For Whose Eyes Only?
By Anne R. Allen
December, 2007, 15:40
I've been querying agents with my latest comic mystery/thriller for a year now, with a positive response rate of about thirty percent – maybe a quarter of those leading to requests for full manuscripts. One full manuscript is still out, plus many queries, unanswered after several months – in spite of my "Forever" stamped SASEs. Bored with stagnation, I sent out a few more last week – just the e-mail kind, not expecting much. Most agents don't reply to e-queries.
I was amazed when I got a request for pages within minutes, and just as I sent them off, another request appeared in my inbox.
Unfortunately, agent number two wanted her read as an "exclusive."
Exclusives are a lose/lose proposition for writers. They take our work off the market – sometimes for years – without increasing our chances of acceptance. Publishers who say they read unagented manuscripts usually insist on exclusives, but with their up-to-three-year reading time and ninety-nine percent rejection rate, this is mostly a cruel way of saying, "get an agent."
This is because agents don't have to follow the "exclusive" rule. In fact, an agent's fondest hope is to get a number of publishers fighting over one project. That's when the big advances happen.
But what about agents who ask for exclusives, like my agent number two?
One successful writer friend tells me you can't make it in this business if you follow "no simultaneous submission" rules. Her advice is to send now and worry later – since few works get multiple offers. Another writer says, "Send it without promising anything. Most agents are curious enough to peek."
But I hate burning bridges, so I sent the pages along with a note disclosing that other agencies were looking. I offered a future exclusive on the full manuscript if the other agents gave me a pass. Agent two replied – within minutes – that her time was too valuable to waste on anything that she could lose to somebody else. The snippy tone made me wonder if I'd done something wrong.
So I checked with the major agent blogs to see if I should have handled it differently. Turns out I made a mistake, but not in sending the partial manuscript; I shouldn't have offered the exclusive at all.
Here's some advice from the pros.
From Folio agent Rachel Vater: "Exclusives are not good. Try to avoid [them] or specify a very short period of time. Two weeks maybe if you must."
BookEnds agent Jessica Faust says: "I hate exclusives. I think they are unfair to the author and lazy on the part of the agent . . . If you can't compete, don't play the game . . . If an agent isn't aggressive enough to compete for your work with other agents, how aggressive will she be selling your work?"
The archives of Miss Snark offer the simple caveat: "Exclusives Stink!"
Ultra-nice agent Kristin Nelson says she would never ask for one, because "I never want a client to feel they have settled for my agency." But "if you're 100% sure" an exclusive-demanding agent is for you, she offers these rules:
- If you grant an exclusive, honour it. Be sure to include a time limit.
- If your manuscript is out with one agent and an "exclusive" request comes in from another, send the manuscript anyway with a note explaining the non-exclusive status. If she won't read it, "it's her loss."
- Never allow an exclusive on a partial manuscript. "That's just silly."
- If several agents have your full manuscript "and they've been nice enough to not request the evil exclusive," keep them posted about the manuscript's status with other agencies.
But what if you've already granted an exclusive, without stipulating a time limit, as I almost did? Don't despair. Rachel Vater suggests sending a note like this:
"I submitted TITLE at your request on DATE as an exclusive submission but forgot to ask for a time frame. If you haven't had a chance to read it yet, could you give me an estimation of where it is on your reading list?"
If you don't hear back, Ms. Vater says you can send an email informing the agent you've had more requests, and will send manuscripts out next week "unless you'd like a little more time?" (Politeness counts!)
As for me, I'm grateful to the snippy agent for not accepting my offer. This week, three SASEs came drifting back – all requesting partial manuscripts. Maybe the Buffy-wannabe market is saturated and publishers have finally remembered that grown-up ladies enjoy light reading, too. Whatever the reason, I'm not complaining. Especially since nobody asked for an exclusive.
Anne R. Allen is a California novelist and freelance writer. Her latest comic novel, The Best Revenge, (Babash-Ryan) debuted in the UK in 2005 and is available from amazon.co.uk and most UK bookshops. Her first novel with Babash-Ryan, Food Of Love is available from amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com as well as amazon.co.uk firstname.lastname@example.org
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