• TJ

TJ's 2020 PitchWars Wishlist

Updated: Sep 16, 2020

Pitch Wars Graphic that says, "I am a 2020 Middle Grade Mentor"

Welcome #PitchWars hopefuls! I’m so excited to be a 2020 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.

This year I’ll be mentoring most genres in MG, except for historical. i would especially love to see horror, sci-fi, contemporary with speculative elements, and any story that will break my heart but can also make me smile.

You can visit the Pitch Wars Site for the rest of the mentors’ wishlists or click the links at the bottom of this post.

Gif of Ghostface from Scream running down the stairs with a piano chasing him


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! I’m also looking for a mentee who will be okay with weekly check-ins and will be able to meet the rigorous editorial schedule. I will most likely have you re-outline your novel for revision and/or establish weekly or bi-weekly progress updates to make sure we’re on track with revision.

This can be an intense editorial process and I’m here for you along the way! Communication between my mentee and me is key. If my mentee wants, I would love to be there for all the random thoughts or brainstorming through various forms of communication (whatever platforms you prefer)! I can be your sounding board. Let’s make your story shine while also talking about your favorite TV binge of the week or favorite recent read. During these times, I find enjoying the things we love to be equally important as the writing we do.

Gif of boy unburying Brahms, an evil looking doll. Beware...


One major focus of mine as a bookseller, and Pitchwars mentor, is finding queer ( LGBTQIA+) stories for our MG readers, especially intersectional stories from other marginalized creators. This year I’ll be mentoring most genres in MG, except for historical.

. 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 Kacen Callender does in their MG.

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.

While I am looking for these voices, I'm still open to others if they fit other aspects of my wishlist!


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 enjoyed 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 scarecrow with missing stomach in cornfield from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark


As a young child, my parents didn't filter my movies, so we watched a lot of Horror. Scream being one of my favorite movie francises. So I am extremely interested in creepy or mystery related submissions. If you've written a MG that could scare a kid who loves horror movies, I want it. I'd also love a MG in the vein of Lois Duncan or Joan Lowery Nixon novel.

Note: I’m always hoping MG horror will find more space on bookstore shelves. It’s what Ioved reading and watching as a kid. Some of my best memories are related to being afraid. So give me all the creepiness.

I'm also interested in things set in space or have an alien factor, though I would love if the alien isn't the villain or negative force. Pretty much, I love a good spaceship moment.

Gif of Ghostface looking downwards and pointing knife

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 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

Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson

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

Dear Sweet Pea by Julie Murphy

Stand Up, Yumi Chung by Jessica Kim

Some Places More Than Others By Renée Watson

The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

Front Desk by Kelly Yang


This year, unlike last year, I’m also open to fantasy. I believe it’s important to see queer and/or BIPOC characters go on fantastical adventures, so if you have a story that leans into the unknown, send it my way. Open to anything as long as it's character driven and/or surprises me with an awesome concept/world-building.

Would love to see something like:

Tale Spinners: Saving Fable by Scott Reintgen,

Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani DasGupta

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia.

Gif of Neve Campbell as Sidney Prescott saying, "This isn't a movie."


*#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

*Get Out or Scream for MG

*Messy families, but ways to cope or find healthy ways to live in that mess

*Found families

*Queer friend groups

*Body Positivity *Neighborhood or small town creepiness and/or mystery

*Sea creatures, seaside town stories, pool related, something aquatic, etc. *Creepy Clowns, scarecrows, evil horses, demented dolls, etc.

*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.)

Gif of Ghostface shaking head no in garage before attacking Tatum


*Historical (unless light historical like Planet Earth is Blue, which holds one of biggest sob fests from reading a book last year, or if it’s a mix of historical and present day like The Parker Inheritance, where the past influences the present)

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

I hope the above has been helpful. Thanks for checking out my wishlist! Good luck to all those pitching when submissions open!

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