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The Negative Side of #MSWL

We’ve been talking a lot about #MSWL (Manuscript Wish List) lately. Jessica Alvarez and I, in particular, have been hungry for fresh, new material and we’ve been Tweeting and writing blog posts about it. To our dismay, what we’ve discovered is that #MSWL seems to narrow the types of queries we are getting. I notice that after posting a #MSWL those are the only genres I get. Sadly, those aren’t necessarily the only types of books I like.

All agents have a wide variety of interests. Lately I’ve been hungry for dark thrillers and those are the types of books I’ve been posting about, but I also represent women’s fiction, light cozy mysteries, suspense, non-cozy, but not necessarily dark, mysteries, etc. A quick search of our website (by agent name) will give you an idea of the variety of books we all represent, and often look for.

I suppose in an ideal world we would only receive queries for books we really want to represent. The problem is that we don’t always know what we want to represent. You might have the perfect women’s fiction for me, but feel it’s too light for my tastes. Making that decision for me could mean I’m missing out on exactly what I was looking for because I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for until you sent it.

#MSWL and Twitter can be a bit of a catch-22 for agents. While we love promoting what we’re looking for, sometimes we want you to tell us what we’re looking for. Surprise us. If it’s within the realm of the genres you see we’ve sold or represented, give us a shot. I just took on a business book geared toward lawyers. One of the few business books I’ve received lately, and I’m super excited about it.

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13 comments

  1. I see this with writers too. My writer friends want to query a certain agent and they say she or he only wants BLANK and I don’t have that. It can be a Catch-22 but overall I think it’s a great site and if you have something that fits an agent’s MSWL, it can be thrilling to see them tweet about it.

  2. Yesterday, Susan Spann tweeted that authors shouldn’t bother submitting to agents who aren’t specifically looking for the genre in which the author is writing. What to do, what to do. I guess in the end, I will never feel badly about querying an agent who has asked for a book that sounds just like mine, but I’d feel like a jerk for querying an agent regarding my thriller that features a bad romance if the agent only represents romance, albeit romantic suspense. Hope you find what you’re looking for.

    1. keep in mind there’s a difference between what an agent asks for in #MSWL and what an agent represents and that’s the point I’m trying to make. Just because I don’t ask for historical romances in my #MSWL tweets doesn’t mean I don’t represent them, as you’ll see from my list.

      1. Of course! Finding the right agent is time-consuming. Authors should never follow #MSWL to the exclusion of reading agent bios, blogs and even their deal-history on Publishers Marketplace. #MSWL is one starting point, but not the only one. In my experience, an author who is looking for an agent experienced in selling books in the author’s genre is well-advised to start with a search of that genre in Publishers Marketplace. Then the author should cross-check with #MSWL hits.

        The author-agent relationship is way too important to rely on a tweet when deciding whom to query!

        LSC

  3. Thanks for the explanation, Jessica. Good to know #MSWL isn’t limiting what an agent is looking for at any time.

    But if you see #MSWL and think, yep that’s my ms, how long would you have to sub? Are we talking a week or two, or a month or two? I’ve always wondered.

    1. I don’t think there’s any easy answer to that. An agent’s interests can change with the wind. Just like a reader. I think you’re best not worrying about the timing an agent might have and worrying about making your book the best it can be.

  4. This was an interesting post and something to keep in mind. I liked what you said: Surprise us! (Within the realm of your interests, of course). When I’m researching agents in preparation for a query round, one of the most helpful things I like to see is an agent’s list of favorite books. It gives me a bead on what her taste and preferences are, and if I’m in striking distance (within their requested genre/category), she gets added to the query list. While MSWL is narrowed to what an agent wants NOW, a website profile will tell me what an agent likes, generally. Both are tools for writers trying to make the best match.

  5. I’m so glad you posted this. I understand the #MSWL isn’t all encompassing for desired genres, but by stating you’re hungry for specific genres, it makes me wonder if you might have a load of cozies and don’t need to look at another for two years. Thanks for clarifying.

  6. I use MSWL mostly as a way to form a warm connection with agents who happen to post about what I have, not as a way to winnow my list. I find asking questions of the MSWL, and answering the “what are you reading” questions on Twitter is a fun way to start a conversation.

    I wonder if MSWL could incorporate a 1-5 point scale, where 1 = I wonder if the internet can produce my crazy whim? and 5 = I’m consciously focusing my list in this direction.

    Of course, everyone would probably post “3” all the time…but it might help queriers realize the openess of MSWL

  7. Personally, I would love to see less reliance on #MSWL. I would often see a very specific #MSWL (right down to the exact plot line), and then go to the agent’s website, only to find virtually nothing about what he/she is looking for, but a long bio describing everything from his/her schooling to his/her pets. This doesn’t leave us with a lot to work with. It might be more difficult to update a website than to Tweet out something quickly, but agents who are serious about getting to those books they want might want to do what you do, keep up a short but specific blog.

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