SPS Live from a Volunteer’s Point of View

Susan Odev

When Mark Dawson made his clarion call for volunteers to help backstage and front-of-house for the Self Publishing Show Live event, held June 28 and 29 in London’s South Bank, I hesitated to raise my hand. 

The inaugural event, back in 2020, heralded the start of lockdown, and there was an excellent chance I actually had COVID on the day—I just didn’t know it then. I did know, though, that I was so ill that afternoon that I skipped the final talk and left my plans to go to the aftershow party to catch an earlier train home and collapse in my bed.

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Two and a bit years later, the team was not only planning another event, but it was to be bigger, better, bolder—well, a day longer, at least. So what’s a girl to do? I was determined to make the most of the opportunity this time, so I volunteered to don the yellow T-shirt and dive in.

June appears to be conference season for European indie authors. The SPS conference came hot on the heels of a number of others across the continent, including 20Books events across the United Kingdom as well as in Madrid and Amsterdam. Many travelers arrived at London South Bank after being on the indie author trail for a month or more, but this did not appear to dampen their enthusiasm. Everyone I met over these two days remained hungry for learning and chance conversations. The buzz backstage and in the reception lounge was palpable.

I had requested to be at the registration desk. Squeezed snuggly into my yellow and black worker bee outfit, I joined my teammates in downloading the required booking app and began scanning. Any silly notions I held about being able to sit down on the job evaporated the moment the doors opened. It was like Harrods’s Boxing Day sale—or a Black Friday event at Macy’s, for my American friends. And the flow of excited, often nervous, but genuinely curious writers remained constant until the show began at nine o’clock.

I valiantly offered, with my wonderful sidekick, Ben, to hang back at our posts for any stragglers. We were an efficient team, attaching name cards to lanyards in between registrations with a deft skill akin to my old grandmother shelling peas over a pan in the backyard. 

This meant that I missed the first two sessions, which is a shame because I heard afterwards that the first talk was awesome. Fortunately, I made it into the auditorium in time to watch Joanna Penn outline her vision for the future. I am not at liberty in this report to summarize all the amazing AI innovations she showcased, but I can say that I was inspired and overwhelmed in equal measure. 

Then came lunch and finally a chance to network properly and talk to my fellow indies. I met many of these amazing people at the 20Books writing retreat and conference in Edinburgh in 2019. Only with fellow self-publishing authors can I completely nerd out about Kindle Unlimited versus wide, discuss the merits of a BookBub deal, or debate the best online courses for Amazon Ads or the merits of plotting versus pantsing. 

And discuss all things word counts. Target word counts. Average word counts. Daily word counts. 

On a side note, I haven’t mentioned yet that it was also my birthday. Yes, I chose to wear yellow and work for free on the anniversary of my entry into this physical plane. And I would do it again in a heartbeat. 

But my birthday held one major drawback. I was in London, and my London-based offspring wanted to take me out for dinner. Normally, this would be a wondrous thing, but it meant that I missed my own party. I have heard tales and seen pictures, and it looked like a great time was had by all.

Getting up at four in the morning for the second day in a row was not easy, but I was excited to see what Day Two would bring. This time, I was only required to mill around and look helpful, so I was able to relax more and enjoy the show. It’s hard to pick highlights; all the speakers were excellent. 

Looking back over my notes, what were my biggest takeaways from the talks? 

Joanna Penn said, “You can choose fear or you can choose curiosity,” and there is so much to remain curious about. I am terrified of TikTok, but maybe I should, instead, develop a more inquiring mind about this popular platform and engage with BookTokers. I blame James Blatch for that. 

Or I should listen to Janet Margot and get over my fear of Amazon Ads. The game is less scary once you know the rules. Follow the ASINs, Amazon’s unique product identification numbers.

Suzy K. Quinn made me reconsider what makes a best-selling book. I need a compelling one-sentence premise for my next work in progress and to stop worrying I’m not a good enough writer. Am I a good enough storyteller though? 

Above all, from the panel discussions and speakers, I learned the difference between being a writer and being a five-, six-, or seven-figure author is deciding that this is a business. I need to make business decisions, not emotional ones. I need to develop quality products people want and then learn how to deliver them. It’s that simple—and that difficult—a task.

When Mark Dawson called the minions up the front for a round of applause, I felt elated to be a small part of the team that had made this show possible. I met or reengaged with wonderful, inspiring people and learned from those who are making it happen. The buzz was infectious—though hopefully this time, coronavirus wasn’t. 

Would I volunteer again? Totally. 

Should you attend an indie author conference if you get the chance? Absolutely.

They really are life-changing. 

Susan Odev

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