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05/15/2013 11:32 am ET

Writing Tips: What To Do When A Literary Agent Asks For An Exclusive

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By Writer's Relief staff:

If you’ve sent your query to a handful of literary agents and one comes back asking you for an exclusive, don’t get nervous!

So, what exactly is an exclusive? If you’ve sent your query to a literary agent and he or she asks for an exclusive, it just means that the agent wants a chance to review your manuscript before anyone else can see it. It’s a good thing, and it puts you in a great position.

But, as with anything requiring such a commitment, there’s the potential of a snafu popping up here or there. Worry not! We’ve got some helpful solutions for you should a problem arise.

Certain big-name agencies—the type that don’t want simultaneous submissions or unpublished authors—have different rules. If you’re in this situation, just have a lot of patience and send out one query at a time. If the literary agent you really want asks for an exclusive, give it to that agent and stop sending out queries right away. Here’s why: If you end up getting a request from someone else in the meantime, you’ll essentially have to ask that subsequent agent to hold off until your first choice is finished reviewing the manuscript—and you don’t want to be rude, do you?

If you send out your manuscript and the first literary agent to request it asks for an exclusive, decide how you feel about the agent before anything else. And be aware that you have options. You can decline an exclusive, but again—you don t want to burn any bridges. Instead, think about giving the agent an exclusive for just a couple of weeks. Alternatively, tell the agent that he or she is actually the first one to ask for it and, while you can’t grant an exclusive, offer to keep him or her abreast of any developments from other agencies.

If you’ve got an agent already reading your manuscript, and another one asks for an exclusive, it just means you’re talented. You’re the most popular kid on the block! Politely tell the second literary agent that you’re not in the position to grant an exclusive because another agent is already reading the book. Then kindly let the first agent know about the recent development, and watch the interest in your book rise on both sides. Just like in high school, when one agent sees you’re getting a lot of attention from others, he or she is bound to get interested too.

Of course, each situation is unique, and each one requires a different tactic—but these solutions can still help. Just apply what you’ve learned here to your own situation. Overall, a literary agent asking you for an exclusive is generally one of the better problems you can have. Be thankful and keep writing!

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