Last week I went to 20booksto50k in Las Vegas. My first-ever writing conference. It was fun. I learned a lot.
Las Vegas isn’t messing around. I saw several folks forcefully handed masks when walking into casinos. I did see a fair number skate by or do the ol’ mask under the nose thing (Talk about next-level asshole), but overall Vegas isn’t taking chances.
I can’t blame them, I’m sure 2020 was devastating. Even now we saw lots, I mean LOTS of empty retail spots and almost as many “we’re short-staffed, sorry.” signs.
That said, Vegas is already back to bro clouds and woo girls. Nights are crowded and loud, days are chill outside those doing walks and crawls of shame. Each morning walk to the nearest Starbucks, we saw the vomit and spilled drinks of the night before being hosed off as the city reset.
Nicole went with me as a little mini-vacation since we haven’t done much leisure-ing in 2021. We hit up the neon museum, which is 100% worth it. It’s just outside the strip central, a short Lyft ride away. Go at night, seriously. It was a blast. So much amazing and interesting Vegas history.
The reason for the trip. So the gist is that when the (facebook) group started it was around the idea that if you wrote 20 books, and each made like $7/day/365, you’d make $50k/year. While the group is strictly the business of writing the conference tackles both business and craft.
I have to say the craft talks were actually the weakest. I suspect some of that is simply the pool of talent the organizer uses. While the presenting authors are indeed quite successful, many found success early on Amazon and have successfully ridden that wave (Almost exclusively via Kindle Unlimited). That’s not a knock at all, but also I don’t think some of them have as firm a grasp on their genre’s as they might think, based on their talks.
Again, not a knock on anyone’s skills or anything, just an oversight I think in the organizing. There are a lot of folks who’ve started more recently, that could have probably presented more interesting and timely information. One talk about writing a long series was really just a “My writing journey story” Which was ok, but not what was advertised and as Space Rogues 10 is almost finished, continuing a long series was front of mind for me.
Craft is tricky, which is why the group doesn’t deal with it. One session, in particular, was about writing space opera, a topic near and dear as that’s what I write.
The panelists, to a person, were writers of military Scifi, and a lone Hard Scifi author, all of whom simply drop their stuff in space opera because as a category on amazon it helps their sales.
The entire panel was each of these authors, explaining how they justified their stuff being space opera. I’ll grant that ‘space opera’ as a category is pretty nebulous, but military scifi isn’t space opera. The fact that two of my characters are ex-military, doesn’t make my stuff military scifi.
Such a missed opportunity. There weren’t many like this, but there were a non-zero number and each one just reinforced my decisions (Decisions and reasons why, below).
The business talks were far less hit or miss. I took many, many pages of notes around how to improve my newsletters (Something I plan to work on for the conferences as well), direct sales, in-person sales, and more. This week I’ll be trying to sort all my notes into actionable to-do list stuff.
There were a few business ones that were nearly “Be in KU, end of session” but by and large the business talks were by authors who take this business seriously.
Cool Kids Club
20books is very much a cool kids club. This isn’t wholly bad, but definitely leads to blind spots. Several sessions were essentially the speaker or panelists talking about themselves or filling time with barely formed ideas and as I said above, “Be in KU” type things that showed a lack of any truly deep understanding.
The reason I say it’s not wholly bad is that it the conference is Craig’s and he can do what he likes. It’s centered around the community that has formed around the group, and that’s the garden from which he picks talent.
As someone involved in community, it bummed me out. There was very much a cool kids and everyone else vibe. The everyone else’s spent the week scrabbling for attention and fawning over the ‘celebrities’. Something that always rubs me the wrong way.
So, will I go back? No. Craig goes to great lengths to make sure the conference is accessible. Sessions are live-streamed on Facebook and made available on youtube later. While the sessions can be hit or miss, I’m not looking for ‘my tribe’ or new friends really (new friends are great but I have lots of ‘online only friends’ already).
I’m in this to make a living and learn from those doing better than me, and that can be accomplished with the livestreams/recordings. I’ll post about my opportunity to be on a panel and why that might be the only reason I’d entertain going back to Vegas, in the next post.