Which Writers’ Conferences are the Best to Attend?

Writer's conferences
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“What writers’ conference would you recommend? Which one is the best to attend?”

I get this question all the time. I’m guessing that people decide they’re going to “do it right” and hit up a big event — and they are just trying to make sure that they get some serious bang for their buck.

Now, to answer the question, let’s just acknowledge immediately that there is no definitive answer. It will be different for everyone, so we must examine three things: 1) the different kinds of writers’ conferences, 2) how money plays into a decision, and 3) what you want to get out of the event.

Different types of events

  1. General writers’ 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 a lot of the biggest fall under this category.

  2. Writers’ 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. A writing retreat is unique in that the focus is about craft and actually sitting down to write. There are usually no literary 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.

Let’s talk money

Yes, money can and should play into your decision. Obviously, it’s a lot easier to drive 20 miles to a conference and be able to come home each night to tuck the kids in than it is to fly to Alaska for four nights. And let’s face it: A lot of events are expensive — and not every up-and-coming scribe can manage the required dough.

The first thing I recommend you do is look local. There are tons of events every year, so there’s a good chance a conference may be near you. Try simply using Google and search “writers conference” and “(city)” or “(state)” and see what comes up. Example: Perhaps you live in Virginia? There are sizeable events in Newport News, Hampton Roads, Richmond and Roanoke. Then there’s the regional SCBWI conference that varies locations between Virginia, DC and Maryland. That’s a lot of nearby opportunities!

Check out the regional chapter sites for the SCBWI (kids’ writers), MWA (mystery writers) and RWA (romance writers). All three large organizations have many regional chapters, plenty of which put on an annual or biannual event.

If money is an issue, consider just attending part of a conference. A lot of conferences have various options that affect your fee — attending dinners, participating in pitch slams, access to special sessions, etc. Pay attention to any and all pricing options.

Lastly — and I don’t know why more people don’t take advantage of this — consider combining a conference and a vacation (or work trip). Two birds with one stone. Got a relative in San Diego or Atlanta? See them and hit a conference on the same trip to save travel costs. Plus, you can write off most of your expenses next April.

Quick note from Chuck: I am now taking on clients as a freelance editor. If your query or synopsis or manuscript needs a look from a professional, please consider my editing services. Thanks!

What do you want to get out of the experience?

This question, obviously, is key.

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

If you’re not sure what you need (perhaps you’re creating a lot of different stories and writing projects), then a general conference sounds like a good bet.

If you’re actively looking for writing critique partners and beta readers, then aim local, so you can meet other local writers and form a group that will pay off with valuable peer edits down the road.

If your work is polished and the only thing on your mind is pitching, then you’re looking for an event that has not only a sizeable number of agents and editors attending — but more specifically, a good amount of professionals who seek the genre/category you’re writing. If you attend a large conference and pay $600 to schmooze with 20 agents, it won’t be of much help if only one or two will consider that travel memoir you’ve composed.

If you want eyes on your work, look for a conference that offers editing of your novel or work. Some even offer a variety of critiques from pros, so you can hear different perspectives and opinions on your work.

If you want to visit someplace beautiful, you can certainly do that. I will rarely turn down an invitation to instruct in Jackson Hole, WY (gorgeous! hiking!) or Las Vegas, NV (craps! more craps!). Certainly, a particular locale can be enticing for one reason or another.

If you want to immerse yourself in your category, seek out a specialized conference. The national events for the SCBWI, MWA and RWA are absolutely huge, and are constructed all around the genre(s), so you won’t be short on relevant sessions or agents who will consider your story. Christian writing and screenwriting conferences can also be a good option, as well.

If your whole goal is “The bigger the better,” I can throw out some of the biggest events in the country. Again, I stress that while big conferences grow large for a reason (they are often awesome), that does not mean they’re the absolute best option for you. Money, location and goals must all be factored in. Plenty of small events are great and have helped attendees have success.

That said, off the top of my head, I would say some of the largest general conferences in the country (not genre specific) include the following: Willamette Writers Conference (Portland), San Francisco Writers Conference, our own Writer’s Digest Conferences in New York and Los Angeles, the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference (Denver), Agents and Editors Conference (Austin), South Carolina Writers Workshop (Myrtle Beach), Muse & the Marketplace (Boston), and the Backspace Writers Conference (New York).

By the way, if you’re looking for a conference, perhaps one of these below is in your neck of the woods. I’ll be presenting at the following events in 2016-2017:

Aug. 12-14, 2016: Writer’s Digest Conference East (New York, NY)

Aug. 20, 2016: Toronto Writing Workshop

Sept. 9, 2016: Sacramento Writers Conference (Sacramento, CA)

Sept. 10, 2016: Writing Workshop of San Francisco (San Francisco, CA)

Nov. 5-6, 2016: Show Me Writers Masterclass (Columbia, MO)

Nov. 19, 2016: Las Vegas Writing Workshop (Las Vegas, NV)

Feb. 26 – March 3, 2017: Writers Winter Escape Cruise (departs Miami, FL)

Choose wisely

My best guess is that there are approximately 200 writing conferences a year in the United States alone. That’s a lot of options — so take your time, do some research and see what a conference has to offer. If possible, use Google to find testimonials from writers who have been there and done that — and pay attention to what they liked and disliked about an event.

No matter what conference you choose, I simply urge you to go to conferences. Get out there! I am a huge proponent of events, as they are an incredible opportunity to learn, get critiques, meet professionals, and make writing friends for life. They are, without a doubt, worth the effort to attend. If you had personally had a good experience at an event (and you’re not on the organizing committee for the event), feel free to say so in the comments here and spread some objective praise about a great writers’ conference other people may enjoy, as well.

I hope to see you at a conference this year!

Other TWL Guest Posts by Chuck Sambuchino:

This post originally ran in July 2013. We updated it so it’s more useful and relevant for our readers!

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Chuck Sambuchino is a staffer at Writer’s Digest Books, best-selling humor book author, and freelance query/synopsis editor. He is the editor of the Guide to Literary Agents and the au... .

Writer's Digest | @chucksambuchino

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  1. Has anyone attended the New York Pitch Conference?

    My conferences for 2014 will include: RWA (TX), Agents and Editors (Austin, TX), WDCW (L.A., CA), & possibly Romance Writers After Dark (New Orleans).

  2. I know this was written in July, and I know that this was only formally announced leading up to the Backspace conference in May, but this year’s Backspace conference will be the last unless someone else from the community decides to take it on.

    Another suggestion for a great large general conference – especially useful if you are in Canada or NW US – is the Surrey International Writer’s Conference in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada. Having been to this conference and to Backspace, I can say that SiWC is not only larger than Backspace, but far more varied and better established (last October was its 21st annual conference). It’s also less expensive than Backspace, with lower fees and hotel costs. Of course, travel is also a factor in costs so that does need to be taken into account.

    Just thought I’d mention these two items.

  3. The DFW (Texas) Writer’s Convention the first week in May has a good reputation in the area. It draws in top keynote speakers plus agents and editors for pitch sessions. I attended last year and it was worth every penny.

  4. Just wanted to make you aware of a small writers conference held in Washington, North Carolina, March 20th & 21st at the old Turnage Theater. The Pamlico Writers Conference is co-sponsored by the Pamlico Writers Group and the Beaufort County Arts Council. This year’s key note is Jill McCorkle with Katharine Ashe, Marni Graff and Susan Sloate hosting programs on Saturday along with many others. Check out http://www.pamlicowritersconference.com for more information. There is also a writing contest with a scholarship for high school students and a separate contest for adults.

  5. Peggy Urry says:

    The American Night Writers Association hosts an annual Time Out for Writers Conference in Mesa, Arizona in February. Great keynote speakers and classes as well as agents and editors to pitch to. (And who can argue with the weather?)

  6. Thank you for saying that it is important to choose your conferences wisely. The hype for many conferences as “must attend” can be overwhelming. I don’t have an unlimited budget so I make sure I read the details carefully. I personally write in three genres so I only choose ones that will fit my focus.

    One of my frustrations with the large conferences that feature agents and editors is that the pitch sessions sell out early. So it leaves me in a quandary of whether or not to attend if that is my reason for attending the conference.

    • I’m glad you liked the post, Chris! Figuring out *why* you want to attend each conference is crucial to deciding which ones are your best investments. Which conferences are you planning to attend in 2015?

      TWL Assistant Editor

  7. i always enjoy the Midwest Writers Workshop every July at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. But I’ve always wondered why some conferences offer free pitch sessions while others are few-based. Is there a difference in quality?

  8. It was special on February 25, 2015 when @ChuckSambuchino sent notifications via tweets about the ChesapeakeWritingWorkshops.com on March 27 or 28, 2015 to residents of the Baltimore and DC areas. I hope to attend the March 28 workshop in Arlington, Virginia. As indicated on the above list of regional conferences, Chuck will be a presenter/instructor at this event. The same material will be covered both days, so attendees should choose only one location.

  9. UW-Madison has two great annual conferences: Writers’ Institute for 3 days in March (pitch agents from NY and elsewhere who handle a variety of novels, memoir, non-fiction, screenplays etc., lectures, writing sessions, panel discussions, critiques one and one and in a group – and more). Well attended by writers in all phases of their writer careers.

    Write- by-the-Lake is a week long intensive week with experts working with writers for three house every day in 11 different categories of writing ( fiction, memoir, non-fiction, fantasy, sci-fi, thriller etc., open mic, lectures, speeches and much more). It is held in June each year and one can take it fir credit or non-credit. People often fly in to attend this terrific and well-regarded writers’ retreat.

  10. Jason Mashak says:

    Hi, the title of this piece misleads one into thinking there is something here for everyone, but it lists conferences only for the USA — a small part of Earth’s surface.

    • Thanks for reading, Jason. Since we’re based in the US, we tend to focus on conferences, retreats, and other opportunities in North America. We’ll certainly consider adding more international content in the future!

      TWL Team

  11. I just attended the Rutgers One on One Plus Conference. This is a unique and extraordinary one day conference that pairs authors and author illustrators with agents and editors acquiring children’s and young adult books. You submit a writing sample and application with your money refunded if you do not get accepted. There are two speakers and the rest of the time is spent with industry professionals discovering what they are looking for and having your questions answered. It is a remarkable opportunity to take advantage of if you write for the children’s or YA market.

  12. The one which i would like to suggest is Book Development courses from The Rohm Literary Agency for more details visit http://www.pariswritersretreat.com/online-courses.html

  13. Davit Khachatryan says:


    Thanks for the informative post. I just have one question – for a novice in book publishing who has a solid idea but has not yet written (even the first draft of) the book, would attending a conference be the right thing to do? Or should one wait until at least a rough draft is ready?

    Thanks in advance for your help! And Happy New Year!:)

    • Conferences often have classes geared for beginners. I would check the course offerings to be sure, but conferences are a great way to not only learn about the craft of writing but to network with other writers.


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