How many times have I said this?

Dear Miss Snark,

I posed this question to the "Pub-Forum" mailing list and one of the responses was to ask you.

I am a new writer. I have written my first novel and now am writing my second one.

I have been searching for an agent since last September. This past Tuesday, I received word from an agent that, after reading the first three chapters of my manuscript, this agent would like to see the rest of the book *and* offer me a contract to represent this one book. Now, on the one hand, it's great, finally, to find that one other person to take a chance on you. On the other hand, I was initially taken aback that the agent, having read only three chapters, is willing to go to bat for me having not seen the remainder of the book.

Not really knowing that this agent meant for me to (a) send the entire manuscript AND (b) sign the contract, I replied that I'll send the entire manuscript and, if this agent really likes it and thinks she can sell it, I will inform the other agents to whom I have sent queries/chapters that I have found my agent. I received an e-mail from this agent basically stating that she would not read the rest of the book without me signing an exclusive agreement with her. I have read about exclusivity and, perhaps, this is how it works. I just don't know.

Just in case you missed it the other 767 times I've said it:


I believe they are a bad business practice and are clear demonstrations an agent thinks their time is more valuable than yours. I think it's the sign that an agent is lazy and not willing to make a persuasive case for signing with them. Harsh, but true.

If you send me something and I want you as a client, I don't get you because I refused to let anyone else look at the ms. I get you because I was persuasive about the merits of Snark Central. Now, amazingly enough, this is not all that tough a case for me to make. I may not be persuasive to you but I can certainly make a strong case, and if you want to sign with someone who was more persuasive, you'll figure that out BEFORE we come to a parting of the ways, not after.


I usually say don't do them, but that's your choice, not mine.


Happy Days. said...

Sounds like the agent is asking for an exclusive right to read the full. The question is, exclusive for how long a period of time? From what I've heard, it should never be given for more than 4 weeks, at the longest.

On the one hand, they stink. On the other hand...are you are hearing from any other agents who seem to be as nearly as excited about your work?

And, on the third hand, what is the agent's reputation, and what have they sold lately?

Twill said...

To the writer - I am surprised at two items.

1) You don't think that three chapters is enough to tell whether you have a good idea and good execution?

Maybe you are just that good!

2) You don't know the quality of the agent to whom you have submitted this work?

If you think the agent knows his stuff, why would you be worried about him/her jumping on your book quickly?

If you don't then why are you querying him/her?

I'm assuming, of course, that your query included the overall arc of the book, the fact that it was complete and the total number of words. Nearly every book needs some level of rewrite, and unless you are famous enough to be immune to it, most will get it.

overdog said...

Author, your letter is unclear as to whether this agent is offering a contract to represent the book, or asking for an exclusive look at the full manuscript. Are you clear on this?

If the agent is offering a contract without having read the book, I'd say it's a scam. Run away.

If the agent is asking for an open-ended exclusive look at the manuscript, if I were in your position I'd offer the look, but, as Miss Snark says, within limits. Four weeks max, perhaps, like happy days says. Or less.

Bonnie Shimko said...

This whole thing stinks. Is this a legit agent with sales to reputable houses? Is s/he a member of AAR? Will s/he give you a list of clients that you can contact?

Maybe I read your post wrong, but I thought you wrote that the agent would represent you if you sent the complete ms.

It's very tempting to sign with any "agent" for your first book. I almost did. My first novel was called Going to War with the Avon Lady. It was horrible. An agent in Florida offered to represent it. Whoa!! I was thrilled when the contract came in the mail. A few days later, the "agent" called, wondering if I'd sent the contract (and the $140) yet. During our conversation, I asked her what she liked about the book. She hemmed and hawed and finally said, "Well, I haven't actually read it, but I used to be an Avon lady, so I'm sure I could sell it." Even back then in my desperate, stupid period, I knew to hang up. Just be careful.

LorMar said...

overdog said...

"If the agent is offering a contract without having read the book, I'd say it's a scam. Run away."

I was thinking the same thing. If an agent were to make such a proposition, I'd decline the offer. Admittedly, I am not familiar with the protocols as I do not yet have an agent. I could very well be mistaken. If I understand his/her dilemma correctly, the agent sounds too pushy.

Anonymous said...

As a lawyer with no experience in publishing but more than a little negotiation experience, here was my reaction (even before reading Miss Snark's expert advice).

(a) The agent likes it, sort of. Feel good about that.

(b) Unless I'm missing something, all you're doing is promising not to solicit other offers in exchange for some vague promise that the agent will probably read the whole ms.

(c) Assuming that (b) is true, is what you are giving up worth this nebulous promise? If your answer is "yes," regardless of who the agent is, then you don't know enough about the agent, or value yourself highly enough.

(d) Also assuming that (b) is true, what does this tell you about the agent? To me, it says that the agent wants you to give up a marketing opportunity _and_ give the agent a probably open-ended period of additional time to evaluate your work in exchange for...not much. Just so that they can have more time to figure out how to value your work without having to be worried about competition.

(e) Is that necessarily the person that you want negotiating with editors on you behalf?

This is not to say that you shouldn't do it. But put a very real time limit on it.

ORION said...

I agree that this letter is unclear. One of the first things I would do is go onto publishers marketplace and check the number of deals this agent has made and what she has sold.
If she is an uber agent I might consider it, but if she is already offering representation before reading your entire manuscript and this is your first novel I would RUN not walk the other direction.

SAND STORM said...

I have had this happen and I chose to refuse the offer. I felt better for it but you have to weigh the consequences.
I also refused to sign for more than a year without a cancellation or 30 day kickout clause. (if it hasn't sold in a year I want to look elsewhere). These are tough choices for a new author.
I still have no agent but I stand by my decisions.

Anonymous said...

I was hoping I wouldn't have to deal with this, but it just came up for me the other day. The agent who wants a 90 day exclusive is a BIGTIME FABULOUS AGENT WHO EVERYONE LOVES. And yeah, some people I know have and love this agent, so it's not just here say. The thing is, two other agents, one who I know a lot about, and one who is really enthusiastic and comes from a big agency, are reading it and I'd rather pass on the exclusive at this time and have them read it. It's a hard thing to do, but this is business and my time IS as important as this BIG agent.

Diana Peterfreund said...

I got my agent off a partial, but then, she'd read other books of mine before. She also sold it off a partial.

If she wants an exclusive agreement just for reading, though... yeah, i don't like that idea.

The Procrastinator said...

This sounds like bait and switch: You sent ms--without any previous disclosure that s/he handles exclusives only--and then s/he informs you of her 'requirements'.

Without knowing more, my gut reaction is STAY AWAY. KEEP QUERYING.

Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Part of being a literary agent is reading things you don't end up selling. Just like part of being a writer is writing things you don't end up selling.

When some writers allow agents exclusives, all writers suffer. Uncommon practice today can become common practice tomorrow.

Whether it's your first novel or your twenty-first, you owe it to the writing community not to encourage agents who demand exclusives.

December Quinn said...

1) You don't think that three chapters is enough to tell whether you have a good idea and good execution?

Maybe you are just that good!

Or maybe you're one of those people whose books falls apart when the aliens show up in chapter 14. There's no way to tell. Unless it's non-fiction, I've never in my life heard of an agent willing to offer representation based on 3 chapters. It's a huge risk for them.

That alone is enough to raise all kinds of red flags.

Anonymous said...

It's going to take more homework than AAR and Publishers Marketplace. I've heard over and over again that some wonderful, experienced and HONEST agents are not members of AAR, nor do they post at PM.

Some of those agents have been around so long that they are out of the tech loop; others have full lists and take writers on recommendation of current authors, but if you get to them, might look at a query. Others want to keep their slush to a minimum.

I'd also check PW and the publication for the genre you're writing in, as well as checking the fronts of books similar to the one you've written for acknowledgments.

It's not quite so cut and dried a process.

Anonymous said...

90 days is a freakin' long time.

Phantom Logoff said...

December, I recently had an agent offer me representation based on NOT reading anything I'd written, but if Large New York Book House picked up a MS they had at the time. Mind you, the editor had called, told me she liked the story, they had the full under consideration...but I wondered why the agent would offer when she hadn't read Word One I've written.

Ya never know what's gonna trip their triggers.

I didn't end up going with this agent, 'cause the MS didn't sell to Large NYC etc. I have, however, sold it myself, just last week.

December Quinn said...

Okay, I guess I should have specified I've never heard of an agent offering representation to an unpublished first-time author who did not have an offer on the table or was not referred by an editor who wanted to buy the book before.

My point is, I think this sounds fishy. Given they won't read the full until you've signed an exclusive agreement with them, I would think very carefully.

Jen said...

Believe it or not, I think this is an interesting question. Sometimes agents do things that me, in my little author la la land, do not understand.
If Miss Snark says it's fishy, go with her. I think I'd want some clarification from said agent. What am I signing up for?
I'm glad you asked the question, since I'm still dipping my frightened, timid toes in the agent pool.
When I got my first epublishing contract, I was calling other authors to find out "Is this normal?" Legalese scares the crap out of me.
Does this agent have other authors that you respect and can check out?
My opinion.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, this sounds kind of weird.

And for Anonymous who had a big-time fabulous agent requesting a 90-day exclusive: WTF?

This is ridiculous. Do you really want your ms held hostage for three months? And then what happens if this big-time fabulous agent passes? Three months down the drain.

The big-time fabulous agent who asked me for an exclusive requested 4 weeks, which I didn't agree to. I had other partials and fulls out. She read the ms anyway and signed me.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a scammer to me. I'll bet somewhere in the contract is an agreement to forward some clams...

Anonymous said...

The person who became my agent asked for an exclusive, and I explained that I had already sent it out to 2 other agents so as much as I'd love for her to read the full ms, it couldn't be exclusive. She accepted that (and got back to me in a week with an offer to represent). The request for exclusives is another good reason to query widely and often. That way, you raise your odds of having multiple bites and can honestly decline an exclusive agreement.