Pitch Wars



Welcome to Pitch Wars 2016! If you are here to learn more about me and what I’m looking for this year, you are in the right place!


I’ll introduce myself in a minute, but because I know you have a zillion bios to comb through, I thought I’d save you some time by kicking things off with my manuscript wish list (although I do hope you’ll find me so utterly irresistible that you’ll decide stick around and get to know me even if your story isn’t a match with my list).

Without further ado …

Keep in mind that I can only accept MIDDLE GRADE stories.


Within that category, I tend to gravitate toward:

  1. Contemporary
  2. Magical realism / very* light fantasy
  3. Multi-cultural / diverse
  4. Historical

*Please, PLEASE do not submit to me if your manuscript lands solidly in the high fantasy category! I will not read it and you will have wasted a fantastic opportunity to submit to another mentor. (I’m also not a great fit for dystopian, sci-fi, anthropomorphic, or mystery.)

Assuming you’ve written a story with one (or more) of these elements, here’s more on what is sure to catch my attention:

1. Voice

What does that mean, you ask? It means when I read your manuscript, I totally get the character(s) on the page. I see the world through their lens. How they talk and how they act are authentic, based on who they are. Voice, to me, is the single most important element in great writing, and probably the hardest thing to fix in a manuscript. Voice can always be improved, but there has to be something unique to work with.

2. Emotional Resonance


Make me laugh. Make me cry. Make me feel something––anything. In general, I’m attracted to issue-driven books. If you’ve written an action/adventure type of story that is more focused on plot and action than character development, I’m probably not the right mentor for you.


However, I also enjoy lighter middle grades with great premises, such as Joan Paquette’s PRINCESS JUNIPER OF THE HOURGLASS (because princesses!) and Tara Dairmon’s ALL FOUR STARS (how could anyone not love a book that begins with a kid starting a fire with a blow torch while trying to make creme brûlée?).

3. Commercial and literary blend

I’d love to mentor a beautiful, well-written story that has a strong hook. In other words, something that will jump off the shelves because the idea is intriguing, and then something the reader won’t be able to put down because the writing is so captivating.

4. Polished writing from a serious writer

If this is your first attempt at writing, if you’ve never shared your work before, or if you don’t have a lot of time to put into your manuscript between now and November (a LOT of time), we probably won’t be a great fit. I’m interested in helping a writer who has invested a significant amount of time and energy in learning the craft of writing*; one who understands and values the give and take that comes with collaborating, and one who views red ink on the page as an opportunity to improve the story, rather than as a commentary on his or her writing ability.

*If you have access to my feedback through an in-person or online writing group, please do not submit to me; use this opportunity to network with another mentor.

If you entered Pitch Wars last year, you’ll note that my wish list remains much the same. But here’s an updated list of some of my favorite middle grade books:


  1. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
  2. Some Kind of Courage by Dan Gemeinhart
  3. Running Out of Night by Sharon Lovejoy
  4. The Wild Robot by Peter Brown
  5. The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin
  6. Wish Girl by Nikki Loftin
  7. Love, Aubrey by Suzzane LaFleur
  8. Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt
  9. I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosin
  10. Wonder by R.J. Palacio
  11. Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
  12. Savvy by Ingrid Law
  13. Fish In a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
  14. The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner
  15. All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor
  16. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  17. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
  18. Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Media
  19. Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed

Yes, I’m aware that the last four books are YA. But they are so amazing that I had to include them––I’d love to see diverse middle grade manuscripts with this kind of voice and heart.

Now, let’s switch gears and dig into why I will make the most super-duper-amazing-over-the-top-absolutely-awesome mentor on the entire planet (because I will!).


Why should you submit to me?

Because I’ve spent years (YEARS!) studying the craft of writing. I’ve read craft book after craft book, attended conferences ranging from regional SCBWI events to Write by the Lake in Wisconsin to Big Sur in California, and I’ve been a part of multiple critique groups. I also read every middle grade book I can get my hands on. In addition, I LOVE beta reading and editing.

When I critique manuscripts, I look at everything from story structure to plot, character development, scene development, language, grammar, and everything in between.

And since I’m tooting my own horn, let me add: I’m pretty darn good at it. Last year, I was lucky enough to have two official mentees. I’m thrilled to report that they both went on to sign with agents. Here’s what they have to say about their experience (follow the links to read their official Pitch Wars success interviews):

Amanda: 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 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.

Heidi: 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.

(Me again): If you still aren’t convinced that I have mad editorial skills, here’s a comment I received from an agent when I was wondering around WriteOnCon a few years back (the same event where I connected with my agent):



Can I promise you’ll get an agent or book deal if we work together?

Of course not. But together, you and I can take your manuscript from something solid to something that shines.


So by way of closing … if you are terrified your manuscript is going to end up here:


when you desperately want to end up here:


and you are not afraid of this:


then send your manuscript my way!

Best of luck to you in this contest and in all your future writing endeavors …


p.s. Okay, so I never really properly introduced myself. But I figure if you’ve read all of this and are dying to know more about me, you can check out my website (which includes a bio and 10 fun facts about me) here and find samples of critiques I’ve done here here, here, and over at the monthly 8 on Eight contest at The Winged Pen

Pssst: Don’t forget to check out the other fantastic middle grade mentors …



































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20 thoughts on “Pitch Wars

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  10. Hi Jessica! I have a Pitchwars question. I have a prologue that I consider my “first chapter” and it’s titled as “Prologue Yulelog.” My actual first chapter starts ten years later. Will my prologue be enough for this submission, or would you want to see the first page of first chapter added in just for reference?

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