Pub Rants

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If you’re a writer on Twitter, you probably know that #MSWL is a popular hashtag. It’s how lots of agents and editors broadcast their submission wish lists.

I love it! But I can say with complete certainty that I’ll never post a #MSWL list. Why? Simply because I honestly don’t know what I’m looking for until I start reading it.

Case in point: When I read Stacey Lee’s UNDER A PAINTED SKY in manuscript form, never in a million years would I have posted to #MSWL that I was looking for a young-adult novel set in the American West, with two female protagonists—one Chinese, one African American—on the run and cross-dressing as boys to disguise themselves.

Yeah. I don’t think that would have come up.

But the minute I started reading, I knew I had to have that book. And thank goodness Putnam Children’s agreed with me.

So here’s the plain, honest truth: I have no idea what I’m looking for until the voice of a story grabs hold of me and doesn’t let go.

Just recently, I sold two science-fiction novels—DARE MIGHTY THINGS and THE BLACK HOLE OF BROKEN THINGS. Both, oddly, feature a competition at the heart of the story.

Ha! If you’d asked me whether competition stories were on my wish list, I probably would have said no. Popularity of The Hunger Games and all.

But once Emmett got a hold of me in THE BLACK HOLE OF BROKEN THINGS, I was 100% in. And in DARE MIGHTY THINGS, once Cassie Dhatri convinced me that competing for the opportunity to be an astronaut was cooler than competing for a prince and a kingdom, my inner geek girl squealed with delight. I was in.

So keep that in mind when you ask an agent, “What are you looking for?” If they have a ready answer, take it with a grain of salt. Rarely do we find exactly what we are looking for.

As the Rolling Stones would say, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find you get what you need.”

Photo Credit: Hey Paul Studios


7 Responses

  1. Cindy M. Jones said:

    Thanks for posting!

    Sometimes I catch myself trying to write what agents are “looking” for instead of following my heart. I gave that up and am now following my heart with my newest WIP.

    1. Reese said:

      Curiously, Cindy M. Jones, I have always followed my heart, so to speak – actually, more or less, I let my brain lead me where it would go. What results are generally, tightly woven, character driven or plot driven stories (depending on the story) in whatever genre draws me at any particular time – fantasy, sf, women’s fiction, romance, mystery, thriller; adult, YA, MG… If it’s no good, it doesn’t get finished or it gets thrown out after the second read-through.
      They get good response from readers and writers, sometimes raves. And they go to agents who say TBNT. So, good luck with your heart. Don’t let it break,.

  2. Kim W. said:

    I really enjoyed this post. Kristin, I often wondered why you didn’t have any #MSWL tweets. After having taken your webinar and now reading this post it’s all clicked for me.

    As an artist and writer of literary SF/Fantasy/Horror I’m with Margaret Atwood on the matter when she said. “The artist doesn’t necessarily communicate. The artist evokes … [It] actually doesn’t matter what I feel. What matters is how the art makes you feel.” Feeling passionate about what I do doesn’t hurt either.

    If my betas and critique partners feel substantive edits are required in my work I take a day off to reflect. It’s a great technique I learned as a high school teacher. When I do come back what they say usually makes sense then I “murder my darlings” and move on. At the end of the day I feel I’ve grown as a writer and my novel is better because of that process.

  3. Me said:

    I really like this post. Keeping an open mind is important in life in general, so it should be the same with novels. Stories are so much more than the category they fall under. It seems like “an amazing story” should be the only thing on that wish list.

  4. Michelle Caffrey said:

    Kristen, as a long time subscriber to your newsletters, i would like to ask a question on the subject of not knowing exactly what you are looking for until you read it. Are you totally closed to narrative nonfiction queries?

  5. Michelle Caffrey said:

    Kristin, as a long time subscriber to your newsletters, i would like to ask a question on the subject of not knowing exactly what you are looking for until you read it. Are you totally closed to narrative nonfiction queries?