[To celebrate the September 2015 release of his two books, the updated 2016 Guide to Literary Agents and his new life-saving humor book When Clowns Attack: A Survival Guide, Chuck is giving away a free copy of both to random commenters (US or Canada addresses only). Comment below by September 30, 2015 for your chance to win.]
An exclusive submission is when a literary agent asks to be the only one reviewing your book at the current time. While virtually no agents ask for exclusive query contact, the topic of exclusives starts popping up when an agent requests your full manuscript.
Some agents do not believe in this practice, whereas others favor exclusives and claim it’s to protect their time. They don’t want to spend their entire weekend reading a long novel, only to call the writer on Monday morning to offer representation and learn the author just signed with someone else last Friday. Typically these agents will reply to your query like this: “Thanks for your submission. The novel sounds intriguing. Please send me the full manuscript attached in a Word doc. I request an exclusive on the work for [timeframe].”
At that point, it’s up to you to decide whether or not to grant the agent the exclusive they ask for. Don’t worry if the manuscript is already under review elsewhere, you can just reply and explain just that:
Thank for you for your enthusiasm about [Book Title]. Attached, as requested, is the full manuscript, complete at [XX,000] words. Regarding your note about an exclusive, I must tell you that this full manuscript is already under review from [x] other agents. That said, I will honor your request for an exclusive by passing it out to no more agents in the next [timeframe]. Thank you!
If you simply tell the truth and explain the situation, you have the best of all worlds. You, in a way, honor their request. But you still have other agents considering the manuscript, and this latest agent gets to hear you say there is already enough interest in the book that other reps are hovering around it.
But let’s be honest. Writers rarely get excited when an agent mentions an exclusive. It’s exciting that your work collected their interest, but an exclusive can stop the submission process in its tracks. If a different agent were to write next week and ask to see the manuscript, you would have to tell them that the manuscript is currently under an exclusive and that you can only pass it to them once the time frame expires in [X] days. This can be frustrating.
If an agent asks for an exclusive, note that you can always send the manuscript (or nonfiction book proposal) to them and nicely decline their request for an exclusive review period. How they react to this decision is uncertain and could mean less interest/priority given to it, or it could mean no change whatsoever.
In my opinion, the best way to respond to an exclusive is to 1) consider the agent who made the request, and 2) limit the length of time if you say yes.
Regarding Point #1: If you are submitting your novel, you no doubt have assembled a list of agents and markets to send it to. But not all agents are equal, exactly, when you begin the pitching process. There are going to be some agents you feel a strong literary connection to because of what you know about them, and there will also be some big-time agents on your list who are extremely successful. Both of these aspects will make you more willing to say yes to an exclusive, and that’s OK. If an established agent from a large agency like Writers House or ICM Partners writes you tomorrow and asks for an exclusive, in my opinion you should say yes. After all, if you’re dealing with an agent who takes on few new clients and has a massive track record, she can be worth the wait, and I would not recommend pushing back.
Regarding Point #2: Feel free to limit the time of an exclusive (while, again, considering Point #1 in this decision). If a new agent responds to your query and asks for a “three-month exclusive on the full manuscript,” you can respond with the manuscript attached and say that you would be happy to grant them an exclusive, but wish to limit the time frame to one month. I would not grant any more than one month unless it is an agent who touches a nerve with you regarding Point #1.
Lastly, if an agent asks for an exclusive and you agree to one—only to realize that no time frame was ever discussed—follow up after thirty days if you’ve received no note from the agent and politely ask them how much more time they think they require.
[To celebrate the September 2015 release of his two books, the updated 2016 Guide to Literary Agents and his new humor book When Clowns Attack: A Survival Guide, Chuck is giving away a free copy of both to random commenters (US or Canada addresses only). Comment below by September 30, 2015 for your chance to win.]
Chuck Sambuchino of Writer’s Digest Books edits the GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS and the CHILDREN’S WRITER’S & ILLUSTRATOR’S MARKET. His Guide to Literary Agents Blog is one of the largest blogs in publishing.
His 2010 humor book, HOW TO SURVIVE A GARDEN GNOME ATTACK, was optioned by Sony Pictures. Chuck has also written the writing guides FORMATTING & SUBMITTING YOUR MANUSCRIPT and CREATE YOUR WRITER PLATFORM.
Besides that, he is a freelance book & query editor, husband, sleep-deprived new father, and owner of a flabby-yet-lovable dog named Graham.