20Booksto50k Vegas Conference

Craig Martelle in full T-Rex regalia punking Mark Dawson

Prepare yourself, this may be a long post. Written over the last week, it summarizes my daily experiences at the 20Booksto50k Vegas writing conference I attended. I landed in Las Vegas on Monday, attended the early sign-up that evening, and was entrenched in the various seminars from Tuesday through Thursday, before flying back on Friday.

It was a phenomenal experience and I am so very glad I went. It was worth every penny I spent and the lessons I learned, along with the people I met, were pure chunks of gold.

There is something about being surrounded by over 1,000 like-minded creative people that just felt so amazing, so energetic, that words desert me. I cannot properly describe it, but as the first session began, I could feel tears welling in my eyes – for the opportunity, for the feeling of like minds surrounding me, for the potential in all of us.

Our badges said it all – from Romance to Puzzle Books, Sci Fi, Cross-Genre (me!), Urban Fantasy, and an unending list of all of those in between – we all dream of seeing our writing go out into the world and make a difference. To entertain, to educate, to distract. And hopefully, if possible, to also make us money. For some it was a MUST and for others simply a dream. More than anything, though, was the wish to share our thoughts, dreams and ideas with a world larger than our own small bubble – wherever we might be from.

Eye candy Shayne Silvers moderating one of the panels

Monday

I flew out on Monday, but the conference didn’t officially start until early sign-in that evening. In truth, it didn’t start until the next morning. It was on Monday, however, that I allowed myself to finally look at the schedule and begin to plan which sessions I would attend, and which I wouldn’t.

Some of the choices were agonizing, until I realized that, no matter what, I could watch each session on video later. That was an amazing boon – a free one, by the way – that meant that I could look forward to playing, and possibly replaying, all of the videos. That way, I didn’t have to miss a moment!

As I moved through the line of attendees that evening, I realized for the first time just how many people were there. It was a bit terrifying, even for this relatively extroverted introvert. There were people EVERYWHERE and they were all like me – they were writers! It was a very strange feeling. After I had received my lanyard and loot, I retreated to my room in terror. It was a bit too much for this introvert.

Later I ventured out after posting on the FB group that I was interested in meeting other writers. I met two wonderful writers who were from Ink Slingers Guild and we talked over a drink at the Ram’s Head bar in the large atrium.

One side of my conference badge

Tuesday

I was rather emotional at the beginning of the day. Sitting in the smaller group, the 2nd tier which numbered only 500, we watched the start of the conference via live feed (the main room only had 1,000 chairs set up and they were all full) and I was so grateful and excited to be surrounded by so many like minds.

I had spent time at the Dunkin’ Donuts with coffee and great, impromptu conversation with three other writers. One was just starting out, another had an established writing career, and the third had written 55 books in the past six years and just retired his wife from her full-time career.

As I listened to Craig Martelle and Michael Anderle kick things off, I had tears in my eyes. I was there, in Las Vegas, surrounded by Indie writers who dreamed of success, who were actively living their dreams, and I was ready to make mine come true as well.

When Dean Wesley Smith, author of 200+ books, including a record number of Star Wars books, spoke, I listened as he outlined the Attitude of a Fiction Author and listed out the top nine:

  • Sustainability – is what you are doing right now sustainable five years from now?
  • Have Fun – if what you are doing is not fun, it won’t work
  • Never Write to Market – unless it’s a market you truly love
  • Defend Your Work – defend it against yourself and never read reviews
  • Believe in Your Work – do the best you can at that moment in time
  • Dare to be Bad – Authors are the worst judges of their own work
  • Heinlein’s Rules – 1. You must write, 2. you must finish what you write, 3. you must not rewrite, 4. you must put it on the market, and 5. you must leave it on the market
  • Nobody Cares – you have complete and total freedom to write what you want
  • Calm Down – don’t compare yourself to others! Take your own path.

That talk buoyed me like no other during the conference. I needed to hear those words.

Along with plenty of laughs, especially when Craig, dressed in a big T-Rex suit, appeared during Mark Dawson’s talk, I filled my notebook with tons of notes and action items and was excited (and exhausted) by the end of the day.

Brian Meeks, an expert on ads, speaking

Wednesday

The second day of the conference was just as awesome, with my favorite talk being John Truby’s Story Rescue. He dug down into the details and discussed how to “fix” a story that has gone off the rails in some fashion or another. I took copious notes and plan to use it on the Chronicles of Liv Rowan to properly outline the story better and see if I can’t bring it from a feeling of “immaturity” to one of a proper fantasy series.

I met loads more writers in every place in the spectrum from first book in the works to self-sustaining author career. I even got up the nerve to talk to one of the presenters, Shayne Silvers, an urban fantasy author, and get a clarified focus on what genre the Chronicles of Liv Rowan could be. From his feedback, it is not urban fantasy, although there are some aspects of the here and now in the series. Her world, though, and where most of the stories focus, are there in the other world – so it definitely falls under fantasy NOT urban fantasy.

By the end of the day, my brain felt like it was on overload. I was asleep by eight and missed all of the late night festivities that the various groups were having. It was simply too much for me to take in!

Mark Dawson had us in stitches when describing a series of emails he received from a troll. Or should I say artiste? In any case, it was a reminder that haters are going to hate, especially when you are wildly successful. If we look at this on an annual basis, I’m currently a Gracile Creature with hopes see the Short Pants level, or Talentless Hack if I’m truly lucky, by the end of 2020.

Thursday

This was the last day of the conference and I was awake at 4 a.m. thanks to my brain still being on Central Standard Time. Despite this, it was the perfect opportunity to sneak into the full 6 a.m. talk with Craig Martelle. I played a hunch that not everyone who signed up for it would make the early time and I was right!

We learned that there would be one last conference held at Sam’s Town next November 10th-12th, and after that, we would need a new venue because our capacity would have outstripped our current digs.

One of the last panels of the day included four high-powered authors – Shayne Silvers, Mark Dawson, and two others. A question was posed, “How much is your ad spend and how much is your ROI?”

To a one they answered that they spent approximately $500,000 on ads in a year and had a return of over $2,000,000.

Wowza.

One side of my conference badge.

When the conference ended I was exhausted mentally and physically, overwhelmed with notebook pages FULL of information and action items, sad that I had to say goodbye to so many fabulous people, and relieved that there wasn’t anymore to fill up my notebook with until next year. It was a LOT to take in.

And what defines this particular conference, far and above any others, is the complete lack of industry funding. Craig Martelle and Michael Anderle consider this a way to give back to others and they were pretty clear with the industry professionals that were there – “don’t try to sell our attendees on your company” – it was educational, it was full of helpful advice, and I felt supported and buoyed by each presentation I attended.

Lessons Learned

I learned so much this conference. About craft, about attitude, production models, covers, advertising, and more.

I have an action list that would make your head spin. I’m pretty sure I will still be working through it when I attend next year’s conference. And yes, I will be definitely be attending next year’s conference!

My biggest take away?

Making a living as an Indie writer is absolutely possible for me.

There are a number of prerequisites to making this happen, however. An author must have:

  • Good, preferably great, writing (10,000 hours or 1,000,000 words of experience helps exponentially)
  • Proper editing – sometimes for developmental, depending on the author, but certainly proofreading to eliminate errors.
  • Placing the book in the appropriate genre that will attract the appropriate readers
  • A great, professional cover
  • A book cover blurb/description that appeals to their target audience and makes them want to buy the book.
  • Effective ads
  • A steady stream of new product
A view of Sam’s Town from the elevator.

And after seven books, I know one thing. I’m at least a good writer, possibly more. I can become a great writer with practice. Think Malcolm Gladwell’s concept of 10,000 hours. The rest of it – editing, cover, blurb, ads and placement – are all areas I either need to work on, or hire out.

I know I don’t wish to design covers. It isn’t a strength or interest of mine, so that means I need to find great cover designers and keep them close! The same goes for editors who could help me if I tend to go off course when it comes to genre.

Lastly, I really need an expert to help me with blurb/description and possibly ad generation. I plan on learning more about this, it’s one of the things on my action list, but I also need to be realistic. If I am not effective at this, I waste a lot of money on ads that could be more effectively spent paying someone who knows what they are doing. Later, I can take over more of this if I find I am becoming more knowledgeable.

Writing goals…for now

The Grand Plan

  1. I’m going to take all of the short stories I have written in the War’s End series and add them to a box set along with the two novels. I plugged in a release date of January 2020, but I might end up doing it earlier. After all, I just need to finish one story and then write the second, run the short stories through a proofreader, get a cover made, and then hit publish.
  2. I checked my calendar and saw that Smoke and Steel, Book 2 of the Benton Security Services series is scheduled to go to Hidden Gems ARC readers on March 3rd, 2020. They are so full that you have to sign up nearly a year in advance for an opening, so I did and now it is looming over me. I’m only 4% done, so as soon as I knock the War’s End box set out of the way, I need to settle in and get this done. Hopefully, by January 1st (or earlier) I will have the 1st draft ready to go. That gives me two months to edit, have a cover designed (as well as re-do Hired Gun in the same style), and have it released on March 1st, just in time for my reviewers to read and review it a few days later.
  3. As soon as Smoke and Steel is done, I need to hit the G581 series hard. I’m not sure if I have three full-length novels on my hands, or two novellas and a full-length, or what. So those due dates of 2/1, 4/1, and 6/1 are pretty much guesses. I’ll know more once I dig down into them.
  4. I have a very difficult time switching from writing mode to marketing mode – so my plan is to focus on writing Mondays through Fridays and handle the marketing and house finances on the weekend.
  5. As far as the writing goes – I am refocusing back on my original plan of 1,000 words per day (no matter how busy my day is with cleanings and appointments). In addition, I hope to increase that incrementally by 200 words per day, per week. So in other words, Week 1 – 5,000 words minimum, Week 2 – 6,000 words minimum, Week 3 – 7,000 words minimum, and so on, all the way to Week 5 and beyond – 10,000 words per week. I don’t know if this is realistic or not when you factor in my heavy cleaning weeks (I alternate between heavy and light cleaning weeks). I may need to do a hybrid where I write 5,000 words minimum on heavy cleaning weeks and 10,000 words minimum on light weeks and get by that way for now. We will see!
  6. I have gone back and forth about when to stop cleaning houses. Right now, that income is desperately needed. Once we have the Airstream online making money (Spring 2020) and I am seeing improvement on book revenue, I plan on closing my cleaning business for good. My hope is that it happens by August 2020. Heck, it could happen sooner and I wouldn’t complain!
  7. My goal is to make at least $2,000 per month on my writing ASAP, $5,000 per month in the near future, and then finally, the goal will be to make enough to retire Dave from his job. How long that will take depends on my writing production and my finding the right connections/learning combo that brings my book sales/ad spend in at the correct ratio.
  8. Lastly, and this might just be a dream, but who knows? In 2-3 years time, I want to be up on that stage myself, giving a presentation about my success as a cross-genre Indie author. Not for the fame, but for the joy of reminding people that success is within their grasp.

I know I can do this. And I’m ridiculously excited about the coming year!

2020 is going to be phenomenal!