Conference Versus Workshop: Which one is Best for You? by Catharine Bramkamp

ConferenceLet’s welcome back monthly columnist Catharine Bramkamp as she shares with us about “Conference Versus Workshop: Which one is Best for You?”


You probably are quite aware of the difference between a writers conference, a writers workshop (some call it boot camp), and a writer’s retreat. The three represent varying levels of commitment, information, and space for actual writing.


Retreats are created for writers to escape their everyday lives and have peace and quiet to work on their projects. There is often no interaction with other writers. It’s about you, an idea, and a blank computer screen.


Workshops can be a single day or a few days and often include instruction, a workshop leader, and a built-in critique group.

The workshop leader will offer pre-information so you know what to expect and what to write. You need to write and you need to follow along with the ideas and the goals so everyone is organized and literally on the same page.

workshopWriters bring their organized work to the workshop and are ready to share. A good workshop is like a week-long critique group. And this group is at your disposal because there is nothing else to distract them. This is a chance to work through plot points, dialogue, and narrative structure. Workshop members are also deep into their work and will be sensitive and helpful to you and your project.

Ideally the workshop is held in an interesting or beautiful location. Once there, you will then be forced to ignore the views (or the bars) in favor of writing. But when you are completely burned out, a nature walk, short hike, or swim are exactly what you need.


Conferences are more outwardly focused. Conference feature a smorgasbord of classes and talks featuring (but not limited to) agents, publishers, social media experts, poets, and already famous authors. These fine people deliver hours of good information that you need a month long retreat just to assimilate.

Full circle.

Conferences often are held in fabulous, interesting or beautiful places, not so much to tempt the conference attendee, but to tempt the speakers. It ends up being a win-win. You get to spend a couple days in a beautiful place, and the speakers are forced to take five transfers just to reach the hotel.

If you are looking for the latest, greatest information about the publishing and writing business, a conference is one of the best places to learn. Conferences also deliver chance encounters with agents and editors, and offer opportunities to ask experts your burning questions. A one-day or two-day conference will give you most of what you need to forge on for the next year, or until the next conference.

Conferences are prime environments for networking. But not with who you think. Newer writers believe that the best people to meet and greet are agents. Period. Not so. The best connections you can make at a conference is with the woman sitting next to you. Strike up a conversation, exchange cards. The fellow writer in that hard plastic chair may not only become your new best writing friend, but a strong ally when you launch your book. The phrase, I knew her when, is a powerful thing.

And just to confuse what you just read, some conferences are featuring workshops and critique sessions. You may be able to do both in the same place during the same weekend.

Conference How-To

  • Begin your conference experiences by attending one close to home.
  • Practice your elevator speech, either about what you do, or what your book is about. (Do not deliver a rambling account of the book’s action, just a summary of what it’s about.)
  • Bring your own notebook to keep track of ideas.
  • Write down, or have your new contacts write down, their contact information.
  • If you liked a speaker or what the speaker had to say, visit their website, get their contact info, and send them a friendly thank you.
  • Follow up with new contacts no later than five days after the conference.
  • Be ready to be friendly. Be ready to learn, and be ready to say yes.
  • Have a great time at the conference!



Catharine BramkampCatharine Bramkamp is the co-producer of Newbie Writers Podcast that focuses on newer writers and their concerns. She is a successful writing coach, Chief Storytelling Officer, and author of a dozen books including the Real Estate Diva Mysteries series, and The Future Girls series. She holds two degrees in English and is an adjunct university professor. After fracturing her wrist, she has figured out there is very little she is able to do with one hand tied behind her back.

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  • Mary Van Everbroeck says:

    Hi Catharine: Very helpful analysis of the differences among the options we have. Thanks. I quickly looked at your website. I’m looking forward to reading your Posts. Take care. Mary

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