The 2023 20Books Conference in Las Vegas, NV. was big, and brimming with energy. An estimated 1700 authors, publishers, and industry professionals packed the Horseshoe Hotel on the Vegas Strip for a week filled with learning, networking, gambling and, for some, writing.
The Written Word Media team was in attendance, and we’ve pulled out our top five takeaways for authors from the last ever “20Books” Vegas.
You read that right. This was the final 20Books Vegas conference, but thankfully it won’t be the last author conference of its kind. We’ve included more details at the end of this post regarding this year’s big announcement.
1. Direct sales was a hot topic, with some caveats
It feels like the entire author world has been buzzing with the promise of direct sales this year. More and more authors are singing the praises of selling books directly to readers from author websites, instead of big retailers like Amazon.
20Books had a lot of the same. Several sessions were dedicated to direct sales, and how authors can make this process work for them.
At the High-Powered Authors Panel, which featured Annabel Chase, Nora Phoenix, Catharina Maura, Joanna Penn, and Leeanna Morgan, four out of five were focused on direct sales in the next year.
The advantages of selling direct to readers include sharing less revenue with a retailer and collecting reader data as they buy books and browse your site.
But experts at 20Books Vegas also brought a welcome sense of objectivity and realism.
Pierre Alex Jeanty who spoke about setting up direct sales with Shopify noted that selling direct is difficult and it’s not the “end-all, be-all” for your author business.
Yes, there are obvious advantages, but there are some barriers that make it less effective for some authors:
- Setting up a direct store can be expensive, and complicated
- After setup, a store will still require maintenance and updates
- In order to sell from your own store, you have to have a way to get readers to it. For many authors, this means a sizeable email list
Yes, for the very successful authors featured on the High Powered Authors panel, a direct store likely makes sense. But, for those just starting out, make sure you understand what’s required before you dive in.
2. Community drives authors forward
20Books Vegas is a massive gathering of authors and indie publishing professionals, and it serves as a reminder of the connection that books can create.
Authors could be found talking shop across the convention center, and there were plenty of “social breaks” taken in hotel rooms to recharge before getting back into the thick of things.
Kate Pickford gave a fantastic suggestion while moderating a steamy romance panel featuring Britt Andrews, Sadie Kincaid, Lori Matthews, and E.L James.
Pickford recommended that authors who needed help staying focused and motivated run “writing sprints.” Pickford gets on Zoom with another author or two, and they all write for 25 minutes, and then chat for five while comparing word counts or chitchatting.
Another note of inspiration came from Sacha Black’s keynote address. After sharing her powerful story of overcoming obstacles and doubt, Black finished by telling authors that “somewhere out there, someone is waiting for your words to change their life.”
Whether your story represents someone who doesn’t feel seen, provides escape or comfort to those who need it, or the fact that you wrote it encourages someone else to chase their dreams, stories have the power to do it all.
3. AI Continues to drive debate, but humanity is valued
20Books Vegas was no different than the rest of the world these days. Artificial Intelligence (AI) was a hot topic of conversation.
There were several sessions focused on AI, and casual conversations also involved debate over the ethics of AI use. It’s certainly a hot-button issue, and there was some frustration when authors found themselves on opposite sides of it.
A takeaway for authors who feel threatened by AI is that humanity is and will continue to be a selling point for authors.
Your personal story and your brand only enhance the appeal of your titles over a theoretical title completely generated by AI. Instead of replacing authors, AI could simply enhance the appeal of a story generated from a human mind.
4. Amazon showing more interest in indies?
Indies don’t always feel that the biggest platform in publishing is invested in their success, or what they have to say. But at the 20Books Vegas conference, Amazon showed up with a big team.
Nearly 30 Amazon employees from four different departments: KDP, Amazon Pay, Amazon Subscriptions, Audible/ACX, were in attendance and had a booth all week for authors.
This is a pretty big team, for context, we at Written Word Media had four wordies in attendance.
Amazon also recently announced a soft launch of an AI narration tool. This, combined with such a commitment to an indie author conference, could signal a resurgence in Amazon’s drive when it comes to Indie Authors.
Could they be feeling the direct sales squeeze?
5. Small presses made a splash
This year’s 20Books saw a notable increase in the presence of small presses, signaling a shift in the industry’s dynamics. However, it wasn’t just the quantity that caught attendees’ attention; it was the innovation brought forth by some new players.
One particularly buzzworthy announcement that sparked a lot of chatter was when industry heavyweights Mark Dawson, James Blatch, and other luminaries unveiled their new publishing company—Fuse Books.
Slated for a grand launch in January 2024, Fuse Books aims to provide a comprehensive suite of services, including industry-leading advertising and marketing strategies designed to continuously engage and expand an author’s readership.
Fuse Books noted their commitment to traditional print publishing, steering clear of the print-on-demand (POD) model. This bold move includes a pledge to publish every book from every author in print, accompanied by a high-quality printing process that ensures the physical manifestation of literary works matches their artistic merit.
While traditional publishers may shy away from such arrangements, Fuse Books embraces the challenge, promising authors unparalleled opportunities in the print realm.
6. Bonus: The conference has a new name and new showrunner next year
As the curtains were ready to close on the final 20Books Vegas conference, the attendees were abuzz with anticipation for the next chapter. While this marked the end of an era, it also heralded the beginning of something new and exciting.
Enter the stage of change with the announcement of the conference’s rebranding as “Author Nation” and the passing of the torch to new showrunner Joe Solari.
If you regrettably missed the 20Books gathering this year, fear not, for Author Nation is set to continue the legacy. Under the leadership of Joe Solari (one of Written Word’s esteemed Speaker Series Guests!) the conference promises to elevate the indie author learning experience to an unprecedented scale.
As we bid farewell to the familiar, we eagerly await the dawn of a new era in Vegas, where Author Nation will hopefully carry the torch, illuminating the path for the future of independent author conferences.