Pitch Wars 2018 Wishlist

Greetings from Lindsey Duga and Melissa Erin Jackson!

Another Pitch Wars season is upon us and we are so thrilled to be YA mentors this year! We see this as a tremendous honor and are thankful that we’re able to partake in this amazing experience.

This little ole blog post is to introduce you to both of us, what we love (books and TV shows as well as general preferences), what we’re looking for, and what we’re not looking for this year. We hope that what you find here makes you want to choose us as your mentors. We’re excited to read all your pretty words 😊

Who We Are

Melissa: I have been writing “seriously” since my freshman year in college. Since then, I’ve completed seven full-length novels and have roughly four billion half-started ones. I was agented for a while with one of my YA fantasy novels, but we parted ways. Publishing is weird, yo! I have been freelance editing officially since 2014 (though I edited countless manuscripts for friends and critique partners before that). I have experience working with writers of all writing levels—from newbie writers who are still finding their voice, to traditionally published writers who need another set of eyes on their manuscripts before they send them off to their agents. I’ve worked on middle grade, YA, and adult, and in all genres, from memoirs to lighthearted middle grade fantasies.

Lindsey: Even though I’ve been writing for fun since I was a kid, I never considered publishing as an option until I wrote my first full-length novel in college. Man, once you find that one story to get you started, you really don’t want to stop. So while my first and second manuscripts were shelved after an exhausting stream of rejections, I kept writing and eventually sold my third novel to Entangled Teen. KISS OF THE ROYAL is my debut YA fantasy and it just came out a little over a month ago! I’ve got one manuscript out on submission, one with CPs, and another in draft mode. Altogether, I’ve written three MGs and three YAs—all in either fantasy, sci-fi, or paranormal. My strengths are worldbuilding, slow-burn romances, and high-action fight scenes.

What We’re Looking For in a Mentee

Someone who is receptive to feedback and will take our suggestions into consideration. Do you have to agree with everything we say? Nope! But if we hit a disagreement, we hope we can work with each other to find a solution that helps your manuscript but also stays true to your vision.

Often writers worry that an editor will edit their book so much that they’ll lose their voice. We’re here to help take your book and take it to the next level. No matter what we suggest or what we change, it’s still your book—and your voice. Our prospective mentee will be someone who’s willing to work hard, who’s open to feedback and constructive criticism, and who’s excited about the editing process. Ultimately, they should want to come out of this experience with a better version of the story they set out to tell—and to become a better writer, too.

What You Can Expect/Editing Style

You will go through at least three editing rounds with us. Round one will focus mostly on big picture—overall story structure, characterization, plot, etc. Round two will be to smooth out any straggling plot or character sticking points. Round three will be for line edits. This general plan might change depending on what you need and what our suggestions are, but you can expect this at a minimum.

Melissa: I love love love to ask questions while I’m editing. I warn you now that it might drive you bananas, as I’m a stickler for detail. If something strikes me as even a little shaky in terms of worldbuilding, characterization, or plot-logic, I will ask you about it. This will be balanced with “haha”s and “I love this!”s and smiley faces, because we all need those too. I’m known for being a bit blunt, but I promise you it’s only because I love your book and want to give it the best chance possible. I want you to not feel intimidated by the edit letter, but inspired to go into revisions with your sword held above your head while screaming a battle cry. (You very well might hate me during the process. I’m okay with this.)

Lindsey: Where Melissa is strong in developmental editing (really all editing…she’s a bloody genius), I’m good at pitching. All of my pitches at conferences have a 100% success rate (they always ask for more pages) and my queries and #pitmad tweets (in fact, this is what got me my book deal) have always received a positive response. With a background in marketing, I am able to get to the hook of a concept and sell it. In terms of editing…along with Melissa’s notes, I will provide loving, supportive feedback as well as a deep critique on the chemistry/relationships between characters and worldbuilding throughout each round of revisions.

What We Love

Part 1: Favorite Books & Shows


Top Five YA Books/Series of All Time

  1. Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
  2. Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
  3. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
  4. The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
  5. Illuminae by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Top Five Fantasy YA Books

  1. Blood Red Road by Moira Young
  2. Poison Study by Maria Snyder
  3. Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
  4. Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan
  5. Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young

Current Favorite TV Shows

  1. The Magicians
  2. Brooklyn Nine-Nine
  3. Superstore
  4. The Handmaid’s Tale
  5. Glow


Top Five YA Books/Series of All Time

  1. The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
  2. Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz
  3. Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
  4. Unwind series by Neal Shusterman
  5. Far Far Away by Tom McNeal

Top Five Fantasy YA Books

  1. The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima
  2. The Novice by Taran Matharu
  3. Exquisite Captive by Heather Demetrios
  4. The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski
  5. An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Current Favorite TV Shows

  1. Lucifer
  2. The Good Place
  3. Miraculous Ladybug
  4. Voltron
  5. Teen Wolf

Part 2: Favorite Things in Fiction


  • Best Friends: Especially in YA, I love seeing stories that feature friendship. (This friendship can totally be of the sibling variety.) I love stories where girls have each other’s backs no matter what. But this goes for guys, too! Do you have a bromance at the heart of your book? Give. It. To. Me. 
  • Mystery: Since I’m also a mystery writer, I’m a sucker for a twisty plot. Is there a murder? Even better. Lindsey and I are Murderinos, so if you’ve got a serial killer or a who-dun-it in your fantasy/sci fi manuscript? I needed this in my inbox yesterday. Fantasy world + murder mystery = my holy grail.


  • Happy Endings: Y’all. I like Disney, fairy tales, and stuff that makes my heart grow ten sizes too big like the Grinch. I don’t mind sappy, cheesy stuff at all, in fact, bring it on. I adore sweet friendships, strong families, and loves that will surpass lifetimes.
  • Siblings Kicking Butt:. I really am all about siblings working together, and just being all around funny and amazing. Think Fred and George Weasley, (or, heck, even Huey, Duey, and Louie in Duck Tales) or Sokka and Katara from Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Both of Us:

  • Stellar Worldbuilding: We read to escape more than anything. If you have unique worldbuilding that makes real life fall away, we’re hooked.  Give us a world that we want to believe in and you’ll have us from page one.
  • Romance Tropes: We’re down with pretty much any romance trope you can think of (enemies-to-lovers, childhood friends, arranged marriages) except instalove and love triangles. We’re trash for slow-burn romance. Trash. We definitely want a larger plot to be the center of the book, but if you can work in a slow-burn romance on the side, we’ll be all over it. (As a side note: we know romance in YA is often pretty standard, but if you have a book that has little to no romance, we’d still want to see it. It’s always refreshing to stumble on a book that doesn’t focus on romance.) Generally, we like our romances to accentuate a larger plot/story, not bug us with who’s going to get with who.

What We Want This Year

  • Fantasy—All except historical fantasy…mostly because we worry how helpful we’ll be. 
  • Sci-fi—We’re more into light sci-fi and space operas. We both love Firefly and the fun, futuristic world of Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles.
  • Paranormal and supernatural—We’re likely not the best fit for vamps and weres, or plot that’s focused mostly on romance, but we’re open to more spirit-driven paranormal like ghosts, demons, phantoms, and the like.
  • Contemporary—Only thrillers/suspense, please! (Think This Is Our Story by Ashley Elston, One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus, and Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard.)

What We Don’t Want This Year

  • Romance-focused manuscripts
  • Hard/military sci-fi
  • Historical
  • Most contemporary
  • Horror
  • Dystopian/post-apoc
  • Religious-focused manuscripts
  • Anything outside of YA (including but not limited to New Adult, memoirs, graphic novels)

If you have a manuscript that might fit, but you’re not sure, drop a comment below and we’ll figure it out  😊

And if you have questions about anything else, don’t hesitate to ask!

We can’t wait to get started!

Melissa & Lindsey

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43 Responses to “Pitch Wars 2018 Wishlist”

  1. PW Hopeful

    Hello, since you like happy endings, is a story with a “Break your heart” non-HEA (Yet! Yet! It’s part of a series) not for you? It has a close to the book/threads (no cliffhangers) but my betas say it kinda rips your heart out.

    • Lindsey Duga

      Morals and forces of light and dark are universal themes in literature so those are a-okay for us, but any biblical references that feel more like lessons and less like story-world building elements we would have to pass on.

    • Lindsey Duga

      If the protagonists happen to be soldiers but the focus of the story is NOT the military, its structure, a war, etc. then we would be interested in taking a look.

  2. Christina Henson

    Your reply comment to someone, “Generally, we really don’t want to see any present-day religious themes/references in our inbox” – can you flush that out a bit please? My chars don’t attend church, read from the bible or go around spouting verses to anyone. My MC does believe in a Great Spirit/Heavenly Father as she works with energy A LOT – to heal, to manipulate its current form (resting wall matter) into some other form (active air to fly a kite), and she does reference ‘Universal’ forces and tricks like manifestation, changing your current perception of your life so you change how you react to it (think, feel, speak) so the Universe will send you scenarios to match the emotional frequencies you’re putting out. So, there are more spiritual themes woven in, but there is also this kind of dominant creator referenced some. Thanks for helping to clarify 🙂

    • Lindsey Duga

      We are both FASCINATED by Native Americans, and love space operas, so we are enthusiastic about the idea, but we do want to be honest…we’re not history majors and we don’t know very much about the Lakota tribe. So feel free to submit, but be aware we’re not very strong in the historical department. (And we’re not familiar with the historical sci-fi genre.)

  3. Hey guys.
    – In line of the comment above. How about tragic friendships?
    – Just wondering – the story I wrote can be read as a standalone, but would do best as a series (there is a plan, quite an extensive one I’m afraid), is that an issue at all?
    – Story is light scifi with otherworldly elements. How does that sound to you?

    • Lindsey Duga

      Yes, tragic friendships are fine–give us all the feels! As long as the story is indeed a standalone, you’re fine. Also yes, we like light sci-fi 🙂

  4. Dernhelm

    Hi! My book is historical only in the fact that it’s set in Medieval England. It’s not historical fiction, though. Just an attempt at strong worldbuilding and magic realism. I think it fits in the other things you’re looking for. Is this acceptable?

  5. Dernhelm

    Second question. I consider my book to be YA given its length. I have several main characters who are all related, though the youngest one is the real hero. It started out with other characters as the MCs but she took over much more than anticipated. The main characters (many of them related) are 11, 17, 18, 19, 22 and there are also dragons. Thoughts?

    • Lindsey Duga

      The character age ranges make this difficult to answer, because it is outside the norm. If you are intent on keeping it YA, then you might need to be willing to raise the age of the 11-year-old to 14 or so.(And yay for dragons!)

  6. Jennifer Alice

    hi, I had a question about horror. Do you just not really want like slasher flicks in book form? I have a MS with a ghost, some creepy scenes, sub-plot romance (human/human, not ghost), and some abuse/violence, but not like Halloween, or Survive the Night style. More like Supernatural, or Girl From the Well. Would that be for you guys, or probably not?

  7. How do you feel about a unique twist on mermaids and a magic system that’s similar to wargs in Game of Thrones (I know you said you didn’t like vampires and werewolves, so I wanted to check about other mythical beings)

  8. Hi Lindsey and Melissa! I have a YA light sci-fi/fantasy set in a future earth that has been re-established after massive destruction. It’s not terrifying or extreme in terms of world building/setting; rather, it’s similar to our world now (which is terrifying in an altogether different way). The dystopian/post-apocalyptic piece is only necessary to make sense of the light sci-fi/fantasy elements.
    Is this a deal-breaker for you?

    • Lindsey Duga

      This is pretty dependent on how the world is executed, as Lindsey really is not a dystopian fan. But if you think the sci-fi/fantastical elements are a bigger part than the destruction of the world, then we would be interested.

  9. Would you guys be interested in a submission that uses vampires and werewolves in a unique way? Think Mortal Instruments but instead of falling in love with Jace, Clary fell for one of the Downworlders she was supposed to kill. (Witches are the main focus but the love interest is a werewolf so I though I’d ask)

  10. Hi there! You mention that you might not be the best fit for vampires/werewolves. Would you be interested in a story that includes wolf shapeshifters in a high-fantasy setting, or would this element not be for you? Thanks!

  11. Would you consider a border wall story where Americans are trying to get into Canada (the contemporary problem shoved north) on the line of light sci-fi/almost-not-dystopian (with a strong female protagonist and a love story) of any interest? I know I’m stretching your request list, but I still think it might fit. Thanks!

  12. My MS is contemporary with elements of suspense/thriller (one of my comps is JELLICOE ROAD actually). I know you said you don’t prefer most contemporary, so I guess I’m wondering–how much thriller/suspense is necessary for it to be a good fit for you guys? Thank you for the help!

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