Alright, let’s talk about 20booksto50k Vegas. Now that it’s over, I figured I’d do a simple con report, reflecting on it and the previous convention I was at.
Headline: I enjoyed myself for the most part and would recommend it to anyone looking to make contacts or learn the business.
Firstly, for those who can’t afford to go to conventions. Realise that 20books puts the vast majority of their panels and seminars online on Youtube for free. 2019’s seminars are all online too, and 2021’s are all going up, with many of them already listed. You do NOT need to pay for anything and 2022 will go up on Youtube too.
Audio quality is dodgy at times, with lots of lessons to be learnt there, but they know about it and are working on it. Obviously, streaming and recording so many panels comes with a cost.
What is 20booksto50k and the Vegas Conference?
20booksto50k is a Facebook group inspired by Michael Anderlei when he did some back of the envelope math and realised if he sold 20 books at the rate he was doing it, he’d be able to make 50k. After which, he started espousing his idea to others and the group eventually grew into a very large (50k) Facebook group sharing information about how to become successful as an indie author.
Nowadays, the main motto is that there are multiple ways up the mountain, and that indie authors are not competitors. So we all help one another.
In turn, the 20booksto50k conferences are held around the world to provide people information and tools to do that. Las Vegas is their largest and main conference, though they’ve held and will hold conferences elsewhere too (Australia is common, Madrid is happening next year, etc.).
Because the organisation is run on a non-profit basis, it’s around $300 for the conference ticket (virtual tickets were at $0 this year) and next year, there’ll be a minimum fee for virtual conference attendees.
This year was the first year they held it on the Strip instead of off-Strip in Sam’s Town.
Alright, basic background over, let’s get to it.
Firstly, this is my second Vegas conference, my first being in 2019 in Sam’s Town. So I’m going to compare a few things to previous conferences. I also haven’t done a lot of author focused conferences (literally 20books and World Fantasy); so keep that in mind.
I was really surprised that it was only like 1350+ people at the conference, it felt so much bigger. Maybe because things were a little more concentrated in the room and there were so many new faces, it felt so much larger. I know a lot of people (Australia and New Zealand, a bunch of Europeans and some Canadians) chose not to come and supposedly, we sold over 2100 tickets in total, with a lot of cancellations. It’s a Covid year, so no surprise.
I should further note that I don’t go to these conferences for the panels as much as I do to meet and network with other authors. I didn’t turn up for many panels, mostly because I knew many would be recorded. So, my focus was on the people.
You can judge the panels yourself, they’re all (or mostly all) up. I enjoyed a bunch of the craft panels and some of the business / advertising ones were pretty cool. I certainly picked up some new tactics to try and I haven’t even gone through a fifth of the panels available.
Indie Authors are Different
Comparing it to World Fantasy Con, the feel of the conference, the individuals who turn up, they’re quite different. A friend pointed out that trad authors have this sense of ‘learned helplessness’, where so much of their careers are a matter of waiting. Waiting on agents to reply to them.
Waiting on submissions to be rejected or approved.
Waiting on contracts to be signed.
Waiting on edits for books.
Waiting on books to be published.
Indie authors not only generally have to be much more productive in writing (heck, most indies write 4+ books a year); but they also have to be proactive in hunting down readers and learning everything from covers to advertising. It’s a lot of work, and not for everyone, but it does lead to a different, hungrier mindset it feels.
Obviously, having said all that, I’m much more comfortable at 20books than I was at World Fantasy. And friends are clutch (as the youngsters say. I think) in any convention. Met so many old friends and made some new one. It was VERY strange how I could see the same few people constantly and miss others entirely. Some people I wanted to catch up with just never happened. There’s really never enough time.
Staying for Saturday all day was great. Meant I got to catch up with other friends in a much quieter, less hectic environment. I didn’t have to chase some people down because I knew I’d see them on Saturday, so that helped a lot.
I hate the Strip. Being in the Jubilee towers was mostly fine, except Thursday where they had the giant party till 3am. Made Friday a blur since jetlag had me up at 5am, and I just didn’t talk to people at the author signing as much as I wanted to.
I understand the Resort towers was just as bad on another day, so it seems staying anywhere in Bally’s, you’re going to want earplugs and plan for at least one (or more) nights without much sleep. Furthermore, Vegas desperately needs to fix that indoor smoking is allowed rule. If you cannot stand smoke, Bally’s and Paris is really, really bad for it. Like their filters and air conditioners just suck and don’t take up the smoke enough. If you want to skip out on the smoke, the Westin nearby and Bellagio (right opposite) are both much, much better in terms of the amount of smoke they have indoors. It’s a little more inconvenient, but not that much more really.
I might choose to do that next year, just to save my lungs.
That being said, the actual conference halls being so close to one another made for so much ease. Lot easier to swing in and out of various panels, checking out which ones were good.
Truthfully, I’d love for us to just do it in a convention centre somewhere else that isn’t, you know, smoke filled. Anywhere else…
The sessions that I turned up to were… mixed. Loved the craft sessions I made it to. Police Procedures and David Weber’s talks were amazing. The magic one was very good and was a last minute addition.
I walked out of a bunch too. Some were just too junior (would have been great to have something indicating level in the program), others were just offensive.
Even having something to indicate level of talks would have made such a difference and saved me (and others) a bunch of time.
Oooh, I do have to say Mal Cooper’s Facebook talk was amazing. I missed a bunch of others ’cause network, so a lot to catch up on. I’ve seen some commentary that some of the other talks were amazing, so I know I’ll learn a lot there.
But again – all this is recorded, so it’s not as though you can’t check it out yourself.
I’d also love to see a way for people to pitch sessions on a more formal manner and a way to vet the people talking along with the panel content.
Though that is a ton more work too, so it’d definitely need to be something that is built out with purpose.
Vendor Day and Vendor Tables
Wasn’t that useful for me. Then again, I’m rather experienced and either used or knew most of the vendors. It’d be nice to see more cover designer people or artists trying to break in, but it’s rather expensive for them so I understand why there weren’t more.
I’m not sure if there’s any solution to that. I’m sure having people like Podium, Tantor, etc for the audiobook side was very useful and I noticed a number of people who weren’t part of the vendor tables going around, pitching their services as PAs/VAs, narrators and even their apps.
I’d really be curious to see more writing apps at the Vendor Tables actually. I think people like Radish, Wattpad, etc could do well in such a place. Even signing up a bunch of wide authors to put their books on their apps might make it wortwhile for them.
Overall, it’s growing but right now, not that useful for me. Probably good for newbies.
Author Signing on Friday
20books ran an author signing on Friday. It was their first one and there wasn’t a huge uptake of fans I’d say. At least not where we were.
I might not do the author signing next year. Bringing books across from the border, having things not deliver, etc, was too much stress. I basically ended up giving away half the books I brought and the delivery cost added another $215 to the entire thing (not including cost of production). Could I have done it cheaper by using a suitcase? Definitely, if I hadn’t been travelling and had multiple delays in getting my books to my residence and also having another con beforehand.
On the other hand, a total of $20k worth of books and merchandise was sold that day. That’s a pretty damn good number, for a one day conference.
Thus the maybe.
One of the cooler aspects of 20books are genre get togethers. People step up to organise get togethers for pretty much anything under the sun. In my case, I put together one for the LitRPG dinner and there were others for post-apocalyptic, fantasy and more.
I (we) need to figure out how to do genre get togethers better. The dinner was fun, but too noisy. I think the post-apoc and other genres who just used a room in the evening were smarter.
On the other hand, a free flowing gather is dangerous. It means that the industry leaders in a genre might get mobbed, since the newbies want to pick their brains. On the other hand, having a way for newbies to meet veterans or even other newbies can be really useful.
It’s a comfortable space for people to get to know one another before the show starts, so Monday was definitely the way to go. Just got to figure out a better option…
More General Thoughts
Even though I walked a ton (every day over 10k steps), I think I actually put on weight. American portions are huge and Tao brain says it must eat it all.
Meeting people was fun, but good lord, if I hadn’t been able to hide away every once in a while and have a few hours in the morning quietly, I’d have burnt out. Knowing when you can’t handle people anymore is important, especially when people hang out till late into the night.
Vegas is not my city. It’s expensive, it’s loud and filled with people drunk looking to have a ‘good time’. Then again, I mostly spent my time hanging out with other authors, so I didn’t have to interact with the other tourist much (beyond walking back and forth for food, etc.).
Which, again, happened quite a bit and often through smoky casinos. Overall, it’s a great conference. I would say it’s the best author conference I’ve been to, but see above. I don’t have a lot to compare it to. Even with semi-mixed ones like Dragoncon, 20books by far is better. At least in terms of industry learning.
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