What Do They Really Want?

By Charlotte Bennardo

Authors try to keep up on the trends and 'wish lists' of editors and agents. In the midst of agent/editor subbing, I did an informal, unscientific, partial list review of the Manuscript Wish List- to get a general (again, unscientific, not to be etched in stone) look see to find out what they want.

First, they all generally said what they wanted most was (obviously) "strong characters, distinct voices, great story telling." The next most used buzz words were magic/magical realism/mythology, which frankly surprised me, because authors have been hearing that magic and fantasy is so done, yet I've been to conferences with both agents and editors where I've heard "no more Harry Potter" or the like. But it seems the overall magic genre is still as popular as ever.

The second most popular category was diversity/own voices. I put these two together as they are commonly linked in articles, wish lists, etc. This was no surprise as it's been a big theme in the publishing and academic worlds.

Ranked third on my gander was contemporary. (If an editor specified contemporary magic, I lumped that in the magic category, not the more general contemporary.) Gender issues and horror/ supernatural appeared next.

What surprised me the most? That STEM/STEAM was at the bottom of the number of requests; even historicals, family, mysteries, and humor rated higher. With the emphasis on falling science/ technology/engineering/math test scores, college grads, and jobs, that this would have been higher. At a number of book events I hear a lot of push for STEM/STEAM books.

There was only one request for a 'before & after' story, a few for literary over commercial fiction, and one with 'no western settings.' (I guess there's a lot of that? So no more stories like Stephen King's The Gunslinger?)

While many agents/editors qualified their lists with "if it has a unique perspective" or "has an unreliable protagonist" or "makes me cry/laugh/get emotional" it's a safe bet that if a specific category isn't on their list, they're probably not interested; an editor/agent with a penchant for issue or contemporary novels could be turned off by sci fi.

The overall consensus: write what you want, what you can, and write it well. Then sort through the agents and editors.


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