Tagged books

How to Transform a Conflict: An Interview with Gwendolyn Olton

This week on the People’s Guide to Publishing podcast, we were joined by Gwen Olton, co-director of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, to talk about her new book that’s hot off the press from Microcosm, From Conflict to Community: Transforming Conflicts without Authorities. We love this book, which borrows from many different styles of conflict transformation and resolution to bring us the practical tools we need to listen to each other and navigate the conflicts we face every day — without calling the cops or HR.

Check out the video below, and also read the blog interview Gwen wrote for us to talk more about her book and its process of coming into the world!


MCP: What inspired you to write your book?

GO: There were a few things that coalesced to inspire me to write the book. I had finished reading Sarah Schulman’s Conflict Is Not Abuse and her discussions of “bad friend” groups and the influence they have on conflicts stuck with me. At the same time, I was supporting many folks with conflicts that were relatively minor – not the sort of thing you might bring to a mediator but enough that they were disruptive in a person’s life. Meanwhile, whenever I was invited to facilitate a workshop on conflict or attend someone else’s workshops or skillbuilding on conflict we were very rarely talking about how to support others in conflict when you’re not a mediator or the parties aren’t really sitting down together to discuss. And amidst all of this, has been the growing awareness of just how much we escalate conflicts up to authorities instead of working within our circles to try to work things out. 

What was it like to publish with Microcosm?

Easy peasy! I don’t have a basis of comparison since this is my first book, but communication and transparency have been excellent, which I really appreciate. 

What was the submission/query process like for you?

They were pretty straightforward processes. I had an idea for this book, I fleshed it out a bit and submitted the idea. Then, I exchanged some emails with Microcosm and provided a writing sample or two and that was that! 

Do you still have your original query to us? Are you willing to share it?

Sure! See below:

This book would benefit the reader by offering a large array of strategies for transforming conflicts without appeals to punitive authority figures.

Three publications similar to mine would be:

1. How to be Accountable Workbook: Take responsibility to change your behavior

2. Doing it Better: Conflict resolution and accountability after abuse in leftist communities

3. Unfuck Your Boundaries: Build better relationships through consent, communication, and expressing your needs

My book is unique from these and other titles in that it provides the reader with tools for successfully navigating these struggles as both a participant in a conflict and as a 3rd-party intervener without formal training. Folks would be interested in buying this book when they want help keeping community and relationship intact and don’t have access to formal mediators or facilitators, or cannot afford them. I want to offer this book because I see a deep need for collaboration and conflict transformation skills and believe folks can be empowered to work on these practices even without formal training. I want to offer something that is approachable and easy to pick up and brings relief to those who are in conflict and don’t know where to turn. I have a background in transformative mediation, restorative justice and restorative process facilitation, group decision making facilitation, and a number of communication practices including Motivational Interviewing and NVC. I have a MA in conflict resolution. I volunteer as a mediator and conflict consultant for a number of small organizations including a local low-power radio station and roller derby league. I also offer non-court based mediation to folks by referral for free.

I appreciate your consideration and am open to feedback about this pitch if you have time and willingness to share it. Thank you.

What else have you written?

This is the only book I’ve written but I write newsletters for the organization I work at frequently as well as blog posts. I have some things on Medium.

What are you currently reading? 

Right now, I’m reading:

What’s the best book you read in the last year?

This is weirdly hard for me to answer because I have an aversion to choosing a favorite or best anything and also because of my poor sense of time but two books I really enjoyed and think I read last year are:

What’s next for you? 

Besides living, working, and trying to be part of community generally here in Rochester, NY, I’m working on some projects combining visuals / illustrations and writing. Right now I’m working on a visual guide or workbook or zine on some conflict practices, trying to turn some information into some easier to digest and use illustrations. I’m also in the early stages of collaborating with a friend in the Netherlands on visuals, maybe a book, on collaborative practices. 

Where can people find you online?

I’m not in a ton of places / spaces online but here are a few I can think of:

Any in-person events coming up soon?

Not for the book at the moment. I do a lot of in-person events related to conflict with work which you can find at our website. Hoping to do some in-person book events soon! 

From Big Idea to Book! An interview with author Jessie Kwak

This week on the People’s Guide to Publishing podcast, we sat down with Jessie L. Kwak to discuss her new book, From Big Idea to Book: Create a Writing Practice that Brings You Joy. Jessie’s an accomplished and successful writer who knows how to get creative work done. We also talked about her next book, From Dream to Reality, which is all about how to be a freelance writer (and which is funding on Kickstarter right now!).

Microcosm’s 2022 Annual Money Report (with infographics! and video!)

Wow! This year, Microcosm was Publishers Weekly’s fastest growing publisher, based on our growth of 207% between 2019 and 2021 (check out our annual reports for 2019, 2020, and 2021 for more on that wild ride)! Then in 2022, we managed to grow a further 21.3% over 2021. Simultaneously, despite this growth we remain financially solvent, currently owing $648k and owed $652k.

We published 41 new books in 2022, with 17 more coming this Spring and 17 more coming this Fall!

We’re excited to resume conventions in a few weeks with PubWest, Winter Institute, and Vegas Market.

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

[IMAGE DESCRIPTION: a graph showing two years of income by month superimposed on each other: 2021 (blue) is the lowest, with the best month hitting $400,000. 2022 (orange) had somewhat higher sales almost every month, ranging from about $300k to $450k]

This is another way of saying that we’ve been fighting burnout for three years. We opened an additional warehouse in Cleveland about two years ago, which now handles 67% of our shipments and 78% of our receiving. Our staff has tripled in three years. We are aiming to increase warehouse capacity again later this year, as it is clear that inadequate space is our greatest impediment to growth.

As you can see, the “slow months” for most publishers of January and February can be some of our busiest. And our annual returns are a staggeringly low 2.08%.

Our success continues to be based 50% on what we publish and 50% on 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. 99% of our books are evergreen, so we aren’t fighting a timer to make them burn bright before they fade away. Best of all, the practical skills and values in our books are what the world has wanted for at least the past 27 years. Probably longer. The need remains vast.

We have seven co-owners, though all profits are shared with our entire staff. In 2022 we were able to increase our budget for wages by 32%, which included a round of profit sharing in December. Because of your support, we are also able to offer health insurance and are instituting further worker benefits in 2023.

The books keep arriving from the printer, just about every day—despite these historic supply chain delays, plus labor and paper shortages at the printers! It continues to be 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 $4.2 MILLION DOLLARS, with our own publishing comprising about 57.1% of our sales:

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

UNF*CK YOUR BRAIN, which we published in 2017, is still outselling the following eighteen (or even 50) books combined by a wide margin—combined. This one title continues to comprise 10.73% of our total sales. Even if you ignore this aberrant title, it was a phenomenal year. We published 41 new books and about twice that many zines. And healthfully, 100% of the titles selling in the top 20 were published prior to 2022, meaning that they will continue to sell for years to come (and we expect our 2022 publications to shine this year).

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, including hiring new workers and 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 $4.2M, which notably includes the self-financing of our continued growth (as opposed to, say, a bank loan):

As you can see, our biggest expense is increasing inventory to fill those warehouses, followed by payroll and sales commissions.

What trends are we seeing in our patterns? What kinds of books are popular for us? Here’s a breakdown, descending by dollars, in terms of changes in sales by subject over 2021:

Where are we selling our books? Funny you should ask:

We are now mostly sold in gift shops, a major change from being primarily sold in specialty stores over the past 25 years. Bookstores now comprise about 11% of our sales, about the same as stores and charming individuals who order directly from us.

Remember: when you order directly on our website, the author’s royalties are doubled and everything left over goes into profit sharing for our entire staff!

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 three years have been difficult in myriad 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.

Weaving a magickal, worldwide web with Friday Gladheart

This week on the People’s Guide to Publishing podcast, we had the honor of interviewing Friday Gladheart, creator of The Practical Witch’s Almanac (you can pick up the 2023 almanac now!).

We had a fascinating conversation about our parallel paths—Friday put out the first almanac the same year Joe started Microcosm, and both were rooted in the early internet—and while the video didn’t record, the audio came through loud and clear. Enjoy!

Thanks, It Has Pockets! An Interview with Jess Driscoll

This week on the People’s Guide to Publishing podcast, we talked with Jess Driscoll about her sweet new book, The Magic of Pockets: Why Your Clothes Don’t Have Good Pockets and How to Fix That. We had a great conversation about traditional and underground publishing (Jess is a longtime zinester, blogger, and multi-media creator), what it was like working together (including some solid advice for coming up with and pitching a book idea), and of course our many and big feelings about pockets in clothes! Below the video, you can read the answers to some more questions Jess kindly answered for us, plus her original pitch that sold us on the book.

What inspired you to write your book?

In August 2018, I made a zine every day, and one of them was called, Thanks, it has pockets!, titled after a viral tweet about how femmes compliment each other’s clothes. It was a tiny, messy guide to how to sew pockets into your clothes, and I always thought I might go back and make it a longer zine. Then in September 2018, I visited Portland and the Microcosm store, and I immediately recognised that the zine could be a book, and it might belong on those shelves.

Jess and one of her many zines

What was it like to publish with Microcosm?

It felt like working on a project with friends. I met Elly and Joe in 2019, and it just confirmed to me that I wanted to publish a book with Microcosm. I’m a teacher in my daily life and a DIY kinda person at heart; I was already writing instructional zines. Elly was a great editor, always there with gentle nudging reminders and helpful suggestions for this first time author.

What was the submission/query process like for you?

I have been thinking about publishing since I was a teenager, so I’ve read every book and website about the querying process. But the submission guidelines on Microcosm’s website were so comprehensive and clear that I just followed them exactly. I workshopped the pitch with my two closest friends, then sent it in. I woke up the next morning to an enthusiastic acceptance!

Do you still have your original query to us? Are you willing to share it?

Yep! Here it is: 

Thanks, It Has Pockets! How to Alter Your Clothes and Cut Down Capitalism is do-it-yourself guide for sewing pockets into store-bought, pre-made clothing, the kind that never seems to come with pockets built-in. While many sewing books teach by guiding students through the construction of an entire garment, this book has a tight focus for those who don’t want to sew their whole wardrobe, who simply want to learn a skill to make life a little better. This book is a practical guide to a single alteration that makes a big difference. 

Thanks, It Has Pockets! fits among Microcosom’s DIY titles, like Fix Your Clothes, Bread of the Resistance, and Honing Your Craft.

Thanks, It Has Pockets! How to Alter Your Clothes and Cut Down Capitalism contains step-by-step instructions and line drawings to sew six simple pockets, along with suggested alterations to give the reader freedom to create exactly the pockets their wardrobe needs, while sidebar essays and lists teach a short history of pockets. All of these projects can be sewn by beginners, and most can be made by hand, no machine required.

[note: Jess’s original pitch included an annotated table of contents which was excellent but we’re not sharing it here because it’s also very long!)
A full view of the amazing, handmade Strawberry Shortcake dress Jess is wearing in the podcast video

What else have you written?

In another lifetime, I thought I might fiction, but for the last five years, my focus has been nonfiction and zines. Most of them are free to download on itch.io. This year, I started making zines on a livestream so the audience can watch me write and do layout and follow the whole process. As someone who has been blogging since 2001, I enjoy seeing works in progress as much as the finished product.

What are you currently reading? 

After a long few years of not having the attention span for books, I’ve been trying to read again. Currently, I’m in the middle of Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman and Easy Beauty by Chloé Cooper Jones, and I’m rereading Animal Farm by George Orwell because I’m teaching it.

What’s the best book you read in the last year?

Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May. I started a year ago after reading a Charlie Warzel article which referenced it. Even though Wintering was written before the pandemic, it’s the perfect pandemic book, about seasons and cycles and quiet living. I picked it back up again in the spring of 2022 and finished it, like the universe knew exactly what I needed at that moment.

What’s next for you? 

I haven’t pitched my next book yet, but I’m thinking a lot about living alone, how life changes with the seasons, and boredom. 

Where can people find you online?

Jessdriscoll.com is my website, and I write a regular newsletter, which will be the best place to connect with me going forward. I’m feeling burned out on social media (again), and I’d love nothing more than to spend the next year reading and writing and hiking rather than spending time on someone else’s platform. 

Any in-person events coming up soon?

I would love to do some events! But it just isn’t safe yet. The pandemic isn’t over. I was sick in February 2020, and this year, I’ve been dealing with a chronic fatigue like I’ve never felt before. And then I got Covid in September. But I’ve been planning some videos for my YouTube channel, and I’m available for your podcast!

We’re expanding our trade representation!

Last week we sent out a press release that began: “Microcosm Publishing is making some changes in our US trade representation, effective Jan 1, 2023.” 

For the uninitiated in the publishing industry, this means that we will be working with a broader array of outside salespeople to get our books into bookstores (aka “the [book] trade”). Most publishers of our size (probably best described at this time as on the smaller end of “medium-sized”) work with a large trade distributor to get their books into bookstores. Microcosm has worked with several distributors on and off in the last 28 years, until the beginning of 2019 when we announced our return to independent distribution (which also ended our relationship with a certain giant online retailer). Since then, we’ve been working with three different independent groups of trade sales reps who really get our books, have relationships with bookstores across the US, and have done a stellar job connecting our books with those stores and their buyers.

As we grow and learn what works best, we’re making a few changes in this trade representation:

Abraham Associates will now represent Microcosm’s titles in the midwest US, including Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

Bob Barnett (PW’s Rep of the Year for 2020) at Third Act Sales will represent Microcosm in Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana. 

Imprint Group (which is merging with our existing rep group, the former Book Travelers West—the head of which, Kurtis Lowe, was PW’s 2022 rep of the year) will continue to represent Microcosm in the western US.

Como Sales Co. (group head Maureen Karb was nominated for PW Rep of the Year in 2020) will continue to represent Microcosm’s books in the eastern and southeast US.

Microcosm has been an independent publisher since 1996, and was named the fastest growing publisher of 2022 by Publisher’s Weekly. Microcosm’s year-to-date sales are up 37%. 

Microcosm CEO Joe Biel commented, “We are thrilled to continue to expand our reach with these new sales reps, in order to create a world we want to live in and for everyone pushed to the margins to help themselves feel recognized.”

Abraham Associates Principal John Mesjak said, “Everyone in our group is excited to get started working with Microcosm, talking up their books in our territory. We’re always looking for publishers who bring interesting, passionate voices to the world; present a worldview that aligns with our own; and have a crew of smart publishing folks that we can work with. We love that all three of those boxes are ticked in Microcosm, and we can’t wait to get started!”

Microcosm is the distributor for Birdcage Bottom Books, Don Giovanni Records, and GOBLINKO, whose books will also be sold to stores by these groups.

Born to Be Weird: An interview with Set Sytes

On this week’s People’s Guide to Publishing podcast, we’re joined by author Set Sytes, whose collection of wry horror short stories Born to Be Weird is out now, joining his underground hit How Not to Kill Yourself and a host of other books.

Set joined us from his home in York, England to talk about creativity, depression, the differences between self-publishing and traditional publishing, the editorial process, and the life saving power of imagination.

Do half of all new books sell less than 12 per year?

This week on the People’s Guide to Publishing podcast, Joe and Elly tackle a bit of viral misinformation that’s making the rounds: The myth that more than half of new books by major publishers sell less than a dozen copies a year. (The first comment on this newsletter, from someone at NPD Bookscan laying out actual stats, is our primary source.) Don’t get us wrong, the numbers for most books put out by the biggest publishers are astonishingly bleak. But not that astonishingly bleak.