Pub Rants

Exclusively Yours

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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.

19 Responses

  1. WarHammer said:

    I have never been a big fan of the exclusive request. I have as yet not had to deal with that particular issue as I have only had agents ask for partials up to this point. I can see both sides of the argument, but as a struggling writer, I want to be able to keep all my options open. I have noticed that many of the top publishers such as Tor, Baen, Daw, and others will accept unagented material as long as it is on an exclusive basis. The problem is they can take up to a year to make a decision. Thats just too long of a time period to have to sit on your manuscript.

  2. Jer said:

    Miss Snark said, “Kristin is probably one of the very best agents around for chick lit (and she’s looking for science fiction too). You’d be hard pressed to get a smarter, savvier agent.”

    So I’m here.

  3. Chesya said:

    This is really good advice. I have two agents interested in my novel, and I wasn’t sure if it was acceptable to send it to them both. Also just got a request for a partial, but I was thinking of waiting until I heard from one of the others to send it.


  4. Kate Epstein said:

    Hi Kristin! I’m excited to find your blog and will check in often.
    My view is that an exclusive could hurt me as an agent because a writer might wonder what might have been. And I want my clients to be sure about me. Realistically, even a signed contract doesn’t prevent them from dumping me. So I want them to be reasonably sure before I do what I sure as heck DO want exclusively, which is editing an ms. or proposal.
    Kate E.

  5. The Beautiful Schoolmarm said:

    You’re listed as recommended by PReditors and Editors, too.

    I’ve been researching agents and have found some who want to know if simultaneous queries are being made, accompanied by the note that exclusive queries will be give more prompt consideration. Isn’t that asking a bit much at the query-letter stage?

  6. Eileen said:

    I think an agent that asks for an exclusive is like a guy who asks you not to see anyone else after the first date. Unless you are sure they are The One- I would keep my options open. Kirstin I met you at SIWC and have sung your praises since. Getting the “insider view” is always appreciated.

  7. Elektra said:

    becca, I’ve seen that too–I’ve even seen ones that say queries are only accepted on exclusivity. I imagine that a lot of people lie about it, but really–why would they want to work with such a person?

  8. Nadja said:

    Before I knew to include an expiration date, I granted exclusivity to a well-respected and top tier agent on the query. Despite SASE and e-mail address, I never heard from her. I went on vacation and when I came back began querying again – always wondering what had happened to the exclusive query and whether or not I’d be struck down by a lightning bolt for cheating.

    And, yes, the problem with publishers and exclusivity is the long waiting period. At their rate, you can only query twice a year, which is absurd. I understand why it can take months once they have a full manuscript in hands, but an e-query without additional material shouldn’t take four to six months.

  9. Tempest said:

    I wish I head read this before I gave a partial ms to an agent exclusively! Now I know better. She got back to me very quickly on the query, though, so perhaps she will get back to me on the ms in a few weeks.

    Ah well, if she turns me down I may just send it to you. Thanks for the info.

  10. Michelle said:

    I would agree with you on partials and queries. Those really should go to lots of people. Once I’m at the full manuscript stage, I get uncomfortable if I have more than one publisher looking at a time (unless we’re past the 3 month mark–or maybe I should just find an agent and get over that issue). Anyway, I think with agents, it’s a little different. I’m okay with exclusives on fulls, as long as it’s a reasonable timeframe. 3 weeks is a good suggestion.

  11. Jpatrick said:

    I really like your view of the landscape here. I think an exclusive with a short fuse time limit is the best way. Otherwise, it’s an excuse to delay, and time is money. That goes for both parties.

  12. Irysangel said:

    So if an agent offers you representation and you have fulls out to other agents as well, what’s the best way to discuss this with the agent you’re on the phone with?

    “Wow, that sounds great, but I’m gonna have to think it over and call you back in about a week.”


    To me, that sounds standoffish. I just wouldn’t know how to phrase it.

    (and thank goodness you’ve brought this up, because it’s been bugging me lately. now if my horses would just catch up to my cart…)

  13. Anonymous said:

    Great to see you blogging too. I just came here from Miss Snark, and immediately said to myself, hey I know an agent Kristin in Colorado, because she has 30 pages of mine.

    Have a great day, and thanks for giving us writers more insight into the agent’s world.

  14. Muttman said:

    I’m really enjoying your blog, if for no other reason than to remind me not all agents are self-important jerks that care only about lining their own pockets. 😉

  15. Sandra said:

    Thank you for this post! You were the first agent I queried about my book and wonderfully enough you asked to see a partial. I was uncertain whether I should send out more query letters or wait to see what you thought about it first. The answer is obvious now. Thanks!