Posts By: Elly Blue

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

Soviet Daughter: A Graphic Revolution

Julia Alekseyeva’s debut full-length graphic novel, Soviet Daughter, tells the story of her great-grandmother Lola, a free spirit who lived in the Soviet Ukraine. She survived the Russian Revolution, raised children, took care of her large family, worked hard (including a stint as a secretary for the secret police), fled the war as a refugee, was persecuted for being Jewish, and throughout it all fell in love with a number of men and took on everything she did with passion and kindness.

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.

Making Stuff and Doing Things

Edited by Kyle Bravo, this classic collection of “DIY guides to just about everything” is now in its fourth edition and better than ever. Now you can make your own everything, do all the stuff you need for yourself, and never be bored again!

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.

Rockstars Eating: An Interview with Automne Zingg

automne zingg standing next to word dead

Automne Zingg

Ever since Automne Zingg sent us her zine called “Comfort Eating with Nick Cave,” the world has seemed like a friendlier, funnier place. So we schemed to do more work with her, culminating with a book of the same name that came out last month, along with its companion, Defensive Eating with Morrissey. And now you too can delight in some of her work. But these books are just the thin end of the wedge. We talked with Automne about her art (some of which involves rock stars eating, and some of which doesn’t). Read, watch, and listen on!

Lacey Spacecake

You have a great intro in each book about its origin story. What’s the short version of the story of how these two works went from idea to zines to books.
The short version is basically me dealing with poverty and heartbreak through art. I couldn’t afford to eat and drawing these pictures of my idols comfort eating amused me and served as an almost type of therapy. Turning them into zines to sell made it so I could afford the luxuries of eating. Having those zines turn into cookbooks was the thanks of you dearies at Microcosm as well as Joshua Ploeg. It’s one of the few artistic projects of mine that went somewhere and actually had a happy ending. Usually my creations die in obscurity or my ideas go unnoticed. This has been a great change of pace.

Rockstars Eating by Automne Zingg

Rockstars Eating by Automne Zingg

The response to these books has been tremendous! Have you had any particularly funny, touching, hostile, or weird encounters as a result of the books (or zines)?
Hahha. For the most part, I have been really floored by the support. There have been a few Morrissey fans not so amused by it but I expected as much. Honestly, I was really worried about the timing of the Nick Cave one since these were made before he lost his son and I didn’t want anybody to get the wrong idea. Fortunately most people get that this all came from a humorous place of love.

Old Manzig by Automne Zingg

Old Manzig by Automne Zingg

You do a lot of music and video art. What are your other projects? What are you working on right now that you’re most excited about?

lacey spacecake video stills

Lacey Spacecake Video Stills


Right now I have a one woman band called Lacey Spacecake where I write and record all the songs, play the instruments, sing, and make the videos.

I’m also in a band called Bat Fancy. Unfortunately none of the members live in the same state so we are temporarily on a hiatus but here is a spooooooky Halloween video I made for us.

I’m also doing the art for my friend’s documentary about The Cure’s fans. She’s been working on the thing for 16 years.

Other than that, I do a lot of comedy videos and have a day in music segment (From Day To Zingg) every Tuesday for my buddy Kurt’s WFMU show. It’s never scripted and I usually say a lot of nonsense ranging from accusing Meatloaf of the assassination of JFK to telling people that if you play Chicago’s “If You Leave Me Now” backwards, it’s actually Peter Cetera’s recipe for grits.

But you can find most of my art, musings, videos, words, and projects on my website.

What’s next? We hope you’ll draw more rock icons eating…
Definitely more zines and definitely more rockstars consuming things. Currently I’m working on an “Adult Activity Book” with things like “YO MAMMA JOKES WITH JARVIS COCKER” and “HANGOVER CURES WITH THE CURE.” I’m also doing an illustrated guide to these bizarre weather reports I used to write in LA. What else? I’m trying to get a public access show in Queens where I play the part of a sad bear that asks artists and musicians really existential questions. It’s called “I CAN’T BEAR THIS.” I’m still looking for the perfect bear costume. There are worse problems to have.

Depeche Mode eating a hoagie

Violator

(P.S. You can also watch an election video Automne made for Kickstarter right here! You too may find yourself supporting David Boowie and the Ghost Formerly Known as Prince on the 2016 ballot.)

Ultimate Bernie by Automne Zingg

Ultimate Bernie by Automne Zingg

Merry Krampus by Automne Zingg

Merry Krampus by Automne Zingg

Mama Tried creator Cecilia Granata on the cover of Vegan Italy

Cecilia Granata on the cover of Vegan Italy MagazineWe got word last month that Vegan Italy magazine would be featuring Cecilia Granata, the author and tattoo artist behind our recent cookbook, Mama Tried: Traditional Italian cooking for the Screwed, Crude, Vegan, and Tattooed. It turns out that she’s on the cover of their October 2016 issue! Cecilia sent us the cover this month, and a couple of the interior shots from the feature inside the magazine. All these spectacular photos were taken by Luca Boveri.

Since we can’t read the feature, she told us a bit about it:

Cecilia Granata wearing an Eat Like You Give a Damn apron and holding a rolling pinVegan Italy magazine is the main vegan paper publication in Italy. It usually focuses on one personality (chef, artist, activist, celebrity, etc.) of the Vegan world (not just Italian) and then adds more articles about veganism, recipes, etc. They interviewed me and asked some photos and decided to put me on the cover because apparently I make a good character. 🙂

Basically the asked me about my life (moving twice from Italy to the US, how did that happen). How, when and why I became vegan; what are the main differences between veganism in Italy and in the US, including a perspective on which approach will be more successful for the future. And also how my passion for tattoos was born and how/when did it cross paths with veganism. A little bit about my art, iconography, inspiration, references, things I get inspired by. And how from there I also became a writer, with the publication of Mama Tried and to talk about the book.

Then a little bit about activism and they also published 2 fall recipes from the book, of which they took photos. Plus pictures of my book, art and tattoos. And me. 🙂

Veganism in Italy is exploding. In the last few years an unbelievable amount of offerings have been added to the market in a quantity and quality never known before. Starting from finding plant-based milks and breakfast in many coffee places, to ice cream parlors, bakeries, un-cheese shops, restaurants, public schools, supermarkets, tv shows, tv satire, you name it. I think the tendency will only increase and I am the happiest. I love Italian food and Italian products, whenever I go to Italy I bring back entire suitcases of food.

cecilia granata holding up her mama tried vegan cookbookItalian vegan food making has definitely a “healthier” characteristic that is not always found in Vegan made in the USA.

The debate is opening up a lot too, many events and projects are starting up.”

Punk Rock Entrepreneur: An interview with Caroline Moore

Punk Rock Entrepreneur coverCaroline Moore came to us with a book that really hit home: Punk Rock Entrepreneur: Running a Business Without Losing Your Values. We’re thrilled with how the book turned out. Moore’s examples are drawn from her own life, other scrappy entrepreneurs including bands like Green Day. This is like the anti-startup guide. Instead of coming up with an idea and looking for funding, this book is about turning your craft and art—what you would do no matter what—into a viable business without the benefit of having much (or any) money.

You can find out more about Moore’s design, illustration, and photography on her website, and check out her sweet goods (some of them Punk Rock Entrepreneur-related) in her Etsy shop. Oh yeah, and we still have a bunch of signed and doodled copies of her book. Order soon and snag one of them!

1. What’s the origin story of Punk Rock Entrepreneur? Where’d the idea come from? How did you end up with Microcosm?
Depending on how far back you want to go, the origin story is an interview I did with a group that focuses on entrepreneurship for teens. They asked what made me want to start a business, and I didn’t have a great answer for them, so I spent some time thinking about it. The truth is, when I started out, I didn’t even really think of it as starting a business, in an official way. I was used to my punk friends touring, starting zines, making and selling art, and that’s what I did—starting my photography business was very unceremonious.

After I’d put some serious time and thought into it, I found that a lot of what I knew about starting and running a business was from that DIY scene. I had been volunteering for a few years with Weapons of Mass Creation Fest, and it seemed like the kind of thing that would go over really well with their crowd. So I pitched it to Jeff Finley and Joseph Hughes (Jeff founded the Fest, and Joseph was handling the speaker lineup that year), and they let me have a spot on their stage. So the idea got upgraded to a 30 minute… well, it was supposed to be 30 minutes, but closer to a 40 minute conference talk. One of my favorite comments that someone tweeted about that was something like “punk enough to get kicked off stage, professional enough not to knock down the podium on her way out.”

My process for writing conference talks is that I basically write an essay, exactly what I want to say, and then practice that and make an outline to actually use as a reference on stage. Which meant that I had everything all typed up, so I posted it to my blog after I got home for anyone that had missed the talk. I was still doing contract work for a design agency a few days a week then, and my boss there said “you should turn this into a book.” I knew I had a ton of material that I had to cut for time, so I started putting together proposals to send out to publishers. I had heard of Microcosm because I’d done some interior illustrations for Bobby Joe Ebola’s book, which they published. After meeting with Joe and Elly at a Dinner and Bikes event in Pittsburgh, and looking over the catalog, the book seemed like a really good fit both for the types of books that Microcosm puts out, and the way that they do business.

2. This is your first book (congrats!). What has surprised you about writing and publishing a book? Any advice for other first-time authors now that you’ve been around this block once?
Thanks! One of the first things that surprised me was the sheer volume of words that I needed to write. It seems like you have so much to say, but then you type everything up and it’s six pages. I had gotten used to writing for blogs, for twitter, for conferences, for things that are meant to be short form. You have to be really concise and get to your point. Which is still important in longer form books, no one wants to read you droning on belaboring a point, but you do have a lot more room to really flesh out a concept. I also say something in the book, “you can’t edit a blank page, but you can edit a bad one.” Staring at a blank sheet messes with you, so just start putting words down. Even if they’re terrible, stupid words, just start writing for the sake of having something that you can work with. We learned to write in chunks when I was in college, and that’s still how I do it. The introductions are the last thing that I write, I start in the middle.

3. In Punk Rock Entrepreneur you propose the counter-intuitive idea that not having a lot of money or resources can actually be the best thing for someone starting a business. Can you elaborate a little bit on this?
It’s certainly not the easiest way. Having a huge pile of money to throw at a project would make things much easier. But not having a ton of cash up front does make you think creatively about how to get your business off of the ground, and it makes you look at the money and resources you do have VERY critically. In particular, you’re very thoughtful about what you’re getting for spending that cash. A band with a trust fund might be able to get an RV to tour in, spend a lot of cash on hotel rooms, food, top of the line gear, clothes, you name it. But that stuff might not be helping them bring in any more money (or fans). They have a lot of money going out, but may not have any more money coming in than the band that’s touring in their car and sleeping on floors. Those folks are keeping their overhead low, so they get to keep the money they bring in.

4. What are you listening to or reading right now that inspires you?
I’m actually giving a talk in Louisville in October (at MidwestUX) about how routine input leads to routine output. I’m really big on interdisciplinary education, because I think the bigger your pool of experiences, the more connections you can potentially make to create interesting work. I’m actually working on condensing that entire chapter (“We Live Our Lives Another Way”) down to a 10 minute lightning talk. I don’t have a ton of dedicated reading time right now (I have a 15-month-old), so I’m reading a lot of psychology articles. Why people behave the way they do is really interesting to me from both a human perspective and a business one. I just discovered the joy of Instapaper to keep track of all the things I want to read.

As far as music, I’m a little all over the place. My husband and I just discovered Smoke or Fire’s The Speakeasy, which is great because they stopped being a band in 2004, which is a recurring theme when we find albums that we both like. I’ve had that in the car on loop lately. I just picked up Signals Midwest’s new one, At This Age. We did a joint book launch/record release show, and I don’t have enough nice words to say about those guys or the music they make. And the last show that we went to was Sikth, which is sometimes hard for me to listen to, because they’re super erratic. But they’re doing some really cool things that I don’t hear much elsewhere, so I find it really interesting even though sometimes it makes me agitated.

5. What’s next for you, in business, art, and life?
This is always a super busy time of year for me, for some reason October is always booked solid. We’re taking our kid on his first plane ride, to go to his dad’s work conference. We’ve already done a work conference each this year, and we both have another one coming up where we’ll be separated. So for this one, we’re going as a family to spend some time together, plus also the hotel is right next to Legoland. I have a few events coming up, Whiskey & Words in Pittsburgh, then Midwest UX in Louisville. I’ve got a wedding to shoot, and I’m setting up mini portrait sessions to benefit Children’s Hospital’s Free Care Fund. Definitely more speaking engagements coming up, and some more events where I can set up and talk to folks about the book.

Things tend to slow down in the winter, and I can get into my “someday” list. Throughout the year I’ll have ideas for art that I want to make, and it just goes into the giant someday pile for whatever time I carve out for personal projects. Sometimes I don’t write up the best description, though, and months later I don’t understand my own notes (like that episode of 30 Rock where Kenneth has a notebook that just says “bird internet.”) I’m also rebranding the photography site over the winter, Ryan Troy Ford agreed to work on a new logo for me, and I’m pretty excited to update that. It feels weird to hire someone to design anything for me, since my undergraduate degree is in design, and I’ve spent a lot of years working as a designer. But designing for yourself is so much harder than for clients, and fighting the urge to just tweak it for all eternity is difficult. Getting someone a little more removed from it is definitely going to be good for the project.

For the business, this is the first time I’ve very intentionally done it part time. Even when I had a full time job, I was still really treating the business as a full time endeavor (which was not great for my health, but that’s a whole other interview.) Being our son’s primary caregiver, I can’t also work full time. We decided I was going to stay home with him, instead of doing day care, so my hours are limited. It’s a good balance for us right now, and I’m happy with the direction it’s taking. But the rebrand is part of a bigger theme of refocusing what I’m putting out there, so that I’m really getting the right clients to work with during those limited hours. Another thing that comes up in the book is how important it is to be attentive to your goals, and to revisit those goals to see if that’s still what you want. I can’t just look at someone else’s business to see what they’re doing, I have to really consider what I want out of my own business, and whether my actions are getting me closer to that.