No, really. I saw this.
A writer on another forum asked about an agent who says she responds faster to queries if you write "Exclusive Query" in the subject line. The writer was interested in whether queriers actually abide by this.
I was able to track down the listing, and this is the second agent I've seen who mentions exclusive queries as if they're a desirable thing. This particular agent does not demand exclusivity (only rewards it); the other one demanded it.
Most agents feel differently:
Here's a thought: any agent who demands an exclusive query must feel confident that s/he is the very first agent you are going to query. Otherwise, with agencies taking months to review queries, and writers sending out up to a hundred queries (not all at once, please!) and no-response-means-no, the agent would have to accept that s/he was probably your very last choice. By three months, after all the dust had settled.
So, what are exclusives? Some agents, when they request your full or partial, ask for the exclusive right to be the one and only agent reviewing your material. They generally set a time limit on how long that will be, and it's generally much shorter than the six months an agent might be expected to keep your full manuscript. This is fairly rare, but it does happen.
It's fine to tell the agent if you do not want to grant this (for example, if your manuscript is already in front of ten other agents.) Agents should be able to negotiate, right? If you don't want to grant an exclusive, you should also be up-front in stating that if you receive an offer, you will notify them immediately and give them a chance to respond before accepting. Be aware that some agents will rescind their request; others will allow you to submit on a non-exclusive basis.
I would recommend against sending a query on an exclusive basis, especially in a climate where many agents never send rejection letters. Your query could be rejected in an hour, but you might wait for months. Months during which you could be seeking representation.
Here's another thought, from the inimitable Miss Snark, talking about exclusive submissions:
I NEVER ask for exclusives and most of my fellow agent buddies don't either. I figure if you want to work with me I'd better be able to tell you why I am a great agent for your book and what I bring to the table that those other sloths in the industry do not. I specifically do not want to sign anyone who hasn't queried elsewhere. That's the fastest way in the world to get a client with buyer's remorse the second something goes awry (and the first rule of publishing is that EVERYTHING goes awry).
If you query only one agent because that agent demands it, and you are offered representation, you'll never know what other agent interest your work would have garnered; you won't have been able to weigh the different kinds of agencies (a solo agent versus one in a large agency, for example) and you won't have been able to hear how different agents talk about their work. You'll lack perspective, in other words.
So let's say you're researching an agent and it turns out the agent wants an exclusive query. What should you do?
First, and most importantly, DO NOT tell the agent it is an exclusive query if it is not an exclusive query. An author-agent relationship would ideally be career-long, and it should not begin with deception. Period.
(And think about it: a writer who lies about exclusivity is in a pickle if another agent makes an offer. What's the writer going to do? Dear Mr. Agent-Exclusive: I know I said you were the only one looking at my material, but a funny thing happened.... Sincerely, Liar-Writer. That's not how to increase membership in your personal fan club.)
Secondly, if the agent does not put a limit on the exclusivity, put one on it yourself. State in your query that the agent can consider this an exclusive query for one or two weeks (and then specify the ending date). If the "deal" is that exclusive queries get looked at faster, then it makes sense to advocate for yourself in this fashion.
Thirdly, be prepared that any request for materials will most likely also be on an exclusive basis.
Personally, I hope this kind of request doesn't become an industry standard. But remember, if you come across something like this, play smart. It's your time and your career: manage them wisely.
Jane Lebak is the author of The Guardian (Thomas Nelson, 1994), Seven Archangels: Annihilation (Double-Edged Publishing, 2008) and The Boys Upstairs (MuseItUp, 2010). At Seven Angels, Four Kids, One Family, she blogs about what happens when a distracted daydreamer and a gamer geek attempt to raise four children. She is represented by the riveting Roseanne Wells of the Marianne Strong Literary Agency.