I recently made a post on a forum at absolutewrite.com which I wanted to share and expand on.
There were quite a few heated opinions being tossed around, but what really raised my hackles was that EVERYONE seemed to think that an exclusive request=good/bad agent.
This is just not true. It is impossible to decide if an agent is reputable or not based on whether or not they ask for exclusive requests.
When I first started agenting, I asked for exclusives. Part of the reason I did this was because my reading period was incredibly fast, and so an exclusive wasn't something that meant "I have months to finally get to this!" to me. It was rather a sigh of relief because I knew that a project I was excited about wouldn't be snatched up before I had a chance to consider it!
However, the biggest reason I asked for exclusives was: I was trained to ask for them.
My boss loves exclusives. She is so incredibly busy that when she is excited by a manuscript, she wants to KNOW that the time she spends with it was worth it, especially because the time she spends with it is fairly in-depth. She types up notes and gets second (and third) reads on manuscripts to consider every angle. Her time isn't more valuable than the author's (as is a common perception of the exclusive request), just valuable, period. (And I think notes from Sandra Dijkstra are worth an exclusive!)
My style has evolved since then, however, and at this point, I don't ever ask for exclusives anymore. I'll be honest: I like the competition. I want to know an author is signing with me because they really connect with me, not because there were no other options. I've also only gotten busier and busier, so even manuscripts I'm excited about don't get read right away, and I hate to keep someone tied up because of that.
But is it possible to label either of us GOOD or BAD based on our preferences? No.
Don't worry about the agent quality when confronted with an exclusive request; you should have already done your research on them before submitting.
Worry instead about whether or not you'd feel comfortable granting it (if they're your dream agent, why the heck not, right?!) or whether or not you are ABLE to grant it (if you have other fulls out, say so; they're already excited, so you'll either hear back, "that's ok, send and notify me immediately if you get any other offers" or "thanks for letting me know; please send to me when available for an exclusive").
And then just get up and do a little happy dance because someone is excited about your work!