What Are the BEST Writers Conferences in the Country?

Let's examine two things: 1) the different kinds of writers conferences, and 2) what you want to get out of the event.
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I get this question quite often, strangely enough. I'm guessing that people decide they're "going to do this right," so they save up money to travel to one conference wherever they want, and they are just trying to make sure that they get some serious bang for their buck. Now, to answer the question at hand, let's examine two things: 1) the different kinds of writers conferences, and 2) what you want to get out of the event.

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1. General conferences
These are just what you think they are—writers conferences that are general in nature and geared toward all categories and levels of writers. There are hundreds of these nationwide every year, and most of the biggest fall under this category.

2. Conferences with a specialized focus.
There are plenty of these, too. These gatherings have a unique focus to them—and that usually means they are all about romance writing, or Christian writing, or children's/juvenile writing, or screenwriting (& TV), or mystery/thriller writing.

3. Writing retreats
Retreats are unique in that the focus is about craft and actually sitting down to write. There are usually no agents present, because that is not the purpose of the whole thing. You find a serene location somewhere and just try to focus and write. Lots of MFA profs, etc., teach these things, and there are even several overseas.

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This question, obviously, is key. Perhaps if you want to just sit down and write—maybe finally start that novel—then maybe an intensive retreat is just what you need.

We're circling back to the original point here. People ask me about the "best" writing conferences, but, truthfully, it doesn't work that way. It all depends. If by "best," you are talking size and number of agents in attendance, off the top of my head I'm thinking our own writers conference in conjunction with BEA, the San Francisco Writers Conference, Willamette in Portland, the Agents and Editors conference in Austin, Muse & the Marketplace in Boston, the Honolulu Writers Conference, and the Las Vegas Writers' Conference, among others.

"Big" speciality conferences include SCBWI's two national conferences (winter in NYC, summer in LA), the Romance Writers of America national conference (this year in DC), the Screenwriting Expo in LA, and the big mystery conferences (such as Bouchercon and Thrillerfest).

But why is size such a big deal? More agents = good, yes, but you're competing against more people and paying more money. Let's say you're writing literary fiction, and there is a smallish conference nearby that has three agents coming and two of them handle your genre. That's not bad at all. It's probably cheaper and closer than "the biggies."

Are you not ready to pitch yet? Do you just want to sit in on some seminars, take notes, meet people and recharge your batteries? Well then that opens it up a lot more. Take a real close look at the conference schedule and what presentations will take place.

I know that theseWriter's Digest intensive conferences we put on seem to do well because people love the critiques. We invite people to send in a decent chunk of their manuscript and get it evaluated by a WD staff editor. The writer then meets with us one-on-one to hear our thoughts.


The three best sources are:
1. Google. Search "writers conference" and "(month year)" or "(location)".
2. Specialty websites. For example, look at the Mystery Writers of America website to find their regional conferences.
3. Guide to Literary Agents, of course! You can start by signing up for my free biweekly newsletter at www.guidetoliteraryagents.com. At the end of every newsletter, I list 5-15 upcoming conferences and link to them.