Pitch Wars 2019 Wishlist
Hi there! Glad you could make it. Pull up a seat. Make yourself comfortable. Admire my collection of fancy-looking coupons I’ve framed and mounted on my walls.
I’m Eric Bell. I’m mentoring in 2019’s Pitch Wars, looking for contemporary middle grade. If this doesn’t apply to your manuscript, that’s fine – there are tons of other wonderful mentors who’d love to read your work. If your manuscript fits that bill, however, please keep reading! Maybe you’ll like what you see? Maybe I’ll even give you a coupon? (Don’t worry. They’re all expired. I’ve got a Home Depot coupon that’s old enough to drink.)
Who I Am
I’m Eric Bell, like I said in the prior paragraph and like this entire website advertises. (I promise I’m not normally this self-absorbed.) 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.
I was a Pitch Wars mentee in 2015, where I worked on the book that would eventually become ALAN COLE IS NOT A COWARD. I received over twenty-five agent requests that eventually turned into ten offers of rep for the book. It’s since been translated into three additional languages. I mentored in 2018 for the first time. My amazing mentee, Chad Lucas, signed with an agent shortly after Pitch Wars ended. This is what Chad 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 in 2019, you’re in for a treat.”
I’m blushing, Chad! His sweet words are a testament to the solid relationship we built during last year’s Pitch Wars. If you become my mentee, I want to cultivate that relationship with you.
In addition to Pitch Wars, I teach in-person writing classes and workshops. I also work part-time at a library and an independent bookstore, so I’m able to pay attention to what books kids are interested in. And I freelance as a copyeditor, so I’m attuned to nitpicky editing stuff.
…remember when I said I’m not normally this self-absorbed? Sorry you all had to read what basically amounts to a glorified resume. But I’m not saying all this to brag. I’m saying it all to tell you I’ve got experience writing, editing, and mentoring. I’m not saying you’ll automatically get the most requests in the agent round if you’re my mentee, or that agents will be chomping at your heels right away. What I am saying is, if you’re my mentee, you’ll get a mentor with a keen eye for storytelling and an ability to bring out the best parts of your work. You’ll also get a writer who’s had a tough-at-times career and who knows firsthand the crushing anxiety of staring at a blank page, of not being able to fathom how to implement extensive edits, of wondering and worrying about the future, let alone the present.
If you’re my mentee, we’re in this together.
No matter what.
What I Want
I am only looking for middle grade contemporary: realistic MG set in the present 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 are 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), HURRICANE CHILD (Kacen Callender), and PIE IN THE SKY (Remy Lai) 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 (Kacen 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. 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.
- Mental health: I deal with mental health struggles, so representation in this area is important to me. Supporting characters struggling with mental illness are fine, though I’m particularly intrigued by protagonists who deal with those issues.
- 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 clueless 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.
- 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 first 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.
- 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 or on this webpage) 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 forced you to look at expired yogurt coupons), but if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out at @IAmEricBell on Twitter or leave a comment on this page. Best wishes in submissions – you’re putting yourself out there, and for that you deserve all the kudos in the world. Now check out some of the other amazing mentors PW has to offer!
Link to the main blog post:
Pitch Wars 2019 Middle Grade Mentors’ Wish Lists
- K.C. Held
- Kit Rosewater and Ash Van Otterloo
- Amanda Panitch
- Graci Kim and Karah Sutton
- Sarah Suk and Julie Abe
- Erin Entrada Kelly
- Rebecca Petruck
- Adrianna Cuevas and Sarah Kapit
- Kim Long and Jennifer L. Brown
- TJ Ohler
- Eric Bell
- Lacee Little and Bronwyn Clark
- Jessica Bayliss
- Shakirah Bourne
- Sean Easley
- Nicole Melleby and A.J. Sass
- Julie Artz and Jessica Vitalis
- Maria Frazer and Meera Trehan
- Rajani LaRocca and Remy Lai
- Nicole Panteleakos