Nathan Bransford, Author

Monday, August 25, 2008

Exclusives and Literary Agents

Becca asked an interesting question about exclusives in the comments section of a post a few days ago, and it occurred to me that I'd never really blogged about these slippery devils. So consider this niche filled, and the FAQs will be amended accordingly.

First off, definition: an exclusive means just what it sounds like. You are giving an agent the opportunity to consider your work exclusively and you are agreeing that you will not submit to another agent until you've heard "yea" or "nay" from that agent. Sometimes exclusives are open-ended, sometimes there's a time period attached.

Feelings about exclusives vary wildly among agents, so please take my feelings as my own and not as any kind of industry standard. There is no standard when it comes to exclusives. It's a veritable Wild West run by nonconformist anarchists.

I'm going to break down my thoughts on exclusives based on the different stages when they might arise and give you some dos and don'ts along the way:

Query stage: Agents expect that you're querying simultaneously and widely, and frankly, if they don't, they should. If you're querying agents one-by-one I hope you plan to live as long as Methuselah because that's how long you're going to be querying. Remember to target your agent search, personalize your queries, and don't query the entire agent world all at once, but also don't needlessly slow down your search by waiting on exclusive queries.

Now, you might give your first-pick agent first crack, say.... oh, I don't know, a certain agent who will get back to you within 24 hours if you submit on a weekday, and you might mention that you're querying them first, but mentioning that it's an exclusive is not necessary, and don't give them forever to get back to you before you move on to the other agents you plan to query.

Partial or full manuscript request stage: Some agents will ask you for an exclusive when they ask for your partial or full. Whether you choose to grant this is up to you, but I would strongly, strongly advise against granting an open-ended exclusive that ties you up forever. 30 days is a reasonable time period for an agent to consider a partial or full exclusively, after which you should feel free to send your manuscript to any agents who have inquired in the meantime (and keep in mind that submitting your partial exclusively does not preclude you from continuing to query other agents, although it does mean that you have to put any agents who ask for a partial on hold until the period of exclusivity is up).

You are within your rights to (politely) decline their request for an exclusive, in which case you may simply write that you would prefer to continue sending your manuscript to interested agents but hope they will still consider your work. Or you can decide to grant it. Up to you. But keep in mind a few things: 1) You can't grant an exclusive if another agent is already considering your partial or full manuscript (and you should let the inquiring agent know this.) 2) Some agents feel that if they are going to take the time to read a manuscript they want to do so with the understanding that the author is not going to be swept away by another agent in the meantime (thus wasting the time they spent reading that partial), and they may well decline to consider your partial on a nonexclusive basis.

So when faced with an exclusive request, you have a decision to make: possibly alienate the agent or try and keep your options open? That's a decision only you can make. No matter what you decide though, be exceedingly polite, and always notify any agent considering your work when you have an offer of representation.

Revisions: I don't generally ask for exclusives at the partial or even full manuscript request phase. But there is one situation when I often will. And that's during a revision.

It's very time consuming for an agent to read partials and fulls, although I see it as going with the territory. But a revision with a prospective client takes time-consuming to a whole new level. It means a serious commitment on the part of the agent without a sure prospect of success, it means committing to reading a manuscript multiple times, taking notes, thinking about the manuscript during most waking hours, and for me it means writing 10-20 page e-mails full of suggestions on each draft.

I don't know if there would be anything more gut-wrenching than to embark on a time-consuming revision to improve the manuscript only to have an author take that improved manuscript to a different agent who gets to benefit from my hours of hard work. Quel horreur! The mere thought of this happening gives me dry heaves.

Fortunately this hasn't actually happened to me, but just to make sure we're all clear what a full manuscript revision means, I often ask for an exclusive before embarking on a revision, and I think this is fair. When the author is done, if either of us aren't happy with the manuscript or how we've worked together in the process then we're still free to go our separate ways, but while we're working on that revision we're going steady, pinning each other, and any other serious dating metaphor you can find. If we are happy with the manuscript at the end, then it's time to move on to formal representation and submissions.

Ultimately, the thing to remember about exclusives is that agents mainly ask for them for peace of mind and efficiency. Agents are busy and they want to know that when they are reading something they don't have to worry about having an author swept out from under them and having that time wasted. But they aren't always advantageous for an author because they can limit an author's choice and stall the process.

Be selective about how you grant exclusives, and make sure there's a time limit affixed.


Renee Collins said...

So, if an agent asks for an exclusive while reading a partial or full, how do you go about setting the terms?

Do you email them and say, "Sure, you can have a one month exclusive."

Or would you send the partial and include a line in the cover letter that said they have a one month exclusive?

Nathan Bransford said...


I'd put it in the form of a question, because the agent would need to agree to a time limit as well. But unless you hear differently from the agent in response to your question, that's how long the exclusive lasts.

Joanne said...

Thanks for the agent's viewpoint. Knowing these things helps the writer to make an exclusive decision as well. I think it gives the writer a certain peace of mind too, knowing the agent is serious enough about their work to request this.

Nathan Bransford said...


I don't know that I would always characterize an exclusive request as a reflection of seriousness on the part of an agent. For a manuscript revision absolutely, I don't embark upon those lightly, but other times agents ask for exclusives as a matter of course, not because they think they're looking at a hot property. It's sometimes tough to know the difference, but I wouldn't always see them as a sign of extra-seriousness.

ashley said...

Very informative! Thanks, Nathan.

And totally off topic - anyone ever have a day when they are super excited about getting a lot done on a manuscript, only to have your area of the state bombarded by tornado warnings? I've been glued to the tv/computer/radio all morning and have only written a few lines of dialogue in between the tornado warnings.

Who can write with the weather radio alarm sounding every 20 minutes?? It's very distracting and VERY unsettling.. thankfully, none of those tornadoes have touched the ground yet!

anyway.. sorry.. the storms make me nervous, so I felt the need to vent. :)

Anonymous said...

This isn't directly related to exclusivity, but it is of a similar nature. When you/your agency offer a writer a contract for representation, is it standard wording to say that representation of said work is 'irrevocable'?

Elyssa Papa said...

Joanne, I'm seconding Nathan here. (Not that his comment needs any further validation). Last year, I queried an agent on manuscript #1, and she asked for an exclusive to read the first one hundred pages. There were no sample pages, and I didn't want to grant an exclusive because a) I was still querying and b) it was out with other agents. She had no problem in not granting me an exclusive and still asked to see the pages. So most times it's just that particular agent's policy to ask for an exclusive.

However, I wouldn't hesitate to grant an exclusive to agent who wanted revisions done on the manuscript. My hope would be that he or she would sign me after those changes were made.

Nathan, some of my friends have signed with an agent who then suggests revisions for the manuscript to get it ready for submissions. So what makes one agent want to sign a client (knowing that revisions will need to be made)m and another agent asking for revisions before anything is signed? Have you signed clients then had them revise before the submission process?

Nathan Bransford said...


Truthfully I haven't seen very many author/agency agreements because I haven't really had cause to, but what I understand to be standard is a situation where if an agent sells your work they are entitled to commission for the lifetime of that contract, whether you leave the agency in the meantime or not. That's standard, and prevents situations where an author just leaves an agency to get out of the commission on a deal the agency negotiated fair and square.

Now, from what I also understand there is varying language about what rights an agency has to works they have submitted on your behalf, but I'm probably not the best person to ask about this because I haven't seen very many different agreements.

Nathan Bransford said...


That's a very good question, and opinions vary. Typically I prefer to work on the revisions first because it's a learning process for both of us, and I personally think it's the most fair way of going about things. At the end of the revision process we'll have a much better sense of how we work together and whether the manuscript is in a shape we're both happy with, so it's an easier decision about whether to proceed with representation. If it's not working for one or both of us, we can go our separate ways. If it is working then we can both feel very confident about moving forward with formalizing the representation.

But attitudes towards this differ. Some agents prefer to sign up the author first and revise second so they know they will see the fruits of that revision, others are like me and take a wait-and-see approach.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I see. Thanks, Nathan. What option does an author have if his or her work isn't sold by said agency? S/he can't look anywhere else for a publisher if the agency has the rights. Correct?

Dan said...

Nathan, was your open forum blog on Thursday was just an excuse to avoid working?

And, you should develop a reality TV show for aspiring authors. I'm thinking a cross between AMERICAN IDOL (gotta have talent) and SURVIVOR (because I need to be amused somehow by starving artists). What do you think?

Nathan Bransford said...


It depends on the specifics of the agreement, so as always, know what you sign.

Nathan Bransford said...


I never use the blog to avoid working!! Everything you're seeing here is in addition to working, and I never dally. I know you were joking, but just want to make sure to mention that.

I'm afraid a reality show based on my life would be terribly boring. "Here's Nathan staring at his computer. Oh! He's typing! Here's Nathan reading his Kindle. (Six hours later....) Nathan is still reading his Kindle."

Sam said...

Hi Nathan -

Slightly tangentially, but still on the subject of exclusives, can I ask what factors is an agent considering when deciding whether to submit their clients' work exclusively to one editor, or simultaneously to several editors?

I've done a quick search and don't think this has been covered in a previous blog-post, but please feel free to point me in the right direction if it has. Thanks!

Ulysses said...

Assume that a writer has granted an exclusive to one agent as a response to one of a number of queries, but then another asks for a partial. Is it alright to say, "I'm sorry, but I can't send you the pages right now... someone else is looking at them. I'll send them along as soon as I can?"

Does anyone feel slighted by that kind of response?

Nathan Bransford said...


That depends a lot on the particular project, and it's tough to generalize, but I'll try and make that a subject of a future post.

Nathan Bransford said...


Yes, that's what you have to say, and I don't think the agent would be annoyed at you directly (they might annoyed at the other agent or just frustrated they don't get to look at your work immediately, depending on their stance on exclusives).

Dan said...


Your work ethic is commendable, though coming from me that admittedly doesn't mean much, as I am the still easily impressed with shiny things and parlor tricks.

However, your vanity leaves something to be desired! The reality show wouldn't be about you, it'd be about a group of writers.

Though if you wanted to pull a Simon Cowell (or Donald Trump, or any other ego maniacal TV personality) and hijack the show, you probably could. And you could make them play an NBA team (here's your chance to meet the Kings!) to learn some talent is just natural.

Joanne said...

Seems like it's usually policy then, except for the revision exclusives. Thanks for the insight, Nathan and Elyssa.

Anonymous said...

But what happens when you are involved with an agent for 9 months, doing endless revisions (3 rounds) w/o formal representation.

At what point is it okay to say, ENOUGH is enough and still have your dignity?

And will there be forever a black mark next to your name if you say you are done with revisions and go out on your own?

April said...

This is sort of the query stage. If I query an agent who says they normally respond within 24 hours, and I've heard nothing in over 2 weeks, should I send an email requesting whether or not they've received the query, or should I resend the query? I know that, since it's an equery, the chances of something crazy happening in cyber space are good. I'm just not sure what the proper etiquette here is. Thanks!

Nathan Bransford said...


Well, first, I'd hardly consider 3 rounds of revisions "endless." I'd call that "standard" or "average."

But ultimately, if you're not satisfied working with the agent, you can leave whenever you want. You just need to let the agent know you wish you take the manuscript in a different direction. Exclusive just means as long as you and the agent are working together on the manuscript. An agent may be miffed that they are losing out, but if you haven't signed anything it's up to you to end the relationship if you want.

But an agent's attention can be a precious thing, and if they've worked with you for that long it shows a great deal of commitment. Don't get so caught up in the rush to get your work published that you give up on a good thing.

Nathan Bransford said...


First, make sure and check your spam filter. If it's a query you sent me, re-send the query with a note that you originally sent it on X date and hadn't heard back. If it's a query you sent another agent, unless they specifically say to follow up, they might be following the "I'll respond if interested" policy.

Elyssa Papa said...

April, requery the agent and let them know you queried them at such and such a date.

Elyssa Papa said...

Of course make sure it's at an appropriate time frame you query them (usually six weeks).

cc said...

re: Anon 12:33's comment on endless revisions -- while I don't consider 3 revisions to be "endless" I do think an agent continuing to revise with you for a whopping NINE months without giving you a clue if they are going to represent you is a little obscene.

*Nathan -- I love the new "Churchill" book cover on the side of your blog. Really nice composition and colors.

JES said...

Thanks for another in a chain of informative posts!

About exclusivity during revisions: no doubt it ranges all over the map, but just out of curiosity -- what scope of revisions are we talking about here? Is there a rule of thumb an author can use to gauge, y'know, "This agent wants to represent an entirely different book than the one I offered"?

Another commenter mentioned three rounds of revisions spread over several months; you didn't seem to think that was excessive or unusual. Still, even though the agent is surely "committing" at some level -- i.e., assuming part of the risk -- and that's not to be sneezed at, it seems that the writer is assuming a disproportionate part of the risk in the event the relationship doesn't work out.

(Thanks again.)

Nathan Bransford said...


Glad you like the cover of CHURCHILL BY HIMSELF!

Although disagree slightly about the agent not letting anon know about whether they will represent them. An agent can't send something out until they are 100% comfortable with a manuscript, and if they're working with the author on revisions the book might just not be there yet. Given the uncertainty of the revision process, the agent may be fervently hoping the manuscript will get there, but they might not be certain, and promising that they will represent a manuscript that they might not feel would be ready would be disingenuous.

This may absolutely be the topic of a future post, because sometimes the most serious agents are not the ones who are banging down the door offering representation, but rather the ones who are being up front with the author that they don't think the manuscript is ready and think the author should take some more time with the manuscript.

If an agent has spent 9 months with an author on a manuscript, they're serious. It's the author's prerogative to decide whether to stay or go after all that time, but it's not the agent's fault for not yet offering representation.

Nathan Bransford said...


I also slightly disagree about the risk factor involved in revisions. With an extensive revision, at worst the author is getting extensive free professional advice from an agent that most likely will result in an improved manuscript. Even if the author spends all that time and it doesn't result in an offer of representation, 90% of the time they've left the manuscript in a better shape. I don't see the downside for the author -- it's the agent who is out that time if the author walks.

Marilyn Peake said...

Hi, Nathan,

Thank you so much for your blog post today. That answers so many questions for me, and I like your flexible policy regarding exclusivity. I've read so many agents' and publishers' statements warning against simultaneous submissions that I really have wondered how old I might be by the time I find an agent if I literally follow that approach. Love your statement about an author ending up as old as Methuselah...because that's exactly how it feels to an author. :)

H. L. Dyer said...

I'm glad I 'fessed up to the agent who requested an exclusive partial that I had other partials under review.

But, do you consider exclusives for partials and fulls to be... mutually exclusive? *snort*

This hasn't come up for me personally, but I've seen others puzzling over this... if someone has an exclusive full manuscript request, is the author allowed to honor other requests for partials?

This feels a bit shady to me personally, but I've heard people argue that an exclusive on a full only applies to requests for the full manuscript.

Nathan Bransford said...


If an agent has a full manuscript exclusively, no, the author wouldn't be able to then send out partials. Full means full -- they have an exclusive over the manuscript, essentially.

Anonymous said...

What if you didn't think to ask for a time line on an exclusive? Is there a set amount of time that I should wait before following up, or should I just be patient until they get back to me. This particular agent is a dream and the fact that they wanted the full from a query and sample pages makes me hopeful enough to not mind pausing in the query process, but I also have a few queries out from before the request and I'm a bit nervous about burning bridges if those agents request more material.

Any thoughts?

Nathan Bransford said...


If the agent has had it a couple of months there's no harm in politely checking in and say that you hope the agent will take all the time they need but that you would like to query other agents in the meantime and wonder if you may be released from the exclusivity. Then see what they say. Chances are they're going to be understanding.

Anonymous said...

Hi Nathan, enjoyed your podcast. In reading about exclusives for revisions, it makes me wonder something. I was invited into an agent's office where he suggested revisions, all of which I made. Right after this, I had a request from a top agent somewhere else and with the advice of Editorial Anonymous, I let him know this, telling him my loyalty was with him, even though no exclusive was mentioned. But after two months of his having the revisions, I put a tad of pressure on him, saying I needed an answer. Was this the wrong thing to do? He advised me to go with the other agent, who rejected it in two days! We are now in touch and perhaps he will consider it again. What's your opinion?

Anonymous said...

Time is tricky. To a writer working to get published, nine months seems like forever.

While it is very generous for an agent to offer revision notes, there is risk on both sides w/o formal representation.

The agent can also say, "not for me" after all the revisions are finished.

Yes, the writer has (hopefully) a better book, but also has to start over with the search for an agent. What if a new agent on the scene wants something entirely different? And to go a little further, what if an editor sees the book differently, but the writer is so worn out with revisions by then, she can't see the story for all the words?

I would very much love a whole blog post on the subject of revisions w/o representation.

Thank you, Nathan!

"endless revisions" anon

Nathan Bransford said...


Usually it's not necessary to let an agent know another agent is considering your material unless you are dealing with an exclusive or you have an actual offer of representation. As long as you handled everything professionally and politely I doubt you burned any bridges though.

Nathan Bransford said...


All due respect, nine months feels like a lot to an author, but it's an eye-blink in this industry. I'll definitely post soon on unagented revisions.

But sure, a future agent may want something different, but that's true with any version of any manuscript. An agent's attention is a valuable thing!

If you disagree with the suggestions for revision, then that's one thing. But if they're good, keep at it. Impatience isn't a reason to pass up on a good thing.

Jude Hardin said...

This isn't directly related to exclusivity, but it is of a similar nature. When you/your agency offer a writer a contract for representation, is it standard wording to say that representation of said work is 'irrevocable'?

The contract I signed is binding for one year. After that, either party can bow out with a registered letter giving 30 days notice. Correct me if I'm wrong, Nathan, but I think that's a pretty standard author/agent arrangement.

JES said...

Nathan --

Even if the author spends all that time and it doesn't result in an offer of representation, 90% of the time they've left the manuscript in a better shape.

That's a good and important point. Thanks for mentioning it!

Jude Hardin said...

I should have said either party can bow out after a year if the book doesn't sell in that time.

If it sells, then of course the agency gets commissions on it forever.

Anonymous said...

Hi Nathan,
I posted a question about exclusivity in the query phase under the open thread forum, and just wanted to make sure I was clear on your thoughts.
Two specific questions--do you think an agent takes a query more seriously if she's been designated as a writer's "top" agent choice and given an exclusive?
Is six weeks too long (or too short) for an exclusive, given an agent who wants to see a lot of pages (50) in the query phase? I wouldn't want to annoy her by not giving her enough reading time.

Nathan Bransford said...


I think an agent may give something slightly more of a look if they know the author targeted specifically and they're the author's first choice, although I think you can convey that without offering them an exclusive.

Personally I don't think an author should grant an exclusive longer than a month, but the requesting agent has to agree to that as well.

sherry said...

I've never had an agent ask for an exclusive, however I did have one ask to "be notified immediatly if another agent requests the manuscript". Now I had taken that to mean my full, but if, as you said, the full and the partial are essentially the same, should I notify her that someone has asked for a partial?

Kimber An said...

Mr. Bransford said: "2) Some agents feel that if they are going to take the time to read a manuscript they want to do so with the understanding that the author is not going to be swept away by another agent in the meantime (thus wasting the time they spent reading that partial), and they may well decline to consider your partial on a nonexclusive"

It seems to me if the agent is really interested she won't decline to read the manuscript even if the author declines to grant the requested exclusive. If she's truly interested, she'll make the time to read it in a timely manner. She won't let it get away. Since I want an enthusiastic agent, I wouldn't be bummed if she passed because I wouldn't grant an exclusive.

I'm not saying I wouldn't grant an exclusive in any case, but Ms. Snark always said to put a time limit on it.

Highly educational post today, Mr. Bransford. Thanks!

Author said...

Great post Nathan - Here's a question that's somewhat off the subject, but related. Let's say a nonfiction author sends selective queries and receives positive responses early on, including a few proposal requests and further partial requests... One of the agents who requested the proposal and partial was author's first-choice agent -- the author thought it would be a long shot to land this agent but was thrilled to get into a spirited back-and-forth during a very positive query process... Anyhow, that agent ended up declining in the end, though was quite apologetic and complimentary to the author.

Then, in round two of querying, a fourth agent thought of a new way author could approach the project. Author likes the new idea and is rewriting the proposal and some sample chapters. Agent #4 did not ask author for an 'exclusive' per se, but now that author has a hot new proposal, author wants to bring it back to the first agent who was really interested in the beginning (that agent has said that it's OK to re-query a revised project the agent has previously showed interest in).

So: What responsibility does author have to Agent #4 who thought of the revised new angle for the project? With great effort by the author, the project is taking a new and better turn. Author wants to send the revised project back to Agent #4, but also wants to revive query process with Agent #1 ... Does the author have a responsibility to say anything more to Agent #4 than the fact that "other agents are still considering this project..." ?

Sorry so long winded!


Nathan Bransford said...


Well, let's just say you're lucky I'm not Miss Snark because I suspect she would have gone to town on you for that one.

Are you under any technical or legal obligation to Agent 4? No. But taking Agent 4's advice and then running back to another agent would be a seriously classless move, and Agent 4 would be royally (and justifiably) pissed off at you forever. Unless you come to the good-faith and honest conclusion that you can't work with Agent 4, you owe it to them to see it through if they gave you the suggestion that put the proposal over the top. If you took the advice and ran, not only could Agent 1 very well still reject you, but you would be burning a bridge and your name would be sullied in some parts of a small business. If Agent 4 in the end declines to rep you? Then you can go back to Agent 1 and keep going with the new proposal.

And yes, all of this still applies even if the words "exclusive" were never exchanged. This is actually precisely why I ask for an exclusive, just so we're all clear on the scenario. Some agents trust that authors won't ditch them for another agent if they give good advice, but I tend to be more cautious.

Don't lose sight of the Golden Rule in the rush to get yourself published. I suspect if an agent took your idea and gave it to another author you wouldn't be pleased. Same goes with the reverse.

Adaora A. said...

This really clears things up greatly. I've always wondered the difference between being asked for exclusivity at the partial stage and further on from that. It really is great to hear your perspective. Thanks a lot for this.

Author (with egg on face) said...

Good advice nathan and thanks for not pulling my eyes out of their sockets. This is the answer I suspected you'd give and needed to hear it. I'm not going to get greedy. I like the analogy of not wanting an agent to take my idea to another author. Fortunately, I'm not in a rush, which is probably why the new package is looking so good. Thanks for the honesty!

-Author with Egg on Face

Lynne said...

Hi Nathan, moving to a different topic, do you think you could address two questions?
1 - a preface is needed, less than a page. Annoying?
2 - in terms of 'time' the book is not truly historical, due to amalgamation of kingdoms. Does this put the book into the genre of fantasy?
Thanks always!

Bethanne said...

Speaking of Churchill. I watched an really cool PBS program hosted by his granddaughter... about travelling through his last days[or years]. It was really good. I even got a little teary-eyed at the end there.

Sooo, if I query asking about the color of your Letter Jacket, is that too obvious??? LOL


Kara said...

Hi Nathan,

This post couldn't have come at a better time. I received a letter today asking for a completed manucscript for 4-6 weeks exclusively. I'm super excited because it's my first request for anything more than 10 pages. I do have a question. While I've finished the novel to the best of MY ability, I had a copy editor look it over while I was waiting to hear back from agents. I have made revisions to the first 1/3, have the middle 1/3 being looked at now with the final 1/3 on deck. The changes have been minor; commas, subject/verb agreement, ver tense shifting, typos, that sort of stuff. Should I wait until ALL of it is finished, or send what I have now? What are your thoughts?

becca said...

Thanks, Nathan, you're a star. :)

Robin Connelly said...

speaking of queries...Is it a good idea to mention how long you've been working on the book? I could see advantages and disadvantages to mentioning the time, from being seen as consistant and seeing believing in your own work or being seen as a slow writer who will produce work only once in a blue moon instead of on a consistent basis. I was wondering what your thoughts were.

Nathan Bransford said...


No, you could have taken 10 years or 10 days, the only thing that matters to me is whether the book is good.

the Amateur Book Blogger said...

This is a real insight - I had no idea that agents worked so hard with potentially unsigned authors on revisions - kudos to all those selfless hours.

Tracey S. Rosenberg said...

Thanks so much for this post. I still feel a bit bewildered at the 'revisions, then representation' sequence - that an agent would invest so much time in asking for specific revisions when there's no guarantee that the ms will end up in sellable condition. On the other hand, I suppose that protects the agent in case the final version of the ms doesn't float their boat (or if the writer turns out to be difficult to work with). Seems to me that the bulk of the risk lies with the agent.

I would be thrilled for such close attention to the ms. I know it has flaws but I'm not sure how to fix them! Even if I don't agree with what the agent says, I'd respect their critical opinion.

Anonymous said...

I'm chming in late, but thought my story might be of interest:

I had a few friends give me referrals to their agents, so I queried those agents first--several weeks before I officially started querying (because of the time of year, I wasn't in any particular hurry).

Then I started querying in earnest. I was lucky; I got a few full requests very quickly.

Then I queried "Agent B". Agent B responded within three hours of my query asking for the full with a week's exclusive.

The fact that it was only a week made me very hopeful; I liked that Agent B wasn't going to hold my ms indefinitely. Also, Agent B was one of my dream agents, a big mover at a big important agency.

But of course I couldn't grant Agent B the exclusive.

So I sent the full ms anyway, with a note saying unfortunately there were several other agents reviewing the full, but that I would hate to miss the opportunity towork with her/him so I hoped s/he would be willing to still read.

Agent B replied that s/he would still read but that it put him/her in a slightly difficult position as s/he generally only read exclusives because s/he couldn't devote time to reading if the book was going elsewhere.

Obviously I had a choice to make. And since the future was uncertain I made it.

I replied, assuring Agent B that I was not interested in playing agents off each other and I would of course take any offer from him/her extremely seriously, and that I hoped to hear from Agent B soon.

I had an offer from Agent B by the end of the week, and although it still makes me feel a little guilty, and although there are people who would say it was the wrong thing, I took it. It was obvious Agent B was tearingly enthusiastic, and that was important to me. It was also obvious Agent B would view a "Can you wait a week" as a sign that my enthusiasm wasn't there, and I could possibly lose the offer.

Of course if I hadn't liked Agent B on the phone and liked her/his enthusiasm for the project and for me as a writer, I might have gone the other way. But I didn't, and while I feel guilty I certainly don't regret it.

(BTW, two of the agents who had the full responded to my "I've accepted representation" with cheerful congrats and "Keep me in mind if you're ever looking for a new agent", which was very nice of them.)

Anyway. That was my little story.

I still suspect that if I hadn't gone ahead and sent the ms with my "Can't give an exclusive" email, Agent B might have gone the other way. I could be wrong. But man, s/he had requested it and I was going to shove it into his/her hands, you bet! Lol.

Kim Kasch said...

Just wanted to pop by and say I listened to the Podcast at Bleaker Books. Thanks for doing these sorts of things for all us wannabe writers.


Anonymous said...

I had an agent read my full ms, give me a lot of great suggestions and then agree to read a full revision. The agent loved the revised draft but wanted to put together more comments/concerns before going any further. The agent then took me along when he started his own agency as a potential client. It's been two years and he has not gotten back to me although still says he is interested. He did not ask for an exclusive so I have been querying other agents and two have asked to see the full manuscript. Do I need to tell the new agents about the first one who is still considering me? Or is this a don't ask, don't tell situation? Or do I just wait till someone actually offers representation? Thanks. Lisa

Rex said...

I had an agent ask for a four-week exclusive on a partial. It's been six weeks and I haven't heard a thing, despite sending them a self-addressed stamped envelope. Should I email to inquire as to the status, assume they're not interested or give them more time?

Nathan Bransford said...


If it's been two years, pretend like it's a "no," even if he hasn't really said so.


Check the FAQs on the front page for information on following up with agents.


I once passed on granting an exclusive. The primary reason was that I had at least one partial out and didn't think I really could grant the request. As soon as I declined, the agent passed on giving me a read. I realize they get to chose, and I'm okay with that, but this one was sort of haughty about it, as if I didn't also have a choice in the matter.

kelley said...

I think it's a little sad-having to ask for exclusivity during a revision. As a writer, I've accepted your professional help and you, you've bought my loyalty by helping me and my manuscript. And unless major conflicts arise and we don't fit-I'm going to accept an offer you make over others. It should have been implicit when I agreed to accept your help, no?

L said...

Nathan, I can't find a clear answer one way or another for this and I'm stressing out about it. The first agent I queried requested my full ms (which was wonderful!), but since I'm expecting it to be a couple months at least before the agent gets back to me, should I keep sending queries out or should I wait? If I keep sending them and I get another request for a partial or full ms, do I tell the newer agent that someone already has the full ms even if they don't request an exclusive? If so do I also tell them who the first agent is?


Phil the subject-verb guy said...

I wonder if the same is true in the screenwriting world...



Anonymous said...

Hi Nathan,

I recently granted an agent a one month exclusive on a partial, but followed your sage advice to continue querying other agents. Today I received a request for a FULL (first time this has happened, still in shock!), and my question is: do I let this agent know that I will not be able to send it to her for several weeks, because another agent currently has an exclusive?

Or, is it better to simply wait until the one-month exclusive is up, and send it to her at that point? I don't want to leave her hanging, but I have read elsewhere that an agent might be insulted to be told that they'll have to wait on getting a full because the MS is currently out on an exclusive.

Related Posts with Thumbnails