Your agent has an obligation to act in your best interests. This is a fiduciary duty that is inherent in all agent relationships. Even though this person isn’t your agent yet, if they’re already evidencing that they’re not interested in your best interests, take that to heart. An exclusive is almost never in the writer’s best interests. What’s best for the writer is to query widely and find the best fit for your manuscript and your writing career.
Let’s talk about exclusives. For a person who wants to find an agent, sell a book, have a career, etc. exclusives are BAD. I’m not talking about when an agent says, “Is anyone else reading this?” That’s fairly common and usually fine. But when an agent says, “Send this to me and me alone,” ask yourself: How does this benefit me as a writer? (Hint: It doesn’t)
If the agent reads the book and doesn’t want to sign it, you’ve lost all the time you could’ve spent finding the best fit for your book. If the agent reads your book and loves it, you’ve lost the right to decide on your own who the best fit for you book is: the agent has decided for you that no one else should get a chance to throw their hat in the ring. And this is bad for you, because you don’t just want AN agent. You want the BEST agent to champion your work and, hopefully, help you throughout your career. Only you can decide who that is. Honestly, most good agents also want you to have the best person to champion your work, so eliminating the competition makes me wonder about them.
I’ve seen agents say, “I don’t have time to read a submission I might lose to another offer.” The solution to that, my friend, is to read faster. You can’t control how fast other agents are going to read, but if you desperately want this manuscript so much that it will destroy your soul if another agent offers on it first, then make reading it your #1 priority. Read it on the toilet if you must.
How it’s supposed to work is, the writer queries lots of agents. When an agent loves it, they make an offer (yay!), you tell everyone else who’s reading, some of them offer too (yay!), you talk to everyone to find the best fit, and the two of you live happily ever after. Yes, some agents are sad in this scenario. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s the best one we have.
An agent who tells you that their time is more valuable than yours possibly does not understand how agents get paid. The ideal agent/writer relationship is a partnership. If my agent is making me feel like an unimportant peon who is wasting her time by sending her manuscripts to read, do I want to work with her? But an agent who also insists that you only send to him or her makes me wonder: Are they afraid of the competition? Do they think they won’t be able to convince you to pick you over another agent? Because if an agent doesn’t have faith in their ability to to sell YOU on THEM as an agent, does that give you faith in their ability to sell your book to others?
From your dream agent, OK, I could see saying something like “I’ll give you a two week exclusive before I send to other agents.” Let that person get a jump on reading if they want. Maybe. If you’ll die knowing you missed a chance to work with this agent. But an open-ended exclusive? In a world where many agents don’t reply at all on full manuscripts and it’s not uncommon to wait a year to hear back? Nope-ity nope nope nope.
For an agent’s perspective on why exclusives are bad, check out Janet Reid’s blog on the subject.