - well said, but why is it with so many (other) agents it feels like we authors are the Oliver Twist of the situation, asking for more gruel?


Clair Brett said...

Very good post! I think that new writers who are just starting out, don't see it like that. Authors who are established and already have experience are more clear on the YOU are HIRING someone, but as a new author who is trying to get represented for the first time, it is more that the agent is choosing you not the other way around.

Elizabeth Seckman said...

I agreed to an exclusive once. It took the agent a year to consider my submission with many back and forth emails. Then, out of nowhere, she quit the business completely. It burned so badly, I quit querying. I had done my research, met her in person, and thought myself wise.

If I had read this then, I'd have known how ridiculous the idea of an exclusive was and missed out on the heart ache and frustration.

Anonymous said...

This information is helpful. Thank you. You have a sense of fairness that is important in any business. Thanks again for sharing this.

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AJ Blythe said...

You might be already be planning on addressing this, Jessica, but what do you do if you want to query an agency that lists 'exclusive queries only' on their website? Mention you've queried all and sundry in your email to them, ignore and not mention or something else?

Further to this, I've seen the following if we request your manuscript, we prefer that you send it to us on an exclusive basis as well. Would you apply the same theory to this as to a query? As in, why not send pages to anyone who asks rather than limit to the one agent?

LynnRodz said...

Great post, Jessica. I haven't started querying yet, but I'm getting closer, and this puts things in perspective. Thanks for saying what a lot of agents will not.

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Christopher Sly said...

Thanks, Jessica. I will certainly be following your advice when I send out queries for my forth novel, "Bacchus Town", and you will certainly receive one.