20 Books to 50k Vegas Conference Recap

I spent last week in Vegas at the 20 Books to 50k Conference. This is a conference geared mainly toward those who indie publish their books, often with multiple series and multiple pen names. It’s mostly focused on marketing, but there were plenty of craft sessions, too.

This was the biggest author-centric conference I’ve ever attended with nearly 2000 authors in person and many more joining in virtually. (I’ve been to Colleen Hoover’s Book Bonanza, which is probably a little bigger, but that event is fan focused with only 170 or so authors in attendance.)

Here’s the good news for YOU (if you're an author.)

Nearly all the sessions were recorded and will be available for you to watch for free in a few weeks.

The most valuable parts of the conference for me were the experts on Amazon and Facebook ads as well as deep dives into other marketing strategies. I have some of the more complicated sessions cued up to rewatch and compare notes. Often the presenters were very generous and shared their slide decks too. (Which is a lifesaver when you’re trying to rapidly copy down charts/graphs and statistics on ads.) Additionally, there were wonderfully entertaining and educational author panels, inspirational keynote speakers (Sacha Black rocks!), and the middle grade book marketing talk by bestselling author Melisa Torres was EXACTLY what I needed.

The generosity of the authors who were willing to share their knowledge was astounding—although I really shouldn’t be surprised as I typically run into one author after another willing to share what they’ve learned.

And I should mention that I enjoyed the vendor day more than I ever thought I would. The conference kicks off with tons of vendor booths with illustrators, cover designers, audiobook narrators, publishers, and the biggies like BookBub, Reedsy, Written Word Media, ACX, Amazon, KDP, IngramSpark, Atticus, Book Funnel and many more. It was an excellent opportunity to make connections and get questions answered directly.

My two key takeaways on trends were that many authors are figuring out how to sell their books directly from their websites (both print and ebooks), thus controlling their entire revenue stream. You definitely have to be able to drive the traffic to your website to be successful at this, and certainly there’s a steep learning curve to get this to work right, including setting up your own e-storefront. I need to learn more about this.

My second take away troubles me . . . AI discussions were everywhere, both in the formal sessions and in the informal discussions. Using AI for things like research and marketing applications doesn’t bother me, but the idea of using generative AI programs to write books made me want to know more from the authors who are embracing this about how they reconciled the ethical challenge. Many industry professionals were so excited by the opportunity AI gives them to write faster. I question the ethics of using these programs which were built off of the pirated books of other authors. These books were fed into the computer to teach the program how to generate stories / writing. So copyrighted material was used to create a computer program without the rights holder being compensated for this use. That’s the basis of more than one legal challenge and a major case with famous authors like George R. R. Martin, John Grisham,  Jodi Picoult and suing Open AI. In their complaint, the authors allege "flagrant and harmful infringements of plaintiffs' registered copyrights" and call the ChatGPT program a "massive commercial enterprise" that is reliant upon "systematic theft on a mass scale."

Adding further to this conversation is that AI generated content cannot be copyrighted. However, it seemed to me that most people will not identify that their work was created using AI, so as the systems get better and better—how will anyone know for sure what was and what wasn’t created using AI?

Beyond using ChatGPT and other AI systems for writing, there were sessions on the use of AI narration for audiobooks. Again, these systems were built using actual human narration to teach the computer programs how to sound like real human voices with inflection and tone--without the permission of the copyright holder. How is this okay?

The promoters of AI push back by saying things like this. (These are real quotes from conversations either online or in person.)

1)Well, you’ve probably read thousands of books in your life and you synthesize those books and the story plots and characters even if you don’t mean to. What’s the difference with a computer that can read millions of books and do the same thing with its output.

My answer:  There’s a huge difference – 1) I bought those books or checked them out of the library, thus paying for the right to read them. 2) The computer that scanned those books into its programming to generate stories for people using AI never got permission nor paid for those books.

2)You’re just scared of technology.

My answer: No – that’s not it. I’m not scared of technology. I’m afraid of human beings who use technology unethically.

3)If you don’t do this, you’ll be left behind as the AI authors are going to be able to release tons of books a year.

My answer: That’s possible – at least until readers catch on and (perhaps) decide not to read AI generated content. (But I’m not holding my breath on that one.)

4)The books that were used by Open AI had already been pirated, so what’s the difference?

My answer: Stealing something that’s already been stolen is just a second theft – it doesn’t negate Open AI’s bad act because they found the books in a massive pirated bundle.

5)For audiobooks – well, I can’t afford to hire a narrator to produce my audiobook, so without AI my book would never be in audio format. Why should I be at an economic disadvantage by not having that format available?

My answer:  If you think that, then you should have no problem with someone stealing your entire book and putting it out under their own name. I mean – why should another author be at a disadvantage if they don’t have the time to write a book. You should just give them yours.

6)AI levels the playing field for anyone who is neurodivergent or disabled in a way that makes writing from scratch a difficult process.

My answer: First, it’s really insulting to defend the theft of other people’s work product by alleging that critics of that theft are anti-access for people who struggle with the traditional writing process. I personally know of people who use dictation systems or, in the case of one Wisconsin author many of us know, he taps out his books using morse code with his cheek. It's a false choice as there are many programs that give writers a different pathway to being storytellers WITHOUT violating the copyright of other authors.

Perhaps I’m late the discussion on the ethics of this and all the authors who are wholeheartedly embracing ChatGPT to produce their writing have reconciled this for themselves. I truly want to know how one makes that leap to ‘this is okay to do’ when there’s clearly been a copyright infringement. What am I missing? (I seriously want to know -- what am I missing??)

But even after all that --- I AM VERY GLAD I WENT. (Yes, a huge thank you to author Angie Stanton who has been encouraging me to attend with her! You were RIGHT!)


►It’s important to understand what’s happening in our industry, so you can make informed decisions for your own author career.  Not knowing about major shifts or trends is not a good business strategy.

►And because FINALLY I was at a conference that talks more about the business of being an author and how to market your work than the one or two sessions tacked on to most writing conferences. (Even traditionally published authors need to know this and it seems to be an afterthought so often. There are so many frustrated authors who want to learn how they can best get their books into readers’ hands.)

►It was good to be around other authors who understand the indie journey and the freedom it gives you to chart your own path. (Even when I disagree if that path is heavily reliant on AI.)

►I got to let my teeny tiny freak flag fly wearing my Celtic cloak and tiara, which was pretty minimal in terms of some of the cosplay costumes. (I think there's a picture of me floating around out there on someone else's phone--I'll produce it if I can track it down.) 

►And it was gratifying to see so many authors doing what most of us wish we could do—which is make a pretty nice living from full-time writing.

►Plus, I got to see the cool new sphere in action from my hotel room and from the big High Roller ferris wheel. And while I'm not a big fan of gambling, the shows in Vegas are great -- I saw the Cirque du Soleil Michael Jackson and the Beatles shows and Potted Potter (all 7 Harry Potter books humorously summed up in 70 minutes).

Questions about the conference? Don’t hesitate to reach out.

NOTE: This was the last of the 20 Books to 50k Conferences, but a new organization, Author Nation, has been created to continue on with the same style of conference. Learn more at: https://www.authornation.live/


Hi Valerie,

So interesting - thank you for sharing! This is my feeling exactly - " I’m not scared of technology. I’m afraid of human beings who use technology unethically." It's troubling that some authors don't seem to see the ethical dilemma or have chosen to ignore it.

Thanks, Shannon! It was really disconcerting for me to see some of the authors I've admired for years embracing this technology without any ethical qualms -- or perhaps they had ethical qualms initially, but then got over them. I want to know the how and why of that, given that there are still unsettled lawsuits over the use of other author's work to train AI to write properly. Ugh! It's a huge mess, isn't it!?

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