Tagged author resources

Do self-published authors need a contract with themselves?

This week on the People’s Guide to Publishing podcast, Joe and Elly tackle a topic that might sound like a parody at first, but we’re serious: authors who publish their own books, whether they’re going with a publishing service or starting their own publishing house, would do well to consider putting themself under a contract. Here’s why to consider creating a business deal with yourself.

P.S. Did you see that Microcosm is hiring? Come join our marketing team!

Do authors need a platform?

This week on the People’s Guide to Publishing podcast, Joe and Elly are joined by Ariel Gore, whose brand-new book The Wayward Writer is a stellar practical and personal guide for authors finding their own path to publication.

We talked about the question of platform—specifically the idea that authors need to bring a ready-made audience along with their manuscript. It’s not so straightforward, and have fun getting into the weeds about that.

People’s Guide to Publishing: How Amazon Has Changed Publishing

For many years, new publishers and authors have posed questions to us about distribution. They want to know why distribution is so expensive and exclusive. It’s a much more complicated answer than they were expecting so we’re going to break that out in a weekly video series over the next few months.


Support Microcosm and Learn our Craft on Drip

a screencap of the microcosm drip pageRecently we were approached about starting a new thing on a new platform that was all very top-secret, and we jumped at the chance (we like shiny things). That platform is Drip, Kickstarter’s new subscriptions program, and our project launched today in its inaugural class of creators.

We’ll still be using Kickstarter to fund the production of some of our individual books. Meanwhile, Drip is a little different: it’s about monthly support—it’s similar to Patreon, which we also use. It offers various levels of support; you can get ebooks or credit for our online store. By backing at our core level, you can have access to regular posts with advice about all aspects of our publishing work. You can ask us anything and we’ll do our best to talk you through it. And we’ll share regular windows into the life of our office.

Some posts we have planned for the near future include:

  • How to judge a book by its cover (and make sure yours has a good one)
  • How to run an effective publicity campaign in an era when traditional review outlets are dwindling and reviews don’t work as well as they used to anyway
  • When you SHOULD self-publish and why (spoiler, we don’t think it’s very often, but it’s definitely not never)
  • How our marketing department informs our editorial decisions (controversy alert!)
  • Regular “from the desk of” diaries
  • Whatever YOU want to know!

We’ve been doing this a long time, and we love sharing our books with you. Now, let us share our knowledge and lore, too.

Thank you for your support!

Business of Publishing: Books we Love and Recommend

One of the best parts of working in publishing is that there is always something new to learn. Where do we learn it? From books, of course.

Here’s a list of some of the books that have been most helpful to Microcosm workers recently, and that we recommend to you, aspiring publisher / editor / writer / designer / production manager / roller-arounder-in-books. We added a couple in that we published, too.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, of course. We’d love to hear your recommendations!

How to Become a Famous Writer Before You're Dead book coverHow to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead by Ariel Gore
This book rules. If you want to write or publish books, read this first. Ariel Gore shows you how to write, publish, and promote what matters to you, and how to build a readership from the ground up. If you want to get into writing or publishing is a get-rich-quick scheme, there are other books about that; this one shows you how to do it because you have a vision to make something meaningful. Full of golden advice from someone who’s done it—and is still doing it—successfully.

make a zine book cover by joe biel and bill brentMake a Zine by Joe Biel and Bill Brent
We always recommend that would-be publishers start small—make something yourself that you passionately believe in, learn the trade, and start building a network and a movement before you get mixed up with Amazon, trade distributors or doing any kind of business at scale. This book contains a wealth of information for publishing a zine, comic, or book yourself, with real knowledge about everything from acquisitions to production to marketing.

Wired for Story by Lisa Cron book coverWired for Story by Lisa Cron
One of our authors recommended this book, and we in turn recommend it to you! The sad truth is that it doesn’t matter how good your writing is if you can’t captivate readers’ attention on every page. Lisa Cron shows you the neuroscience of story, and it’s invaluable. This book is great for writers, editors, and anyone doing title development, aka the publisher.

On Writing Well by William Zinsser
Learning how to tell a compelling story is essential for getting anyone to read that story… actually writing it well is still important for other reasons. William Zinsser is one of the best guides as you learn that part of your craft, as a writer or editor.

The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner
This is the best book we’ve found about what it’s *like* to be an editor. Which is almost as important, if not more important, than the nuts and bolts of learning how to edit. Betsy Lerner has worked in a number of different New York publishing houses and shares stories and knowledge and her valuable experience. If you are an editor, work with one, or want to be one, you’ll glean a lot from reading this.

Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud
If you plan to have anything to do with visual storytelling—comics, picture books, art books, whatever—this guide (in comics form, of course) is very helpful for understanding how to visually tell a story.

Getting Things Done book coverGetting Things Done by David Allen
People go into publishing because they love books; the reality is that you spend a lot of time with data, spreadsheets, contracts, budgets, production schedules, inventory, software, email, and a gazillion little tasks, each of which is vitally important and intricately relies on many other things being done right. It can all get to be overwhelming, especially if you’re a one-person publishing shop. GTD is the gold standard for organizing your complicated life without succumbing to stress or losing sight of the big picture.

Beyond Dealmaking by Melanie Billings-Yun
Another thing most people learn after launching their publishing career rather than before is that much of the job is about negotiating—contracts, relationships, deliveries, solutions, whatever. There isn’t a lot of abundance in the industry, and people are often in it for very different reasons and with very different expectations. This is hands-down the best book on negotiation that we’ve found, and will teach you real and practical skills for building lasting, sustainable relationships beyond just closing the deal.

Publishing for Profit by Thomas Woll
This book is dense and tough to read. The slog is worth it if you’re serious about publishing as a business, and if you need that business to make money. The best time to read this book is when you have already been doing the work, have some books under your belt, and are starting to wonder if you’re ready for trade distribution and/or to hire a second person.

our band could be your life book coverOur Band Could be Your Life by Michael Azerrad
Wait, what? This is a history of underground and punk music in the 80s and 90s, not a publishing manual! Actually… this is also very much a book about how to launch a scrappy, ragtag business all the way to the moon, be you a drunk and angry drummer touring in a filthy van or a teenager in your bedroom with a big dream and a cassette duplicator. Microcosm is built on similar foundations, guided much more by the DIY music industry than the book publishing world, and this book can profitably be read as a fascinating case study of businesses run—some more successfully than others—entirely without traditional resources like capital or training, but with no shortage of values, creativity, and pure energy and rage.

good trouble book coverGood Trouble by Joe Biel
Microcosm founder and publisher Joe Biel’s memoir can be read through several lenses, and one of them is small press business manual. The company’s often bumpy, sometimes glorious, always edifying history can be found in these pages, along with background on some of the stuff that makes the gears turn—contracts, management, strategy, accounting, proofreading, and more. And if we do say so ourselves, it’s also an excellent example of reader-oriented development, which is what any memoir published today needs beyond all other qualities.

And don’t forget you can read our Business of Publishing blog series right now, without waiting for our store to open or your book to come in the mail.

The Business of Publishing: The Good Trouble Blog Tour

Good Trouble book coverJoe’s on a blog tour right now to support his new book, Good Trouble: Building a Successful Life and Business with Asperger’sHe’s scribing guest posts for blogs of all kinds all over the Internet. His main theme is one of great interest to all of us: the business aspects of publishing, and the unconventional (or at times shockingly conventional) methods that have helped Microcosm survive and succeed over the years.

Here’s a list of Joe’s blog tour posts so far:

The Publishing House of my Dreams: Joe writes on Powells.com about building Microcosm and bringing the company back from the brink. (more…)

Business of Publishing: How to Ship Books So They Arrive in Good Shape

Want more publishing advice and wisdom? Read Joe Biel’s A People’s Guide to Publishing.
Many years ago, Canada’s then-independent Doormouse Distribution sent us a brilliant guide on how to pack a box. It was well-designed and fit conveniently on a single sheet of paper. We hung it on the office wall. You would not believe how many times we referenced that sheet over the years for best practices of how to put books inside of cardboard. Eventually these methods could be explained and committed to institutional memory, forever securing happy, healthy books arriving in their new homes.

Double wall


A few weeks ago we sent some books to Ebullition Records for the first time in a few years and they shared their own version of “how to pack a box,” which we now know to be accurate even if it’s laden with awesome and moralizing punk-speak and asides. But it brings an important point to the fore: it’s so sad when books arrive in terrible condition and the situation was completely preventable.

The irony, of course, is that the largest distributors and wholesalers we work with don’t follow these very basic and effective best practices. When a company becomes large enough, it’s cheaper to replace books, especially if they belong to a client, then it is to purchase proper packing material and train the staff to pack the boxes correctly every time. If you are reading this post, then you are likely concerned about your books arriving in good condition rather than having the hassle of sending replacements or having copies not arriving in salable condition.

Broken box

Next, stack the books face-up in the box from largest to smallest. Never pack a book sitting on its spine unless it’s okay for it to become damaged in transit. Fill the box completely. If the box is larger than the number of books that you are shipping, you can either 1) cut along the four edges of the box and fold them over to make the box smaller. If there is excess material preventing the box from being able to be folded shut, cut it off or 2) completely fill the remainder of the box with packaging material. If you do add packing material, move the valuable content into the center of the box and put the packing material on all sides and above it to cushion it from impact.

If you use an inadequate amount of packing material on the top of the box, the contents will rattle around, damaging your books. If you use an insufficient amount of tape, the loose contents will burst the top or bottom of the box open in transit.

Broken edge

A properly taped box will appear shiny and seem to be excessively taped. But tape is cheap; much cheaper than replacing your contents. If there is an adequate amount of packing material, the box will appear a little bit bulbous once it’s taped. This packing material adds further resistance any potential abuse that the box will undergo at the hands of the shipping company. Properly packing and taping a box also allows it to be reused on the receiving end.

When shipping too few books for a box to be practical, use a padded envelope. Similarly, the books should not be able to shift inside the envelope. If they do, add some packing material.

Insufficient packing material

You have many options when shipping. There’s a certain loyalty in the publishing industry to UPS but it seems to be shifting gradually to FedEx, especially among larger companies that can bargain for bulk discounts. But for the little people like us, it’s really best to ship via the U.S. post office, using media mail. It can take a week longer to arrive and take a bit more of a beating during that time, but if you pack it properly, this should not be an issue.

A well-taped box

If speed is a concern, the U.S. Post Office also offers flat rate priority mail and express mail flat rate envelopes and boxes. These are priced competitively against UPS or FedEx and while priority mail is not guaranteed, it almost always arrives in two to three days. The envelopes and boxes are available for free from the Post Office or usps.com but they are also quite thin. But sure to package the books correctly to avoid damage. Getting there on time does no good if they aren’t in good condition. Stacking two books side-by-side vertically to fill the box or envelope does a good job of preventing the books from shifting in transit. Putting styrofoam or cardboard around them should sufficiently protect them as well.

Congratulations on completion of your quest and avoiding future headaches of poorly packaged boxes. The time saved by not having to replace damaged books will quickly create new efficiency!

Self-Promotion for Authors: Social Media Wrangling

elly-tweetingIt happens all the time. I’m meeting with an author to talk about promoting their book….and they have that look in their eye—gleeful, nervous panic. “I’m going to have to start using Twitter!” they proclaim. I want to say “There, there, no you don’t.” But while that might be good advice, the opposite might also be true. 

Here’s a handy list of social media book marketing tips for the uninitiated:

You don’t have to do it all

Just because you wrote a book does not mean that you have to sign up for Twitter, open accounts on every platform you’ve heard of and some you haven’t, or spend hours a day figuring out how to navigate various social media platforms while battling anxiety about spamming people or looking silly. If exploring the wide world of social media sounds fun, then go for it, but if you have limited energy for such things then choose your battles wisely. 

Use the social media that you already use

If you’re already active on Facebook and feel comfortable using it, then by all means go ahead and make yourself a Facebook author page. Build it up the same way you built your personal presence there way back in the day—slowly and organically, engaging with your friends, family, author/publishing colleagues, and—increasingly as time goes by—random strangers. If you’re at ease and confident talking about your work and other topics you care about, your community will be too.

It is very likely that you’ve written a book for people with similar interests and demographics to your own, which often means you can stick to what you’re already familiar with. But then again, you might want to branch out. Here’s the real litmus test:

Go where your readers already are

Who are your readers? Where are they going to find out about and rabidly discuss your book? That’s the place you need to be. To find out, choose one to three books that are most similar to yours that came out in the last year or so and feverishly search every social media platform for the titles and authors. 

Choose your social media platforms based on your readers rather than your subject matter. For instance, a vegan cookbook author might well find their biggest audience on Pinterest where food photos reign supreme. But if their book’s community is younger and hipper, Tumblr is probably the way to go. If your audience is teenagers, head to Snapchat. If you’re trying to reach men, try Twitter. 

The rule of thirds

I learned this rule from Culinary Cyclist author Anna Brones. When posting on social media in your professional capacity, you want to follow these rough proportions:

1/3: Broadcasting: Promoting and linking to your own stuff

1/3: Sharing: Posting relevant links or ideas by other people, whether colleagues, fans, or experts

1/3: Conversation: Engaging with your community about topics of mutual interest, including asking questions, or letting a bit more of your personal world come through

Links are key

Try to include a link and an image with everything you post. Link to the publisher’s page for your book if at all possible. People are excited about your book—help them get their hands on it!

Images work

Some social media platforms are entirely image-based. The ones that aren’t will show your post to way more people if you include and image or a video. Images can be literal or related in some more poetic or funny way. They don’t have to be works of art—phone photos and screenshots are great. Make a game of coming up with a graphic to go with half your tweets or posts.

That said…images are what feed the algorithms this week. Next week, who knows!

Be prepared

Do you like social media a little too much? Don’t want to spend your entire day clicking and scrolling? Just don’t have time for this stuff? Once you’ve figured out where you want to be and have a basic understanding of how your chosen platforms work, then take a step back and do like the pros—and make a schedule. For instance, maybe you’ve decided that three posts a day on Twitter at three different times is what’s right for you. Draft out 3 ideas or topics per day for the next week. When you come across an article you want to share, see a review of your book go live, or finish a blog post, add it to your schedule instead of immediately logging in and getting caught in the vortex. Then at the appointed times, check your cheat sheet, log in and quickly post, respond to anyone who’s engaging with you, and get out unscathed.

If you love planning ahead then think about what you’ll post leading up to your book publication date, your release party, or any relevant holidays.

Never pay for social media advertising

It offers no benefits. Nuff said. [Edited, 2018: Algorithms have changed since this was originally written, and now judicious use of Facebook ads can be helpful in selling books—but that may all change again.]

Build it slow and steady

Be patient and consistent. Post every day. Try new things and keep doing them if they work. Engage with people as equals. Find people who do it really, really well and emulate them. Be yourself. Have fun. 

This is an occasional series called Self-Promotion for Introverts, geared towards Microcosm authors but hopefully useful to a larger field of shy people with something to promote. The last post was about Getting Psyched for Self-Promotion. You can read more publishing lore like this in Joe Biel’s book, A People’s Guide to Publishing.

Cooking, writing, and bicycling: Interview with author Anna Brones

anna brones reading the culinary cyclistAs I’ve been developing our Self-Promotion for Introverts blog series, one person keeps popping into my mind—our author Anna Brones, who I met years ago when I saw her give a presentation about effective social media use, in which she delivered some of the simplest and most useful advice I’ve heard. When I published her first book two years ago, I should have realized that she’d apply her formidable network and friendly powers of promotion to it, and despite not having any kind of outside distribution the book quickly burned through what at the time had seemed like a riskily large print run. I asked Anna to share some of her magic with you all, and she kindly obliged. 

A couple of years ago, you wrote a cookbook for Elly Blue Publishing (which we’re reissuing as a Microcosm title in the fall). Can you tell us a little about the book and what you’ve been up to since?

The Culinary Cyclist is a book about the intersection of a love of bikes and a love of food. What ever does that mean? Basically it’s an ode to the slow life, because if you take the time to ride your bike, and if you take the time to make your own food, then you’re living with intent. And that intent takes time. Since The Culinary Cyclist came out in 2013, Johanna Kindvall and I wrapped up the manuscript for Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. Johanna did the illustrations, I wrote the text and we developed all the recipes together. It’s officially out on April 7 and we’re very excited! I’ve also been busy working as a producer on the film Afghan Cycles and keeping up my blog, Foodie Underground. And then there are some other projects in the works, but they’re secret for now!

Before you became a book author, you were already working in marketing and publicity. Was it difficult to transition between promoting other people’s work and promoting your own? Looking back, what do you wish you’d known when you made that transition?

I’ve always liked the networking aspect of marketing. Reaching out to people, putting them in touch with other people and helping people to get the word out. So for that, I really enjoyed doing marketing and publicity for other people’s work. But while I was doing that, there was always this voice at the back of my head that was telling me that I was perfectly capable of doing my own projects and marketing them as well. Honestly it wasn’t that hard to transition to promoting my own work, but there is that part of me that is pretty sensitive to whether or not I am being a shameless self promoter. Then again, a lot of people that get a lot of attention and media are the ones that promote the hell out of themselves. I think we can all find a nice balance, but I do think it’s true that most of us err on the side of too little self marketing and promotion, and we could probably all do with pushing ourselves a little out of our boundaries. 

What strategies have worked best for you in terms of promoting your books, and are there any things that have not worked as well? 

This is going to sound really ridiculous, but when I was thinking about Fika coming out I kept thinking of it as my “baby.” I don’t have children, and I would never dare compare writing a book to having a child, but there is a similar sense of ownership over this thing that you created. It’s something that you’re proud of. It’s something you want to share. I thought of all the baby photos I saw from my friends, and I figured if they could do it so could I. So started taking really silly pictures of “Baby Fika” all over the place. Baby Fika’s first coffee. Baby Fika’s first bike ride. You get the idea. Because it was such a ridiculous endeavor it didn’t feel like marketing, and because I wasn’t just posting a link every day saying “BUY MY BOOK NOW!” I think people responded well to it. However, my friends who are actual parents might hate me, I’m not sure. 
Ultimately I really do believe that when you’re marketing something it has to be a part of a larger story. A link isn’t enough. For starters, your product has to be good. But after that you want it to be a part of a bigger picture. You’re not just selling a book, you’re selling a vision, a lifestyle. That might sound like I’m an aspiring life coach, but there’s a reason that so many brands and individuals nowadays are so focused on “storytelling.” Because stories are what we care most about, and we all have one. So make sure yours is one you believe in and that you can talk about for hours again. People seek authenticity and I think when marketing doesn’t work is when it feels inauthentic. 

You’ve now had experience with publishing a book through a teeny, tiny press (EBP) and a major label house (10 Speed, owned by Random House), and soon to be a still very-small indie (Microcosm). What differences between these experiences have struck you? 

I feel so lucky to have experienced both. They are two very different worlds. Mostly in terms of time; The Culinary Cyclist went from concept to final product in about 8 months. Johanna and I did the Fika proposal in the beginning of 2012. So that’s 3 years between idea and final book. Another big difference, at least in my experience, is the number of eyes on your work, both in the editing process and on the final product. I think having my first book be a smaller print run, made me more comfortable with having my name out there, doing interviews and seeing the book mentioned, because you know that the whole world doesn’t have access to it. There’s a comfort in that, because you have the luxury of your work really being seen by a niche market that is predestined to like the subject which means that it feels more like a small group of friends getting to read it. But now I am ready to go a little bigger, which makes it exciting that Fika is coming out but also that The Culinary Cyclist is getting reprinted with a much larger distribution. 
I also feel very lucky to have worked with two publishers that so wholeheartedly believe in my projects. Obviously my experience is my own—everyone has a very different experience, whether they are working with a small or large publishing house—but I will say that the people at Ten Speed and EBP have been a dream to work with. A large part of that is that they were both so excited about the content that we were doing for them. Which is proof to me of two things: 
1. Work with people who are like-minded and passionate about the same things you are passionate about. 
2. For aspiring authors, pitch to the publishing houses that you WANT to write for, not the ones you COULD write for. 
I think so often we are so focused on getting paid/getting a book deal that we just pitch right and left to places that may not necessarily align with our own values, or be as excited about a topic as us. The golden spot is to find someone that’s on the same page as you.

Anything else you want to share?

One thing that I have really come away with from the last two years of book publishing is a reminder that everything is constantly evolving. Our personalities, our preferences, our attitudes; everything is constantly in flux. We are humans, the only thing constant in our lives is change. But when you write a book, everything is on paper, for the rest of eternity. Or at least as long as your book is out in the world. That can be a bit intimidating. 

In re-reading The Culinary Cyclist while I was doing edits for the reprint, there were a few spots that I laughed at myself, or even cringed. Because even in just two years I have changed a bit, and if I were to rewrite that book now, some things would be different. So it has all been a lesson in approaching the things that I read—books, articles, blogs—in a different way, and not making assumptions about what the writer says or what they stand for. When we create, we put something into the world. But if it’s not perfect—and it never is—we can do better the next time. And the next time. We are always learning. And we have to be flexible, and the same things go when we’re talking about marketing and publicity. Try something, and if it doesn’t work, do something different. No one has the right formula, and if they tell you that they do, they’re probably lying or want your money. 

This is a Microcosm author interview! Our last author interview was with Al Burian, and our next one is with Ben Snakepit.