Monthly Archives: January 2016

Rebellious Girls: An interview with Velocipede Races author Emily June Street

ejs in steampunk velo gear“A tough girl rebels against stifling gender rules in a quasi-historical steampunk world, dreaming of racing her bicycle in the cutthroat velocipede races. But can her dream survive scandal, scrutiny, and heartbreak?” That’s how Emily June Street describes her debut young adult novel, The Velocipede Races, which is also Microcosm’s first venture into the genre. It officially comes out on April 12th, but we just got them back from the printer and you can snag one directly from us right now.


1. Congratulations on the publication of The Velocipede Races! What is the story behind the book? Where did you come up with the idea?

I spend a lot of time on my bicycle on my fourteen-mile commute most days of the week. The idea for The Velocipede Races popped into my head during a ride. I was focusing on my breathing, on really letting my ribcage expand and contract in three dimensions while I rode hard, and the constricting notion of a corset popped into my mind. I felt so grateful that I lived in a time when I wasn’t expected to wear a corset and that I was free to ride my bike pretty much anywhere I pleased. In that moment, I made the connection between the rational dress movement, the bicycle, and the first wave of western feminism. I got home and did research—as I often do—and discovered the fascinating, tangled history of feminism and the bicycle. I’d long wanted to write a scifi story about track-bicycle racing, and these percolating ideas came together in my imagination. So I decided to mash-up the feminist history of the bicycle, some sci-fi/steampunk-style track racing, and some romance. These elements dovetailed into the story that is The Velocipede Races. I call my genre quasi-historical femmepunk.

2. You’ve been writing and self-publishing fiction for a while now. Can you talk a bit more about that? How did you learn the craft? What are you currently working on?

I’ve been writing on a regular basis since I was eleven years old, when I got my first diary. I fell for reading early and hard, and it remains a persistent and utterly incurable addiction. Writing has always been a natural progression from reading for me. They are two sides of the same coin. I read, therefore, I write. Reading has certainly taught me most of what I know about writing. I absorb so much about how to write by reading—everything from style to grammar to cadence to what could be possible in a book. I did minor in English many years ago, emphasizing writing in my coursework, and later I got a Master’s degree in Library Science, mainly to enable my reading addiction while gaining practical work skills.

velocipede races book coverBeing such a book addict, I’ve always wanted to write them, and along with that, I wanted to publish them—but I have a full-time life teaching Pilates. My husband and I own our studio, and that passion/career takes a lot of time and energy. Self-publishing originally appealed to me because I could set my own deadlines, work at my own natural and (admittedly very slow) pace without having my writing life interfere with my Pilates life. I also like to learn new things, and so I set out to learn how to make books. My friend, mentor, and writing buddy, Beth Deitchman, was my intrepid partner in this endeavor. We learned everything as we went, and we made our first books from the ground up. It’s been a lot of fun. It has been equally fun to work with Microcosm and make a book on a grander scale with you fine people.

As far as what I’m doing now—I’m in the midst of a seven-book fantasy series. I’ve put out Books One and Two, The Gantean and The Cedna, and I’m working on revisions to Books Three and Four. I have about twelve other partly-written novel manuscripts. I rotate among them, writing bits in my spare time. I’m really a turtle when it comes to writing. I work slowly but steadily. Books take me years, not months, to write.

I’m also working on a two non-fiction projects, both related to Pilates. One is sort of a memoir crossed with an instruction manual for the basic Pilates matwork, collecting my ideas about Pilates and what I’ve learned teaching it. The other is a project I call “Fix Yourself” which is about simple stretches to help alleviate common aches and pains.

3. What kind of bike do you ride, and where is your favorite place to ride?

I have two bikes right now. I do not love either of them with all my heart. I struggle finding the right fit on a bicycle because I am in the murky under-five-foot-four category. My “Big Beater” is an old Felt F65 road bike that’s a little too big. My “Little Twitcher” is a custom Merlin from the 1990s that I got secondhand from a woman who rode seventy miles on her seventieth birthday (I aspire to this, and I superstitiously think the bike will help). I love the Merlin, but it is just a little small. I know I sound like Goldilocks, but my dream is to someday get THE ONE, my own custom velo.

As far as where I like to ride, I regret to say I am very boring, since I mainly ride for transportation. I ride anywhere I need to go, but rarely for recreation. My current commute is a beautiful ride through a rural valley and up over a hill with a vista. But I’ll ride almost anywhere happily.

4. What are you planning to do to celebrate your new book?

I’ll definitely drink some malt whisk or at least some prosecco. I may indulge in a trip to a velodrome if I can find anyone brave enough to go with me.

ejs signing books

Will you Find the Golden Ticket?

charlie and the golden ticket

Dear friends, fans, and random strangers who just clicked something on the internet,

We are celebrating our 20th anniversary this year with as much fanfare as we can muster in our introverted sort of way.

Here’s one thing we’re doing all year: We’ll randomly choose one order placed on our website the 12th day of every month in 2016, and put a $10 Microcosm gift certificate in with the stuff you chose. Whether you buy one patch or a whole case of books, your chances are way way way way way better than the powerball or whatever. You don’t have to do anything special to win; just order between 5pm on the 11th and 2pm on the 12th (pacific time).

microcosm gift certificate

Here’s what you’ll see if you win the golden ticket!

Thanks for being into this stuff too, and for egging us on to keep making it.


The Microcosm staff

Daily Cosmonaut #6: Are you our role model?

Daily cosmonaut


For the last two years Microcosm has been on a quest. We need someone to look up to. We turn 20 years old on Feb 12 and while we are doing fine and even growing, we have been looking for a role model.

Microcosm has been completely independent without any silent partners or financial support for its entire existence. Most publishers of our age have long ago been sold to a larger company or gone out of business. In fact we’ve had a very hard time finding any companies that are: independent, not publicly traded, larger than us, and doing things that are actually interesting and challenging to the culture around them. Patagonia seems to be our current only example. Each time we investigate a likely candidate, we discover that they are actually owned by Coca-Cola or are actually deceptively small or that they are operated on someone’s family money and do not need to be financially solvent like we do.


We want a business role model so we can have someone to look towards when we are making difficult decisions or are out of our element. We are looking for someone larger and more successful than us to pose the difficult questions to that most people wouldn’t be able to understand or see coming. We want to continue to grow, stay independent, and be the best Microcosm that we can be. But so far it’s hard to find the right role model. Are you our business role model?


Daily Cosmonaut #5: Ramona Quimby

Daily cosmonaut


When I was a kid only three authors existed in my mind: Danielle Steele, John Grisham, and Beverly Cleary. There were thousands of books at the library but the only books in our house were by one of these three authors. John Grisham seemed incomprehensible. Danielle Steele seemed boring. But Beverly Cleary spoke to my experience.


Her characters behaved like I did and often even inspired my actions. Ramona’s literalism was matched only by my own. When she was told that the first bite of every apple was the best, she proceeded to only eat the first bite out of each one. In my mind, or perhaps in the book’s illustration, she was sitting on a mountain of apples with one bite taken out of each. This was a completely relatable scene that ran suitably parallel to many of my capers.


When travel writer Laura O. Foster proposed that we publish Walking With Ramona: Exploring Beverly Cleary’s Portland, my first thought was that we could not have published such a book even three or four years ago. Our audience wouldn’t have understood it in our parade of releases. It would have felt out of place. And a major part of that reason is that our staff had become passive for so long; agreeing to publish books that were offered to us rather than taking a proactive view of what our ideal list would look like. We were so busy doing the work that we had to get ahead enough of ourselves to think about what we were doing. And in many senses,  with enough explanation, Beverly Cleary’s work is perfectly sympatico with Microcosm’s. She celebrates the bad characters, the misbehavior, the hilarious messes and hijinks, and the way that not all bad guys have a TV-style moment of realization that changes their moral compass, and there isn’t always a bow tie and happy ending. In short, it’s good because it’s real.


Beverly Cleary turns 100 this year, the book comes out in November, and it’s a rare moment of redemption to connect my adult self to the mischievous kid that I was in 1982.


Good Trouble

The history of Microcosm Publishing, from its origins as a record label and zine distro in Joe Biel’s bedroom closet in Cleveland to a thriving, sustainable publisher of life-changing books. The book comes out to mark Microcosm’s 20th anniversary and all the shit and splendor that’s gone into making us who we are. Good Trouble is a tale of screwing up, trying again, and always finding a way do it better. It’s a book for anyone who has ever failed big and dreamed bigger. It’s about developing a toolkit for turning your difficulties into superpowers, building the world that you envision, and inspiring others to do the same. This is the story of how, over 20 years, one person turned a litany of continuing mistakes and seemingly wrong turns into a happy, fulfilled life and a thriving publishing business that defies all odds. With a foreword by Sander Hicks, founder of Soft Skull Press, and an introduction by Joyce Brabner, co-author with Harvey Pekar of Our Cancer Year.

Daily Cosmonaut #4: Good Trouble

Daily cosmonaut

We’ve recently launched a Kickstarter project for my book Good Trouble: Building a Successful Life & Business with Asperger’s. I wanted to explain more about why I wrote this book.


I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at the age of 32. Sadly, my actions had already hurt many people that I cared about deeply. But in each situation I did not understand what had gone wrong. Like most people with Aspergers, I have very dull mirror neurons, the part of the brain that lets us know what others are communicating emotionally or nonverbally. For the majority of my life, I understood communication only as a way to share information. Think about that for a minute. I did not understand communication as a way to form bonds or relate with other people. This made it very difficult for me to make friends.


Worse, I did not understand neurotypicals’ many forms of subtle communication: body language, posture, facial expressions, hesitation, context, dropping hints, nuances, metaphor, or even innuendo or most humor. To me, every request was direct and straightforward. When we think about how people understand and express boundaries it is almost never through the level of clear and unmistakable kind of communication that I required. I was physically incapable of fully understanding what another person wanted from me or was not comfortable with. My disability left me with a lack of the necessary parts to interpret these signals and act accordingly. I could not understand other people’s feelings because I did not naturally feel empathy and respond with sympathy. The result was that I hurt people’s feelings, even people that I genuinely cared about. People tended to view my behavior as rude or insensitive. Generally people believed that I was ignoring their request or willfully bulldozing their boundary.


I almost always had a very different and undeterred perspective on any given issue than the people around me. My balance was delicate and I could be easily offended or upset. I believed there were rules and best practices for every task, however small. I was cold, monotonous, distant, and clinical in my interactions with other people. The people in my life each slowly responded in kind. Much pain resulted for everyone involved.


Since the missing part of my brain is not something that can be fixed, the situation was eventually resolved through what is called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I spent about four years working with trained psychologists and social workers to learn how to intellectually understand empathy and  understand what signals to look for and respond to appropriately. I began to understand why my behavior had upset people so deeply and learned to gradually shift through regimented learning. In 2009, while still embroiled in learning about boundaries and neurotypical social skills, I became involved in what would become the longest relationship of my life, lasting to the present. I still make mistakes sometimes, of course. Sometimes the fundamental mechanics of a question are asked in a way that does not produce the kind of answer that the person is looking for and we have a miscommunication. I now know to apologize and understand what they really want instead of getting upset that their question was not properly formulated, but because my comprehension is so rigid, I still make mistakes.  I’ve apologized to the people who I have hurt and done my best to listen and make amends.


Fortunately, I no longer have the constant friction and hurt feelings all around me in my daily life. I learned how to blend into a world where most people are not like me. Most of Microcosm’s staff and most people that I have met in the past few years have a hard side seeing my Aspergian traits and will sometimes express disbelief. In these moments I simply have to explain the algebra calculations I do each time I cross the street to ensure the speed of each object in motion and likelihood that it would hit me. Or I explain the equations for calculating the number of pills that I need to order and pack before my next trip or show them the multitude of spreadsheets that inform every decision that we make at Microcosm based on the risk assessment and potential rewards involved.


I wrote Good Trouble: Building a Success Life & Business with Asperger’s because most of my life was about various kinds of failure. I always desperately struggled to understand why my relationships faltered and failed despite my best efforts. After two failed relationships in a row that were very painful for me, I decided that it would be best to socially isolate myself. But instead, I met my current partner by chance and the dynamics in our relationship are unlike anything that I’ve ever experienced before. I hesitated for six years to publicly discuss my Asperger’s because I have been bullied for much of my life in various ways and I knew that having to publicly disclose my diagnosis would result in many people putting my lived experiences and even the diagnosis under a microscope of scrutiny. For most of the last ten years, other people have attempted to speak for me about what my motivations were or how I felt about things. My lived experience was slowly being overwritten with theirs. It slowly made me crazy.


Eventually I decided that I owed it to the next undiagnosed adult with Asperger’s because I know how much it hurts to go through each day, paranoid and nervous, that I will hurt someone’s feelings or have yet another confusing and painful social interaction. And more than anything, an explanation that it can get better is what my teenage self needed more than anything.  

Daily Cosmonaut #3: Real-Estate Reality Check


Daily cosmonautA few months ago I stood in shock as a house on a major commercial strip in my neighborhood was demolished by a wrecking crew. A few days earlier activists had climbed onto the roof and attached themselves to the structure in protest. Protesters lined the sidewalk and police stood in my way as I tried to walk to the grocery store. The police shouted at me as I walked in the street, it being the only place not occupied by the skirmish. I replied, “You made this mess. I’m just trying to get out of the way.”


For those unaware, Portland has found itself in the grips and throes of a major real estate pinch increasingly over the last decade. Over the past year we’ve had the highest rent increases of anywhere in the U.S. brought on by big tech starting to settle into our “affordable real estate.” This situation has long affected Microcosm. Our office from 2003-2006 suffered a 25% rent increase in 2007. Having long overgrown the place, we moved out as a result. But real estate wasn’t quite understood by our peers and community until the last year or two when similar hikes began affecting residential rents. We’ve seen numerous giant condo buildings appear only to be found not profitable enough and replaced by luxury apartments. In our transient city, landlords now target a renter with a much higher income who doesn’t plan to stay more than a few years, treating the city like their childhood playground.


The resulting housing crunch and lack of vacancies drove prices up all over the city. As density increased to manage demand, the residents weren’t scandalized by the gross abuses of capitalism to profit on this housing crunch but rather by the fact that historic buildings were being demolished and trees were being displaced to increase housing density. Worse, instead of banding together to take a stand for affordable housing and the city’s homelessness rate that has spiraled out of control, people took a stand against demolition, seeing it as the scourge of a changing city. There’ve been homeless sweeps and the eradication of camps over the past year. I watched in horror one day as a prison work crew tossed the contents of a homeless camp into a garbage truck as a neighboring luxury apartment was being built. It was as if the sight of the homeless was enough to reduce the value of these apartments. I felt like I was watching the cycle of capitalist life in a vomit-inducing abuse of power to protect wealth.


Worst of all is the response of people who are in a position to effect change. There seems to be a strong disconnect from the reality that the people who moved here a decade ago are not “victims” of this development but rather part of the cause. A popular bicycling blog runs a series of stories about how bike thefts are on the rise and how a homeless “bone yard” is the place where the spoils are fenced. Their fans and readers escalate it further in the  comments section, decrying that the poor are looking to escalate their crimes into violent ones and that the police are virtually complicit in trying to ignore the rampant theft.


For me it’s hard to understand this response. Nobody wants to live in a homeless camp or sets out to rely on a life of crime. It’s a matter of sustenance; a downward spiral that capitalism virtually demands. It’s in the definition: The wealth of some is reliant on the cycle of others to live in poverty and some to be without any jobs at all. We are encouraged to demonize the people at the bottom as lazy and of poor moral character despite the fact that if they didn’t exist, the foundations of our own struggling ability to subsist would be threatened.


If we are serious about protecting housing rights and taking a stand against displacement, it will be a matter of working together. Sure, it’s disgusting to watch a neighborhood association raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to save trees and it sucks to have your bike stolen (I can attest to this several times myself), but capitalism is our real enemy. Unless we work together and organize to protect the most vulnerable among us, we will all eventually lose.


Microcosm’s 20th Anniversary: Our Year of Independence

Microcosm hqMicrocosm turns 20 this year! February 12, 2016 is our birthday. Not only are we almost old enough to drink, we’re really proud to have made it this far. There have been some rocky years back there, but things have been going well lately and it feels good to celebrate a milestone. So we’ll be celebrating properly: All year long.

We’re especially proud that we’ve made it as far as we have as an independent—no corporate buyout, no silent partners, no family money. By making books we believe in, and reaching out directly to readers who believe in them too, we’ve shown that traditional print publishing still works. We want to celebrate that fact, and the other independent booksellers and publishers who we do business with every day. So we’re calling it: 2016 is our Year of Independence. We’ll be doing promotions all year to help shore up our operations while supporting our fellow indies… and getting the word out that, despite all the doom and gloom about publishing in the media, we’re still kicking and stronger than ever.

Buy books!

Back Good Trouble on Kickstarter through January 28th and get 25 of our old-but-good books for $50 whoa! Update: We made it!!! Thanks so much, you all. The permanent home for Good Trouble is right here on our website.

• Buy our books from independent bookstores! Send us a photo of two Microcosm books and a receipt showing that you bought them at an indie bookstore any time in the month of February 2016, and we’ll send you one of our logo t-shirts. We’ll have more indie campaigns to come!

• You could win a golden ticket! On the 12th of each month of 2016, we’ll pick a random order placed that day on our website and include a $10 Microcosm gift certificate in with your stuff.

Events for introverts!

• We’ve always got a rotating roster of events that we participate in, and this year we’ll be organizing a few as well. Like our readership, our staff is largely (though not exclusively!) composed of introverts and teetotalers, and we’re not much for the exhausting “talking and drinking” type parties.

• We’ve got a Good Trouble reading lined up at Powell’s on Hawthorne on February 11th at 7:30pm. 

• We’ll be celebrating our anniversary itself on the day of on February 12th from 5-9 or 10pm at Velo Cult in Portland.

• And we’ll be organizing a couple other “read-ins” — you know, where you come and read! Bring your own book or buy one of ours. One will be at the cat cafe because Portland, and another’ll be at a bike bar also because Portland… more details coming soon!

Deals for independent booksellers!

• If you’re a buyer for an indie bookstore, you can order our books from your PGW rep. When you buy 20+ of our backlist titles, you’ll get an extra 5% off your regular discount. And they’ll send you a Microcosm display case if you’d like to show our books off all together.

• Send us a photo of Microcosm books on the shelves at your indie bookstore and we’ll share with our networks!

• We’re looking for indie booksellers to cross-promote with in more ways in 2016! We want to send people to buy our books from you! Get in touch with elly at microcosmpublishing dot com and we’ll make a plan.

Daily Cosmonaut #2

Daily cosmonaut

While the last two weeks of December and the first week of January is normally our slowest time of year, our distributor moved some deadlines and we had to spend the past four weeks furiously assembling all of our advanced reader copies for the books that we are publishing next Fall. While this probably sounds completely unreasonable (in terms of workload and schedule; books that aren’t coming out until eleven months from now), given the volume of modern publishing it is necessary. The sales team at our distributor has to spend time understanding who the audience is for each one and figuring out which stores to approach and how to talk about each book. Similarly, traditional book reviewers need a four to six month window before the publication date to review books in trade publications and national magazines.

This is also a relatively heavy season for us with ten books. I set my personal record of designing three entire books in one day. I designed a total of six books during one week while Meggyn furiously illustrated beards and vulvas for two (different) coloring books. While weeks like these are incredibly stressful, they are also highly rewarding. I mean, you get into publishing to make books. So to make tons of them in quick succession and working out the bugs in the coming months is super fun. It’s also neat to watch all of this hard work and planning pay off.


It’s informing our process as well. We’ve spent the last two years slowly easing our workload further and further ahead of schedule so we don’t end up in these binds where we have to rush and double up everyone’s workloads. And there’s an undeniable reward in getting to read for fun on the weekends too.  

2015 Financial Report

Happy new year, everyone!

It’s been 12 months since we reported that 2014 was Microcosm’s best year ever (and not just financially). Well, we are stoked (and relieved) to report that 2015 was even better than that.

Since last January 1, we’ve published 14 books, a box set, and a documentary DVD. We have even more than that lined up for 2016, and our production schedule is full through 2018! This year is a big deal for us in part because it’s the year we got *ahead*—that means that most of the next two years’ books are at a stage where almost nothing will ever have to happen again in a frenzied, typo-laden, overwhelmed rush. We can’t wait to show you what’s coming out next.

We had some big staff changes this year. Tim moved back to sunny LA, and our editor Taylor stepped up to fill his shoes as publicity manager. Erik sallied forth to open a bar/coffeeshop and Thea joined us to direct our sales efforts, and we also hired Cyn (interview coming soon!) to help get our books in more stores.

In addition, we participated in 20 events and 3 author tours (our annual Dinner and Bikes tour, Bob Suren’s Crate Digger tour (actually 2 tours) and Dawson Barrett’s two-part Teenage Rebels tour).

It’s more complicated than it seems like it ought to be to calculate how many books we sold, but our best estimate is that we sold about 120,000 books last year; that’s 328 books a day! No wonder we’re all a little tired.

Here’s a breakdown of our income and expenses for all of 2015, powered by charts:

Our total income for the year was $468,733.33 (a 21% increase from 2014). Here’s a pie chart that shows where that came from. “Z-MC books” means books that we published, whereas “non-Z-MC books” means books we distribute from other publishers. “Other” is mostly the ever-popular Slingshot planners.

2015 microcosm sales 

And here are our expenses. “Z-MC Products” are printing costs for our published books; just plain “Products” includes other publishers’ books that we distribute, blank t-shirts and t-shirt printing, patches, stickers—the cost of any goods we sell. 

2015 microcosm expenses pie chart
  1. Wages: -153,083.01 (49% increase)
  2. Publishing: -127,104.69 (44% increase)
  3. Distribution: -78,037.61 (32% increase)
  4. Shipping: -44,092.71 (24% increase)
  5. Royalties: -31,583.19 (17% increase)
  6. Advertising: -14,203.36 (229% increase)
  7. Supplies & Phone: -12,311.75 (19% decrease)
  8. Building: -9,867.90 (53% decrease)
  9. Commission: -6,073.06 (100% increase) 
  10. Events: -5,938.56 (64% increase)
  11. Meetings: -1,625.70 (100% increase)
  12. Taxes: -1,364.00 
  13. Insurance: -1,183.00
  14. Donations $29,520
  15. Total: $-11,662.14 (yikes, but we’re already making it up)

Among other revelations amongst these numbers, we paid more in wages this year than we did to our printer. That’s a first! 

And here’s a pretty good idea of what 2015 felt like, in rollercoaster format:

chart comparing 2014 and 2015 sales 


A reminder of how we work: While we’re technically set up as a “for-profit” company, we choose to operate on a break-even basis. This means that any time we manage to out-earn our expenses (which we try very hard to do), we put that money back into the company, usually in the form of staff wages and publishing more books—basically everything that went up this year. The publishing industry doesn’t have a lot of extra money floating around, but by taking data and math into consideration in every decision, we’ve carved out a little place in it where we can publish the books that matter most to us and keep them priced affordably. 
Thanks for being along for the ride! We’ll be saying this a lot in the next few months, but 2016 is our 20th year of publishing, and we come to work every day excited that we still get to do this—so thank you for being part of making it work. We can’t wait for the next 20! In the meantime, if you’d like to give us a little boost *and* get 25 books for $50, consider backing our Kickstarter now through January 28th