Pitch Wars 2019

Hello Hopefuls! Welcome to Pitch Wars* 2019!


#TeamUnicornMojo (Julie Artz & Jessica Vitalis) is back for a third year and we cannot wait to read your middle grade fantasy submissions!

*Pitch Wars is a mentoring program where published/agented authors, editors, or industry interns choose one writer each to spend three months revising their manuscript. It ends in February with an Agent Showcase, where agents can read a pitch/first page and can request to read more. Learn more at pitchwars.org

You can learn more about us (and our wish list) over at Julie’s website, but in case you just came from there, here are the answers to the frequently-asked-questions we promised (followed by a query critique giveaway)!


1. What are you not looking for?

  • Contemporary (unless it has magical elements)
  • Historical (unless it is fantasy)
  • Humor (fart jokes, toilet humor, and physical humor are not our thing!)
  • Dystopian
  • Sci-fi
  • Anthropomorphic
  • Epistolary
  • Books in verse
  • Lower MG
  • Chapter Books
  • Portal Stories/Time Travel
  • High fantasy that includes traditional elements like gnomes, elves, and fairies

2. I know one of you through Twitter. Can I submit to you?

If you interact with us on Twitter, that’s absolutely fine. But if you know us in real life (including through SCBWI), or we’ve ever read for you before, please choose one of the other amazing MG mentors!

3. I have limited time to revise. Should I submit to you?

 No. Even line-level revision takes time and we’re likely to choose someone who needs more big-picture revisions. You’ll want to have some serious time to devote to the process to give your manuscript the best chance to shine!

4. I don’t think my book needs much by way of revision. Should I submit to you?

It is our experience that most stories, even when they are “done,” still need a fair amount of revision. Please do not submit to us unless you are prepared to consider big-picture revisions. We will almost certainly ask you to take your book apart and stitch it back together! Our 2018 mentee only kept one scene from her original story and cut multiple POVs as well as more than 10,000 words. If you’re not up for that level of revision, we may not be the mentor team for you.


5. What do you mean by books “with a strong premise and beautiful writing”?

You know when someone sums up a book or a movie in one sentence and you gasp, thinking how interesting and/or brilliant the idea is (and how you wish you’d thought of it)? That’s what we mean by a strong premise. When we say we’re looking for beautiful writing, it means we want to work with a writer who already knows how to construct a strong, compelling sentence but needs help figuring out how to turn his/her writing skills into a polished novel.

6. I know you said you didn’t want contemporary/sci-fi/dystopian/elves, but…

We receive tons of submissions and will not read past the query if you submit something in a genre we listed under number one above. Don’t waste a submission on us when there are lots of other amazing middle grade mentors who are looking for your genre!

7. What can we expect if we are chosen as your mentee?

We generally start with an edit letter that covers the manuscript’s strengths and weaknesses from a big picture perspective (themes, plot, character, etc.). Our edit letters are famously long and we typically provide tons of inline comments to support our thoughts. We have also been known to assign homework when we think it will be beneficial.  We love brainstorming either via email, phone, or FaceTime/Skype and will be there every step of the way to help you put together and execute your revision plan. (In other words, we’re going to smother you with love!)

smothered in love

But don’t take our word for it: here are testimonials we’ve gathered from previous mentees and clients:

Jessica and Julie are an absolute dream team! They are brilliant, incredibly kind, and they will sprinkle your manuscript with unicorn dust! They pushed me to make my manuscript the best possible version of itself without letting me lose sight of the story I wanted to tell. Their skills complement each other perfectly, and I was consistently impressed by the way they presented their ideas as a unified force. I started to wonder whether there was a magical twenty-fifth hour in the day where they got together to compile their lovely (and lengthy 😉) edit letters! ––Tiffany Liu (2018 Mentee)

Jessica and Julie are super organized and thoughtful and they always seemed to know when I was ready for the next step. I can’t believe how much I learned from them–about writing, but also about what it means to persevere in this tough business! They are extremely knowledgeable about the craft and shared so many helpful resources that made me a much stronger writer. Jessica and Julie will be by your side for whatever you need, from structural advice to finding the perfect sentence to knowing the right GIF to send when you need encouragement. I would not have made it through Pitch Wars without their enthusiasm and support, and their next mentee will be SO fortunate to have them!” ––Reese Eschmann, author debuting with Aladdin 2021 (2017 Mentee)

Having Jessica as a mentor was a dream. She takes her job very seriously, massaging my manuscript into shape no matter how many times I bothered her or how many rounds of revision I needed. Anytime I was stuck with a plot point, she would think about it and get back to me with amazing ideas. I felt I had a real partner throughout all of my revisions, someone who respected my vision yet gave me so much wisdom and guidance. My manuscript was improved 110% through working with Jessica. I would never have found my agent a few weeks after Pitch Wars without her help. More than that I’ve become an inestimably better writer. I can’t recommend her strongly enough. Getting Jessica as your mentor is akin to winning the writing lottery. ––Yael Mermelstein, award-winning author of I Promise You (2016 mentee)

From the start I knew Jessica was a legendary mentor. She’s whip smart, clever, caring, communicative, and above all else she dives into her mentee’s words and analyzes them as closely as she does her own. Jessica loves to talk about unicorn magic, and unicorn magic she does indeed have, in the form of turning around drafts in days, brainstorming on the fly, and editing with the careful precision of a publisher. We went through at least three rounds of edits in a month, a feat that had seemed impossible until it was completed. Jessica pushed me and challenged me to see my work as a professional, and to set very rigid and close deadlines when tackling revisions. As a result, by the time the agent round was upon us, I felt like I could handle anything as a writer. That is where the unicorn magic comes in—through Jessica’s mystical ability to simultaneously challenge and instill boundless confidence in her mentees. I continue to be grateful for her guidance long after Pitch Wars has ended. ––Kit Rosewater, author of The Derby Daredevils coming from Amulet in March 2020 (2016 Mentee)

The absolute best recommendations I can give for Jessica come from two people, my agent and my critique partner. When I was in the midst of revisions, my CP read what I had. Then she read it again after Jessica got a hold of it and ran her amazing, fine-tooth, line edit comb over it. She said something along the lines of, “I don’t know what you did, but it’s so much better. It’s told so much more confidently now.” Then, on the call with my agent (Elizabeth Harding) she said several times, “The manuscript is really, really polished.” I owe both of those compliments to Jessica. She will make you work and mark up your manuscript with so much virtual red pen you might have a heart attack. And then you’ll get to work and end up with a “confident,” “polished” manuscript. ––Amanda Rawson Hill, Author of The Three Rules of Everyday Magic (2015 mentee)

Jessica’s warmth, enthusiasm and knowledge of craft were just what I needed to take my writing to the next level. I had so many “ah-hah” moments as I read her editorial letter that I knew I was in good hands. I attribute the confidence and excitement I’m feeling right now as I jump into a round of revisions with my agent to my experience with Jessica and my growth as a writer under her mentorship. ––Heidi Stallman (2015 mentee)

Julie is a dream come true for writers: a careful and attentive reader who can hone in on what would make a story really soar. Whether you need help with a query, synopsis, or manuscript, I can’t recommend Julie strongly enough.  —Heather Bell Adams, author of Maranatha Road

Working with Julie Artz is a pleasure. As an editor, she’s thorough and prompt, keeping an honest dialogue to help a writer through tough manuscript changes. She excels at nailing down character motivations and ensuring that plot points follow a cause and effect trajectory until resolution. With Julie’s help, I found the confidence to make my manuscript something I’m proud of, instead of just something I wrote. –Kacey Vanderkarr, YA client

Julie, I am blown away by what I have been able to absorb of your feedback. Thank you for being so patient and generous with me and all of my questions. Author Accelerator has never steered me wrong! I can already see where I need to sharpen the “point.” Thank you for being open to clarifications, questions and a dialogue. I already feel safe in your literary hands. –Henriette Ivanans-McIntyre, author of In Pillness and in Health

8. Can we see any examples of your work?

Absolutely! Here are some critique giveaways we participated in:

Query Critique 1

Query Critique 2

First Page Critique 1

First Page Critique 2

Now it’s time for that query critique giveaway we promised! To enter, comment below with the name of your main character and an interesting piece of trivia related to that name. We’ll pick a winner at 8pm on September 15th

Thanks for considering #TeamUnicornMojo; we can’t wait to share our unicorn magic with one of you!


P.S. Want to return to Julie’s website? Here’s the link!

P.P.S. Want to go to the Pitch Wars website? Here’s the link!

Pitch Wars 2019 Middle Grade Mentors’ Wish Lists

  1. K.C. Held
  2. Kit Rosewater and Ash Van Otterloo
  3. Amanda Panitch
  4. Graci Kim and Karah Sutton
  5. Sarah Suk and Julie Abe
  6. Erin Entrada Kelly
  7. Rebecca Petruck
  8. Adrianna Cuevas and Sarah Kapit
  9. Kim Long and Jennifer L. Brown
  10. TJ Ohler
  11. Eric Bell
  12. Lacee Little and Bronwyn Clark
  13. Jessica Bayliss
  14. Shakirah Bourne
  15. Sean Easley
  16. Nicole Melleby and A.J. Sass
  17. Julie Artz and Jessica Vitalis
  18. Maria Frazer and Meera Trehan
  19. Rajani LaRocca and Remy Lai
  20. Nicole Panteleakos

23 thoughts on “Pitch Wars 2019

  1. I have dual MC, so I’ll pick one. Willa Joy Blevins (short for Wilhelmina). Willa discovers the creepy statue by the harbor, a woman from the 1700’s who was accused of being a witch, was also a Wilhelmina.

  2. My MCs are twins, Sara and Susanna North, and they (like almost every major character in my book) are named after women from historical witch trials.

  3. Hi! My main character’s name is James Rash. He shares my first name because I used it as a placeholder while thinking of a better one but decided to stick with it. Although, since James means Supplanter, it’s the perfect name for his character and goal … 😉

  4. Hi Jessica! My MC is a dragon named Drippy. His full name is Drippingham Nozzledoff III, but his bullying classmates in Flame Throwing 101 call him Drippy because he can’t shoot fire like the other dragons–only water. Gallons and gallons of it.

  5. My main character’s name is Bretzel, which is the European spelling for pretzel. I saw it on a packet of pretzels on a flight home from Morocco, erroneously thought it was a misspelling, decided it sounded like a fairy tale character’s name, and drew a picture of the character. I wrote my initial ideas for Bretzel’s story during the rest of the flight home.

  6. Julie and Jessica, thank you so much for all the work that you do! It is so exciting to hear all the success stories your mentees have, thanks to your help! I hope you find another great story to help out this year.
    I’d very much appreciate a query critique if you have the time.
    My mc goes by Nora Fitz, but when she goes to Evergreen (her birthplace which she hadn’t returned to since her father’s death a decade ago) they call her Eleonora Fitzgerald.
    I honestly chose the name Nora because it stands alone pretty great by itself but if you add the Eleo-nora, it sounds kind of magnificent. I also later figured out the names mean: honor, light and growth. And that makes it feel like it was a perfect choice.

  7. I have 3 MCs:
    1) Lincoln – because my son wanted to be in my book, so I wove elements of him into the character – including his name
    2) Violet – because I was pregnant at the same time as my best friend. She planned to name her daughter Vivian, and I thought Violet would make a fantastic best friend to Vivian. I had a Lincoln instead and years later spun Violet into my book character
    3) Crosby – because I love saying it.

  8. My MC’s name is Reah because it means “birth water” which worked for a story idea I had. I ditched that idea, wrote another story, but kept the name.

  9. Originally, my MC was Allie, but then I realized one of my main MG comps has a protagonist with that name. I needed something original. Only 1,649 people in the U.S. are named Tallulah (according to the reputable internet), so Allie became Tallulah–or Lula, for short.

  10. Names are a BIG deal in my writing, and all four of my ensemble-cast of kid MCs were named purposefully:

    Sasha: “Defender,” “Defender of Men/Mankind.” Sasha’s the most overtly tough of the bunch, and though thorny and sarcastic, will defend her friends fearlessly.

    Nova: Nova has different meanings in different cultures, but they all apply to this fiercely intelligent scientist with a particular interest in space, biology, and horticulture: “new,” “a star that increases in brightness,” “chases butterfly.”

    Devin: this name also has several meanings, depending on the language/culture—”bard or poet,” “fawn,” and “divine.” All of these support this dreamy, bookish, vulnerable-and-gentle-but-oh-so-tough kid who manages to walk with grace in a life surrounded by ugliness.

    Jerry (short for Jeremiah): this name means “Yahweh will exalt or raise up.” Jerry’s character arc is one centered on stepping up, rising up, realizing he has more potential than he’d imagined, and then fulfilling that potential.

    I’ll spare you the middle name and surname explanations (for example, Sasha doesn’t have a middle name, ’cause her parents couldn’t be bothered), but they all play into the kids’ personalities and stories, too.

    Thanks for the opportunity to submit! (I was sad when I saw your WL was purely fantasy-based this year, but psyched to see I could be in the running for a query critique.)

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