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Why Agents Want Exclusivity

It can seem unfair that a literary agent asks for exclusive submission, which to the aspiring author can seem like sheer pigheadedness. However, the following recent experience may give you some idea as to why they ask for it.

An agent I was working for had sent me unsolicited manuscripts to look at. I thought one of them showed real promise.

We contacted the author, saw the complete manuscript and entered into a dialogue with her. We felt the novel needed some work, so we recommended an editorial advisor, gave some suggestions, and waited for the author to do a rewrite.

When she sent the MS in again, I re-read it and wrote a report, which I sent to the agent, who also re-read it. Between us we decided the work was strong enough to take on and that we could start approaching publishers. However when the agent contacted the author, she said she was sorry – hoped we didn’t mind – but that she’d also been in touch with a different agent, who was now taking her on!

The agent I had been working with had spent something like two days of her time – unpaid – and used a good day’s worth of my time (paid) to consider this work, only to be told there was someone else in the running.

It may seem unkind to ask for exclusivity – but it’s good business practice, especially at those early stages.

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