Manuscript Wish List

Posted on Mon, Feb 16 2015 9:00 am by Dawn Frederick

We often discuss what writers and readers want in the book world, in many types of social forums. We’ve seen the successful trends: from vampires, to zombies, to tear-inducing storylines, and more. However, the one thing that doesn’t necessarily stand out is that agents (who are readers and sometimes writers themselves) have specific interests and tastes in books as well. These preferences will easily translate into the categories and types of books any agent represents. Inherently knowing the books in a category by being avid reader (as an agent) is essential in agent-author relationship.

Through the many print directories and websites available, agents have done the best they can in sharing their representative categories. Oftentimes these categories are ignored, but on a good day 50% of most queries will line up accordingly. It then comes down to the book ideas connecting with the agents on a personal level.

What agents are generally unable to share within these listings is the hope of seeing certain types of storylines in books within a category. Maybe it’s a novel with a specific type of character and character flaw; perhaps a book that introduces a particular setting, conflict or era. This is where the personal taste of an agent enters the query process. 

Don’t you want personal taste to be the only reason your book didn’t result in an offer of representation?  If that’s the only reason for a rejection, it’s something to be proud of.

So how does one learn the specific stories and ideas agents will salivate over?

The easiest, 140 character-driven task is Twitter. To see the personality and interests of an agent, follow that person on Twitter. Most publishing folks, agents included, talk about things outside of publishing and books. And at the most random times, generally when answering queries, advice will be shared, as well as stories that won the agents over.

The next step is to participate in #MSWL. For anyone new to this, it’s a hashtag on Twitter and is an acronym for Manuscript Wish List. If an agent is hungry for a certain type of book, there’s a good chance it will be mentioned on Twitter and other social media with the #MSWL hashtag. After becoming extremely popular with writers and publishing types, KK Hendon and Jessica Sinsheimer turned it in to an online resource:

On this site, agents and editors list the types of storylines they dream of seeing. On the flipside, writers can see the types of book ideas agents & editors hope to see reach their inbox. I can personally attest that making this list up was fun. I’ve yet to get my hands on a Joss Whedon-inspired craft book, but at least the request is out there for any interested writer. That’s half the battle.

On February 18, KK and Jessica are hosting #MSWL Day. So sign up, get your pens & notepads ready. There’s a good chance someone’s dream book may line up with yours.

Editor's Note: Jessica Sinsheimer, along with a full lineup of talented agents and editors, will be at the Loft's Pitch Conference, November 13–14, 2015. Save the date(s)! Registration will open this April.

Dawn Frederick is the owner & literary agent of Red Sofa Literary, established in 2008. Red Sofa Literary is a celebration of the quirky, eclectic ideas in our publishing community. Dawn’s previous experience reflects a broad knowledge of the book business, with over a decade of experience as a bookseller in the independent, chain, and specialty stores, an editor for a YA publisher, a published nonfiction author, and an associate literary agent at Sebastian Literary Agency. Dawn earned a BS in Human Ecology and a MS in Information Sciences from an ALA-accredited institution.