2018 Pitch Wars #TeamUnicornMojo Wish List

Hello Hopefuls! Welcome to Pitch Wars 2018!

2018 MG mentor

The amazing #TeamUnicornMojo (Julie Artz & Jessica Vitalis) is back for a second year and we cannot wait to read your middle grade submissions!

About #TeamUnicornMojo

We both love going deep on craft and we’re very hands-on when it comes to the brainstorming/revision process. Jessica’s strength leans toward plotting and Julie loves character development; we both go wild with the red pen when it comes time for line edits and we promise to sprinkle lots of magical unicorn dust over our mentee’s manuscript before the agent round.


Our future mentee is going to get to know us very well, but in the meantime here’s a little more dirt on each of us:

Jessica: This is my fourth year mentoring Pitch Wars and my second year teaming up with writer/editor extraordinaire Julie Artz. Over the last three years, I’ve had five mentees (that’s not a typo; two years, I was lucky enough to land two mentees), all of whom have signed with agents as a result of their Pitch Wars manuscripts (and one with a book publishing this fall). Two of the three years, my mentees have had the highest number of requests during the agent round.*

I also coordinate Letters for Kids, volunteer with We Need Diverse Books, and contribute to The Winged Pen. An American expat, I spend my spare time chasing my two precocious daughters around Ontario and changing the batteries on my heated socks. I apparently have a very twisted mind because I started out writing contemporary but have since found that my sweet spot is dark fantasy; I’m represented by the inestimably fabulous Saba Sulaiman at Talcott Notch.

*None of this is any sort of guarantee that my future mentee will sign with an agent, get a book deal, or even get requests in the agent round. I bring it up only to point out that I take this program very seriously and will do my best to help take your writing to the next level.

Julie: I’m thrilled to be back for a second year mentoring middle grade with my writing soul sister, Jessica Vitalis. I write geeky and magical middle grade and work as a developmental editor and book coach for Author Accelerator. I love teaching writers of all ages about craft, which is why I keep putting my hand up for Pitch Wars and Teen Pit. In addition to mentoring writers, I also contribute to The Winged Pen and Middle Grade at Heart, and I’m a Co-Regional Advisor for SCBWI Western Washington. I’m represented by Jennie Dunham at Dunham Lit. In my free time, you’ll find me in the garden or out hiking in the glorious Pacific Northwest, or maybe in a hammock devouring a delicious new book.

So what can you expect from me? My critique partners have a running joke about my detailed edit letters and my knack for character arc and world building. My kids claim I have the heart and maturity level of an 11-year-old, which is probably why I can channel that middle grade voice so well. My own Pitch Wars experience in 2015 felt like going through an MFA program in two short months, and I plan to bring that same craft-focused intensity to our mentee in 2018!

I love geeking out on comp titles and movie references and middle grade voice and magic systems. Sub to us and you will get the power of the Wonder Twins, the magic of the unicorn, and the rigor that comes from having two experienced, compassionate mentors to guide you through revisions.

Now that you’ve fallen in love with #TeamUnicornMojo, it’s time for our wish list…

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This year, #TeamUnicornMojo is focusing exclusively on fantasy (and contemporary stories with magical elements)!

Our goal is to find a story with a unique premise and beautiful writing. We prefer to work with an experienced writer who is immersed in the world of middle grade literature and regularly works with critique partners. No first drafts, please!

***Major bonus points for marginalized voices***

We can’t predict exactly what will capture our hearts but here is a (non-exhaustive) list of some of the types of stories we love (in no particular order):

Still not sure if you manuscript is a match for #TeamUnicornMojo? Here are a few extra tips:

If your manuscript contains magical and/or fantastical elements, features kick-butt characters (particularly strong girls and/or #ownvoices in any of its glorious forms), is set in a fairy-tale, mythological, creepy, or luscious, atmospheric world, and will make us feel all the feels, WE WANT TO SEE IT! (Please, with a double scoop of unicorn sprinkles on top.)

Read on for some answers to frequently-asked questions! (Or join us on Twitter at #PitchWars #askmentor on August 16th from 8-10pm est. We’ll be answering general questions as well as those directed to #teamunicornmojo)


  1. What are you not looking for?
  • Contemporary (unless it has magical elements)
  • Historical (unless it is fantasy)
  • Humor
  • High fantasy (elves, gnomes, etc)
  • Dystopian
  • Sci-fi
  • Anthropomorphic
  • Epistolary
  • Books in verse
  • Lower MG
  • Chapter Books
  1. What is your approach to the revision process?

We generally start with an edit letter that covers the manuscript’s strengths and weaknesses from a big picture perspective (themes, plot, character, etc.) and then move on to the fine-tuning. Our edit letters are famously long and we typically provide tons of inline comments to support our thoughts. We have also been known to assign homework when we think it will be beneficial.  We love brainstorming either via email, phone, or FaceTime/Skype and will be there every step of the way to help you put together and execute your revision plan. (In other words, we’re going to smother you with love!) 

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  1. I know one of you through Twitter. Can I submit to you?

If you interact with us on Twitter, that’s absolutely fine. But if you know us in real life (including through SCBWI), or we’ve ever read for you before, please choose one of the other amazing MG mentors!

  1. I have limited time to revise. Should I submit to you?

No. Even line-level revision takes time and we’re likely to choose someone who needs more big-picture revisions. You’ll want to have some serious time to devote to the process to give your manuscript the best chance to shine!

  1. I don’t think my book needs much by way of revision. Should I submit to you?

It is our experience that most stories, even when they are “done”, still need a fair amount of revision. Please do not submit to us unless you are prepared to consider big-picture revisions. We will almost certainly ask you to take your book apart and stitch it back together!


  1. What do you mean by books “with a strong premise and beautiful writing”?

You know when someone sums up a book or a movie in one sentence and you gasp, thinking how interesting and/or brilliant the idea is (and how you wish you’d thought of it)? That’s what we mean by a strong premise. When we say we’re looking for beautiful writing, it means we want to work with a writer who already knows how to construct a strong, compelling sentence (but needs help figuring out how to turn his/her writing skills into a polished novel).

  1. I know you said you didn’t want contemporary/historical/sci-fi/dystopian/elves, but…

We receive tons of submissions and will not read past the query if you submit something in a genre we listed under number one above. Don’t waste a submission on us when there are lots of other amazing middle grade mentors who are looking for your genre!

If you haven’t already, check out Jessica’s site too!

p.s. If you’ve read this far and are dying to know more, here are some testimonials, along with links to past critiques and success stories:

Testimonial: “Jessica and Julie are an absolute dream team! They are brilliant, incredibly kind, and they will sprinkle your manuscript with unicorn dust! They pushed me to make my manuscript the best possible version of itself without letting me lose sight of the story I wanted to tell. Their skills complement each other perfectly, and I was consistently impressed by the way they presented their ideas as a unified force. I started to wonder whether there was a magical twenty-fifth hour in the day where they got together to compile their lovely (and lengthy 😉) edit letters!

Jessica and Julie are super organized and thoughtful and they always seemed to know when I was ready for the next step. I can’t believe how much I learned from them–about writing, but also about what it means to persevere in this tough business! They are extremely knowledgeable about the craft and shared so many helpful resources that made me a much stronger writer. Jessica and Julie will be by your side for whatever you need, from structural advice to finding the perfect sentence to knowing the right GIF to send when you need encouragement. I would not have made it through Pitch Wars without their enthusiasm and support, and their next mentee will be SO fortunate to have them!” ––Reese Eschmann (2017 PitchWars Mentee)

Testimonial: “Having Jessica as a mentor was a dream. She takes her job very seriously, massaging my manuscript into shape no matter how many times I bothered her or how many rounds of revision I needed. Anytime I was stuck with a plot point, she would think about it and get back to me with amazing ideas. I felt I had a real partner throughout all of my revisions, someone who respected my vision yet gave me so much wisdom and guidance. My manuscript was improved 110% through working with Jessica. I would never have found my agent a few weeks after pitchwars without her help. More than that I’ve become an inestimably better writer. I can’t recommend her strongly enough. Getting Jessica as your mentor is akin to winning the writing lottery.” ––Yael Mermelstein, author of I Promise You (and 2016 Pitchwars mentee)

Testimonial: “From the start I knew Jessica was a legendary mentor. She’s whip smart, clever, caring, communicative, and above all else she dives into her mentee’s words and analyzes them as closely as she does her own. Jessica loves to talk about unicorn magic, and unicorn magic she does indeed have, in the form of turning around drafts in days, brainstorming on the fly, and editing with the careful precision of a publisher. We went through at least three rounds of edits in a month, a feat that had seemed impossible until it was completed. Jessica pushed me and challenged me to see my work as a professional, and to set very rigid and close deadlines when tackling revisions. As a result, by the time the agent round was upon us, I felt like I could handle anything as a writer. That is where the unicorn magic comes in—through Jessica’s mystical ability to simultaneously challenge and instill boundless confidence in her mentees. I continue to be grateful for her guidance long after Pitch Wars has ended.” ––Kit Rosenstein (2016 PitchWars mentee)

Testimonial: “The absolute best recommendations I can give for Jessica come from two people, my agent and my critique partner. When I was in the midst of revisions, my CP read what I had. Then she read it again after Jessica got a hold of it and ran her amazing, fine-tooth, line edit comb over it. She said something along the lines of, “I don’t know what you did, but it’s so much better. It’s told so much more confidently now.” Then, on the call with my my agent (Elizabeth Harding) she said several times, “The manuscript is really, really polished.” I owe both of those compliments to Jessica. She will make you work and mark up your manuscript with so much virtual red pen you might have a heart attack. And then you’ll get to work and end up with a “confident,” “polished” manuscript.” ––Amanda Rawson Hill, Author of The Three Rules of Everyday Magic (and Pitchwars 2015 mentee)

Testimonial: “Jessica’s warmth, enthusiasm and knowledge of craft were just what I needed to take my writing to the next level. I had so many “ah-hah” moments as I read her editorial letter that I knew I was in good hands. I attribute the confidence and excitement I’m feeling right now as I jump into a round of revisions with my agent to my experience with Jessica and my growth as a writer under her mentorship.” ––Heidi Stallman (2015 Pitchwars mentee)

Testimonial: “Julie is a dream come true for writers: a careful and attentive reader who can hone in on what would make a story really soar. Whether you need help with a query, synopsis, or manuscript, I can’t recommend Julie strongly enough. ” —Heather Bell Adams, author of Maranatha Road

Testimonial: “Working with Julie Artz is a pleasure. As an editor, she’s thorough and prompt, keeping an honest dialogue to help a writer through tough manuscript changes. She excels at nailing down character motivations and ensuring that plot points follow a cause and effect trajectory until resolution. With Julie’s help, I found the confidence to make my manuscript something I’m proud of, instead of just something I wrote.” –Kacey Vanderkarr (YA client)

Testimonial: “Julie, I am blown away by what I have been able to absorb of your feedback. Thank you for being so patient and generous with me and all of my questions. Author Accelerator has never steered me wrong! I can already see where I need to sharpen the “point.” Thank you for being open to clarifications, questions and a dialogue. I already feel safe in your literary hands.” –Henriette Ivanans-McIntyre (memoir client)

You can get an idea of what working with us will be like from these additional critiques, interviews, and podcasts:

Want us to critique your query before the entry window? Comment below and one lucky winner will receive a critique from #teamunicornmojo!

Follow @Jessicavitalis and @JulieArtz on Twitter to get all this #teamunicornmojo goodness, and more!

And don’t forget to check out the other amazing middle grade mentors’ wish lists:























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4 thoughts on “2018 Pitch Wars #TeamUnicornMojo Wish List

  1. Tahereh mafi is one of my fav authors
    I would love a query critique my twitter handle is @zoharubab1
    My book is set in a contemporary co existing world in which the main heroine and her friends have to overcome diificulties in reaching the Underworld and seal a hole in the furies prison to save the world from maddness amd extinction

  2. I’m very excited (and more than a little terrified) to submit to Pitch Wars. Thanks for sharing your experience and expertise with a mentee! And thanks for the chance to win a query critique!!

  3. Your book list is inspiring – just about all the books on there are either personal favorites or on my to-read list. If there was one common element that made these books all stand out to you, what would you say it was?

    Thank you for volunteering your time to Pitchwars, and thank you for volunteering even more time with a query critique ahead of the main event!

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