To Go or Not? A Writers’ Conference Dilemma

Louhsyu Laaigwai –> Mouhdehng Maaihsau: don’t know how to start

In Chinese language, there exists a verbal riddle known as the enigmatic parallelism.  A hungry rat (louhsyu) tries to bite a tortoise (gwai)–without success when the tortoise hides in its shell.  This image of the rat trying to pull out the tortoise demonstrates the phrase’s meaning of not knowing how to begin.

I’m not sure where to start in terms of writers’ conferences.  According to this post called “The Writers Conference Decision,” it sounds like I’m not alone in this indecision.  I did attend Literary Orange in April 2012, “an event that brings authors, readers and libraries together for a celebration of literature.”  While I enjoyed meeting local authors, the event didn’t specifically cater towards writers and improving the craft.  With the calendar year winding down, the next opportunity that fits my schedule is the Writer’s Digest Conference West.

This is the first time the event has hopped over from the east coast and infiltrated the west.  I’m interested in attending because of keynote speaker Jamie Ford, author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.  Certain cultural themes that he explores in that book also appear in my own writing.  Additionally, Robert Lee Brewer will be manning a panel.  His writers’ platform challenge in April helped springboard my own blog.

Here are my reservations:  I can only afford one day of this weekend, and it costs a pretty penny.  Also, the highlight of Saturday is the pitch slam.  I saw an article that questioned the validity of  literary-speed-dating in securing an agent.  Beyond that, though, my introversion has increased as I’ve matured.  In high school, I did act in the drama club, but there’s a difference between spouting lines and selling things.  For example, one of my family members biked to the local candy store as a boy and then sold the treats to the neighborhood kids at a profit.  I don’t possess that entrepreneurial knack.  In fact, I was the child who never fund-raised enough to attend summer camp.  (There were only so many chocolate bars my family could buy.)  I always got bailed out by scholarships or other kids’ overzealous marketing efforts.

I feel like the hungry louhsyu in the riddle, unable to get my hands on that turtle, not knowing where to begin on its slippery shell.  So wise reader, I turn to you.  What are your thoughts on writers’ conferences in general and your advice to me?  (I have until August 17th to lock in the early-bird rate, so let me know by then.  Thanks!)      

Colorful Casting


  1. These are all great questions, and ones I struggle with as well. I have yet to attend my first conference but my struggles are with too many small children.
    The only advice I can give is to look at all the offerings of the conference and attend the day that holds more interest for you. If it’s the pitch slam, go that day. If it’s the keynote speaker, then go that day. Make sure to look at all the workshops and lectures at well. There are always lots of things to do at these conferences. Just pick the day that you feel has the most to offer you.

    Good luck, and most of all, have fun!!
    Becca ;)

  2. About 3 years ago I was raring to go to writer conferences but faced two dilemmas: $ and I felt intimidated going to a large conference and not knowing anyone.

    My compromise was to find small conferences that had at least 2 interesting workshops. I found several smaller venues that writers attend: Women’s Literary Fest, county writer’s workshops, and private workshops. Most of these ranged from $10-$100. I went to one agent workshop where we sent in 5 pages and met with her individually-cost $35 for a 2 hour workshop & 10 minute meeting.

    I also started out by reading books/magazines on writing craft, what I couldn’t borrow I bought. I also met my agent at a workshop she put on with a writing teacher I knew. Because I was a writer newbie, this worked for me. It is only now after I have completed manuscripts that I feel comfortable enough to attend a big conference.

  3. Great questions! I have never been to a conference, but as a fellow introvert, I can imagine I’d be more comfortable in the back of a workshop taking it all in than selling myself face-to-face in a pitch slam! Writers Digest hosts Fiction Pitch Slams online, which I did and found very helpful, especially as no one could see me! I’ll echo Rebecca: pick the day that has the most to offer YOU! And then tell me how it was! :)

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