Tagged business of publishing

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.

How do you publicize your book?

Today on the People’s Guide to Publishing podcast, Joe and Elly talk about that sticky question of how to get the word out about your book.

How do you talk concisely and compellingly about this thing you’ve written that’s so complex and meaningful to you? We tackle the myths, the mayhem, and the meltdowns and hopefully leave you with some good perspectives and advice for going out there and telling people about the book you’ve written or published.

How to Pack for an Event

This week on the People’s Guide to Publishing podcast, we answer a reader question about one of our favorite topics: selling books at events! Joe and Elly are joined partway through the episode by surprise special guest Jess Driscoll, who came into the stream early for our interview with her about her new book, The Magic of Pockets. She brought her many years of experience with selling at zine fests and farmers markets to the conversation and we all learned a lot and had fun remembering events of yore and making plans for an eventful post-pandemic future.

Do Cowbots Get Blue Balls? An interview with S. Park

S. Park’s new short story collection, Even Cowbots Get Blue Balls, is part of our Queering Consent erotica series. He’s as prolific in turning in polished copy as any editor could dream of, and we’ve also published a series of short-story zines by him, with more books and zines in the works. We spoke with him for our latest episode of the People’s Guide to Publishing podcast, and he was kind enough to answer some written interview questions below.

What inspired you to write your book?

As it’s a collection of five stories, there were five different inspirations! Overall, though, given the book’s theme of loving the “other” my own thoughts and feelings about queer identities had a large impact. The mainstream likes to make their villains and their monsters queer for a reason, and while I think fighting back against that is a valid response, embracing it is as well. If you tell me that a man loving another man is monstrous, then how about a man loving a demon? A robot? A vampire? If you are going to be horrified by how strange and alien my love is, then I might as well go all the way and be as strange, monstrous, and horrifying as possible! And yet in this collection especially once you read the stories, they’re not horrifying at all. They’re consenting people who care about each other finding ways to bridge divides that vary from two princes, one of whom merely happens to be a fairy, to a human being who’s meant to slay demons instead finding pleasure with one.

What was it like to publish with Microcosm?

It’s been pretty smooth sailing so far. I’ve been lucky to work with an editor whose style and approach suits me pretty perfectly, and my prior experience with other small presses meant that nothing in the process was a shock, though I was mildly surprised when I found out there was a “marketing team” (Microcosm is by far the largest publisher I have worked with, several have been single individuals running “basement” passion projects!) and that said team wanted to change my book’s title to be more provocative. I can’t help my continuing urge to point out that the cowboy is the human and the robot is the city-slicker in the story in question, but I will admit that Even Cowbots Get Blue Balls is both more memorable, and gives more of a clue to the steamy nature of the contents than The Only Chance Inn does!

What was the submission/query process like for you?

I was incredibly lucky to be able to compress that process, due to knowing my editor Lydia personally before submitting to Microcosm. They had read a number of my fanfiction stories, so when their work on the Queering Consent series came up in conversation, they already knew that I wrote the sorts of things that would fit well under that label.

What else have you written?

I write a lot! I’ve written millions of words of fanfiction across fandoms from the silly to the obscure to the incredibly horny. (My Little Pony, The Chronicles of Amber, and Hades the video game, to name one in each category!) I’ve also published a few previous books, ranging from erotic romance (The Sacrifice, published by JMS Books under my previous pen name of Stephanie Park is probably the best of those) to post-apocalyptic fantasy adventure featuring vampires (Blood Choice, a book originally published by the Austrialian Jaffa Books, alas now defunct, but that was picked up by Thurston Howl Press, and is still available through them.) I’ve also had quite a few short stories in assorted anthologies, and I even self-publish some zines on my own.  I am constantly full of thoughts and ideas, and I can’t help but have some of them come out as stories!

What are you currently reading? 

I have a stack by my bed that includes Flipping by R. Lee Fryar, which I’m only about a third of the way through but which is an interesting world where ghosts depend on their haunted houses to continue to exist as ghosts, so of course a flipper messing with this ghost’s house isn’t going to go over well! I’m also slowly working my way through Antifa Splatterpunk, an anthology from Cursed Morsels which is fascinating reading but which I find I have to take a small chunk at a time, as it’s intense, and Your Body is Not Your Body, a trans-themed horror collection from Tenebrous Press with much the same problem. And I just started—as a pleasant break from those—Trans-Galactic Bike Ride, from a publisher called Microcosm, you might have heard of them! In non-fiction I am reading War Before Civilization by Lawrence H. Keely which is a stellar book and an amazing look into the fundamentals of human nature as relates to violent conflict, “civilized” or not.

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

I write more than I read these days, which is probably a failing of some kind or other. I would probably have to say Nettle and Bone by T. Kingfisher, which falls short of being perfect by about one millimeter.  Said millimeter being that I think the male “hero” character was actually unnecessary and could have been written out entirely, though I understand why he got put in and why he wasn’t written out.  Sometimes “good enough” is good enough, and oh WOW is this a “good enough” book! More than good enough, it has everything I could ever want in a dark fairy tale world, including perhaps my favorite fairy godmother of all time.

What’s next for you? 

More of whatever inspires me, which could be anything, but also definitely more of the same. I adore writing queer relationships, happy sex, and strange, inhuman beings who maybe turn out to be awfully human after all, and I’ve already pitched and had accepted another collection of similar stories to Microcosm, not to mention the direct sequels to several stories in the Cowbots book that are in the works as well! So there are many steamy, consensual, kinky, queer, and monster-loving tales to come. I’m also enjoying self-publishing a zine series of queer horror stories, in which queer people aren’t the real monsters, bigots are, and the queer “monsters” get bloodily satisfying revenge.  So if, for example, a trans man being able to summon a demon to send after the cis transphobe who assaulted him sounds like a fun time, those might be up your alley.

Where can people find you online?

On rare occasion when I have coherent thoughts, I blog on Dreamwidth at bladespark.dreamwidth.org but I’m most active on twitter @bladespark, where you can see my every little hummingbird notion, and also quite a lot of NSFW artwork, craft projects, and so on. I also have my self-published zines on Etsy (sparkcreatures) and in digital format on itch.io (bladespark).

Any in-person events coming up soon?

No dates yet, but I will eventually have a book signing at As You Like it in Eugene, Oregon. Their event room is unfortunately out of order, but I’m promised I’ll be booked in after they have it repaired, and I’m quite looking forward to it.

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.

The economic theories behind our publishing

This week on the People’s Guide to Publishing podcast, Joe and Elly entertain a reader question about the economic theories behind how we run Microcosm. Neither one of us is an economist, though we do sometimes play one on the internet. So this question kind of caught us off guard. But we have fun dredging the depths of our brains for the very serious reading of our youths that made a lasting impression.