Far be it for a part-time blogger like me to get in a pissing contest with the wildly popular, always readable, usually right, daily blogger, Miss Snark. But sometimes she’s wrong. All right, I will be more specific: A while back I saw a post that was off the mark, and I’ve been meaning to say so here when I had a chance. As in now.
First: I have no idea who she/he/they is/are and it doesn’t matter. Fun speculation, but not important. Except to say that obviously - I must admit - I’ve been longer in the business. Miss Snark does not remember the agent wars. I have at least heard about them from people who were there. Time was when agents were expected to submit to one editor at a time and wait for a yea or nay before going on to the next, or risk being black-listed. As you have no doubt noticed, that time is no more. A number of agents, however, have been trying to force writers to play by those old rules.
Snark defends exclusives requested for a reasonable period of time based on the assumption that the agent will reciprocate by moving the ms or the partial to the top of the new-stuff-to-be-read pile. Fair enough, as long as you and the agent agree on what’s reasonable. Open ended is not reasonable. Six months is not reasonable. Thirteen weeks is not reasonable. (For some reason we’ve seen that figure a few times; like they’re colluding.) Get down into the month to six weeks spread and you’re in the territory where a deal may be possible. Which in this instance probably means you agree to the agent’s terms.
So far so good and no gauntlet is thrown.
But that the agent should have the guaranteed right to represent the book if after reading it on this claimed-to-be-expedited schedule, she/he wishes to do so? Not if you’ve got any brains at all.
An agent making this demand is trying to insulate herself/himself from competition. Which is just what the editors of old were trying to do with their one-editor-at-a-time policy. The agent suspects you have a good and a saleable book of a sort that she/he can sell. She/he wants the time to examine that assumption and lock down the deal without worrying about another agent breathing down her/his neck. Well, that would be nice, but does the agent deserve that security? Does anyone? If you call in a plumber for an estimate, do you have to hire that plumber? Can your doctor forbid you to get a second opinion? Are all agents equal? Much less equally likely to get you the best possible deal?
If you do not know that the answer to these questions is no, stop writing with the goal of publishing. You are far too naieve to succeed in this very tough business, no matter who represents you.