I Am Eric Bell

Making the (middle) grade.

Pitch Wars 2018 Wishlist

Oh, hello. If you’ve stumbled onto this page, you are probably interested in Pitch Wars and what I’m looking to mentor. Fear not – I will answer pertinent questions here. (If you’re not here for Pitch Wars, welcome anyway! Have a muffin.)

Biggest question answered: For Pitch Wars 2018 I will be mentoring middle grade, specifically looking for contemporary stories. If this does not apply to you, I assure you there are loads of other mentors just dying to read your submissions. If this does apply to you and you weren’t turned off by how dry the muffins were, read on.

Who I Am

I’m Eric Bell (in case the website didn’t already spoil that much). I was a PW mentee in 2015. My manuscript received the most agent requests of the year, and I wound up with ten agent offers. Brent Taylor of TriadaUS Literary Agency sold my PW novel ALAN COLE IS NOT A COWARD to Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins; it was released in 2017. A sequel is due to come out this fall.

I’m not telling you any of this to brag; I only want to make clear that I’ve been on the other side of Pitch Wars, and I have firsthand experience with crafting successful pitches and working with comprehensive edits. I’m not saying you will automatically get the most requests in the agent round if you are my mentee, let alone any of that other stuff, just that I’ve been in that situation, and I can apply what I’ve learned to the mentoring process. And there have been some stumbling blocks and obstacles that have happened on my way, and I’ve learned from those too, and I can share what I’ve learned with you. My experience will be yours for the learning from. (Well, I won’t tell you my secret muffin recipe. The world isn’t ready for that.)

I also have experience as a copyeditor and proofreader, and I have a keen eye for detail. That’s a skill set I can offer for edits.

What I Want

I am looking to mentor a writer with a contemporary middle grade manuscript, a realistic story set in the modern age. No fantastical elements (magic, talking animals, etc.).

My ideal contemporary story is one with a mixture of humor and heart, something that isn’t afraid to get light one scene and dark the next. That being said, if you have a contemp that’s mostly silly or a contemp that’s mostly serious, I’m willing to consider those too.

The biggest criteria for me in judging a book is the story’s voice. Good voice, what I like to call the “personality of the story,” is one of the trickiest things to pull off, but if your contemp has voice I can’t break away from, I want it. Here’s some examples of voice I’ve been captivated by: First-person books like OKAY FOR NOW (Gary D. Schmidt), JOEY PIGZA SWALLOWED THE KEY (Jack Gantos), and HURRICANE CHILD (Kheryn Callender) are narrated by unforgettable protagonists that drew me into their worlds immediately and kept me there long after I finished their books. For third-person stories, HELLO, UNIVERSE (Erin Entrada Kelly) (which is not entirely third-person) and THE TERRIBLE TWO series (Mac Barnett and Jory John) are full of voice from their opening lines. LOSER (Jerry Spinelli) is told in omniscient POV and it has killer voice. (And if you can successfully pull off omniscient POV, can I sneak a few notes from you? Pretty please?)

Here are some subjects and themes I tend to like in stories:

  • LGBTQ+: I am a gay writer who writes queer middle grade. LGBTQ+ representation in MG is very important to me, particularly when it’s the main character on the continuum and not just a side character. I dislike stereotypical queer characters and find it refreshing when an LGBTQ+ character has more going for them than just being LGBTQ+. Some examples of this are Caroline from HURRICANE CHILD (Kheryn Callender) and Sam from ONE TRUE WAY (Shannon Hitchcock). Coming out stories are great – I’ve written one! – but if you can do something different/unique with your queer character, more power to you.
  • Diversity: In addition to LGBTQ+, I would love to mentor a book with a diverse protagonist or cast. Diversity can come in many forms; I’m open to just about anything, particularly characters who struggle with mental health. If you are writing outside your own experience, that’s not a dealbreaker, but I will probably insist we get a sensitivity reader to go over the manuscript.
  • Characters: I like oddball characters, characters with weird hobbies, characters with strong opinions. I like unstereotypical gender roles: Give me your sensitive boys and tough-as-nails girls, boys who dance ballet and girls who code. I like characters who are rational and don’t make stupid decisions for the sake of the plot; the epitome of this for me is THE REMARKABLE JOURNEY OF CHARLIE PRICE (Jennifer Maschari). I like smart characters, precocious characters; I like kids who can be wise beyond their years and immature in the same breath, like Holling from THE WEDNESDAY WARS (Gary D. Schmidt) and Dillon from MY SEVENTH-GRADE LIFE IN TIGHTS (Brooks Benjamin) and the Naomis from TWO NAOMIS by (Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Audrey Vernick) and Mateo from THE MIDNIGHT WAR OF MATEO MARTINEZ (Robin Yardi).
  • Families: I like unique family dynamics. Single-parent homes, same-sex parents, adopted siblings, multiples, extended families. I like complicated family dynamics, flawed parents, complex sibling relationships. I love the challenging-at-times relationship between Miranda and her mother in WHEN YOU REACH ME (Rebecca Stead) as well as the loving same-sex parents of THE MISADVENTURES OF THE FAMILY FLETCHER (Dana Allison Levy).
  • Art: I like characters who are into art of any kind. Music, film, dance, photography, visual art, even writing. Art nurtures the essence of a person and fuels empathy and compassion, so a character interested in art automatically makes me like them a little more. OKAY FOR NOW (Gary D. Schmidt) is the epitome of this for me: art as healing, art as therapy, art as sustenance.
  • Multiple POV: I like reading stories with multiple POV, but I am a bit harder on them than other stories. Good multiple POV is very hard to pull off, particularly as the number of POVs increases. Examples of stories I thought handled multiple POV well are HELLO, UNIVERSE (Erin Entrada Kelly) and GOODBYE STRANGER (Rebecca Stead), both of which blend third-person narration with other formats. It might not be obvious if you’re submitting a book with multiple POV from the first chapter, so please note if the story is multiple POV in your query.

What I Don’t Want

As I said earlier, I only want contemporary middle grade. If you’ve got another genre, I would hate for you to waste one of your hard-earned spots on me.

That said, here are some other topics or themes I would not be a good fit to mentor for:

  • Animals: This includes animal POV. Animals as best friends (like beloved pets) are also a hard sell for me.
  • Religion: Faith in the background is fine, but religion as a major plot point or characterization isn’t my thing.
  • Sports
  • Verse, epistolary, or graphic novels
  • Mystery or horror
  • Lyrical prose: I tend to gravitate more toward prose that isn’t super flowery or lyrical. I prefer to read writing that’s more conversational in nature. This is also how I write, so your best bet for direct comparison is honestly to check out the beginning of my book and see how it reads: https://www.amazon.com/dp/0062567020/
  • Normative gender roles: I mentioned this in the prior section, but the trappings of heteronormativity bore me incessantly. If you have characters falling hard into gender stereotypes, we might have to have a talk about queering things up a little.
  • Mean-spirited humor, stereotypes, etc.
  • Toilet humor: I like funny books, but poop jokes are not really my thing. (Just ignore the poop joke on page one of my book.)
  • And a small pet peeve: Not every smart kid wears glasses, and not every kid who wears glasses is smart.

What to Expect From 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. 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, 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.

My preferred method of communication (with my mentee, not for PW questions – I would prefer PW inquiries to be sent via Twitter) is email. And as a side note, I would love to find a mentee who would be interested in becoming a regular critique partner with me.

And that’s basically it! I’ve thrown all this info at you (and force-fed you terrible muffins), but if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out at twitter.com/IAmEricBell, or you can leave a comment below. Best wishes in submissions – you’re putting yourself out there, and for that you deserve all the kudos in the world.

Click here to go to the main Pitch Wars blog post, or click below to continue your grand middle grade mentor tour.

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9 thoughts on “Pitch Wars 2018 Wishlist

  1. Pingback: Pitch Wars Wishlist 2018 | Maria Frazer

  2. Pingback: Juliana L. Brandt - Fiction Writer – Juliana & Lacee 2018 #PitchWars Wishlist

  3. Bruce Luck on said:

    Hi Eric, I’m Bruce. For Pitch Wars, I have a contemporary realistic MG story that I think would be right for you and feel as a mentor you’d be right for me. I, too, am a fan of Gary Schmidt’s Okay For Now (and I have a fancy for muffins). I respect your LGBTQ+ lifestyle and understand your desire for more representation of such in kidlit. However, I am not gay. Would that be a deal breaker for me submitting to you?

    • Hi Bruce! I don’t have a preference for working with an LGBTQ+ author. Just keep in mind that if you’re writing outside of your own experience – this applies to any marginalized group, not just sexuality – I would expect you to have done your research and be very familiar with the group. Sensitivity readers may be deployed. (I know you didn’t say you were writing outside of your own experience or not, and you don’t have to divulge that information, but I thought other readers might benefit from that general answer.)

      • Also, just noticed this: “gay lifestyle” is a bit of a problematic term, as it implies LGBTQ+ people have chosen to be that way. I’m sure you didn’t mean anything rude by it, but I wanted to at least make it clear that it’s an outdated phrase.

      • Bruce Luck on said:

        Thanks, Eric, for your reply and the clarification on the gay lifestyle comment. I wasn’t aware and appreciate being informed.

  4. Andrew Sass on said:

    Hi Eric!

    Thanks for posting such a detailed wishlist. I have a manuscript that may be a good fit but wanted to touch base on how firm your “No” list is, with respect to the sports category.

    My story features a figure skater who’s exploring her gender identity. Skating is certainly a part of the story, but the focus is on how such a rigidly gendered sport affects the character’s evolving understanding of her gender (as opposed to a focus on competitions and winning, although both are referenced).

    I figured I’d check because skating somewhat bridges the gap between art and athleticism, and the themes you’re drawn to also speak to me. I didn’t want to waste your time if sports is a hard no for you, though.

    • Hi Andrew! I would say with regard to sports that if the sport isn’t the primary focus of the story, that might be a better fit for me. Also, if the sport is complicated in a nontraditional way, that might be better for me too. So not a hard no, but you may still have an uphill battle. Hope this helps!

      • Andrew Sass on said:

        Thanks for the response, Eric! It certainly gives me a better sense of where you stand, as well as some guidance on making my own submission decision. 🙂

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