Should You Grant an Exclusive Read of Your Novel to an Agent?

If a literary agent asks for a six-week exclusive window to look at your manuscript, should you grant it? Here's what you should consider.
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Q: I recently had an agent respond to one of my queries and request my full manuscript, but he wants a six-week exclusive read on my book. I don't want to blow my chance here, but I also don't want to sit around six weeks only to get rejected and find out I'd wasted time that I could've been querying more agents. What should I do? —Anonymous

A: If any agent requests your manuscript, whether exclusive or not, you should consider yourself lucky—they rarely ask for full manuscripts unless they’re sincerely interested. Now requesting an exclusive window of time to read your work used to be more of the norm, but as time goes on it's becoming less of a standard.

"Unless the agent worked with you on revisions, don't do an exclusive at all," says literary agent Mandy Hubbard, founder of Emerald City Literary Agency, representing MG, YA, and romance authors. "I do ask for short 1-to-2 week exclusives if I want to work on extensive revisions with an author, but that's because I can spend hours writing up 6-plus pages, and I've shown more commitment."

[Here are 4 Things You Need to Consider When Researching Literary Agents]

Some agents, like literary agent Laurie McLean, founding partner of Fuse Literary and ePublisher of Joyride Books, agree that six weeks is much too long and that only a small window (if any window at all) be granted. "I recommend two-weeks at most, though I've never asked for an exclusive in my agenting career," says McLean, "If I want it, I read fast."

"Six weeks is way too long for an exclusive," agent Michael Bourret, VP & Literary Agent at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management, agrees. "I don’t fault an agent for asking, but a writer shouldn't feel compelled to say yes, either." Bourret and McLean say that instead of asking for an exclusive, they share revisions over the phone when they call to offer representation. Hubbard does the same unless there's something special about the project and the revisions are extensive. Either way, all voiced the same opinion that exclusives should be minimal in today's publishing world.

"Also," noted Bourret, "even if someone asks for an exclusive, you can say no and 99% of the time they will still read."

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Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer's Digest and author of the popular gift bookOh Boy, You're Having a Girl: A Dad's Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

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