attending conferences and writing retreats

Most conference coordinators contact agents at least a year (sometimes more) ahead to schedule appearances. For various reasons the last couple of years, I’ve been somewhat off the conference circuit. So, I’m looking for suggestions of conferences to contact. What I look for in a conference is a program that focuses on both craft and marketability and a group the educates its members about the business of publishing as well as constructively supports them in the competition to make that dream a reality. I’m looking to connect with writers as people (not just a volume of queries) and to find talented voices to round out my client list. Over the years, I’ve attended quite a large number of conferences. Extra points to conferences that take me to a location I haven’t visited before (especially if it has good restaurants or a culinary school across the street like Sleuthfest did), or that don’t necessarily involve dealing with the TSA.

I’m going to list below my favorites (and realize I’ve been tending towards the retreats of late) to give an example of the kind of thing I’m looking for:

Pikes Peak Writers
Seton Hill – Writing Popular Fiction
Washington Romance Writers Retreat (D.C.)
Whidbey Island Writers Conference
Writers Retreat Workshop

I also often attend RWA National, World Fantasy, and this year I plan on making it to my first Bouchercon. Sometime I’d like to be invited to a program like the Odyssey Writing Workshop.

In other conference news, I’ve just been notified that the two panel proposals for this year’s RWA have been accepted. I’ll be appearing with Shelley Adina, Carol Culver, and Kelly Para to discuss “10 Things We Love About Writing YA Romance,” and will also join a number of other agents for “TAKE FIVE! The Agent Cartel Reveals Its Top 5 Pearls of Wisdom for Career Success.”

30 responses to “attending conferences and writing retreats

  1. Looks like all these are in the US. I’m always looking for interesting leads on UK writing retreats and conferences. But really I posted this response to ask you if the song you’re listening to is a cover of the Kate Bush original, which I love down to my toes. Because if it is, I’ll have to check it out!
    (Ah, the nonsense reply. Gotta … well, it’s there, isn’t it?) πŸ˜‰

    • Oddly enough, I mostly get invited to conferences in the U.S. though I wouldn’t be opposed to travel abroad (I saw a neat conference in Provence and another in Tuscany while I was poking about online).
      And, yes, it’s a cover. Drumke is a very intriguing musician. You should try her out.

  2. Hi! Orange County, California has a few great ones each year. One is held at the South Coast Winery in Temecula–can’t get lovelier and more personal than THAT! πŸ™‚ And Editor’s Day each October is at the Santa Ana Zoo, a charming location. In May, there’s Agent’s Day, held at the Newport Beach Marine Base. I didn’t attend last year, but I heard it was great! And if you’re looking for scenery, you’re right on the water and the shopping and dining is great! Oh, and you’re about 15 minutes from Disneyland, so how bad can it be?
    Hope it helps. πŸ™‚
    Catherine Ipcizade

  3. The conference I am hoping to attend this year is the Desert Dreams Conference in Phoenix, Arizona. Here is their web address:

  4. Travis Erwin
    I’d like to put in a plug for my local conference, Frontiers In Writing located in Amarillo, TX. Being as the conference is in June this years lineup is set but I am on the board and we are always on the lookout for great agents. Our conference is not the largest but we have a large population of multi-published authors (Jodi Thomas, Jennifer Archer, Terry Burns) as well as a great group of volunteers and solid group of serious writers.
    You’re client, Jay Lake, was one of the presenters a few years ago so you could also ask him about the conference.
    If you might be interested, or have more questions my email is travis @

  5. I’m going to this conference this year:
    –my husband found it online, and we’ve always wanted to explore Alaska. Don’t know yet how it’ll be, but I’m looking forward to it!

  6. Surrey International Writers’ Conference
    Since you work at the Maass Agency, I’m sure you’re already familiar with SIWC (, in Vancouver.
    Just thought I’d mention it though because it seems to have the qualities you’re looking for. And we certainly have great restaurants up here πŸ™‚

    • Re: Surrey International Writers’ Conference
      I’ve been to SIWC 3 times, and loved it every time – came away energized, educated, wined and dined, and couldn’t wait to get back to the WIP du jour. πŸ™‚

  7. Willamette Writers
    Hi. I am just now scrambling to get together my workshop proposals for the Willamette Writers conference in Portland, OR (August). The deadline for workshop proposals is this week, not sure if they’ve booked all the agents or if you’re thinking of next year anyway.
    I have not been to this conference, it’s a biggie that sells out each year. I am from Portland (live in Canada now) and it is a lovely, lovely city. Home to the world famous Powell’s Books (a city block of books!) and it has the Western Culinary School downtown and an excellent transit system if you don’t like to drive in unfamiliar cities (or don’t drive). The food is great, the people are nice, and it’s chock full of writers and readers.

    • Re: Willamette Writers
      Last year when I made up my mind to attend a conference in the pacific northwest, I was trying to decide between Willamette Writers and Pacific Northwest Writers Association. Willamette is more expensive, but what really threw me is that they “charge” attendees extra if they want a pitch appointment! Can you believe it? So I went to PNWA in Seattle and had the absolute best time! The PNWA is almost exactly like the Pikes Peak conference in Colorado Springs, which I’ve also attended numerous times. And Seattle is a great city.

  8. San Francisco has a writer’s conference that has been highly recommended to me:
    Actually, Donald Maas from your agency will be there this year. I have no idea if he’s coming as a representative for the entire agency or simply for himself, however, so on the off chance its the latter, I thought I’d mention it. πŸ™‚
    One of the reasons it was recommended was because of the Agent Speed Dating, which I thought was a clever idea:
    The other was because it focuses heavily on the things you state you are looking for. They limit the conference to 300 warm bodies, which I suspect is to keep it from getting so crowded people become unable to connect. There is a heavy emphasis on marketing and craft, and I love that they also thought to offer such extras as a one on one with an author dedicated to giving advice to hopefuls like me, as well as (what I hope are) the more typical “Meet the [INSERT]” Q&A panels.
    I sound like a commercial, I know, but I’m all excited to go. I might not walk out the next great grand poombah of fantasy (heh, we all wish), but to get real solid stuff on marketing and professional feedback on my work is priceless. One begets the other, right?

  9. Hmmm. Patchwork Farm? ( they coordinate writing retreats in Texas and other places nearby)

  10. I have a special fondness for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Colorado Gold conference in Denver. It’s strictly fiction only, and the organization has been around for about 30 years. I’ve been a member for 15 of them. In fact, the Pikes Peak group in Colorado Springs was inspired by RMFW, which started out as a chapter of RWA. There was so much interest from writers of other genres that it became its own entity and represents all genres now.
    I also recommend Pacific Northwest Writers Association conference in Seattle. I went for my first time on my birthday in July and had a blast. Great people, high energy, and its 4 days long instead of the usual 3 days for most conferences, so you get more for your money. And there were about 10 agents there, I think, and about the same number of editors.
    Teaser Tuesday

  11. Definitely try the Washington Romance Writers Retreat, if you haven’t gone before. Last year was the first time I went, and it blew me away that there were more published members than unpublished. It’s a very professional group that knows how to have a good time (They have a rockin’ Jeopardy game with a great deal of cheating involved.) Even if you don’t need any new clients, it’s an absolute blast.

    • Glad you had a good time — that’s actually one of the conferences I listed in my top picks in the entry above. I’ve gone a couple of times. Last time my team even won Jeopardy!

  12. I signed up for the Big Sur Writer’s Workshop, it appears to be geared for more experienced writers. It’s possible that Andrea Brown has the ‘agent’ concession locked up, however. But you can’t get more beautiful or inspirational than Big Sur.

  13. Are you interested in being a guest during a low residency MFA program. The University of Maine, Stonecoast is the only MFA program in the country which has a pop fiction track. James Patrick Kelly, Kelly Link and Nancy Holder all teach there. The program is becoming quite popular and is growing leaps and bounds. I graduated this last residency. They had an agent come and talk to all the graudates but, of course, the agent didn’t handle pop fiction. The students are incredibly talented and you would give the program another boost.

  14. Jennifer,
    Hi. I read that Jay Lake is going to attend the South Carolina Book Festival. Why don’t you join him? It has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I only live less than an hour away and will be attending! :*)

  15. I’m seconding Willamette Writers but for purely selfish reasons, living here in Portland. πŸ™‚

  16. well… in Richmond Va is looking to build its Lit track of programming and i’ve been kicking them to invite clue burdened folk like you, Lucienne, and a few other i know. I know the person in charge of guests if you want more info from them. you can use the contact form on my website or Catie Murphy has/had my email address.

  17. Seton Hill is my favorite too…
    Glad to see we made your list. Seton Hill sometimes feels like a well-kept secret. Since we skipped out on World Fantasy I still owe you a drink (cough-pitch-cough). Hope to see you back on the Hill real soon.

    • Re: Seton Hill is my favorite too…
      I will be at Readercon for the Saturday this year…. And I’d love to take you up on that thing you are calling a drink. *g*

  18. Seton Hill
    We’re honored to be on the list!
    June was a great time. Hope to see you at SHU soon.

  19. MWC
    Have you been to the Maui Writers Conference? Beautiful setting, wonderful food in surrounding Wailea. I attended this past year (as a writer) and although it was great, I felt it was really geared towards money with the writers being nickle and dimed left and right. However, going as an agent, I’m sure you would have a great time – and it’s Maui.

  20. Necon is a great time. One of your clients, Craig Shaw Gardner, is a regular.

  21. Thanks friends for this nice & informative concern. I like this post. I have never thought about a summer writing list, although I am always pining that I want to ‘get back’ to my own writing. I think I’ll make that list! Writing workshop

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