Dear Miss Snark,
We've (hopefully by now) learned that exclusives to agents suck. Do you send exclusives to editors? Years ago, my agent at the time sent my ms to one editor, and we'd wait. Then on to the next one. Is this common? I thought at the time it was. What do most agents do?
well "most agents" I don't know, but I send exclusives to editors sometimes. I have a ms out to one editor right now just cause we were yapping on the phone the day I got the ms in and was extolling its virtues. He asked to see it, I sent it. He's got it exclusively cause I don't have a cover letter for it, or any of the other stuff I'll need to send it out to other people. I have a pretty fair idea of what I"m going to get for this debut novel so if this editor comes back with that number, we'll probably do the deal. It helps that I know and like this editor a lot.
I am also getting ready to send a very very very hot novel out on an exclusive early read to a very very hot and busy editor. She gets a week to read as much of it as she wants and tell me if she's interested. If she is, she can read it exclusively for another week, and then get back to me with a pretty serious number. I'd be happy to sell this to her that fast cause she's a really good editor and her publishing company is one of the major ones and they'd be a nice launching point for this author.
Here's the difference between me sending exclusives and you giving exclusives on your work: first, I know these guys, have worked with them before and I have a pretty solid idea of what they can and cannot do. Second, exclusives are part of an overall strategy that suits my clients needs (and mine of course) rather than the editor's needs. Third, you'll notice none of those exclusives are open ended or for very long at all. Fourth, there's a much more even distribution of power between agent/editor than querier/agent.
The tactic you mention of one editor at a time is not something I do. I simply don't have that kind of time to waste. I either send something to one editor early for quick first look, or I send it to a bevy of editors and tell them they better get cracking or lose this hot property to someone who was quicker off the mark. (You can only say that on the phone when they can hear the laugh --those kinds of comments in the one-dimensional style of email don't work even with emoticons!).