Using the Manuscript Wish List to Find a Literary Agent

Updated on February 8, 2018
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By day, I work for a long term care insurance broker. By night, I'm a writer. My favorite topics are movies, nostalgia, and pop culture.

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Introduction

So, you’ve finished your great American novel, and you want to find an agent to help get you published without getting ripped off. You pull up Google and type in “literary agents”. Then, you try to pick your jaw up from the floor when you realize that finding an agent is tougher than getting published. So, do you just skip it and try to get published on your own? You can, but then your options run out as the rejections pour in. Eventually, you find yourself running into dead ends as more and more publishers turn away unsolicited submissions. Now, does this mean you have to find an agent? No. But, if you do, there is an easier way. Agents have begun using the Manuscript Wish List to help authors pinpoint which agents are interested in their genre. They even sometimes give specific plot and character guidelines in their wish list to really pare down what they are looking for. In this way, agents are not wasting their time turning away queries that don’t fit their guidelines, and authors can find agents who are looking for their specific type of story. Below is the process that I use to query literary agents for my books.

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How To Research Agents

The Manuscript Wish List was introduced to me by a professor while taking a Creative Writing Workshop class this past year. She brought it up as a Twitter hashtag that writers can use to find tweets from agents calling out specific wish list items to authors. By plugging in the #MSWL on Twitter, a slew of Tweet appear from authors from various agencies. To specify even further, she suggested that I add the #MG hashtag to my search since I am a middle grade author. This really helped me to pinpoint the agents looking for middle grade submissions.

Afterwards, I found the following website: http://www.manuscriptwishlist.com/. There, I searched for middle grade in their search box, and it brought up a long list of agents from various agencies looking for middle grade submissions. Each agent has their own profile page with details as to the types of submissions they are seeking and for which company. It also includes contact information, though I don’t use this contact information. Instead, I just write down the agent’s name and the company they work for. Each agent must be researched further on their agency’s website to ensure that they are currently open for submissions and that their contact information has not changed.

Information to Obtain

Once I have a bunch of names written down from the Manuscript Wish List, it’s time to research specifics. So, I Google the name of the agency along with the word “submission”, and it typically generates a link to that agency’s submissions page where their submission guidelines are posted. Here is the information that you need to make a note of when you get to this step:

- Is the agent still working for this company?

- Are they currently accepting query submissions?

- If not, when will they be open for submissions again?

- Do they take unsolicited submissions, or do you need to be referred to a specific agent on that site to submit?

- Is there another agent at this agency who also reads queries for your genre? Would they be a better fit based on their guidelines on their profile page?

- Do they ask for sample chapters? If so, how many pages/word count? Do they want it double spaced?

- Do they ask for a plot synopsis? If so, how many pages? Be ready with both a paragraph-sized summary, a one page summary, and a chapter-by-chapter summary.

- Should the query letter and any supporting documents be pasted in the body of the email, or would they rather have it in an attachment? If so, what attachment formats do they accept (.doc, .pdf, etc.?)

- How do they want the subject line to read to avoid the email becoming spam? (Ex. “QUERY” + “BOOK TITLE” + “YOUR NAME”)

- Does the company have an online submission form? If so, scan it to make sure they are accepting submissions at that time and that you can provide an answer to all of the questions that they ask?

- Do they ask you to list successful titles that are similar to your own? Have this ready, just in case.

- What is their response time?

- Do they respond to rejected queries?

- If one agent at the agency rejects your work, can you submit to another, or are submissions shared within the company?

You MUST do your research at this step. If you do not adhere to their guidelines, there is a good chance that they will disregard your submission. When they are receiving dozens of submissions each week, they can be choosy about which ones they read. Also, make sure that you have all of your standard documents prepared in advance. For more on this, check out my Hub on submitting queries to publishers: https://toughnickel.com/self-employment/How-To-Submit-Your-Book-to-Publishers.

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Next Steps

Be sure to follow the agency and agents that you are submitting to on social media. Make sure your news feeds are full of #MSWL posts for future submissions and show that you care about the company and what it has to say.

Keep track of your submissions on an online spreadsheet or handwritten list (I do both). Mark down when you receive a response on your queries. Don’t forget to write down the name of the agent along with the name of their company. Review this list before submitting to any new companies. You don’t want to waste your time submitting to an agent who has already rejected you or to a company that does not allow for multiple submissions. Some responses will be sent within 24 hours. Others take days, weeks, or even months, if they respond at all.

An agent will usually tell you in their guidelines whether or not to expect a response from them. Some encourage you to follow up if you don’t hear within an allotted time frame. Others tell you to consider it a rejection after a certain date. Mark down the follow up dates if you intend to follow up with a specific agent. Otherwise, do as they say and mark it as a rejection if this date passes.

Do not be afraid of rejection, especially about the content of a rejection. While it would be nice to get some feedback, you don’t need to be worried about an agent bashing your work in their response. They will tell you up front that they don’t have time to give detailed reasons as to why they are not accepting your work. However, they typically put a positive spin on the rejection, encouraging you to submit elsewhere or letting you know that another agent may feel differently than they do. They understand the frustrations of the business and won’t make a point of twisting the knife with harsh criticism. So, be prepared for many gentle letdowns.

Have you tried the Manuscript Wish List to find agents?

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Conclusion

Querying agents can be time consuming, frustrating, and takes away from your valuable writing time, usually spent scrolling through your social media feeds instead of actually writing, but that’s a hurdle for another day. Hopefully, these tips will shorten the hunt and help to keep you organized along the way. Be ready for an agent to ask you for your full manuscript, and don’t get discouraged if you keep receiving rejection letters. This is ultimately a lottery of finding the perfect agent looking for your exact work at the right time. It takes a lot for the stars to line up, and realize that you are one in a stack of submission that agents are reading every day, and they can only take on so many clients at a time.

You have to play to win, though, and you have to keep trying as long as there are agents to query. I’ve even been able to find agents who accept self-published submissions for my previous works. So, the longer you explore the world of the Manuscript Wish List, the more opportunities will arise.

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    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 13 days ago from Northeast Ohio

      I use it all the time. The same for the Twitter hash tag. I've gotten one request so far from it.

    • Laura335 profile image
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      Laura Smith 2 weeks ago from Pittsburgh, PA

      Oh good. I hope it's helpful.

    • poppyr profile image

      Poppy 2 weeks ago from Tokyo, Japan

      Good article, and I actually own the book you've posted!

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