Last June, I was out at Book Expo in New York City. Many publishing houses host cocktail parties at their booths on Friday and Saturday night. I was standing outside one of those booths, cocktail in hand, chatting with a fellow agent that I had met before but didn’t know well.
She was reading a full manuscript that she really liked on exclusive.
I mentioned that I never ask for exclusives. She laughed and said she never reads a full manuscript without it and obviously I had never gotten burned otherwise I would do the same.
I smiled. Didn’t argue the point. It was Friday night after all. But there she was wrong.
I certainly have vied for projects in competition with four or five other agents. Sometimes I’ve landed the client (and was thrilled) and even just recently, I didn’t win the client. I was the first runner up and it made me quite sad (especially when I read the news that the project sold a week later in a pre-empt! Then I was doubly sad.)
It doesn’t change my mind though. I still don’t ask for an exclusive read. Why? Because it’s not in a writer’s best interest.
You should have agents fighting over you and your project. That way you can interview all the agents and find the best fit. You can’t do that if you allow one agent an exclusive look.
Now, if you are 100% positive that one certain agent would be the best person for you, then fine, do it. Otherwise, I don’t see how granting one is beneficial to your career.
So, in my, mind. Here are the rules:
1. If you grant an exclusive, you need to honor it. Be sure to include a time limit. I think three weeks is sufficient. This is your career and it’s hard to get an agent. They shouldn’t trifle with you.
2. If your manuscript is already out with an agent and a request comes in from another agent but that agent wants in exclusive, don’t sweat it. Send the manuscript anyway with a note that explains why it can’t be for an exclusive look. If the agent returns it unread, his or her loss—not yours.
3. Never allow an exclusive on a query or a partial. That’s just silly. Exclusives, if ever, should only be reserved for a full manuscript.
4. And finally, if several agents have your full and they’ve been nice enough to not request the evil exclusive, do keep them in the loop about the manuscript’s status. If another agent has offered representation, let the other agents know so they can throw their hats into the arena as well. It never hurts you to have a choice. It rewards the non-exclusive-asking agents as well. At least we still have a fair shot at winning it.
I never want a client of mine to feel like they have settled for me and my agency. I’m a competitive person, albeit a very nice one. I love the challenge of “let the best agent win” and feel pretty darn triumphant when it’s me.