Reader Friday: Writing Conferences

Do you have a favorite writing conference? Please explain.

What is your #1 tip for attending a writing conference?

If you’ve never been to a writing conference, what’s stopping you?

If you could attend any conference, which one is at the top of your list?

*Please note: I’m headed to the New England Crime Bake, so I won’t be around today. Don’t let that stop you from having fun. πŸ™‚

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About Sue Coletta

Sue Coletta is an award-winning crime writer and an active member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. Feedspot and Expertido.org named her Murder Blog as β€œBest 100 Crime Blogs on the Net” (2018-2021). She also blogs at the Kill Zone (Writer's Digest "101 Best Websites for Writers" 2013-2021). Sue lives with her husband and two spoiled guinea pigs in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire and writes two psychological thriller series (Tirgearr Publishing) and true crime/narrative nonfiction (Rowman & Littlefield). And recently, she appeared on the Emmy award-winning true crime series Storm of Suspicion. Learn more about Sue and her books at https://suecoletta.com

20 thoughts on “Reader Friday: Writing Conferences

  1. My favorite is Surrey International Writing Conference. I mainly like it because I like the writers who give the workshops, but I’ve only attended it virtual so I don’t know what it’s really like. The writers always remind us that they’re giving us tools to put in our toolbox, not perscribing a way to write, which I really appreciate.

    My advice would be that your main reason for going to a conference should be to learn, not sell your books, not to create large groups of friends. You’ll make friends, or you might not, but you’re certainly not to going to sell anything, so thinking you will just ruins the rest of the fun.

  2. I like Left Coast Crime. I agree with the previous comment. If you’re looking to sell books (unless you’re the invited featured speaker), you’ll be disappointed. It should be a learning and networking experience. My tips: Before anything starts, locate the out-of-the-way restrooms because the ones closest to the session rooms will be jammed, especially if there’s not a lot of time between sessions.
    Sit with new people at meals. Don’t feel obligated to stick with people you already know. Split up, go to different sessions and share notes. Bring business cards.

  3. My favorite conference is Prime Crime at the Columbia Club (formerly Magna Cum Murder) in Indianapolis. The next one is April 1, 2022. It’s a smaller conference (rarely more than 200 attendees), which allows more intimate, more useful networking. It’s less a conference about writing than it is a celebration of the mystery and thriller genres. Attendees run the full gamut from newbies to grizzled veterans, from cozies to hardcore thrillers. I’ve been to 20 of them, and can’t wait for the next one.

    A couple of years ago, I posted a video on my YouTube channel on how to maximize your time at writer’s conferences, as well as some advice on how to choose which conferences to go to. You can check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jew-jJ4q-AY&t=4s&ab_channel=AuthorJohnGilstrap

    As for suggestions regarding conferences in general, I urge people to remember two main points:
    1) All meaningful business and networking happens at the bar; and
    2) Seek out and hang with the writers/industry folks who’ve achieved the level to which you aspire. Too many rookies squander their opportunities at a conference by hanging out with fellow rookies.

  4. My favorite conference that I attended was at Glen Eyrie Castle in Colorado, back in the mid-2000’s (maybe 2010??). I don’t remember the theme, or the course I took. All I remember is that my friend and I had booked a room in one of the towers, and when we saw that Jim Bell was leading an impromptu tour of the castle, we let the group come in so they could all see the room. That was the highlight of my stay. πŸ™‚

  5. Up where I live, (The Great White Canadian North) I haven’t been blown away by my local conferences. However, I did stop going to them a while back; they might have improved, but I had little in the way for take away lessons.

    I’m actually looking forward to going to Montana next year and attend the one organized by Debbie Burke. I was very impressed when I read about this year’s program. Besides, I’ve been all through Montana but never to Kalispell.

    Hopefully, (when I can justify it) I’d like to get to a ThrillerFeast.

    • Ben, thanks for the shout-out for the Flathead River Writers Conference. I look forward to meeting you next year!

      PS. I’m no longer an organizer, just a worker bee.

  6. I have to admit I’ve never been to a writing conference in person. Online, yes, but not flesh and blood. I had plans to go to Bouchercon in New Orleans last year, but that tanked because of you know who. Heard lots of good thinks about Bouchercon so it’s on the pail-knocking-over list. Hey Sue – I just sent you a pre-Crime Bake message.

  7. Willamette Writers Conference, here in Portland is my favorite writing conference. Full disclosure, it’s the only writing conference I’ve attended. I’ve been four times, the last, in 2019, I was a panelist, speaking on working with libraries and moderating a discussion on science fiction and fantasy writing trends.

    I have yet to attend a mystery conference. Now, science fiction conventions are a different matter. I’ve attended a great many over the years, and have been a guest at a number of them, including the World Science Fiction convention. I went to World Fantasy once–it’s probably the closest to some of the smaller mystery conferences–all about writing and reading, and very laid back.

    My favorite SF/fantasy convention is probably Norwescon in Seattle, held each year over Easter weekend. That convention has robust writing and publishing tracts, along with panels on other subjects ranging from media, science fiction and fantasy sub-genres, gaming, costuming etc. I was a guest at last year’s virtual Norwescon, and have been invited to be a guest at next year’s in-person one.

  8. I’ve been to Renewal in the Seattle area a couple of times, and ACFW when it was in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area a few years back.

    I loved everything about them, from meeting new folks, to the panel discussions, my 15 minutes with agents, to the keynotes. I particularly remember when Bill Myers was the keynote and I got a signed copy of his book, Eli.

    And JSB taught some workshops at one…don’t remember where that one was, but I do remember the excellent encouragement and workshops.

    Conference tip: Spend the extra dough and stay close to the venue.

    When I went to ACFW in Texas, I opted to stay with my daughter and her family, about 35 miles away. Let me tell ya, Texas freeway drivers are scary . . . way scarier than those four grandkids. I had to make round trips every day, and said a prayer every time I got into my rental car. I also learned some new hand signals from those Texas drivers. πŸ™‚

    I’d love to attend in person, either ACFW or Flathead some day.

    • Deb, you’re very right about TX drivers! I’m technically a non-native Yankee, not a Texan, but I did my formative years in the DFW burbs and learned to drive there. It’s a purely offensive course, I assure you. I think the next step up would be the driving course offered for bodyguards! Haha!
      But thank you for the idea of ACFW. I need to look into that!

  9. I loved the Mt Hermon Writers Conference near Santa Cruz, CA. We attended a couple of times, but it got cancelled in 2020 and hasn’t restarted. The only mystery conference I’ve been to is Killer Nashville, and I liked that one very much.

    Like others have said, it’s not about selling books, although it’s a good idea to take books so they’ll be available at the bookstore. I think networking is the biggest benefit.

    Several of the conferences mentioned here sound intriguing. Besides, I’d like to meet some of the TKZ folks in person.

  10. My favorite writing conference is Bouchercon. It’s in a different city every year and has a terrific mix of authors, industry professionals, and readers.

    My best advice: be polite in all circumstances, coming, going, and attending. Being in a different zip code does not give one license to act like or be a varlet.

    The conference I would most like to attend is StokerCon, a horror writer’s conference.

    Wishing you safe travels this weekend, Sue.

  11. I went to a few writers conferences starting out, but have not since felt compelled to make it a yearly habit. No matter how you slice it, after one or two conferences, the content is much the same, just dressed up differently. At most, I tune in to some local Sisters in Crime chapter opportunities.

    This post does bring back fond memories of my first conference–I believe at the time it was called Glorieta Christian Writers Conference–I remember coming home with a ton of notes from Jack Cavanaugh’s class on novel writing (this was way back in 2008 when I was starting out). I’ve gone to 1 or 2 ACFW conferences and a Western Writers conference.

    If I go to any conferences in the future, I’d really like to find a non-fiction writers conference worth the entry. And I’ve also learned of a historical fiction writers con, but haven’t had time to check and see if what is scheduled appears helpful or not.

    Mostly, I need to sit my behind down and apply the knowledge I’ve already gained not only from past conferences but from awesome sites like TKZ. 😎

  12. The Surrey International Writers Conference is the best I’ve been to. I’ve been to a few others – the Backspace Conference, when it was still in person, and the Cascade Writers Workshop are a couple. I enjoy meeting others and learning from professionals. I even met Mr. Bell himself at Surrey one year. πŸ™‚

    My number one tip would be: take in as much as you can, but be sure to meet as many people as possible. Learn lots and be human.

  13. 20Books to 50k Vegas. It for Indie authors and you learn so much about marketing and book covers and blurbs. It an all genre conference with 1500 attendees.

  14. I attended the 2005 Santa Barbara Writers Conference. It was fun and not horribly expensive. Friends gave me a place to stay, much safer than driving home at 1 a.m. I had no books to sell, a good thing; opportunities for book sales were minimal.

    The venue was a churchy college. The food was good. There was no bar. Met a lot of nice people, though.

    I got nominated for best novel by John Reed and was told by Shelly Lowenkopf that my short, Arma Virumque Cano, was the best thing he’d heard at the conference as of Thursday.

    At a sit-down, an agent billed as repping fantasy said, “I don’t represent your kind of fantasy, only adult fantasy.” Another writer was told (by the same agent), “I don’t represent guy fantasy; only girl fantasy.”

    Yes, bring cards and a contact notebook. Meet as many people as you can. But what I remember most is this: When it was over, it was over. I’ll probably never attend another.

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