ASK THE AGENT: Exclusivity


A writer asked: “If you are working on revision suggestions for one agent with whom you have NOT signed, should you still query other agents?”

Simple answer: No.

If the agent has given you revision suggestions but not agreed to represent it, you should honor them (the fact that they took the time to give you notes) by giving them exclusivity for a period of time. You should do the revisions and re-submit to THAT agent, letting them know that you are currently letting them see it exclusively. It’s reasonable for you to expect a fairly prompt reply since you’re not submitting to anyone else at this point. Follow up if you haven’t heard a word in a couple of weeks. If the agent ends up passing, you’re free to pursue others.

This principle is the same, by the way, if you’re dealing with an in-house editor. And fair warning… it’s not uncommon for an agent or editor to give notes and request changes and still not end up buying (or representing) the project. So stay positive, but remember there’s no deal until there’s a deal.

Regarding exclusivity in general: Most agents don’t expect exclusivity when they’re looking at a project. But if an agent requests exclusivity and you’d like to say yes, then be sure to put a limit on it, i.e. “Yes, I’d be happy to let you see this exclusively for 3o days, ending June 27th. Does that work for you?”



Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser on May 21, 2018 at 2:25 PM

    If an agent (with whom I have not signed) is going to invest in me by asking for revisions which she implicitly commits to read, it’s my honour to belay any further search until that path leads to its closure.

    You can’t buy back lost honour.

  2. Linda Harris on January 28, 2008 at 5:01 PM

    >Thanks for this advice. My question is, at what point do you tell the other agent or editor (who has not been working with you) that you are withdrawing your materials from their consideration? Is it when you’ve signed with the one you have been working with?

  3. Pam Halter on January 28, 2008 at 2:25 PM

    >Thank you, Rachelle. I agree with you, but I have writing friends who are urging me to forge ahead.

    Thanks for reassuring me I’m doing the right thing.

  4. Melissa Marsh on January 28, 2008 at 12:10 PM

    >I once emailed an agent who looked at my full manuscript a few years ago and offered me some pointers, and thanked her for taking the time to give me comments. She sent me an email back and said, “You’re welcome!” It was a small gesture, but I really appreciated it.

  5. Rachelle on January 28, 2008 at 11:35 AM

    >Pam, everybody chooses how they want to do business. In most cases, I recommend asking yourself how you would handle it if it were any other situation besides an agent. My vote is always for common courtesy — EVEN THOUGH you may not be receiving that same courtesy from others.

    Sure you could start querying other agents. But etiquette requires an extra step. To me, common courtesy means you write an email to the agent who has your materials, thanking them for looking at it, telling them that you’ve been holding back from submitting to others because you were letting them see it exclusively, but since you haven’t heard back, you are planning on querying other agents. And ask them to contact you if they still have interest. When you always do the most courteous thing, regardless of how you are being treated by others, you never have to ask yourself whether you handled it properly, because you know you did you best.

  6. Pam Halter on January 28, 2008 at 11:29 AM

    >My question is: if you query an agent and they request three chapters and a synopsis and it’s been three months since you heard anything even though you followed up, would it be a breach of etiquette to begin to send queries out to other agents?

  7. Richard Mabry on January 28, 2008 at 7:59 AM

    Thanks for addressing this. To paraphrase Mark Twain, “If I tell you the truth, I don’t have to remember what I said.” Good advice in any endeavor.
    Have a great week.