20Booksto50kVegas 2023 was jam-packed with author events, talks and advice. So, following ALLi team member Sacha Black's reflections last week, we're sharing a part two today! Suspense and thriller author Dina Santorelli is an ALLi ambassador based in New York who attended the 20Booksto50kVegas 2023 conference – this is her report.
Read on for Dina's reflections on Vegas itself, her takeaways from the event, and what she'll do differently based on what she's learnt.
If you’ve attended a book event, fair, conference or something else you think members would benefit from hearing about, please get in touch with ALLi Blog Editor, Holly: [email protected].
“It’s Vegas, baby!”
So proclaimed author Craig Martelle, the fearless leader of 20Booksto50kVegas 2023, during the opening ceremonies in early November. 20Booksto50kVegas—a show for authors, by authors—consisted of more than 180 sessions over five days culminating in RAVE, a book sales/signing event that took in more than $48K in total book sales!
Those aren’t the only astounding numbers: The conference attracted a whopping 1,800+ registered attendees (plus 700 online attendees!) and 70+ vendors, including ALLi and all the major retailers—Apple, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, and more. And then there were the 150 volunteers who assisted Martelle and worked tirelessly to make sure the whole conference ran smoothly. (A special thanks to author Jamie Davis who helped me find a hand truck to carry ALLi flyers and brochures!)
A little bit of 20Booksto50kVegas history…
The first 20Books Vegas took place in 2017 with just a few hundred authors in attendance. That year, it was located in the Sam’s Town Hotel and Gambling Hall, off the central Las Vegas Strip. It continued there in 2018 and 2019 until the conference outgrew the facility.
The conference was set to move to the Strip at the present location in the Horseshoe Hotel and Casino in 2020 but had to cancel due to COVID. However, the conference resumed at the Horseshoe in 2021 and has been there annually ever since. (Note: The 20Booksto50K brand was founded by author Michael Anderle; the conference is Martelle’s brainchild.)
A packed schedule for 2023
To say that the audience of authors was exuberant and happy to be there is an understatement. They were ecstatic. There was cosplay. Tiara wearing. Smiles everywhere. Authors were ready to network and learn, and the conference covered topics from writing to marketing and lots in between. Probably the biggest buzz was about 1) direct sales and 2) AI—specifically, ChatGPT. The latter topic was—not surprisingly—controversial.
The conference featured some of the biggest names in indie publishing. Mark Dawson. Joanna Penn. Sacha Black. Britt Andrews. Just to name a few. Heck, even mega-best-selling romance author EL James stopped by.
Black, who serves as ALLi’s Self-Publishing Advice Content and Communications Strategist, gave the keynote address and fired up attendees with inspirational stories of her own author journey.
No matter how tough this creative life gets, it is ALWAYS better than what came before.
Black also had the opportunity to take part in a documentary
about indie authorship during the conference. Titled Creative Sparks: When Writers Catch Fire, the documentary is being put together by filmmaker and budding author Anthony Mormile of 519media.com, an entertainment company that produces streaming content.
The first day of the conference was devoted to Vendor Day, where various companies and organizations in indie publishing set up tables and talked to authors about what they do.
For me, as a representative of ALLi, the day felt like a triumph. Not only did I get to wax poetic about ALLi and how it has made my personal indie author business better over the years, but I spent an entire day standing at the ALLi table while people—vendors and authors alike—stopped by to tell me how much they love the organization. This is just a sampling of the things I heard:
- “You’re like a union for authors.”
- “Thank you for all you do!”
- “You’re the Better Business Bureau for writers!”
- “If you’re only going to join one organization, this is it.”
- “If you’re not in ALLi, you’re an idiot.”
I felt like I was at the popular kids table in middle school.
My takeaways from 20Booksto50kVegas 2023
Oprah Winfrey often talks about aha moments, and I had plenty of them during 20Books Vegas. As I write this, I’m still working my way through the panel discussions, which were live-streamed for the online attendees and also recorded for later viewing. However, I think my main takeaway is this: I need to think more like an indie author.
What do I mean by this? Haven’t I always thought like an indie author? Well, yes and no.
When it comes to indie publishing, I’m one of the old timers, having self-published my first book back in 2012. Back then, the school of thought for indie authors was to “think like a traditionally published author”—or what was commonly referred to as a “trad author” at the conference. Back then, we wanted to be taken seriously as indie authors, and I think a lot of us went out of our way to make sure our books were presented as if traditionally published: well-written, well edited, with proper book covers, etc.
Of course, that still stands true today.
But what’s changed, I think, is the way indie authors can and should do business. There’s no need to follow the same trajectory as the traditionally published side anymore. The things that work for us on the business side—in marketing, in distribution—don’t necessarily work the same way for traditionally published authors. Indies have charted new territory. And I need to take more advantage of that.
What am I going to do differently?
- Focus on the money. I can’t even believe I’m writing this because I generally don’t operate this way. I don’t do anything for the money as my primary reason (starving artist, anyone?), but if I’m to treat my books as a business, I know I have to start. And that means taking a good, hard look at how I spend my time as an indie author and deciding whether or not the things I do generate income—or at least have the potential to.
- Increase efficiency. Like many authors I spoke to during the conference, focus and time management is a challenge since indies not only have to serve as the creatives for their books but also the publishers, marketers, gofers, etc. Although I think I can be quite productive when I want to be, I feel like over the last few months my productivity has slowed. I made the decision—thanks, in part, to Nora Phoenix’s session, “The Power of Focus,” to focus on the things I can control. For instance, I am forever being interrupted at home when I write. The dog barks. The doorbell rings. The lawn maintenance people seem to arrive just when I get into the flow of a scene. I can’t stop any of that from happening. All I can control is my own actions—or how I respond to those things. That said, the week following the conference, I made a point to leave my home office and write somewhere else—the library, a local Panera Bread. And I turned off my email, phone, and social media for the 2 to 3 hours I wrote each morning. So far, the strategy is working, and I hope to keep it up. Simple, yes. But not always easy. As Phoenix said, “If something is a habit, it doesn’t require willpower.” I’ve decided to make new habits and focus on what “moves the needle.”
- Investigate AI. As I discussed with authors on Vendor Day and throughout the conference, AI is here to stay. We can put our hands over our ears and yell “la la la” and stick our heads in the sand, but AI isn’t going anywhere, and we need to find a way to either 1) live with it or 2) embrace it. I’m leaning toward choice #2. During the conference, bestselling author and AI guru Melle Amade Melkumian offered several terrific discussions on AI and how it can be used throughout the publishing process, and my plan is to start researching the technology. Specifically, I want to find out whether AI can help me with the planning and marketing of a new genre I decided to write at the conference. AI is not an all-or-nothing proposition. It’s a tool, and if it can help me with the first two bulleted items on this list, I’m all ears.
- Be satisfied with “good.” This advice came from Phoenix. And author coach and podcaster Becca Syme said the same during her session, “Do You Want it Bad Enough?” “We can’t be excellent at everything,” she noted. I felt totally seen. God knows I’ve tried to be excellent at everything. It’s not only impossible, but exhausting when you try. I need to work on being a better decision maker. And know when to opt out.
- Consider direct sales. I heard a lot about direct sales at 20Books. I’m definitely interested, but I’m putting a pin in that for now. As presenter Bryan Cohen, Amazon Ads expert, bestselling author, and founder of Best Page Forward, said during his session, “Book Marketing You’ll Actually Love,” “We can’t do all the things all the time.” And that’s okay. He suggests we “cater to your joy.” And that’s just what I plan to do. Oh, and make some money while I’m at it.
It’s difficult to describe Las Vegas, Nevada, to people who haven’t been. Being from New York, I recognize a similar energy in Vegas. There’s an excitement in the air. My taxi driver who drove me from the airport to the hotel called Vegas a “fake city in the middle of a desert.” Probably because it’s everything and nothing at the same time. You’ll find the Eiffel Tower. Not the real one, of course. You’ll find pyramids. Those aren’t real either. But no one seems to care because you’re too busy eating out, seeing shows, and gambling till dawn.
During the conference, the city was gearing up for the Las Vegas Grand Prix, a Formula One Grand Prix that was scheduled for the following week and included a temporary street circuit right there on the Strip. Traffic was snarling all week, so many people opted to walk the Strip, snaking in and out of the hotels. I don’t think I’ve walked that much in years! (Good thing, because every afternoon at the conference there were cookies. Big ones.)
I had lots of plans for my stay, which included visiting a client I had never met in
person and visiting with a friend from junior high school. And I had bought a ticket to see a film at the Sphere, the exciting new venue that recently opened near the Venetian hotel. I could see the Sphere from my hotel room, and for the first night—when I was plagued with jetlag (which, by the way, plagued me all week long)—I watched it change color every second. From a bright red design, to a playful yellow face, to a blinking eyeball, and to even the surface of the moon.
Like the Sphere, Vegas is ever-changing. For that reason, it’s the perfect place to hold a conference like 20Booksto50kVegas, which celebrates an ever-changing publishing landscape. Unfortunately, this year’s conference was the last one being put on by Martelle et al. During the closing ceremonies, Joe Solari, who is taking the conference reins, introduced the logo for the new, reincarnated conference, known as Author Nation, that will be taking place in November 2024.
Time will tell what the new conference will bring, but I have no doubt that authors will continue to bring that same sense of promise and generosity to 2024 as they move forward—individually with their careers, together as a community.
As Black said in her keynote: “There is a reason the world needs you to write your story. I believe that readers read, yes, because they love escapism. And, yes, because they love a good story. All the usual reasons. But, also, I know that readers read because they want to be seen. They need to be heard. Feel like they belong. And your unique voice is going to do that for somebody.”
All photo credits: Dina Santorelli
Find out more
Catch up on the Out and About Vegas report from Sacha Black shared last week on the blog…