In Praise of #MSWL Day

Tomorrow is another Manuscript Wish List Day on Twitter, and I just wanted to take a moment to praise this concept. I cannot recommend highly enough that aspiring writers follow the #MSWL tag. Without it, I don’t know how long it would’ve taken me to find Connor. I’m sure I would have, eventually, through sheer process of elimination as I worked through everyone in the industry, but #MSWL led me to him a lot faster. Though I didn’t end up sending a query letter to him until several weeks later, as I was in the process of re-drafting my query letter, following him during that time really cemented my feelings that we would be a good agent-author match. What he tweeted on #MSWL day not only told me that he might be interested in my manuscript, but also that our senses of humor were compatible, which was, to me, a good sign. (Fortunately for me, he agreed!)

#MSWL also led me to follow some agents who I either didn’t submit to or who ended up rejecting my query, but that makes for a great resource, too — it’s nice to see what’s going on in the industry, who’s talking about what, and what sorts of tips and tricks you can learn just by following a lot of agents, even if they’re not necessarily right to represent you. For example, the tag led me to follow @SaraMegibow, who does the fantastic #10queriesin10tweets — a wonderful insight into how agents evaluate query letters. There can be a lot to learn even from agents who aren’t in your genre, or even if you’re looking to self-publish rather than go the trad route.

#MSWL can be overwhelming , though. The tag fairly erupts with not just the agents, but with conversations and other add-ons. So, here are my tips for navigating the madness:

  • Actually follow the tag on Twitter.com, not on something like Tweetdeck. I admit this is personal preference, but it’s because I find the auto-refresh on Tweetdeck impossible to keep up with in a busy tag. Following it via Twitter allows you to get through a number of updates, then choose when to refresh and see a new batch, which I find much more manageable.
  • Favorite Tweets from agents you might want to follow up with later. Don’t worry about trying to locate their detailed information right now or about contacting them right away. Favoriting the Tweets will give you a nice list to follow up on at leisure. You can research them, prioritize who you’d like to go after first, and make sure you’re targeting your queries well.
  • Check the blog. If you’re worried you’ve missed something in the throttle (or if you, not unreasonably, just can’t spend your entire day watching a hashtag feed), there’s a Tumblr blog that aggregates all of the wishes from agents, not just from this #MWSL day, but from previous days as well. It’s organized by genre and by agent, so it’s well-worth the look.
  • Don’t write to the trends you see on the tag. Alternately: Look for someone who wants what you’ve already got; don’t change what you’ve got to fit what they’re looking for. Writing to fit a trend won’t actually get you anywhere, not least because by the time you’ve finished something, the trends will have changed. I know it can get a little frustrating if it seems like no one’s looking for what you’re offering, though, so…
  • Think outside the genre box. So maybe you’ve got something a little quirky and odd, and no one’s asking for precisely that. That’s okay! Agents who are wishing for something similar but not quite spot-on might still be interested. Think broadly, and think about what their wishes might have in common with your work. If an agent says she’s looking for, say, “urban fantasy set in Istanbul”, and you’ve got historical fantasy set in British-controlled India, it might be worth going for — you’ve got the broad genre correct, a non-Western-European setting, potential culture clashes, etc. I think the #MSWL tweet that led me to Connor basically said he was looking for a diverse cast, powerful but flawed women, and SF/F with a political edge. Did he specifically say he wanted epic fantasy set in ancient Rome? No. But Aven had elements of what he was looking for, I liked his Tweets on the tag, and further research indicated that, yeah, he might just be interested, so I took the chance, and it paid off.
  • Remember: the worst thing that will happen to you is a rejection letter. And that’s not the end of the world. If you do take a chance on an agent and it doesn’t work out, c’est la vie. I’ve written before about the element of serendipity there is with querying. Obviously you want to target your queries as best you can, but you might take a shot and miss. In fact, you probably will. The nice thing about rejection letters is that they’re private. No one will publicly humiliate you for having taken a chance. And besides — you won’t know unless you try. It also might be a signal to re-evaulate your query letter. If you think your story really is exactly what an agent said he or she is looking for, then you might need to make sure that your query letter is accurately representing your manuscript. (Query letters are bugbears, and I can’t even tell you how many drafts mine went through).
  • Do. Not. Pitch. On. The. Tag. There are other days on twitter when pitch tags are a thing. This isn’t one of them. It’s bad manners to invade a tag that has a specific purpose (which is part of why I’m posting this blog the day before, not the day of!). Just sit back, relax, and see what the agents have to say.

So — Happy hunting, everyone!

Thoughts on #MSWL

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.