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When A Literary Agent Requests An Exclusive: Solutions For Sticky Situations

What is an exclusive (or right of first refusal) from a literary agent? Sometimes, when a writer sends a query off to a literary agency, the agent will request an “exclusive”—that is, the privilege of reading a manuscript before any other literary agent is allowed to see it. An exclusive is a kind of “right of first refusal” for agents.

The word “exclusive” tends to make writers panic. What if I grant an exclusive and another agent wants to read the book? What if I don’t want to grant an exclusive because I’m holding out for some other agent? What if I’ve already given the manuscript to someone else before the request for an exclusive?

In any of these situations, there’s no reason to panic. In fact, you should be THRILLED to have such a great problem. If a reputable agent wants to see your work badly enough to request an exclusive, you’re in a good position. Congrats!

Here are a few “problem” scenarios and some steps you might take to wiggle out of them. Keep in mind that every situation will be unique, so these concepts cannot work as a one-size-fits-all solution to your problem. But they may help.

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What if the first literary agent who wants to read my book asks for an exclusive?
If the first agent who requests your book wants a guarantee that you won’t send it to anyone else until he or she is finished, don’t panic. First, evaluate your feelings about the agency. Is it your first choice? If so, you may need to be flexible. You do have the power to decline an agent’s request for an exclusive; however, we recommend that instead of turning an agent down flat, consider granting an exclusive for two weeks only. Another option is to indicate to the agent that she or he is the first to request the complete manuscript, and while you cannot grant an exclusive read, you will keep the agent informed if any other literary agencies request the manuscript. This may be enough to put the agent at ease.

What if a literary agent asks for an exclusive, but there’s already another agent reading the book?
If this happens, thank your lucky stars. It means there’s a lot of interest in your book—and you can use that momentum to keep the enthusiasm going. Politely state that the response to the book has been very positive, and you’re unable to grant an exclusive because another agency is already reading the book. Then be sure to go back and tell the first agent that another agent has put in a request. (Note: This isn’t something you’ll want to do unless you can be tactful. You can take the “I was just checking in and oh by the way” approach, or you can say, “I felt it was only right to let you know that another literary agency has requested to see the complete manuscript.”) When agents think other agents are interested in you, they become more interested in you.

How to approach big-time agents who have a lot of rules and demand exclusives.
If you’re querying a big-time agent and he or she wants an exclusive, you may need to be prepared to give it or lose a potential deal. When you approach the bigger agencies (the ones that don’t accept unsolicited queries, the ones that don’t take unpublished writers, the ones that refuse simultaneous submissions, etc.), the rules of making submissions change. You’ll want to query just one agency at a time. If your top agent wants an exclusive, give it—and then stop sending out queries and be very patient. Why? Because if you continue to query agents after you’ve given your top agent an exclusive read, it’s like a tease to tell any others who request your book, “Can you wait until I hear back from someone I like better than you?” You’ll botch that deal faster than you can say New York Times Best Seller.

At Writer’s Relief, our submission strategists work closely with our clients to answer any of the questions that arise when writers get serious about their submission strategies. To learn more about how to make our submission services part of your effective publishing strategy, visit our Web site today!

2 Responses to When A Literary Agent Requests An Exclusive: Solutions For Sticky Situations

  1. Geace, Good question. Honestly, though, the question you’re asking is bigger than it appears. The answer will need to factor in the other terms of the contract. Before signing anything, see if you can find a lawyer (if not an agent to represent your interests). Some literary agents are also lawyers who are willing to look over contracts (for a fee, of course), even if you’re not formally a long-term client.

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