The Good and Bad of #MSWL

Slushpile demotivation poster.

Via Google Image Search

Yesterday was the latest Manuscript Wish List day on Twitter. For those of you who don’t know, this is the day when agents and editors tweet their “dream project”—that is the book concept they are dying to see in their inboxes. It’s billed as a way to stand out in the “slushpile.”

Folowing the #MSWL hastag feels like a search through the slushpile in reverse, especially when you’re writing something very specific that isn’t fiction, isn’t YA, and doesn’t involve angst-ridden teenage vampire-archers living in a dystopian landscape of wizards and …

No, not every agent is looking for a mashup of all the popular and played-out trends. Some of the ideas were really interesting. Some sounded like they could make an entertaining read. But none of them would be any good if they didn’t grow naturally from the passion of the author.

And that’s the catch. #MSWL is a great resource to find the one agent who might be looking for the exact story that you can tell better than anyone. But it’s a lousy way to figure out what to write for the following three reasons.

Writing is hard enough when you are writing a story you love. It takes thousands of hours of writing and rewriting to get anything good on paper. To pour that much time and energy into a story that doesn’t resonate in your bones, your gut, your soul, is a waste. You want to make money? Get a job. You want to be famous? Audition for a reality TV show. Writers in it for money or fame never get either. Why? Because they quit before either become possible. Write because you have to write. Tell the story that you have to get out of you before it kills you. Otherwise you’re wasting your time.

It takes time to write a book. Years sometimes until it’s polished. By the time you’re done, the agent has found the dream book (that was already written), signed the author, found a publisher, and helped bring the book to press. Now you’re just copying a trend.

If you don’t believe in your writing, your writing will suck. Yes, your first draft will probably suck no matter what. That’s what first drafts are for. Get the ideas on the page, and then sort the wheat from the chaff. But if you don’t believe in what you’re writing, if you don’t live the story, it will never be good enough for publication.

So treat each MSWL day as another resource. Treat it the same as agent websites and guides. If you find the agent that’s looking for the book that you’ve written, great! if it’s ready to submit, send it. If it’s not, polish it and then send it. Include MSWL in the subject line and know that you’ll get the agent’s attention long enough that you might just get signed.

And if you don’t find an agent who’s looking for your book, don’t worry. Agents are the first to admit that the best books are often the ones they don’t know they’re looking for. Craft your pitch, craft your query, and above all believe in your story.

If it’s truly your story, then who better to tell it than you?

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