Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Query Question: why are agents asking if they're reading exclusively?

I've recently received requests from agents for full manuscripts (yay!)
The last two have asked whether they would be looking at it exclusively.
What are the getting at? Do they think I'm querying agents one at a time? Do they only want to read my ms if they know that other kids are reading it? Are they stuck in an early century?
I replied to each that other agents were also reviewing the manuscript, and they could let me know if they had a problem with that. But honestly? It just felt so strange, and as though I must be missing something.

My thoughts on exclusivity are widely available (they stink.)  That said, sometimes I do ask a querier if I'm the only one looking at something.

My intent is not to ask for exclusivity (cause we all know that stinks) but simply to assess where we are in the query process.

If a querier has sent out 200 queries and I'm the only agent reading, well, that gives me some good intel on where we are.

If the querier has sent out 3 queries, and I'm only the first to respond, that's intel too.

Mostly this happens with non-fiction for me. When I read a proposal for a non-fiction book there's often a lot of revising and editing and shaping to come. I'm reluctant to start offering up all these suggestions if an author hasn't narrowed his search down a bit. Some of that is concern for time management: writing up all those ideas about revisions is time consuming. Some of it purely proprietary: I don't want the author to take all my ideas for revision, improve the proposal and then sign with someone else.  

I think you can assume that all agents assume you are querying more than one agent at a time. Asking about exclusives is a bit different than asking FOR an exclusive (which is good, cause we all know those STINK.)


Susan Bonifant said...

I was asked by a couple of agents looking at a full, "who else is reading this?" which I guess is different from "nobody else is reading this, are they?"

I just figured mine wasn't the only one on the nightstand and that agents might be prioritizing their reading.

My inner woodland creature has another question though, which is: to what degree does an agent want to be informed when they ask to be "kept up to date" on who is reading? On full requests? Partials?

Still not sure about that one.

Anonymous said...

In my search for the Great American Dream Agent, heretofore known as GADA, I ran across a few who either would accept submission only on exclusives or if they requested material only did so on an exclusive.

I didn't put them on the golden list. Even if you get a request for a partial or full, it may take several months for an agent to read and make a decision. I'm a little long in the tooth and I'd prefer not to spend years waiting on agents who insist on an exclusive. I have some fulls and partials out already, but we all know that's a guarantee of nothing. What happens if GADA decides they want to read on an exclusive in that case?

My stepdad didn't mind me and my brother going to the community hall dance on Fridays if we'd accomplished whatever Herculean task earned such a trip to town, but he had an odd idea about dating. A girl shouldn't date unless she's ready to marry said boy.

How on earth do I know if I want to marry someone if I don't have the opportunity to get to know them and other boys first? Even better, does said boy know he's expected to marry me if he dates me?

Thankfully, this little cowgirl was usually too tired to think about dating so this debate didn't come up often.

But, back to the point, I don't know if I want to marry this agent if I've never had contact with any others. Do they agree to marry me, freckles and all, if I let them "date" me exclusively?

No, I thought not.

It's just easier for me to avoid GADAs with exclusive clauses. Having said that, I can see why QOTKU doesn't want to do extensive edits for another agent.

Run free, little writer, run free.

Anonymous said...


Good question. "to what degree does an agent want to be informed when they ask to be "kept up to date" on who is reading? On full requests? Partials?"

So far, the only thing agents have requested is to let them know if something changes or if I get an offer.


Colin Smith said...

So let me see if I've got this. An agent asking for an exclusive is a GOOD thing, yes? *DUCKS* ;D

Seriously, though, to what Susan said. If an agent asks "who else is reading this?" that sounds like they want names. Is it okay for an agent to ask who else is reading a ms? If I queried you and told you Barbara Poelle, Darley Anderson, and Ellen Geiger were also looking at my ms, how would that matter? That may be an impressive list, but surely what matters most at this stage is that YOU love the query and ms, not which of your colleagues/competitors are looking at it?

MB Owen said...

Julie--I found the same thing; agencies or particular agents looking for that exclusive right to read your ms.

My first response was to wonder if they were slow readers; the second was they didn't do well with competing agents; and my third response was, Are Your Serious?

Craig said...

I'm getting a bad attitude. I am having fun beating the clunk out of a synopsis so I can have all my ducks in a row, maybe a shooting gallery. I plan to begin querying at the end of the month.

My question is if what is good for the goose is good for the gander? I tend to think many agents ask for exclusivity to set a time line. If they find some still naive writer to grant it (exclusivity) it lets them put other manuscripts before it

Can we, as writers, give them a time limit. Say something like a two week exclusivity? Would that do anything better than just piss them off?

MB Owen said...

Craig--I'm no agent, of course, but I've asked the same thing and have had agents respond that it's a perfectly reasonable request.

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Congrats on the requests for fulls.

My question is also what time limit to give to exclusives assuming that is acceptable to the writer. Two weeks seems short.

Janet's reasons for wanting to know where the agent stands are well founded and a good insight to the gods of the woodland creatures.

LynnRodz said...

My thought was like Craig, they wanted to know if others were reading the ms as well because if the answer was yes, then they better hop to it. If the answer was no, they could take care of other business and come to it later.

If I put myself in an agents shoes, I would do the same. If something sparked my interest and I knew others were reading it, I would want to read it without too much delay so as not to lose out in offering representation. If I knew I was the only one reading it, no rush, this isn't going to slip through my fingers.

(I'm sure most agents have a story about the one that got away.)

Anonymous said...


Agreed. I'm positive it's there for a reason. Another comment I made poofed.

One agency that requests exclusives is a top agency and They aren't really looking for more writers and say so. I imagine they just don't want to waste their time on someone who may sign with someone else while they're looking.

How many agents have stories of manuscripts they fell in love with and wanted to rep, only to find out the person had signed with someone else and not told them? All, I imagine.

I think the good thing is the OP has a product that's good enough for a full request. What an accomplishment!

Craig said...

To me the object is to prove you are not a naive woodland creature. Where I live the woodland creature list includes gators, bobcats, bears and wild hogs. Be one of those.

Put yourself on an even footing with the agent and NEGOTIATE.Don't just go:
"OMG, you want a full! I'll send it right away. Sure you can be my exclusive."

Act like your manuscript is worth all of the time and effort you put into it:

"You want a full and you want it to be exclusive?"
"How long do you want an exclusive for?"
"No, I can give you two weeks."
"That is not long enough."
"Make it three weeks for free and then you can pay me five hundred a week."
"A month and two hundred."

Sharpen those woodland horns.

Debbie Shelton said...

Hi, Janet, great topic! (It's me, Debbie Schubert, Lazar, Shelton...)

When I was querying, there were a few agents who asked if others had my ms, and a couple who even asked for names. I found this as unnerving as watching an old, wrinkly man streak back and forth in front of my window. (Stop that, Dad!) Was I supposed to give this info out? Were they supposed to ask? Could I propose they read only my ms, forsaking all others, for richer or poorer, ‘til death do us part? Would we stare into each other's eyes, tears welling, and say, "Yes! Yes! I do!"

Now that I'm blissfully married, I mean agented, and on submission, I miss the good old querying days. Back then, I had a (false) sense of control. I researched agents, decided whom to query, how many, when to nudge them, when to query more, etc. Such power! Now my work is "out there" being judged by editors whose names I'd tattoo on my chest or give my (embarrassingly large) shoe and handbag collection to if they'd only ask. In fact, I want an offer so badly, I can taste the ink from the Publisher's Marketplace blurb on my tongue. (A magical blend of chocolate, fresh whipped cream, hot fudge, and Grand Marnier.)

My advice regarding exclusivity is this: Just Say No! Though, I'd say it politely, with perfect grammar, and with a promise never to forsake him/her for another. After all, he/she may prove to be your forever agent; the person who sells your books for you ‘til death do you part.

And they all lived happily ever after...

Amy Schaefer said...

I always assumed that asking whether anyone else was reading a full was strictly for time management purposes. Agents need to prioritize like everybody else; if there is competition, they will move the manuscript up the queue.

I've only had one brush with an exclusive. An agent asked me for one on a previous manuscript, but I already had several fulls out. I politely wrote back, explained that other agents had the manuscript in hand, and asked if she would like to read it anyway. She did. So these things can be negotiable.

ProfeJMarie (Janet Rundquist) said...

Re: Susan's comment of an agent asking "who" - that to me is immediately suspicious and none of that agent's business - especially at that stage. As for asking in general if s/he has it exclusively... that's tougher. Honestly, I'd be inclined to answer that question in that splitting hairs manner. ie: I might say, "no" because even if no other agent has my ms, I'm still not offering it "exclusively". So maybe some savvy agents, should they ask this question (which I'd rather they didn't) should be more direct: "Are any other agents or editors reading this ms?" at which point I could give a vague "yes" or "not at present" answer.

Truly, if this is the game we're playing already, though - that agent and I are probably not a good fit.

LynnRodz said...

Julie, like you, I'm sure all agents have one that got away, but I was thinking more in line of a biggie, a bestseller, where the agent bangs his/her head against their desk and cries, "Why, why, why didn't I read that sooner!" and then vows never to do it again. Or from then on, they insist on an exclusive so it doesn't happen again. Or maybe I'm just letting my agent shoes run away with me.

Debbie, I'm glad I wasn't drinking a cup of Earl Grey when I read your comment. Funny!

(Hmm, where did that apostrophe go?)

ProfeJMarie (Janet Rundquist) said...

What Amy said, too! She is right about agent time management and whatnot. I really think it depends on how/what is asked and Amy's response works great.

Anonymous said...

I've only been able to skim through the comments, (21 people coming over for book club tomorrow and that doesn't begin to count everything else that's gone on since last Friday...but I digress)

There are a lot of ways to analyze the outcome and the reason for asking and for each comment, I'm like, yeah, that! And then, someone else says something, and I'm like, well, yeah, that too.

And we wonder why writers are crazy, go crazy, or are on their way to crazy.

DLM said...

I haven't gotten a new request in weeks, and it's giving me hives. I also haven't sent out a new query since 2/1, and none of the fulls/partials is still live. I'm beginning to feel like band intel personified - which kills me, because AX is a great novel, and it needs to get out there.

The closer I get to the end of the pile of agents to research, the more hives I get. Even still having a bunch of queries within the viable-no-response-doesn't-mean-no-within-X-number-of-weeks periods isn't calming me down.

In short: what I'd give for our LW's "problem" right now. Aiee!

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

The guy says, do you date much?
She says, yeah I've been out a few times.
So how many men have you slept with, says he.
A few. I'm popular. Make that more than a few.
I need names, he says, I need to know who I'm up against.
The only name you need is mine sweetheart, because the only person you are UP against is me.


Just because the team has read your stuff doesn't mean you have to reveal the starting lineup.

Colin Smith said...

@Diane: Hang in there! It's torture, I know. Been there twice. I think I've mentioned before that I recently received a rejection for a query I sent out six months ago. At least you're getting requests, and that's always a good thing, even if nothing's comes of them yet. If you still believe in your novel, then keep at it. You know Team DLM is a big team here on Janet's blog, and we're all rooting for you! :D

@2Ns: Precisely my point (above... keep scrolling...). Who cares if all the cool and beautiful people like you? It's the one in front of you that matters most. :)

Debbie Shelton said...

Lynn: Happy to entertain you. ;-)

Debbie Shelton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DLM said...

Colin, thank you (and to Donna, who commented at my blog). It's hard because some of the "we won't answer for x-amount-of-time" periods are ending, and two of the agents I was specifically VERY interested in (there are still a few more in there) have passed/not responded.

I should apologize for indulging the ME ME ME ME-ness here. I usually try to behave - but the woodland creature got out from behind my fake aplomb.

Susan Bonifant said...

To Diane: Not minimizing anything here, the request for a full can certainly right your ship for a little while, but the rejection of a full actually hurts more and it happens more than it doesn't.

When I feel like you do now, I do the literary equivalent of stress-eating cupcakes: I push everything to the side and research stories of writers who KNEW it wasn't going to happen, they WEREN'T going to make anyone love their book, it was ALL a GIANT waste of time, and then they opened their email...

Try this:

It will all be okay.

DLM said...

Thank you, Susan. I've been at this for years now, so I have had fulls rejected many a time now. Of course, it's only the requests for 'em that will get me to that smart cookie who finally *won't* reject it. So ... yeah.

I know this is just the part where the story about getting THE story out is being written. But until I get AX out of the house I will be querying and not concentrating on the WIP. :) Which I want to do!