Saturday, August 01, 2009

Exclusives STINK (bonus content added 2/6/10)

I've spent the last week answering my backlogged email and catching up on queries. I've requested a daunting number of full manuscripts (40 plus) at this point. I plan to spend most of August reading.

I like to do a big reading binge in August because, come September, I'm back doing the selling part of my job--selling the manuscripts I now represent, and several more that I pick up out of the ones I'm now reading.

So, when you hear from me, and you write back "sorry, my manuscript is with an agent on an exclusive until the Feast of St. Clare (the patron saint of sore eyes in case you're wondering)" you've moved way way down the list of things I'll be able to read promptly.

I set your email aside, and if you contact me again, great.

For you now, there are now three possible outcomes:

1. The Exclusive Agency offers to represent you. You say yes or no without knowing if any other agent wants this book, is enthusiastic about this book, sees possibilities for this book that you haven't even thought of. If that's the case, I hope Exclusive is your dream agency. I didn't even get a chance to tell you about the fabulosity that is FinePrint, but ok, that's your choice.

2. The Exclusive Agency doesn't offer to represent you. You're now back in the scrum with me, two weeks later, none the better off.

3. The Exclusive Agency doesn't say a damn thing. You're left wondering what to do, and if it's ok to email me, and fretting yourself.

I've said this before and I'll say it again: Exclusives aren't a good business practice.

Agents who ask or expect exclusives imply their time is more valuable than yours. That's hogwash.

Agents who ask for or expect exclusives imply there's no need to persuade you of the merits of signing with them.



Agents set a lot of parameters to conduct business efficiently: query letter forms; no phone calls; no attachments; the endless list of things done and not done. Exclusives are not only not necessary, it makes the query process less efficient for EVERYONE.

And of course, it puts the writer in an AWFUL position; do you say sure, or do you take a risk? Frankly, were I a writer, I'm not sure I'd want to sign with an agent who put me in an awful position. Don't you want an agent who thinks your time, and your query efforts should be respected? Don't you want an agent who relishes the scrum of competition?


Hell yes you do.


More eloquent words on this can be found here at KidLit

52 comments:

Weronika said...

I've always wondered what agents thought of exclusives, considering they are a ... mhm ... relatively common practice these days, but I'm glad to read this.

I'll keep this in mind when I get to the querying stage. Thank you, Janet!

Amanda J. said...

It's very nice to see an agent's opinion on this. Thank you, I'll be keeping this in mind as well when I get to the querying stage.

L. T. Host said...

Janet;

How do you think an agent requesting an exclusive would respond if the author told them no? I mean, would they still be willing to look at your manuscript? I only ask because I'm curious if there's anything authors have the power to do in this situation to make it clear, politely, that they aren't willing to provide an exclusive. Maybe if enough authors tell the agent no, they'll change their opinion.

I'm rambling, as it's late and been a long week. . . but still curious :)

T. Anne said...

I shy away from agents who want exclusive's even at the query stage. Although I thought once you had a full requested, it was general practice to assume it was exclusive at that point. I see now, maybe not.

Jessica said...

And you get bonus points for using the word "scrum". Marvelous word.

jessjordan said...

And here I thought exclusives were a given. It's nice to know that's not always the case. Thanks, Janet, for telling it like it is. :)

Elizabeth Bradley said...

This is what I've always thought. Thanks for saying it.

Ruth said...

Interesting perspective... I hadn't thought of it that way. Thanks for the post!

Heather Long said...

Absolutely you want an agent who wants what's best for you, but for some writers when you get rejection after rejection, the tantalizing possibility of yes can be too powerful to ignore. It may be that they said yes a month before you got back to them. It is the desperate yet unfortunate nature of the beast. I loved your blog and appreciate the thought you put into it. And I have to agree with Jessica -- you said "scrum!" What a great word.

Jeannie said...

All of the agents on my "A" list say they don't ask for exclusives. It's one of the many reasons they're on the "A" list.
I don't think I'd want to give an exclusive. It kinda puts a stall in the old query biz.

Ricky Bush said...

You can have my exclusive anyday, Janet. I know it wouldn't take 6 months to get it back. Anyday--

Stephanie Faris said...

I agree with you. I've only encountered one agency that requested an exclusive and that was from the moment you queried. I did query that agency but I queried with a manuscript I had nowhere else at that time. Luckily I had one and I gave that agent six months. Of course, it was an agent that had the policy of "no answer means we're not interested" which I think is pretty bad when they are requesting authors put an entire book on hold just for them.

Vodka Mom said...

i love looking into the mind of an agent. Thank you..

and if only everyone practiced good manners, perhaps they wouldn't get themselves INTo this position.

DebraLSchubert said...

A friend of mine was offered an exclusive. She didn't want to give it, but in the end, gave a two-week exclusive offer. The agency ended up passing - many weeks later. Thank goodness she didn't do a longer exclusive!

I remember you and the lovely Barbara Poelle discussing this at BEA. Your strong feelings against exclusives did it for me. Exclusives? Just say no!

Beth Gray said...

I have not had many agents asking for exclusives, but see it all of the time from publishers. Is there a difference I'm missing here?

Angie Ledbetter said...

Nice of you to constantly put some power back into authors' hands.

This post is echoing through Twitterville already via RT!

E. Bideaux said...

When asked for the exclusive what exactly would you say?

Patience-please said...

Could someone kindly (kindly) educate the uninformed? Is it common practice to query multiple agents at once? What is "an exclusive"? Is it polite to query one agent, wait to hear, query the next, etc.?

Ellen said...

I agree that exclusives stink. When writers ask me for advice on how to handle a request for an exclusive read, I tell them to send their ms. to the agent with a cover letter explaining that a few select agents are also reading it.

I did that a few times back when I was agent-hunting, and it never backfired on me, though I imagine it could.

What do you think of that advice, Janet?

DaveK said...

Two questions, what if I ignore the exclusive request and simply send in the manuscript? Will it be discarded or read?

If the agent says something like - by sending in the manuscript you agree.... Can I preface my submission by - Sorry I can't offer you an exclusive but here is the manuscript if you are still interested.

FictionGroupie said...

I'm glad to hear an agent's point of view on this. When I was querying, I had one agent ask for a two week exclusive (which I couldn't offer because I already had fulls out with two other agents), but I felt guilt-ridden and stressed when I had to tell the person no. There's enough stress in the process already; exclusives add even more.

Watery Tart said...

This is probably the most important thing I've read this week (and that includes the passage that inspired a whole new character in a WIP).

I'd always thought it was only POLITE to give an exclusive to someone willing to look over your work, but now that you've presented this, how on earth are you going to comparison shop when only one person is having an opportunity to offer anything.

Thank you!

Stephanie said...

Wow...thank you for this!!! And for acknowledging that our time is valuable just like an agent's time!

onipar... said...

I most heartily agree.

Two days ago I received a phone call from an agency that had my query letter. They called to request the full manuscript.

They asked if any other agents were looking at the manuscript, so I mentioned that an agent was in fact reviewing a 50-page partial.

From the snowstorm of questions in my dizzy head, I asked, "Why, do you need an exclusive look?"

To which they thankfully said, "No," and went on to tell me a I can continue exploring all other avenues.

That's the way it should be.

arbyn said...

I've never thought about the implications of an exclusive. Wise words, which leave me wary...

Thanks!

SundaySoup said...

When I was querying, I queried a Top Dog Agent who came recommended to me even though I knew the agent required a one month exclusive and I couldn't give it to him because I had partials out already. He asked. I countered saying others were looking at it, he passed. I moved on. I knew he might do that going in, but in the same situation another agent asked to see it anyway. In the end, I ended up with a most perfect-match agent anyway, so it didn't matter, but I say, go ahead and query them because you never know...they might compromise and if they won't, then I'm with Janet...what else won't they be flexible on when you need them to be?

Caroline said...

You're absolutely right. I especially like this sentence from your post:

"Agents who ask for or expect exclusives imply there's no need to persuade you of the merits of signing with them."

That says it all and is why I will never grant an exclusive. Even if the agent ends up representing you, it sets a terrible precedent.

Thanks for a great post.

Liesl Shurtliff said...

To Patience-Please:

It is common practice to query more than one agent at a time. However that doesn't mean you write a form query and send it to all of the agents you can think of. Do query them individually following their specific guidelines. No one expects you to query one agent at a time, at least no agent I've heard of.

An "exclusive" means the agent (or editor) requests your manuscript after you've queried and wants to be the only one considering your work. They simply don't want to be competing with other agents or editors so an exclusive requests that you refrain from submitting your manuscript to anyone else who expresses interest while the exclusive agency is considering it. I agree with all Janet has to say about it, though if in desperation I can see why writers would agree to give an exclusive.

Hope this was was helpful in a kindly way!

Anita said...

I can't help wondering whether you'd consider hiring someone to help you weed through the queries, partials and fulls.

I agree with you on the exclusive thing. I mean, c'mon!

PurpleClover said...

That brings up a great point. But how would you respond to an agent without stepping on toes that you would rather not submit as an exclusive? I'd hate to say, "no I can't do an exclusive" for them to turn around and say, "okay then not for me." ACK! I think everyone is afraid to stir the pot much less breathe or say "no".

:D

Kate said...

I definitely want to meet you at a conference someday!!

Margaret Yang said...

According to Lawrence Block, you should always describe exactly what you're sending an agent. "Enclosed is a copy of my manuscript, BEST NOVEL, which you requested on July 4." Make sure you use the word "copy." As in, there are more than one.

There are also many, many, many writers who cheerfully lie when asked for an exclusive. They tell an agent they are giving an exclusive, then they keep on querying others and sending out other partials/fulls. I'm not saying it's right or wrong, I'm simply saying it happens. A lot.

Jamie B said...

Hell yes I do! Thanks Janet!

laughingwolf said...

the scrum is where one is grabbed by the SCRotUM, if there is one, no? :O lol

Janet Reid said...

A scrum is a term imported from rugby. As in "Ruby players have leather balls".

Now, back to our genteel blogging.

laughingwolf said...

lol... good one, janet ;)

Furious D said...

I once did an "exclusive" submission with a publisher, because they said that it was the only way they would consider my work.

My novel was recommended for publication by an editor, but the publisher who gave final approval died before reading it, putting it in limbo for 3 years where I couldn't get an answer.

A second editor went through the late publisher's inbox, found my manuscript, asked me to be patient while she recommended it for publication again.

However, after another year waiting for the replacement publisher to read it, the editor contacted me and said I should try to get an agent to either light a fire under her boss, or get someone else to publish it.

I can't do exclusive submissions to anyone after that ordeal. That was a serious waste of a lot of time.

Jael said...

When I was querying agents I never held it against them if they asked for an exclusive. But I never gave it to them, either. "Sorry, can't do, here's the MS anyway, if I get an offer of rep from another agent I'll let you know before accepting." Done and done.

Mira said...

Well, I think this is something agents need to work out amoung themselves. It's very difficult for a writer to be put in the position of saying 'no,' when an agent asks for an exclusive. I can't even imagine how a writer could do that politely without potentially damaging their chances.

DeadlyAccurate said...

PurpleClover, I believe my wording was something like, "I'm unable to grant an exclusive at this time, but if you'd like to see the manuscript anyway, I'll be happy to send it." Unless it was email, in which case I sent it as an attachment anyway. Only one agent refused at all.

Have faith in your talents. It's not "stirring the pot" to keep your own business perspective at the forefront when looking for an agent. The agent isn't granting you a favor by reading your manuscript; she's considering a business relationship.

A.S. King said...

Dear Janet Reid,

This is why.

Yours, Amy

PurpleClover said...

Thanks Deadly Accurate,

I was thinking of saying something like, "Unfortunately, it has already been requested by fifteen agents." lol.

But I can work on the response. I should probably focus on querying first (actually finishing my manuscript) before I get caught up in how to handle requests. lol.

inthewritemind said...

Oh, thanks for talking about this! I always wondered what I'd do if an agent said they'd read it on exclusive. After reading this, I'd be inclined to say "no." If they are really interested in it, they'll just have to understand other agents are out there reading it too. And if they say no because I told them no, well then I guess they weren't the agent for me. :)

SundaySoup said...

You're not stirring the pot by saying no to an exclusive. You're practicing good business. You must stick up for yourself. Until you have an agent, you are all you've got. Be professional, but you can't be afraid that Agent X will say no when you are being reasonable. I signed with my first agent because she put pressure on me to say yes right away rather than letting me wait for the other agents who were reading fast to get back to me. HUGE MISTAKE. Luckily, I came out on top with my second agent, but if I'd acted like a business person instead of like I'd won the lottery, a lot of heartache/time could've been saved. It's a business. Believe in your writing enough to treat it like one, because the agents are definitely treating it like a business.

Sara J. Henry said...

I had one agent ask for an exclusive (I queried about 12 agents initially) - I politely told her that several partials were already out. She asked for the full anyway.

I wouldn't say yes to an exclusive unless it was my dream agent - and probably not even then, because the person you think your dream agent may not be. My "dream agent" was rather disparaging of me and my partial - I quickly moved on, and landed a two-book deal with Shaye Areheart last week.

PS And good agents don't pressure you to make decisions right away - mine waited patiently: I'd promised other agents a certain amount of time to finish reading.

Nancy J. Cohen said...

It's interesting to hear an agent's viewpoint on this topic. I'm a firm believer in multiple submissions. When we have to wait so long for replies to a query, why tie ourselves up with an agent who may or may not like our work? It isn't a fair practice, although I can understand how an agent won't want to get all worked up over a project only to find it's been snapped up by someone else.

Dejah said...

I don't offer exclusives. I've been burned too many times and by some of the biggest names in the business who ought to know better. People who ask for a one month exclusive and after 2 years of not answering emails, newbie me called the office, they said, "oh, thought I rejected that 2 years ago." Uh. NO. Two years lost.

But, there are far more manuscripts and authors than there are hours in an agent's month. It's a seller's market, of course they are going to exercise their power! But what agents want is to make sure they're not wasting their time. What they want is to make sure that if they take the time to read the book, they get first shot at the author. It shouldn't matter WHO might be reading the manuscript as long as the agent gets the first bite at the apple.

Now, what I do is this: If an agent asks for an exclusive, I say, "if you reply with an offer of representation within 30 days, I will sign with you." That doesn't mean no one else is reading the MS, because frankly, with some agents taking a year or two to reply I never know who's going to reply and 75 queries, 30 partials and 15 fulls into the process, I can't guarantee ANYONE is reading something that 5 other people are not now reading.

Most agents seem to accept this as an acceptable sort of exclusive arrangement. But who knows. I've never had it backfire and I've never had more than one offer of representation. And more often than not, the ones who require exclusives are the ones who are jerks about actually, you know, replying.

Emily St. John Mandel said...

There are a lot of horror stories in this thread, but I'd just like to point out that agent/author relationships that begin with a request for exclusivity don't always end badly -- when my agent took me on, she requested an exclusive "for a reasonable amount of time." She was only about the 13th or 14th agent I'd queried and the first one to request a full manuscript, so I had no problem letting her have the manuscript to herself for four weeks.

One of my best friends is an agent, so I know that agents are generally pressed for time and up to their necks in manuscripts that they have no time to get to; the way I saw it at the time, granting the agent an exclusive for a few weeks demonstrated that I respected her time and attention. And hey, maybe I was wrong to do it, but that was several years and two book deals ago and I love working with her.

Janalyn said...

We teach others how to treat us. Healthy limits bring healthy relationships. Thanks, Janet. I'm just completing my novel and about to compile my 'A' list.

You mention doing a reading marathon in August. Is this your personal choice or are there cycles to publishing? I'll approach agents closer to the end of August.

Jack Roberts, Annabelle's scribe said...

Thanks! It's good to hear your views on this.

Jim Hamilton said...

Scrum. Great word!

Thanks for the insightful post,

Jim

Janice Frasier said...

I am wondering if it would pique the interest of other agents, knowing someone has asked for an exclusive.