Eric Bell, Middle Grade Author

Pitch Wars 2020 Wishlist

Hi fellow writers! Thank you for stopping by on your whirlwind wishlist tour (also known as the WWWLT). My name is Eric Bell. I am mentoring middle grade in Pitch Wars 2020. This page is designed to give you an overview of what I’m looking for in a mentee and what to expect from me as a mentor. There will be a quiz at the end!*

Specifically I’m looking for middle grade contemporary and “not quite contemporary” (aka contemporary with some sort of fantastical element). More on that later.

*there will be no quiz

What Is Pitch Wars

Pitch Wars is an online writing contest. If you have a finished manuscript that’s middle grade, young adult, new adult, or adult, you can apply to work with a mentor. Mentors are typically agented or published writers, editors, or industry interns, and we sift through submissions to find a mentee to work with. If you’re selected, you’ll work with your mentor for several months to polish your manuscript in preparation for the agent showcase, where your pitch and the very beginning of your novel will be shown to multiple agents. Agents can request materials from you, which you can then send at the end of the showcase.

Note that being in Pitch Wars doesn’t guarantee you will get an agent—the main benefit is to work with and gain insight from an experienced mentor and an active community.

Mentors can’t accept any submissions outside of their assigned age category, so I can only mentor a middle grade manuscript. Everyone has different genres and preferences (that’s the point of these wishlists, so you can see what everybody likes).

For more info on Pitch Wars, click here:


Who I Am

I am the author of two middle grade novels: Alan Cole Is Not a Coward and its sequel, Alan Cole Doesn’t Dance, both published by Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins. They’re about a gay seventh grade boy who navigates coming out, bullies, crushes, and the power of art. The first book was featured on the 2018 Rainbow List for GLBTQ Books for Children and Teens and was additionally translated into three languages. A short story of mine will be featured in the queer middle grade anthology This Is Our Rainbow: 16 Stories of Her, Him, Them, and Us, to be published by Knopf/Penguin Random House in 2021.

I was a Pitch Wars mentee myself back in 2015, where I worked on the book that would eventually become Alan Cole Is Not a Coward. I know what it’s like to be on both sides of Pitch Wars.

I’ve mentored the past two years. My two amazing mentees can tell you more about that though! Here’s what they had to say about working with me:

“Eric was my mentor in 2018. He helped me sharpen my characters, strengthen my climax and improve my middle grade manuscript in more ways than I can count. Beyond his keen insight, I appreciated his encouragement, his humor, and his willingness to be a sounding board in the stressful moments. (Trust me, Pitch Wars will throw some stressful moments your way!) Eric was a mentor in the very best sense of the word—he didn’t just help me write a better book, he helped prepare me for everything that came next. He was a pleasure to work with, and if you’re his mentee, you’re in for a treat.”

-Chad Lucas, 2018 Pitch Wars mentee (and fellow MG mentor!) and author of the amazing Thanks a Lot, Universe, due out 2021 from Abrams/Amulet

“I applied to Pitch Wars with high hopes and really no understanding of what large rewrites would really mean for me. Eric provided such lovingly detailed, meticulous, and well-rounded feedback in his edit letters that gave me the tools to recraft and fine tune my manuscript. He invested far more time and care into helping my book become a better story than I ever could have imagined. In the most challenging of times, Eric’s knack for understanding the ins and outs of storytelling kept me inspired and gave me the confidence to make major changes in my writing. Ultimately, working with Eric gave me a clearer vision for my book and sharpened my skills as a writer in ways I’m still uncovering. His patience, knowledge of the industry, and passion for writing made him an invaluable part of my writing education and helped make my Pitch Wars experience something I will cherish for life.”

-Jesse James Keitel, 2019 Pitch Wars mentee and author of one of the funniest and most endearing characters ever created

In addition to Pitch Wars, I teach writing classes and workshops, both in-person and virtual. I also work at a library and an independent bookstore. And I freelance as a copy editor, so I love nitpicking and line edits.

All that to say: I love writing, I love mentoring, and I love bringing out the very best in other writers’ work.

What I Want

There is one overarching thing I want above all else.

When I was in college, my program had a “core curriculum” where we’d have to present what we learned from each course. Every presentation would end with the same question:

What, therefore, should we do?”

The idea was to take the class’s lessons and apply them to our daily lives, with different focuses depending on the subject (history, art, philosophy, psychology, etc.).

I want books that answer the question “What, therefore, should we do?”

We are living in bad times right now, in virtually every conceivable way. I want books that look at modern society and ask, what are we going to do about it? What can we do, what should we do, what must we do?

Above all else, the answers to those questions must be antithetical to the current US administration—pro-humanity, pro-empathy, pro-inclusivity, pro-happiness, pro-progress in every way.

These books don’t all have to be serious issue-driven stories. Funnier books can still answer questions and stir us to action. The Terrible Two series (see below) is, on the surface, a hilarious set of books about pulling pranks. But there is a running theme about the importance of humor in culture, the necessary role of the trickster in society. How things that make us laugh can be great things.

That’s what I want. What, therefore, should we do. This is our time, middle grade writers. Let’s claim it.

Okay, But What Do I Actually Want

Contemporary and what I’m calling “not quite contemporary.” That’s the gist of it.

More specifically:


Present-day stories set in the real world.

Not Quite Contemporary”

A highly technical, catch-all term for contemporary stories with one or two sprinkles of non-contemp things. Could be contemporary with fantasy or science fiction elements, magical realism, or just a normal book that happens to have talking skunks.

Okay, But What Do I Actually Actually Want

Here are some ideas for potential topics or themes I’m interested in reading. Some of these would be contemporary stories, some would be not quite contemps, and some might be both.

Just because something isn’t on here doesn’t mean I don’t want to read it—this is simply a list of various interests I have. And just because something is on here doesn’t mean it’s a shoo-in.

This is only designed to give you an idea of some things I’m into. If you have something you think I might like that isn’t on here, by all means, feel free to send it!

Note that #OwnVoices stories are strongly preferred wherever applicable. #OwnVoices refers to a writer who is writing from a diverse perspective that they themselves belong to or identify with.

Some ideas:
– a queer identity where the kid starts the story as out and nobody has a problem with it
– a queer identity where the kid is struggling and either knows their sexuality and is afraid to come out, or is coming to terms with it
— (both of my prior mentees had manuscripts with strong queer narratives, so it’s something I take very seriously, and I would especially love to mentor another queer book)
– a book about being on the autism spectrum that isn’t solely about being on the autism spectrum
– a laugh out loud verse novel
– an epistolary set during the early days of the pandemic
– a Black Lives Matter superhero
– artificial intelligence, the singularity, and transhumanism
– dreams (literal dreams, not hopes and aspirations)
– kid journalists, and what that means in the modern era
– atheism
– art of any kind
– a friendship between two immigrant kids, both from different countries
– big, vibrant casts
– multiple POV
– anything that can use Gravity Falls as a comp
– something unique that’s tough to classify (provided it’s contemp or not quite contemp)
– any combination of these things!

What I Don’t Want

I am not the best fit for books about the following:

– sports (sports as a background element are fine, just not as the primary focus)
– religion (religion as a background element is fine, just not as the primary focus)
– graphic or illustrated novels (I have examples of illustrated novels in my comp titles section, but I am a bad fit for mentoring them because I am not a visual thinker)
– fantasy/science fiction without a contemporary setting
– historicals
– horror/spooky stuff
– mean-spirited humor, stereotypes, and normative gender roles
– anything pro-current US administration
– And a small pet peeve: Not every smart kid wears glasses, and not every kid who wears glasses is smart.

Additionally, I am going to pass on anything involving metafiction, the multiverse, reformed bullies, or time loops, as these veer too close to my own current projects.

Also note that if I’ve worked with you outside of Pitch Wars in a classroom or workshop setting (or something equivalent), please don’t submit to me. It wouldn’t be fair to you or the other applicants.

Some Books I’ve Enjoyed

Here are some comp titles to give you an idea of my taste. If your book can comp one or more of these, I might be interested!


As Brave as You, by Jason Reynolds
The Best at It, by Maulik Pancholy
Justin Case (series), by Rachel Vail
– The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, by Laura Shovan
Loser, by Jerry Spinelli
Pie in the Sky, by Remy Lai
Rhyme Schemer, by K.A. Holt
The Season of Styx Malone, by Kekla Magoon
The Terrible Two (series), by Mac Barnett and Jory John
What Lane?, by Torrey Maldonado
Where the Watermelons Grow, by Cindy Baldwin

Not Quite Contemporary

Cog, by Greg Van Eekhout
Felix Yz, by Lisa Bunker
Hello, Universe, by Erin Entrada Kelly
Hurricane Child, by Kacen Callender
The Midnight War of Mateo Martinez, by Robin Yardi
The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price, by Jennifer Maschari
Sal & Gabi Break the Universe, by Carlos Hernandez
Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth, by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Other Things I Like But Don’t Quite Want

The following books I adore but are historicals. If you have a book that can comp one of them but fits into the contemporary or not quite contemporary categories, I might be interested:

Inside Out & Back Again, by Thanhha Lai
The Wednesday Wars and Okay for Now, by Gary D. Schmidt
When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead

What It’s Like to Work With Me

If I have the good fortune to mentor you, we will do two rounds of developmental edits. I will send you an edit letter each round going over big-picture comments. My feedback will depend on the needs of the manuscript. My past mentees were given a wide variety of feedback, including but not limited to strengthening POVs, completely reworking the book’s timeline, cutting or combining characters, upping the stakes, changing around the climax, and adding more authenticity to some of the issues. If there is time permitting and if I feel the need, I am also willing to do an additional round of line edits before the agent round.

I will give you loads of encouragement and help pump you up when you’re feeling low (one thing you will learn quickly about me is I am a very big cheerleader), and I will also challenge you to think about your story in new ways. I will not, however, force my editorial vision onto you—this is, at the end of the day, your book. I also like to check in regularly, at a minimum of once a week, though I can certainly back off if you decide you need some space. My preferred method of mentor-mentee communication is email, though I am open to other avenues.

And that’s everything! If you think we’d be a good fit, keep in mind everything I said. If you have any questions, my Twitter DMs are open (@IAmEricBell) or you can leave a comment on this page. I have a thread on the Pitch Wars forum for questions too:

I’m so excited to have the opportunity to be your mentor!

Check out these other amazing mentors down below!

Pitch Wars 2020 Middle Grade Mentors’ Wish Lists

  1. K.C. Held and Shana Targosz
  2. Jessica Vitalis and Julie Artz
  3. Erin Entrada Kelly
  4. Rochelle Hassan
  5. George Jreije and Long Quan Nguyen
  6. Lisa Moore Ramee
  7. Sofiya Pasternack
  8. Sylvia Liu
  9. Rebecca Petruck
  10. Rajani LaRocca and Remy Lai
  11. Reese Eschmann and Christina Li
  12. TJ Ohler
  13. Darlene P. Campos
  14. Gail D. Villanueva
  15. Chad Lucas
  16. Shakirah Bourne
  17. Eric Bell
  18. Kim Long and Jennifer L. Brown
  19. Adrianna Cuevas and Sarah Kapit

Click here to view all Pitch Wars 2020 Mentors’ Wish Lists

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