Just received my table location for Planet Comic Con, which will be held 29-31 March 2019 in Kansas City at Bartle Hall. Anita C. Young and I are at tables 2338 / 2340 in the main hall. Come on down and see us to pick up a book and grab some art!
So about a year ago, when I was talking to several of my fellow indie author friends, they mentioned a convention known as “LTUE.” When I asked what the acronym stood for, I was told, “Life, The Universe, and Everything.” Being familiar with conventions overselling and underperforming (and shamefully not recognizing the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy quote), I merely nodded and made a note that the event existed. I mean, surely a convention full of writers couldn’t be really that good. Plus, as long-time readers of this blog know, I go to cons to fleece people, erm, I mean, give them products in exchange for money.
Hi, my name is James, and I’d like to talk about why you shouldn’t be as idiotic as I was.
BLUF: LTUE isn’t a seller con, it’s a professional one. (Although, there was a dealer room and I did get my wife a really nice dice bag from Words & Geekery, a local small business.) If you are an indie author, you should go expecting to have knowledge poured into your head by people who are quite knowledgeable in their field. You should also go expecting to hear diverse points of view. Finally, you should attend to reconnect with old friends, make new ones, and quite possibly end up dragooned into moderating / guesting on multiple panels. Like, oh, nine or so of them.
If you’re looking for a blow by blow AAR, friend and fellow indie Cedar Sanderson is starting a really good one here [EDIT: and the rest of it here]. I’ll simply give some background and hit the highlights of my attendance, but Cedar captures the nuts and bolts of what it was like day to day. I will say that there were Belgian Waffles:
Stores that made me wonder if the Mortal Kombat crew had fallen on hard times:
And my favorite, traps, erm, I mean, hazards:
LTUE used to be held at BYU, but outgrew the college and was held at the Provos Marriott. Inprocessing was pretty easy, especially as originally I wasn’t planning on presenting. Indeed, I specifically said to my friends that I was coming “as an innocent bystander,” i.e., just some rando guy who happened to know people until I got the feel of the convention. This is standard for me (several of my friends are laughing right now), as it’s a lot easier to get a good feel for things if one grabs a seat in the corner of a room and just listens. However, I greatly underestimated the number of Libertycon alumni who would not only be attending, but were quite happy to dime me out as knowledgeable history and military subjects. When the head of the con walked up and said, “Oh, you’re Dr. James Young, I’ve heard so much about you”, I kind of knew my [albeit flimsy] cover had been blown. Hilarity ensued from that point on, especially when I may or may not have heckled fellow author Kal Spriggs. I pretty much stood in for my friend and fellow indie Peter Grant (who ended up having to cancel at the last minute) as well as another author/presenter who just flat out didn’t show up.
This leads well to another discussion that is very pertinent not only to LTUE but conventions in general: If you’re ever asked to present, moderate, or be a panelists at a conference, the most important thing to do is show up. If unable to do the most important thing, it is incumbent that you let not only the convention organizers but your fellow panelists know that you will not make it. I will merely say that missing three days of a panels with nary a word to folks who expected you to be on panels is a great way to get a reputation as a jerk. Stiff people like that, you better be able to say, “Well, there was that little matter of me nearly dying…” or “Look, I didn’t know my first cousin owed the cartels money and they were going to kidnap me to make my grandma pay up.”
On the other hand, being able to discuss a topic coherently, even with no warning, is a good skill to cultivate as an author. Furthermore, seizing the opportunity to either moderate or be on a panel will, apparently, get one kudos for an entire weekend as well as a reputation. Finally, being on panels is a great way to meet other subject matter experts in your field.
Even more fun than being on panels, however, was attending several (list at the bottom of the post). I learned a lot about prison guards, artist networking, The Cuban Missile Crisis, and various other sundry subjects than I had expected. A panel on death and dying provided by a good friend who is also a hospice nurse not only gave me a story idea but also helped me reconsider my own blind spots and how I dealt with terminal disease in some books. There was a panel in which I learned new ways to assess gender and power relationships in both reading and writing. Lastly, I got to meet one of my favorite alternate history authors by total and complete accident.
That last one deserves its own paragraph. When Angels Wept is an alternate history of the Cuban Missile Crisis done by Dr. Eric Swedin that won the 2010 Sidewise Award. Having only met Eric the night before, I did not put his name and the book together when I started talking to another individual about the book. That person pointed out that Eric had given him a copy, at which point I said, “You gave him a great book.” To which Eric replied nonchalantly, “I know, I wrote it.” After a moment of fanboying, I pointed out that at least he knew I honestly liked it and wasn’t just being polite. (Why yes, next year I do intend to take my copy to have him sign it. Why do you ask?) However, bonus points: I was also able to recruit Eric for To Slip the Surly Bonds, the next Phases of Mars alternate history anthology which will focus on air combat.
In the end, it was this face-to-face interaction that was LTUE’s best aspect. There are only a few cons where several New York Times bestselling authors and illustrators (to include Brett Helquist, who is simply amazing with his advice and knowledge) are not only in attendance, but also happy to share their experiences at length. This by itself makes LTUE worth its low price of admission ($55) and the trip out there. Add in the fact you get to test new plot outlining technology and have a chance to talk with experienced editors looking for clients, and it’s almost stealing. If you’re an indie author, especially west of the Rockies, LTUE should definitely be on the list of cons to attend at least once.
List of panels where I was either the moderator or a panelist (so you can find them if LTUE puts them on YouTube):
“Joining the Rebellion”—Moderated
“Chesney to Heinlein to Weber: The Evolution of Military SF”
“Rules of Engagement”
“Heinlein and the Battlefield: Starship Troopers’ Influence on the Military”—Moderated
“The Art of War 1 and 2”—This was a double panel
List of panels I attended:
“On Death and Dying: Watching Over the Terminally Ill”—As noted above, this was done by my friend, and hospice nurse, Amanda Fuesting. Amanda rocked it, and if you’re ever around for her doing a repeat, go. Not just as an author, but as someone who will likely end up with someone close to you being terminally ill.
“Book Cover Design and Layout”
“Prisoners and Prison Guards”
“Writing a Diverse Cast Without Stereotyping”
“Hacking in Fiction” –Henceforth known as the one in which I’m pretty sure the attendees watched a young woman embrace a path to super villainy because she “had student loans to pay.”)
“Making a Living Through Art”
“Feminism and Intersectionality in SFF”
“Networking for Artists”
“Realistic Self-Publishing: What It Takes to Make It in the World of Self-Publishing”—This is a must see if it makes it to the YouTube channel. Ms. Keary Taylor did an excellent job of laying out the path to success for a new indie author.
“The Cuban Missile Crisis”
“Working With a Cover Artist”—This one was an interesting juxtaposition on how covers are approached by small press, indies, and traditional publishing. There was one point where Cedar, seeing my gnashing my tongue to ribbons, tried to get me to say what I was thinking. Ha ha ha…no. 😀
A note on getting there: I chose to drive out to Provos from the Fortress of Despair due to the fact I hate flying and it’s kind of hard to bring books on an airplane. [“Wait, I thought you said this wasn’t a selling con!” It wasn’t—doesn’t mean I was going without product. Please.] A couple of my West Point classmates graciously let me crash at their place (Thanks Shannon and Joe! Baby goats!) on the way out, so I decided to take I-80 across Wyoming and Utah. It was a pretty scenic drive despite high winds in Utah and a snowstorm that went from “Oh, it will be a light dusting…”-forecast to “Yep, Frosty the Snowman found out about your affair with his wife and is coming for your soul…”-actuality. Bonus? Got to drop in and see the guys at Die Hard Dice, a regular supplier of accessories for my and Anita C. Young’s DnD habit.
On the way back east, I drove I-70, and that’s probably not happening again anytime soon. *shudder* Something about being higher than the majority of aerial combat over the Eastern Front in World War II was unsettling.
The skiers returning to Denver from the slopes didn’t help my mood either. Add in yet another snowstorm, and I think I’ll take the wide open spaces of Wyoming over choked mountain passes any day of the week.
Still, driving was definitely the way to go if you’re attending the con. I came back with lots of goodies and business cards, plus stopped and saw friends along the way.
So last week was pretty wild. I attended Life, The Universe, and Everything (LTUE), a writer’s symposium based in Provo, UT. Longer discussion coming soon, once I have a chance to collect all my thoughts and note from the weekend. Suffice to say I had a blast, got to see lots of old friends and make new ones, plus network. Highly recommend, especially if it’s a trip that won’t require a hotel stay.
While I was at LTUE, Those In Peril, the alternate history anthology I edited with Chris Kennedy, dropped. To be clear, when I say “dropped,” I’m meaning out the bottom of a B-san on an unsuspecting civilian city. Not only did Peril rocket to the top of the alternate history charts, at one point is was #513 on Amazon’s charts period. As in, there were only 512 books that sold more copies than Those In Peril did on 15 February. I remain totally blown away, and hope everyone reading this decides to go grab a copy.
For all the LTUE folks who were at my panels, feel free to poke around. As I mentioned, I talk about cover art here, also here, and finally here. History-wise, I have entire categories dedicated to air warfare and naval history. Feel free to poke around a little bit, and I’ll probably be putting another short piece together again in the coming weeks. Thanks for stopping by!
Just a reminder for St. Louis area fans–Anita C. Young and I are tying down a pair of tables at Archon 2018. Come on down if you want to see us!
Part of the reason I’ve taken so long to do this AAR is that I was having trouble trying to put the experience into words. It’s been two weeks since I loaded out of Indianapolis and began the long trip home…and I still find myself having a goofy smile for no good reason. If you crossed Toad the Wet Sprocket’s Walk on the Ocean with some goth synth metal fantasy power ballad all over a rolling dice track, that would probably be what my homage to “The Best Four Days in Gaming” would probably be. Which is ironic, because I didn’t do a whole lot (read none) of gaming.
So what was so great about it? More on that later.
TL:DR for those here for the “Go or not go…” from the author’s perspective: That hall is wait listed for a reason, and I did great fiscal murder there. With only books, my books, as in I couldn’t even take any anthologies there. No prints either. So, if you want a chance to hand out your swag at a con that has (conservatively) to 75,000 rabid gamers and can get into the author alley, go.
NOTE: I was wait listed and got into Author’s Alley late.
I will add this caveat, however: Lodging is going to eat you alive. If you are comfortable with Air BnB, several vendors had success with that. However, if you’re not comfortable with Air BnB, expect to spend upwards of $600 on lodging, and that’s if you don’t stay downtown. Which, for the love of God, stay downtown if you can. Technically, according to the hotel I was staying at and Mapquest, it should have taken 25 minutes to get downtown. Yeaaah, that’s not counting weekday rush hour my friends. Time is money, and in this case it’s worth that extra $10-$15 a night to be able to walk back to your hotel if necessary.
The tables in Author’s Alley were your standard 6-foot con table. As originally set up, the grey walls behind were angled in order to make them slightly more stable. This…this was a problem, as it sharply constricted the back area space, meaning I had to empty two of my book crates:
Despite the booth shock, load in (and load out) went really well. This was a con that took security seriously, and woe be unto you as a vendor or help if you did not have your badge during setup. Park in Parking Lot A if you go–it’s not that much further than the “Marshalling Yard” behind the building, and you won’t have to wait for a pass to park.
The crowd, as to be expected from the gaming community, was mostly (high and epic) fantasy fans, then about 75% of those sci-fi as well. The Butcher’s Blade print, as always, was a life saver. As my neighbors all observed, it made people stop and look, I could engage them in conversation, and at that point the magic usually happened. Again, if only I had apparently talked to the right person and been told “book related merchandise” was safe to sell.
Speaking of fantasy, it also helped that I had great neighbors. To my right was fellow sci-fi author Hans Cummings:
To my left was Fantasy Author J.J. Sherwood (here with your humble host and her hubs, Michael):
Good neighbors make any Con go well, and J.J. and Hans were awesome. Since J.J. did not do sci-fi, she sent folks over to me. As I lacked fantasy, I sent folks over to her. It went really well.
So, again, if you have a chance to do GENCON as an author, do it.
If you have a chance to go to GENCON as a guest? Well, now we get to where I talk about “tribe.” For those of you who don’t know, I’m a huge role playing game fan. (“Wait, wait…you dropped DnD references and names throughout An Unproven Concept.”) Being around 75,000 other people who shared the same passion was amazing. I spent most of the weekend talking to people with whom I didn’t have to explain phrases like, “Oh, so you’re a World War II buff as well? I shall now make my persuasion roll with advantage…” (and yes, she bought the alternate history anthology). Even better when you see familiar faces from the Kansas City area and do a mutual “Wait, what? Why are you here?!” Plus, there were cool books like this:
And a truly impressive charity set up:
In addition, there’s Critical Role Live (if you get your tickets early enough):
I was in a theater with over 2,000 fellow crazies when this brought the house down:
Courtesy of Leigh 574
For those of you who don’t know who that is or why we were all ecstatic about a man in a pink suit on roller skates coming out with a headlight in his crotch, I can only point you here, then point you here, and say this has been one of the best stories I’ve ever consumed.
Finally, I got to see old friends after several years. To include my friend Quiltoni (“Queen of the Quilts” as I’ve been known to call her) and her merry band of booth helpers.
So to recap: Go to GENCON for the sales, stay for the community. It’ll probably be the best 4 days of your life, the people were awesome, and I have zero regrets about taking the plunge into Author’s Avenue (even with the spinning wheel of doom). I don’t know if I’ll do it next year (I have my sights set on a couple of other shows that might eat the leave), but it was worth it this year.
Quick blog post so folks know where to find me at GENCON! I’m at Table H in Author Avenue! Map below!
Also look for the spinning Author Avenue / Art Show sign right above Tables E and F:
Hope to see you folks there!
On the transitory nature of things: So I’ve mentioned Project Wonderful on here a couple of times. Well, after over a decade of great adverts at low prices, they’re closing their doors. It’s like going in to check on a great restaurant you used to frequent…only to find that they’ve been closed for several weeks. Yes, feelings of guilt may be involved. However, it sounds like the advertisement market is just going through some serious change.
On eternal arguments: I work in a building with several other air enthusiasts. This includes a gentleman who has been in the Commemorative Air Force almost as long as I’ve been alive. Well, if there’s one discussion you can expect to have with a fellow flight fiend, it’s “What do you think is the best fighter of World War II?”
I think I threw him for a loop when I came back immediately with, “Where am I flying and what’s my mission?”
“That’s overcomplicating things, don’t you think?”
“Not really. If I don’t have to go above 10,000 feet and ground fire isn’t that much of a problem…”
“Fine, what’s your favorite fighter of World War II.”
*without missing a beat* “P-47, all day, every day.”
“So you don’t think it’s the best fighter of World War II?”
“There I was over the Philippines when my only engine conked out.”
“Okay, good point.”
On nerves: No matter how many cons I do, I still have those moments where I’m afraid the whole thing is going to be like the scene from Carrie, i.e., “They’re all going to laugh at you!” (
Except, you know, hopefully I don’t get that homicidal surge to go with my previously largely nascent telekinesis.) It’s silliness–I actually like going to cons and getting to meet new fans. Plus the dealer room closes early at GENCON so vendors can game.
Speaking of gaming, I’ve been playing a lot of D&D 5th Edition. While I grew up with 2nd Edition and played a bit of 3.5, I think 5e has hit the sweet spot between “Having a d20 system that keeps folks honest…” yet being simple enough that you can teach someone to play well in a matter of hours. Even better: The Better Half has started to apply her talents to preparing game sets:
Anyway, enough musing for the night. Time to take Mama Shark her copy of Aries’ Red Sky in the AM.
Article on selling at cons by fellow indie author John G. Hartness. Long-time readers of this blog will note the similarities in advice.
Susanne Lambdin and I were panelists today at Little Apple Comic Con. I may have suggested death to a Disney Character.