You’ve written an engaging and tightly crafted novel, self-edited and enlisted beta readers, then hired a professional editor to prepare your manuscript for the querying process. You’ve worked hard, studied hard, and made some tough decisions about your story. You’re serious about becoming a traditionally published, professional author. And now you’re almost there!
These are the writers who often get caught in one very sticky and very fortunate position: a literary agency, perhaps even your literary agency of choice, has requested an exclusive look at your manuscript. But you’ve queried dozens of other agents. A handful of them have already expressed interest in your novel. There may even be a literary conference on the horizon, and you might even have a pitch session scheduled.
What do you do?
Grant the exclusive. Especially if the literary agency is one of the “big ones” or your agency of choice. An agent will rarely ask for a full manuscript unless they’re sincerely interested. While an exclusive is by no means a guarantee you won’t be rejected, it’s a fantastic opportunity to get some industry experience. The agent might even offer feedback about where and how to revise your manuscript so it’s more marketable. This is not an opportunity you want to pass up.
Keep in mind these additional tips.
Limit the exclusive. 1-2 weeks is considered a reasonable amount of time for any prospective agent to hold your manuscript. Up to 30 days is still considered an industry norm, but try to negotiate a shorter exclusive, especially if you have generated interest with other agents. Requests for exclusives of six weeks or longer should definitely be renegotiated. If an agent has true interest in your work, she will read it quickly.
Don’t be sneaky. Inform all other agents queried, especially those who have expressed interest, about your exclusive agreement with another agent (it is not necessary to name names). The literary world is smaller than you might think, and your etiquette at this stage can have a tremendous impact on your success as a professional author.
Thicken your skin. If you’ve made it this far, you have probably developed very thick skin. Now is not the time to become overly sensitive about your work. Prospective agents may tell you that your story needs to be revised, even if it has already been professionally edited. A professional edit prepares your manuscript for this stage and helps get your foot in the door, but it does not guarantee your story will be marketable to any one agent or publisher’s demands. They know their audience and will likely request changes to meet the wishes of that very specific audience. If you want to be traditionally published, you must be open to the idea of further revising your novel.
Please note that the above advice is in no way intended to mean that you should ever settle for a deal you aren’t comfortable with, nor should you have to compromise – reasonably – your own artistic integrity. Remain mindful of the industry, professional, diligent, and gracious.
And don’t stop writing. There is no use wondering and worrying while your manuscript sits in an agent’s inbox. That will get you nowhere. A professional writer simply does not stop writing, so move on to your next project.
You do have another project, right?
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