Monthly Archives: August 2016

Indie Bookstore Love: Women & Children First!

color illustration of the women and children first feminist bookstore storefront
All year, Microcosm is celebrating our 20th anniversary by putting the spotlight every month on a different independent bookstore that we love! Our indie bookstore heart in September goes out to iconic Chicago feminist bookstore Women & Children First—you can find them (and many woman-penned Microcosm books on their shelves!) at 5233 N Clark St. After they hosted the book launch party for Threadbare this spring, we asked them to partner with us for this month. Co-owner Sarah Hollenbeck sat down to answer our questions over email:

1. Tell me about Women & Children First. What is the store’s history? How did it get its name?
In the 1970s, Ann Christophersen and Linda Bubon met while earning masters degrees in English at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Time and time again they would come across a woman writer they wanted to study, such as Virginia Woolf, Kate Millet, and Edith Wharton, only to discover their work was not available. Second-wave feminism was in full force, and activists around the country were starting collectives and businesses of all kinds, including feminist presses and bookstores. It was against this backdrop that Ann and Linda decided that how they would support themselves would also be their contribution to the women’s movement.

In the fall of 1979, in its original storefront on Armitage Avenue, Women & Children First opened its doors. The store’s mission was to promote the works of women writers and offer a welcoming community for all women. From the beginning, the store was committed to offering a wide range of programs, focusing on feminist and LGBTQ politics and culture. We are in a different, larger location now that’s in a more bustling section of Chicago, but our mission remains the same.

2. How did you personally get involved in books and bookselling? What is your favorite part of what you do?
I started bookselling part-time at Borders while earning my MFA in creative nonfiction writing at Northwestern University. I would later move on to work part-time at Barnes & Noble. While I had many issues with the corporate structure and impersonal environment of both of those stores, being surrounded by books all day was heaven. I always hoped that I’d one day work at indie bookstore. I never dreamed I would co-own one!

My favorite part of my current job is helping to promote the work of local and emerging authors whose work I truly admire. What I didn’t realize until recently is that booksellers have so much power in terms of shaping trends in publishing depending on what they choose to handsell. Everyone at our store is committed to handselling books by a more diverse array of authors—not only women authors, but authors of color and queer authors. We love encouraging our customers to be more mindful of reading authors whose culture or identity differs from their own. Listening to marginalized voices is integral to making the planet a kinder, more empathetic place.

3. Do you have a favorite Microcosm book and/or zine? What about other books generally, what are you most into reading right now?
Definitely Threadbare by Anne Elizabeth Moore and Learning Good Consent by Cindy Crabb. Our Social Justice Book Group is reading The New Jim Crow this month and I hope to finally finish it by then! I read a lot of memoir and essays, but I also can’t resist dark, character-driven, contemporary novels. Two of my favorite books that I read recently are Shrill by Lindy West and The Telling by Zoe Zolbrod.

4. How is the role of the feminist bookstore different and/or the same now as it was in, say, the 1970s? What is the future of feminist bookselling, or what do you dream it will be?
I believe we’ve built upon and strengthened our commitment to intersectionality. Feminist bookstores have always had a responsibility to actively challenge the traditional gender binary. Today, I believe we are more inclusive when it comes to trans, genderqueer, and non-binary identities.

Moving forward, my goal is to generate more effective strategies to have productive conversations with folks beyond our politically progressive base. We have a tremendously loyal community and I adore every single person who supports our bookstore. It can feel deeply empowering and exhilarating to have a passionate conversation with someone who shares your values and philosophy. However, when I read the news or travel outside of our largely like-minded feminist community, I often worry that I have become dangerously insulated. How do we begin meaningful dialogue—not shouting matches or Twitter fights—with those whose worldviews differ from our own? That’s what’s on my mind when I look to the future.

a photo of women and children first storefront books on display at women and children first women talking about books gloria steinem and roxane gay Karen Finley and fans

Business of Publishing: How to Write a P&L statement

This is the ninth post in our ongoing Business of Publishing series. This edition tackles an important but more advanced question, “how much can I afford to spend on the book that I am publishing?”

While, on the surface, any answer to a question like this seems to be built from a steady diet of bullshit, books are remarkably consistent. Unlike cookies or soft drinks, most books are not branded. A book from a major house sits next to your book and others from indie presses. If you’ve successfully developed your book, you are providing each reader with enough information to make a choice based on their own experiences, observations, and tastes.

Let’s begin! For those following along at home, I’ve created this spreadsheet that you can download or duplicate and edit. And as you’ll see, there are fairly predictable formulas for everything.

Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 2.09.41 PM

The upper left hand corner begins with the title, author, and book’s release season. Lines 5 and 6 include retail prices for each format. If you’re doing a hardcover, you’d include that as well. Lines 9 and 10 list the author’s royalty by format as well as any advance payment that they receive. Traditionally this advance is your projected first two years of royalties paid in advance.

Line 13 is income from selling film or translation rights or foreign territory rights but it’s best not to plan for this in advance since even commitments can fall apart as the licensee changes their plans.

Beginning in column D, lines 4-5 predict what will likely be the sales in bookstores as well as returns and revenues. These numbers are based on your comparable titles and their selling habits. It’s best to be conservative here so that your expectations are reasonable and you aren’t shocked when you see your actual sales and returns.

Lines 7-8 predict similar sales in the direct market, which would include sales at your own events, via your own website, to non-trade stores that buy non-returnable, and books sold to the author. Again, these numbers should be conservative and based on figures in reality that you are seeing elsewhere.

Scooting over to column I, we’re looking at the publisher’s expenses for putting the book together from editorial to production to licensing to eBook conversion to paper, printing, and binding costs. Fiddle with these numbers to see what you can afford for a project before committing with an author.

Next, back on column D and lines 12-16, we’re looking at sales minus returns minus development costs minus author royalties. This will tell you what your gross profit is.

Next, we subtract operating costs (“the bottom line”), like rent, staff, telephones, envelopes, warehousing, etc. These should comprise every expense that you’ll have to pay for even if you don’t work on a book during a given month. Subtracting your gross profit from your bottom line will tell you how much actual profit the publisher is earning from each book. In this example, it’s less than $62. This example represents the most statistically likely outcome for a book like this. Publishing is about volume so to make up for these low returns, you can either produce tons and tons of books (called a “paper mill” in the industry”) or land a few heavy hitters every year. Your choice, kind of.

Another vital part of the P&L is to evaluate a year or two later how well the book did against expectations. If a book does not sell as well as expected, it’s important to figure out why. Was tons of new competition added? Did interest in the subject fade away? Was it revealed that the author’s cure for cancer was actually bogus and their credibility tanked? Was there a major developmental error in the cover/title/subtitle that confused readers about what the book offered or how it was unique? Answer these questions. Similarly, if a book did better than expected, it’s similarly important to figure out why and repeat these events with other titles.

Alternately, to demonstrate how these traditional contracts still benefit the author, I showed an alternate royalty model where the author takes 50% of the profit. But as you can see, comparing cell G29 to G15, 8% of the cover price ends up being more than 50% of gross profit in most cases until you really land a bestseller.

Due to Amazon’s immense marketing budget and campaign to convince authors that publishers are greedy and obsolete, many authors don’t understand why the traditional 4-8% paperback royalty is still much more in their favor than self-publishing on Kindle and CreateSpace so I’ve made a chart for that too.

publishingmode

 

On the Podcast: Jazmine Wolff Schultz

Co-founder of the Why Not? Fest in Minot, North Dakota, Jazmine is a shining beacon that you can change your community by getting involved and rocking and rolling. She loves to be organized. People that don’t do what they agreed to get under her skin. She shows us how even tragedies like suicide can inspire communities to create the greatest memorial music festival.

Rocking & rolling with her eight-year-old bandmate.

Rocking & rolling with her eight-year-old bandmate.

Jazmine painstakingly hand painted this sign in 2015.

Jazmine painstakingly hand painted this sign in 2015.

The punk festival. Promoted at the local grocery store.

The punk festival. Promoted at the local grocery store.

Six Days in Cincinnati

This comics journalism classic is Dan Méndez Moore’s account of the 2001 protests that swept Cincinnati after police fatally shot an unarmed 19-year-old Black man. It’s the story of a community peacefully coming together in the face of police violence and the fraught national conversation that resulted. An all-too-timely re-issue.

How Amica’s World won us over


Microcosm is the sort of place where we have an idea, the wilder the better, and immediately implement it. This leads to some big bellyflops, but our silliest, most outlandish ideas have often led to our best successes. Whether it’s books, business formulas, or how we manage our building or alphabetize the books our store, we tend to do things differently than most. The best way for us often looks deranged and physically impossible to others—like hauling furniture by bike, doing most of the work on our building ourselves, and publishing books that go against every piece of conventional publishing wisdom out there and still end up being our bestsellers. These things not only works for us, it’s the reason that we get to keep getting up in the morning to make books that matter to us and our readers.

So when Meadow Shadowhawk got in touch to tell us that she, her husband, and their son Washo share their small home and yard outside of Portland with a six foot tall livestock bird with dangerously fragile legs who requires constant attention, hogs the remote, and causes massive everyday trouble for the whole family, we got it. A giant, loving, pain-in-the-neck bird is a great metaphor for the choices we all make that baffle friends and strangers but that for us are essential and make life worth living.

Working on making Amica’s World, the book about this bird, a reality has been personally delightful, and also made us all the more aware of the value of this sort of story in the world. “Do not do this at home” is a major message of the book, but at the same time, it’s a parable about the absolute imperative of doing what you’re best at and pursuing your life’s passions and needs. For most of us, that’s not understanding and relating to birds in the profound way that Washo Shadowhawk does. But whatever it is for you, what are you waiting for?

Back Amica’s World on Kickstarter to help us get this book out into the world, and into your own hands. The rewards are pretty special (several of them involving Amica’s feathers!), so be sure to look through the list.

Punk Rock Entrepreneur

Want to run your business without losing your values… or your shirt? Keep yourself on an even keel with Caroline Moore’s sage advice and examples drawn from the world of DIY punk. Having no money or resources can actually be an asset, Moore shows, as it forces you to be creative and resourceful and focus on the things that really matter.

The Beard Coloring Book

Gorgeous, luscious, swirling beards grace the pages of this coloring book! If you love beards—your own or others’—this dazzling coloring experience crafted by Meggyn Pomerleau will blow your mind and break down your conceptions of beardliness.

The Post-Structuralist Vulva Coloring Book

Never fear, neither gender essentialism nor pretentious continental philosophy are safe from the all-seeing gaze of The Post-Structuralist Vulva Coloring Book. Quotations from postmodern theorists intertwine with diverse vulva imagery from the sacred to the profane to bring you a one-of-a-kind meditative coloring experience. Edited by Elly Blue and illustrated by Meggyn Pomerleau.

Our August Indie Bookstore Valentine: King’s Books in Tacoma

The giant mural on the wall of King's booksWe have long been fans of King’s Books in Tacoma, Washington. It’s a humongous store full of new and used books and it’s clear from the minute you walk in that it’s run by kindred spirits. I’m not going to say it’s curated, because that word implies a sort of holier-than-thou poshness that is absolutely not going on here. But like any good bookstore, the books are chosen by someone who knows what they like and cares what you’ll like. A huge bonus is that it’s in Tacoma, which is, as locals told us, the best-kept secret of the Pacific Northwest, and it really is a place we recommend visiting over Portland or Seattle. When you go there, be sure to visit King’s.

King’s owner sweet pea Flaherty answered these questions over email. He promised photos, but for now you’ll have to make due with this one I found on the Tacoma Ledger‘s website.

1. According to your website’s About page, “Originally founded by King Ludwig I as a gift to Lola Montez, King’s Books was painstakingly moved to Tacoma on April 1, 2000.” There are some major historical gaps here—do you mind filling them in a bit? What made the store proprietors choose Tacoma? Were they fleeing a scandal? What is their stance on the rational dress movement?

Right. So what had happened was, Lola Montez had an illegitimate daughter named Fanny Gilbert. Fanny was an entrepreneur who, in her early 30s, bought passage to Tacoma, shortly after its founding. She set up the leading brothel near the port, appropriately titled Fanny’s. The ensuing wealth was passed down until several times great-granddaughter Petunia Smirk brought the original bookstore over from Bavaria. I think that should clear any historical gaps.

At King’s Books, we are strongly opposed to the rational dress movement. Our clothing closest resembles that of Flo-Jo, while also mixing stripes and patterns, not to mention warm and cool colors. Plus corsets are required for all employees, including the cats.

2. What are your favorite books right now and why? What about your favorite Microcosm title?
My most recent favorite read is The Core of the Sun by Johanna Sinisalo. In modern Finland, women are raised as vapid commodities and all drugs are banned. The most easily smuggled drug is capsaisin, the component of chiles. It is a quirky, feminist, bizarre take on society.

I also love all the picture books coming out where you get to learn about little-known historical figures, like Miss Mary Reporting, The First Step, The William Hoy Story, and Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea, about one of the first female sports reporters, a school desegregation case from 1847, a deaf baseball player, and the woman who mapped the ocean floor respectively.

King’s Books does well with the biking titles, like Bikenomics and Our Bodies, Our Bikes. My most favorite title has to be Walking with Ramona. I haven’t done the tour yet, but I CANNOT WAIT! I might cry.

3. How did you get involved in bookselling? Can you share any hair-raising/funny stories?
I became a bookseller because I was always in bookstores. They are among my favorite places, so it was a natural transition. After my first bookselling convention, I knew I wanted to make it my life.

King’s Books has had a number of, um, colorful customers over the years, including a woman usually in a Marilyn wig who cut pictures of Gandalf out of books (as she thought he was God) and once bled profusely on our floor and a man who is possibly an Amish robot and/or a cannibal who has a number of interesting theories about the most random of topics.

4. What do you think the future holds for the book industry?
Independent bookstores are thriving. I think bookstores that are community centers will only increase their relevance. I love the close relationships bookstores have forged with independent publishers over the last decade. I am always excited to see the smart, innovative things independent bookstores across the country are doing.

Anything else I ought to be asking?
We have two store cats, both rescues, both named by the public. Atticus (Finch, obv) has been with us for a decade and is all black. Herbert (from Tacoma native Frank Herbert) has been with us since October and is a tuxedo cat. They are the welcomers of readers and the scourge of canines.

Visit King’s Books at 218 St Helens Ave in Tacoma, Washington every day from 11-7!