The Return of the SB Writers Conference

By Steven Libowitz   |   June 11, 2024
Happy participants of the Matthew J. Pallamary Phantastic Fiction Workshop (courtesy photo)

A writer’s conference might seem like an esoteric enterprise, considering that the actual act of writing is as solitary as such things go, save for maybe collaborating in a writer’s room for a TV sitcom, which is a lot less literary. The once-daunting barriers to entry to “seeing one’s work in print” have been obliterated by the blog, the social media post, and even by internet-enabled self-publication. In the current DIY model, professional publishers are no longer the gatekeepers to “publication,” so in the matter of getting one’s writing into the public realm, the hurdle of meeting publisher’s writing standards can be
sidestepped altogether. 

But that’s not the point of the Santa Barbara Writers Conference, and really never was, going back to its founding by the great Barnaby Conrad Jr. half a century ago. Improving your craft is certainly a major aspect, what with six full days of workshops with morning, afternoon and late-night sessions in a variety of genres led by 30 professional writers, including Magical Realism making its debut at the conference this year. SBWC is much more about immersion in the supportive environment where fellow writers help one another hone their writing, connecting and inspiring each other in pursuing communicating through the written word. 

“People often come for the first time thinking that they want some kind of knowledge, some information and feedback on what they’ve already written,” said Grace Rachow, an SBWC attendee since 1992 who became director in 2016. “They want to have some ideas of how to write, how to make something happen, how to begin, how to middle, how to end. But what they discover is that when they are together with other people, suddenly there’s a recognition of being with other writers, people who care about story and wordsmithing, and view the world through a lens of storytelling. We think on a different wavelength than regular people.”

To be sure, actual writing can improve within the week, and the growth keeps happening after the conference ends, Rachow mentions. 

“There’s such an intense focus that people do take a leap forward right there. It’s like it gets an electric charge and the work changes because they see it with different eyes.”

That’s what happened for Kimberley Troutte, who won a SBWC scholarship back in 2008, came back on her own again later, and has since published more than 20 romantic suspense novels including New York Times bestsellers. 

Troutte will speak at orientation at this year’s conference, just the first of several SBWC alumni who are among the dozens of speakers, panelists, and seminar participants at the conference this year. Many of those events are open to the public to attend on a single-ticket basis ($15 each), while those who want to dip a toe a little further into the literary pool can attend for as little as a single day, sign up for the whole week, or anything in between. All those options are available in advance on the website, as is the full schedule, but a new little-known option lets those who simply show up at the front desk sign up for a single workshop, too. 

But be forewarned. Nearly everyone ends up wanting more. 

“They think they’re only going once, but they usually want to do more, maybe two or three days,” Rachow said. “Then they often come back for the whole thing the following year.”

Because SBWC is addictive and rewarding. Sort of like the latest page-turner from your favorite author. 

The Santa Barbara Writers Conference takes place June 9-14 at the Mar Monte hotel by the beach. Visit


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