The day after Saskatoon, Sam and I rented a car, drove back to Calgary, and dropped it off that night and celebrated with Village ice cream. We holed up at my home in Calgary for the rest of the week to work on our respective client work and prepare for the Edmonton show. The week passed fairly uneventfully, and soon, it was Friday morning – the day of the con.
We got up early and Dave dropped us at the car rental in Crowfoot before going to work. We had costed it out, and it made the most sense to rent a car for the day to drive us and our many, many things up to Edmonton. She had many boxes and a large suitcase, and I’m at a point where I’m burgeoning with inventory. Sam very graciously drove us up – thank you Sam!
Load in was fairly simple – Sam snagged a large dolly so we loaded it up in one trip. My set up takes a little over an hour, and I still had about two hours until the show opened for the advanced pass holders. So I lugged my makeup and suitcase to the bathroom, did my face, and stuffed myself with snacks to survive the 2pm-9pm Friday shift.
Such a difference, going from eight feet the previous week to six this week!
I put everything on the table – you can barely see me (or the banners!). But it does give the table a more weighty presence.
I believe I mentioned this in my Calgary write-up, but I’m basically at my limit for six-foot tables. Everything is so smooshed! It’s tough to know when to jump to the next level, because you’re basically doubling your booth expenses. I’m at a good place with my Edmonton expenses and I don’t relish the idea of adding to it without seeing a little more growth.
I did really well! I had a 7% increase in sales from 2018, which means I set a new record for Edmonton sales. Not too bad! I surpassed my minimum sales goal but I didn’t quite hit my ideal goal (match my Calgary sales).
People were feeling the brand power! I was a little worried on Friday, as it was slower than expected, and Sunday morning also lagged, but once 11am hit on Saturday AND Sunday, sales rolled in one after another, basically non-stop. Especially on Saturday. I could barely keep up! Until 3pm, I was essentially slammed.
Gear & Sea performed extremely well, as is the course for being an attractive new book with a prominent display and banner. The Violet Fox and Stars In Her Eyes were neck-in-neck. I only sold a handful of series bundles, with most people preferring my 2 for $30 deal. Since my series bundles are creeping up there in price, I think this is a trend that will continue, unless I introduce another bundle pricing tier.
Unfortunately I didn’t have Darkness In Her Reach available – the printer notified it shipped on Thursday the 19th! However, I took several pre-orders! I’m sitting here writing this post-mortem in my front room, waiting for the books to arrive. As soon as they do, I’ll sort, package, and ship!
**At the time of this post-mortem’s publication, the books arrived on Thursday the 26th, I packaged on Friday, and shipped on Monday! Thank you everyone!**
Once again, many people were reporting a decrease in sales. Attendees are on budgets. More and more, customers are paying with cash to limit their spending. The convention had four large guest cancellations right before the event, which could’ve also hurt attendance. That’s not in our control and sometimes we have to roll with it.
The downturns are trials for our businesses – if we can survive and thrive during them, we will be prepared to grow and thrive during the upswings. Listening to your customers and delivering what they want is a major component of staying alive. They can tell you with their words what they want, but they will also tell you with their money, too—including what they won’t spend money on.
So Many Questions!
More than usual, I had attendees stopping at the table to ask me many questions about writing and publishing! I absolutely LOVE talking about what I do so I’m always happy to answer questions, so long as it doesn’t stop me from making sales. Most of the questions came during down times anyway so it was all good!
I had one particularly curious university student ask me some extremely detailed questions about how much I make! Hey, that’s so personal!
But he also asked, “Are you happy?”
SUCH A HEAVY QUESTION!
I mean, yeah. I have the means and the know-how to create and run a creative business. I’ve paid off my student loans, I live in a house with my fiancé, I have two kitties, and I am, for the most part, free to pursue the projects that create joy and wealth. But this came with sacrifice, hard work, and discipline. I still have a lot to learn about being an entrepreneur and although I see the path ahead, the shape of it isn’t always clear.
It’s more obvious than ever that I need to create a couple of in-depth FAQs about writing and publishing that I can just refer people to, since I’m usually repeating myself with my advice.
After 9pm, I was starving, having survived largely on gluten-free pretzels, discount raspberries, and gluten-free crackers. We drove literally down the street to check into our AirBnB – a newly opened, restored historical building in the Highlands. There was a café, a cute gift store, a bookstore, and a restaurant – The Fox Burger – which was alive and well that evening – on street level, while the units were on floors two to four.
We unloaded and dragged our things into the building and shuffled into a suspiciously slow manual lift, which fortunately caused us no problems, only mild anxiety at the thought of becoming stuck.
Check-in was easy. Since Sam wasn’t hungry, she went to drop the car, and I set about finding some food. The delivery options for me at that hour were fairly abysmal, so I decided to chance it at the Fox Burger below.
It occurred to me as I descended the stairs and entered the restaurant that I’ve only eaten alone at a restaurant once before. It was busy but not packed. Most of the patrons seemed to be about my age, perhaps other attendees of the con and neighbourhood folk.
I spotted an empty two-person table next to a man, who was eating by himself and on his phone. I thought that was a relatively safe spot to sit. And so, I treated myself to a salted caramel apple milkshake and a lettuce-wrapped burger, and also took out my phone to text with Sam and Dave.
At the end of my meal, Sam arrived to join me. I was just settling up with the waitress and we were talking about the Expo when I noticed the man next to me also raised his head, intrigued about our conversation.
I looked over, and our eyes met, and what do you know? It was my neighbour from Calgary, Wayne, who runs Stitched Pixels! As it turns out, Wayne and I think similarly. Not only did we decide to come to the same restaurant at the same time, but we ALSO booked the same AirBnB – we were right across the hall from one another!
It was so nice to run into him again! Also, he deserves a huge shout-out for helping me load OUT my things, saving me from calling an Uber at the end of the convention.
On Saturday evening, I attended the Happy Harbour after-hours party, hosted by the new owners and attended largely by other vendors and my friends in the industry.
I had some illuminating chats about the trials that publishers face in this country. Loyal readers know I’d like to make Faery Ink Press into a traditional publisher at some point in the future…or at least, that is what I’ve been working towards. It requires enormous investment upfront – and yet, I keep asking myself, “Is it worth it?”
It is far easier to market the works of one author than many. People don’t say, “I’m waiting for the next HarperCollins book.” They’re looking for their favourite authors’ titles. The biggest problem I see with the single-author press model is scaleability. You can sell off film and audio rights or produce ancillary merchandise and spin-off products, but at the end of the day, you’re one person with multiple series and you only have so many hours in the day to create. When you die, you’re done.
This problem disappears somewhat with the traditional model. You have multiple authors, with multiple product lines – though as is the case in business, 20% of your activities will account for 80% of your results. The top authors are probably generating the most revenue, which helps fund new acquisitions from unknowns. That is…if you’re seeing any success at all.
In Canada, traditional publishers have access to a variety of government grants, which have strict criteria and annual deadlines. They are integral to Canadian publishing. Grants only come into play as a publisher after you have a certain number of eligible titles (of which, less than 25% must be by the principal owners), and even so, the grants are not guaranteed – and many Canadian publishers rely on them to keep their doors open. It’s great they exist, and they are a necessary part of encouraging projects that might not happen otherwise, but scary that a grant could make or break your business. Publishers invest heavily up front on creating product, and don’t get paid by booksellers/distributors until months later. Distributors pay the shipping of product from warehouse to bookstores, but this is part of the (usually) 60% they charge publishers for their services: warehousing, shipping, and logistics. That percentage (which varies, but 50%-60% isn’t unusual) eats into precious profit. Grants can help bridge this gap or alleviate the financial stress of operations.
This is just “how it is” when you are a traditional publisher. The laborious cycle of production and distribution requires a lot of cash injection to keep the business flowing. The cycle of production-distribution-returns was built in an era without the internet, and while the creation of eBooks and print-on-demand technology has disrupted the industry somewhat, the cost to create and distribute thousands of books (and by extension, hundreds of titles) remains expensive and for many, untenable without aid, or at the very least, careful risk management.
So what’s my point in all this? To illustrate that becoming a traditional publisher is a huge undertaking. Financially and emotionally. I’m not going to wake up one day and decide, today is the day I open for submissions! I can see myself working within the system, finding distribution and applying for grants and taking on authors, yet I also see the burdens of the system, and I’m not about to put myself in a position where I’m “growing” my business “just because” that’s the only way forward.
I enjoy the smallness of my press and the intimacy I can provide–an intimacy that I feel is missing from the traditional system. I want to believe that there’s a more sustainable way forward in publishing that doesn’t require so many hands in the already small pie, yet when I bring it up, I’m aware of how naive I sound.
There is no right or wrong path forward. I just have to continue optimizing my business and listening to my customers.
It was nice on Sunday morning–I walked to the expo–and I took this picture, and felt optimistic about my future.
Will I return?
I’ve already paid for next year’s spot, so I’m all set! The real question will be…will my books fit on the table, or do I have to upgrade? :O
More and more, doing these shows, I feel like I’ve built something real. It’s incredibly validating for people to invest in my work – thank you so much to all my readers!
My next show is the Festival of Crafts in Calgary – is it really almost Christmas once again?! See you there!