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The Elephants in the Room

2020 and 2021 were the highest sales and largest profits Broken Keys Publishing saw since its inception in 2015.

And I am forced to ask, why?

Well, I know why. Putting oneself out there and simple hard work. (And no, it wasn’t because of any sort of record sales or promos in ebooks nor online stores).

The real question isn't asking what led to these high sales and profits, but more importantly, what we know didn’t.

As an author, poet, and publisher, I remained active throughout the pandemic; through restrictions and lockdowns and all. Maybe a little more elusive and exclusive, but active nevertheless.

And as we enter 2022, things have become different. Normally, come late March or April, the book-event-signing machine would have kicked into high-gear. Come August 1st, I would've normally had at least 8 to 9 events under my belt and planning for more entering late summer and autumn. But not this year. I have deliberately chosen to slow down, take a step back and process a great amount of information and observations.

If anything positive can be said of the past 2 years of the pandemic it has to be the opportunity to take a step back and see things with fresh eyes. And that is what Broken Keys Publishing & Press has been doing.

It's time we begin talking about the elephants in the room.

  • The viability of the big-box bookstores.

  • The changing nature of the publishing industry.

  • The true value or toxicity of social media.

  • The business model for markets and events.

The first two points will be explored in an upcoming article, A Changing and Treacherous Landscape, published on Ariel Chart in early August.

Social Media/Facebook

I used to promote my up-and-coming events and book signing through Facebook events (among other media options). I had always wondered how much influence and traffic these event postings actually were responsible for.

During the 2+ years of closures, lockdowns, and restrictions, I continued to do events and book signings. During the vast majority of the pandemic I essentially stopped posting Facebook events. Partially because I had shifted to private settings, away from the public settings, with so much division, anger, and hatred. Partially because of Facebook changes I was no longer able to post events through my Broken Keys Publishing page or Public Figure page.

With record sales/profits for 2021, and next to no Facebook promos or event ads, one thing became certain: Facebook had no hand in this traffic. And with so many recent policy and other changes - the vast majority of what shows up on one’s feed being news and advertisements - none of which we’ve invited, desired, nor wanted.

In short, Facebook was not the answer.

However, having said that, I am also 100% convinced many, if not all of my or Broken Keys Publishing's awards, nominations or acknowledgements were due to the old adage, it's not what you know but who you know.

I suppose the truth of the matter is, I don't believe Facebook is a very functional marketing tool. But it has its merits for networking; the right tool for the right job.

The Business Model for Markets and Events

I have never done a large Conventions (like ComicCon) as an author. I'm sure, with the primary subject of my fiction being cosmic-horror, replete with Lovecraftian monsters, it would be a nice fit and sell well. I've never done it because of the cost and a business model I cannot come to a resolution with.

There are only 3 reasons to do large Cons. 1) to make money, 2) exposure, 3) spread your name/brand. (Well, I suppose there's a fourth - ego - but let's leave that well enough alone for now).

I personally know of a few local authors that have repeatedly done the large Cons, in Ottawa and outside of Ottawa - pre-pandemic - to what would appear to be a high level of success. I've seen their posts and updates. All good and exciting stuff! Some even chronicling their sales numbers, or more accurately, the number of books they're sold. Awesome! Great! I understand the need to market.

But I also know, as a printer and publisher, behind the scenes, what their costs are....and the overhead associated with these events. The cost for a table can be exorbitant, and that isn't factoring in meals, time, travel, parking, gas, lodging, if out of town, etc.

I remember one individual boasting (and rightfully so!) selling 75 books! Quite the accomplishment! But online presence and bravado aside, even at a $20 retail pricetag, that's $1500.00.....less the $1250.00 + tax corner-table-cost....less the cost of print (best case scenario $3.00/copy).... I don't need to continue much further before we realize that even a $1500.00 sale doesn't cut it. Not counting food and drink, gas and travel (possibly lodgings), they are already in the hole.

But large Cons don't have to be about turning an immediate profit. The exposure can be well worth a small financial loss. Or is it?

I have been to numerous ComicCons. They're exciting and a flood on one's senses! Almost a drunken barrage of stimulation! But from a business point of view - possibly even a variation of sign-pollution - when everybody has signs and billboards, and banners - all shouting for your attention - everything fades into the background. No longer does your name or brand stand out for the reason of 'exposure'. And to '"invest" in this at a financial loss becomes questionable.

Even if this sort of investment for exposure does indeed work (and I will admit, it very well might!), it only makes sense as a one or two time thing; not a repeated and common circuit. You cannot consistently break even or lose money.

Yet, after 2 years, as the pandemic comes to an end, as lockdowns and restrictions become a thing of the past, as our economy reopens, I see some of these very same individuals promoting these very same plans. Same ol', same ol'.

Ultimately, the expense of an event or table absolutely has to be weighed against the potential sales volume and profit margin. If you can’t make a profit, you shouldn't do the event. Period. Full stop. If your deliberate plan is to go into an expensive event with good exposure, knowing full well it isn’t profit driven, that’s fine. But you cannot repeat this action, and you absolutely must market, market, market this event to its full potential. Any other choice is a recipe for disaster and failure.

The Big-Box Bookstores

Again I have seen certain local authors returning to their older habits. Yes, it is great to have and see your books on a Big-Box Bookstore’s shelves! It's a rush. I know. I've been there; for years. But the simple fact of the matter is, without you present in person (ie book signing) very few copies will sell.

I have to admit, one must be present in the big-box bookstores, if for no other reason than customer confidence. (It is a sad fact that many readers believe you have not really ‘made it’ until you and your books show up at one of the Big-Box Bookstores).

You won’t get rich doing book signings there. Even if your cost-model is a good one (and Print-on-Demand Author’s Copies won’t get you there), you don’t make a lot of profit with their 45-50% cut off your retail price.

Big-Box Bookstores are a necessary evil, but not a viable means to the end. They must represent a small part of your game plan, but my no means all of it.

As we exit this pandemic, it is prime time to reevaluate our marketing and business models and strategies. It shouldn't be business as usual. Not yet.

....further observations to come in the upcoming Ariel Chart article A Changing and Treacherous Landscape....

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