Today was another round of the #MSWL hashtag on Twitter. #MSWL stands for Manuscript Wish List, and the idea is that agents and editors post the sorts of things they’d love to see queried — be it specific genres, specific types of characters, certain tropes used or smashed, certain themes explored. The first one I saw was back in June, and I thought that it was great — I practically doubled my “agents to query” list based on what I saw in the tag. Some of them I knew I could query right away for Aven; others, I added to a backlist for some of my works-in-progress, or for the buds of ideas that haven’t even begun to fruit yet. I may not have written that historical romance set during the Georgian era yet, but someday I might, and when I do, I’ll at least have a place to start querying. Some agents ticked more than one box — I can try them on Aven, and if they don’t bite there and I’m still unrepresented when I finish The Antares Project, I’ll try again. The tag also gave me some great agents to follow on Twitter — it’s always nice to see that side of the industry, how the cogs whirl behind-the-scenes. And, a lot of them are just charming, funny people — a lovely addition to any feed.
There’s a downside, too, though. If no one’s asking for what you’ve got, it can feel so discouraging — even knowing that, obviously, not all agents in the world are participating in the list. (The flip side of that, though, is — if you know you want an agent who’s social media savvy, then, yeah, you probably do want someone participating). Seeing the trends can start to feel like a weird pressure. Everyone’s asking for YA urban fantasy, or for NA contemporary romances — should I be writing those instead? If I’m not writing those, am I screwed for finding representation? Do I need my main character to tick every possible demographic box in order to appeal to agents looking for diversity? (Answer on all counts: No. Of course not. But I think any writer perusing the feed today could be forgiven for having those knee-jerk reactions).
And, of course, it’s frustrating when the feed gets clogged with maddeningly unhelpful things. There’s a joke/troll account that I’m sure thinks he’s being funny, but mostly it’s just vaguely insulting clutter. There are the hoards of clueless writers using the tag to pitch. There’s the mass influx of people promoting the tag… which has the effect of cluttering the tag. There are the writers using the tag to whine about how no one wants what they’re selling, or humblebragging to try and get some attention. There are the writers asking questions where, if you have to ask, you probably shouldn’t be doing this. There are the editors who are looking for exactly what you’ve got — except no agent seems to want to promote it to them. There are the agencies participating in a Twitter meme, who unbelievably don’t accept email queries, or whose websites haven’t been updated in over a year. And there are the publishing companies perfectly willing to accept unrepresented queries — whom you then check out, and find that they’re little better than vanity presses. The whole experience can be as easily depressing as inspiring.
Ultimately, I think #MSWL, like so many other social media games in this industry, needs to be taken with a pretty liberal dose of salt. A useful tool, but not something you can let take up too much space in your brain. I just have to remind myself to write the stories I’ve got in my head, write the stories I’d want to read, and not try to fit myself to the crowd. After all, what most of the agents really say is that the thing they love the most is the thing they never knew they wanted till they read it — so I can’t let myself get in a twist over the Twitter hype.