[Photo: Pitch Wars banner that says: We are 2020 Middle Grade Mentors]
#TeamUnicornMojo (Julie Artz & Jessica Vitalis) is back for a fourth year and we cannot wait to read your middle grade 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.
We both love going deep on craft and we’re very hands-on when it comes to the brainstorming/revision process. Jessica’s strength leans toward plotting and Julie loves character development; we both go wild with the red pen when it comes time for line edits and we promise to sprinkle lots of magical unicorn dust over our mentee’s manuscript before the agent round.
Our future mentee is going to get to know us very well, but in the meantime here’s a little more dirt on each of us:
Jessica’s Bio: This is my sixth year mentoring Pitch Wars and my fourth year teaming up with writer/editor extraordinaire Julie Artz. Over the last five years, I’ve had seven mentees (that’s not a typo; two years, I was lucky enough to land two mentees!). All seven signed with agents as a result of their Pitch Wars manuscripts and several have a book/books out or on the way! [Photo: Headshot of Jessica Vitalis]
My debut novel, THE WOLF’S CURSE, recently sold in a six-figure pre-empt. The upper middle grade fantasy, written in a voice reminiscent of THE BOOK THIEF, will be published fall 2021 by Greenwillow/HarperCollins with a second book to follow. An American expat, I now live in Canada with my husband and two precocious daughters. I love traveling, sailing, and scuba diving, but when I’m at home I can usually be found changing the batteries in my heated socks. Represented by Sara Crowe at Pippin Properties.
Julie’s Bio: I’m so excited to be back for a fourth year as a Pitch Wars mentor. I was a hopeful in 2014, and a mentee in 2015, so Pitch Wars really feels like my writing family. In what can be a lonely writerly journey, having family is everything.
I was that kid who kept sneaking into wardrobes hoping to make it to Narnia long after it was cool to do so (I’ll be honest, I still have hope!). Now that I’m a bit older, people think that’s sort of creepy, so I work as a freelance writer, developmental editor, and book coach instead. I have worked with both self- and traditionally published authors, and also help clients formulate their query and pitching strategy. When I’m not geeking out on story, you’ll probably find me in my garden, in the kitchen, wrangling my two teenagers and two naughty kittens, or, one day soon, traveling. [Photo: Headshot of Julie Artz]
Now that you’ve fallen in love with #TeamUnicornMojo, it’s time for our wish list…
[Gif shows drive-in movie with words that say “And Now … It’s Show Time”]
#TeamUnicornMojo is focusing exclusively on upper middle grade fantasy (including historical and contemporary stories with strong magical elements)!
While we can’t predict what kind of story we’ll fall in love with, there are some commonalities across many of our favorites:
- Stories that are heartwarming with unique magic or creepiness OR dark stories with heart and hope.
- A unique premise. (An idea we haven’t seen before. Something that makes us wish we’d thought of it.)
- Literary writing.
- Voice! (This one is the hardest to pin down. We fall in love with stories that have strong voices that pull us in on page one, that immediately make us feel like the character has a distinctive personality and point of view.)
[Gif is a jubilant clip of Bastian riding Falkor from The Neverending Story]
***Major bonus points for voices from under-represented groups. Send us your #ownvoices and LGBTQ middle grade!***
Here is a (non-exhaustive) list of some of our favorite books to give you an idea of the types of stories we might fall in love with:
[Photo shows covers for: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Scary Stories for Young Foxes, When You Trap a Tiger, King and the Dragonflies, A Wish in the Dark, Lalani and the Distant Sea, Whichwood, Bayou Magic, Orphan Island, and The Girl Who Drank the Moon.]
Note: We realize that King and the Dragonflies is a contemporary, realistic story, but we love how it flirts with magic and would be glad to see stories with this feel in our inbox.
1. What are you not looking for?
- Humor (fart jokes, toilet humor, and physical humor are not our thing!)
- Books in verse
- Lower MG
- Chapter Books
- Portal stories/time travel
- Middle Earth-style stories/characters
2. What is your mentoring style?
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!)
[Gif is cartoon of lion attacking a bird with #AttackHug flashing on screen]
3. I don’t think my book needs much by way of revision and/or I don’t have much time to revise. 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.
4. Do you have references?
We’re glad you asked! Here are recommendations from past mentees:
Having Jessica and Julie as PitchWars mentors was such a fantastic experience! They helped me dig deeper into my manuscript and made sure the story I wanted to tell was coming through. Their insight, guidance, and enthusiastic support has helped me gain confidence as a writer. I definitely wouldn’t be where I am now without them. ––Parker Goodreau (2019 Mentee)
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 of ETTA INVINCIBLE, Aladdin 2021 (2017 Mentee)
Thanks for considering #TeamUnicornMojo; we can’t wait to share our unicorn magic with one of you!
[Gif shows a unicorn running across plains]
Pitch Wars 2020 Middle Grade Mentors’ Wish Lists
- K.C. Held and Shana Targosz
- Jessica Vitalis and Julie Artz
- Erin Entrada Kelly
- Rochelle Hassan
- George Jreije and Long Quan Nguyen
- Lisa Moore Ramee
- Sofiya Pasternack
- Sylvia Liu
- Rebecca Petruck
- Rajani LaRocca and Remy Lai
- Reese Eschmann and Christina Li
- TJ Ohler
- Darlene P. Campos
- Gail D. Villanueva
- Chad Lucas
- Shakirah Bourne
- Eric Bell
- Kim Long and Jennifer L. Brown
- Adrianna Cuevas and Sarah Kapit