On Tuesday September 24th, hundreds of editors, agents, and other publishing industry insiders shared their manuscript wish lists using the Twitter hashtag #mswl. While entry-level writers used to dream at having such easy access to insider knowledge, MSWL has become a popular rallying-point for the publishing and writing communities.
Standing for “Manuscript Wish List,” the #mswl tag is used by used by agents and editors to publicly let the writing community know what they would like to see in the manuscripts they receive. As the “Wish List” portion of the acronym implies, tweets tagged #mswl are not intended to be the only types of stories that agent or editor will accept. They typically refer to areas of a given genre that the agent/editor thinks could use more exploration. More often than not, these tweets simply share what type of novels that agent/editor personally wants to read.
Some even use #mswl to state what aspects of the genre are over-explored or to even imply what plot elements might cause them to immediately reject a manuscript.
Because MSWL is simply a hashtag, agents and editors tweet their wish lists throughout the entire year. The publishing community often selects random dates as loosely-organized “MSWL days,” which will attract hundreds of agents/editors to post their wish lists all at once. Previous MSWL days were held on June 30th and August 22nd.
There is no organization at the center of MSWL, although the tumblr “Agent and Editor Wish List” has become a de facto hub of MSWL activity. The unidentified author of the tumblr collects and posts all tweets tagged #mswl onto that page. The author also answers some general questions (directed towards writers) regarding editor/agent etiquette and protocol.
MSWL shows no signs of slowing down. Editors and agents continue to participate in droves, and the phenomenon has elicited “strong reactions of joy or disheartenment” from writers (I Believe in Story). Many of the disappointed writers came away from MSWL thinking that these editors/agents were only looking for fiction that matched their wish lists, which reinforces the stereotype that editors and agents are fickle people. These negative reactions (along with some misuses of the #MSWL tag, particularly from writers who used the tag to pitch their novels) prompted a swath of blog editorials on MSWL. Hey, There’s a Dead Guy in the Living Room warned about writing to the wish lists, while Operation Awesome discussed the etiquette of pitching and how a writer might use MSWL in a polite and dignified way.
MSWL also has the potential to stimulate discussion about the state of various genres. The tag has become particularly popular amongst genre fiction publishers, most likely because the genre fiction audience tends to be more inclined towards social media. The ability to see the publishers’ opinions on the over or under-use of genre elements is a valuable resource for readers. If there are hot-button debates that stem from MSWL, it may even result in shifting attitudes or trends within those genres.
Because MSWL is so new, no one knows whether or not it has directly resulted in a publishable manuscript. However useful it may prove to be, MSWL has humanized the people behind the acquisition process and uses today’s social media technologies towards earnestly helpful ends.