Cyn’s Picks for January

I know I’m not alone in being hella grateful that 2016 is finally over. Because last year was particularly bad, I’m looking forward and not back as much as possible. But I also want to learn and grow in the new year. So here’s to a new year of progress, not purgatory, and happy reading.

 

I’m re-reading and still in love with our new graphic novel, Soviet Daughter. It’s just the right amount of personal narrative, history lesson, and feminist survival story, with wild hand-done art.

 

 

Thing Explainer is currently my favorite gifty book, because I’m kind of in love with infographics, and I love complicated science but am terrible about learning. This makes learning fun again, which is awesome, and there’s a sense of humor to it that I adore.

 

Despite basically being a picture book, Thin Slices of Anxiety is particularly feels-inducing, and filled with a painful amount of truth for anxiety-sufferers, but in a non-threatening adorable style; like a truth-punch to the chest followed by a soothing, prickly hug of camaraderie.

 

Along similar lines, This is your Brain on Anxiety is a great primer on what the fuck is going on when you’re suffering from anxiety, and offers possible relief, while This is Your Brain on Depression gave me a lot more confidence in my understanding of [the many types of] depression, as well as my approaches to solutions. I’ve sent both zines to some of my best friends because it resonates with me so much, and the information is so critical.

And if you’re like me, your best bet is probably to start an emotional support collection with Dr. Faith’s 5-Minute Therapy Superpack.

I’ve mostly avoided the coloring book fad, but The Bicycle Coloring Book: Journey to the End of the World still captures my attention every time I open it. It’s fascinating and bizarre, like a tome of bicycle-themed science fiction dreamscapes, and this is a coloring book worth diving into and exploring.

 

Oh! I almost forgot!

https://microcosmpublishing.com/catalog/zines/7776My last favorite is the zine-ledger we recently
picked up, Leaflet, that my partner and I make. It is a tracking ledger (like a wine journal or beer diary) for legal cannabis: You write down the details and effects of marijuana strains you try, that way you can actually remember the ones that blow your mind the next time you’re at a dispensary and lost in a menu.

 

 

Honorable Mention: I can’t wait to dig in to “Grief and Other Things Men Gave Me.” Elly described it as “like if you took a feminist essay and the most intense stories of your life, mixed it together and boiled it down to make bullets with,” and I really dig that.

 

Happy reading!

2016 Financial Report

Happy new year, everyone!

It’s been 12 months since we reported that 2015 was Microcosm’s best year ever (and not just financially). Well, we are stoked (and relieved) to report that 2016 was even better than that.

Since last January 1, we’ve published 24 books, 6 zines, a box set, and an LP/book set. We are slowing down a bit for 2017 for the sake of our blood pressure and because we feel that less is more most of the time, especially when you want each title to have time to shine in the light for a bit longer. Nonetheless, our production schedule is filling up through 2022 and we are currently working on 2018 titles with the remainder of this year ready to go to print tomorrow if need be!

We had more big staff changes this year. Taylor moved to the East Coast to go back to school and Cyn was promoted to publicity director. Thea now celebrates her devout love of paperwork at the City of Portland overseeing pavement maintenance and after four years of back and forth, we finally got Jeri Cain Rossi to come on board as sales director. And we also convinced our former interns Sidnee and Tomy to work for us as a production assistant and marketing and editorial assistant, respectively!

In addition, we hit the road for many events and author tours, including our final Dinner and Bikes tours in May and November.

We sold about 142,000 books last year; about 389 per day! So we each took a few days off.

Here’s a breakdown of some math about our year, as powered by charts:

Our total income for the year was $495,110.28 (a 5.6% increase from 2015). Here’s a pie chart that shows where that came from. “Other” is mostly the ever-popular Slingshot planners.

2016 Microcosm sales pie chart

Next, let’s look at our Bestselling Titles of 2016:

2016 Microcosm Best Sellers
You might notice that the Top 3 are from 2008, 2001, and 2013 respectively. One major change in 2016 is that sales are continuing to democratize quite a bit more. We used to have one stand-out bestseller every year that paid all of our bills. That hasn’t happened since 2013 and now every book reliably sells within a certain window. Join us next week for a deeper look into The Microcosm State of the Industry Report!

We are also working on a new chart about where our things are selling. Publishing has changed quite a bit in the past 21 years and book store sales have been flat for a long time so book sales are migrating to different and interesting places. Stay tuned for next year!

And here are our expenses.

2016 microcosm expenses pie chart
  1. Wages: $-164,964.43 (7.76% increase and four people received raises on Jan 1, 2017 with a fifth receiving more hours)
  2. Publishing: $-117,935.75 (7.77% decrease)
  3. Distribution: $-77,085.51 (1.2% decrease)
  4. Shipping: $-59,685.49 (35.4% increase)
  5. Royalties: $-30,592.80 (3.2% decrease, with each book selling fewer copies it takes longer to recoup and more expenses are dispersed into printing and The Bottom Line)
  6. Supplies & Phone: $-14,743.27 (19.7% increase)
  7. Building: $-12,586.59 (27.55% increase)
  8. Advertising: $-9,556.99 (34.6% decrease)
  9. Events: $-5,601.09 (6% decrease)
  10. Website: $-4,791.05 (100% increase)
  11. Taxes: $-1,515.00 (11% increase)
  12. Insurance: $-1,217.00 (2.87% increase)
  13. Meetings: $-1,216.38 (25.2% decrease)
  14. Commission: $-168.17 (97.2% decrease)

We also donated $34,575.00 (17.1% increase) worth of books to awesome causes last year! 

Total Expenses: $529,468.09 for a net loss of $-34,357.81. Fortunately, by utilizing the magic of the 75-day payment window that our credit cards offer free of charge, we can afford all that we are up to and more.

Among other revelations, we sent out way more packages this year than 2015 and were able to upgrade many outdated office computers and phones.

And while it was much more consistent than 2015, we are pretty happy with the 2016 rollercoaster:

chart comparing 2015 to 2016 of Microcosm sales

And just a reminder: While we’re technically set up as a “for-profit” organization, 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—which is the only reason why our wages keep going up in an industry where they are declining overall. 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 2017 is our 21st year of publishing, and we like to think that we are more fun than a beer. 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 years to come! In the meantime, the best ways to support our staff’s wages and keep new books coming down the conveyor belt is to become a BFF and/or support our Kickstarter project for our Spring titles!

Call for Submissions: True Trans Bike Rebel (Taking the Lane #15)

button with a cat riding a bike in a hoodie
Taking the Lane #15 is called True Trans Bike Rebel, and we are looking for nonfiction writing about the experience of being transgender and bicycling. Submissions can be essays or reporting about bicycling, or other topics or stories in which bicycles play a part (or other human-powered transportation).

Submissions can be any length; word count between 500 and 2500 words is ideal for this format. Single-color illustrations and photos are also sought. Please submit your work as an attachment or link in an email to elly at taking the lane dot com. The deadline is July 1, 2017.

All contributors will be paid a share of the net profits from the Kickstarter project used to fund the zine.

Taking the Lane is a feminist bicycle zine published since 2010.

Creative Kickstarters Worth Kicking

With our Spring 2017 Kickstarter project up and running (and going so well!) I thought I’d highlight a few other current projects that really caught our eyes. You might dig them, too.

Queen Girls
From the Kickstarter: Stories of real women turned into fairy tales. Inspiring girls to follow their dreams.
Why we love it: It’s way past time that young girls were given the same types of heroes and choices as boys. Taking real-life stories of women who changed the world and turning them into the heroes of children’s picture books is fantastic, AND they donate a book for every book bought– how cool is that?

Me&EVE
From the KS: “Recording non-airbrushed biographies is valuable, but what is most valuable is giving women the 5-10 minutes to be seen, heard and acknowledged. It is powerful experience on both ends of the lens. I am honored to be doing this project and grateful to the hundreds of women who have trusted me with their story. me&EVE is uniting women – one photo, one story and one woman at a time.”
Why we love it: Described as something like Humans of New York but with a full focus on women, we’re totally into this project that puts real women and their stories in front of the camera.

Harriet Tubman : Demon Slayer
From the KS: “A graphic novel based on the true life of the freedom fighter with genre liberties… Log Line: When slave owners can’t stop the formidable ninja warrior Harriet Tubman, they call on the help of Vampires, Werewolves, Witches, & Demons to stop her. Harriet Tubman must lead a family of slaves to freedom while battling an army of darkness.”
Why we love it: We love the idea of taking a historical hero and making her even more amazing while giving her even more credit. On top of that, who can say no to such a kick-ass hero, and the creative diversity implied by comparing it to Django Unchained, Buffy, and Fury Road?

[Super]Natural Attraction
From the KS: “Persephone died and was brought back to life by her friend Victoria. Now she can see the supernatural creatures hiding in plain sight. Persephone was about start her second year of college, when she was tragically killed in a hit and run. Luckily, her eccentric med-student roommate have found a way to “fix” her. She is now returned from the dead with only a few scars as proof it of the incident. ”
Why we love it: This looks like a progressive, body-positive, fun comic that blends a lot the things we like to see in graphic novels: well-developed diverse characters, a strong focus on women and people of color, and a blend of magical realism, humor, and teen angst.

Nerve Endings
From the KS: “Too often trans stories have been written from a cis perspective, with a cis reader in mind, addressing cis concerns about trans people rather than our own concerns. This is especially true when it comes to erotica: literature that deals necessarily with bodies, with our relationships to them, and with our relationships to one another.
Edited by Tobi Hill-Meyer and published by Instar Books, NERVE ENDINGS: THE NEW TRANS EROTIC features thirty writers connected to trans community telling thirty distinct stories about the erotic and our relationship to it.”
Why we love it: Excluding celebrities and big-news stories, trans voices are rarely heard, and have often been stifled instead of celebrated. Made by and for people in the trans community, this looks like it could be a great addition to the world of erotica and sexual expression.

The Tiny Mess
From the KS: “…a cookbook about people, places, small kitchens, and the delicious meals that come out of them. It is a whimsical hodgepodge of recipes, culinary adventure, medium-format photography, and, of course, petite and inspiring cooking spaces that prove constraints are nothing but an invitation for creativity.”
Why we love it: We’re big fans of small and sustainable living, so this independently made book is definitely up our alley. And check out those cute tea towel rewards!

Disfluency
From the KS: “Disfluency is a short film that follows a young woman through her daily life, from her passive usage of the phrase “I’m sorry,” to her being raped and the emotional aftermath. All the while, this habit of apologizing eerily stays with her throughout, begging the question: have we let rape become a cultural disfluency—an expected, almost unnoticeable interruption—in our culture?”
Why we love it: This is a tough, emotional topic that can really hit hard, and the project video is something like beautiful. Whether you’re able to support it or not, the video alone is some raw truth that is worth watching.

And, in case you haven’t check out our Spring project yet, here’s the project video, and check out our test run of Kickstarter Live tomorrow afternoon 2pm PST…

From everyone here at Microcosm to all of these fantastic creators, we wish you the best of luck, and wild success.

Stay awesome.

Call for Submissions: Bikes in Space 5 (Theme: Intersections)

Submissions are open for Bikes in Space Volume 5, published by Microcosm’s Elly Blue Publishing imprint. The theme is Intersections. Stories that are accepted will all have a feminist perspective and incorporate bicycling in some way, whether or not they are actually about feminism or about bicycles. We especially welcome submissions from writers of color and transgender and nonbinary writers, and seek stories that portray more diverse perspectives than are classically found in sci fi.

Your story should be in the neighborhood of 2,000 to 6,000 words. If your story needs to be longer or shorter, then by all means write it to be the length it needs to be and we’ll work with you on edits as needed. There are no formatting, document type, or style requirements, and no strict definition of what exactly counts as science fiction. You may want to familiarize yourself with previous volumes in the series before submitting.

Black and white art is also sought. Payment for art and writing is a share of net profit from the Kickstarter project that funds the book.

The early deadline for this volume is January 15, 2017. If there is still room in the volume after that, we’ll consider stories submitted before March 1, 2017.

Send submissions and questions to elly at takingthelane dot com

What’s a Book Good For Anyway? Our Spring Season on Kickstarter

It’s been a while (okay, over a week now) since our last Kickstarter project ended… and we’ve just launched another this morning, for Microcosm’s Spring season.

This project is a little different. Instead of promoting just one book, we’ve decided to give you six at once—six very different books that span our interests and eras.

The norm in publishing is to put out multiple books each season (of which, in this industry, there are three–Spring and Fall are the main ones, and then there’s a small Winter season right after the xmas holidaze). Usually the publisher picks one book from each season and puts all their resources behind it, gambling on making it a blockbuster. We’ve never done this, mostly because we haven’t had the money to gamble on promoting books in the traditional ways. Instead, we spread our best efforts equally around all the books and hope they all win.

So this project represents our (cough) brand, our business model, and a strong sampling of the topics, styles, interests, authors, and books that we care about deeply.

Sandor Ellix Katz’z Basic Fermentation is the blockbuster here… it’s a substantial new edition of the cute little zine-turned-book, Wild Fermentation, that has been winning hearts for years. We also have new editions of Cristy C. Road’s underground classic Indestructible and Dan Méndez Moore’s gripping comics journalism account of Six Days in Cincinnati. we’re putting a spine on Raleigh Briggs’s friendly, hand-written Fix Your Clothes, and we finally gave Kelli Refer’s Pedal, Stretch, Breathe an ISBN. And we have a brand-new book in the mix, too: The Prodigal Rogerson represents J. Hunter Bennett’s meticulous and spirited research into the mysterious disappearance (and reappearance) of the Circle Jerk’s original bassist and songwriter.

Like any good books, these ones are good for entertainment… and so much more. Fixing your clothes, your gut health with fermented food, your wounded sense of community and political rightness… books can provide all that and more, and that’s what gets us up in the morning and keeps us going day after day.

Read more about them over at Kickstarter, where you’ll also have a chance to get to live chat with some of the authors and the people who make Microcosm go!

Check it out, and consider backing it to get some good books to last you through winter.
microcosm publishing storefront with bookstory sign

Independent Publishing Love: Our Radical Friends at OR Books

the team at OR BooksAs part of our Year of Independence, we’ve been interviewing independent booksellers who we love. This month, instead of a bookstore, we’re turning to OR Books, a fellow radical independent publisher that, like us, also sells a substantial portion of its books directly to readers. That’s a relative rarity in the publishing world, where it’s the norm for every book to go through a string of distributors, wholesalers, and booksellers before making its way into your hands. We were stoked to meet these kindred spirits and immediately started gleefully conspiring to support each other… another activity that breaks the mold of mainstream publishing.

Check out their offerings, we think you’ll like them. Their recent releases include such helpful gems as Pocket Piketty and The Animals’ Vegan Manifesto.

OR Books publicity manager Natascha Uhlmann answered our questions over email.

1. What’s the story of OR Books? What matters most to you as publishers?
OR Books arose out of a desire to forge a different path for publishing—one centered around progressive politics, selling direct to consumers, and intense marketing. Our model varies pretty drastically from the standard publishing houses: we avoid Amazon and other traditional distribution methods. It allows us to sidestep some of the pitfalls of traditional publishing and focus our energies where they should be: on the book itself.

2. You are a politically progressive publisher—what does that mean to you?
It means taking on titles that are progressive, transgressive, and sometimes outright bizarre. I think we can all recall wrestling with a book that made us engage with the world in a different way—it’s a revolutionary, world changing thing, and I hope to recreate that same experience for others.

3. What are your personal favorite books from the OR backlist? Any favorites you’ve recently read from other publishers?
Extinction: A Radical History by Ashley Dawson makes the case that the environmental crisis we currently face is fundamentally tied to our economic system. Ashley traces the history of extinction and ties its catastrophic rise to capitalism’s unrelenting drive to expand.

What’s Yours is Mine by Tom Slee is a critical look at the sharing economy. He pushes back against the portrayal of platforms like Uber and AirBnb as democratic, pointing to the means by which these technologies simply shift risk onto the worker and encourages us all to settle for less.

Beautiful Trouble ed. by Andrew Boyd and Dave Oswald Mitchell is a tactical manual for radicals. It traces a wide variety of activist groups and the approaches that they have found valuable. I’ve found it to be an incredibly valuable resource throughout my organizing, and a great primer for interested younger activists.

As for others:

In Defense of Housing by David Madden and Peter Marcuse (Verso Books) explores the commodification of housing and the violence of gentrification. They highlight that housing is endemic, not incidental, under capitalism and point to the successes of several movements organizing for housing justice – and how we can learn from these.

Stuffed and Starved by Raj Patel (Melville House) is a brilliant look at the global food economy and engages with some urgent questions: How are hunger and obesity interrelated? What avenues for resistance do we have in an ever consolidating system of food production?

Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight against Medical Discrimination by Alondra Nelson (University of Minnesota Press) explores the Black Panther Party’s fight for health justice. We as activists owe so much today to their organizational tactics, and I think their articulation of health politics greatly informs current debates around single payer activism.

4. What are the most urgent issues facing the publishing industry right now? If you could look into your crystal ball, what is the biggest piece of advice would you give to yourself and other independent publishers?
The advent of new technologies means that it’s harder to command the attention of would-be readers. That said, the field is adaptable and at the end of the day, no one walks away from a good book.

I think the best advice I can offer is to remember why we’re here: because we believe deeply in the power of ideas. To get to work on a book that may go on to shape the way someone sees the world is an incredible gift. It’s a challenging field, but an utterly rewarding one.

Meet the Microcosmites: Tomy Huynh

tomy huynh of microcosm publishingOur newest staff person is editorial and marketing assistant Tomy Huynh! Tomy (his name is pronounced as though it’s spelled Tommy) manages our data, which despite his modest description is a huge and daunting multi-faceted task full of highly contingent details which few people, no matter how brilliant, are able to wrap their brains around.

1. What do you do here at Microcosm? What kinds of projects are you excited about right now? How did you end up here?
I’m the editorial and marketing assistant at Microcosm. I manage our marketing data, convert our current and future titles to eBooks, deal with trademark-infringement cases, do light editorial work, and offer support to anyone here who needs it. I started at Microcosm as an intern last December and was honored when Joe and Elly offered me a job after my three-month commitment was up, especially since I really enjoyed working with everyone in the office, and I truly believe in the organization and its products. (Is this answer sycophantic enough so far?)

Initially, I was primarily doing editorial work (copyediting and proofreading). However, I’ve been more involved with the marketing aspect of the business, focusing on data management (something I didn’t realize I really enjoyed doing until I started doing it).

2. What books have you read and loved lately? Do you have a favorite Microcosm book?
As of late, I find I have less time to devote to reading lengthy books (my attention span is shot); I’ve been reading more magazines, news articles, and short stories to get my reading fix. That being said, I’m finishing up an amazing book by Susan Cain called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Also, at the behest of my English-professor friend, I finally decided to tackle Marcel Proust (starting with Swann’s Way, which I hope to be done with by the end of this year). Regarding Microcosm books, I really like the Railroad Semantics series (makes me nostalgic for my train-hopping days, and it’s very well written), the Henry and Glenn Forever series, the no-nonsense therapy zines by Dr. Faith, and the upcoming book Cats I’ve Known by Katie Haegele.
tomy huynh and canine friend
3. Where are you from? What do you like to do when you aren’t at work?
I was born and raised in Los Angeles, and lived there until I graduated from high school. Since then, I’ve moved around quite a bit, ultimately ending up here in Portland. In my mid to late twenties, I desperately wanted to move east—mainly Chicago or New York. But, for whatever reason, I was compelled to stay on the West Coast. (The farthest east I’ve managed to live is Las Vegas, which was where I lived for seven years before I moved to Portland in 2013.) At this point in my life, I’ve pretty much set down my roots. I guess that makes me a quintessential West Coaster, having lived in every West Coast state in the contiguous United States (California, Oregon, and Washington).

When I’m not at work, I enjoy gardening, biking, hiking, reading and writing, watching CNN, and hanging out with the hubby, our three pukey kitties, and our goofy, accident-prone dog.

4. Tell us a funny story about bicycling, food, or Portland.
Hmm… I can’t think of any funny stories involving bicycling. I have a few getting-hit-by-a-car-while-riding-my-bike stories that might be considered funny to some people, though those incidents were not so funny for me in the moment. I’ve been food poisoned (that’s kind of funny, right?).

A funny story about Portland… I met my husband here in 2011 while I was visiting my brother, who lives in Vancouver, WA. Actually, I met him when he and my brother were on a date (I was dating a Vegas magician at the time). Lots of hilarity, awkwardness, and drama ensued. And a few years later, my brother officiated my marriage.

Making amends: A joint statement from Microcosm Publishing and Pioneers Press

When I first got to know Microcosm, it was largely run by two good people: Jessie Duke and Adam Gnade. I never got to know them very well, as they moved to eastern Kansas shortly afterward, with Jessie opening a Microcosm office there. At some point after that things went sideways. The company split in half, names changed, sharp words were committed to the Internet. The details are out there for all who care to google, and Joe Biel wrote about the events leading up to this in his memoir, Good Trouble, which came out earlier this year. The important thing is that we’ve resolved our differences and have returned to focusing on the work that brought us together originally: publishing books that change lives.

chainringhandshakeHere is our joint statement:

Microcosm Publishing and Pioneers Press are pleased to announce that we have reached a settlement regarding our past disagreements and the division of debt between our companies. No money will change hands, and neither company will pursue further legal action against one another with respect to past events. We wish to take back all of the hurtful, disparaging, and damaging things that were said by both sides. Microcosm Publishing and Pioneers Press both strongly encourage you to support each other in every way possible in the interest of independent publishing.

We mean every word. The work we both do is too important to get lost in the shuffle of personal and professional differences. The world would be a worse place without our colleagues at Pioneers, the work they produce, and the community of authors and readers they have built.