More on exclusives...which stink

Hi Miss Snark,

So glad you finally reemerged and are, again, putting out flaming tresses.

We all know that EXCLUSIVES SUCK. So here's the dilemma: A number of agents request sample chapters (often up to 50 pages) as part of the initial query process. A couple others always request the full, skipping the partial step, when they are interested. The full and/or query + partials then languish for months in the slush.

Is it then, a little white lie or a whopper to send requested materials on an exclusive basis (Just for laughs, assume the exclusive period is a short and well-defined one.) if, in fact, partials and fulls are in limbo somewhere at the bottom of a crushingly-huge slush pile or floating ethereally in cyber-neverland?

What to do; what to do?!

Kisses to KY,

It is NOT ok to lie. You must say "I'm glad to send you my ms, but I have had serveral querie/partials/fulls out previous to this and while I've not heard back from these agents, they do have the work".

If an agent doesn't choose to read something after hearing that, well, you're disappointed but you're NOT in danger of looking like a duplicitous scoundrel.

Exclusives stink for a lot of reasons. One of them is that it puts prospective clients in awkward positions for OUR convenience. That really stinks.

I never ask for exclusives. I do ask if anyone else is reading the work. I know if four other agents are interested, I'd better be prepared to read promptly AND be persuasive about the charms of hanging your hat at Snark Central. To sign a client without letting them explore all their options is BAD AGENTING.

There's no business reason or advantage to a client for exclusive review. None. If any of my colleagues care to dispute this, I'll be glad to post it and let the discussion rage.

(KY says "enough with the love talk; where are the cookies?")


Termagant 2 said...

The only time I can see any mutual advantage to an exclusive is when you have a piece with a firm offer you haven't accepted yet, and you contact your agent of choice to work the deal for you. Otherwise, I wouldn't think it's beneficial for either party.

How say you, Snarkophiles?


Mario said...

Ok, say you have a chapter and outline at agent A. Then agent B asks to see something from you. You send chapter and outline to agent B, informing them that another agent is looking at it as well. Are you then obligated to inform agent A that you have since offered the material to agent B?

suicidal writer said...

Thank you, Miss Snark, for the timely response; sale prices on rope were still in effect. I shall now repair to the sturdy oak in the backyard. Not going to bother with correlating body mass with rope length. If my head pops off, I'll have great material for a memoir.

Personal to KY: Chill! Cookies --chocolate chips removed for safety -- are enroute. Tell your biped the cookies are "Yucky" without the chocolate and she won't beg.

KingM said...

I think agents shoot themselves in the foot by asking for an exclusive. I wrote a book a couple of a years ago that gathered some modest interest: a few requests for partials, a few requests for fulls. It was slow enough and the responses were wishy-washy enough that it wouldn't have killed me to give someone an exclusive because the project was borderline anyway.

With my most recent novel I had all sorts of interest. I had a couple of requests for exclusives and I would have been a fool to grant them when others were willing to read without. My book was stronger than the last one and agent interest reflected that. I eventually signed with someone without ever granting an exclusive.

In other words, I think asking for an exclusive is likely to cut an agent out of the running for the most interesting stuff, leaving them to choose from the other 99%.

I think the same goes for speed of response. The race goes to the swift. My last few queries have just come home, including another request for a partial. Thank you, but too late.

Anonymous said...

On AW there was a recent discussion about agents requiring 90-day exclusives on partials. Several of the published writers kept insisting the writer in question should just suck it up and go for it (the agency was a big player). Those of us who disagreed pointed out that the writer isn't really the bottom-feeder of the publishing pond, and our time deserves as much respect as the agent's.

Anonymous said...

The agent who wants to see my partner and my pages for a non-fiction work wants to see 50 pages exclusively. He said that since it is exclusive, he will get back to us "in a timely fashion."
I'm good with that since--as of yet--no other agents are knocking down the door.

ORION said...

I never had any problem telling an agent who wanted an exclusive read that I was not able to grant the exclusive because my material was also out elsewhere. I merely agreed to keep all the agents in the loop and
always mentioned others were reading the full. When I got one offer, others followed.
I really agree with Miss Snark here. You do not have to agree to an exclusive but if you did - be prepared to follow with a firm time period and honor it.
You gain nothing by equivocating.

Torrey Meeks said...

Most of the stuff I've read from agents who SELL on a regular basis is that, unless it's a seriously big name, don't go the exclusive route.

For most agents with relatively new writers they need the pressure of knowing, "Shit, I could be passing up the next big thing if I don't get on this," to dig into a new manuscript right away.

Especially if you're trying to break in, it helps if you can say, "Hey, I've got three other agents chopping this manuscript up and snorting it. Whatcha got?"

CA said...

I couldn't agree more, and it's nice to hear an agent express that opinion. So far, two agents have told me they only wanted the material if they could have it exclusively, but when I said: "I'd love to send it to you, but other people already have it. Do you want to read it to you anyway?" both of them replied: "Oh, yes, send it."
This is a relationship after all. Why would someone demand that you be exclusive when you haven't even gone out on a first date? Makes no sense to me at all.

andrea said...

I just had a big agent ask for a four-week exclusive on a partial (!) for a short story collection. Problem? The full's already with two agents.

I asked if he wanted it anyway. I thought he'd say sure, like others on this thread have reported. He said no :( His rationale was that "short story collections are hard enough to sell without having to compete with other agents." Boo.

To make matters worse, he then said that he'd read it after I heard back on the fulls, but knowing it had been rejected in full twice wasn't the best situation for reading it.

I was really disappointed by the whole thing: he's a great agent and I would have loved it to all turn out differently.

Torrey Meeks said...


Honestly, I wouldn't despair. Agents are businessmen like anyone else, and knowing how to 'sweat' a first time author for a sweet deal is an invaluable skill.

You think he got to be a big time agent on accident?

My guess is that if you wait a week, this agent will get back to you asking for the full thing on a non-exclusive basis.

If it was good enough for them to request an exclusive despite being a hard sell, it's good enough to swirl around in their head for a week, all the while wondering, "Fuck, did I just try to slap my big agent dick all over the next Annie Proulx?"

Annie Proulx's big breakout, Brokeback Mountain? It was 'buried' in a short story collection. Who's to say you don't have the same material?

I can't guarantee you, but I can say what I'd do in your shoes.

I wouldn't sweat it.

If it's good enough to get one big time agent begging for an exclusive, it's good enough to attract the attention of less highfalutin agents who're willing to bust their ass to make a sale on an author they believe in.

Anonymous said...

The agency where I work asks for a three week exclusive. I've had authors email me and let me know that there are other agents reading their work but they haven't heard anything from them. I always appreciate when they let me know. Sometimes they ask if we still want to see their work. I always tell them to go ahead and send it to us. The exclusive is meant to really just keep down the number of other agents looking at it. I've never told anyone NOT to send their MS after they've disclosed, I just ask that they refrain from sending it out from that point on. To our credit, we get back to the majority of authors way before the three weeks are up so they don't lose too much time. But I do agree with you Miss Snark that the advantage is for the agent not the author. I don't think it's the most horrible thing in the world, since we try to be speedy but yes the situation is in the agency's favor.

Kiskadee said...

My full ms had been out with a couple of agents for a few months when an agent from a major agency (actually, my first choice agency!) asked for an exclusive. This was a new round of submissions; I'd had the full rejected twice, but with great feeback and I had revised it thoroughly for this new round.
I told her I couldn't give an exclusive as it was already being read. She immediately asked me to send it anyway, promising a quick read. A week later she signed me.

It should be obvious to agents by now that kingm is right:
"I think asking for an exclusive is likely to cut an agent out of the running for the most interesting stuff, leaving them to choose from the other 99%."
All the writers I know with good manuscripts say they would only grant exclusives if all other options are exhausted. That means if an agent askes for an exclusive she's probably getting the dregs.

Notta Nitwit said...

Thanks to your wisdom over the past months, Miss Snark, I was able to handle a recent request for an exclusive with aplomb.

I received the request (exclusive on a partial -- how odd!) from a decent agent. I was annoyed at the exclusive part, and waited out the day to plan a strategy. Fortunately, another request came for a partial via email toward the end of the day.

Delightedly, I responded to the SECOND agent's request first, saying I'd be happy to send the materials.

Then, I packaged up the requested pages for the FIRST agent and mailed them off with a cover letter that explained that my material was already out with others, but that I would be happy to withhold honoring further requests until such-and-such a date, which gave Ms. Exclusive 3 weeks to read the chapters.

The beauty of all this is that it fell over the holidays, so I had no intention of querying until the first week of the year, anyway. :)

Still haven't heard from Ms. Exclusive, by the way, and tidbits gathered online have enlightened me to the fact that she is extremely slow.

Imagine having a reputation for being "very slow" (average of 4 months for requested partials) and requesting exclusives. Ugh!

Anyway, if it hadn't been for your frequent anti-exclusive rants, I wouldn't have known what to do.

Many thanks!

Zoe Winters said...

notta nitwit:

Nicely done!