The Best States for Writers

By Mark Alpert

Wow, I had a fantastic time last weekend at the annual conference of the Oklahoma Writers’ Federation Inc. (OWFI) in Oklahoma City. The experience was so much fun that I’ve started to wonder: Which states have the best organizations for supporting and nurturing their writers?

I’m not qualified to make that judgment because I don’t go to many writers’ conferences outside New York City. My travels are limited by economic considerations; although I can promote my novels at this kind of event, the total royalties from any resulting sales will be far less than my travel costs, so I usually can’t afford to do it. But in the case of the OWFI conference, the organization offered to pay my airfare and hotel bills, so I gladly agreed to deliver a couple of presentations to the group’s aspiring writers.

More than 300 people attended the conference, and there was a full schedule of workshops, classes, pitch sessions, buzz sessions, luncheons, and banquets. OWFI has a deep bench of volunteers to ensure that everything runs smoothly, and the organization has succeeded in attracting sponsors to defray many of the costs and minimize the fees for conference attendees. Perhaps the best indication of the group’s success is that many writers from outside Oklahoma came to the event, traveling north from Texas, south from Kansas, and west from Arkansas.

It’s enough to make a New Yorker jealous. Writers in NYC have the advantage of living in the hub of the U.S. publishing industry, close to the majority of literary agents and traditional publishers, and many national and international writers’ organizations (such as the Mystery Writers of America and International Thriller Writers) hold their events here. But at the grassroots level, the network of local support and critique groups is patchy. There are nonprofits that offer subsidized workspaces for writers (such as the Writers Room on Astor Place, where I was a member for several years) and many groups for journalists (such as Science Writers in New York, which I also belonged to for a while), but writing fiction in NYC can often feel like a lonely, dog-eat-dog struggle.

So now I’m wondering about the rest of the country. Perhaps all the TKZ-ers out there can help me with this survey; in your neck of the woods, are there strong regional, state or local organizations that help fiction writers enhance their craft and develop their careers? Which are the best states for writers?

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About Mark Alpert

Contributing editor at Scientific American and author of science thrillers: Final Theory (2008), The Omega Theory (2011), Extinction (2013), The Furies (2014) and The Six (2015). Next books: The Orion Plan (coming February 2016) and The Siege (July 2016). His website: www.markalpert.com

35 thoughts on “The Best States for Writers

  1. Not Connecticut. The few workshops/conferences here are populated by very old people, mostly women, who want to write in retirement. I’ve tried as much as I can stand, and while I get a bit of value out of them, it’s not enough to justify the amount of money I have to pay for it.

  2. Although I grew up in New Jersey and it still inspires much of my writing, I’ve been in Maine for over 50 years (they tell me I’ll never be a native; I say, tell me something I don’t know), but don’t know if it’s one of the best states for writers. However, its reality and mystique seem to inspire many writers, both locally and “from away”, to use Maine as a setting in their work.

    Good local organizations/writing venues supporting writers include:

    Maine Writer & Publishers Alliance (http://mainewriters.org/)

    Maine Crime Writers (https://mainecrimewriters.com/)

    Anyone can participate in their blog. The crime writers who post include 11 women and 5 men, who write all kinds of crime novels.

  3. At one point, back in the day, I presented sessions at 18 writers conferences in one year. (grin) I agree wholeheartedly that OWFI is wonderful. They were one of my repeats.

    The other “best” major writers organization in my experience that still holds an annual conference is SLWG (Saint Louis Writers Guild). They have a very active community of both professional and aspiring writers. You might also check Missouri Writers Guild, though I’m not sure they still hold a conference.

    There were also great large and small conferences in Texas (3), Mississippi (1), San Diego, Toronto, Florida and Kansas City (among others). Unfortunately, I think their annual conferences have died away.

  4. New Hampshire is not one of those states. I do belong to the New England Chapter of MWA, but most of the conferences are in Boston, MA. The benefit of living in a small town/vacation area is, local authors do well at book signings, events, and craft fairs. Not sure if that helps with your survey or not. Will you post the results?

    • I guess this is more of an anecdotal survey. Now that I think about it, though, I’m sure that Writer’s Digest or one of the other trade publications has done a more thorough study of this topic.

  5. May I suggest a place outside the US? I would say, Aalborg, situated in Northern Denmark is the best. Yes, because I live and love it here, but also because it has amazing communities of writers, artists, and many kinds of creatives. There should be something explaining that Aalborg has been rated as the happiest city in Europe. 🙂
    For writers, there are many free and paid events. There is a School of Creative Writing here, a literary festival each year and many more.

  6. Okay, Mark, you opened the door for a shameless plug for the group I belong to.

    The Flathead River Writers Conference, in Kalispell, Montana, celebrates 28 years this September 22-23. It’s limited to 100 attendees to maintain the friendly, intimate atmosphere it’s known for. People from all over the US and Canada attend, many returning year after year. It’s a bargain at $160 for two FULL days of lectures, workshops, pitching, lunch, and casual get-togethers. A bonus is the proximity of Glacier National Park which is gorgeous in the fall. NY editors and agents who’ve been speakers go back home and tell their colleagues how much fun it is, so those colleagues reach out and ask to be invited. https://www.authorsoftheflathead.org/

    There’s an old saying: You can’t fling a typewriter in Montana w/o hitting a writer, and it’s true. For a state with one area code and fewer than a million residents, writers make up a significant chunk of the population. There’s a link on the official state website about Montana writers. I feel extremely fortunate to live in this hotbed of creativity and support.

    • Oh, to live in a state with less than a million people. If I didn’t love Arizona so much (despite the 6 billion people) Montana would be next on my list! 😎 2018 isn’t an option for me, but maybe that conference can be a 2019 goal.

      • BK, I am moving to North Scottsdale in 2019. What is the best way to find a writing community there. Where do I start? Nancy

        • I don’t claim to have my finger on the pulse of AZ writer resources, but the group that seems to be most active is Desert Sleuths, the Arizona chapter of Sisters in Crime.

          I don’t know anything about them but there is a Scottsdale writers group: https://scottsdalewriter.wordpress.com/

          The Phoenix Writers Club has been around a long time: http://phoenixwritersclub.com/

          Maybe that will give you a jumping off point. There are other writers groups scattered about as well.

  7. Tough call. There are some good organizations that are constantly changing their location each year. As far as state specific, I’m not coming up with anything. But then, I’ve only been to 3 conferences in my entire life. LOL!

    Arizona has a lot of writing-related groups but nothing stands out to me in the way of conferences.

    • Last year a Washington, D.C. TV station asked that same question and set out to film ten cities with large writing communities. (CSPAN?) Anyway, Bellingham, WA was selected. Our premier organization is the Chanticleer Review, plus its wonderful Chanticleer Conference for indy writers. In addition we have Village Books, one of the most influential independent bookstores in the country. Yes, it is up the road from Powells in Portland, but is a great resources for readers and writers, an author talk almost every night of the year. Washington State, in general, has so many organizations like the PNWA conference and the Hugo House in Seattle. Plus, now Spokane has a growing conference to connect writers with Hollywood agents. Orcas Island has an April Conference. I vote Washington State. And J.A. Jance, Tom Robbins, & Robert Dugoni would probably agree with me.

      • Bellingham is a nice artsy town. I spent a year there but it was too cold so I went down to wet Seattle for a while.

  8. Boston is a hub of activity mainly based around Grub Street but I see lots of debut authors coming out of their incubator program. And of course there’s Iowa, with its prestigious MFA legacy and the two month long Iowa Summer Writing Festival. My home state of Wisconsin has several good roundtable critique groups, a flourishing Romance Writers contingent, and UW Madison’s outstanding faculty who offer summer and on-line courses.

    • And I forgot Colorado. The Rocky Mountain Writers Association holds a national conference every year with over 300 in attendance and loads of great workshops. This year the keynote speaker is Kill Zone’s own James Scott Bell. They also offer year-round excellent on-line workshops which are a bargain at $30.00 for two weeks.

      • I’m in Colorado, and they do have several good conferences. (It’s the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, and their conference is Colorado Gold.) JSB is giving a workshop (I’ll be there). Another one that’s closer to where I live (which is close to NOTHING), is the Pikes Peak Writers Conference.
        However, finding writing groups is hard. RMMWA is too far away. I believe it covers the largest area for MWA chapters, but probably has the lowest attendance for meetings because of the distances.

        Finding writers, however, is easy, even in my tiny community.

  9. don’t forget about Canada – Surrey International Writers Conference is the best!!

  10. Where I live in northern Oregon, I’m approximately equidistant from Spokane, Boise, Portland, and Seattle. Between them, there are at least seven annual writers conferences. In addition all of those communities have active writing associations.
    And, Seattle is the coffee capital of the world.
    On top of that, I live in a rural area with over 150 vineyards and wineries. What else could a writer want?

  11. I am new to the writing community but the Blue Ridge Writers Conference in North Carolina has a wonderful conference coming up this month. It sounds a lot like the one you described. I am currently involved in a free online course and joining a critique group through American Christian Fiction Writers which is having a conference in Nashville this fall. They have regional chapters in North Carolina.

    • Asheville is one of my favorite places, though I’ve not been to that conference.

  12. Does location even matter any more? I live in a small town in a sparsely populated area but I still have access to an overwhelming volume of resources via the internet. My entire writing-publishing effort is based upon a digital infrastructure. I would love to actually meet other writers and attend conferences but it is not an option at this time. The Kill Zone and other forums and blogs are my writer’s world. If I had a choice, I think I would choose either New Mexico or the Texas Hill Country.

  13. I’m sure CWFI; has a strong following. I seem to be more conservative these days and believe in ‘Writing where you’re planted’.
    Isn’t all we’re doing is enjoying our gifts of imagination; we can enjoy that any where.
    I’m not saying not to go abroad if you got the where forths to do with.
    I only know that when this begins to feel like work, I’ll retire, but meanwhile writing is where my enjoyment comes from way down here in South Alabama.

  14. I am in South Carolina. We have The South Carolina Writers Association. There are 18 chapters, some hold meetings, some have critique groups and some have both. Due to my location I can participate in 5 chapters all within a twenty-minute drive from my home.

    Plus, there is a yearly conference. The location varies a little from year to year, but it is always at the beach.

  15. SleuthFest in S. Florida just celebrated its 25th anniversary. About 15 years ago, they segued into being a small-scale local authors con to a craft-heavy conference, so the emphasis is on practical advice and workshops rather than panels of writers flapping their gums. 🙂

    I was just there in as a guest workshop teacher and had a great time. Good speakers, too. Andrew Gross and Katherine Ramsland, this year. They also get good agents and editors who do pitch sessions. Great conference.

  16. Living in Hawaii in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii, is not all paradise living. So, we got the beaches, the sunshine, the vog (volcano fog), but haven’t been to any BIG conferences as you have. I’ve been to one, less than a hundred people. I’ve seen some conferences advertisements but most of them are retreats. I don’t have the luxury to do that.

    And, I live on the island of Oahu. There were news reports that we had to evacuate because of the volcano. The volcano is on a separate island, the island of Hawaii, aka: The Big Island. So, if you’re story travels to the state of Hawaii, make sure your city is on the correct island. We rolled our eyes at the news channel. That was funny.

    • Were the news people concerned that the devastation from the volcano could reach your island?
      There was an eruption from a volcano in another state (Washington) that sent ash to my current state (Idaho) but didn’t do much damage over here. We have to watch out for earthquakes in Idaho, as well as flooding, forest fires, and drought. But we have a craters of the moon reserve which is the largest lava field in the contiguous states.

      • Washington must have had tradewinds that day Idaho rained ash. Our volcano is south-east of all the islands. The worst is the vog, but luckily, we can’t smell the sulfur. Ewww, rotten eggs.

  17. Kentucky is home to a slew of writers and organizations. The Carnegie Center in Lexington, Kentucky, hosts events, conferences, and classes. Its Books-in-Progress conference takes place at the end of this month. Also in Lexington this September, there’s the 39th annual Kentucky Women Writers Conference. The Hindman Settlement School began the Appalachian Writers Workshop in 1977. In Louisville: the Imaginarium Convention hits in October. Louisville Literary Arts offers workshops year round, hosts InKY author events monthly, and presents the annual Writers Block conference. Then there’s the spring Southern Ky Book Fest with a day of free workshops and author events in Bowling Green and 10 Min Con in Covington. Bookstores, writers groups, colleges, and libraries all over the state host regional events.

  18. My previous hometown of Spartanburg, South Carolina has a thriving writer’s support organization called the Hub City Writers Project. ( Hubcity.org )
    It has published 80 titles, 700 writers, established an independent bookstore, and provided various forms of creative writing education to the public. I just checked their website and they’re actively hosting a number of author events. I don’t know about the rest of South Carolina, but I’m happy that the Spartanburg community is providing active support to developing writers and published authors.

  19. Pingback: Writing Links…5/14/18 – Where Genres Collide

  20. TKZ’s own Laura Benedict just spoke at our group, Saturday Writers (saturdaywriters.org) in St Charles, Missouri (about 30 minutes west of St Louis). We have around a hundred members, bring in 8 monthly guest speakers (in addition to Laura this year, romance legend Leigh Michael and marketing guru Amy Collins were among last years speakers) and host 4 workshops in October, in addition to novel critique groups, children’s/YA critique groups, a poetry group, open mic events, and several contests with winner’s work being published in our annual anthology. It has been a great help to me.

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