I understand why publishers often ask for exclusive submissions. They're counting on a story that has been submitted to them to be available for them to purchase if they decide they like it and it fits in with their current publication.

But why would an agent request an exclusive submission when it's not so much the story they're looking at but the author themselves? Is this a common thing among agents? Generally my understanding is that authors work for publishers and agents work for authors. I understand it's more complicated than that, but what advantage does an agent gain by requesting exclusive submissions other than keeping an author from submitting to other agents until they decide to reject or accept them?

3 Answers 3


Because evaluating an author's work is expensive. It consumes time that could otherwise be spent finding other authors. That time is a dead loss if the author signs with another agent.

In the end this is a matter of power. While the agent does work for that author, there are more authors looking for agents than there are agents looking for authors, so the agent gets to set the terms of the courtship.

If the author comes with an existing platform, of course, then the power is reversed. If George Clooney wants a literary agent, he can submit to as many as he wants and they will drop everything they are doing to read his stuff. (If they even bother to read it.)

  • I think you're right about it being a power thing. I like your point about there being a lot more authors who want agents than there are agents.
    – DoWhileNot
    Feb 3, 2016 at 18:04

Agents are a rare breed. Agents can be picky. Even more picky, than publishing houses. Every agent has just a limited amount of time that he will be able to dedicate to new writers. He is trying to make sure, that his time is well spent and not wasted to an author, that is maybe hired by another agent the moment he starts to read his manuscript. I think youl'll find a lot about writer's etiquette while working with agents in "The forest for the trees" by Betsy Lerner. Most agents won't ask you to do this; they just will silently assume that you are a writer playing fair. That you did your research on the publishing industry and that you won't waste their time. If you will be picked by two agents, they might end up pissed and you'll get a bad name in the industry. (It is small. News travel.) Try to avoid that. Play fair. Agents are subtle and quick to anger.

  • Good point about agents talking to each other and news traveling.
    – DoWhileNot
    Feb 3, 2016 at 19:07

I've never worked with an agent, but I'd think the reason is obvious: An agent gets a commission on anything he manages to sell for a writer. If the writer uses multiple agents, than an agent could spend significant time trying to sell something this writer has produced, and then another agent sells it and collects the commission, and agent number one gets nothing for all his effort.

I've heard that publishers don't like it when a writer works with multiple agents. If they get the same manuscript from two different agents, they now could get in the middle of an argument over which agent should get the commission.

  • I'm not asking about getting multiple agents, but about submitting to multiple agents so that I can find one that wants to work with me.
    – DoWhileNot
    Feb 3, 2016 at 17:54
  • Okay, I see I misunderstood your question. Still, the gist of my first paragraph still applies: The agent has to spend time deciding if he wants to represent you, and he doesn't want to spend a lot of time and then have you go elsewhere. Less of an issue though. I doubt most agents spend months deciding whether to represent a writer. Waiting six weeks to get an answer isn't really very long. I suppose if you have to go through 20 agents before you find one who will take you on, this would add up.
    – Jay
    Feb 3, 2016 at 20:55
  • Yep. I guess it's all part of the process though.
    – DoWhileNot
    Feb 3, 2016 at 21:34

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.