This week on the podcast we discuss everyone’s favorite (and least favorite) topic, the demographics of publishing—specifically race and racism. Why are things the way that they are? How is this holding back the industry and sales?
A few weeks into my internship at Microcosm saw me standing at the checkout with an armful of books and zines, all by the same author. I had been assigned to proofread Faith G. Harper’s newest book, Unfuck Your Intimacy, the week before, and had come out of the project with a level of respect and new understanding that, I’ll be honest, I was not at all expecting. What can I say? I was a skeptic of the whole self-help genre. I tend to picture dusty hardbacks with cover photos of smiling middle aged people dressed in the latest 90s fashions; books for people with vastly different experiences than my own.
Dr. Harper’s work nothing like that. In a good way.
The first zine I read from my new haul was Self-Compassion: Be Kind to Yourself Instead of Striving for Bullshit “Self-Esteem”. This was partly because it was just on the top of the pile, but mostly because I had overheard my coworkers talking about how everyone should read it and thought, “Hey! That probably includes me!”
The zine, at its core, is about being kind to yourself. Sounds simple, right?
But what about when you fail that big test, or don’t get that project done on time at work? What about when you’re writing a book review for your publishing internship, and you keep rewriting the same sentence over and over? (I don’t know anything about that last one.) It might get a little harder to find kindness for yourself in those moments.
That’s where this zine comes barging in, kicking down your front door with its no-bullshit honesty and then sitting you down on the couch so you can work that shit out.
Right off the bat this zine tears into the concept of good self-esteem as the end-all goal.
In Dr. Faith’s own words, “Self-esteem has become the buzzword. And where we focus so much time, energy, and resources. And we fail at it. And then perceive ourselves as failures. Because it’s an unwinnable game.”
Does that sound harsh? Maybe. But as someone who gets frustrated if I’m not amazing at everything the first time I try it, the statement rings true. And it’s a refreshing truth in a sea of messages telling us to define our self-worth by our accomplishments.
The zine goes on to define self-compassion, and then breaks that concept down into a model. This is usually where I start to tune out in self-help books (there’s jargon and a graphic with arrows pointing at nothing), but Dr. Harper’s relatable writing actually managed to keep me engaged. Reading this zine feels like you’re sitting in Dr. Harper’s office, talking with her. It’s an accessible writing style, and makes a complicated topic a little less overwhelming.
Perhaps more importantly, Dr. Harper is not afraid to ask difficult questions, and I often found myself flipping through the zine to reread sections pertaining to questions asked later on. Questions like “How does your self-criticism impact your relationship with others?” show up in black activity boxes throughout the zine, and they are not pulling any punches. Yikes, right? There are some big questions for a 34 page zine, but damn if they didn’t get me thinking.
And that is my only real complaint with this title: it’s 34 pages. I’d like more content. I want a book, like Unfuck Your Intimacy or Unfuck Your Brain. I suppose that’s a good complaint to have–and one that might be expected with a typically short medium like a zine. There are references for further reading at the end, but I think I would miss Dr. Harper’s way of writing. Maybe that’s just my self-help bias shining through.
Self-Compassion is a no-nonsense zine, from an author who truly seems to want you to be the best you can be. This is highlighted on page 25, where Dr. Harper writes, “The driving force of striving for self-esteem is fear… Self-compassion, instead of being driven by fear, can be thought of as driven by love.”
This is a zine for anyone afraid of making mistakes.
We could all use a little more self-compassion.
Joe Biel and Elly Blue draw upon 24 years of publishing and selling millions of books in order to explain what goes into designing a successful book cover.
This week on the vlogcast, we discuss submission guidelines, what ours look like, how most of the industry operates, and what best practices are both as a publisher and for submitting to publishers.
Our protagonists, Joe Biel and Elly Blue, swashbuckle their way through how recent threat of additional tariffs will affect the publishing industry
6 Books to Get You in the Adventuring Spirit
When someone mentions adventure books, what do you think of? A big, burly man adventuring out into the wilderness to, I don’t know, claim his manhood or something? Thankfully, the patriarchy doesn’t have the adventure department completely cornered.
To kick off Pride Month and Summer, we’ve put together some of our best and favorite books about queer adventurers, because adventuring isn’t just for “cis-het normies” (as Eli Sasche likes to call them in True Trans Bike Rebel).
We’ve filled our list with fantastic adventures on bikes and down rivers, but also with adventures into everyday life and into the adventurer’s own, very rad, queerness.
A quick note for PRIDE month. We use queer as it’s a truly inclusive term that has room for every member of the community, including aromantic and/or asexual and transgender and nonbinary people. It’s been reclaimed as an umbrella term for decades, and so we refuse to give it back to the people who would use it to do harm and exclude vulnerable members from the community.
In this edition of our Taking the Lane series explores trans, nonbinary, and intersex folks’s adventures with bikes. This book ranges from one woman’s journey road-tripping by bike in “Everything I Needed to Know About Being Trans I Learned on the Pan-American Highway” to a story about a young person adventuring into nature to find solace and identity, and more.
While everything in the Lumberjanes series is great, Lumberjanes: A Terrible Plan is super great and super gay. Mal and Molly’s cute picnic date turns adventure-date when they are interrupted by a mysterious bear woman. Magical shenanigans inevitably ensue and the two must use brain and brawn to make it back to camp. This volume is the first in the series to really get into Mal and Molly’s relationship and is definitely worth a read.
In the second installment of her Invincible Summer series, Nicole J. Georges has another volume of adventures in her day-to-day life. Featuring vegan recipes, fashion advice, friendship, and the rise and fall of Georges’ long-term relationship, this graphic novel will have you smiling and laughing the whole way through.
Part comic, part essay anthology, and part intimate interview, Shut Up and Love the Rain follows author Robnoxious’ journey from early sexual exploration to his “sex-positive, constantly deprogramming, uber-healthy queerness” of today. Rob’s adventures through his own queerness show us how experimentation should start early, that guilty pleasures need not be so guilty, and that there’s nothing more adventurous and exciting than discovering and living your queerness.
Also By Robnoxious, Unsinkable: How to Build Plywood Pontoons & Longtail Motor Boats Out of Scrap, is an adventure story/how-to-book hybrid following his trip down the Missouri river on a homemade boat. Rob and his friends meet wild rednecks, see sublime sunsets and encounter deadly storms in this incredible rollercoaster of a read. If Rob’s boating adventure leaves you itching to go on your very own, the DIY schematics included in the first part of the book can equip even the least experienced to build their own boat.
Sometimes one of the biggest adventures you can go on is one into yourself and your life. Best selling author of Unfuck Your Brain, Dr. Faith throws out all that Cosmo-grade B.S. relationship advice and uses real science to dive into topics like kinks, consent, shame, and trauma recovery.
Sections of this book also specifically cover queer relationship/sex topics, including for trans, ace/demi/aro people. Whether you’re looking to heal from past wounds, make better choices, improve an existing relationship, or figure out how to get the sex you want, this book is for you.
We recently posted a review of Unfuck Your Intimacy, so you can learn more and see if it’s for you.
What adventures are you looking forward to this summer?
This post was written by summer intern Rachel Dutton
In the latest in our vlogcast series, publishers Elly Blue and Joe Biel discuss challenges that they’ve overcome with doing their jobs, being organized, and how workflows interconnect
For many years, new publishers and authors have posed questions to us about distribution. They want to know why distribution is so expensive and exclusive. It’s a much more complicated answer than they were expecting so we’re going to break that out in a weekly video series over the next few months.(more…)
Way back when I was first figuring out my own queerness, I had this wide-eyed idea that once I was out, relationships would just magically get a lot easier. “If I’m dating a woman, I’ll never have trouble telling her how I feel!”
Needless to say, that is not quite true. As I quickly figured out, talking to anyone I was interested in could be really difficult. It took my best friend practically shaking me to realize that the nice girl who talked to me in the pop-tart aisle of the grocery store, who even gave me her number, was definitely hitting on me.
To be fair, relationships did get a lot easier in some respects. I can’t even begin to say how incredible it is to date women and be free from gendered roles and expectations in a relationship.
All the while, I am still far from perfect in the dating department. For instance, last year, I dated a girl for much longer than I should have because we were both too busy being polite to break up.
Now, all of this is kind of embarrassing. It’s easy to get trapped in my own head and think that I’m the only one in the world with these kinds of problems. Because everyone else’s relationships look so effortless, right?
That’s why I leapt at the opportunity to review Dr. Faith’s new book Unfuck Your Intimacy. If you’ve read any of her previous work—and chances are if you’re here reading this, you have—you know that Dr. Faith is like a best friend who wants nothing but the best for you, but isn’t afraid to call you on your bullshit. I can’t tell you the amount of times I had to stop reading for a minute to laugh and think, “wow, that is absolutely me.”
Dr. Faith’s humor takes a topic as, well, intimate as sex and relationships and makes it accessible and approachable, even if history hasn’t been the kindest to you.
My favorite chapter was definitely “How to Date Like a Grown-Up” and Dr Faith’s advice on “when to terminate” a relationship that’s not working. It was so helpful to reorient myself on when it’s okay to break up.
It sounds so simple, but I feel like I can finally give myself permission to leave a relationship that isn’t working for me, just because it isn’t working or we aren’t a great fit.
This book was also written with queer people specifically in mind and has advice for you no matter where you are in the LGBTQIA+ spectrum.
But don’t let me fool you into thinking this is a book just on dating. It is definitely also a book to help you get the sex you want to be having (or not having, depending on who you are).
It’s filled with ways to explore your sexuality, reconnect with your body, and unlearn the toxic messages society is constantly feeding us about our bodies and our sexuality.
Reclaim your body! Reclaim your intimacy! If I can do it, you can too!
Her next book, Unf*ck Your Anger, is now live on kickstarter. Check it out!
My Microcosm Adventure
by Briana Ybanez
intern, Spring 2019
I grew up in a quiet suburb in Southern California, and as someone who is a biracial, Mexican American I didn’t feel like I’d ever have access to literary spaces.
When I was twenty-two I changed my major from business to English. A year later I made an even bigger life change and moved to Portland, which in many aspects is considered a literary mecca. It seems like everyone here reads- encouraged by an endless downpour of rain nine months out of the year. Being in such close proximity to best selling authors and aspiring writers trying to make it in the industry helped lift a creative roadblock that I was experiencing in California. Doubt and fear, all those general symptoms that come with pursuing your dreams, melted away. I began exploring avenues of opportunity available to writers that I wasn’t aware of before.
Part of lifting that mental roadblock that was getting in the way of my success was re-thinking my own relationship with books and reading; rethinking what I was told to regard as a great work of literature and what I actually felt was great. Up until college I was told that the best pieces of literature were written by white men or white women. Period. That was it. But then I was exposed to books that were equally as powerful, if not more so, and were written by Chicana writers, like Lorna D. Cervantes, or Chilean-American Isabel Allende. It’s tragic that this revelation didn’t happen sooner. It took nearly twenty years for me discover these authors, but when I did I finally began to recognize pieces of myself in literature, and that was key to piecing together my own identity — I was finally proud of my roots, not ashamed.
I can say with confidence that I ended up at Microcosm because a seed had been planted during this time period, a desire to figure out how to succeed in spaces that weren’t originally designed for someone like me. I was a big fan of their books and zines after discovering them at Portland’s Book Festival. I thought they were cool and edgy but also geared towards empowering audiences that you typically don’t see represented in publishing: LGBTQ, people of color, activists, people with mental disabilities, and even those who struggle with mental health.
During my interview for the internship position, I was asked why I wanted to join a publishing company. “What are you looking for?” they asked. At the time, I wasn’t sure how to answer that. I only knew that reading and writing had been a lifelong passion of mine. I was always the weird kid with my nose in a book, looking for the answers to my curiosities, or waiting until the moment when I could run home from school and find out what happened to whatever character I was currently reading about. Did I actually know anything about how those books that I loved so much were published? Definitely not.
When I learned that I got the internship, I was ecstatic. Reading their titles alone was a breath of fresh air and it is what ultimately brought me to Microcosm, because I knew that inclusivity for anyone that isn’t middle class, or white, is a huge problem in book publishing.
An infamous survey by Lee and Low Books, The Diversity Baseline Survey, indicates that the industry is 79% white, and only 4% identify as Mexican, Hispanic, or Latino. A 2016 Publisher’s Weekly article highlights that the homogeneity of the industry is not entirely due to publishing companies’ hiring practices. Although the industry giants have made claims to diversify their workforce, census data shows that the lack of diversity in publishing is also a symptom of a lack of access to higher education for people of color. Recent census data shows that 73% of Americans with college degrees are white. So a lack of authors, editors, and publishers that aren’t white can be traced to a much larger issue rooted outside of the industry itself.
Why does this matter and what does this have to do with Microcosm? It matters when you consider the immense power that the book publishing industry holds. Its impact on civilization is so far reaching, it’s scope is beyond measure. It’s an industry that is responsible for cultural production and intellectual movements, a vehicle of influence for individual minds and entire societies. Clearly, it’s time that the industry take notice of a wider audience, one that would like to see itself reflected in what they read. Microcosm intends to do just that and it shows in their business practices. They recently broke most of their ties with Amazon because their monopoly on the industry has been harmful for authors and publishers. And they not only offer their books and zines for underrepresented groups, but they offer them on a sliding scale price, to reach people that are disenfranchised by a lack of money.
After struggling with the idea that this industry may not accept me, you can imagine my excitement after taking this position. I knew this was where I wanted to be and where I could explore my place in the industry. But I was still worried that the environment would be cut throat and I’d crumble under the pressure. Now, nearly two months into my internship, I haven’t crumbled and the environment isn’t cut throat — quite the opposite in fact. Interns are encouraged to ask questions and grow from our time spent here. Once, the interns were invited in on a meeting where they reviewed the company’s past year performance. I was surprised by how business-focused the whole meeting was, and it was also eye opening because as an avid reader, it’s easy to forget that the book you’re holding in your hands didn’t end up there because of the author alone.
Microcosm has taught me that behind every book is an entire community of people. In this environment, it’s hard to ignore the work that goes in to getting books to the people. On a daily basis there’s constant contact with customers, from mailing catalogs, to making phone calls, to talking face to face with people who stop into the store.
This little community at Microcosm has revealed to me the importance of the day-to-day efforts required to publish and sell books in an ethical way. A small, independent company that stands on a firm foundation of integrity, its ultimate goal is to use their resources and means to carry a message that empowers their audience, to preserve and transmit knowledge, one book (or zine) at a time.