Friday, October 7, 2011

UVU Book Academy Report ... And Queries

My very first writing conference was the UVU Book Academy in 2010. It's a one-day conference held at the local university. I thought it was an amazing event then because I had nothing to compare it to. I was also extremely new and raw to this writing thing. I'd completed one book (and was editing it) and had written 50,000 words of a new project (something I'm dying to get back to).

It was a very different experience this year because I knew people, and I actually understood some of what they were talking about. I even knew more about some stuff than other people there.

Scary. I mean, really. Me? Knowing more than someone else? But it showed me how much I've learned in the last last year. Sometimes those little advancements we make are slow enough we don't notice them.

I got some pictures with people whose blogs I follow.

David Powers King (click here for his blog)
Brenda Sills (click here for her blog)
Michelle Teacress (click here for her blog)
I got to touch base with a wonderful lady I met last year, who's toying with the idea of writing a nonfiction book but hasn't taken the plunge yet. And I connected with two awesome ladies who are members of my League of Utah Writers chapter and my ANWA group--Canda Mortensen and Deanna Henderson. They are a mother/daughter writing team (how fun is that?), and with another author, Cindy Hogan, they've started a writing network called iWriteNetwork. You can check it out here.

Dan Wells, one of my favorite authors, was the Keynote Speaker. You might recognize him from his I Am Not a Serial Killer series (which I reviewed here). Dan also cohosts Writing Excuses (with Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler, and Mary Robinette Kowal). Dan's funny and addressed a question he gets a lot from people. "Where do you get your ideas from?"

Quote of the day: 

"It is not about ideas; it's about turning ideas into stories.
~Dan Wells

 Dan then went on to demonstrate how ideas are all around us, from news stories to politics to science to casual observation of the people around us. He had people suggest a simple statement and then go on to see how that could be developed by asking questions. Some of the suggestions were funny, but Dan made them hilarious. There were some with real story potential.


I'm in the process of writing (and rewriting, and rewriting, and rewriting) my very first query. I've done a ton of query writing research and have had several people look at it and will take it to my live critique group on Saturday. It's been quite the experience. It still needs work, but I've made progress, which I find encouraging. Because of this I was particularly interested the the following class today.

Kirk Shaw, a senior editor at Covenant Communications, and Lisa Mangum, author and editor for Deseret Book, presented a class on "Writing Killer Query Letters", which they renamed "Writing Nondreary Query Letters."

Prequery Research
  • Read your genre
  • Try and find a publisher or agent who already represents books you like to read
  • Find out what the publisher's or agent's expections are
  • Follow agents blogs who review queries
  • Pay attention online to input on how agents/publishers treat their writers. No relationship is perfect, but be cautious about jumping in where the fit doesn't work
  • Check page length / word count requirements
Placing Your Story
  • Set the genre
  • Compare to similar books either in style, voice, or theme where it applies. Don't make it up if there isn't a similarity.
  • Be professional. You can decide to treat it as a business contract proposal (which it really is) or you can try and capture the tone from your book. 
  • Get into a simple review of the story
Hook (Lisa took this from a class author Scott Savage taught)
  • Who it is about
  • What the goal is
  • What the obstacle is
  • What are the consequences / cost of failure
A great place to see how well hooks can be done is to read the dust jacket of books.


This should lead them to want to keep reading.

References / Credentials
  • Why should they invest in you as a brand?
  • Are you a serious writer? What have you done to prove that? Are you already published? Do you attend writers conferences or belong to writers groups to further your knowledge of the craft?
  • Can they trust you to be a partner in the publishing process?
  • You may share other projects you're working on, even if they aren't finished.
  • If it's a series or has series potential, this is where you'd mention that.
They suggested writing your back copy and then writing the book. You can then go back and see if you met your goals and rewrite the back copy.

From the rest of the conference, I came away with lots to think about, especially as I begin the plotting process for my NaNo project.

Have you written a query letter yet?
If not, do you have any plans for when you do?
If you have, do you have any suggestions for us noobs?


  1. I'll bet Dan Wells was a real hoot! I read the first of his I Am Not a Serial Killer series because he and I share an agent and I wanted to see what other books she represented. I read the others because I couldn't stop!

    Queries are harder than writing the book in the first place! I rewrote mine a dozen times or more before I found the right things to emphasize and started getting a better response.

    You might be really astute and say the perfect thing right off -- you might get lucky -- but I think most writers win out through good old trial and error.

  2. how aewsome! i've been to a workshop on queries and am a pro at getiing rejections. i just keep working to find my agent (and improving my writing). from what i understand, they want to know the most about the book, enough that they want to know more.

    i look forward to my first real conference!

  3. Sounds like a great conference, with lots of valuable insights. I have written a query letter, and my advice is really simple ... Keep it to one page. It seems really important to get your thoughts across in those few words. And good luck!

  4. Great post, Donna. I am hoping to go to a conference sometime soon, though I am a terrible networker. Sounds like a great experience.

  5. I love that you posted this. I'm sad I'm not going to the UVU book academy. My friends and I went up to Park City for the HOW conference. But your post is awesome!!!

  6. Sounds like you had a great time. What a wonderful feeling to recognize how far you've come on your writing journey. You're getting there. Just gotta get that query letter out there. Good luck!

  7. Wahoo! I'm SO honored to be on the wonderful Donna Weaver's blog! Lucky me! And I'm so happy that you found me at the conference yesterday - it was so fantastic to meet you in person! What a marvelous lady you are!

    Thanks for posting about the Query presentation - I was much chagrined that I missed it and was happily surprised to find your recap of it here.

    My query letter is driving me nuts! Everytime I redo it and think it's brilliant, come to find out it's not! (according to workshops at cons, etc.) Why is it I can't think straight to write the crazy thing when I wrote the blasted book?!!!

  8. How did I not know this was going on in my own back yard? I'm so sorry I missed it :( I love all the information. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

  9. Oh, and I love the new blog layout!!!

  10. Thanks for the pictures and the report of the conference! Wish I could have been there!

    And good luck with your query letter!

  11. Nice! How rad is that, getting to meet fellow bloggers int he flesh:)

  12. Great Yoda picture :) Thanks for sharing the conference photos and info~ I love hearing about that kind of thing! And thanks for all the great query info as well!

  13. My name is Munk and I query.

    Good luck to you.

  14. Now you're all smart and everything!
    Speaking of Yoda, have you run your query past Matthew at the QQQE? He critiques queries on his blog and does an outstanding job.

  15. This sounds like it was an awesome conference! Thanks for the info :)

  16. What a terrific experience, and you came away with so much knowledge. Querying still scares the crap out of me. I hope I can do it well in the future. I'm saving you post for future reference. And how exciting you got to meet fellow bloggers. It's always pleasang to hang with those you know. :)

  17. Thanks for the great recap of what I'm sure was a great day! I'm keeping this for reference :)

  18. Sounds like you had a great time. Thanks for sharing your information.

  19. I love love love your fall backround.

    Donna I really do enjoy reading your blog, and learning about things.

    Sometimes I feel like I have no idea what I'm doing. I know that I'm not ready to query yet, but will I ever be? It's a lot of work, and I want to do it. But honestly it's a scary thing to think about.

  20. It sounds like you had such a wonderful experience at the conference! I'm glad. :)

    I haven't queried yet, but I'm looking to in the next few months. (Eek!)

    P.S. I love your new blog background!

  21. Sounds like the conference was a great experience. Good luck with your queries.

  22. I think you were in a different session with Kirk Shaw than I was. I love that because you had some info presented that we didn't get to hear. Thanks for sharing.

  23. What an excellent summary of what went down on that awesome day. Thanks for sharing. You did a much better job than I did.

    I noob I am! :)

  24. Excellent post Donna. I enjoyed your thorough notes on your meeting and great photos of you. Who are those other writers? :)

  25. i went to my first writer's conference back in september... a lot of fun and its great meeting other people in the flesh


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