Exclusivity. It’s major. Whether its a business or personal relationship, exclusivity is a milestone that involves a lot of work and trust to maintain on both sides. In writing, however, exclusivity can be a misunderstood privilege, especially in the beginning stages of forming a relationship with an agent or publishing house.
I know many aspiring authors who query on an exclusive basis. Actually, a conversation with a peer is what led to the post today. My friend is a talented young writer whom I believe will see her work in print one day, but that day may be very far away because she practices exclusive querying. Exclusively querying means reaching out to agents one at a time, and not reaching out to the next until 1) You receive a response from the first agent or 2) you pass the time deadline specified by the agent to be considered a pass. It’s an old school practice still proliferated by an insanely small number of agents, and it can cause a lot of trouble for aspiring writers because:
- It may take you EONS to be published: Most agents request a period of at least four weeks and as many as four months to respond to your query. While I’ve seen responses in as little as twelve hours, it’s generally at least a week or two and I have had responses up to four months after the initial query. Let’s average it out to a response/pass time of 1 month for easy math. Most industry experts recommend you query at least 80 agents and I’ve seen recommendations for over 100. With those numbers, you’re looking at almost 7 years before you even get involved with an agent! You guys, you deserve better than that. Writing/publishing is not a sprint, but no one has time to spend 7 years querying.
- It can take away your power: Exclusive querying puts all of the power in the hands of potential agents. Querying your novel, especially your first, can feel a lot like applying for your first job. You send out your resume (query) praying that a company, almost any company (agent) finds you (your manuscript) employable (publishable). The truth is, you are not applying for a job. You are selling your work. Think of it like selling your home. When you put it on the market, you’re not inviting in buyers one at a time. You want as many qualified leads in the place as possible. In an ideal world, multiple buyers will be interested in your home so you can get maximum value out of your home. Having any agent interested in your work is a compliment and a blessing, but having multiple allows you to really focus in on the aspects of the client/agent relationship that are most beneficial to you and your work.
- You are receiving agent feedback in non-actionable numbers: When you query in batches (maybe 5-10 at a time) you get small doses of feedback to make changes where necessary. For example, let’s say you query 7 agents. By the end of three months, if no one requested further materials, you probably need to work on your query. If you only query one agent and they don’t request further materials after three months, it could mean you have a problem with your query or it could mean you just weren’t right for that particular agent. More data means more information to base revision decisions.
- It’s totally unnecessary: It’s 2018. Very few agents request or expect exclusivity in querying. In fact, the majority advocate against it. While there are a few that still request the exclusive, they are the tiny minority. Like, minuscule. So, if the agent is not even expecting it, why would you give it?
Too often, I see authors participating in this outdated system because they think it is expected of them. Here’s the thing though, exclusivity is a big deal. Of course there are still some agents who want it. Knowing they have exclusive eyes on your work means they don’t have to worry about: taking their time to read and evaluate, bidding against another agent, getting rejected by you. It does not mean the agent is bad for wanting the exclusive. If they have the client base and income to justify being that selective in manuscripts, why not? While if an agent requests an exclusive query, you should honor that, you don’t have to submit. That is in your control.
As writers, especially newbies, we often feel at the mercy of agents, but as the creators of our work, we also have power in it. You are the sole decision maker in whether or not you want to offer exclusivity. Believe in your work enough that you can confidently represent it until you find an agent that believes in your work as much as you do.
Am I saying you cannot exclusively query? Absolutely not. My friend is still exclusively querying. While she understands and appreciates the business-side of the exclusive, it’s something she is more comfortable with, some agents she is interested in do ask for it, and that’s her right. It’s her manuscript, it’s her business, even if it makes me want to beat my head into a brick wall. I would ask the same of you. In evaluating whether or not you will participate in an exclusive (at any stage of the process, whether it’s query, ROR, sales, etc) make sure you understand your power in the relationship. Make sure you are making the decision because it is best for you and not because you just want someone to take your work.
If you have queried exclusively, I am very interested to hear your experience and reasons in making the decision. Non-exclusive is my experience, but I know there are a lot of paths to publish and I’m always open to hearing about those.
*SIDE NOTE* I could not bring myself to press publish on this post without clarifying that while I do not advocate for exclusive querying, I also do not recommend mass querying either. Querying more agents at a time does not necessarily equate to getting published faster. In the above example for instance, if you query 30 agents and all straight pass on you, chances are there was a problem with your query that could have been fixed after 5-10 queries that now you don’t have a chance to fix before sending it to another 20 agents. Most agents evaluate in short spurts. They’ll start with a query, then five pages, then fifty, then the manuscript. (There are different versions of this. Some may want a query and five pages, some a query and fifty. Others may go straight from your query and five to the whole manuscript). This kind of rolling submission gives you a chance for feedback and revision at every step and that’s an asset for you. If you’re not getting hits off your query, change the query. If you start getting hits on that but rejected on your sample pages, take a hard look at the sample pages and so on.
Alright, that’s it. I’m done now. Happy querying!