Why Agents Pass On Material They Say They Are Looking For

stressMany writers on Twitter know how great #MSWL is. It’s a hashtag where agents and editors can list what they’re looking for. (P.S. For those of you not on Twitter there are two blogs that post them: Agent And Editor WishlistMS Wishlist.)

Many agents also list on their websites what they’re actively looking for, too.

It’s exciting when writers see their manuscript align with an agent’s interest so they send off a query and…then nothing. Either no request. Or a request but no offer of representation.

What happens when agents pass on material they say they’re looking for?

  • We’re still looking for the ‘magic.’ So many things have to be perfect for us to sign up new projects. Even if the plot matches with what we’re looking for there are other parts to the equation.
  • The voice wasn’t right for us. This is the other part of the equation.
  • Writers try to put a square peg in a round hole. If we say we’re looking for contemporary settings with suspense, don’t send us suspense set in space.
  • We have something too similar on our list. You missed the gap! We already got our ‘wishlist’ project.

If you want to know what I’m looking for here it is! My manuscript wishlist.

Q: What do you wonder about agents & their wishlists? I’ll answer all questions!

Published by Carly Watters

Carly Watters is a SVP, senior literary agent and director of literary branding with the P.S. Literary Agency. She is a hands-on agent that develops proposals and manuscripts with attention to detail and the relevant markets. PSLA’s mission is to manage authors’ literary brands for their entire career. Never without a book on hand she reads across categories which is reflected in the genres she represents and is actively seeking new authors in including women’s fiction, commercial and upmarket fiction, select literary fiction, platform-driven non fiction and select memoir. She occasionally represents children's book projects. Carly is drawn to emotional, well-paced narratives, with a great voice and characters that readers can get invested in.

8 thoughts on “Why Agents Pass On Material They Say They Are Looking For

  1. OMG! Just got a wish-list submission and its blowing my mind! Cross between “Hannibal” and “Law & Order” for teens! So excited!

    There have been many others that have missed that strategic “gap” though. Thanks, Carly, for the great post!


    1. I can’t answer for all agencies, but for us it’s all about the best fit. If a query is addressed to one agent they get the first ‘pick,’ but if another agent here likes it better (senior or not) we let the best fit make an offer of rep.

      That scenario might happen with other larger agencies.


    1. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Agents develop taste like editors do.

      Agents see SO MUCH slush that sometimes we see a big gap.

      And remember agents are also readers and love books. So sometimes we have a hankering for something.

      Liked by 1 person

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