Oh, hello! I’m Eric Bell (he/him), according to the big text at the top of the screen. I am a 2021 Pitch Wars mentor for middle grade, and this is my wishlist. On this page you’ll find:
- a brief explanation of Pitch Wars
- an introduction to who I am
- what I’m looking for in a mentee
- what I’m not looking for
- what it’s like to work with me
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, industry interns, or other writing-adjacent folks, 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 get your manuscript polished up in preparation for the agent showcase, where your pitch and the very beginning of your novel will be shown to multiple agents. They can request materials from you, and you can send them 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.
This year’s mentors are all looking for different things. We can’t accept any submissions outside of our 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).
Who I Am
I’m me! Weeee!
More specifically, I’m 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 three years. My three 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 humour, 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 author of the recently released Thanks a Lot, Universe, his Pitch Wars book
“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
“Eric Bell is an incredible mentor, and EXACTLY who I needed to work with! Eric is such a thoughtful and thorough reader, and provides feedback for you to help clarify the ideas you care about and gain confidence in your story. From the beginning, he proved that he “got” my book and gave it such incredible attention, care and passion. He really helped strengthen my manuscript in areas I particularly struggle, such as tightening focus, heightening stakes and tying my plot lines together. He also reminded me how important it is to put the main message of the story front and center, and helped me reinforce the message of my novel in revisions. All of Eric’s edits made sense, and were very clear and concrete, so I found the editing process to not be as difficult as I feared. He’s also an incredible cheerleader; his encouragement helped me believe in my writing again. I can’t recommend working with Eric enough!”
-Meg Kuyatt, 2020 Pitch Wars mentee
In addition to Pitch Wars, I teach writing classes and run writing workshops for children, teens, and adults, both in-person and virtual. I also work part-time at a library and I freelance as an editor and writing coach.
All that to say: I love writing, I love mentoring, and I love bringing out the very best other writers’ work.
What I Want
Let me put on my Spice Girl hat and tell you what I want, what I really really want. I’ll go into detail about some of my favorite genres, books, and subjects. The genres here are presented roughly in order of how much I’m interested in mentoring them, starting from the top.
Note that there are little collages of book covers in this section. The titles and authors of each book are listed below each image. Also, as stated above, there is a plaintext version of this entire wishlist available on Google Drive.
- The Candymakers by Wendy Mass
- The Terrible Two by Mac Barnett and Jory John
- Thanks a Lot, Universe by Chad Lucas
- What Lane? by Torrey Maldonado
I love contemporary novels of all shapes and sizes. Serious or silly, upper or lower middle grade, about virtually any topic. My favorite contemporaries are stories with strong, relatable characters—I love wide-eyed idealists but also jaded cynics. My two published novels are contemporary and I have a soft spot for the genre.
- The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
- Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhhà Lai
- Red White and Whole by Rajani Larocca
- Rhyme Schemer by K.A. Holt
Reading and writing verse is such a unique experience compared to prose. I love the lyricism of books like Red, White & Whole and Inside Out & Back Again, the firecracker hype of The Crossover, and the charming snarkiness of Rhyme Schemer. My 2020 mentee wrote a verse novel and it was a delight to work with her and help her bring out her impactful story.
- Cog by Greg Van Eekhout
- Dragon Pearl by Yoon Lee
- The Extraordinary Colors of Auden Dare by Zillah Bethell
- A Problematic Paradox by Eliot Sappingfield
I love the inventiveness of a good science fiction novel, whether it’s set in space like Dragon Pearl, in a dystopian future like The Extraordinary Colors of Auden Dare, or at a school for supergeniuses like A Problematic Paradox. I especially love stories about robots and artificial intelligence, like Cog. I don’t normally look for or need technical explanations in my science fiction, so long as everything is presented consistently and sensibly.
- Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu
- Hurricane Child by Kacen Callender
- Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly
- Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
I especially like contemporary fantasy like Hurricane Child, but I also enjoy second world or high fantasy, particularly if it involves settings based on non-white cultures or folklore. I’m not really the best fit for fantasy centered around traditional Tolkien-esque archetypes, unless they’re subverted in some way.
- Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan
- The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz
- Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt
- Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park
Here are four books all set in very different time periods, with very different tones and styles. I don’t have any strong interest in any particular period in history—I just enjoy being swept along into different eras, with characters who stand out and plots that intersect with the setting.
I know this doesn’t cover everything—if you have a book in a genre you’re unsure if I’d like, feel free to leave a comment on this page, ask in my AMA on the Pitch Wars forum, or DM me on Twitter.
What Else I Want
Here are some specific subjects I’m interested in. Note that if you’re writing about a marginalized background, I would prefer if you also identified with that background whenever possible. However, I know not everyone is able or willing to publicly reveal this information. If I request more material from you, I will probably ask questions like “What motivated you to write this book?” but I won’t pressure you to disclose anything you’re not comfortable with.
- Queer narratives
- Mental illness
- Art of any kind
- Artificial intelligence, the singularity, and transhumanism
- Multiple POV
- Epistolary format
- Anything with a big, vibrant cast
- Anything that can use Gravity Falls as a comp
What I Don’t Want
I am not the best fit for the following:
- Graphic novels or illustrated novels
- Traditional Tolkien-esque fantasy, unless it subverts the tropes in some way
- Normative gender roles
- Mean-spirited humor
- Anything pro-police
Also, I won’t be able to accept anything involving the following topics, which are all parts of various books I’m working on:
- Multiples (at least more than twins)
- The multiverse
- Time loops
Finally, if I know you personally or have worked with you previously, please don’t submit to me. It wouldn’t be fair!
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, adding more authenticity to some of the issues, and bringing out the story’s natural voice. 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.
And that’s it! Like I said above, if you have any additional questions, you can leave a comment on this page, DM me on Twitter, or ask in my AMA on the Pitch Wars forum:
I’m excited to read your stories and maybe – gasp – be your mentor!
For more amazing MG mentors, follow the yellow brick linky below:
Pitch Wars 2021 Middle Grade Mentors’ Wish Lists
- Tracy Badua
- Eric Bell
- Julie Artz
- Shannon A. Thompson and Sandra Proudman
- George Jreije and LQ Nguyen
- Darlene P. Campos
- Rebecca Petruck
- Graci Kim and Karah Sutton
- Shakirah Bourne
- Kim Long and Jennifer L. Brown
- Adrianna Cuevas and Sarah Kapit
- Sylvia Liu
- Cindy Baldwin and Amanda Rawson Hill
- Erin Teagan
- A.J. Sass and Nicole Melleby
Click here to view all Pitch Wars 2021 Mentors’ Wish Lists. To view the wish lists by genre, visit this link.