Dear Ms. Reid (aka Your Sharkness):
I discovered I did an incredibly stupid thing. I have two different agents reading my full manuscript and each thinks they are reading it exclusively. Hard as it may be to believe, it was an honest error on my part. When the second request came in, it was from an assistant. I foolishly assumed she worked with the first agent and that my initial sending of the full manuscript had failed to go through. It took over a week for me to realize what I'd done. To make things worse, I reassured the second agent's assistant their agency would be reading the manuscript exclusively -- since she had asked in her email.
What is the best way to handle this? (And yes, I will be keeping much better records in the future!)
Well, first of all you are entitled to one (1) rant about how exclusives stink and you shouldn't be offering them or granting them, no matter who asks.
Second, yes, you need to keep better track of who you're sending your manuscript to.
And third, yes, you have to fess up. And by fess up I mean you have to write to who ever got the second exclusive and say pretty much what you told me here: you made an incorrect assumption about who was asking, and thus the manuscript is not with them exclusively. And then you have to tell the first one too.
The good side of this little snafu is that you are going to find out in short order what these two agents are made of. Either or both can say "hey, stuff happens, no worries" and that will be that. Or, either or both can throw hissy fits and you'll know something about how these agents respond when stuff happens. And let me tell you: one thing publishing is known for is STUFF HAPPENING.
Exclusives stink for a lot of reasons and one of them is exactly this: you're now in to a situation that makes you worry and fret and kick yourself. And while it's true you got there via your own error there's something to be said for agents NOT creating situations where authors can be made to worry and fret. Our job is quite the opposite in fact: making sure we offer guidance and advice to keep an author from worrying and fretting over meaningless stuff.