The LTUE 2018 Report

It’s time for another LTUE (Life, The Universe, and Everything) report! And this time, not in place of Monday’s Being a Better Writer post!

Why, you may ask? Okay, and you may be asking “What’s LTUE?” as well. So, in reverse order then.

LTUE is one of the best “secret” cons for writers out there, if not the best. It always has a massive, smashing guest list full of friendly authors, editors, and publishers, hundreds of awesome panels those same people participate in … and then just plenty of fun stuff too. Want to learn how to write romance, or common submission pitfalls? Want to catch the latest scuttlebutt and undercurrents from the industry, or hear embarrassing mistakes from now-famous authors?

Okay, you might not get all of that in one year, simply because you’d probably have to hit multiple panels at the same time, but all of that can be found at LTUE. It’s a convention for writers, about writers, by authors passing on their knowledge. If you like BaBW, LTUE is a con you should go to. February of every year in Provo Utah.

Now, the second question: Why is this report going up early? Oh, and shorter? Well, quite simply because I wasn’t paneling this year and was too broke to go to all three days (much sadness on that point). LTUE is a con, after all. Expect to pay (though students get in for $5 a day).

Anyway, with my knee dragging my finances down, I only was able to afford going to a single day. Naturally, I picked the day I most wanted to go to, which included a relaxed sit-down with Larry Correia (because the guy is fun to talk with), and went then.

So, what’d I pick up from this year’s LTUE? It was a mixed bag. Not at all because the con wasn’t as good this year or something, but because, personally, where I’m at.

Look, I’ll get two things out of the way right away. The first is that LTUE is fun. Like, ridiculously fun. Even if you’re there flying solo, it’s a good time. Everyone is there to talk about writing in some facet or another, from just starting out, to being stuck in a death spiral, to trying to submit their first manuscript. That’s awesome.

And that’s where I end up in a mixed bag. Because I’m not in any of the aforementioned groups anymore. I haven’t been for a while. I’ve been published for five years now. And running Being a Better Writer, which is dedicated to giving out writing advice like LTUE, for four years now. With success, no less.

Which means that showing up is a mixed bag, because while I can go to panels, it gets harder every year to find ones that involve something I don’t already know. But I was turned down for being on panels … which, I guess brings me to an actual criticism of LTUE which led into this. It’s not specific to LTUE, and sure enough LTUE is doing better than the rest of the industry on this front, but LTUE needs to come to a consensus on what to do about indie authors. I remember there was one year where they opened the gates wide for anyone who claimed to be an author. Has the inverse occurred? Are they only signing you up now if you can present a publishing contract? LTUE needs to figure out how to greet the changing world. It’s not like it’s hard for them to check credentials. Or maybe it is? Does their submission process for paneling need more hoops? All I know is I’ve done panels before at multiple cons, and BaBW and my published titles should be more than enough proof that I can get up there and do just fine. But the last two years … I haven’t seen any indies. Vanity presses yes, but not indies. Which is odd, because as I’ll relate later, one of the things I got out of this con is that respect for indies from both other authors and even some publishers (not the big five) is growing.

Anyway, this odd stance at LTUE leaves me in a bit of a limbo. The panels cover 99% of what I already know and talk about with BaBW, so what I tend to do is go to the expert panels where people chat about interesting topics like colonizing Venus and soak up new knowledge there.

Speaking of colonizing Venus, that was the first panel I went to, and it was a fun one. Along the way I got to speak with one of the panelists who, as it turns out, is restoring a steam locomotive engine made during WWII (in the US, to get around the fuel needs of the war) and one of the most powerful steam engines ever made in order to try and break the land-speed record for a steam engine. Got talking about that, learned some neat, cool details.

And yes, that’s one news story I’ll be following now, since it is cool.

I hit a few other panels, one about modern versus ancient military logistics that wasn’t anything new (I’ve written about it before), but was still fun to hear stories from, especially from the military on staff who were well familiar with how quickly supplies that weren’t being watched could “walk away” to another department. Geopolitics was brought up in relation to the supply chain as well, which got a grin out of me as I’ve defended that point to people before. Supply chains matter, and they’re a great source of conflict for books.

I hit a few more panels throughout the day, as well as a few less-formal kaffeklasches (which is just a luncheon hangout) with a few authors. I even hit the Baen traveling roadshow, which was pretty fun and a clear sign that Baen is a publisher with its head on straight.

There were two things I really noticed this year, though. Both interconnected, and both tumultuous for the industry. As well as tying in to what I said about LTUE needing to figure out what it was going to do about indie authors.

The first was that indie authors are on the rise. While there weren’t any straight indie authors on panels (vanity press and big pub only), I noticed many authors speaking highly of the work indie authors were producing … and an equally large number pointing out that they were starting to dabble in indie. More than once I heard authors bring up the higher royalties that indies made—Sands, one very successful published author even pointed out that an indie author not even selling half as many books as they were was making far more. Indie is harder—they all agreed on this—but not only was it growing, it was growing fast. Many of them were looking at it as a serious track, and some had already started, splitting themselves between publishing for publishers and independent publishing.

Here’s the real kicker: This attitude was backed by editors I talked to or listened to from publishing houses. One straight out said that even ten years ago, you weren’t “published” for real unless you were with a publisher. Now, in their opinion, any author who could get people they’d never met to buy their books? Published. The industry was changing.

The industry is changing, and that’s a rough spot for the industry, because after years of being in safely-charted waters, the publishing industry is once again moving into waters unknown. Waters that may or may not be safe for big publishing houses. But as LTUE showed, the movement is happening, one way or another. There were authors there yesterday, who at the end of their panel would name a few of their books … and then bring up their newest, indie release alongside their latest publisher release.

Where this will lead? I can’t say, only guess. But as I walked out that evening, the one thing that you can’t deny without sticking your head in the sand is that the industry is changing. Editors from publishing houses are starting to see indie as a legitimate, serious avenue of real, successful people and admitting it. And authors are starting to realize that they don’t need the publishing house as much as they thought they did.

Which moves into the second thing, which almost deserves a news post of its own: Barnes & Noble, the last, largest physical book retailer for the non-indie world, is closing its doors.

Okay, that’s an exaggeration, because they aren’t shutting down yet. Instead, after announcing that their holiday sales were again down, following the spiraling downward trend of the company, they announced a new “cost cutting” measure.

They fired all the full-time and long-term employees costing them so much money.

No, I’m not even joking. While only minor enough to rate a “blip” among news networks, people showed up for work at B&N all across America yesterday only to find that every single one of them had been given the ax. Pink slip. As far as we’ve been able to determine based on stunned former employees who took to the internet to express their disbelief, if you weren’t a part-timer, you were shown the door.

The last company to try this tactic to stave off going under? Circuit City. When was the last time you walked into one? Probably during their final closing, because as it turned out, firing all the intelligent employees who worked full-time and knew the industry and replacing them with minimum wage part-time employees who don’t is a bad idea.

People that were let go the other day? Stockers who were responsible for figuring out what was selling or would sell and ordering more of it. Cashiers who gave recommendations to customers and upsold books. Etc, etc.

And yesterday at LTUE, discussions were had about how those people are integral to the success of both books and bookstores. Discussions by people unaware as of yet of the shakeup that had just happened. Another panel I was on talked about how much power B&N gave the remaining publishers, specifically the big five, in helping them sell books. B&N is literally the lifeblood of those publishers.

Later, I asked a pretty important editor (I won’t say from where) for their thoughts on the B&N situation, pointing out that I understood if they didn’t want to say anything at all, and that I was just looking for an opinion. All I got was an immediate pallor and slightly deadened expression followed by a worried opinion that they weren’t sure, but it couldn’t be good.

For an industry that effectively revolves around doing exactly what B&N tells them to do (no joke, B&N can just say ‘We’ll stock this, but not this, so give us this or else’), the death of B&N is like a bomb going off through the industry. It’s a shame I can’t be there today to see more of the news trickling down, but I can imagine what’s going on over at some of the big five publishers. Everyone’ probably saying “We’re fine, it’s all fine” while resumes fly out the door.

No one knows what this is going to do. I sure don’t. But it’s about to be a big deal.

Anyway, with or without that shakeup, LTUE is awesome, and it’ll be there next year. If you can make it, I highly recommend it.

Just be ready to hear about going indie. I don’t think that’s going away.

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