Holly Root

YA Contemporary Fantasy

UNTITLED (Spring 2021)

Jessica Lewis is a writer from Alabama. She graduated from Auburn University with a BS in Animal Science and an BA in English Literature. Her debut novel will be out in spring 2021. She loves dogs, anime, and watching cooking or HGTV-type shows (they’re really relaxing!).

Though I’ve always loved writing, I didn’t seriously consider publishing until my senior year of college. I wrote a zombie novel over the course of two years, and entered the query trenches with the brazen confidence only a new writer can have. Sadly, I was taught a brutal lesson: market. Zombie novels weren’t selling, and my precious book wasn’t anywhere near break-into-dead-market ready. After 64 rejections, I shelved my zombie book and vowed to do it “right” this time. I interned with a publishing company, beta read/critiqued everything I could, and practiced query-writing/pitching skills. I wrote another novel, sure this was my time. However, my grandmother was diagnosed with cancer, and I put querying on hold to grieve and take care of her. When she was declared cancer-free, I was so happy I wrote a third book in one month, and that third book is my now-debut! That third book opened so many doors for me: Pitch Wars (class of ’18!), three offers of rep, one fabulous agent, and a book deal. But that third novel could not have existed without the zombie book, the second failed book, all the tears from rejections and my hard work studying craft and pitching. I wasn’t ready for books one and two, and I’m glad I was forced to take time to grow. Now I feel ready to take on whatever is next for me in publishing!

My BA is in English Literature, but I also took every creative writing class my school had to offer. I interned with Filles Vertes Publishing for a year, and I learned what makes strong writing, the importance of market, and what stands out to industry professionals. I was a Pitch Wars mentee, so I’m familiar with the mentee experience, and working with my editor for my debut novel has taught me so much about publishing/editing. My major strength is in pitching; through intense self-study, I learned how to write a mean query letter, and I love to help others with theirs. My query was even featured on Query Shark as a FTW (#320)!

When you live in rural Alabama, there aren’t a lot of writing opportunities. Being poor certainly didn’t help. Free, online resources were my lifeblood. I studied blog posts, twitter threads, the tiniest tidbits of info from industry professionals. I beta read, critiqued, and wrote as much as I could. However, I was feeling stuck and frustrated I couldn’t get any further on my own. When I was chosen as a Pitch Wars mentee, my whole life changed. I was finally given the chance to learn one-on-one and improve my skills with the guidance of my mentor. Without my mentor, I wouldn’t be here today. So, I want to be that person for someone else. I want to laugh, cry, and work hard to help someone achieve their dreams. I want to pay forward the kindness that was paid to me.

I LOVE anything that has an unlikable female character. Give me your gritty girls, tired girls, angry girls. But also nerdy girls, shy girls, broken girls. If you have a strong female main character, send your book my way! But I also love sweet male main characters, so don’t feel discouraged if you have a male MC! I love anything that involves nerd culture (bonus points for anime-based manuscripts because I am a huge weeb), cooking, or anything that’s humorous. I’m drawn to smaller, personal stakes rather than world-ending ones.

  • Fantasy
  • Sci-Fi
  • Mystery/Thriller
  • Magical Realism/Fabulism
  • #ownvoices
  • Urban/Contemporary Fantasy
  • Horror
  • I love anything speculative, with the caveat that I like contemporary/urban fantasy or “soft” sci-fi. If your book has a deeply intricate second world and a complex political system, it’s probably not for me. Same with SF that involves space ships or complex physics. I barely passed physics in college, so I’m not the right mentor for that! I’m also not a good fit for anything romance heavy. I don’t mind a romance subplot, but if the plot is 50% romance or higher, I’m not the mentor for that book. I prefer mysteries or thrillers to have a speculative element, but I wouldn’t rule out one that doesn’t have any!

As far as tropes go, I’m open to almost anything! I think any trope can be done well if the author is inventive and does surprising things with it.

Some favorites:

  • Found family
  • Friendship as the primary relationship
  • Reluctant hero
  • Road trips
  • Loyal pets/animal sidekicks


  • Edit Letter (Big Picture developmental feedback)
  • Line edit (dropping notes into a Word Document)
  • Skype or phone call
  • Freestyle in chat

I like to work like an upside-down pyramid. Big things first—plotholes, setting, characterization, POV, etc. Then we’ll move on to medium edits and finally line edits. The first edit letter you’ll receive will be about big picture edits. We’ll talk on the phone to discuss these (I’m not scary on the phone, I promise!), and then I’ll check in at least once a week to discuss your progress. But we can check in more often if you’d like! After the first edits are finished, I’ll check it over and we may have a second, smaller edit letter, or we might move on to line edits. After line edits, we’ll get your query package together and send it away! I’ll be there through the query process, and future books too if we’re a good fit!
I am a tough mentor, so be ready to work hard! But I’ve also been in mentee shoes, so I’ll be kind and encouraging as well. Expect plenty of tough discussions on how to take your book to the next level, but also memes!

Someone who is open to new ideas, but knows their vision for their book. If you don’t like one of my suggestions, speak up, and we can find a better one we’re both happy with. I’m here to help improve your project, not make it into my own. That said, I deeply sympathize if you don’t have thick skin and you need time/space to think before starting edits. I don’t have thick skin and I’ve cried buckets over every single edit letter I’ve received! But then I wiped my tears and got to work. If this describes you, I understand, and we’ll probably work great together!


  • If anyone has a speculative girl gang, I want it.
  • If it can be comped to WILDER GIRLS, I really want it!
  • Funny books. Make me laugh out loud!
  • Mental illness rep, especially (but not limited to) anxiety and depression
  • Werewolves welcome (but no “alpha male” trope)
  • Honestly, just surprise me. I have broad, eclectic taste, so if you think we’d be a good fit, send it my way!


  • PLEASE no sexual assault in any way. Doesn’t matter if it’s on-page, or if it’s a significant part of the MC’s backstory; I can’t mentor a book with sexual assault as a prominent theme.
  • No “bad boy” trope please. Or any romantic relationship that is toxic (unless they leave each other in the end).
  • I like psychological horror, but some body horror is a BIG no from me. If there’s any damage to eyes or nails, I can’t read it.
  • Vampires, unless they’re scary! But if the love interest is a vampire, it’s not for me.
  • It pains me to say, but no zombies.
  • No fae
  • This will sound weird, but no books about horses. I just don’t like ‘em.

BOOKS: Wilder Girls, Jackpot, The Stephanie Plum series, The Hazel Wood, The Devouring Gray
MOVIES: Holes, Ironman, The Great Mouse Detective, Your Name, Sherlock Holmes (the Robert Downey Jr. version), Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse
ANIME: My Hero Academia, Demon Slayer, Attack on Titan (but less season one and more season 2-3, you feel me), Spice and Wolf, The Promised Neverland, Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, Toradora