What the hell happened at Readers Take Denver, the “Fyre Festival of Books?”

James Folta

May 6, 2024, 1:52pm

Social media has been in an uproar after last month’s Readers Take Denver, when thousands of authors and readers arrived in Denver, Colorado for what was billed as a weekend of events, signings, and meet-and-greets with authors. But RTD (not to be confused with “Regional Transportation District,” Denver’s public transit system) was instead a disaster.

Starting at the festival sign-in, pretty much everything went wrong. The Denver Post quoted attendee Kelli Meyer, who called the event the “Fyre Festival of books” and author Amelia Hutchins described the event as the worst parts of the internet come to life in a Gothically-fonted Facebook post: “If I wanted to be abused, insulted, and treated like shite, I can go to Goodreads and get all three for free.”

Not good! If you’re wondering what’s going on here, here’s a quick explainer.

What is RTD?

Readers Take Denver was a book event that took place this April 18-21 at the Gaylord Rockies Resort, and was a sequel to last year’s much smaller version. Both were organized by Lisa Renee Jones, a writer who has written more than 100 romances and thrillers.

RTD 2024 was extremely ambitious, judging by this intense-looking schedule. The event also promised no lines, which is a tall order for a big convention. In a screenshotted Facebook post, the event’s organizers promised “we do not do lines” and “YOU NEVER STAND IN LINES.” This was to be accomplished via a timed system where messages sent on WhatsApp would tell attendees where to go and when. If you’re thinking that this sounds impossible based on how hard it is to organize a dinner with 6+ friends, well dear reader, your instincts are correct.

And all of this cost $375 for a ticket, all before travel and hotel fees.

What Went Wrong?

From what I’ve read, sounds like just about everything.

Communications issues: Amelia Hutchins and Jessica Mack (who documented a lot of the conference’s issues in a thorough blog post) described how difficult it was to get straight answers from the organizers before the event, and how they communicated to attendees via sporadic emails and livestreams.

Long, long lines: the event apparently had over 3,000 attendees which overwhelmed the volunteers staffing the event. People were waiting in line for hours. A post from a “book husband” on Reddit’s r/romancelandia said that “the wait in the registration line took 3 hours—and maybe that’s what happens if you have 3,000 attendees and only four staff people processing registrations.” Lines were a frequent complaint: “All we did was stand in line. It was total BS,” Kelli Meyer told The Denver Post.

Disorganization: When the WhatsApp-based system for moving people around fell apart, people were apparently shoved and aggressively shifted around. Author Rebecca Yarros wrote a long post on Facebook that included the detail: “Shutting the lights off on a group of people who aren’t moving fast enough for your liking isn’t just a juvenile form of communication, it’s dangerous.” Adults famously do not like to be communicated with the same way kindergarteners are told snack time is over.

Disregard for accessibility: I saw multiple posts on the same r/romancelandia thread talking about how accessibility, especially for people in wheelchairs, was disregarded.

The organizers ran out of nearly everything: From a post on Reddit: “They ran out of lanyards and swag bags—and even bottled water.” Which at Denver’s mile-high altitude is a pretty big issue.

No garbage cans: Charlotte Dae posted on Threads not just about how “there weren’t enough lanyards” and “no bottled water [was] provided to the authors,” but also that there were “no trash cans.”

Claims of theft: Also from Reddit: ”Authors have been reporting that their books and other items were stolen—possibly by mistake because of confusion or possibly on purpose.”

Claims of harassment: There were a number of claims of people being shoved and yelled at, and one Booktoker posted a video of her black eye from being knocked to the ground. Author Abigail Owens posted on her blog: “to the victims who were subjected to any form of harassment, assault, theft, or other personal violations, please know that my heart is with you.”

Creepy men: As documented on TikTok, Reddit and blog posts, apparently a small group of men snuck in from a nearby military conference and were being at minimum aggressive and creepy during a party at night.

Have The Organizers Responded?

Lisa Renee Jones sent out a long reply, screenshotted here,in which she blamed the hotel, the fact that the convention didn’t having a digital registration system, and waved away other problems as “bumpy bumps.” The NY Post also quoted the organizers’ claims that the backlash is at least in part, personally motivated: “Iron Flame author Rebecca Yarros used social media as a weapon after the two butted heads about how her portion of the event schedule would shake out.”

Will There Be One Next Year?

No. The event is already canceled for next year.

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