A Changing & Treacherous Landscape


A Changing & Treacherous Landscape

I have been in the print/publishing industry for over 35 years. I have seen the equipment and technology change, first hand, drastically over the decades.

So many times people have told me that the printing industry is a dying one. It isn't. It is a constantly changing one. The adage is true: those printers who aren't riding the wave of change are under it. Those who do not embrace the new technologies and changes and opportunities are finished. All too often, this is what we are mistaking for a dying industry.

So too is the publishing industry changing, and especially of late.

Navigating a Treacherous Landscape

There is a large and broad landscape of printers, publishers, editors, designers, agents, and ever so many ways and methods of getting - or not getting - one's work out into the public. From the traditional publishers to self-publishing and the murky gray area in-between, Broken Keys Publishing is here to help navigate these waters.

Traditional Publishing Houses:

On one end are the traditional publishing houses, using methods that often only work in high-sale functionality.

Traditional publishers do not usually pay high royalties. Traditional publishing houses can be extremely selective and inaccessible to most writers.

However, if a book retails for $20 and the author received only ¢20 a copy (an unguaranteed 1% profit margin), the question needs to be asked, what is the publisher actually doing to earn that 99% profit margin?

The traditional publisher's job is one and only one thing: to invest in their authors.

Investing in one's authors should include, but are not limited to scheduling and organizing book signings, TV and radio spots, and the list goes on. Oftentimes, with what is unfortunately viewed as "b-list" authors, little attention or effort is given.

Yes, the traditional 'big-box" publishing houses have access to much more resources than the average self-published author or smaller publisher but it comes with a price, often beyond a monetary one. It can include signing over their work's rights, and compromising creativity, to be relegated and shuffled to the proverbial back burners. The reality of publishing is that big houses can only be approached through an agent, and it can be quite hard to find an agent.

However, on the positive side, an advance payment of 100K - regardless of the subsequent royalties of 1% - means you're already a success. Every author dreams of such a deal. And sometimes it happens. But these are the Stephen Kings, J.K. Rowlings and E.L. James. And, never to be one to clip somebody's dreams, the reality of this is the fantasy that too often drives people to failure. This is an option that shouldn't be banked on. In short, this hope isn't a viable business model.

Although traditional publishers are definitely a legitimate option, their methodology and models favours the high-sales volumes.

We believe companies should only be paid for work done.

And it must be kept the mind, too often traditional publishers really don't know good from poor. (H.P. Lovecraft struggled his entire life only to become a literary master posthumously. There are ample examples of this). Traditional publishers are interested in marketing and sales, rarely creativity or innovation unless it is safe.

This isn't about being negative, but there is a reality in the publishing world, and this objective information I hope will assist authors and help manage their expectations. We aren't dealing with the fantasy of publishing one's work, but the reality of it.

The Rise of the Indie-Author:

On the other end of the spectrum is the self-published author.

There is a stigmatism, ignorance, and prejudice on the part of many readers that high-quality books only come from traditional publishers. Self-published authors are demonized and too often traditional publishers only accentuate this by refusing to even look at previously self-published works.

But alongside the advent of advanced printing technologies, short run costs dropping, print-on-demand, and the ready availability of the ebook option, we are seeing the phenomena of the rise of the indie-author.

Gone are the days of being forced to print a few thousand copies, storing them in one's basement or garage, and hoping they sell. There is absolutely no reason short runs of 20 or 50 can't be considered, and the implications that go along with it. (Which we'll visit shortly, or even a zero copy inventory with the print-on-demand option).

The choice of self-publishing is all you, and so too are the profits! But there are pitfalls. The learning curve can be a steep one, and a significant mistake may prove never to be recoverable.

A major challenge is the attempt to emulate traditional publishers. This is a recipe for disaster and failure. You don't have the expertise, the finances, the experience, nor the resources.

Statistically it is said the average self-published author will sell no more than 1,000 copies in total. (Although I believe this stat is changing with the ever evolving industry, but this is a good number to work with for calculations).

Traditional editing can also be a challenge. Paying an editor ¢4/word on a 100,000 word novel comes to $4,000. Spread over a thousand copies is an additional $4/copy, in addition to all other costs and in addition to big-box stores' cut. We are well on our way to an inevitable financial loss.

There are other options. Beta-readers in combination with short runs (say, 25 or 50) allows one to make corrections and updates as they go. Print-on-demand? Ebooks? They can be corrected and updated at any time. It's an ongoing endeavour. This is only one example of thinking and functioning outside the box. Let's not delude ourselves: we are not traditional publishers.

The Vanity Presses:

As we are seeing a significant rise in independent authors and self-publishing, alongside any successful industry so too do we see the rise of a shadow industry - those that would monopolize and prey upon them. These are the shady "publishers," print-brokers masking as publishers, and the vanity presses which are extremely predatory and should be avoided at all costs.

With the predatory Vanity Presses the author assumes all the risks and pays the publisher to do everything up front. These are warning signs. They have unrealistic expectations, they can make you sign over your book's rights, they want creative control, and the list goes on.

Too often these shady companies take their money upfront. The problem with this model is they've made their profit and no longer have any vested interest whether you succeed or fail, as they have already succeeded.

There is a warning list of Vanity Presses well worth avoiding, but for the sake of liability, I won't list them here.

I have heard horror stories…

A few years ago a local author approached me for help. She had been taken to the cleaners by a vanity press, sinking over $5,000 into getting her book published. This fee produced zero copies - let me repeat, 0 (zero) copies. She paid over $750 to have her books available as ebooks, and the list goes on, culminating in being forced to pay to recover rights to her own book when she wanted out. Sadly, as a first time author, she will never see this money back.

I assisted another local author whose 'publisher' was nothing more than a print-broker masking as a publisher. Her $20 retail priced book had a cost of over $10 a copy (50%). We got it for under $5 (25%). When you factor in the big-box stores' 45% cut, it becomes an impossible and unprofitable endeavour; a book doomed to failure; its wings clipped before it ever learned how to fly.

And yet another was quoted at $36.00/copy for a novel retailing at $19.99. We got them a production price that allows for a margin of profit as well.

It is our belief that both the author's and publisher's success or failure should go hand-in-hand.

The Broken Wild, Wild West:

We need a synopsis of thoughts and opinions collectively moving forward. We need to rethink publishing. We don't have to have answers yet, but a willingness and open-mindedness to explore these topics and issues. We don't need to accept the status quo. In fact, we should outright reject it.

As a publisher, printer, writer, author, poet, and - ultimately - bookseller, the numerous lockdowns, closures and restrictions of the Covid pandemic has given the opportunity to notice a great many observations.

I'd like to talk about the big-box bookstores, but of course, not by name.

For various reasons, I have shied away from the big-box bookstores of late. My visits have been sporadic and far and few in between. The lockdowns, closures and restrictions of the Covid-pandemic have essentially kept me out of them for the better part of more than 2 years now, and it's funny how some distance makes everything seem clearer and smaller.

The floorspace dedicated to knick-knacks, clothes, comfy blankets, and anything-but-books, has been growing each and every time I’ve visited. I’m not exactly sure what the propositions are, but I suspect they’re approaching 50%.

I fear this is indicative of the corporate mindset and business model. It isn’t about literature, the support or promotion of writers, authors, poets, or book sales, but simply sales. So long as sales numbers are met to keep the doors open, that’s good enough.

This should be concerning. This should be very concerning. If the main retailers are not supporting, showcasing, and promoting up-and-coming literary talents, but only monopolizing on the top and best sellers - ultimately, they are following the pirate’s philosophy: Take all you can. Give nothing back. If you do not support and nurture the grassroots of an industry, the future of that industry stands no chance of survival.

For this corporate mindset, those business models, companies, and retail stores that practice this, it will only mean the end of creativity and decimation of the creative writing industry.

Their corporate policy is left up to the local management. I don’t want to be negative and doom-and-gloom here. Some locations are extremely supportive of local literary talent and should be seriously celebrated. (I would absolutely love to name the locations and individual managers, but, for the same reason I will not publicly name these big-box stores, I am forced to leave them anonymous). But other branches and managers, not so much. I don’t want to criticize these champions of literary talent. Their hands are tied in as much as they are capable of doing, but from a corporate policy point of view, it is a pretty unsupportive and passive position. It is basically saying, they don't really care… where they should. Unless of course, they are happy to fill their stores with blankets, comfy socks, yoga matts, and high-end water bottles.

With the advent of new print technologies, the rise of the indie-author, print-on-demand services, ebooks, the traditional publishing industry has been, and continues to be, drastically changing and struggling. So too will the retail industry. These big-box bookstores, with their 45% commission off retail prices, essentially pushes many up-and-coming authors out of their stores.There is simply little to no room for profits.

With small publishers, small presses, and indie-authors having so many other options, the future may very well lie within the smaller, independent bookstores. How and where we sell our books are definitely part of that answer and solution. And I believe this is where the smaller, independent bookstores come in.

Like it or not, admit it or deny it, the publishing industry is in a state of transition and nonsensical change. These are issues those affected by the publishing industry also need to voice in on. Retail bookstores, big and small, libraries, event organizers, editors, designers, printers, print-brokers, literary media, governments, and support, grants and funding.

For a simple example, the Canada Council for the Arts offers grants and funding for the Arts - including literature - yet precludes my work, being technically a self-published author, yet an author included in one of Broken Keys Publishing's anthologies would be permissible as a legitimately published author.

It is a broken system.

Actually, to call it a system would be a gross misnomer. To call it a system assumes it is a unified whole with some standard, organization, and set of rules. It might be better off to say it is currently in its Wild West Stage.

Some want nothing more than to deny that it is a changing landscape, hoping to desperately hold onto their little empires. Others wander lost through this changing and treacherous landscape, in desperate need of guidance, others, like bandits, see only the opportunity to make a quick buck by robbing the naive, and others still see the chaos and lawlessness for what it is with hopes of taming and bringing some sense of order, fairness and a level playing field. The question needs to be answered: where do you find yourself?

A New Way:

As the publishing and printing industries evolve and change with technologies, so too must our publishing and business models.

A new brand of publisher and press and retailer and business model must arise.

We believe people should only be paid for work done.

This also applies to the author, whether that be monetarily, time or resources.

Radio, TV and media interviews, appearing and organizing events - book signings, launches and others - are a necessity, and they must be ready and willing to do so. They must be willing to believe and invest in themselves.

​ All this being said, Broken Keys Publishing is working and exploring a different philosophy and model.

With our anthologies we aim to give contributing writers the opportunity to turn a sizable and healthy profit. (Varying around 50-67% profit of the retail sales price), should they be interested in selling copies, but there is never pressure nor requirements to do so.

We focus on attaining public acknowledgement and publicity via awards through local events, publications, and media.

With outright published works, it is our aim to have our authors see a profit (appropriately 33-50% of profits or more) within a very short period of time with minimal to no financial output. They always retain their work's ownership.

Broken Keys Publishing will never make an author sign over their book's rights.

We explore options and possibilities in print editions*, e-books*, and print-on-demand* formats. (With plans to explore into audiobooks as well).

With our background and contacts in the print industry, promotions through print are realistic and viable options on the table. With our media contacts, radio and TV interviews and promotions are too.

We are specific and selective in who we choose to work with and how we choose to publish. We often take on many aspects short of ownership. That may include design, cover, cover approval, layout, format, retail price and price points, and printing/print-brokerage, but always hand-in-hand with our authors.

Broken Keys Publishing functions as both a publisher and print broker, deciding on a case-by-case basis which service actually best suits their needs.

I openly invite others to pose these questions and explore these avenues, discussing and collectively moving forward to nurture, support and grow our local literary landscape.


*Print Edition:

A system or process whereby a set number of copies of a book or text are printed either via offset printing, lithography, or digital technology and shipped directly to the publisher and/or author for direct sales and/or inventory.


A digital or electronic version of a printed book that can be read on a computer or handheld device designed specifically for this purpose.


A system or process whereby individual copies or small numbers of a book or text are printed to order and shipped directly to the end-user or customer, the copies bypassing both the publisher and/or the author.

Michel Weatherall

Broken Keys Publishing was established in April 2015, initially publishing titles by Michel Weatherall.

Plans to expand into publishing other authors' titles were to execute in late 2019, early 2020, but faced delays from the pandemic and subsequent restrictions and lockdowns.

Its first released title was Symphonies of Horror, a collection of short stories by H.P. Lovecraft (March 2020).

Anthologies followed:

Sept. 2020 saw the release of Thin Places: The Ottawan Anthology (winning the Faces of Ottawa 2021 Book of the Year Award).

Love & Catastrophe Poetre (June 2021) followed, winning the 2022 Book of the Year Award.

And exiting the pandemic and lockdowns, its influence spread.

• Sadness of the Siren, by Samantha Underhill (Feb. 2022),

• Missing the Exit, by Michael Adubato (March 2022) many of his works published by Ariel Chart International Literary Journal),

• Little Dragon, by Jana Begovic (March 2022), and

• Poisonous Whispers, by Jana Begovic (April 2022),

with an upcoming title

• Ghosts and Other Cthonic Macabres, a ghost and horror anthology with a late 2022 release.

Broken Keys Publishing accolades are as follows:

• Standing nominee for CommunityVotes Ottawa Award for Best Printer 2022

• Faces of Ottawa Award for Best Publisher/Publishing House, 2020, 2021, & 2022

• CPACT-NCR Best Publisher Award 2021

• Book of the Year Award 2022 (Love & Catastrophe Poetre)

• Book of the Year Award 2021 (Thin Places: The Ottawan Anthology)

• Nominated Book of the Year Award 2020 (The Symbiot 30th Anniversary: The Nadia Edition)

• CPACT Small Business Excellence nomination 2019.


  1. so much to think about it and i am willing to engage but usually concerned too many independent publishers are in it for the money or at least need some money to make a project happen.

  2. Fair or not if a publisher plots out the future of publishing they are bound to hear negative remarks.
    For every one lending a hand, there are twenty with their hands out.

  3. Long, but valuable and well worth several reads. From Linda

  4. Previewing another publisher's clauses, conditions, and stipulations (who I won't name), when I stumbled across this beauty:

    "The Author agrees to purchase from the Publisher 20 paperback copies upon publication for promotional usage and sales in their home market (independent book store signings, etc.) at a 20% discount off the suggested retail price, plus pay the shipping costs from the publisher. The Author is then free to recoup directly what they can for these copies from local bookstore sales (typically 40-50% off retail)."

    Brutal. Contracted to purchase 20 copies at 20% off the retail price, knowing that bookstores take, as they acknowledge in writing, 40-50% of the retail.

    Guaranteeing you a loss of 20-30% per book. (and at 20 books with an average of $19.99 retail, that translates to GUARANTEED loss of $104.75) just to start with and not counting shipping, which the authors is contracted to pay in addition.

    Yet they have the audacity to add, "free to recoup directly what they can from these copies...."

    These are the kinds of shady "publishers" we need to be aware of and avoid.

    Interesting in getting a great publisher? Want to learn more? Visit our website:

    1. thank you for the commentary and insight. the language of vanity continues to change to now cooperative publishing and hybrid publishing. But the results are the same: you pay big money for what is often junk products you couldn't give away for free. Keep your money and your dignity and find someone legit.

  5. I have expanded further on these thoughts in "The Elephants in the Room"


    1. Thanks for taking the time to help writer understand better the challenges they must deal with in a changing industry. I just had an agent who read the article complain that the 1% comment is not accurate. Generally, it's 10% but the math doesn't matter much in this situation since the question about who does a traditional publisher invest in simply matters more. Sadly, too many in the industry forget writers and treat books as mere products. When your book is no better than cornflakes to a corporate drone, a revolution takes place that promises to change how things work. Ebooks were just the start. Expect more. Because when insiders with fifty plus years sound no different than lobbyists you will see how creativity was murdered by people who write checks instead of books.

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