Superstars Writing Seminars 2020 After-Action Report:
This report can only hit the high points of what was an incredible week, spent with some of the most talented writers in all of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror. The conference is held at The Antlers hotel in Colorado Springs, CO, and it runs like a well-oiled machine. For any writer who is interested, I can only say this advanced my career in a way few things could. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Anyone interested in attending can contact me for a discount code.
I was a first time attendee to Superstars, so it was hard not to go all fanboy at the sight of so many literary heroes.
Tuesday, Feb. 4 – This was a travel day. Arrival in Colorado Springs was about 8 pm. Superstars has an amazing group of volunteers who picked up attendees at both the Springs airport, and Denver. We flew into COS and immediately met three fellow writers who shared a car with me. I gave the amazing Monique Bucheger money for gas, and I encourage everyone to do this, too. It’s still far less than a cab, Uber or Lyft, and they are doing it without any compensation.
Dinner was a burger in the bar at the Antler’s Hotel, where I saw some friends, including Mark W. Stallings, and met Editor Extraordinaire Mia Kleve. Mia does a lot of work in the Four Horsemen Universe, where I have some upcoming stories, including one anthology she is editing. I love you Mia! (Please don’t reject my story!)
Wednesday, Feb, 5 – Craft Day. Superstars is a conference about the business of writing, but an option is to sign up for Craft Day, where you have deep sessions with the best of the best about some aspect of your writing. I chose a course on starting novels, with Eric Flint, and world-building with Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta.
For the course with Eric, I submitted 8,600 words of a new novel in a new universe. He read it and had two very specific points on how to improve it. Right off the bat he said the writing was fine, very professional and found no issues there. Given that it was only a second draft, I was happy with that, although he did have two suggestions. Both of them I will incorporate, both are simple fixes and both will focus the books even better than before.
Eric Flint’s Ring of Fire Press would be a great home for these…we talked about that at my consultation with him later that day. Turns out, he wants a trilogy from this book for Ring of Fire. Alternate World War II history, you say? Yes, please! I offered to write up a proposal so we would be on the same page, and he agreed, but at this point it’s more or less a formality. One way or another, the books are going to be written and published.
At various times during the seminar I had the pleasure of speaking with Lt. Col. Kevin Ikenberry, US Army (Ret.), and one helluva good SF novelist. Kevin writes in the Four Horsemen Universe and has branched out into stories of the Peacemaker Guild.
The second part of craft day was world-building with Rebecca Moesta and Kevin Anderson. How much I learned here blew me away. I thought I had a pretty good handle of how to world-build, but once we took a deep dive into the subject I learned how much I didn’t know. Or, rather, I knew most of it, but had forgotten it or had not placed my emphasis in the right places. This is going to help immensely.
At dinner in the hotel, we ran into none other than Colonel Jonathan Brazee, with his wife and one year old twins. We had a long, in-depth conversation about many aspects of publishing. For those who don’t know, Colonel Brazee has more than 100 Indie titles and has been both a Nebula and a Dragon Awards finalist. Plus, he’s a genuinely nice guy.
Thursday, February 6 – The day started great, having breakfast with James Hunter and his brilliant wife, Jeanette Strode. We had a far-ranging conversation on many topics. THIS is why you attend Superstars, because moments like this only come once in a lifetime. James and Jeanette are having unprecedented success with Shadow Alley Press, and are a big part of the re-shaping of publishing currently underway.
After that I attended Jonathan Mayberry’s session on writing short stories. As a 5-time Stoker Award winner, when someone like Mayberry speaks, I listen.
As an editor, he rejects unsolicited stories if the first line isn’t really good. If the story was solicited, then he might give the author until the end of the first page, which is 16 lines in standard format. The other very interesting thing I learned is that he writes the ending first, which I also sometimes do.
Another session I attended was with Eric Flint, as he discussed Ring of Fire Press. He went into detail about how to submit for the 1632 series, the Grantville Gazette, and Ring of Fire Press, plus the content they are looking for. 1632 has more than 200 books in the universe.
I also attended James Hunter and Jeanette Strodes’ first class on Understanding Amazon. The room was absolutely packed, and this helped clarify what I already knew about Amazon, and taught me a whole lot more.
Snow started falling in the afternoon and we ate dinner two blocks away at Jack Quinn’s Irish Pub, where we both got the Shepherd’s Pie. It was great!
Friday, February 7 – Breakfast was again a high point of the day, since I sat with Colonel Brazee, James Hunter (he’s probably sick of seeing me by this point), Aaron Michael Ritchey and the amazing Michael Anderle. I missed the first few sessions because…well, I was already having breakfast with Superstars, so why cut that short?
I then attended the Traditional v. Indie Publishing panel, where at least one major author said he is leaving Trad to go 100% Indie. The general conclusion is that how you publish depends on what you want from your book(s). Trad = visibility, Indie = money.
After that was Michael Anderle’s EYE-OPENING session on global marketing. Holy cow! And I got the contact I needed to start putting my stuff into other languages in a fast way that makes economic sense. This could be a game-changer.
Anderle also went detail about how to attend foreign book fairs, why you might consider doing so, and how to network if you do. That was pure gold.
Next was Brian Meeks, the Human Stat Machine. This was hard data about using both Amazon and Facebook ads, and how to write book descriptions to achieve your goals. Plus, a few little known details about how Amazon works when formatting those descriptions. He also gave us the five most powerful words, as proven by long and hard data crunching. I can honestly say that after listening to his talk, I am completely changing my approach to judging the success of ads on both platforms.
After Meeks came the 2nd part of James Hunter and Jeanette Strodes “Mastering Amazon”. There was SO much info it was hard to keep up, and even though I’ve studied this intently, most of it was new to me.
Friday night was the optional dinner with a guest. I chose Eric Flint, which gave a chance to reinforce our previous agreement for the trilogy. I sat next to Lou Agresta, who is both a novelist and a game designer.
Once back at the hotel, I was up well past midnight discussing a potential teamup with Mark W. Stallings for what would be a really cool project. Still some details to work out there.
Saturday February 8 – A 6:00 am wake up call was necessary because of a 7:00 am Eggs Benedict breakfast, hosted by James Artimus Owens. (Here, There Be Dragons). It was both delicious and inspiring.
The first full panel of the day that I attended was The Art of the Con, wherein Jonathan Mayberry, Jim Butcher and several others gave insight into their approaches to being guests at cons, and selling books there. I learned several concrete tips to improve both sales and visibility. When authors of this caliber speak, I listen.
Then came James Hunter and Jeanette Strodes third Understanding Amazon panel, and this one was absolutely loaded with insights and tips. I couldn’t write fast enough. Once again, what I learned will help refine ads and deliver much better results. You simply can’t overvalue such a session.
Things finally wrapped up with a session featuring all of the special guests doing a Q & A panel. Dinner that night was at Phantom Canyon Brewery across the street, where we’d had the VIP Dinner the night before. The Shepherd’s Pie was quite different from Jack Quinn’s, yet utterly delicious. Highly recommended. I know I’m going back next year.
Sunday February 9 – A 3:00 am wakeup call for a 6:20 flight to Dallas seemed like torture at the time, but airport security was as fast as it can ever be and the plane was on time. No hiccups in Dallas, and home by 1:15 PM.
So what’s my verdict? Was it worth the money, time and effort? Oh hell yes. I was the third person to sign up for next year. I mean it when I say that SSWS advanced my career by years. Any SFF writer who is serious really needs to go, there’s not another conference like it. And if you are a writer and make that decision, don’t forget to ask me for a discount code, I’ll be glad to let you have it.