“We are in the new pulp era,” said Sean McLachlan, author of Writing Secret's of the World’s Most Prolific Authors, during a presentation at 20Books Sevilla conference. The event, organized by Lantia, was run in conjunction with the Facebook group 20Books created by Michael Anderle, CEO of Las Vegas-based LMPBN Publishing. The event attracted more than 100 writers and presenters, primarily from throughout Europe and North America. Lantia is a self-publishing and print service provider that publishes more than 80,000 books and works with more than 105,000 authors. (It is also the parent company of Publishers Weekly en Español).

The event focused on professional development for self-published and indie authors. Topics covered by the event ranged from effective use of TikTok as a platform for promotion and developing a “coven” of fans, to character development and formulas for a successful indie book launch.

A number of the authors were refugees from traditional publishing who found a lucrative career publishing their own books. McLachlan, an archaeologist, was previously published by Osprey Publishing before moving into self-publishing mystery novels set North Africa and working as a ghost writer and now lives in Madrid.

Several authors emphasized the need to write for the existing market and emphasized the importance of delivering books that catered to the expectations of given audience, largely in established genres. Author Benedict Brown has publishing 20 books, including a series of 10 cozy mysteries set in England in the 1920s. “My books star Lord Edgington, who is 76 and it very much like Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot,” he said, emphasizing that straying too much from the given tropes of the genre would be a mistake. He noted that he learned from experience. “One of my first books was set in Croydon, a neighborhood in South London, which is notoriously ugly. I later learned that all cozy mysteries are set in a pretty place,” he said. He added that characters should evolve to keep readers interesting and that the books have some element that makes them distinctive. “My books are also narrated by Lord Edgington’s 16-year-old grandson, which makes them a little different,” said Brown.

Brown speculated that some of his success may derive from the fact he's a man writing cozies, which is atypical. How successful has Brown been? Brown said he has sold in excess of $650,000 books in his career so far. This number is relatively modest compared with some self-published writers, such as Karen Baugh Menukin, who has sold some $2.5 million books in four years writing cozies.

Several authors offered further tips. Bianaca Blythe, author of Regency Romances, encouraged would-be authors to avoid combining genres, something that will only serve to confuse potential readers—the majority of whom will be found on Amazon, where many of the presenters sold the bulk of their books.

McLachlan emphasized that characters are a key to books and encouraged writers to read outside a writer’s given genre. “It’s all grist for the mill.” His talk looked at the careers of some of the most prolific writers in history, such as Ursula Bloom, author of more than 500 books and Walter Brown Gibson, who kept a typewriter in every room, as well as the authors of Bolsilibros—which means “pocket books” in Spain—who were expected to write a 25,000 words every week. McLachlan, said that he writes 3,500 words a day, seven days a week, something he accomplishes by filling up empty moments of the day with writing. “Trust your subconscious” to give you inspiration, he advised. And exercise he said. “Though it takes time from your day, it will improve your day. “I listen to a lot of podcasts, like Joanna Penn’s podcast, while on the exercise machine.”

Penn talked with Orna Ross, founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors, about the need for indie authors to begin thinking about building their own direct-to-market distribution processes, be it through an email list, social media, a website or, ideally all three.

Dan Wood, COO of Draft2Digital, reflected on the move to direct sales, noting that “if it means more money in the hands of authors, that is a good thing, and anything that takes people away from Amazon’s exclusivity, that is a good thing.” He added, “There will always be a place for us and retailers and libraries to help people find their audience. Some readers will gravitate to buying direct from authors, while others will stay with us to discover an even broader range of books.

If there was a single dominant topic conversation, it was the potential impact of AI to impact book publishing, ranging from the use of Deepl for automated translation to Midjourney for generating covers to Chat GPT4 to produce text for use in books.

“When we say AI is the future, the future is right now,” said Penn, who pointed to the announcement of AWS Bedrock, Amazon’s generative AI. “I think every company that doesn’t think about AI now is about to be disrupted in the same way that companies that didn’t embrace the internet 20 years.”

Michael Anderle added, “the new proliferation of publishing opportunities in the 3.0 sphere is yet to be understood by even those of us who tried to grasp the opportunities right now.”

Perhaps the best summary of the conference came from Draft2Digital’s Wood, when he remarked that going indie is the best way to get published, but also best way to get a potential traditional publishing deal, should you want one. “Just look Colleen Hoover,” said Wood. “She started indie and then went traditional. She is selling so many books.”