A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats

A Recap of the 20Books Vegas 2021 Conference

Fatima Fayez

In November 2021, roughly sixteen hundred authors descended upon Las Vegas to attend the annual 20Booksto50K® conference. Bally’s Las Vegas Hotel hosted the event for the first time, the increased number of attendees showcasing the growing popularity of the conference. 

It also marked the return of the conference since 2019 after Sam’s Town Hotel canceled the 2020 conference due to COVID-19 concerns. For many of the attendees, this was the first time in almost two years that they could meet their friends and peers. For others flying in from Europe and the UK, it was the earliest opportunity to return to the United States—the travel ban had been lifted mere hours earlier. Everyone was eager to learn, reconnect, and network.

You could feel the excitement in the air. Ricardo Fayet, co-founder of Reedsy, said, “It was an incredible feeling to be able to see everyone in person after such a long time. What makes 20BooksVegas special for me is that it brings people in across all genres, levels and opinions while keeping a healthy, supportive, and inspiring spirit for all.”

The conference started with an Industry Day where over thirty vendors showcased their products and services, from author programs to website creation and cover design. Indie Author Magazine had a table and showcased past issues.

Conference organizer Craig Martelle put together a quality show, arranging an impressive number of sessions and panels. On an average day, attendees had a choice of over forty talks to attend. The speakers included both indie and traditionally published authors, discussing a wide range of topics from craft to marketing. A session was available for authors in each stage of their career in any genre.

Some sessions struck a chord with authors after the turbulent past two years. Tyler Davis mentioned, “I enjoyed both of Becca Syme’s panels. They were exactly what I needed after burning myself out in 2020–2021.”

David McDowell, a first-time attendee, was impressed by the caliber and generosity of the presenters. “My writing has improved immensely since attending, thanks to the guidance of speakers such as Maxwell Alexander Drake and C.R. Rowenson. Drake’s message resonated with me and has guided my writing since. C.R. Rowenson sat with me on his own time to help clarify details of my book that were [eluding] me. The value I gleaned from these two speakers alone was worth the price of admission, and yet I learned so much more.”

As one of the presenters at the conference, Monica Leonelle appreciated the myriad paths authors follow to realize their dreams. “The thing that impressed me most about the 20Books conference was how diverse the marketing and sales talks were. There were authors making money from so many different avenues—direct sales, Patreon, Kickstarter, wide retailers, events and signings, and more. For me, the value was in seeing so many people fearlessly forging their own path for their career. People often say the conference is Amazon-centric, and I couldn’t disagree more.”

Chris Abernathy recollected, “My favorite moment was seeing Sarah Noffke have her moment on stage. It was, to me, exactly what 20Books is about. She was 100 percent celebrating the impact on her life and also 100 percent helping and inspiring others to overcome their challenges and realize their dreams. And that’s not bad math because, with 20Books, the two are the same.” Sarah Noffke was on the High Powered Authors panel and spoke about the Production and Writing of a Long Series, both popular sessions with authors lining up to sit in the front row.

Meanwhile, Tao Wong “really enjoyed David Weber’s talk about Author Voice. Seeing his own focus on characters helped clarify one option to strengthen my own author voice and the way it can grow in the future.”

In addition to regular sessions, genre panels included Post Apocalyptic, Urban Fantasy, Erotica, LitRPG, Action/Adventure, Thriller, Historical, Western, Cozy/Mystery, Space Opera, and Reverse Harem. 

In a special setup, authors were invited to pitch their stories to publishers with the aim of securing a publishing deal. Jenn Mitchell participated and revealed, “It was both terrifying (I had to pitch first) and awesome. The publishers were kind and generous with their feedback. The learning experience was invaluable, and it really helped build my confidence as an author.”

Jordan Barnes attended the conference after hearing about it from Merri Maywether in a Clubhouse room. He had been part of her regular writing sprint rooms for months, and after attending the conference, he shared, “One highlight for me was when Merri Maywether hosted an impromptu writing sprint after a great day of panels. It was surreal writing with so many friends for the first time in person and sharing the same passion that brought us all together.”

But attendees made time for fun too. Since authors love to eat, a popular game during the week was finding the cake vending machine. Anytime an author discovered it, a photo popped up in the Facebook group. Claire Taylor declared, “My favorite moments at 20Books always take place gathered around food with friends. The magic of it is that you rally a few people you know to grab a bite, but they inevitably bring along people you don’t yet know, so you end up sharing every meal with old friends while making a few new ones. That’s what in-person gatherings are all about for me.”

John Logsdon agreed with Claire’s sentiment. “Having meals with fellow authors made for deeper conversations that were enlightening and energizing. Coupled with our spirit-of-sharing 20Books mindset, those side-discussions were invaluable!”

Authors also love to read. Ramy Vance revealed, “One of my favorite moments was meeting an author that I was actually a fan of . . . I love the Ten Realms series and was at a party when I bumped into a guy named Michael Chatfield. We had a wonderful conversation, and he generously showed me a few things he was working on for the future.”

The conference week ended with an author signing event. Dozens of authors participated, and for several authors, the signing event was the first they had attended. Jenn Mitchell acknowledged, “Participating in the Author Signing event was one of the highlights of the show for me. Erika Everest and team did a fabulous job of organizing and executing everything, which made for a smooth and enjoyable experience for the authors.”

Not all authors decided to sell their books. Becca Syme disclosed, “I had a table at the signing, and I ended up giving away 100 percent of my books instead of selling them. I always see author signing events as an opportunity to get my books in the hands of new readers. I could spend one dollar on a custom piece of swag, or I could spend about one dollar more and send readers away with something they came for—a book. It’s promotion for me, just like running ads.”

For many authors, the annual 20Booksto50K® Las Vegas conference is not to be missed. Robyn Wideman agreed, “Attending 20books conferences is always a highlight of my year. The opportunity to talk shop . . . with fellow authors in person is invaluable and always inspirational. The friendships made during 20books are priceless.”

Regular attendee and speaker Nora Phoenix lauded the relationship-building available at the conference. “My biggest value was reconnecting with author friends and acquaintances and making new connections . . . the networking has been so helpful in finding mutual support and encouragement, learning new things, getting opportunities, and having access to information I wouldn’t have had otherwise, and so much more.”

Post-apocalyptic author and panelist Franklin Horton matched the sentiment. “Aside from the content of the sessions, 20Books offers an unprecedented opportunity to network with your colleagues. For me, this has always been the most significant value of conferences.”

Jami Albright said being at the conference fed her soul. “There’s something really powerful about being in a room full of people who are all striving for the same things and to be [reminded] that you’re not alone on this journey that can be very solitary.”

One of the High Powered Authors panelists and presenter of the Rapid Release Marketing talk Elana Johnson affirmed, “My advice is to do what you can to attend the next 20Books conference in person if at all possible. There is an incredible energy there you can’t get anywhere else. There are people you need to meet. There are networking opportunities that will take your career to the next level, whether that’s through craft or marketing or mindset adjustments. Attending 20Books in person in 2017 was a key moment for me in realizing that I could take my writing into a full-time business. It was life-changing, and that shift came from being on site and meeting the people already doing it.”

R.J. Blain had this advice for people considering attending the next conference. “Unlike most conventions, almost everything is recorded, so when you attend 20Booksto50K®, take care of yourself. You’re not going to miss out taking care of yourself during a very long and tiring week. A rested mind learns better!” Virtual attendees could watch sessions live-streamed on Facebook and then transferred to YouTube. You can find most of the sessions here: https://www.youtube.com/c/20Booksto50kRLiveEvents/ 

Maria Connor summed it up perfectly. “What makes the 20Books conference stand out from other events is its grassroots commitment to supporting all writers through a cohesive, cooperative organization. It strives to make information and resources available to all writers, no matter their goals, level of achievement, genre, experience, or approach to publishing. 20Books participants, organizers, and presenters are knowledgeable, generous, approachable, and committed to helping each and every member level up.”

If you have an opportunity to attend in person, do it. If you can’t go, the next best thing is to watch all the sessions online.

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