Monthly Archives: September 2015

Railroad Semantics #4

In Railroad Semantics, seasoned train-hopper Aaron takes you along on an epic train journey through desolate stretches of Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah. He identifies the groups of fellow travelers that are poseurs, drinks under overpasses, and suffers a major injury alone in the desert. There are plenty of photos of sweeping vistas, and railroad graffiti, and a selection of rail-related articles. This issue is thick as usual, and packed with information about tramp life.

America’s #1 Bike Cartoonist: An interview with Bikeyface

cartoon of bikeyface on a bikeOf the fifty-plus contributors to our brand-new book Our Bodies, Our Bikes, few are as renowned as the artist known as Bikeyface. From her secret bunker in the Boston area, she’s been alternately delighting and enraging anyone who types a bicycle-related question into google for years now with her series of ongoing web comics that provide wry commentary on everything from safety to sweat to driver behavior to that giant, unladylike smile that gets plastered to your face when you spend a lot of time on your bike. 

I’ve long been curious about Bikeyface’s bike comics career, and she kindly agreed to answer a few questions over email.

1. Tell us a story… how did you become America’s #1 Bikey Cartoonist?

I didn’t plan to be a bike cartoonist, it was something that happened when a lot of things in my life intersected. I was an artist who had just moved to Boston, started a new job, and started biking everywhere. I didn’t know many people in Boston and making art can often be solitary. But I wondered if getting involved with the local bike community would be a better way to meet people. I didn’t know much about the bike community and I was a real newbie. But I muddled through volunteering at a couple events, went to some workshops, and tried joining an organized ride—but it was harder than I expected to find my niche. (Note to new bicyclists: do not pick the Ride of Silence as your first “organized ride.”) 

In the midst of this trial and error of finding community I also decided to start a blog on a community bike site, bostonbiker.org. It was the middle of the night, and a half-baked idea I assumed I would abandon very quickly. I did it anonymously at first—I had read the comments section before. In the beginning it was quick anecdotes, photos, thoughts, even recipes. But because I’m an artist by nature I started throwing cartoons in there too. After a few compliments I started doing more cartoons. Suddenly I found myself getting web traffic from around the country. So I went all in and that’s when I started Bikeyface. And eventually I did meet some other people who bike in Boston too.

2. Many of your comics have included a feminist critique of parts of bicycle culture. Your comic in Our Bodies, Our Bikes depicts a woman going into a bike shop and not having the greatest experience. Have you seen changes for the better/worse/neutral in bike culture in the time that you’ve been riding? What would you like to see happen next?

I’m not really sure how much has changed for women in bicycling industry—or if I’ve changed more? I struggled a lot in the beginning and had many awkward interactions in bike shops. I couldn’t tell if it was lack of knowledge about bikes, having limited bike experience, or being a woman. I was definitely aware I didn’t know anything about bikes but I also didn’t know much about gender issues in cycling aside from the “girl” bikes always having flowers on them (yuck.) I wouldn’t have called myself a feminist then, either. But somewhere along the way as I got more experience with biking it brought me to feminism. I notice much more of the nonsense than I did before so in some ways it seems worse. I think there is a heightened awareness overall and desire to call the industry out on it. I’ve also seen two women-owned bike shops open in my neighborhood, so that is a measure of progress (and luxury).  I’d like to see more women-friendly bike shops around the country as well as more robust product lines that appeal to women. 

cartoon of bikeyface and her two bikes and gear3. What’s your favorite comic that you’ve drawn? What (if it’s different) has been the most popular one? 

My favorite cartoons are ones that make me crack up so much while I’m drawing them that I have difficulty drawing a straight line—like So Ladies. The most popular was Not Asking For It which was a surprise to me—it definitely made the rounds more than I anticipated.

4. Do you get to make art for a living? Any advice for other comics artists who want to do something similar?

I don’t make art for a living. Sometimes I wish I did—but most of the time I’m really glad I do not. If I were paid for making art everyday it would become another job and I wouldn’t be drawing the things I personally enjoy (like Bikeyface.) I occasionally take freelance jobs that are interesting to me but full time freelance can be a roller coaster—I learned early on that I’m too much of an anxious person to go on that ride. I have an office job because I’m more creative when I have stability (and regular food). So I work during the day and draw in the limited evenings and weekend hours. This means I go to very few social events but that’s okay for an introvert. The only downside to this system is that I often run out of time and can’t do everything I would like to. 

I recommend other comic artists think about their own style and personality and find an art/life/money balance that works for them. The internet is a great way to find an audience and build it. However, it’s not a great way to make money. So that means you have to have a day job or a willingness to embrace the struggle to build the business side of your art.

This is one of a series of interviews with Microcosm contributors. The previous interview was with vegan chef Joshua Ploeg. The next interview is with Alexander Barrett, who writes illustrated love letters to cities in book form.

Our Bodies, Our Bikes

An homage to the classic Our Bodies, Our Selves, this encyclopedic, crowd-sourced compilation of essays, resources, information, and advice about the intersection of gender and bicycling covers a lot of ground—bold meditations on body parts, stories about recovery from illness and injury, biking to the birth center, and loud and proud declarations of physical and emotional freedom.

The Business of Publishing: The Print Run

This is the eighth post in our ongoing Business of Publishing series. This edition tackles one of our most popular questions: “How many copies of my book should I print?” 

Many, many books have proven unprofitable because their initial print run was too low or too high. Often times not being able to manage this complex predictive math causes many small publishers to collapse under the weight of planning ahead with their own bestsellers.

So let’s look at a healthy way to be smart and plan ahead.

The longtime conventional wisdom is that a third of a book’s lifetime sales occur before its publication date. Another third happen over the next year and the final third happens gradually over the rest of the book’s lifetime. While this belief is becoming increasingly difficult to predict in a changing book-selling climate, the wisdom underpinning it still makes sense: math is your friend. 

The wisdom is that for an independent book to make sense to publish, there should be at least 5,000 people who would want to read it that you can identify who they are and how to reach out to them. Of course, that does not mean that every initial print run should be at least 5,000. Indeed, some of our books are as few as 3,000 or even 2,000. It’s not that we doubt that we might sell 5,000 copies in the book’s lifetime. It’s that in some cases two printings of 3,000 costs about the same as one printing of 5,000 and it’s healthy to be a little wary. 

The average book store sells one copy of the average book during the average year. When you consider that the vast majority of sales are bestsellers, you realize that most books sell even fewer copies than that. What this means is that simply publishing a book does not mean that it will sell or that book stores will want it. You have to make people interested.

Back to pre-sales: 

If you have a trade distributor printing three times as many copies as you have preorders make senses. But if you don’t have a working relationship with a distributor, using a technology like Kickstarter to sell a few hundred or even thousand copies of the book before its release serves a much more important purpose than predicting print run or even raising money. It spreads the buzz about your book through word of mouth and can result in some publicity spots. Planning out blogs and magazines to pitch the book to during your campaign to light a time-sensitive fire can really help your chances of publicity and thus sales. 

But Kickstarter or direct orders on your own website do not demonstrate demand or future sales for a book as they are often reaching a completely different audience. If your book isn’t represented by a trade distributor,mbegin to slowly reach out to bookstores once you have physical books to show to the buyers. Build a relationship. 

We printed 3,000 copies each of, I believe, Microcosm’s first ten books. When I tell people this they respond that it seems bold, lucky, or outrageous that we have sold all 30,000 of those books and that most have seen multiple reprints. But my point is the opposite: Many of those proved much more expensive than they should have been because it’s much cheaper to add 1,000 or 2,000 additional copies to a print run than it is to print the correct number the first time around.

I lacked the understanding of how to predict the difference in sales from one book to another (as well as the quality of results from Google in 2015). Consider the size of the audience. You won’t sell a book to every person interested in it simply because you won’t reach them all or some of them don’t have time to read it or they think they know everything already or they don’t have the money or they simply never run into it at their favorite book store. But look at who is out there and how you can reach them. How much competition is there? Draw up a plan. Then realistically think of how many of those people would buy the book. 

The number one mistake I witness firsthand is people making print runs that are much too small—100 or 500 copies. When they inevitably run out of them, they just need to print more. The amount of time and effort that goes into making a book is the same no matter what your print run is so it’s in your best interest to figure out what that ideal number is. I’d suggest starting in the neighborhood of 2,000-3,000 copies. It sounds like a lot but you’ll need the extras for reviewers and samples. It’s better to err on the side of giving a book to someone who could create a positive influence for it than to be forced into stinginess by a lack of copies. Besides, generosity creates more of the same. 

For reprints, a good rule of thumb is to look at your sales history, see what the patterns are. Is it selling faster? Is it slowing down? Are there busier times of year than others? Plan a two-year supply and find a good place to store them. Sometimes sales completely taper off and you’ll have a lifetime supply. But at least you won’t have to face the question of how many copies of that book to print ever again.

Announcing the Make Your Own Superpack Contest!

a cute dog covered in zinesSo. We’ve heard that you like books.

And we suspect that you like deals.

Maybe you’ve already been browsing our growing collection of book deals in the form of our superpacks—combinations of books that we think go together like chocolate and peanut butter and that we are excited to ship to you for a pretty decent discount.

But perhaps in browsing through our superpack selection, you haven’t found exactly the combination that you’ve been looking for. Or perhaps you’ve been dreaming about a bunch of our books you want to order… but you’re feeling a little squeamish about dropping all that cash. Maybe you’ve read some of our books and thought a lot about the connections between them. Or maybe, like us, you just love playing with books and doing math. 

Well, we’ve got an invitation for you: Create your dream Superpack! 

Here’s how to participate: 

1. Browse the heck out of our site. Keep in mind that while we distribute a ton of books and zines, we can only put Microcosm-published titles into superpacks. They can also include stickers and patches

2. Dream up some superpack ideas! Here’s how the math works: For a $20 superpack, the total retail value of its contents should be $25-40. For a $25 superpack, the total retail value should be $30-50. (We can do bigger or smaller superpacks, but usually don’t. Don’t worry too much about choosing the exact superpack price, we’re good at that…but this is good to keep in mind.) When in doubt, look through our existing superpacks to see how they’re put together.

3. Submit your idea(s)! Send an email to elly at microcosmpublishing dot com with the following:

– Clever title for your superpack

– One or two sentences about why your superpack rules and who it is for.

– A list of the items you propose to be included 

If we choose your superpack to offer on our site, we’ll send it to you, for free! (Or a different superpack of your choice!) 

The deadline is September 30th.  

Have fun!

Rampant Media Consumption – August, 2015

Duett borderline album coverHere’s what we absorbed from the media waves this month.

Thea

The rabbit book that’s supposed to put kids to sleep keeps them awake, parents say.

It’s official…Manspread has been added to the Oxford English Dictionary, along with butt dial and fangirling. 

Meggyn

Obsessively listening to this new release by Duett.

If the late Amy Winehouse and Erykah Badu were somehow fused together, they would create Lianne La Havas. Her new album is perfect and it’s been on repeat.

I have also been reading as much Crate Digger as possible in between work and sleep, and Bob has made it to the top of my list as far as storytelling goes.

& thanks to the recommendation of our last intern, Hayley, I’ve been watching The Jinx, which is about Robert Durst, and ultimately became the aid to his conviction for three murders. 

Elly

I have never been familiar with even the basics about anything music-related, and reading Daniel Levitin’s This is Your Brain on Music is blowing my mind. It’s like eating something really delicious while watching fireworks. Or that moment when you’re learning to do something new, like speaking a language, and you suddenly get it on a whole new level. 

Oliver Sacks wrote a cover blurb for the book, which reminded me of the similarly revelatory impact of his writing. And then I learned that he died last week. Someone posted his long essay, “The Bull on the Mountain,” on This.cm and I stayed up late reading it and thinking about brains, and death, and music, and the sort of things that only happen when you’re walking alone. 

Cyn

In music this month, I discovered Angel Haze, a trans rap artist who suffered more than they should have growing up and now explores pain and success through their music. “Your Voice is a Weapon,” with Bastille is stuck-in-your-head awesome, and “Battle Cry,” with Sia is play-over-and-over-again amazing.

I don’t have much reading time, but listening to audio books on my commute brought The Ocean at the End of the Lane into my life. Why didn’t anyone tell me how amazing it is? I also started the Odd Thomas series, which is unfortunately long but so far enjoyable, and how could I not love the adorable Anton Yelchin movie?

Television hasn’t brought anything new lately, especially with my work schedule, but re-watching the guilty pleasure that is Scandal with my sister has kept me entertained.

Also, can smart-phone app games stop being so incredibly addictive? Tap Titans and Dark Corridors 2 kind of rule my life right now.

Taylor

Read a book saying these chants will stimulate your mind and make you need less sleep.

Also watched Gone Girl.