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TJ's 2019 PitchWars Wishlist

Pitch Wars Graphic that says, "I am a 2019 Middle Grade Mentor."

Welcome #PitchWars hopefuls! I’m so excited to be a 2019 MG mentor, and I am looking forward to working with my future mentee! For those stumbling on this post and who may not know, Pitch Wars is a mentoring program where published/agented authors, editors, or industry interns (that’s me!) 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.

You can visit the Pitch Wars site for the rest of the mentors’ wishlists at (or click the links at the bottom of this post):

GIF of Katya from Rupaul's Drag Race leaning back on couch and smirking. She wears her bright pink and teal bodysuit.


In my work life, I’m a children’s bookseller and store manager. I assist with reading many upcoming books, running events, and finding the right books for children and teens of all ages. If you want to learn anything about the lay of the land of how an indie bookstore operates, I’m your person. Previously, I’ve been an editorial intern at Bloomsbury Children’s books, and I am currently an intern at a literary agency.

First I wanted to say as a mentor, I am here to invest in you and in your writing. One of my key goals in this process is to not only hone into the heart of your Pitch Wars manuscript, but find your own editor’s heart (if you aren’t there yet already!). We’ll create tools for you utilize for future stories, so that even once this one is finished we feel positive about working through future ones. To get there, we’ll be asking important questions like “what does your writing life look like?”, “are there areas where you want to improve on in your writing habits?”, and “what are you reading that makes you happy or want to write?”

For me, being a mentor will involve asking the right things to help you along your journey. So be prepared for lots of targeted plot, character, and concept related questions in that editorial letter!

Gif of Katya in her red Russian entrance look, looking around all confused.


One major focus of mine as a bookseller, and now 2019 Pitch Wars mentor, is finding queer ( LGBTQIA+) stories for our MG readers. These past few years have seen an uptick in amazing and impactful MG books with queer themes (The Best At It by Maulik Pancholy or The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James by Ashley Herring Blake). I would especially love to see queer MG that breaks genre boundaries, like the elements in Hurricane Child by Kacen Callender.

While I am particularly interested in #Ownvoices, please do not feel pressure to call your book #Ownvoices in your query if you are uncomfortable doing so. Also, if you are okay mentioning your novel is #Ownvoices but would like that info to remain between us, just let me know.

Gif of Katya in red and blue outfit with cigarette necklace. She spits out money and grins.


Genre Smashes: If your book is a mix of contemporary with magical elements or a bit of sci-fi and/or is hard to categorize, I’m your person. If it’s a book that mixes traditional narrative with verse, screenplay (I went to film school!), musical elements, letters, etc, let’s make the pieces work together the best they can. I love challenging structures, and am ready to help make each element sparkle.

I’ll bring the glitter.

Contemporary with magical or surreal elements I have loved recently include:

Midsummer’s Mayhem by Rajani LaRocca

Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble by Anna Meriano

My Fate According to the Butterfly by Gail D. Villanueva

For Black Girls Like Me by Mariama J. Lockington

The Year We Fell From Space by Amy Sarig King (also all of A.S King’s books)

The Lost Girl by Anne Ursu

The Missing Piece of Charlie O’Reilly by Rebecca Ansari

GIF of Katya and Pearl, in half drag, one side more masculine presenting in a suit and beard, the other in dancer outfit with make-up and wig.


I am also extremely interested in creepy or space related submissions, ranging from sci-fi, mystery, or horror. I want something with the creep or mystery vibe of a Lois Duncan or Joan Lowery Nixon novel, but for the MG audience. If you are inspired by them or R.L. Stine or Christopher Pike, I would love to see it.

Note: I’m always hoping MG horror will find more space on bookstore shelves. It’s what I read (and watched) as a young kid. Give me all the creepiness. Even if your book doesn’t fit into the above ideas, I would love to see any horror MG.

For a more modern take on creepy, I really enjoyed Small Spaces by Katherine Arden.

GIF of Katya in her raccoon hat with a evil green ghost flying behind her. Text for her name says, "Neve Campbell".

CONTEMPORARY (with no surreal elements):

I also enjoy more straightforward contemporary and am open to stories ranging from humorous to ones dealing with more intense themes (even better if there’s a balance of the two).

If your story feels like any of the below titles, please consider sending it to me:

Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams

The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor

Planet Earth is Blue by Nicole Panteleakos

The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James by Ashley Herring Blake

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (or her other books!)

The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon

The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson

To Night Owl from Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer

Dear Sweet Pea by Julie Murphy

Some Places More Than Others By Renée Watson

The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

Front Desk by Kelly Yang


*#Ownvoices, diversity, intersectionality

*Trans and non-binary voices and/or stories

*Neurodiverse characters

* Novels in Verse: I may not be a poet, but I love reading these types of stories and would love to assist anyone writing one

*Messy families, but finding healthy ways to cope and live in that mess

*Found families

*Queer friend groups

*Body Positivity *Neighborhood or small town creepiness and/or mystery *Creepy Clowns, scarecrows, evil horses, demented dolls,

*Baking (Magical Baking ++)

*Middle Grade version of Veronica Mars

*Heavy topics, yet handled at times in humorous ways (à la The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James, The One and Only Ivan, Ghost, etc.)

*Competition (Skating, Olympics, baking competition, reality show, etc.)

*Multiple POVs


*High Fantasy

*Historical (unless light historical like Planet Earth is Blue, which holds one of my biggest sob fests from reading a book this year)

*Villains being the fat/overweight characters * Queer figures (family, friends, etc) dying so people close to MC can now accept them being queer.

GIF of Katya in white top and pink skirt jumping into large trash bin that has a sign that says "Welcome Home". Text written also says, "If you need me, you know where to find me."

I hope the above has been helpful. Thanks for checking out my wishlist! Good luck to all those pitching when submissions open! If you have any questions, I'll be participating in our upcoming #AskMentor MG mentor chat on Monday September 16th at 8pm. And I'm available on Twitter @OhlerTJ

Note: To visit other wishlists, right click and open link in new tab for easiest accessibility.

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