Writing a novel is hard. It takes dedication, self-motivation, and—if you’re anything like me—lots of caffeine and a heck of a lot of staring at blank pages. And if you’re even more like me, then you probably just can’t wait to write the ending and feel that wave of satisfaction, that comforting knowledge that you’re finally done.
Except, you’re not done. Not yet. Because if you want to publish that precious manuscript you’ve lovingly dedicated however much of your life to and self-publishing isn’t the path for you, then you need to find an agent. And—for the last time—if you’re like me, that’s probably where you draw a blank.
An agent? Where do I find one of them? What even is an agent? At least, those are the questions that ran through my head when the end of my novel was finally in sight, the thought of publication started becoming a reality, and I realized I had no idea where to begin. Thankfully, my professor provided an answer with Manuscript Wish List.
Manuscript Wish List (usually written as #MSWL) is a Twitter hashtag used mostly by agents and editors to describe what kinds of manuscripts they’re interested in acquiring at the moment they send their tweet out into the world.
The website mswishlist.com has compiled every tweet that contains the hashtag in one place and updates in real time, so as soon as an agent tweets about a manuscript that sounds like yours, you’ll know about it. The website even has a helpful sidebar that breaks the tweets down into different categories, from wide ranging catch-all phrases like “Adult” and “YA” to genres as specific as “Romantic Suspense,” “Cozy Mystery,” and “Alternate History.”
A quick glance at the website reveals that there truly is a niche for just about any novel. Agents and editors will often list several kinds of stories they’re looking to acquire, proving that the novels they love to read are just as diverse as their interests. Many will reference a popular Netflix series, a book they enjoyed, or a current event they’re following, tweeting how they would love to read any novel that’s in a similar vein. Some get pretty specific, like this recent #MSWL tweet that asks for a manuscript with a “YA heroine like the Doctor: wacky, smart, fun, with a compelling underlying darkness!” Doctor Who fans, pay attention: here’s an agent worth looking into!
Once you’ve found an agent or editor whose #MSWL sounds like your novel, try clicking on their name. This will bring you to a biography page of sorts, which provides further information about them and a list of genres they’re interested in reading at the moment. Included in this information is often a link to the company they work for. If at this point you’re thinking, “Hey, this person sounds pretty cool and I think they might like my novel,” then follow this link.
You’ll most likely be directed to a longer biography that includes vital information, including the agent’s or editor’s interests (because if you like the same things, you can use that information to establish a quick connection), what kinds of manuscripts they are currently looking to acquire (because you never want to query someone who isn’t looking for your genre), and—most importantly—how to query them.
Knowing how to query an agent is important because chances are almost everyone you query will have different requirements. If the agent or editor is currently accepting submissions, then pay close attention to how they want you to submit your manuscript. Some will ask you to include an excerpt of your manuscript directly in the body of your e-mail, while others want it added as an attachment. Some might want the first five pages of your novel, others the first five chapters, and still others might even ask for the entire novel. And then there are agents who don’t even want to see a word of your novel until after they’ve read your query letter, and only if they like your letter will they ask to see your manuscript.
I mention these query guidelines to give a brief example of what looking for an agent might be like, but also to illustrate that most of this information can be found simply by checking mswishlist.com. Another great website is the similarly named manuscriptwishlist.com, which features tips on how to write your query letter as well as lists of agents and editors to consider querying. Although there are countless resources to help first-time authors begin the search for an agent, the simplified, streamlined presentation of mswishlist.com is a great place to start without getting overwhelmed by the volume of manuscript wish lists out there.
Good luck, and start querying those agents!