Monday, August 3, 2009

Granting an Exclusive

Agent Janet Reid, in a blog post on Saturday, wrote about why exclusives stink. You can read the entire thing here if you want, but I'm going to respond to her main points below. First, in the scenario she presents, I agree with her larger point--exclusives stink for writers. However, since I granted an exclusive to Secret Asian Man, I feel the need to justify my action. (And in the process disagree with Janet on some lesser points.)

[Vocab lesson: Exclusive--when an agent (or editor) requests your manuscript after you've queried and wants to be the only one considering your work.]

One of Janet's arguments against exclusives is that "agents who ask or expect exclusives imply their time is more valuable than yours. That's hogwash."

No, it isn't. In fact, Janet spends the first two paragraphs of that post discussing how busy she is. Agents are extremely busy people. They must read through a ton of queries and respond. They must read requested partials and fulls. Many offer detailed editorial suggestions. They have to try to sell their clients' work. They have to keep up to date on industry news. Me? I work for 2-3 hours a day on my writing and it doesn't really matter if I finish a novel in eight months or twelve. It's a nice sentiment and it plays well to an audience of writers, but it's just not true. The agent's time is more valuable than most writers'.

Janet also says that, "Agents who ask for or expect exclusives imply there's no need to persuade you of the merits of signing with them." In the scenario she presents, I agree with this and if three agents responded with requests for fulls but one of those agents wanted an exclusive, I'd be inclined to say no.

But what happened in my case was quite a bit different. I'd queried five or six agents and received nothing but brief rejection emails. When Secret Asian Man asked to read the full, I happily sent it along. After reading it he offered me a deal: He'd write up a detailed revision letter if I would agree to work exclusively with him. This made a lot of sense to me for a couple of reasons.

First, I deep down knew that the book wasn't yet publishable and I really needed someone who knew what they were doing to offer editorial suggestions. Second, no one else had showed any interest. Third, he was willing to devote his time to helping me improve my story on the chance that it would eventually become good enough to represent.

It was a no-brainer. I was getting what amounted to a free, professional, full-story critique and the only thing I had to give up was sending my substandard story to other agents so they could reject it in record time.

And what's the worst that happens? Secret Asian Man says no thanks and I'm back in the querying game with a manuscript that's better and hasn't been rejected by everyone in the industry. We're both giving up time in the bargain, but if you're in a hurry to be published you're going to be disappointed anyway. Even at its best, the process is S..L..O..W.

Let's stop pretending that writers and agents are on equal footing, that the playing field is somehow level. It isn't. There are a LOT of people writing books. You need an agent more than ever to get your work in the right hands. It's simple mathematics. Lots of writers plus only a few agents equals a huge imbalance. The power rests with the agents and that gives them the leverage to make the rules. If you don't like their rules then there's a simple solution: Quit. The rest of us writers would appreciate the diminished competition.

12 comments:

Tracy Edward Wymer said...

Quitters: go ahead and let the door hit you in the ass on the way out!

DebraLSchubert said...

Point well made. Every situation is different. However, if you feel you're ms is spit-shined and polished and you're receiving good replies, than an exclusive can only slow you down. Most agents agree exclusives are bad for writers, even though they're good for agents. That, in itself, speaks volumes.

Amy Allgeyer Cook said...

This time, I agree with you! (Do I get extra points? Are there points?)

I think exclusives at the level you describe with Secret Asian Man make complete sense. Exclusives at the query level...not so much.

At a conference I went to, the esteemed Patti Gauch said if she were submitting today, she would ignore the 'exclusive' rules a lot of houses impose on unsolicited subs. She said it's a waste of the author's time to sit around waiting on a response for 4-6 weeks (these days, more like 4-6 months).

If it's good enough for Patti, it's good enough for me.

Tracy Edward Wymer said...

Come on, Debra! What's waiting a few months in the publishing business? Slow you down? What else would an unpublished writer have going on besides family, work, and writing? Book signing? Revisions from editor? Don't think so.

What if this Agent turned out to be a champion for your manuscript and you turned down his/her request for a full? You would deny this possibility for a few months of waiting?

If your ms is already out with Agents, I understand passing on an exclusive request or explaining that it's not possible. Otherwise, I don't get it.

Tracy Edward Wymer said...

My last comment:

Writers should be "writing" not "waiting."

Tess said...

I agree w/ Amy (surprise, surprise..she is my critique group buddy).

Sometimes it makes sense but other times it does not.

When I queried, I recv'd an exclusive request and granted it. I didn't hear back, didn't hear back, had to remind, remind again - then hound that agent for a response because I had three other full requests pending that exclusive.

I finally sent that agent a note stating the exclusive was off, sent the ms to the waiting agents and ended up signing w/ one of them.

Over a month later I recvd an 'oops, sorry...are you still interested?' e mail from that original agent. Was I interested? Um, I don't think so. I had already signed a contract and worked through an initial round of edits.

On this point, we can disagree: my time is just as valuable as my agents time. we are on equal ground and business partners. I wouldn't want an agent who feels they are above me and I would never put myself above my agent.

that's my two cents.

DebraLSchubert said...

Tracy, darling, I said, "if you feel you're ms is spit-shined and polished and you're receiving good replies, than an exclusive can only slow you down." Meaning, if you're receiving requests for partials and fulls, don't accept an exclusive request. Murph said he hadn't gotten any nibbles, so he clearly had nothing to lose. Plus, he felt his novel still needed work and this would be a way of getting good, free, professional editing help. A friend of mine got asked for an exclusive, and she gave it for two weeks. Nearly three months later she finally heard back and they passed. Thankfully, after the two weeks was up, she kept sending out queries. Otherwise, she would have been bogged down for several months.

Of course, I also said every situation is different. If the agent requesting an exclusive is one of your faves, then you may want to consider it.

I hope you'll still love me in the morning...

Anita said...

I think exclusives are cool if a well-respected agent is working on revisions with you, but not otherwise. Also, if a writer is kinda lazy, a request for an exclusive is a fab excuse for taking a break.

Tracy Edward Wymer said...

I agree with most of what you said... and yes, we can disagree and still be electronic friends. I mean, you are pregnant, and I'm not about to make enemies with a preggy. ;-)

Next time I send out my ms, I'm spit-shining the screen before hitting send.

chris said...

Awesome post! I think every writer needs to read this. Had I not granted my agent an exclusive twice on two separate manuscripts, I would not have a book contract right now. I know this to be true, without his help my book would not have sold.

I looked at it the same way you did: this agent saw potential in my manuscript and wanted to help me make it better. Getting published is really hard. So why not take some time and give it a shot? Worst case scenario, as you said, is that I end up with a better manuscript in my hands and a little lost time.

DebraLSchubert said...

Tracy, You're smart not to go toe to toe with a pregnant woman. You'd get hit in the stomach with a big, fat baby.

Paul Michael Murphy said...

Class, note how Chris started his response. This approach is highly recommended. A+, Chris.