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