Posts By: Joe Biel

Microcosm’s 2021 Annual Money Report (with infographics! and a video!)

Wow! This marks the end of a year of more than doubling our previous “busiest year ever” with a growth of 119.24% over 2020.

At the end of the year, we planned a week of quiet respite. But instead, after holding our breath for a year, omicron hit, coinciding perfectly with a large part of staff going on vacation to cut us down to a rather stressed skeleton crew. But now we’re resting up, reflecting on the last year, and planning for the year to come. And that includes publishing our annual financial and business recap! Financial transparency is one of our values—it helps everyone! And this year, it’s extra nice to be able to show that all the news is good.

In February, 2021, we doubled our warehousing space (and shortly after that our warehouse staffing) with the opening of our Cleveland warehouse. And still, we struggled to keep up with shipping and receiving at the end of the year. Similarly, we had many system and software upgrades and we still couldn’t keep up with our new volume of orders and books. So naturally, we decided to keep it going by publishing 19 new books in the Spring 2022 season, and 23 new books next Fall. National conventions resume in a few weeks and lots of authors are submitting finished books that need attention, but maybe we can run a broom through here in the meantime and clear out the 2021 dust. 

Here’s what the last 3 years have looked like:

[IMAGE DESCRIPTION: a graph showing three years of income by month superimposed on each other: 2019 is the lowest, with the best month hitting $150,000. 2020 had somewhat higher sales almost every month, ranging from about $70k to $200k. And 2021 looks like a mountain range by comparison, with sales hitting $400k several times.]

When other publishers ask how we have been doing and I explain the above chart, their eyes light up in shock and they respond with something like “Well, that’s a GOOD problem!” Which it is, but it’s the kind of problem that resulted in six years without a slow season. For most publishers, January and February are marked by an inundation of returned, unsold books from the holiday season, while we receive restock orders instead. The reasons for this are 50% what we publish and 50% how we publish. Meaning that we mostly sell to stores who purchase all of their books from us and so our salespeople don’t stick them with hyped books that they cannot sell. And we can confirm that the practical skills and values in our books are what the world has wanted for at least the past 26 years. Probably longer. The need remains vast.

We have more than doubled our staff since before the pandemic and we welcomed Sarah as our seventh employee-owner in 2021. Thanks to your support, we were able to give our exhausted staff their largest rounds of profit bonuses ever—equivalent to a $3/hour raise for the last year. Our latest rounds of hiring have been a little too steady to continue to report each new worker, but we have gotten our about page mostly updated other than the three newest and a few people who have been here for ten years but haven’t sent a photo! Our newfound health insurance has been providing people with long-neglected (and sometimes life-altering) care. And we are ready to debut our software to allow other publishers to do what we do! Yet, the books keep arriving from the printer, just about every day—after these historic supply chain delays! It’s been a fascinating time to do what we do. And we are excited that this is finally the year where we will release the beta version of our software to empower other publishers!

And if you really want to get into the nitty gritty of publishing, check out our podcast.

But before we get too tired, let’s take a look at the numbers.

Our total sales for the year were $3.449 MILLION DOLLARS, with published books taking the largest slice of that pie, and finally exceeding distribution sales of the past few years:

And here are our bestsellers, by dollars earned (minus expenses like printing and cover design):

TitleISBNQuantityTotalRetailWholesaleDistributorWeb QtyProfit/Loss
Unfuck Your Brain: Using Science to Get Over Anxiety, Depression, Anger, Freak-outs, and Triggers (Paperback)978162106304942,167$281,504.8414.958.97Z-MC-VERSA1316+4656.99 / month
Unfuck Your Brain: Using Science to Get Over Anxiety, Depression, Anger, Freak-outs, and Triggers (eBook)978162106040653,280$63,994.3413.998.39Z-MC-VERSA6773+3208.21 / month
Unfuck Your Boundaries: Build Better Relationships through Consent, Communication, and Expressing Your Needs (Paperback)97816210610077,415$50,997.3414.958.97Z-MC-VERSA284+3.91 / month
Practical Witch’s Almanac 2021, The (Paperback)97816210665527,915$49,618.5413.958.37Z-MC-VERSA588+503.40 / month
How to Resist Amazon and Why: The Fight for Local Economics, Data Privacy, Fair Labor, Independent Bookstores, and a People-Powered Future! (First Edition Paperback)97816210670617,711$46,992.2112.957.77Z-MC-VERSA0+1.97 / month
Gold Lyre Tarot (Deck)97816210678702,748$43,592.5429.9517.97Z-MC-RR Donnelly52+848.86 / month
Boundaries Conversation Deck: What Would You Do? (Other)978162106370418,032$42,052.3514.958.97Z-MC-RR Donnelly43+394.32 / month
Unfuck Your Intimacy: Using Science for Better Relationships, Sex, and Dating (Paperback)97816210676275,257$37,007.5914.958.97Z-MC-VERSA248+886.88 / month
Unfuck Your Brain: Using Science to Get Over Anxiety, Depression, Anger, Freak-outs, and Triggers (audiobook download)9781621063049246,0621$32,777.8019.9911.99Z-MC-VERSA100+486.30 / month
Making Stuff and Doing Things: DIY Guides to Just About Everything (Paperback)97816210664773,538$26,403.9716.9510.17Z-MC-VERSA275+1138.62 / month
Unfuck Your Body: Using Science to Eat, Sleep, Breathe, Move, and Feel Better (Paperback)97816210632853,154$23,853.5514.958.97Z-MC-VERSA1592+208.77 / month
Unfuck Your Boundaries Workbook: Build Better Relationships Through Consent, Communication, and Expressing Your Needs (Paperback)97816210617624,941$22,760.489.955.97Z-MC-VERSA425+232.27 / month
Make Your Place: Affordable, Sustainable Nesting Skills (Paperback)978097886656316,048$18,487.409.955.97Z-MC-VERSA145+3084.17 / month
Stoner Babes Coloring Book , The (Paperback)97816210643052,367$18,019.7214.958.97Z-MC-VERSA72+1.83 / month
Unfuck Your Brain Workbook: Using Science to Get Over Anxiety, Depression, Anger, Freak-Outs, and Triggers (First Edition Zine )97816210658907,749$16,968.144.952.97Z-MC-VERSA384+352.38 / month
Henry & Glenn Forever & Ever: Completely Ridiculous Edition (Paper over board)97816210684021,379$15,831.8525.9515.57Z-MC-VERSA159+437.76 / month
Green Witch: Your Complete Guide to the Natural Magic of Herbs, Flowers, Essential Oils, and More, The (Hardcover)97815072047191,424$15,321.0517.9910.7910+0.96 / month
My Vag: A Rhyming Coloring Book (Paperback)97816210689072,024$15,201.9114.958.97Z-MC-VERSA37+1.00 / month
Unfuck Your Boundaries: Build Better Relationships through Consent, Communication, and Expressing Your Needs (Ebook)978162106067336,814$14,615.269.995.99Z-MC-VERSA178+700.09 / month
Make Your Place: Affordable, Sustainable Nesting Skills (Paper-over-board)97816210612501,941$14,500.0014.958.97Z-MC-VERSA1412+252.48 / month
You Are a Great and Powerful Wizard: Self-Care Magic for Modern Mortals (Paper over boards)97816210648311,599$14,483.3319.9511.97Z-MC-VERSA0+0.93 / month

UNF*CK YOUR BRAIN, which we published in 2017, is still outselling even our runners up by a wide margin—combined. Even if you ignore this aberrant title, it was a phenomenal year. We published 42-some new books and about twice that many zines. And healthfully, 87% of the titles holding sales are over a year old, meaning that they will continue to sell for years to come.

So where did all those millions go? (We still can’t believe we’re talking about our company sales with all these digits.) As is written into our company bylaws, we invested it all back into the company and into our workforce, much of it in the form of those profit-sharing employee bonuses mentioned above. Nobody got a yacht, but we all got by. You can see that piece of the pie alongside the rest of our outgoing money below.

Expenses for this year were $3.346M, including the purchase of the additional warehouse and inventory to fill it:

Thank you for supporting us, our authors, and our team in the last year, whether as a reader, partner, or member of our team. The last two years have been difficult in many ways, but it’s been heartening the way our entire culture seems to have turned to books for comfort, meaning, perspective, and a little bit of escape. We’re prouder than ever to get to play a role in bringing people and books together.

Microcosm is hiring again!

This position is now closed. We’ll post future job opportunities to this blog.

Full time position at 2752 N Williams Ave, Portland, OR. This is a warehouse and fulfillment position, helping people get their books and be happy. We practice mask-wearing and are set up for social distancing. Position closes March 31, 2021

We need someone who can:

• Lift at least 50 pounds

• Demonstrate an exquisite attention to detail (we aim for 99.99% error free shipments)

• Work unsupervised

• Believes 99% in what we do but is confident to identify flaws in the system, ask questions, and bring up their own ideas about how things could be better

• Listen and find solutions that work for everyone involved

• Be very comfortable with alphabetizing and similar data sorting

• Show up prepared and work hard for their whole shift

• Locate books and pull and pack orders four to five days per week (90% or more of their time)

• Work 40 hours per week on site

• Start in the first week of April and commit to at least two years


• All company profits are distributed to staff in the form of raises and bonuseswe aim for (and have been exceeding) 20% annual raises

• Health insurance after trial period

• Employee ownership program after five years

• Options for paid vacation and professional development training programs

• Some flexibility in work hours

• Own voices focus to empower readers to change their lives and the world around them

• Access to owners, management, and other staff for clarification, direction, priorities, continued education, and guidance

No experience needed. Entry level position. Equal opportunity employer. Preference given to former interns and diverse hires. Starts at $14/hour with 90 day trial then $15/hour. 

Apply by March 31, 2021 by completing this application and submitting it to apply at with the subject line “warehouse application”; no resume or cover letter necessary unless you believe that additional details would be helpful.

The Microcosm Publishing Annual Money Report: 2020 Edition (with graphs!)

Yikes! 2020 was one of those years that most simply feel lucky to hobble out of. At the beginning of the pandemic this spring, we expected the worst, but calculated that even if sales slowed to a halt, we could keep the company afloat for six months without layoffs or pay cuts. But it turned out that we had the opposite concern: we are selling twice as many books out of our warehouse as we were two years ago, and our staff has grown by six additional people this year, to a total of 17. These are good problems to have, but like so many people this year, we’re emotionally exhausted by all that’s happened this year … and we still can’t keep up with shipping orders.

Unbelievably, our 2020 sales went up 64% over 2019, making 2020, again, our best year ever! In the past year we’ve also increased staff wages by an additional 33% and an average raise of 8.04% per person , with another 33% bonus in December! We are welcoming our sixth employee owner this year as well with a seventh on the way. Despite considerable personal difficulties and losses, everyone on our team has shown up with consistency and deep care for their work. It’s been a relief and a privilege to be able to provide a safe port for our workers in the storms of 2020, and for the next year we are looking at ways to create even more lasting stability while continuing to expand the team.

We’ve again long outgrown our office and warehouse and are now returning to our roots. In March we’ll be opening and operating an additional warehouse in Cleveland. Soon we will welcome Drew, who helped out at Microcosm in the 90s, to manage the new location. Now that Microcosm is a veritable adult, it seems only appropriate that it can also become a full time job.

Aside from more space, social distancing, and people power, the additional warehouse will help us to ship more efficiently to the midwest and east coast U.S. This should help us to get our work to nearby stores much faster and try to keep pace with how much things are picking up. We’ve also added additional field sales reps in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, South Dakota, North Dakota, Illinois, and New Jersey. It’s truly incredible to watch our work end up in more and more stores. Returning to independent distribution at the beginning of 2019 was truly the best decision we ever made, and is a huge part of why we made it through 2020 in such good shape (though, again, exhausting). 

Let’s look at the numbers.

Our total sales for the year were $1.67 million dollars. Here’s what we are selling. As you can see, zines jumped past ebooks while most of the rest held consistent with 2019 percentages, though published books began gaining on distributed in the latter portion of the year:

Here are our bestsellers, by dollars:

Note that Unf*ck Your Brain, which came out in 2016, is still outselling our other top 20 books, combined. If you disregard the curve breaker, it was a strong year. We published 25 books last year (not including half a dozen that were delayed until 2021), and not all of these new releases immediately took off—only 6 of our top 20 sellers for the year actually came out in 2020—but our backlist absolutely thrived. For instance, Making Stuff & Doing Things, clocking in at #5 for the year, first came out in 2002.

Expenses this year were $1.669M, because of the ongoing increased costs of growth and staff raises. The major shifts this year were our greatest expense went from being salaries to distributed inventory (due to increased managed levels from regular weekly sales), and we now spend more on royalties than on shipping:

One expense that is not in our budget is office snacks! Several zine authors for the last year or more have asked us to direct their royalties into taking care of our workers, and as a result we are able to keep a good supply of snacks and beverages on hand to fuel both blood sugar and morale for the folks who are still needing to work on-site. Thank you, charming benefactors!

To our readers, partners, and teammates: We always appreciate your orders, trust, and contributions, and recognize it’s been a difficult year so your support makes all the difference. Your support has helped us to support our staff, pay royalties to our authors, pay our bills on time, continue to donate books to community programs and send books to people in prison, and do our best to keep our corner of the publishing and bookselling ecosystem afloat. Let’s still hope that 2021 is a little bit easier. 

If you want to learn more about publishing, check out new episodes of our weekly pod/videocast if you want to listen to two nerds dissect publishing!

And a friendly reminder: While we’re legally a “for-profit” organization, we choose to operate on a break-even basis. This means that when we have profits, they don’t go into perks for our owners; they go into staff wages and taking a chance on publishing new books we believe in. Getting to do work we care about every day and put books out there that help people change their lives is the best kind of perk.

The Microcosm Publishing Annual Money Report: 2019 Edition (with graphs!)

There’s no way around it: our first year returning to self-distributing was an incredible success!

Unbelievably, our 2019 sales went up 55.77% over 2018, making 2019, again, our best year ever! In the past year we’ve also increased staff wages by 38.94%, with more to come!

At the same time, 2019 really taxed and tested us in ways that we haven’t seen before. We are shipping an average of six times as many packages every day as we were when we moved into this building eight years ago. We are receiving six times as many boxes every day as well. All of this leads to the increased need for diligence and refinement as we outgrow old systems. 

Sure, everyone works harder as well and it’s nice to have that acknowledged. 2019 also saw the implementation of the employee ownership program and we now have five owners with more on the way. We also switched our podcast from quarterly to weekly and added a vlogcast version.

As the growth seems constant and endless, we have to stop and ask bigger long-term questions: when will we need to hire another staff person (February?)? When will we give the next round of raises (April!)? These are wonderful problems to discuss and the opposite of our situation eight years ago when the current staff took over the company. 

We are publishing more books than ever (and reprinting more books than ever too!) and most of this year has been spent implementing new systems to use data to make better decisions and where we have the most growth opportunities.

Most important is the constant feedback we receive from our work. We’ve expanded our books to prisoners program as well this year and many people write back, shocked that we responded at all—let alone sent me them a pile of books to read. Seeing readers recommend our books on social media has been flattering but nothing holds a candle to someone spilling their guts about how much they were singularly impacted in a private letter.

Let’s look at the numbers.

Our total sales for the year were $1.273 million dollars. Here’s what we are selling:

Here are our bestsellers, by dollars:

Expenses this year were also right at $1.27M, partially due to the 38.94% staff raises:

And the real shocker, comparing 2019 to 2018:

And a friendly reminder: While we’re legally a “for-profit” organization, we choose to operate on a break-even basis. This means that when we have profits (which isn’t all the time, but we try), they don’t go into our owners’ yacht fund; they go into staff wages and taking a chance on publishing new books we believe in. Getting to do work we care about every day and put books out there that help people change their lives is way better than a yacht. Which is an important attitude to have in the publishing industry!

On the podcast: Marketing Fiction vs. Nonfiction

This week on the People’s Guide to Publishing vlogcast, Elly and Joe compare fiction to nonfiction and see if the claim that marketing fiction is different from marketing nonfiction holds up!

Thank you for watching the People’s Guide to Publishing vlogcast!

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The Unbearable Whiteness of Publishing with Samm Saxby

This week on the podcast we discuss everyone’s favorite (and least favorite) topic, the demographics of publishing—specifically race and racism. Why are things the way that they are? How is this holding back the industry and sales?

This is San Francisco

In the same vein as his other two evocative love letters to cities, This Is Portland and This Is Shanghai, Alexander Barrett again plays quirky tour guide in This is San Francisco. Distilling the charm of San Francisco into colorful, illustrated pages, he reveals the city’s magic in this good-humored, earnest homage. This isn’t a guide book that will tell you where to stay or what to eat; rather, it’s an invitation from a friend to come along on a walk down one of San Francisco’s historic streets, up one of its urban staircases, or along its many shorelines. Through thoughtful and funny anecdotes, essays, and illustrations, Barrett takes you on a journey through one of America’s most famous cities and makes you wish you were right there with him.