Guest Blog on Agent Exclusives

Author Photo - Michelle HauckBy Guest Blogger Michelle Hauck

My contests have put me in a sort of spotlight, being a high profile writer on twitter. I’ve done my share of querying and have heard just about everything. I’ve learned even more for watching and listening, and I tend to get asked for advice when writers just don’t know. One of those topics is agent exclusives.

While I don’t feel there are right or wrong ways to approach this subject, I do feel a little advice might help people make an informed decision. What follows is my opinion only. The answer to this decision will certainly vary depending on who you ask, but here are my thoughts. The best thing you can do is research the topic and go with your gut.

An exclusive is when an agent asks to be the only person to have your material. In other words, they would like first shot at it and want to have it all for themselves. While an exclusive may be a very exciting offer, there are a few downsides you should consider.

Existing Requests- First of all, you might already have a number of fulls and partials outstanding as well as unanswered query letters. If this isn’t your first round of querying, chances are an agent already has your work. Does an exclusive mean you have to withdraw those?

I would consider withdrawing partials and fulls already sent to be rude. It’s like a take back. Opps, I got a better offer, can you trash that sample I sent you? In the small world of publishing, it’s burning your bridges. You’re just not going to do that if you want to work in this business. Not without an actual offer on the table.

So no, you should not withdraw outstanding requests. And you’ll have to tell the exclusive agent that. Likely they won’t expect you to act in any other way and consider the exclusive to be on future requests.

New Requests- Just about every writer queries in batches. Say you sent a batch of ten query letters and one of the agents has come back with the request for an exclusive. The next day a fresh agent may request pages, or a query from three weeks ago comes back with a request, then what do you do?

Without naming names, you’ll have to tell the new agent you have an exclusive with another agent and you can’t send at the moment. Would it be all right if you sent when x time period is up? Then you hope they are still interested and don’t pass right away. In other words, they may say no thanks.

It will look something like this:

Dear Agent B:

I’m so happy to recieve your request for pages of TITLE. Unfortunately I just granted another agent an exclusive until the end of April. May I send TITLE to you when my exlusive expires?

Thank you so much,

Name

Or maybe there is a big contest coming up that you really wanted to enter. If you grant an exclusive, you have to kiss contests goodbye until that exclusive is over. You’ll be cheering from the sidelines.

The person losing out is the writer.

Timing- The length of time requested for an exclusive by an agent can vary from two weeks to a month. You might even be asked only for a week if you are lucky. I’m guessing the usual time period will be a month.

Be very careful if no time period is mentioned. You do not want to give an open-ended exclusive with no close date in sight. You do notwant to be waiting and wondering three months from now and unable to send out fresh queries.

It’s generally considered that two weeks is long enough and a month is being too generous. Some people even opt for just a week. I’d say the standard is two weeks.

Again, the person losing out is the writer because your hands are tied for however long you agree.

Power- An exclusive gives the agent all the cards. Normally when a writer receives an offer, they go to every agent with their query letter or pages and let them know. This is a way for a writer to get multiple offers, and hopefully, gives the writer a choice of agents to sign with. That gives you as a writer a stronger position.

If you grant an exclusive, you’ve pretty much cut out the chances of receiving offers from more than one agent. Especially if the time period on the exclusive is longer. No one else will have your query letter, and there will be less likelihood of having other outstanding material. Basically your choices are down to one. You’ve made the exclusive agent the only game in town.

Again, the person losing out is the writer. In most cases, an exclusive benefits the agents unless you are certain of an offer to follow.

The good thing is most exclusives are rare nowadays. I queried four different manuscripts and got asked for an exclusive only once. It’s very likely the agent will ask for an exclusive simply because it is their company policy. That was the case in my instance. That agent always asked for an exclusive. It was their procedure.

So what can you do?

First, consider the agent. While you don’t want to go about using the term “dream agent,” (If you don’t know about this, it’s basically because word tends to spread in publishing. People get to know each other. If you mention on twitter that you love Agent A, Agent B may not be too thrilled and may consider you already spoken for.) you do want to consider the source. Is this a powerful agency with a lot of top sales? Is this agent someone you believe you’d mesh well with? Does this agent have high profile sales?

You may have followed this agent on twitter and really like their style. Or you may be excited by how much they want to have your book all to themselves.

If that is true, your gut is going to lean toward allowing the exclusive. You might want to craft an answer something like this:

Dear Agent A:

Thank you so much for requesting to read TITLE. I’m excited to work with you. I do already have x partials and x fulls outstanding just to let you know. I don’t feel comfortable granting an exclusive for a month, but would be happy to send no future query letters or requested material for two weeks. I hope this works for you.

I’ve attached TITLE as a Word document. Thank you again. I look forward to hearing from you.

Name

Most agents are used to negotiating on contracts. It’s what they do. Odds are they are going to be fine with two weeks or only a week for an exclusive. If they are serious about the exclusive, then it will be at the top of their reading list already anyway. This limits the time your hands are tied, but still gives them what they want.

If, however, you just don’t believe an exclusive is in your best interest, then you should speak up. Say your query letter is red hot and you are getting tons of requests. Maybe you’ve been in a contest and got many requests. Or maybe there’s a contest coming up you want to enter. It’s not something you have to accept, though most writers are usually willing to grant some time period.

Then your answer would look something like this:

Dear Agent A:

Thank you so much for requesting to read TITLE. I’m excited to work with you. I don’t feel comfortable granting an exclusive at this time as I don’t think it is in my best interests (Or as I plan to enter X contest), but I would be happy to send the material. I hope this works for you.

I’ve attached TITLE as a Word document. Thank you again. I look forward to hearing from you.

Name

In my case, I granted a two week exclusive instead of the month requested. The agent did not get back to me within the two weeks and I nudged gently. They responded quickly to my nudge saying they were still reading and I could query again. After about a month, the agent passed for subjective reasons. But we parted as friends, and the agent was most gracious and understanding. She completely understood my desire to hold it to two weeks. When the exclusive period was up, I nudged with something like this:

Dear Agent A:

I wondered if you had time to finish reading TITLE? Our two week exclusive is ending and I look forward to your thoughts.

Thanks,

Name

So there is my advice on exclusives. Agents are wonderful and I love them, you’ll want to do whatever they suggest, but consider your position also. Be polite, but do what is best for you. Make sure you have an end date and two weeks is a good standard.

Feel free to share your own opinion in the comments and tell us if it has ever happened to you. How did you react and how did your exclusive turn out? I’m curious if anyone’s exclusive led to an offer.

Also if you have other questions for future posts, please shout out to me on twitter.

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Guess What?

I have an agent!

In a twist on the traditional route, my query wasn’t plucked from the slush pile. My agent story began with a quiet little Tweet.

But let me back up a bit. After several drafts and lots of feedback from my critique partners, I started sending out queries for my latest manuscript, a YA SpecFic with Thriller elements. By April, I’d received several partial and full requests. I was feeling pretty good.

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Then it was silent. Self doubt crept in. I needed a distraction. I threw myself into my latest project, trying hard not to check my email every five seconds.

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Then I got a message from one of my CPs asking if I was going to do #RTSlap, a Twitter pitch event that I hadn’t marked on my calendar. I was full of coffee and optimism, so I figured why not? I sent one pitch into the Twitterverse and called it good.

Later that day, my tweet got favorited. An agent wanted my query and first ten pages. I sent the material off, and a few days later, I received an email from her requesting the full.

I was surprised to hear back from her on Memorial Day. As I clicked on the email, I braced myself for the words “I’m sorry, but I’m not the right fit for this project”.

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Instead she’d written I couldn’t put it down. She wanted to set up The Call to talk about representation.

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I let myself spaz out a little before emailing her back.

We set up a time to talk the next day. I’m ridiculously punctual, so when she called on the dot, I’m pretty certain I was smiling despite the fact that my stomach was doing flips. There was a connection, and most importantly, she understood my story and had great suggestions to improve the manuscript.

I emailed every agent who’d requested material, as well as those I hadn’t heard back from. Then I scoured the Internet and contacted several of the agency’s clients. The more I learned, the more impressed I was, and I knew I wanted to be part of the Inklings Literary Agency family.

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Whitley Abell is the perfect fit, and I can’t wait to see what we can do together!

Guest Post: Finding and Choosing a Literary Agent

Thanks, Jess, for inviting me to come and share my “how I got my agent” story, along with some advice for aspiring authors looking for literary representation.

It took me about three months of serious querying to land my literary agent. Compared to many as-yet-unknown authors, this is pretty quick. It’s not so fast that you immediately despise me, as we all must do for authors who query for about five days and suddenly have three agents wooing them. But it’s better than six months or a year. Although I made some mistakes in the querying process, there are a few things that I think I did right:

1. Researching Agents and the Query Process

There are many great resources out there now for querying authors. Anne Mini and Janet Reid, for example, have both made considerable efforts to educate authors on the proper way to query an agent. Online resources like QueryTracker, AgentQuery, and Absolute Write help authors find possible literary agents and hear from other authors who’ve queried them. I took advantage of many of these resources. I built a list of possible agents. I found their query guidelines. I took notes on their client lists and any interviews they gave. So when I approached them with a query, I knew a little about them already.

I’d also done the work to craft a decent query that follows one of the widely accepted formulas: A proper greeting, such as “Dear Ms. Megibow,” is the right way to start. Then a line like “I am seeking representation for NOVEL TITLE, an [age category] [genre] novel, complete at [word count].” Then a 1-2 paragraph synopsis of the book’s characters and plot. Then a very brief bio, a thank you, and your signature with contact information. You’d be surprised how often people don’t follow this very basic structure.

2. Planning, Tracking, and Organizing Queries

Look, unless you’re incredibly lucky, you’ll have to send out lots of queries. Personally, I did batches of about 10 at once. I kept all agents-to-be-queried in a spreadsheet along with pertinent information, such as the e-mail address, the date I sent the query, the query format, the query response, etc. That’s how I know, for example, that I queried Jennie Goloboy of Red Sofa Literary on 12/15, she requested a partial on 1/28, then a full an hour later on the same day. A spreadsheet also lets you know how much time has passed since your query was sent, in case you need to follow up. Again, follow the agency’s guidelines on this.

3. Being Professional

Writing and publishing novels is a business. Literary agents are a part of that business. As talented as you might be as a writer, it also helps if you’re a rational, professional individual with whom they’d like to build a relationship. Knowing this, I took the age-old approach of “fake it till you make it.” I built an author website and Twitter profile, so that I could include them in my signature. In every communication with agents, I strove to be polite. I also followed their guidelines, and thanked them when they sent a personalized rejection. You’ll note that I didn’t go bashing agents on Twitter, or send angry responses. I knew it was a business decision, not a personal one, and I treated it as such.

Keep in mind that this might not be your first novel. You might write a second one, and approach some of the same agents with it. You’ll do well not to make a bad impression. Positive impressions count even when an agent says no. Case in point: No less than seven agents who have rejected a query or partial from me participated in #SFFpit, a Twitter pitching event I host for sci-fi/fantasy authors. I doubt they would have done so if I’d been a total nutjob.

Choosing an Agent

It is true that most of the struggle in finding literary representation is getting that first agent to say yes. However, many new authors find themselves in a situation where multiple agents may offer representation in a short period. It happened to me, and while it’s a wonderful problem to have, it’s often a nerve-racking ordeal for the author. How do you choose between literary agents? What if you make the wrong choice?

I think the best answer is that you should do your homework and ask questions. Find out what that agent has sold recently. Reach out to some existing clients for their impressions. Perhaps most importantly, try to get that agent on the phone so that you can talk things over. This is a personality test for both sides, and I think it’s often the most important one. For me, when I talked to Jennie on the phone, I could tell right away that she was self-assured and well-spoken. We had a wonderful conversation that lasted almost an hour. She asked me how I came to write the book, and that was a perfect ice-breaker. She wowed me with her answers to all of my questions. She also said my book reminded her of Michael Crichton which was about the highest compliment possible. Our personalities clicked, and that was the most important thing.

Well, that and Michael Crichton.

Little did she know that I had researched her on my own, extensively, before the phone call. I knew she had a book deal of her own that she’d just signed. I knew what some of her clients thought of her, and how she’d come to take them on. I knew her favorite brand of tea and which Star Trek was her favorite. What can I say? I’m a researcher; I like to know things. In the end, it was an easy decision for me and I was thrilled to join her client list.

Let’s hope that it’s the same for you.
About the Author:
Dan Koboldt is a working geneticist, avid bowhunter, and sci-fi/fantasy author represented by Jennie Goloboy of Red Sofa Literary Agency.

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