Writers Conference or Retreat:Which Should You Attend?

Over the years I've attended numerous writer’s conferences and writing retreats.


I was fortunate to attend several Maui Writers Conferences, which was the world’s premier conference before it met its sad and avoidable demise.

I’ve also been to a ThrillerFest with my author friend Gary Braver, and a couple of other conferences in Honolulu. At the various conferences, I attended a number of great seminars, pitched to well known agents and editors and met a lot of other talented writers as well as best selling authors.

But (there’s always a “but”), if you’ve attended at least one comprehensive high rated conference where there are a number of craft seminars and many well known authors, you may have mined most of what you can get from a conference until you’ve finished a complete manuscript and can seriously pitch a well edited, professional level, project to agents and editors.

Everything you can learn of the writing craft from a writer’s conference is available in books in greater detail. (In another post, I’ll tell you which ones I suggest. And I have an entire bookshelf of them to choose from.)

Bottom line is that your first comprehensive conference is worthwhile to attend. But if you haven’t completed a manuscript or are well into a serious work in progress, I personally don’t think that going to multiple conferences produces the best bang for the buck unless you’re just seeking a motivational boost. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m always pumped up after attending a conference.

Retreats with expert authors who are experienced instructors can potentially deliver much more benefit than conferences if you’re willing to do the work during the retreats. I’m talking about taking the day’s learning and rewriting at night as long as it takes to apply the day’s instruction. Good retreats are not vacations.

Expensive?  Yes.

Worthwhile? Absolutely!

I’ve done several retreats lasting from three to five days with authors in my genre. I’ve learned more from the interaction with the instructors, who are best selling authors, and the other serious students than I ever did from attending conferences programmed with the same old subject matter craft sessions.

Just reviewing the instructor's line edits on your submitted chapters can give you a jolt of insight that can be amazing and transform your writing.

There are many retreat instructors out there. My preference is for instructors who have written more than one best selling book. They understand the craft and how to overcome the hurdles to the publishing path.

My advice is to work on your manuscript as many hours a day as you can. Read the best books on the craft and apply them, and when you have a reasonable work in process, book a five day retreat with an author in your genre.

For thriller writers, I highly recommend William Bernhardt who does several retreats a year at various locations around the country. I, and many of my other Hawaii based writer friends, have found him incredibly helpful.