On the Podcast: New zines!

This week on the podcast, we talk about some new zines that we’ve published recently.

The zines we talk about this month include:

Every week, Joe and Elly sit down to record a new episode of the People’s Guide to Publishing podcast. We talk about skills publishers need, our experiences, specific books (that we’ve published or otherwise), and publishing industry news.

We also answer listener questions—you can send yours to podcast at microcosmpublishing dot com.

You can watch our episodes on youtube, or listen to them wherever you get your podcasts.

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.

New on the Podcast: The story of The Courage Party

This week on the podcast, we put the spotlight on Joyce Brabner’s new book The Courage Party: Helping Our Resilient Children Understand and Survive Sexual Assault. It’s a hardcover, illustrated middle reader, telling the story of how, after being attacked in a park, young Danielle comes to see herself not as a victim or even a survivor, but as a courageous crime fighter.

This book is deeply important to us—and it also had the bad luck of coming back from the printer in the beginning of April, 2020, just when the libraries, schools, and comics stores we expected to be its major markets had all shut down. We talk about some of the strategies we and publishers are using to get the word out about our new books that came out during the pandemic.

Every week, Joe and Elly sit down to record a new episode of the People’s Guide to Publishing podcast. We talk about skills publishers need, our experiences, specific books (that we’ve published or otherwise), and publishing industry news.

We also answer listener questions—you can send yours to podcast at microcosmpublishing dot com.

You can watch our episodes on youtube, or listen to them wherever you get your podcasts.

Breathing Exercise to Help you Relax

I know that for most of us in the US (or even those just following US politics right now), our blood pressure is through the roof. (Personally, I woke up with a stress headache yesterday and it’s still hanging around today like an unwanted roommate.)

So, in honor of all of us combating election stress, here’s an exercise from our upcoming title, Unfuck Your Body by Faith G. Harper, PhD, LPC-S, ACS, ACN. This exercise should help you reconnect with your body and relieve stress (and hopefully lower your blood pressure).

Alternate Nostril Exercise
(Nadi Shodhana Pranayama)

This breathing exercise includes breathing from alternate nostrils. This exercise cleans nostrils, nadis, and sinus. It is also helpful in the activation left and right side of the brain simultaneously.

  • Get your body comfortable, sitting if possible.
  • Place your left hand on your left knee, and lift your right hand up to your nose.
  • Tuck your middle three fingers into the palm of your hand, leaving your pinky and thumb extended (the universal sign for “call me!”)
  • Complete an exhale, then use your right thumb to close your right nostril. Inhale through your left nostril, then use your pinky to close your left nostril while opening your right nostril and exhaling through the right nostril.

That is one complete breath cycle.

Continue for up to five minutes, completing the practice by finishing with an exhale on the left side.

This technique is great for balancing the left and right hemispheres of the brain and balancing the vagal system. Studies of pranayama have demonstrated that alternate nostril breathing was the only type of breath work that was found to have a positive effect on the cardiovascular system (heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure).

Hypertension, an active migraine, an active sinus, or an chest infection are contraindications for this technique. Also generally be aware of discomfort if you have a full stomach.

Rest in Purpose, Ruby

This is a sad one.

Ruby and Joe at Powell’s Books in January, 2019

Ruby was the medical alert dog for Microcosm founder and CEO Joe Biel from February, 2012 to June, 2020. She was a constant presence in our office and at events.

At a reading at WhyNot Fest in Minot, North Dakota

Her service dog training meant she was skilled at making herself invisible most of the time, often sleeping curled up next to Joe’s desk or under the table at a convention or a restaurant. Even so, she made friends everywhere she went, when she ventured out at Joe’s side, or to occasionally alert someone passing by that their blood sugar was dropping (she did this by poking their leg with her nose). When she walked by one of Portland’s many brunch spots, she would often go down the line of people waiting, alerting them all. One day, a couple was fighting on the street and she ran up to alert them. She wanted to help everyone. Her intelligence and loyalty were astounding. Once she had met someone, she considered them part of her pack forever, even when meeting them again years later.

Long convention hours meant lots of napping on the job.

Along with her remarkable skill at detection, she was also trained for public access, which meant she could handle herself gracefully in situations, like a grocery store, restaurant, airplane, or train, that would challenge even a well-trained pet dog. She never learned to pedal her own bike, but we celebrated her bikeyness a couple of years ago with this fanciful enamel pin.

Just another daily commute.

Thanks to her unique assistance in managing his disability, Joe was able to lead Microcosm out of the recession, growing us from a small press to a midlist publisher and wholesaler, and more important, to begin to regain his health and safely live a full, active life.

Joe, Ruby, and Elly at the Microcosm office. Photo by Laura Stanfill

Ruby loved to travel everywhere with Joe by train, plane, and bicycle. Food was her primary motivation. And she loved people; her training taught her to be standoffish when she was wearing her service dog vest, but in her off-hours she loved nothing more than a belly rub or a scratch behind the ears. And even when working, she knew when someone was talking about her and perked up with great interest.

Ruby and Joe walking in Detroit.

She passed away on Tuesday, June 23rd, just hours before her first book, Do Not Pet, arrived from the printer. She is dearly missed by all who knew and admired her.

Ruby’s trainer told us that she was the rare dog who found her purpose. In her honor, we’re continuing to center our own meaning and purpose every day. We hope that her legacy will outlive her, educating people about the amazing work of service animals in opening up the world to people with many kinds of disabilities.

In Downtown LA

Books for the New Bicycle Revolution

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the streets are suddenly free of traffic, and a lot of folks are rediscovering bicycling—you can tell by looking out the window, or at our order queue.

Books and zines about bicycling (and stickers… oh, the bike stickers!) have long been Microcosm’s bread and butter. The interest never goes away, but it’s been way up lately. Here’s a list of (almost) all of the bike books and zines we publish, and you can find everything bikey in our catalog here.

And here’s short list of our recommendations for people who are just getting with riding or wondering how we can sustain relatively car-free streets post-pandemic.

The Chainbreaker Bike Book is our classic manual, now in its third edition. Learn to repair your bike (especially if it’s an older bike), and get inspired by the rich history of DIY bicycle culture.
Adonia Lugo’s instant classic, Bicycle/Race, is a must-read for any aspiring or experienced bicycle advocate who wonders how we can work towards safe, inclusive transportation in a deeply unequitable system?
Everyday Bicycling is your guide to getting started as a transportation cyclist, including tips on carrying everything from lumber to kids to cupcakes.
Bikenomics is the definitive economic argument for investing in bicycle transportation at a personal and civic level. This is the one to give to your city councillor or business district development group, or just hone your own arguments for why bike-friendly streets make sense for everyone.
The perspectives in True Trans Bike Rebel about bicycling and walking from transgender and nonbinary authors and artists range from delightful to thought-provoking; all worthwhile reading for anyone who’s ever felt like an outsider in the cycling world.

In issue #4 of the Bicycle Culture Rising zine, read about how Kittie Knox, a teenage cyclist in the late 1800s, changed bike culture forever.

We are currently Kickstarting our newest volume of feminist bicycle science fiction: Trans-Galactic Bike Ride!

WorkingLit: Publishing Software from Microcosm

a logo with an open book

WorkingLit is cloud-based software developed by Microcosm Publishing that gives independent publishers tools to thrive and grow at their own pace. Our industry is run by billionaires and conglomerates, and we want to give our fellow publishers the freedom to market and sell your books, understand your business, and painlessly pay royalties.

Microcosm built our own software from scratch starting in 2001, and we owe it our survival, success, and continued independence. Now we want to share it with you. 

Get involved and stay in touch!

We’re planning to launch our first phase publicly in early 2022, but we’ll be releasing early iterations to friends of WorkingLit to try out in late 2021.

Unf*cking Our Pandemic, Apart but Together

An umbrella made out of a calendar page with emojis on it stops rain from falling on the words Unfuck Your Pandemic. The second u in unfuck is covered by the Microcosm logo. The graphic is flanked by two uncapped black markers.

We are shipping every day out of the Microcosm Publishing & Distribution HQ in Portland, Oregon!

All mail orders are going out within 24 hours. If you choose “pick up at store” as your shipping option, you can come ring our doorbell Mon-Sat 11am-3pm and we’ll do a no-contact handoff.

We’ve always printed our books here in the United States, and so right now we’re not seeing any significant delays in publication of our titles. Orders have slowed a bit, but we’re using the time to get caught up on a serious backlog of work that’s built up in our last year and a half of hectic growth. Far from reducing hours or laying anyone off, we’re cautiously moving forward with the hiring process we began last month. In other news: we aren’t going anywhere.

Ultimately, our strength has always resided in how we’ve built up communities around us, and so we’ve started to work on strengthening those where we can through a variety of ways:

  • Dr. Faith Harper is doing a live story time with her book Coping Skills on our Facebook page. She’ll be doing it nightly at 5 p.m. central until she’s done, and the videos will be archived on our page at least until this passes.
  • At the request of the author, we’ve made the ebook version of Teenage Rebels 99 cents. We hope we can inspire some of the millions of high school students currently sitting at home and help them continue learning. The author of Crate Digger has also requested we put both the ebook and audiobook versions of this Florida punk scene history on super sale!
  • If you’re bored at home and starting to struggle, we’ve got a quarantine self-care pack for you – just $20 for the physical books, $15 for the ebooks.
  • We’ve curated a list of relevant titles on our Quarantine Survival Guide list of project-based books for people who are feeling anxious or just need something to do.
  • If you’re stocked up on books and want to help others, you can do that here! We’ve set up a “give books to people in need” program where you can support sending care packages to spread the book love. As always, we are stepping up to offer ways to offer our books to people who are most vulnerable and in need. We are matching funds from donations at link.
  • We’re going to net-90 terms for independent bookstores who place orders placed before April 30th.

We’d love to hear from you, our customers and peers, about how you’re surviving these weird, weird times and what we can do to support you.

Call for Submissions: Queering Consent

To start Queering Consent off I’m looking for nonbinary pairings. Nonbinary folks with each other, nonbinary folks with men, nonbinary folks with women, nonbinary folks in polycules… So long as at least one of the characters is explicitly nonbinary, I’m not too fussed about who they’re with or what pronouns they use.

A really successful erotica anthology also needs a theme to go with the pairing. For that, I started asking what we needed more of, but in reality, I didn’t have to look any further than my own passion and knowledge of popular erotica and romance: historical romance, pre-1950s.

Why? My first two books were both anthologies, and I found myself enjoying working with multiple authors considerably. When my publisher (and now employer), Microcosm Publishing, announced they’d start doing queer erotica, I knew I had to start doing anthologies for that too. I pitched them three (!) and they eagerly accepted all of them, which I was not expecting.

To get a better feel for the market, we’re doing them as a zine series, entitled Queering Consent.

Submissions are due by August 1, 2020 DEADLINE EXTENDED now due August 28, 2020

The nitty gritty:

Word count: 1,000 to 3,000 words (longer stories are welcome, but may be published separately or considered for a later book version) or 2-6 pages of black and white comics

Format: Word, .ODT, PDF or Google document emailed to lydia(at)microcosmpublishing(dot)com

(If submitting comics, please ask for specs before submitting artwork.)

Works must be original fiction (no fanfic, sorry!) though reprints are allowed. 

More about the theme:  There simply aren’t enough nonbinary people represented in historical fiction, even though nonbinary folks have always been here. So… why not make it sexy?

Also, if it’s not consensual it’s not sex and not welcome in this series!

Payment: $25 flat fee; if we include your contribution in a book edition, there will be additional payment

I am encouraging marginalized authors who do not see themselves in most mainstream fiction to submit, including (but not limited to) BIPOC, disabled, neurodiverse, queer and trans folks. Write the stories you wish had been published and submit them to us. #OwnVoices work is encouraged, but not strictly required.

If this pairing or theme isn’t up your alley, the next two themes and pairings are:

  • woman/woman in science fiction or fantasy settings
  • man/man’s tender first times (with each other, or first time at all)

You can submit those whenever (or if you have an idea for future themes, let me know!) or you can sign up for my newsletter to find out when the submission period officially opens for future volumes. 

Reposted from LydiaRogue.com

No Time to Be Ashamed: A review of Courage Party

Microcosm interns each have the opportunity to choose one of our books to review. Veda, one of our winter 2020 interns, chose to review The Courage Party, Joyce Brabner’s new illustrated book for young people about dealing with sexual assault. The Courage Party officially comes out in August, but we’re shipping directly from our warehouse now.

Content note: This review contains non-explicit discussion of child sexual abuse being poorly handled by authorities

“I wish this book had existed when you were little.” 

My mother and I began to cry over dinner as I explained to her the premise of Joyce Brabner’s new book, The Courage Party. We got a few odd looks from the waiters and a few tears on our plates, but most importantly we got to reopen a conversation that had been shut for too long. 

The Courage Party falls somewhere between a graphic novel and a children’s “chapter book”. It tells the true story of a child, Danielle, who is sexually assaulted and all of the actions she takes after the assault to combat and heal after experiencing the crime that was committed against her. In her story, she is seen as a “crime fighter” and not as a “victim” or a “survivor.” Her community celebrates her bravery by throwing her a “Courage Party,” Which is really something every crime-fighter deserves. 

You might be thinking “that’s some heavy stuff, why would someone write about that? And why would you volunteer to write about them writing about it???” Because the topic of sexual assault should be normalized as the violent crime that it is. So when a child goes through something as painful and traumatic as sexual assault, they know that it is:

  1. A crime
  2. Not their fault 
  3. DEFINITELY not something they should feel ashamed of. 

I want people to feel confident in reporting the crime, sharing their stories, and finding good support systems. There is no space to ask for help when you’re stuck in silence. 

Before I begin the actual review, I think it’s important for you to have context to why my opinions may be the way they are.This review will be from a very particular and connected perspective, as I have personal experience with sexual assault. Reading Danielle’s story encouraged me to open up my feelings and the conversation surrounding my experience again, so as to start clearing out some of the residual shame. Because there’s no time to be ashamed when you tried your best to fight some crime. 

When I was 9, I was repeatedly sexually assaulted by a member of what, at that time, was my family. Luckily my mom was a “good grownup” (as Joyce calls trustworthy adults in the book) and she immediately sprang to action. Unfortunately, the system is not always perfect and after months of legal struggle, I ended up living once again with my abuser. At this point in my life, I look back on that time period and wish I had more resources in knowing how to speak up for myself. But I have to remind myself,  and anybody else, that it’s never too late to do some healing work, and now as an adult, after reading Courage Party, I’m ready to talk about it again.

So why is Courage Party is so important to me? Why should it be important to you?

If this book had been on the shelf when I was a child, I would’ve been able to see that I could empower myself in the situation, and be in control of what happened after I reported it. If my parents had read this book aloud to me as a child, maybe they would’ve recognized what was happening and stepped in sooner. From the perspective of someone who has been in Danielle’s shoes, this book has the ability to not only show children they have the ability to have a sense of control in the legalities after the assault, but also has the power to retract the shame that society connects not only to the perpetrators of this crime, but also the survivors (or, as Danielle calls us, crime fighters). 

To the people who I hope will read this book, the children and their parents together, I know a lot of Danielle’s internal monologue may seem far fetched. It may be shaken off as ‘just a kid thing’ or something silly and added for effect. But I want you to know, her thought process during the assault gave me the ability, now as an adult,  to be able to express and identify how I felt at the age of nine. Joyce and Danielle took all of the thoughts I was ashamed of having and put them on the page in a non-judgmental way. For example, the attention during the grooming process of the assault feeling simultaneously good and uncomfortable. You want to be loved by the person who has the upper hand. You want to be special in their eyes. That feeling is seen as so shameful and never to be spoken of, not even to therapists and caseworkers. There was an aspect to these feelings that I didn’t recognize was helping me invalidate my own trauma. Joyce normalized all of these feelings by putting them in public, not just behind a closed door with a therapist. 

This book will be different for adults who can identify with Danielle, though it was written for children who have been through this kind of violence,  I strongly suggest for the adults who have experienced sexual assault in their past, to flip through it. It was incredible to hear the experience through the narrative of a child who was supported in an ideal way, and given the opportunity to take part in each stage of crime fighting. The feeling will be therapeutic, I promise. 

Aside from my overwhelming support of this project, I did have a couple, more personal, moments of doubt about Courage Party, but they were quickly resolved. At first, there seemed to be a lack of commentary on different types of sexual assault and an overemphasis on “stranger danger.” From the moment Danielle is praised for physically defending herself against her attacker, I felt once again, a sense of invalidation for not defending myself in such a straightforward way. I wanted more representation of different kinds of trauma responses besides just  immediately fighting back. I wanted to see children called “crime-fighters” even if they responded to their assault with a flight, fawn or freeze response. According to the Darkness to Light Organization, 90% of children who have been sexually assaulted know their abuser before the attack and when there is no element of ‘stranger danger’ the fight response is not very common. 

The book quickly redeemed itself in this aspect, including more diverse experiences later on, during the actual Courage Party. When multiple women shared stories of sexual assault from their lives. There was a wide range of responses, outcomes and ages. The best part was all of these older women were finally getting credit for their strength, no matter how they reacted during the assault. This was the part of the book which truly brought me to tears, I felt like I was having my own, better late than never, courage party. 

Besides just validation of strength from the close community, I was shocked at how well the legal processes went for Danielle. I was overjoyed for Danielle, it’s not how the system usually works. From the first interaction she had with law enforcement to the trial, every adult seemed kind and supportive and helped her advocate for herself each step of the way. 

It was great to hear it worked out for her.

For me personally, my case never went to court. It was as if the whole Judicial system wanted to “sweep  it under the rug.” 

So of course, reading Courage Party, there was a disconnect from what I experienced as my reality. That’s when I realized that this book isn’t necessarily written keeping me, or other adults like me, in mind.

This is written for kids who need help working through sexual assault in the present moment. It’s for children who need the extra support to be able to speak up, and it’s for parents to learn how to be supportive in all the best ways. Danielle’s story is the perfect conduit for getting this through to them. This is not just a storybook, it is a how-to book that holds more weight than anything else on the shelf. Joyce, Danielle, and Gerta want to show children the best things to do in these situations, we want them to fight back, we want them to tell a trusted adult right away, and we want them to trust that law enforcement will in fact help, when you ask for it. We want kids to feel empowered and be able to take back the control they lost. Though it may not always work out as simply as this in reality, it’s important to represent the best-case scenario for children in danger. We want them to kick and scratch, we want them to run to safety. We want them to be able to tell their story as much, or as little as they want. It doesn’t matter that my experience and Danielle’s didn’t align perfectly, this book isn’t about relatability, it’s a guide for self-protection.

On a final note, I would like to address the parents who will say it’s an inappropriate topic for their children; people can come face to face with sexual assault at any age. So instead of leaving our kids confused, scared and unable to identify the violence being inflicted upon them, let’s take age limits of life saving resources and give children the tools and knowledge they need to be able to know that your body belongs to yourself, and you get to choose what you want to do with it. 

So thank you so much to Danielle Batone and Joyce Brabner, for being so powerful. Thank you to Gerta Oparaku for illustrating their story along the way. Thank you to Microcosm for getting this into the world. For representing and emphasizing the strength it takes to be a crime fighter, and using your personal lives to inform and educate the coming generations. I want to end this review with a strong recommendation for families with children to purchase this title, it is important to raise awareness around the topics that bring with them discomfort. Focus on why you feel unable to have an open discussion about sexual assault with your children, question that feeling and response and ask for help from your community. To quote from the “For Grownups’’ section of the book, “In our own way, we had “normalized” something terrible. This didn’t make it okay, but it kept trauma from digging in under her skin and developing like a life-destroying cancer.” Talking about, and releasing the stigma of childhood sexual assault, does not make it okay, or any less horrible, but it does make it less shameful for the people who have experienced it, and most importantly, educates and destigmatizes the crime for the children and families faced with it. It’s time to open up the conversation on sexual assault to everyone who could be, or has been, affected. No more secrets. 

Get your own copy of Courage Party from Microcosm now.