- By: Jessica Faust | Date: Dec 11 2009
I’m frequently asked which conferences I would recommend authors attend, and while I’ve been to many, there are just as many more I have yet to be invited to. In addition, what I look for in a successful conference might be different from what authors look for. I’d also need to know what you are writing, at what level you’re writing, and what exactly you’re looking to learn. And then of course you need to take into account the volunteers for that year and the faculty they’ve been able to bring in. Sometimes I think a conference is fantastic one year because they’ve brought in fantastic agents and editors. The next year they might not have the same luck.
Since this is a question I frequently receive, I’d like to hear from the writers. What conferences, and I’m not talking the big nationals like Bouchercon, RWA-National, or Worldcon, have you had success at or enjoyed? Which did you find were the most educational and informative? And which would you recommend to authors looking to network and learn about both writing and publishing?
I attended the Southampton Writers Conference held over the summer in Southampton, NY. While it's not a pitch conference, the faculty from year to year is incredible.
RWA-NJ is pretty good. But this year there's a new one. Liberty State Fiction Writers, an all genre group, is having one in March. I can't wait!
I've been to a number of mystery/thriller conferences over the years, and hands down, the best one for me has proven to be ThrillerFest, which is held in NYC every July.
It's hosted by ITW (International Thriller Writers) and while it's expensive to do New York, I've found the networking and learning opportunities more than compensate.
There are three parts to the con: CraftFest (aimed at writers), AgentFest (speed-dating with agents), and ThrillerFest, which draws in writers from all over the world, agents, editors, and fans.
ITW is still a fairly young organization, and so it's great to get the word out here.
I had a great time and attended wonderful panels at Love Is Murder in Chicago. I am very disappointed that they aren't having it this year.
Colorado Gold Writers Conference – Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers
I attended that one this year and it ROCKED! The atmophere was great. The people running it are just wonderful. I loved it!
I had a blast at the NESCBWI. Lots of fantastic and supportive writers, informative workshops. Everyone extremely excessible.
Pennwriters (www.pennwriters.com) always has a good conference. The location alternates each year. In 2009, it was in Pittsburgh, in May 2010 it will be in Lancaster, PA. It's a multi-genre conference, with all-day intensive workshops the day before the conference begins, panels, agent and editor appointments, etc.
If you write romance, I love the Emerald City Writers Conference held each year in October in the Greater Seattle area. It's limited to 250 attendees, usually has three editors and three agents attending. It's just the right size to be friendly and intimate, but big enough to provide something for everyone.
For mystery writers, I'd recommend Sleuthfest in FLA. Excellent networking with other writers, good panels and workshops, warm weather in Feb/March. Very friendly conference.
Backspace's annual conference and their Agent-Author day are both great, particularly if you've already done the research you can do on your own (how to query, which agents you're interested in) and need some help to kick it up a notch. I think out of 100 attendees at their last agent-author day 5 of the authors found agents, which may not sound like a huge percentage but it sure beats the odds on the street!
For science fiction/fantasy writers, I recommend WisCon, held in Madison, Wisconsin over Memorial Day weekend. It's the leading feminist SF/F convention, and it attracts a good mix of writers, agents, and editors. There's also a writing workshop held just before the start of WisCon. You have to sign up in advance, but it's an opportunity to have your work critted by other writers, including a pro. It's also a great place to network and be on panels.
For those writing in the Christian genre, both fiction and non-fiction, the premier conference, hands-down, is the one held each spring at Mount Hermon, CA. Great classes and wonderful networking opportunities with agents, editors, and fellow writers.
I attended Surrey in BC several years back and loved it. The price was quite reasonable too.
Although there is some overlapping of programming and opportunity for writers between the two, there is a significant difference between conferences and conventions.
Conventions–such as Bouchercon, mentioned in your post–are FOR the readers/fans while conferences–such as Pennwriters, mentioned by a previous poster–are FOR the writers.
At a convention you're most likely to hear a well-known writer give the "and then I wrote" speech to a roomful of fans. At a conference, that same writer is more likely to give the "here's how I wrote" speech to a roomful of writers and would-be writers.
While attendence at both conferences and conventions can be beneficial to a writer, it's in the writer's best interest to understand the difference and to understand what they should bring to the event (if a speaker or panelist) or take from the event (if an attendee). Having appropriate expectations will play a significant factor in evaluating the experience post-event.
Joyce beat me to it. Pennwriters. It's small, it's set in cities that are more accessible (I'd love to go to Backspace, but can't handle New York on my own anymore. Too many memories, too many distractions), and it continually draws kudos from the agents/editors who attend.
Great suggestions here. I'm heading to the Romantic Times conference this year–haven't gone for three years as it's very expensive, but a great chance for romance authors to interact with lots of hard core fans.
I attended Heather Graham's Writers for New Orleans this past Labor Day weekend. It proved to be a perfect blend of networking, how-to, and the chance to pitch to editors. Only one agent attended and it would be nice to have more there next year. Since I had a request for a full from an editor, I have to admit it was well worth my time. Besides…New Orleans! And Heather always puts on a great party.
For SF&F I would second WisCon and add ReaderCon – Burlington MA in June.
And while we are on the subject, as someone who helps stage conventions I'd love to know what writers (and agents) would like to see from such events. I know it can be different at different stages in your career, but given that I often get told (by publishers) that there's no point in going anywhere except San Diego ComicCon I'm delighted to see smaller events being discussed and want to know what people are looking for.
I love the Surrey International Writers Conference on the West Coast. Great cross genre conference with good attendance by editors/agents. I find it to be very easy to meet and mingle with people (and the added bonus for me is that it is close to home)
For SF&F, there are a couple of excellent smaller conventions in Utah: LTUE and CONduit. Even though these are pretty local, they bring in some big name authors like Brandon Sanderson, Tracy Hickman, Orson Scott Card, L. E. Modessitt, etc. Great place to network, too–I recognized about thirty or forty people at World Fantasy this year from LTUE and the Utah writer's scene. The conventions are also geared more towards writers, with the authors talking about the craft and sharing advice that is especially useful for unpublished authors.
As far as conferences, BYU's Writer's and Illustrators for Young Readers is an excellent conference in the Utah area. It brings in about four or five agents/editors and lots of big name authors. Very useful.
I haven't yet attended any conferences, mostly because I've never taken my writing seriously until the last year or so. I would be in that pool of authors asking for recommendations.
I have attended only one conference and that was RWA. I'd like to discover more conferences in the Kansas/Missouri/Nebraska area.
I've attended a number of conferences over the years (incl. a couple Bouchercons, and smaller ones in the South). I've enjoyed the Harriet Austin conference in Athens, Ga. It's held on campus, in a conference center which rents out rooms so it's nicely contained. Because it's in Georgia, they have more of a regional focus, including presentations by Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents, but they've also had national writers and editors such as John Gilstrap and Joe Veltre. The price is very reasonable. The only knock is that there's no bar; you have to go into Athens for that. 🙂
I may be biased toward Pennwriters (I'm a member), but the two conventions I've attended have been very good. There's a wide variety of classes that cover most of the genres, and the the company is friendly and engaging. I think the agents and editors like it because it's convenient to attend from New York (short hop to Harrisburg International Air or to Pittsburgh, depending on the year). And two years ago, Jonathan Maberry's class on nonfiction proposals helped me land a contract.
Personally, I've won more awards from writers conferences than I've attended conferences. I find there are easily and less expensive ways to make connections and get information. Sure, you might possibly meet an agent at a conference who will ask to see your stuff; but it's just as easy to send a query letter, and it's more efficient. And, personally, I find panels to be poor ways of getting information. You might get a nugget or two in all the ramblings, but it's more efficient to read blogs and so forth
For me, the Algonkian Pitch and Shop conference in NYC was a major stepping stone in my writing career. It's a combination of workshop and pitch conference. You must have a completed manuscript, and you must apply for a spot. It's not cheap, and not for the thin-skinned, but I learned an enormous amount there.
(Aimless-I joined LSF in October, and I'm also excited about the conference.)
I have to say Pikes Peak Writers in Colorado Springs. It's one of Writer's Digest 10 best.
I've been twice. I learned a lot as well as had the chance to talk to several agents and published authers.
I had the misfortune to attend the 2008 Blue Metropolis Festival in Montreal.
Third-string authors gave talks to blue-haired Jewish Montrealers who managed to turn every question into a rant about the Holocaust.
The Surrey International Writers Conference in BC was one of the best I've ever attended, especially in terms of craft. It's not genre specific, but I think it really does a expand a writer to look outside his or her chosen genre. Great cross section of agents/eds/authors, friendly and easy to mingle and meet.
As an aspiring writer living in Pittsburgh, I'm excited to learn about the Pennwriter's and Philadelphia conferences.
I did attend a Backspace conference, and I believe I learned a lot. My only complaint is there wasn't as much time to "mingle" with agents as I was led to expect. All the same, I believe it was a highly valuable experience.
I met my agent at CrimeBake, so that's a biggie for me. I've been to two, and had a phenomenal experience both times.
Another favorite is Grub Street's Muse and the Marketplace conference in Boston. I love that one.
I just got back from the Big Sur Children's Writers Workshop in Monterey. There's also an adult workshop in the Spring, and a believe a related conference in Colorado, all sponsored by the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. The faculty to student ratio was 1 to 5with amazing accessibility to authors, editors and agents. I had two critique groups with bestselling author Ellen Hopkins, two with an Andrea Brown agent, a pitch session with a different agent, and a great opportunity to have pages critiqued by, and to critique pages of, some excellent YA and MG writers.
I came away with feedback tailored to my writing, great contacts and wonderful new friends.
The SCBWI Annual Winter Conference in NYC for children's book writers and illustrators. They have a writer's intensive (costs extra) where you sit with 9 other writers and an agent or editor (real-deal ones) and read the first 250 words of your book aloud and then discuss. WOW!
It also had fantastic breakout sessions and key note speakers. Last year we got to hear 13 Reasons Why author, Jay Asher share his unbelievable journey towards publication.
Also, the SCBWI Pocono Mountain Retreat is awesome – very intimate and incredibly helpful breakout sessions as well. You can even pay extra to have an agent critique the first ten pages of your manuscript and conduct a one-on-one crit session. Again, WOW.
For those wanting great workshops while goign on a trip overseas, you can't go past the Romance Writers of Australia and Romance Writers of New Zealand conferences!
They're a week apart, usually in the mid-weeks of August each year.
The benefits? You get a scree of amazing workshops over the 3 days (Friday, Sat, Sun), the visiting guest authors, editors and agents are accessible as the crowds are small in comparison to the larger US ones and you get to meet/network with so many published authors (eg. Nalini Singh, Anne Gracie, Anna Campbell, Yvonne Lindsay, Keri Arthur).
I love the more intimate atmosphere of the smaller sized conferences – I put both of these on my annual "must-save-up-and-go-to" calendar every year.
In 2010 we have Vicki Lewis Thompson, Nalini Singh, Debra Dixson and agent Jennifer Schober from Spencerhill Associates NY winging their way over to Sydney & Auckland. Can't wait!
For children's writers, the Rutgers One-on-One Conference is fabulous! I hear the NJ SCBWI group has amazing events, but I haven't attended any yet.
I attended the Desert Dreams Conference near Phoenix, Arizona, in 2008 and had a wonderful time. It's run by the local RWA chapter; I don't write romance, but I still found it educational and had a good pitch appointment. The next con is in April 2010 and I'm hoping to attend.
For anyone in or around the Utah area, I highly recommend the LDStorymakers conference in Provo, UT every April. While it is run by a religious association, the curriculum is strictly about writing and it is highly attended by national authors such as James Dashner, J.Scott Savage, Aprilynne Pike, Janette Rallison and many more. It's extremely well organized and highly informative.
Also, the Writing and Illustrating for Young Writers workshop at BYU every June is a great conference, as is Life, the Universe, and Everything, also at BYU, every February.
I also hear (though this year will be my first in attendance) the ANWA conference in the Phoenix area of Arizona is excellent as well.
I attended my first-ever writer's conference this past fall, by going to the Mid-Ohio Writer's Conference in Mansfield, Ohio. I met and networked with authors Brenda Nixon, Craig McDonald, jj Keller, Kathleen MacIver and Sandy Wick-McWhorter. I also met many fellow writers, and got some very key suggestions from the authors I met.
Small conference, but I enjoyed it very much.
James River Writers in Richmond, Va. Second weekend in October.
A small, but growing in popularity conference, the Crested Butte Writers Conference is an intimate, tailored, venue with intensive and writer-saavy workshops. In 2009, a balanced, knowledgable and entertaining faculty made the hard work worthwhile.
There at the top of the world, where the scenery couldn't be more beautiful, writers at all levels mingle with faculty and staff in a casual atmosphere conducive to a meeting of literary minds.
Rather than a lottery system or first-come, first-served basis, this year, editors/agents selected the work they wished to pursue and scheduled interviews with the authors. Because there were no marathon pitch sessions to endure, as selected writers pitched their work, the professionals could really listen and ask questions.
In short, this conference is on my "must attend" list for 2010.
I must also recommend the Pikes Peak Writers Conference, known for attracting "polished manuscripts" and exceptional writers. This group really has their act together – – a first class conference with plenty of workshops across genres and styles for the beginner as well as the pro.
To find some really good undiscovered talent, editors and agents will not be disappointed in PPWC. The conference directors have this conference down to a fine science, plus many winners of their coveted Paul Gillette Writing Contest have gone on to become published.
I try to attend this one every year.
I haven't been to any conferences, so I appreciate the information.
I also dropped by – I heard today was unofficial agent appreciation day, Jessica. I'd like to thank you for all the information that you give writers, and support, and the way that you model honest, up-front communication. I appreciate it. 🙂
Check out ShawGuides, a comprehensive guide to writers conferences and workshops.
I have to add my plug for WisCon. It's great for both SF&F writers and readers – there are panels for both sets, and I learned a lot when I went last year. Plus you get to hobknob with editors at the evening parties.
Another nice one in the Madison area is the UW's Writer's Institute. I went last year (and blogged about my experiences in March and April, some of my very first posts) and I thought it was a great time. I had a pitch session and went to some very interesting discussions.
I've attended the South Carolina Writer's Workshop Conference several times. I've always found it a great way to network and meet people from all over.
Squaw Valley Writers Conference is incredible – you treat manuscripts in the morning with a rotating staff of editors, writers, and agents, and afternoons are filled with seminars, panels, and open workshops. It's life changing, and offers pretty much everything you need to know to get published, in one very crammed week. Reasonably priced and scholarships available; fiction and nonfiction sections.
I enjoyed the Crested Butte Writers Conference last year.
Professional, intimate and well organized.
I was pleased to be a finalist in their Writing Contest and made some excellent contacts while I was there.
I third the recommendation of WisCon.
I also add one for the Taos Toolbox.
I went in 2007. You have to qualify, and it's not cheap, though the price includes room and board as well as tuition. But I learned a ton, and it's unusual because it emphasizes SFF novels rather than short stories. It was worth every cent. Plus I had a good time.
To second an earlier comment: the Desert Dreams Conference hosted by Desert Rose RWA in Phoenix, Arizona is outstanding. You don't have to write Romance to find evrything you need in this conference. Their website is http://www.desertroserwa.org for more info.
Mendocino Coast Writers Conference.
Not only are you practically sitting on the beach, but they have loads of before and after workshop activities for networking.
The director at the 2008 conference was very competent and made herself available to anyone for complaints, conversations, or general resources. It really was amazing. And I liked that it was so small – only about 100 participants, and for a first timer, that was really important for me.
Mendocino Coast Writers Conference
I've attended three years in a row and was surprised, at first, by the high quality of conference, then even more surprised by the considerable writing skills of the participants in the morning workshops. I'll be back.