Writing for Charity Conference

Last Saturday I attended the Writing for Charity Conference. This is my second year attending it and I found it just as helpful this year as I did last year. It’s only a one-day conference, but lots of published authors attend. Some give advice on your manuscripts and some give forums. And since they usually have a bunch of great authors come, it’s a worthwhile event.

Some of the authors in attendance included Ally Condie (Matched), Lisa Mangum (The Hourglass Door), Tyler Whitesides (Janitors), Carol Lynch Williams (The Chosen One), and of course Shannon Hale (Austenland). At the opening of the conference, all of the authors were on stage in a sort of introductory forum where attendees could ask questions. Shannon Hale was the MC, which if you’ve ever been around her before, you know is a wise choice. She’s hilarious!

Since I purchased a bluetooth keyboard a few months ago, I took it along with my phone to take notes. There’s something wonderful about being able to get things down via typing I’m much, much faster at it. Thanks to Open Office, notes were a snap.

Okay, so the microphone was passed along a group of about 20 authors, so I’m not sure who all said what, only that Shannon was running the mic back and forth across the stage as well as making little jokes.


All of them agreed one of the most important thing aspiring writers can do is have a critique group. Whether it’s friends you trust to be honest, CPs you trust over email, or your writer’s group—GET FEEDBACK. This will help your story and writing out immensely. Many authors also agreed reading your work aloud was extremely helpful with editing, especially when it comes to dialogue. In fact, one author even went so far as to say read it aloud with someone listening because you become even more self-conscious and will catch mistakes better that way. Another author says she has her husband read it aloud to her, stating she finds hearing it in someone else’s voice helps point out the flaws.

They said make sure every scene, every moment, every sentence, every word is doing something for your reader and not just the story. The point is to create an emotional experience for the reader. One said when you edit, read your story with a particular thing in mind. For example, read for humor, to see if the humor is working or not. Or read to see how pacing is flowing. Or read for certain characters to see if their motivations line up. Etc. Etc.

But the biggest point of all: Never stop revising.


What’s the hardest thing about writing? These authors say: rejection. It never stops. You never really make it to a point where you’re not getting some kind of rejection. Whether it’s selling your next book, harsh feedback from an editor, a bad review—rejection is part of the cycle of being a serious writer. The point is to understand that and keep your goals in focus.

The best moments are when you know that the dream you’re choosing right now is the right dream. Shannon Hale, I believe, said she felt like she tried out a bunch of different possibilities and realized this was her dream. Another author said if she hadn’t made it as a writer, she’d probably be a librarian. But not the good kind, the reading-all-the-books and not-helping-the-patrons-kind. 😉

They also gave words of caution. Sometimes we writers are looking for some kind of magic formula, but there’s just not one. There’s no perfect plot device. There’s no shortcuts. It’s just going to be grueling, difficult work—but work that’s worthwhile.

Their advice on naming characters? When it comes to names, look at what you’re writing and have those names fit the book/setting. A lot said they used baby names books or websites. Once suggested a helpful resource: The Social Security popular baby names site. You can look up any year and found out what the most popular names were to give you an idea of what kinds of names you should use, especially if you’re doing historical fiction. But also if you’re writing contemporary YA, you can look up the year your character was born in and see what names were popular in that year. Fantastic!


Well, that was the first forum. There’s plenty more to come tomorrow and next week. Hopefully you’ll find some helpful tidbits among these notes. I know some of you have a difficult time getting out to conferences because of personal circumstances. I took these notes with you folks in mind. Maybe this can be a kind of vicarious attending of the conference. Enjoy!

WFC – What I Learned from Lisa Mangum

Lisa Mangum held a forum called “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Slush Pile.”  In addition to being an author Mrs. Mangum also selects from the slush pile which books Deseret Book will consider publishing.

I was pleased to learn something very encouraging.  Although they can receive thousands of submissions daily, you’re not actually competing with all the thousands.  A lot of them are far less ready to be published than yours is.  You are only competing with a fraction of them.  Her ratio was 300 of 2,500 submissions.)  That is why making yourself noticeable via format, query letter, and polished work is so important.

Mrs. Mangum explained there are five things you can control when submitting your work for publication:

  1. Do your homework! What did she mean by that?  There are six questions you can ask yourself to prove you’ve done your homework.
    • Is this the right slush pile? If it’s a publishing house that doesn’t ever publish fantasy and you’ve written a fantasy, you probably don’t want to submit it there.
    • Who is going to buy this?  Find out who your audience is and appeal to them.
    • How is your book different than everything out there? Be clear about what is special about your book.
    • What are people buying? Be aware of which topics are overdone (aka another book about vampires amidst Twilight popularity).
    • What is your marketing plan? Are you able to write a press release?  Do you have other ideas of what you can do to promote your book?  Bring some of your own ideas to the table.  Have a few in mind when you begin submitting query letters.
    • Have you let five honest people give you feedback?  I recently wrote a post about feedback.  Your mom probably doesn’t count, especially if she’s the type that thinks everything you do is the best thing anyone’s done ever.  “Honest” people means they will tell you if something doesn’t work, is boring, confusing, etc.
  2. Follow the submission guidelines. If it says only a query letter, DO NOT send them your entire manuscript–that is unless an instant rejection is what you’re hoping for.
  3. Write a killer query letter.  This is the hardest part of all for many writers.  Read all the guidelines and tips you can, get feedback, then revise, revise, revise!
  4. Showcase your talent.  You can do this with your query letter.  You may not think you’re showing them much, but Mrs. Mangum says we’d all be surprised how much info an agent can glean from our one-page query letters.
  5. Deal with a rejection letter.  You’ll probably have to do this several times… Don’t worry, you’re in good company.

She finished off the forum with some good advice on writing query letters.  Firstly, remember a query letter is a business letter.  It should always include your complete contact info.  You also need to tell them what you are “selling.”  She recommends studying the back of book covers in your genre to get an idea of how to pitch your story.  Except unlike a book back, you do tell the agent how it ends.

She heavily emphasized each query letter should have a good hook.  The hook should always include:

  • The Hero (protagonist)
  • The Goal (this can vary from getting the ring to Mordor to winning a quidditch game)
  • Obstacles (what stops the hero from achieving his/her goal)
  • Consequences of Failure (the stakes)

You don’t have to tell the agent how the story ends in the hook, but do tell them somewhere afterward.  Include why they should buy publish this book you’ve written.  Example: It’s about a surgeon and you were a surgeon for 30+ years.  Maybe it’s that you’re an avid reader of sci-fi, or there’s this new twist you’ve put on it that’s fresh and original.  This will set you apart from any other books with a similar idea or genre.

If you have awards, flaunt them.  If not, focus on other things in your life you believe strengthens your writing.  (I studied journalism, so I mention that, but I keep the bio pretty short and use most of the query to sell the book).

You spent a lot of time writing your book.  Make sure you spend similar efforts on making sure your book gets into the right hands.  And if you have any further advice to add, please post it in the comments below.

Writing for Charity Conference…

Today I attended the Writing for Charity Conference down at the Provo City Library.  I met a lot of great Utah authors and aspiring authors.  I was never really a fan of networking before, but now I love it!  There were a lot of great forums from Lisa Mangum, J. Scott Savage, and Brandon Sanderson to name a few.

I’ll share my notes from the forums and advice from the authors here over the next few days.  For any of you uncertain about writer’s conferences–especially those where agents are not necessarily attending–please know they can be tremendously helpful if you understand what you can gain from them.  More details on all of that coming soon.

Great conference!