Of course, we can always take the easy route and follow the flock, but what good does that do us as writers?
In the end, we must choose the right kind of conference to suit our needs, so that we can commune with other birds of a feather.
And that brings me to the core of this post. Just as there are many species of geese, there are many different types of conferences, but in my experience--having attended several--there are three basic types: Wild Goose Chase, Good for the Gander, and Mother Goose.
The Wild Goose Chase (AKA the Publishing Conference) is all about getting published. Speakers are mostly industry professionals--agents and editors--who share insights on how to write a pitch, what should/shouldn't go in your query and the overall publishing process. These publishing-focused conferences are very useful for writers who know little about the actual publishing process, but it can become repetitive over time. After all, you can only hear the "how to get published" talk so many times before you just have to go out and write the darn book. Also, I find that going to this type of conference too early on in the writing process can discourage some writers. Instead, I would recommend holding off on a publishing conference until you're feeling pretty good about your draft or are ready to start the query process. At that point, then, the more information you get about the business, the better.
The Good for the Gander (AKA Craft-focused Retreats) is great fun and is especially useful if your writing is in need of some serious shaking up. These conferences usually include a mix of publishing talks from industry professionals and inspirational talks by published authors but the core focus is on the craft itself. Often these types of conferences involve reading writing samples from fellow writers and discussing them in a workshop setting.
The Mother Goose (AKA Inspirational Conferences) is all about inspiring the writer within. Sure, there will be some opportunity to hear industry leaders talk about the biz but the main focus is often on inspiring writers to keep... writing (duh). These are the warm 'n fuzzy conferences where you leave inspired to run home, boot up the computer and start the fingers flying across the keys.
If you're looking into a conference, how do you know which species it is? Look at the schedule of events. Who are the speakers? Is it mostly authors with a publishing panel or two thrown in for good measure? Then it's probably a Mother Goose. Or are the majority of the talks all about publishing? If yes, then you're heading for a Wild Goose Chase. And is there a workshop component? If so, you're most likely going to a conference that's Good for the Gander.
Ultimately, there's no one type of conference that's better than another, but when you invest the time, money and effort to attend a conference, you'll be best served if you go to a conference that suits your needs. If you are at the point where you need to start informing yourself about publishing, a publishing-focused conference is for you. If instead, you want to connect with other writers and rekindle that love of writing, an inspirational conference is probably more your vibe. And finally, if you want to get new perspectives on your work, a workshop-retreat is your best bet.
What type of conference do you think would suit you best at this point in your writing?