Pitch Wars 2020 Mentor Wish List: Sylvia Liu

Illustration of owl wearing beanie and face mask holding book and a cup of hot chocolate. Announcement says: I am a 2020 Middle Grade Mentor. The logo for Pitch Wars follows. www.pitchwars.org

Hello writers! 

I'm so excited to be a Pitch Wars middle grade mentor for 2020. I'm open to middle grade sci-fi, contemporary, and fantasy, as well as graphic novels and illustrated novels. 

I have a particular interest in writers who identify with traditionally marginalized communities. 

Wait... What is Pitch Wars?

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. Writers can apply to four mentors with a query, synopsis, and first chapter. Find out more about the application process here.

What I'm Looking For

I want to be entertained, moved, and shown a world I haven't seen before. Your manuscript doesn't have to be perfect, but it will show significant promise in premise, voice, and craft and leave me with all the feels. I lean toward commercial and high concept (with an emotional core) rather than literary and quiet.

Science Fiction

Futuristic sci-fi illustration by Kathryn Ault Noble: a girl stands on a pile of glittery garbage in a landfill. Foreground is dark, middle ground is  brightly it in orange. Girl wears futuristic bright clothes and dark glasses. In the distance is a maglev train heading into a futuristic city scape with a flying vehicle in the distance. Overall colors are oranges and purples and black.
commissioned illo of my MG Hana Hsu when it was a WIP © Kathryn Ault Noble

I love all science fiction, so send me your space opera and adventure, sci-fantasy, cyberpunk, biotech, dystopian, time travel, and high tech stories. I'd love a story with:
  • adventure and myth like Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee
  • a ragtag band of misfits or antiheroes (a MG version of Firefly or Dark Matter!)
  • kids in peril in space like Last Day on Mars by Kevin Emerson  
  • dystopian environmental themes like Dry by Neal Shusterman
  • a cool, thought-provoking premise (some favorite adult sci-fi books: The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells, Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller, and anything by Ted Chiang; favorite movies/shows include Blade Runner, The Expanse, BSG, Altered Carbon, The Good Place; if you have a MG version of any of these, send it over!)


Illustration by Annette Hashitate of a girl carrying an umbrella in the rain, looking down on her smartphone. Colors are muted green, gray, and purple. Girl's umbrella and raincoat are green, wearing black galoshes, walking slick city street that recedes into the horizon with a lone palm tree on the side near the buildings. Digital painting that looks like pastels.
illo from my cool AMM mentee © Annette Hashitate

Give me quirky kids, coming of age, and friendship and family stories. Social justice and environmental themes are great, as long as they are not preachy. Make me laugh, make me cry, or better yet, make me do both. Some recent favorites:
  • immigration stories like Front Desk by Kelly Yang and Pie in the Sky by Remy Lai
  • graphic novel memoirs like New Kid by Jerry Craft, Real Friends by Shannon Hale, Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol 
  • entertaining environmental stories like Hoot by Carl Hiassan 
  • STEM-themed stories with heart like The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty or The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller
  • MCs with passionate interests like Lupe Wong Won't Dance by Donna Barbra Higuera and Stand Up Yumi Chung by Jessica Kim  


Illustration by Sylvia Liu. Dreamlike image: birds eye view of giant polar bears wandering through a stylized and deserted city scape (buildings are basically rectangular blocs), covered in snow. Colors are muted blues and pale yellows. Digital illustration that looks like pastels.
© Sylvia Liu

I have a long list of loves and some topics that are less likely to interest me. Send me:
  • non-European myth- or folklore- based stories like When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller, The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez, by Adrianna Cuevas, or any book from Rick Riordan Presents, such as Sal and Gabi Break the Universe, by Carlos Hernandez 
  • fairytale retellings or stories that feel like folklore, like Sweep by Jonathan Auxier or The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson 
  • moody vibes like The Umbrella Academy or Stranger Things
  • contemporary stories with fantastical elements (magical realism, fabulism, urban fantasy) like Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani
  • magical circuses (Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury is an all-time favorite)
  • sweet and fun magic like Savvy by Ingrid Law or The 11:11 Wish by Kim Tomsic
  • steampunk like The Clockwork Three by Matthew Kirby or The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
  • dragons, zombies, mermaids, cryptids, ghosts, witches (bonus points if they're misunderstood)
  • I am less likely to connect with: some portal fantasies,* a series of adventures without an emotional driver,** dream worlds, fairies,*** talking animals.****
*portal fantasies work for me when the first & secondary worlds are both important to the story & fully realized; they don't work for me if the regular world is just a framing device to get a character into a secondary world. Dream worlds tend to be portals, so the same reasons apply. 

**I enjoy reading fantastical adventures when they're driven by both external and internal needs/goals. I'm not as interested if it's just a series of fun adventures in a strange land.  

***(amended: I'm open to unusually told fairy stories. I'm not as interested in the fanciful fairies you might find in younger MG)

**** (amended: I don't mind people MCs who can talk to and understand animals. I'm not as interested in a world populated by animal MCs)

Basically, you can try me with any of your fantasies; I will be pickier with the ones listed in my "less likely to connect with" group.


Diverse casts and #ownvoices from marginalized backgrounds are a plus. I'd love to see stories where the marginalization is not the focus, but the characters having adventures or facing world-ending threats happen to be Asian, Latinx, Black, Native American/indigenous, LGBTQ+, disabled, or neurodivergent. For potentially hidden marginalizations (such as LGBTQ+, disabled, or neurodivergent characters), authors should never feel pressure to explain or out themselves with an #ownvoices label; I'm just happy to see those characters in a story.

Themes I love in all genres: found family, band of friends, family and friendship dynamics, puzzles & mysteries 

Having an art and illustration background, I welcome graphic novels and highly illustrated novels. 

What I'm Not Looking For

I don't have any firm "no's," but you're less likely to be chosen if you submit:
  • historical fiction (1980s to present is fine; if I was alive, it's not historical!)
  • certain types of fantasies (some portal fantasies, fairies, dream worlds, see above)
  • novels-in-verse 
  • stories with themes and topics too close to what I'm currently working on (to avoid conflicts of interest), which include Chinese myth-based fantasy and sentient AI

About Me

Profile photo of author Sylvia Liu
I'm a former environmental attorney turned middle grade and picture book author (with a detour as a children's illustrator). I was born in Chicago to Chinese immigrant parents and grew up in Caracas, Venezuela. I returned to the U.S. for college and law school, and my ten-year legal career (federal appellate, legislative, and policy work) focused on marine conservation, environmental justice, and Native American rights and tribal sovereignty. I quit the law to become a children's illustrator, which led to writing picture books and middle grade. 

Find out more at my main website enjoyingplanetearth.com.

My books include:
  • Hana Hsu and the Ghost Crab Nation (Razorbill/PRH 2022) (upper MG sci-fi): in a near future where teens' brains are connected to the multiweb, a girl uncovers a high tech conspiracy that may involve her mom at the helm. 
  • Manatee's Best Friend (Scholastic 2021) (contemporary MG): a girl must overcome shyness and an accidental viral video to save her manatee and dolphin friends while making new friends of her own
  • A Morning with Grandpa, illustrated by Christina Forshay (Lee & Low Books 2016) (PB): a young girl and her grandfather teach each other yoga and tai chi, but each are bad at the other thing
I co-run the kid lit resource website, Kidlit411 and am represented by Jennifer March Soloway of Andrea Brown Agency.

What a Mentorship Would Look Like

I've been lucky to have mentors and teachers who've helped me throughout my writing career and I want to give back and help others achieve their writing dreams.

When I began writing novels 7-8 years ago, I threw myself into classes, conferences, and found critique partners. I was a mentee in Author Mentor Match in Spring 2018 for my upper MG sci-fi novel (my mentor was Tae Keller), which landed me my agent, Jennifer March Soloway in January 2019. Since then, Jennifer sold two of my middle grade novels, including the AMM novel. I continue to learn from my critique partners (published and pre-published MG and YA authors) and an advanced writing studio at The Muse Writers Center in Virginia.

I am currently mentoring a middle grade graphic novelist through Author Mentor Match, and last year I mentored a high school student through The Muse.

Writing novels can be hard and lonely, but it doesn’t have to be. I’ve learned you can build a community that will help you grow as a writer and be there for you through the wonderful highs and frustrating slogs and disappointments. Having a professional a bit ahead of you in the creative journey believe in your work wholeheartedly and spend time to work with your whole novel is an incredible gift. Sometimes that’s all you need to push you to the next level, and I hope to do that for someone.

How I Mentor

As a mentor I will help achieve your story vision. I'll provide an edit letter gushing about the things I love and sharing big picture feedback (character and narrative arcs, themes and conflicts, plot holes, pacing, etc.) and craft tips and line edits if needed. We'll tailor communications to your preferred style (whether it's email, phone calls, or carrier pigeons) and figure out a revision plan. I'll do a second round read/review and work with you on your query and pitch for the Agent Showcase.

Having been published as a picture book author and co-running the website Kidlit411, I'm familiar with marketing and social media and can help you navigate that aspect of publishing as well.

Here's what my AMM mentee says about me:

I was incredibly lucky to work with Sylvia as my mentor. She is a skilled editor, a patient teacher, and an incredible champion. Sylvia's approach to revisions is very logical and organized. She taught me many new skills, such as reverse outlining, and had specific suggestions and creative ideas when I got stuck. Her eye for detail will keep you on your toes! Be prepared to work hard but know that she is also a genuinely kind and empathetic advocate for you. -Annette Hashitate

My Ideal Mentee

Your story doesn't have to be perfect; it can be a grand, weird mess, but you're passionate about it and believe in it.

You're not afraid to work hard and make major structural changes if needed.

You are flexible enough to take constructive criticism and you've had experience receiving and implementing writing feedback. 

My criteria for picking a mentee will be:
  • I love your story
  • Your writing holds significant promise in premise, voice, and craft
  • I have a clear vision how I can help elevate the manuscript to the next level
If I pick you, I absolutely believe you will get your work ready to query and obtain agent interest.

P.S. Don't self reject! Unlike the agent querying process, I don't expect query-ready manuscripts. The point of the Pitch Wars mentorship is to get you there.

If you have any questions, leave them in the comments below or use my contact form.

Hope to see you in my in box!

P.P.S. I will be online at a MG #AskMentor chat on Twitter on Thursday, Sept. 17, 8 p.m. EST, and at an all-mentors chat on Saturday, Sept. 26, 4 p.m. EST.

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