My Pitch Wars 2021 MG Mentor Wish List
Hello middle grade writers!
I'm thrilled to be a Pitch Wars middle grade mentor again for 2021. I can't wait to read your middle grade fantasy, sci-fi, contemporary, and horror, as well as graphic novels.
I have a particular interest in writers who identify with traditionally marginalized communities.
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.
|scene from my favorite Studio Ghibly film, Spirited Away, written and directed by Hayao Miyasake|
I love fantasies, whether grounded, second world, or high fantasy. Some specific stories I’d love to see:
- non-European myth- or folklore- based stories like When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller or Cece Rios and the Desert of Storms by Kaela Rivera
- a story that feels like a Hayao Miyasake movie (Spirited Away is my favorite)
- fairytale retellings or stories that feel like folklore, like Sweep by Jonathan Auxier or The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson
- contemporary stories with fantastical elements (magical realism, fabulism, urban fantasy) like Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani
- sweet and fun magic like Midsummer Mayhem by Rajani LaRocca, or Eva Evergreen by Julie Abe
- dragons, zombies, mermaids, cryptids, ghosts
|stunning illustration by my talented friend © Kathryn Ault Noble|
I love all science fiction, so send me your space opera and adventure, sci-fantasy, cyberpunk, biotech, dystopian, time travel, superhero, and high-tech stories. I'd love a story with:
- adventure and myth, like Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee or Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez
- smart kids in difficult situations, like The Lion of Mars by Jennifer L. Holm or Cleo Porter and the Body Electric by Jake Burt
- dystopian environmental stories, like Dry by Neal Shusterman, or ones with cli-fi themes
- robots and mechas
- a thought-provoking premise (favorite adult sci-fi books: The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells, Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller, anything by Ted Chiang; recent favorite YA sci-fi: The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He; favorite movies/shows: Blade Runner 2049, Blade Runner, The Expanse, BSG, Altered Carbon, The Good Place)
|illustration by my talented AMM mentee © Annette Hashitate|
This is the category I'll be most picky with. We might not be the best match if your story is quiet. I'm drawn to stories with an interesting hook and strong characters, such as:
- funny protagonists with passionate interests like Lupe Wong Won’t Dance by Donna Barbra Higuera and Stand Up Yumi Chung by Jessica Kim
- social justice stories like Efrén Divided by Ernesto Cisneros or From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks
- complex stories with LGBTQ+ themes like King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender
- graphic novels (some favs: New Kid by Jerry Craft, Real Friends by Shannon Hale)
|send me a story like the chaotic British horror-sci-fi-comedy, Attack the Block, with John Boyega|
I love spooky MGs that are chilling and creepy, like The Absence of Sparrows by Kurt Kirchmeier, Doll Bones by Holly Black, The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier, Splendors and Glooms, by Laura Amy Schlitz, or Coraline by Neil Gaiman. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury is one of my all-time favorite middle grade novels.
Throw in some creepy ghosts or supernatural creatures, and I’m hooked. I also love funny horror (like the movie, Attack the Block).
Diverse casts and writers writing from their own experiences are a plus. I'd love to see stories where the marginalization is not the focus of the story. For potentially hidden marginalizations (such as LGBTQ+, disabled, or neurodivergent characters), authors should never feel pressure to disclose their marginalizations.
Themes I love in all genres: found family, epic friendships, family dynamics, puzzles, and mysteries.
Having an art and illustration background, I welcome graphic novels and highly illustrated novels.
After picking last year's mentee, I wrote about the factors that went into my decision making in my email newsletter, What I've Learned as a Pitch Wars Mentor.
I don't have firm "no's," but you're less likely to be chosen if you submit stories with themes and topics too close to what I'm working on or may work on in the near future (to avoid conflicts of interest): Chinese myth-based fantasy, sea turtles, pirates, or cruise ships.
I'm not the best fit for verse novels.
(Edited: if you have any questions about whether your manuscript might have specific conflicts with the topics mentioned above, feel free to DM me).
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 website enjoyingplanetearth.com.
My books include:
Hana Hsu and the Ghost Crab Nation (Razorbill/PRH June 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 Aug 2021) (contemporary MG): a girl must overcome shyness and an accidental viral video to save her manatee and dolphin friends while making new friends
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
Other works: adult sci-fi short story in Don't Touch That: An Anthology of Parenthood in SFF, ed. Jaymee Goh (forthcoming); poem in ThankU: Poems of Gratitude, ed. Miranda Paul, illus. Marlena Myles (Lerner Books 2019); creative nonfiction memoir essay, "Your Life in Airplane Rides," Potomac Review (Spring 2018).
What a Mentorship Would Look Like
I've been lucky to have mentors 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 8-9 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 Newbery Award-winner Tae Keller), which helped me land my agent, Jennifer March Soloway in January 2019. Since then, Jennifer sold two of my middle grade novels, including the AMM one. I continue to learn from my critique partners (published and pre-published MG and YA authors).
In 2020, I mentored two middle grade authors (a graphic novel in Author Mentor Match and a fantasy in Pitch Wars), and both of them signed with agents soon after (see their testimonials below). I teach a writing studio at The Muse Writers Center in Virginia.
Writing novels can be 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.
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. I also provide plotting and character development resources. We'll tailor communications to your preferred style (whether it's email, texts, 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 recently published a middle grade novel and co-running the website Kidlit411 for over 8 years, I'm familiar with marketing and social media and can help you navigate that aspect of publishing as well.
“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, 2020 Author Mentor Match mentee, represented by Elizabeth Bennett, Transatlantic Agency, Selfies by Sumie (Viking 2023)
(Late-breaking news: Annette just announced the publication of her graphic novel!)
“The amount of work Sylvia put into this mentorship was mind-blowing. When I say she went above and beyond, I’m not exaggerating. She was with me for every step of this journey and the first person I called when I received an offer from my dream agent shortly after the showcase.
You WILL come out of a mentorship with Sylvia with a stronger book, as well as with the tools to revise future books. She’s brilliant, grounded, humble and kind, and on top of all that, an expert on kidlit. I had the dream Pitch Wars experience, starting and ending with having the dream mentor. So if you want to level up as a writer, apply to Sylvia! (And sign up for her newsletter now so you can start getting tips!)”
-Isi Hendrix, 2020 Pitch Wars mentee, represented by Peter Knapp of Park & Fine Literary and Media and in the UK by Claire Wilson of RCW.
(Here's a link of to my past newsletters Isi mentioned)
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:
- 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!
Be sure to check out the other MG mentors' wishlists: