Also known as
What I’d Like to See in my Agent Inbox in 2021
In general, my manuscript wish list stays the same no matter the season or year! But for 2021, I’m really hoping to see these kinds of projects in particular appear in my inbox. Similar to 2018, 2019, and 2020, but with some adjustments and additions (pie-in-the-sky dream projects).
Keep in mind, a manuscript is more than a recipe combining themes of Book A, characters like those found in Book B, with a plot like Book C. It’s in the essence of the writing, the make-up of the narrative, the style of the voice––that’s what captures attention. A really great manuscript infuses the tone, atmosphere, and emotion into every word, applying careful attention to detail to evoke a sensation from the page to the reader’s mind. That’s what agents are looking for. We’re enticed by your recipe and hope to be moved by the outcome. So while I am pointing out published books that accomplished elements of what I love and what I’m seeking, I’m also pointing out books that most accurately display the essence of what I’m looking for.
Fantasy || I adore fantasy inspired by historical events, cultures, folklore, and fairytales. More often than not, these fantasies tend to be set in secondary worlds, where magic may or may not exist, but the feel of the novel is certainly magical. My absolute favorites are The City of Brass (Islamic- and Arabic-inspired, set in 18th-c outside Cairo), Uprooted and Spinning Silver (Eastern European and Jewish fairytale retellings), The Wolf of Oren-Yaro (Filipino-inspired culture), and Daughter of the Forest (Irish Celtic mythology). Award-winning author and client Tasha Suri‘s Empire of Sand and Realm of Ash are based on 15th-c Mughal-Indian mythology, and upcoming Malice by Heather Walter spins a fairytale completely on its head. Each of these books have lush writing and beautiful characterizations, which is what I’m most drawn to in these fantasies. I also enjoy in-depth world-building and unique perspectives (literally everything about A Darker Shade of Magic), have thoroughly enjoyed dragon stories (Priory of the Orange Tree and His Majesty’s Dragon), am seeking more previously-established ensemble casts with one POV (a la Kings of the Wyld), and I want to find my own Queen of Blood, Bone Ships, or The Wolf and the Whale.
Pie-in-the-sky manuscript: What every single book mentioned above accomplishes is the ability to take a creature, character, or tradition from a culture, tale, or faith and make it entirely new, unique, fresh. I want to see golems, djinn, wendigos, vetalas, almasties––I’m tired of the typical werewolf/vampire/angel/fairy. Give me something rarely covered in Western literature. Give me depth to the world and the characters. I don’t need heists and sword fights and action-action-action to propel my reading.
Historical Fantasy || Though a branch off fantasy (“low fantasy”), this category is for all those books that have a hint of magic within the historical narrative. Not necessarily magical realism––but a tiny little something sparks that energy and spins into the fantastical. In Another Time explores wormholes in WWII, The Familiars leaves you wondering if she really was a witch, The Winter Witch adds an element of intrigue in a quiet Welsh farm, Outlander has a hint of time travel but is otherwise historical, and A Secret History of Witches explores generations of women in one family and the impact their magic has on the community. My favorite books in 2020 included The Once and Future Witches and The Year of the Witching, and I would fall over to represent something like that! Basically if it involves witches, a hint of magic, and the ways in which a community unravels, I’m down.
Pie-in-the-sky: A fresh and unique spin on historical events that then asks, “what if…?” What if witches were real during XYZ historical event? What if witches were behind A? What if magic was the cause of B? What if someone with XYZ abilities could’ve changed the outcome to C? What if magic/witches were the root of religion? Take the idea and run with it.
Women’s Fiction || I adore women’s fiction that is about the average woman doing average things, experiencing the difficulties of everyday life, and growing from it — such as Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, A Window Opens, Leave Me, Goodbye, Paris, and The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living. On the flip-side, I love chick-lit — humorous women’s fiction that’s appealing to a millennial audience, about young women in the workplace and the silly things that happen in their life. My absolute favorite is Sophie Kinsella, along with Don’t You Forget About Me, The Friend Zone, Ayesha at Last, and The Flatshare. Romance is not a primary draw for me, but it doesn’t turn me off to the story, either!
Pie-in-the-sky: I’ve found I’m drawn to two particular sorts of protagonists and life journeys in women’s fiction. The first is the character that thinks they’re content when actually they’re lonely. Though these characters are typically older or curmudgeonly––and that’s okay––a kind and young character can experience this too. I’m drawn to the ways in which another character/event challenges them to break routine. The second is the character that has something preventing them from moving forward in life––grief, finances, a relationship––and the snowball effect that has throughout the narrative.
Historical Fiction || I love all sorts of historical fiction, especially when it branches off little-known aspects of history, or it takes on a fresh new look at popular historical events (WWI and WWII, for example, are incredibly common on the shelves, but it’s how the story is told or the unique perspective the story is told through that brings them to the shelves). For example, my favorite historical fiction includes Shadow on the Crown (Emma of Normandy and early British history), The Alice Network (WWI/WWII parallel narrative shining light on female spy networks), The Romanov Empress (about Tsarina Maria Feodorovna, wife of Alexander III and mother of Nicholas II), and Dear Mrs. Bird (WWII advice columnist/slice-of-life narrative). I would love to see some more light shed on impressive women in history and the things they accomplished despite society’s limitations (STEM, feminism, code-breaking, politics/reigns, first female to ___), like client Clarissa Harwood‘s Impossible Saints. Admittedly, I’m most familiar with European (specifically English) history, but I’m open to reading anything as long as the premise is compelling and fresh and the writing style relatable to a modern audience.
Pie-in-the-sky: Lately I’ve been craving Gilded Age/turn-of-the-century narratives, particularly in the ways American wealth supported British aristocracy. I also want to read about women we know (Wu Zetian, Elizabeth Bathory, Mette Magrete Tvistman), women behind great men in history, and women being the first in smaller [and oftentimes fictional] ways––like the first to run her family’s Victorian shop, with Sarah Waters vibes, for example.
Contemporary/Historical Parallel Narratives in Fiction || There are great ways to introduce parallel narratives in historical and contemporary women’s fiction. Some of my favorites include anything pertaining to archivists, curators, scribes, researchers, and academics. Sometimes the parallel narrative is in the form of epistolary fiction –– artifacts and documents the curator, archivist, or researcher in the modern day stumbles across that takes us into the historical narrative literally (like The Weight of Ink and Possession) or figuratively (Meet Me at the Museum). I especially adore fiction that follows said curator, archivist, and academic on their journey, like The Clockmaker’s Daughter. I’m open to two historical narratives (Letters from Skye) as well as one historical and one contemporary, just as long as both narratives are tied in some way while still having two separate, compelling journeys.
YOUNG ADULT FICTION
Fantasy & Historical Fantasy || The YA world is difficult to break into, especially in fantasy. But I’m such a sucker for YA fantasy — I love all the worlds and ideas and originality that floods the market. That’s the issue at stake, though: it needs to be original. So while I love fairytale retellings, they need to be proper retellings, with twists and turns and (for goodness’s sake) new names––just like my clients Lisa DeSelm’s The Puppetmaster’s Apprentice and Chloe Gong’s These Violent Delights. I love culturally-influenced or mythology-inspired stories (like Spin the Dawn and Don’t Call the Wolf), but I’m not interested in Greek or Roman mythology whatsoever. (Never have been.) I love historically-inspired fantasies, too, such as Walk on Earth a Stranger. That said, I’m very much into elemental magic — when magic is innate, a part of the world, or part of the world’s faith/mythology — over all other kinds of fantasies, like Shielded by my client KayLynn Flanders. Think Star-Touched Queen, Shadowfell, Sorcery of Thorns, and Hunted. If you have a YA fantasy, send it my way, especially if they fit into any of the above criteria.
Pie-in-the-sky: (As stated in the adult fiction section, since it applies here too) What every single book mentioned above accomplishes is the ability to take a creature, character, or tradition from a culture, tale, or faith and make it entirely new, unique, fresh. I want to see golems, djinn, wendigos, vetalas, almasties––I’m tired of the typical werewolf/vampire/angel/fairy. Give me something rarely covered in Western literature. Give me depth to the world and the characters. I don’t need heists and sword fights and action-action-action to propel my reading. They’re entertaining, but I’m here for the meat of the story, not the garnish.
Contemporary Fiction || It is all about the voice for me when it comes to YA contemporary. When I read YA contemporary, I need to feel like I’m talking to my high school best friend. Teen readers can spot inauthenticity in a heartbeat, and you want to make sure you have their desires and heartbreaks in the voice of your protagonist. You’re not an adult trying to be a teen — you are a teen. That said, I am seeking fantastic rom-coms like When Dimple Met Rishi (technology camps!), Royals (royals’ sidekicks fall in love!) and Anna and the French Kiss (study abroad programs!), badass heroines like Dumplin’ (fighting against stereotypes!), and great family and friendship dynamics like Emma Mills, Morgan Matson, and Jenny Han. Perfect examples of this are my own clients Jared Reck (A Short History of the Girl Next Door) and Nina Moreno (Don’t Date Rosa Santos). I’d love to see more characters with fun and interesting jobs and unique hobbies. I tend to lean on the lighter side of things, with hope at the end of the tunnel. I do like tear-jerkers, but I want that spark of hope and inspiration at the end.
Historical || Historical fiction is very hard to break into in YA. Sometimes it needs to have magical elements, sometimes it needs to be an era that readers are familiar with. Look to your own city, look to the history books, look to your family history, and see what seemingly small event had a large impact for that area. A Prisoner of Night and Fog is set in Germany in the 1930s, not quite WWII but through the perspective of someone in the middle of the frightening changes in the country; Outrun the Moon is set during the San Francisco earthquake, and how race and economic status barriers fell in a state of emergency; A Madness So Discreet is set across America in the 1800s, battling patriarchy and standing up for those unlawfully sentenced to mental institutions; The Forbidden Orchid is set in Asia as a Victorian girl hunts down her father, a man in the middle of a race to find a perfect, rare orchid; The Bird and the Blade, though partially based on a folk tale, is inspired by historical events during the Mongol Empire and the Great Khan’s reign of power. There are so many more — but great YA historical fiction requires an intriguing and original premise, a general accessibility, and bringing the past to life. I would love to see historical fiction set outside the US and Western Europe!
For a final once-over, feel free to follow my #mswl and #MSWLaesthetic on Twitter, read my Manuscript Wishlist post, follow submission guidelines, read up on Publishers Marketplace deals, check out my clients page and book deals records, and catch up on this blog once in a while to read my thoughts and reviews of published works. Every little bit helps to getting representation! Oh, and as a reminder:
ALWAYS seeking: diversity. Race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability, mentality, health, economic status, religious affiliation, all of it. The obvious shouldn’t need to be said — that I want my projects to reflect the beautiful diversity of the world, that I want to see and share with others life through another’s eyes, that I want to see these differences expressed through art and creation and culture, that these books need to be on bookshelves — but that’s the state of things. So yes, there is no question to it: I want diversity.
ALWAYS open to queries: even during times of the year when publishing seems extra busy, or extra slow, or I’m on vacation or traveling — I am open to queries. I never close. I read every single query. It’s unfair to you as the writer to try to keep track of all the agents who are opened or closed, and (selfishly) it’s unfair to me to be closed when something truly remarkable could have been in my inbox for me to represent. SO! With that said, if I’m busy or traveling or on vacation, I’ll have an away message up with clear, simple instructions about what will happen with your query in the time I’m away. I am never closed to queries.
NEVER seeking: anything set in space, anything set in the future, thrillers and suspense (psychological, military, legal, political, or otherwise), Greek or Roman-inspired narratives (I’m sorry, I’m just not into it), all nonfiction (poems, essays, memoirs, how-tos, everything nonfiction), scripts or screenplays, paranormal romance, erotica. If your project uses any of these concepts to describe it, it’s an automatic no. I’m not the agent for any of these projects, so please do not send them to me.
I hope this is helpful! I’m looking forward to receiving great manuscripts and selling lots in 2021!
One thought on “MSWL for 2021”
Working on my middle grade fiction fantasy on and off for years, since my second trip to Panama. The little boy with Downs Syndrome and indigenous girl become inseparable friends on adventures to save palm-nut-critters and their peace in the rainforest. On the verge of completing manuscript this month.