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.