Posts By: Joe Biel

Learning Good Consent

Curated by Doris editor Cindy Crabb, Learning Good Consent looks at the culture of sexual consent from a standpoint which is both sexy and educational. During the course of 46 pages, Cindy and friends create a well-rounded consent workshop, with all sites set on healing and helping. In the midst of rape culture, “blurred lines,” and troubled relationships with power and boundaries, Consent has your back. As says Cindy in the zine’s intro, “Talking about our experiences with consent, our struggles, our mistakes and how we’ve learned, these are part of a much larger revolutionary struggle.”

Make a Zine

Do you have a passion that you want to obsess about in a love letter to the world? In this new edition of Microcosm’s popular DIY guide to zine-making, Joe Biel updates the information provided in the first and second editions (edited by Biel and the late and great Bill Brent) to address zine making in today’s digital and social-media-obsessed world. Covering all the bases for beginners, Make a Zine! hits on more advanced topics like Creative Commons licenses, legality, and sustainability. Says Feminist Review, “Make a Zine! is an inspiring, easy, and digestible read for anyone, whether you’re already immersed in a cut-and-paste world, a graphic designer with a penchant for radical thought, or a newbie trying to find the best way to make yourself and your ideas known.” Illustrated by an army of notable and soon-to-be-notable artists and cartoonists, Make a Zine! also takes a look at the burgeoning indie comix scene, with a solid and comprehensive chapter by punk illustrator Fly (Slug and Lettuce, Peops). Part history lesson, part how-to guide, Make a Zine! is a call to arms, an ecstatic, positive rally cry in the face of TV show book clubs and bestsellers by celebrity chefs. As says Biel in the book’s intro, “Let’s go!”

On the Podcast: Kate Berube, children’s author and illustrator

Today on the podcast, we talk through Kate’s journey of sixteen years to become a children’s illustrator and author. We discuss about racism, her time working for Trump, her current resistance to Trump, what she went through to get published, and share many tips for combating depression, writer’s block, and hard days in general.

Fix Your Clothes

Ever had to say goodbye to a favorite item of clothing because of a busted zipper, fallen hem, or gaping hole? Want to save money and the world by not buying new clothes at the time? Concerned about the labor practices of fast fashion? Learn to repair your clothes from this cheerful illustrated guide. Raleigh Briggs, author and illustrator of the bestselling Make Your Place and Make It Last takes us on a mending journey through stocking your supplies, quick fixes, types of knots and stitches, buttons, mending seams, patching holes, darning holes, hemming, fixing zippers, waterproofing canvas, leather, and nylon, and so much more! Raleigh’s style is simple, playful, friendly, fun, and builds your confidence. You can do it!

Indestructible

In her Miami high school Cristy Road valiantly tried to figure out and defend her queer gender identity, Cuban cultural roots, punk rock nature, and mortality. In this graphic novel, Cristy reminds us of the strength and ability of punk youth—for addressing things like rape, homophobia, and misogyny. This is no exception; giving a voice to every frustrated fifteen year old girl under fire from her peers for being queer or butch or punk.

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!

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

This is the ninth post in our ongoing Business of Publishing series by Joe Biel, the author of A People’s Guide to Publishing. 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.