Monthly Archives: January 2015

Rampant Media Consumption #4

Here’s how we’re rolling with reality this week. 

Tim poetry

I have the (bad?) habit of just kind of flying through books of poetry. I know it’s usually the style of writing that demands the most attention, with each word or line-break having a very deliberate and specific meaning, but I often approach it like a song and go for the overall emotional impact. That’s what happened the other day when I sat down with If I Really Wanted to Feel Happy I’d Feel Happy Already by Jordan Castro…one pint of coffee and 160 pages of minimalist prose later, it was back on the bookshelf and I was slumped in my chair. The title is probably enough to know why. RIYL: All those other sad sacks (Mira Gonzalez, Spencer Madsen, Ellen Kennedy, Sam Pink, etc.). But you really can’t go wrong with anything from Civil Coping Mechanisms.

But to be honest, I’ve spent most of my life lately catching up on Bob’s Burgers. It’s its own sort of poetry.  


I’ve been reading Humor by Stanley DonwoodHe’s one of my favorite artists, he did the covers for all of the Radiohead albums (except Pablo Honey). This isn’t an artbook though… this is a collection of his nightmares. Which is surprisingly entertaining. Some of it is pretty gruesome, but most of it is oddly funny.

Also, I’ve been skimming through How to Stay Alive in the WoodsIt’s pretty good, once you get passed the killing-small-animals part.

And of course the new Tape Op magazine…which is always great. Especially while listening to lots of Portishead.


I started using Facebook in earnest again last week, after months away. In part, this was for awesome reasons like creating pages for the Crate Digger book and Feminists Against Freeways. But from there things got out of hand and I was right back to the glazed-eyed clicking and scrolling that I’ve sworn off so many times. That ate up every moment that I’d normally give to pleasure reading. On Thursday I wasn’t feeling well and intended to rest all day, but there was social media, gnawing at my brain. Today I’m using Self Control again and my brain is once more my own.


I went to yet another book reading last night at Powell’s, this time on Hawthorne. Which might work into some of our many parenting titles.

The Business of Publishing

One of our most frequently asked questions here at Microcosm is something along the lines of: How does publishing work anymore? make a zine!

We have a few ways of answering that. 

Want a big picture look at the state of the industry, Amazon, the Big 5, and where small fry like us can fit in (and thrive)? We’ve got you covered

Or would you prefer brass tacks instructions that you can follow along at home? We have that, too.  

We have it in book form: Joe co-authored Make A Zine, which tells you not just how to lay out your type-written treatises for photocopying and handing out at punk shows, but how to publish books with spines, from editorial nuts to distribution bolts. More recently, Joe wrote *the* book on book publishing, A People’s Guide to Publishing.

I wrote a blog post a ways back about running a small zine production operation out of my living room and funding it on Kickstarter.

For people who want to take their book publishing enterprise even farther, Joe has an ongoing series, The Business of Publishing, over on my blog from way back in 2014 when we ran separate enterprises. Each post offers an in-depth guide to a new aspect of the industry, geared toward advanced beginners. If you put out a book through CreateSpace and are wondering why you aren’t getting ahead, read this!

There’s remarkably little candid information we’ve found out there about how to publish books in a way that makes economic sense. (Sorry, Smashwords. Sorry, Amazon. You are all sharks, you’re out to screw over authors, readers, and other publishers, and you know it.) 

One refreshing exception came this week from our friend Amelia Greenhall, who wrote this extraordinarily detailed and useful account of founding a financially successful quarterly journal. (A word of caution: She was able to raise her entire first-year operating budget up-front. If that’s not in the cards for you, you may need to be a bit scrappier.)

Another great resource on some elements of the most important but undervalued work that publishers do can be found here. The head of our former distributor, IPG, kicked off an extraordinarily helpful series on “habits of successful independent publishers.” (My favorite part: “They spend a lot of time in bookstores.”)

Rampant Media Consumption #3

Here’s how we’re allocating our attention spans this week:


Rosie (intern)

 Princess Nokia (formerly Wavy Spice) came out with a new music video for her song “Young Girls” this week, which got me back into her Metallic Butterfly mix tape. So good!

I’m reading Dorothea Lasky‘s most recent book of poetry, Rome, and like all her other work it’s super weird and pop and amazing.

This might be a little late in the game, but I just started (and finished) Transparent… in just three days…

Poet Paul Legault‘s twitter has a super strange sense of humor, but I think it’s funny! @theotherpaul


Morgan (intern)

Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of my all-time favorite band, mewithoutYou. Their understated, lyric-driven indie sound is in direct contrast to what I’m currently reading: Black Echo by Michael Connelly. It’s the crime/mystery/police thriller genre author’s debut novel, and having just enjoyed a novel of his based loosely on the work of Edgar Allan Poe, I decided to go back and start at the beginning. So far, it’s satisfyingly profanity-laced, cliff-hanger-y, and full of technical police talk. I love it. 


Meggyn (designer)

​This week, I really just played Hemingway’s So Predictable and REPLY’s remix of Let It Run on repeat…back and forth….forever.


Nathan (publisher’s assistant in training)

Nathan reports that he went to a reading of I Think You’re Totally Wrong at Powell’s this week. He describes it as a debate about the importance of the life/art balance and recommends one of our books and a zine that can also help with that. 


Erik (sales manager)

This week I spent an unusual amount of time on YouTube researching and listening to old Dub recordings. I’ve always liked old roots reggae and the Dub always seemed like a rogue splinter group with origins and facets hidden away in old vaults and obscure collectors closets. This isn’t too far off. Some of these recordings had numbered pressings equal to the amount of cash they had at the time, maybe 200 copies, maybe 1,000… making them for the most part, exceptionally difficult to find. Thanks to YouTube, I’ve invested no small amount of time tracing the legacy’s of King Tubby, Lee Perry, Mad Professor, and Jah Shaka. I’ve discovered a new holy grail of records to hunt and secure; it’ll likely be a long time before I see one, and it’ll probably be way too much money and I’ll have to make concessions… I did manage to go out and find a few of these albums, maybe the one I like the most right now is: The Commandments of Dub, Chapter 2, put on by Jah Shaka. Many of these album titles have these types of overtones linked to Rastafarianism, I just like the music.

I’ve been sifting through Michel Foucault’s, History of Sexuality series, three volumes: #1 An Introduction by the same name, #2 The Use of Pleasure, and #3 The Care of the Self. At this point it’s difficult to say exactly what I’m looking for, but I think I’m after some leverage to use against some other writers, which will remain nameless. Foucault has always left huge impressions, as I get older these impressions I feel, take shape alongside other dents and damages from lack of maintenance in my former study. So now as I encounter his work, which some would say is a little demanding, I feel I have to be all the more diligent not to re-open old wounds.

From volume two: ” My aim was not to write a history of sexual behaviors and practices, tracing their successive forms, their evolution, and their dissemination; nor was it to analyze the scientific, religious, or philosophical ideas through which these behaviors have been represented. I wanted first to dwell on that quite recent and banal notion of “sexuality”: to stand detached from it, bracketing its familiarity, in order to analyze the theoretical and practical context with which it has been associated.”

I received the Jan. 26, 2015 copy of the New Yorker, and I’m happy to say, that at this point I’ve only read the cartoons!


Elly (marketing)

Couldn’t stop reading this week. I finished Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project and kept thinking about her unbelievably disciplined, almost athletic endeavor to be perfect in her career, marriage, parenting, and personal development. Started Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In and Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist. Takeaway from all of these: Women, we’ve got to stop being so damn hard on ourselves, it’s not like the rest of the world isn’t happy to do that for us.

Looks like I’m going to play Dungeons and Dragons for the first time this weekend. I read Joe’s battered 1989 manual and had a great laugh at the art and less happy laugh at the disclaimer about global use of the “he” pronoun (everyone would be SO confused if they did it any other way).

Also gobbled up: Let My People Go Surfing, Yvon Chouinard’s memoir and manifesto about founding Patagonia in the 50s and growing it into a successful global company in between long climbing trips. We’re looking for business role models for Microcosm, companies that started small and grew big while sticking to values and not being sold to investors. Check, check, check, check. Super inspiring.

Dove into the new Cometbus, felt some love and recognition for the smelly, unsocial book dealers in there. 

And I lay on the office floor and read Crate Digger! It’s so good. Bob Suren made a mix as a reward for the Kickstarter backers (could be you!), and I serenaded the office with it, closing out this week in screaming style.


Bike stuff for bike shops!

Hello, bike shops!  evolution shirt

The bicycle transportation revolution is happening, bigtime! More people than ever are getting on bikes for fun, community, and transportation—and we’ve got stuff that they are really, really stoked about. Here’s the scoop:


New bike converts and old hands alike love to declare their Evolution or tell the world where to Put the Fun. Our wide range of (mostly bike-related) t-shirts include timeless standbys like our Chainring Heart, newer classics like the Bikenomics tee and Every Car a Murder, Every Bike a Love Affair (a vengeful rental car once destroyed a bunch of these while on tour, but we bounced back). All our shirts are manufactured and printed in the USA.

Small gift items

We have a huge variety of bike stickers (plus one for cars, to be fair). Bike-themed patches and buttons. Magnets. Greeting cards! Even a coloring book. All this stuff is also made in the USA.

Books  bike-shop-display

Want to give your customers access not just to a bicycle but to a whole way of life? You can pick up a selection of some of our bestselling bike books in this nice-looking counter-top display box (email us if you’d like other price options with the display).

Here are some highlights (all printed by union workers in the US! yes!):

Bikenomics by Elly Blue (the economic case for bicycling) 

Chainbreaker is the best bike repair manual out there (written for bike projects so you know it’s rad; also includes all the back issues of a New Orleans bike project zine from before Katrina). (We also have the super basic $3 zine version.)

Aftermass (this is a DVD – Joe Biel’s documentary about the history of bicycling in Portland)

Everyday Bicycling (also by Elly—great for people who are just getting started riding and need to learn skills) 

Pedal, Stretch, Breathe (Kelli Refer’s charming illustrated guide to the yoga of feeling awesome on and off the bike)

The Culinary Cyclist (Anna Brones’s gluten free, vegetarian cookbook for people who live the two wheeled lifestyle)

Why We Drive (Andy Singer’s scandalous history of the automobile’s troubled rise to popularity in the US, told largely in cartoons)

Bikes in Space (feminist bicycle science fiction!)

We’re always happy to pick out a selection that’ll suit your and your customers’ style. Just ask! 

Wholesale ordering is straightforward. The best way to do it is to set up an account, select the wholesale option, and go ahead and order what you want on our website. If you run into trouble, give us a call at 503 232 3666 any time from 11-7 Pacific time.


Rampant Media Consumption #2

Here’s what we’re putting in our brains this week.

Tim (publicity)

I’ve been kind of obsessively reading the blog Gargozo Manuscript where my friend, Rev. Joe Borfo, has been posting the eccentric stories his dad has been sending to him about his life growing up in Los Angeles. Obsessive gambling, rampant BLT consumption, and scamming his way through art school…

Rosie (intern)

I’m currently reading Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides – I was introduced to his work last year with The Marriage Plot, and had no idea how much more expansive this work would be. So far I’m loving it. I’m also reading Living as Form, a book by Nato Thompson about relational aesthetics and socially engaged art from 1991-2011.

I’m listening to a ton of Palberta, an experimental punk trio from upstate New York, and Arthur Russell

I’m watching reruns of Broad City (both the original web series, and their show on comedy central) in preparation for the new season (!!!).

Newly discovered, underrated twitter that gives unwanted and nonsensical life advice: @wackyfacks (“someone breathing down your neck? turn around and give a kiss”)

I’ve also been reading a ton of articles about Reborn Dolls being rescued from parked cars, which is kind of funny, kind of sad, and endlessly fascinating.

Nathan (trainee)

Nathan reports that he went to a reading at Powell’s again this week, for Rose City Heist, a true crime story about the biggest jewelry theft in Portland. Now that the statute of limitations on the crime has run out, the primary suspect can finally dish everything. If you’re into that kind of thing, he wants you to know about some similarly arcane and fascinating slices Portland history that you can find on the shelves of our store, including Ariel Gore’s Portland Queer, Joe Biel’s history of local bike activism, this comic written by Sarah Mirk about the infamous Vortex Fest, and these two box sets of more fascinating comics that help you get to know all the parts that make up our city: One about our little-known history, and one about our activism.

Morgan (intern)

Besides the sounds of the MAX Green Line on my commute each day—last night, I heard a screeching baby, a man in a suit reciting the Declaration of Independence, and someone playing the flute—and a lot of rain, I’ve been listening to my favorite songza playlist : “At a ’90s Frat BBQ”. Please don’t judge me.

In terms of reading, I’m currently devouring HIV, Mon Amor, a book of poetry by Tory Dent that I picked up at Powell’s the other week. Dent has found a beautiful balance between poetry and prose, and the book is a stunning and resonant portrayal of the author’s life as an HIV-positive woman. I’ve also devoured, in a more literal sense, a couple of recipes that I found in my recent purchase of Barefoot and in the Kitchen.

Meggyn (designer)

I’ve, of course, been reading Teenage Rebels by Dawson Barrett [editor’s note: Meggyn is designing this book right now!] and revisiting my entire mix cd collection from the past. It’s been more than appropriate and has inspired me in so many ways.

The albums that have stood out have been Set It Straight‘s “Live Your Heart and Never Follow” and “My Favorite Words,” Down To Nothing‘s “Splitting Headache” and “The Most“, Have Heart‘s “The Things We Carry“, and Battery‘s “Final Fury“. Straight edge punk hardcore has always held a very special place in my heart, if that isn’t already apparent enough.

In the kitchen, I baked these brownies and the baked beans recipe in Hot Damn and Hell Yeah by Ryan Splint. The brownies tasted like those cosmic brownies I used to eat as a child, which I didn’t find very good in the first place. The beans were great and I HIGHLY recommend them, especially for those who don’t like to put too much work into their cooking.

Jonathan (sales)

Last night, as I wandered SE Division, I came across a cute shop called Little Otsu. While the Moomins books are what drew me in, it was the curated film selection that really sold me. There, I bought a Criterion Collection DVD of the 1955 French thriller Diabolique, by Henri-Georges Clouzot. It’s famous—or, depending upon whom you ask, infamous—for being the adaptation Hitchcock couldn’t make, as Clouzot reportedly snatched up the film rights to the novel mere hours before Hitch could get his hands on them. I can’t wait to watch it.

Meanwhile, I’ve decided to follow Crate Digger author Bob Suren’s footsteps by building on my own collection of punk vinyl. I’m going to start with the ? and the Mysterians single “96 Tears,” tracing punk’s evolutionary process: from its roots in Detroit, MI, to the hyper aggressive hardcore scenes of California and NYC. It’s gonna be one helluva collection!

Joe (publisher)

Watched the Australian “comedy” Mental about five kids (four of which who dress identically) their dad who is an absent but successful politician and the woman that he picks up from the side of the road to be the ad-hoc “caretaker” of the kids. It mostly left me wondering if society’s cultural analysis of mental health is what is so fractured or if this is how Australians deal with difficult subjects. In any event, I didn’t watch the whole thing because I fell asleep and the litmus test was failed because I’m not going to watch the rest. C- unless you really need distraction from your life.

The current episode of This American Life, “Batman,” was totally bad ass. While I mostly got obsessed with how supportive his mom was throughout his entire life as a young blind person, the whole story is like all good narratives: it makes you think about all of the similar parables in your own life and how hardships are almost always that way because of how you perceive and interact with them. Thanks iGlass!

And clearly I’ve been too tired and/or busy to read after work this week because the only other media entering my headtube is Jughead’s Revenge and his take on the Vindictives Hypno-Punko which, admittedly, I thought of as a kid band (albeit one that I loved as a teenager). I really like the way that Joey engages mental health from an “I’m not ashamed, I’m crazy motherfucker!” mentality and brings that suburban Chicago melodic punk sound to new highs (both in terms of pitch and merit). All of the episodes are stellar but this one touched me particularly.


Erik (sales)

I’ve recently acquired, at long last my copy of Burning Spear’s Marcus Garvey LP. It’s a classic roots reggae album. I had to travel all the way to St. Louis to find it! It’s one of those inimitable legends of the genre that gives me goosebumps. I also found The Impressions’ One by One (Curtis Mayfield’s first group). It has a track listing of mostly standards of the time, but the three tracks written by Curtis are unstoppable.

I’ve had the last two issues of the New Yorker on my table, got into those in an effort to catch up. The Jan 12 issue had some Malcolm Gladwell, if you’re into it.

I just activated my MUBI account, it was a christmas gift from a friend. If you’re not familiar, it’s like Netflix, but much smaller, with a changing collection of foreign films, movie shorts from artists, and other sub-genre projects. It features older films and new releases. I highly recommend it if you’re in search of more eclectic and abstract viewing.

I used my TriMet app twice!


Elly (marketing)

I found (on, which I love) and stayed up too late reading this very long article about a team of Swedish “troll hunters” that unmask the people behind anonymous racist internet comments, including some famous politicians.

My old friend Carl came over to breakfast and regaled us with tales of his new club, The Portland Flag Association. Turns out that flags (and the people who love them) are an endlessly fascinating topic, but don’t take my word for it; check out this article and podcast about the organization.

Part of my work here involves dabbling in a dark art known as “title development,” or in lay terms, “what exactly is this book supposed to be anyway?,” on which topic this is probably the best thing ever written, by a famous humor writer of yore:

Henry & Glenn Forever & Ever Valentine’s Day Spectacular

true loveWe’ve been thinking a lot about love lately…. specifically about the great historical couple whose epic spats and charming make-ups grace the pages of so many of our favorite books. You know who we mean: Glenn and Henry. Our friend Brett Marren put together this little video in homage to their romance, and to Valentines everywhere, warts and all. Watch the video and don’t forget to pick up a copy of the book for your own sweetie (or for your own sweet self).


Henry & Glenn Forever & Ever Valentines Day Spectacular from Microcosm Publishing on Vimeo.



Microcosm Staff: Meet Taylor Hurley, our developmental editor

Taylor is one of the newer additions to the Microcosm work crew. She labors in every part of the wordstream, from big ideas to spelling specifics, working with authors to make sure that the books we publish are the most awesomely practical and grammatical versions of themselves that they can be. Here’s a list of some of her favorite stuff we have in the store.


So, what do you do here at Microcosm? 

I’m an editor at Microcosm, which technically entails me overlooking the structure of each book we have going to print. I look specifically at obvious things like spelling, grammar, tone, etc., but also whether or not certain ideas have been fully developed, whether main ideas have been adequately explained. Since this job allows me to work from my computer, I operate mostly from my bed or random coffee shops. I don’t like looking at books unless I have a lot of time to spend with them, so it often ends up being something I will set aside a whole day or so for anywhere from 3-5 days a week.

What was your path to getting here? 

I started in 2014 as an intern under Tim. I was interested in editorial, but Joe was touring with his documentary Aftermass so my application had been set aside until his return. Tim found it and I started worked on distribution lists and mail orders with him, asking too many questions and butchering more stamps than I was able to successfully print. When Joe returned, I began interning under him. At first I just looked for basic spelling and grammar errors, but I was given several books on editing and (again) asked an endless amount of questions, eventually developing a stronger sense for what I was doing. After a few months of interning, I was offered an official position as editor. 

How would you describe your philosophy, style, or set of rules and values around editing? 

My style of editing is best described as analytical. It is entirely different from the way I would approach a book I am reading for my leisure. It is easiest for me to make a list of things that are promised to be delivered throughout the book, so as I read I can check back to make sure these things are indeed addressed, and to what extent. Other things to consider are also the audience that is being targeted, the type of market this book will exist in, and what kind of author the person behind the book is. In editing someone else’s work, it is crucial to make sure you are not replacing the author’s tone with your own. I usually will look through a book two or three times before submitting my changes, and there are usually three to four rounds of this.

What are your favorite books (ours and others?) 

My favorite Microcosm book is probably Hot Pants. It contains so much important info not only about women’s bodies but also about herbalism. Lately I have been really into John Berger’s books, specifically his essay “Why Look at Animals”taylor

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? 

When I was little I wanted to work in theater. I grew up in LA, and my mom was like every other mom in thinking I should be an actor. As I got older, I wanted to be a journalist. I loved the idea of working for National Geographic, and I started taking photo and anthro classes at the community college when I was finishing up high school. I interned with a newspaper and hated it, quickly abandoning that dream.

What’s your favorite place in the world? How about in Portland? 

I don’t know what my favorite place in the world is, but one of my top five would be this bookstore in Ojai, CA called Bart’s Books. It consists of all shelves that together form a sort of maze, and there is no roof. They carry almost no new books, and primarily books you would not find anywhere else. They have a few small sheds offering art books and more delicate works that can’t be left outside. There never seem to be any other people there on days when I am, and I love that feeling of privacy. One of my favorite things about it is that the walls on the outside of the store are lined with shelves of books too. 

In Portland I really like the downtown library. Everyone else I tell this too says that it smells like pee and that they don’t see the appeal, but I think the combination of its classic architecture and the number of homeless people it attracts gives it character. Again, I like how quiet it is there and the privacy it offers. 

One of my newer favorite places in Portland is this coffee shop in the middle of Ladd’s Addition, Palio. They have a lot of space, and it is generally very quiet and an ideal place to do some reading or computer work. There is also this one review on Yelp that describes it as having “the prettiest coffee shop floor in Portland”.

More favorites, please! Snacks? Creative outlets? Colors? 

Some of my favorite things to snack on are kale chips and anything I can sample at New Seasons! A weird creative outlet is this app on my phone that is essentially the Paint program for iPhone, called “art studio”. I would say I’m best at drawing women or funny little nudes of women, and my favorite thing is being on the bus trying to draw one of these and seeing the looks I get from other bus riders who happen to be looking over my shoulder. My favorite colors to draw with are lighter shades of purple and blue, as well as red and grey.

This is one of a series of interviews with Microcosm workers. The last one was with sales manager Erik Spellmeyer, and the next one is with designer Meggyn Pomerleau.

Introducing our Rampant Media Consumption

Welcome to the first installment of our new weekly feature, Rampant Media Consumption. Every Friday, some Microcosm workers will share what we’ve been reading, watching, listening to, and otherwise putting into our brains.

(This feature was inspired by and shamelessly borrowed from the Weekend Reading feature put together by our friends at the Sightline Institute, a Pacific Northwest sustainability and public policy think tank whose rampant media output is also well worth following.)


I have been listening to the new Grammies album, GREAT SOUNDING nonstop​, Thundercat‘s The Golden Age of Apocalypse, and Angel Olsen‘s Burn Your Fire For No Witness during my hibernation.

As far as books, I have trekked through Good Manners For Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck and the new Dwelling Portably, but ….alas…I am only halfway through both. But they have both inspired me to keep on going and BE GOOD to people.

I have also peeped in at some Alan Watts lectures. Specifically Alan Watts ~ You Suffer Because You Enjoy It



I’m reading an old book called Ormond, by Charles Brockden Brown (1771 –1810). He is considered to be the first American novelist, or at least the first to make a serious living from his writings. The book is a tale of ignominy, death by contagion, women’s education, murder, morality, and all set in post-revolutionary Philadelphia.

I’m mostly re-watching soccer matches from the European Champions League in preparation for the round of 16!



Alt text Ancient Oceans of Central Kentucky by David Connerley Nahm – It’s too soon to tell exactly how I feel about this book, but so far it’s been sweeping, lyrical imagery that leads to bold, poignant moments as two (possible?) siblings are reunited after one had long ago disappeared. Is there a word for the negative side of nostalgia?

I picked it up based on some reviews/best of lists I saw and because the publisher, Two Dollar Radio, published one of my favorite books of 2014, Crapalachia by Scott McClanahan (Well, they published it in 2013, but I read it in 2014. You know how these things go). 

And due to a recent trip to LA, it’s been accompanied by the actual consumption of some Kenyan beans from Trystero Coffee. The best damn roaster man has ever encountered, with the added bonus of an obscure literary name.



We’re in the development stages of Jaime Herndon’s book, Taking Back Birth, so I spent some time reading up on stuff I don’t normally think about. A friend’s dog-eared copy of Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth blew my mind. Ina May Gaskin has been a midwife and birth activist since the 70s and is super inspiring even if you’re not a baby-haver—here’s a nice multimedia introduction to her work.

On my mom’s recommendation, I read Marie Kondo’s bestselling Shinto decluttering manifesto The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I liked her stories of learning to channel her teenaged extremism into a successful career, and how she learned good boundaries along the way and replaced her anger and resentment about clutter with a strong sense of respect for home and ultimately self. I used her method and put the 80% of my clothes that don’t make me seriously happy on the curb. I can’t say I miss any of the specific items, but heed my cautionary tale: now I have to do laundry every two days.

The best thing I read on the Internet this week is an essay by Oboi Reed on Streetsblog: “Why I Fight: How Biking Saved My Life and Can Help Other Black Chicagoans.”

In non-book media, I chose a movie called Barbara on Netflix because the cover showed a woman riding a bicycle, and it ended up being one of the best things I’ve seen in a long time. It’s a recent movie, but it’s about the pivotal moment of choice for a dissident doctor in East Germany before the wall came down. I’d have loved it anyway, but it doesn’t hurt that the bicycle is the movie’s symbol of freedom and independence.



Just read Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland in research mode to grasp a finer understanding of my roots and to start the polishing for the 20 years of Microcosm book coming out in 2016. While Harvey hits the soul of the city on the nose and I realized for the first time that he actually lived there during the glory years of the 1930s, most of the second half of the book rehashed his existing material and life and was thus a bit disappointing. For a man who was an expert on the city and its history, I wanted more specifics, more depth. There was no shortage of love and I like the idea of hugging format between memoir and city history but if he’s going to tell us about all three of his wives again, then I want the book to be twice as long!

Next up was a documentary, Mentor, about bullying-related suicides at my second high school. The film lays out mostly emotional content about four well-documented suicides with relentless calls for help to administration in as many sequential years while the school continued to ignore that a problem might exist. The film draws the line to the high population of Bosnian war refugees living there and how many of them are targeted by bullies. I wanted a bit more factual analysis and historical context, even though obviously, I know the area where I’m from. It felt a little “every town” when we all know that places are unique.

I followed that up with the Cleveland Tourism Videos and the book that the director wrote, Damn Right I’m From Cleveland but it was totally disappointing. Less depth than reading Tumblr and mostly obsessed with the most boring places to hang out in the city and old moments in sports. I get it, that’s the morale that we hang out hat on. But he missed this time.

Fortunately, Joyce Brabner’s new book Second Avenue Caper was bedside to bring me back to remembering what a good graphic book is. She put a serious plug for Microcosm in the acknowledgements for inspiring her to remember what a group of dedicated people can accomplish and that’s why I tracked down a copy, but it’s also a heartening story of what you can do when you feel powerless: band together with your elegant cast of friends, sell drugs, and ignore government warnings. It’s not a triumphant ending but it does compel the reader to imagine how to engage with problems in the world today and to know that a response is warranted. The power is in your hands. 

Oh and also, this interview with Tommy Wiseau about his new sitcom ends with the interviewer pissing off Tommy, who is apparently very sensitive about the fine line of his fans loving his work while making fun of his ridiculous personality.




I’ve been using Duolingo to (re)learn French. It’s a great little app!




Nathan went to the reading at Powell’s for More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High Stakes Testing and reports that it touches on many of the same issues as one of our recent books.

Meet the Microcosm Staff!: Erik Spellmeyer, salesman extraordinaire

Microcosm is growing! Our team is working around the clock (yes, our schedules are all over the place!) to bring you the books, zines, t-shirts, patches, and of course the Slingshot Planners that you need to super awesome your life. I’ll be interviewing folks for the blog as they come up for air. Starting with our bespectacled Sales Manager…

Mr. Erik Spellmeyer

erik, man of adventureSo, what do you do here at Microcosm?
Ostensibly, I’m the sales manager, but I feel that Microcosm’s staff all work hard to ensure that each title makes it’s way into the world, so I take credit for my part, as being just another on that team. That being said, in an average week, I’ll do a little line editing, brainstorm with the crew, tend to the needs of our wholesale accounts, research new outlets for our titles, and a considerable amount of emailing and spreadsheeting! 

What’s your background, what path have you followed to get here? Definitely not a straightforward one, I know! 

I have a long background as an on-again off-again student. I finished a degree in Philosophy, but that was scattered amongst a lot of traveling and odd jobs. I grew up in St. Louis where I lived until I was 23. Once I left (in the middle of my schooling) I took off west and made my way through obscure work in Colorado and then up to Oregon. While in Eugene I worked at the brewery Ninkasi until I finally felt compelled to finish my degree. I took my degree to Prague where my wife and I taught English. After a year of that we moved back to Oregon and made Portland home. Microcosm’s ethics and published works suited my ambitions, so Joe Biel got a visit from me, mostly unannounced, we talked for about an hour and I began researching sales outlets pretty much the next day. 

You wrote a book for us! Brew It Yourself! Anything you want to say about that? 

brew it yourselfNot too long after I began being paid as a staff member, Joe asked me to take a look at a manuscript on home brewing. My experience in the brewing industry made me the ideal candidate, so I looked it over. The idea was to fit this title into our DIY series, and as I read on I realized so much was missing. I’d read home brew books before and worked in the industry, and as I compiled notes for the book, I took notice that they were growing beyond the size of the manuscript. Once I related this to Joe, he decided to scratch the original and have me write the book. I now had the chance to write the book I wished I’d had when I began home brewing. I never thought I’d publish a book on beer, but the more I wrote on, I realized the more I had to say on the subject. It was rewarding and fun to use the knowledge I’d accrued while working at Microcosm to guide me along, and in my opinion, it was all over too quickly.

Based on that experience is there any advice you have to offer about writing a book or the publishing process?

The publishing world has many metrics at play to measure up the success of any book. Things I kept in mind all along were, making sure what I was saying maintained a continuity with the title, making sure the book was offering something new to the market while not being genre defining (as new categories are more difficult to market), and most importantly, trying to make the writing playful enough to make the relatively dry information stand out and be remembered. 

Favorites please! Bands, books, philosophers, snacks, things to do on the weekend, things to think about while you’re waiting in line, etc.

As far as music goes, I’m quite old fashioned. I probably listen to more Beethoven than anything else, I still think it’s riveting! But I have a soft spot for old roots reggae, soul and obscure disco, basically I look for production quality and sometimes that takes me to to odd places. Albums like “Tusk” and “Soul Rebels” have little in common other than they are innovative in their production techniques, which always makes me listen. I like to keep Nietzsche by my bed, I find his optimism scathing! It’s typical to find me eating peanut-butter filled pretzels to fuel my need to rock climb and surf, which occupy most of my free time. Mostly when I’m waiting in line, I listen to other people and muse on how funny it would be to have the on-the-spot commentary, like in Annie Hall when Woody Allen pulled in Marshall McLuhan to debunk the pseudo-intellectualisms of the guy in-line in front of him.

Bonus: Erik’s top ten favorite Microcosm books

This is one in a series of interviews with Microcosm workers. The next interview is with editor Taylor Hurley.

2014 Financial Report

Hello Small World,

Elly here, your new Microcosm marketing director. Starting today, I’ll be working at pretty much every level to get all our books into the right hands, and also to continue publishing my line of feminist books about bicycling and getting new editions ready of the two books I wrote for Microcosm. I’m stoked. My first post here at ye olde blogifesto is about everyone’s favorite topic: accounting! Starting in 2009, we’ve published our finances at the beginning of every year. It’s helped both us and our fans keep tabs on how and what the company is doing. We’re proud to be able to be this transparent. We’re also proud (and exhausted, and relieved) that 2014 was our best year EVER by every metric that matters to us. 

Before I start bombarding you with numbers, a quick note on how Microcosm works. We operate on a break-even basis, which means: No profits. That is to say, if we are lucky and industrious enough to earn more than our expenses in any given year, that money *does not* get split between owners or shareholders. Instead, it gets put back into the business. Staff get raises and we get to hire more people and we get to take a chance on publishing more books that we love. Also, more sales = more income for the people we work with. Authors get bigger royalty checks, and people whose books we distribute get to sell more books. In short, everyone wins. All of this happened in 2014 and 2015 is looking pretty great already. 

Without further ado, here’s a pie chart showing every dollar we spent last year:

2014 expense by type



Here are the numbers to go with that chart, along with the change since last year:


Income $389,351.59 28% increase
Publishing $88,505.50 33% decrease

Wages $102,099.80 52.4% increase

Shipping $35,539.21 15% increase

Distribution $59,036.79 151.5% increase!

Supplies & Phone $14,730.93 9.4% decrease

Royalties $31,306.46 101.1% increase!

Building $20,844.05 137.3% increase

Advertising $4,316.48 18.3% decrease

Travel $3,620.94 68.7% increase

Donations $27,325.00 78.3% increase

Total $387,325.16 28.2% increase
Profit $2,026.43 (goes into 2015 expenses)

In short, we spent a lot more on existing staff wages and hiring rad new people, a whole lot more on books that we distributed, and a whole heck of a lot more on our office/store/warehouse (we bought a building!). We spent more on travel to sell books and speak at various events, we donated more books to causes and organizations that we support. We paid out twice as much in author royalties as we did in 2013, even though we spent considerably less money publishing (and advertising) books. And we came out a little ahead, which gives us a buffer for the first few days of whatever 2015 brings. 
We had a tough few years back there, but I’d say we’ve (finally!) officially bounced back. We’ve paid off all of our debts (and some other people’s too) and everyone’s getting paid regularly, on time, and more than ever (that’s the flip side of owners not splitting profits—when the company loses money it comes out of owners’ paychecks and savings accounts and credit lines—but now we’re looking only forward).
Aaaaand here’s what we sold in 2014 (broken down by total revenue from each type of thing) that made this all possible:
2014 sales by type
As you can see, print isn’t dead—we’re finding that when we go about it thoughtfully and well, publishing books still makes a lot of financial sense. Unfortunately, there’s a ton of mythology going around to the contrary. I’m sure you’ve heard about the great benefits to authors of self-publishing through a certain giant online retailer. I mean, Amazon will give you a 70% royalty on your ebook! Who can compete with that? 
But with all respect, it’s smoke and mirrors. Amazon loves to pit authors (and readers) against what it paints as the greed and ineptitude of publishers—but often people optimistically forget to notice that Amazon is the biggest, most greedy publisher of all. We’re still shaking our heads at this 2012 Guardian article breaking down author royalties from Amazon. In terms of self-publishing, it’s still way way better to skip the e-books and print on demand and do it in large runs of offset print books—as this breakdown by Joe on my blog earlier this year shows—essentially launching a traditional publishing company. For those disinclined to do so, working with an actual publisher still makes a ton of sense. Ideally, the author-publisher relationship should be a symbiotic one, sharing the hard work of making good books and getting them into the hands of readers who will value them. That’s our goal, and we’re always working to do it better.
Traditional indie publishing (not to be confused with mega-corporate global conglomerate publishing) is still the best: for authors, for readers, and for workers in the publishing industry. Here’s a chart we made showing what happens to each ten dollars you spend buying books from Microcosm and Amazon (which we broke down further into print and electronic because frankly it’s pretty egregious):
ten dollar book microcosm amazon

So there’s that. Thanks for reading, for cheering us on, for keeping us honest, writing us love letters, submitting your work, and for being a part of this community. We’re stoked about what the next year will bring. Next month we turn 19, so a year from now there will be even more celebrations in store. As well as more pie charts, of course.