Tagged business of publishing

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: How to Write a P&L statement

This is the ninth post in our ongoing Business of Publishing series. This edition tackles an important but more advanced question, “how much can I afford to spend on the book that I am publishing?”

While, on the surface, any answer to a question like this seems to be built from a steady diet of bullshit, books are remarkably consistent. Unlike cookies or soft drinks, most books are not branded. A book from a major house sits next to your book and others from indie presses. If you’ve successfully developed your book, you are providing each reader with enough information to make a choice based on their own experiences, observations, and tastes.

Let’s begin! For those following along at home, I’ve created this spreadsheet that you can download or duplicate and edit. And as you’ll see, there are fairly predictable formulas for everything.

Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 2.09.41 PM

The upper left hand corner begins with the title, author, and book’s release season. Lines 5 and 6 include retail prices for each format. If you’re doing a hardcover, you’d include that as well. Lines 9 and 10 list the author’s royalty by format as well as any advance payment that they receive. Traditionally this advance is your projected first two years of royalties paid in advance.

Line 13 is income from selling film or translation rights or foreign territory rights but it’s best not to plan for this in advance since even commitments can fall apart as the licensee changes their plans.

Beginning in column D, lines 4-5 predict what will likely be the sales in bookstores as well as returns and revenues. These numbers are based on your comparable titles and their selling habits. It’s best to be conservative here so that your expectations are reasonable and you aren’t shocked when you see your actual sales and returns.

Lines 7-8 predict similar sales in the direct market, which would include sales at your own events, via your own website, to non-trade stores that buy non-returnable, and books sold to the author. Again, these numbers should be conservative and based on figures in reality that you are seeing elsewhere.

Scooting over to column I, we’re looking at the publisher’s expenses for putting the book together from editorial to production to licensing to eBook conversion to paper, printing, and binding costs. Fiddle with these numbers to see what you can afford for a project before committing with an author.

Next, back on column D and lines 12-16, we’re looking at sales minus returns minus development costs minus author royalties. This will tell you what your gross profit is.

Next, we subtract operating costs (“the bottom line”), like rent, staff, telephones, envelopes, warehousing, etc. These should comprise every expense that you’ll have to pay for even if you don’t work on a book during a given month. Subtracting your gross profit from your bottom line will tell you how much actual profit the publisher is earning from each book. In this example, it’s less than $62. This example represents the most statistically likely outcome for a book like this. Publishing is about volume so to make up for these low returns, you can either produce tons and tons of books (called a “paper mill” in the industry”) or land a few heavy hitters every year. Your choice, kind of.

Another vital part of the P&L is to evaluate a year or two later how well the book did against expectations. If a book does not sell as well as expected, it’s important to figure out why. Was tons of new competition added? Did interest in the subject fade away? Was it revealed that the author’s cure for cancer was actually bogus and their credibility tanked? Was there a major developmental error in the cover/title/subtitle that confused readers about what the book offered or how it was unique? Answer these questions. Similarly, if a book did better than expected, it’s similarly important to figure out why and repeat these events with other titles.

Alternately, to demonstrate how these traditional contracts still benefit the author, I showed an alternate royalty model where the author takes 50% of the profit. But as you can see, comparing cell G29 to G15, 8% of the cover price ends up being more than 50% of gross profit in most cases until you really land a bestseller.

Due to Amazon’s immense marketing budget and campaign to convince authors that publishers are greedy and obsolete, many authors don’t understand why the traditional 4-8% paperback royalty is still much more in their favor than self-publishing on Kindle and CreateSpace so I’ve made a chart for that too.

publishingmode

 

Am I Stealing Your Art?: An Infographic

Microcosm Chainring Heart logoWe’ve been lucky enough to have a few designs in our catalog so popular that they get rampantly bootlegged. The most-stolen designs also happen to be our most popular, including Microcosm’s logo, the chainring heart, as well as Joe Biel’s iconic bicycle designs Put the Fun Between Your Legs and, the most popular of them all, Evolution.

When someone uses these images without our permission, they don’t always realize that they’re stealing. In reality, it’s pretty much the same thing as if they came into our store and walked out with a bunch of books without paying. We spend a lot of time laying it out for folks, and so we were stoked to find Portland designer Erika Schnatz‘s infographics about the topic. She’s created the clearest visual explanation we’ve ever seen of how you know what you can use and when, and how to register your own copyrights.

Erika kindly gave us permission to post her explanation of fair use (which answers the question: “Is it ok to use this thing I didn’t design?”) here. See it below! You can also download an interactive pdf and see her other copyright flow charts as well as her diverse other design work (and hire her!) at right here at her website.
Fair Use and Copyright Infographic by Erika Schnatz

damaged box

This is What Happens When You Drop a Pallet of Books

When the truck arrived Monday to drop off Manor Threat, the much-anticipated new Snake Pit book, we were excited. New books set off a whole chain of reactions around the office, from smelling them and flipping through the pages and checking the spines and the colors to sending them off to reviewers and customers who’ve pre-ordered them, to updating various spreadsheets and things on our website and social media. This book was running four days late, so we were all extra ready, and people were already starting to walk into the store wanting to buy it.

So imagine the general dismay when Nathan opened up the pallet and found a bunch of the boxes looking like, well, see below. You can imagine that the freshly-printed books inside are not exactly in mint condition, either.

The truck had already driven away. But it was immediately clear what had happened during those four extra days of transit: The pallet had been dropped on its side, possibly from a height, and then strategically repacked with the damaged boxes on the inside of the stack, where they couldn’t be seen without unwrapping and unloading the whole thing. Very canny!

At any rate, there’s your snapshot of a day in the life of book publishing. It’s not all power lunches and polishing sentence structures to a high sheen… in fact, very little of it is. Most of our work honestly consists of dealing with stuff like this. The dreaded dropped-and-repacked pallet scenario has certainly happened before and will likely happen again. The worst part was holding the book an extra few days while we documented the damage and negotiated with the freight company. It throws a wrench in everyone’s work flow.

The good news? Most of the books weren’t damaged, and our shipping team is in the process of getting everyone’s pre-orders out the door this weekend. And the book… if we do say so ourselves, it came out looking really great. If you want your copy asap, you can snag it right here.

Thanks for joining us on this journey through the wonderful world of publishing!

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.

20 Years of Good Trouble: An interview with Microcosm founder Joe Biel

good trouble book coverMeet Joe! He is Microcosm’s founder, first employee, and author of our next release, Good Trouble: Building a Successful Life and Business with Asperger’s. I haven’t interviewed Joe previously for this series because, well, for one thing he is super busy filling out forms and putting out fires. And for another thing, he’s the boss, and it doesn’t seem entirely serious to ask your boss what his favorite snacks are. But then I figured that if we are too serious to talk about snacks, then we should probably take ourselves less seriously. And there’s a new book to tell you about. So, here it is, a bunch of questions for Joe!

1. You wrote this amazing book, Good Trouble, that tells your story and the story of Microcosm. Working with you, I’ve learned that you’re cautious about accepting memoirs. What’s the difference between a memoir worth publishing and one that isn’t, and how does your book suit the bill? Why did you decide to write the book?

iced tea and microcosm logo​Thank you. I would like to believe that I’m cautious about everything but most of the rest of the staff would probably disagree. ​In prehistoric times, a memoir was simply a story. If we’re using marketing terms, a memoir could simply be a nonfiction novel. But a novel has a narrative, characters, plot, a theme, and an arc. Many writers don’t engage the reader as a stakeholder in their writing and many of the memoirs that are submitted to us are expected to be published on the grounds that they have been written. For a memoir to work, it needs to have all of those components and have a clear concept of what it is, who it is for, and how it is different from the pack. My book is for would-be publishers, young adult Aspies, Microcosm fans, and people who want to start businesses. There needs to be at least 5,000 of these people out there and we need to know how to reach them.  I am too close to the work to tell you if mine succeeds but thankfully everyone who I have heard from so far has enjoyed it immensely so I am thankful that I have good editors and that I put so many hours into it.

joe ruby and elly on brompton bicyclesI started working on this book about six years ago before I knew how the story would end. I had just been diagnosed with Asperger’s but I didn’t yet know what was next in the narrative. I actually thought that this book would make more sense with a more traditional publishing house but the staff at Microcosm pushed me to do it for our 20th anniversary and my economic sense got the best of me, since I would earn more publishing it with Microcosm and I wouldn’t suffer the fate of my last book where it was picked up by multiple publishers before they either dropped it or went out of business. I’m really proud of the results and I think that mostly speaks to the presence and clarity I’ve developed around events in my own life largely as a result of writing the book.

2. In your book, you come out to the whole world as having been diagnosed with Asperger’s as an adult. What’s it like to come out with this and tell the world? Were you nervous? How have people responded so far?

joe-dave-fuckpit

​I kept my diagnosis a secret for six years because I had been bullied so badly both as a child and as I began to attempt to privately come out to people after my diagnosis. Those experiences gave me a very different way of seeing the communities that I had been involved closely with for almost my entire life—as a whole they did not want to embrace the analytical skills necessary to understand what my diagnosis meant and how that it had affected my ability to perceive situations across my whole life. Asperger’s is really traumatic because you are constantly in a social dynamic where you are accidentally offending and upsetting people and you don’t understand why. Obviously, the biggest solution is the cognitive training to mimic the social skills and empathy of neurotypicals but that would have been much smoother if my scene had been at least willing to incorporate my disability into understanding what I was going through. Ironically, people that I have told outside of the punk or zine scenes have generally been really supportive and understanding and it has lead to great conversations and finding other Aspies. Telling my story publicly has been really important because people no longer will deny my experience in the way that they have been when I tried and come out to them one on one.

3. Please share some favorites: Your favorite snacks, favorite hobby, favorite place in Portland, favorite place not in Portland, favorite Microcosm book, favorite non-Microcosm book.

joe with cdMy favorite snacks are Beanitos and various fruits.

My favorite hobbies are to 1) sort my pills and 2) have a relatively scheduled but somewhat free hour or two to drop into places that I don’t get to see often enough. ​

I love the Avalon Wunderland in Portland because it’s stuck in time as the whole city is changing and the dysfunctional aspects of the place take decades to work out. Other favorite places are Extreme Noise in Minneapolis and Muddy Waters in San Francisco. They both tie to important times in my life and again their unchanging nature is refreshing in 2016.

I had to think long and hard about this but I think my favorite Microcosm book is Firebrandsthe reason is complex. It’s mostly because I didn’t do any of the work on the book so I got to enjoy it as a reader first and foremost. While it looks like it is gallery guide or something, I stand by the art and writing six years later. It’s very much an emotional rollercoaster and completely inspires me to this day. The stories in it told me that there is so much more life to be lived when I felt like I had been everywhere and done everything.

I think my favorite non-Microcosm book is Jon Ronson’s Them because it encapsulates what I think my life would look like if my upbringing had been more supportive and privileged: doing on-site humorous reporting about fringe weird shit all over the globe without handing the punchlines to the reader.

4. Are you ready for the next 20 years? What’s the plan? When you think about celebrating 40 years, what do you see?

grinning cyclistsAs I wrote on the Powell’s blog story, I feel like it is now the era of the small press. That is partly because we are much more in touch with what our readers actually want from us and also partially because we are able to adapt much more easily and quickly. I really enjoy how the publishing industry has changed and that’s where I differ from most of my peers. I feel like it gave me a new game to learn and become proficient at. Title development will become increasingly important and thus increasingly refined at Microcosm. Data will inform our best practices.

Microcosm spent several years trying to find a mentor, a business that was larger than us but still independent without being owned by investment bankers. We found only one company so  far that fits this bill, which is disheartening. But for me this is a better reason to succeed on our own terms and these are the kinds of things that motivate me. I would guess that our backlist will more than double in the next 20 years and we’ll have produced about 800 original books by our 40th. ​

One important area where we are changing is no longer relying on one book each year to be a fly-away bestseller. Instead, we are much more comfortable expecting each book selling 3,000-5,000 copies and if one does better than that, we know how to handle it but we aren’t reliant upon it like we were in 2009.

I now organize our cash flow a year in advance and budget that far ahead as well. It prevents a lot of stress and hair loss.

Anything else I should ask?

omaha bicycle company storefrontBefore my diagnosis, I suspect that ​I’ve been hard to work with over the first fourteen years. A lot of people have done a lot of work around here and I don’t feel they get acknowledged enough. Nate Beaty has been programming our databases and website since 2002 and created a lot of our data-driven systems. He is probably the only reason that Microcosm was organized enough to exist past 2007. But more importantly, we were able to work together on creating tools that allowed individuals to make informed decisions without having to pull out giant file stacks and dig out records. Nate has created enough that Microcosm staff can be informed every day about what best practices are.

​It’s been really neat to see the Aspies come out of the woodwork and how many old Microcosm fans reappear ​for the anniversary. They all have really great stories and, Buddy Hershey, the oldest customer that I know of who still orders, sent me a really sweet gift for the occasion. Because of my Asperger’s my life has mostly been solitary and as much as I have picked up social skills in the last decade I mostly think back to the times that I was alone as the happiest so it’s nice to create a new narrative where I can be happy and around other people at the same time.

This has been an interview with Microcosm founder Joe Biel. Read more in his new book, Good Trouble.

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: What to Expect When Submitting Your Work

submitting your writingI wrote a book that I, personally, absolutely loved and felt like it represented everything about me as a person and as a writer. I submitted the hell out of that manuscript. After 68 rejections (too personal, too raw, too dark, too taboo, etc.), I just put the manuscript away and worked on other books. Two years later, I submitted an essay to a contest. The editor loved my essay (which won!), and emailed me asking if I had a manuscript. The one I was working on at that time wasn’t ready yet. I remembered the first book I wrote—the one I loved, the one that defined who I was when I wrote it. I thought, “What the hell? Why not send it?”. I sent it. She loved it. Nine months later it was published. I had found the right editor at the right time and presented to her the right manuscript, and behold! Most of the time that is how publication works. So submit away and keep submitting post-rejection! Your work is always one submission away from acceptance.

797 is a model of Boeing airplane. It is also the number of rejections that I’ve received over the past five years. During that time I’ve submitted my writing for publication 1,380 times. That’s a lot of Nos, a lot of Unfortunatelys, a lot of We appreciate the chance to read your work, howevers. And that’s okay. Rejection is a part of publication. Of course, even after we accept that, it doesn’t mean that rejections don’t hurt our feelings—especially if we’re totally in love with the publisher that we submitted to. Fortunately, rejection is not a death sentence and doesn’t have to be a confidence cut-down or a personal attack on the writer’s self-worth. Rejection is merely someone saying, “Not quite, but keep trying.” In many cases, the only problem is that the submission is simply not right for that press or publication.

I have been keeping track of the submission process and statistics from the results through the past five years. 


Total Submissions: 1,380

Acceptances: 121 (9%) (4 of which were books)

Rejections: 797 (57%)

Withdraws: 430 (31%)

Still under consideration: 32 (3%)


Only about 10% of my total submissions were accepted. There is no “normal” or “average” here as every genre or market is a bit different, but it seemed relevant to share here because writers tend to get so distraught after a few rejections and give up. Having a larger set of data over a longer period of time offers a much greater opportunity for creating perspective.

I’ve edited for a number of journals and magazines, and I have always hated sending rejections. It’s never a fun thing to do, especially if you really love the piece and believe in it, but you just published something exactly like it, or the story is good but the writing’s not, or vice versa, or if it’s an awesome piece but just doesn’t fit within the scope of what the journal or publisher promotes and represents. There are as many reasons as to why a piece is rejected as there are the number of pieces rejected.

This can seem devastating. Or discouraging. Or just flat-out shitty. So what, as writers, can we do to survive the rejections and keep our writing and self-confidence alive?

·   Do not try to argue your piece into publication. The manuscript itself is your argument. If you submitted and got rejected, don’t be personally offended by the rejection and feel like you have to fight for your manuscript or argue with the editor or publisher that they really have to publish this! If the publisher said no, it’s because s/he is saying no to the work you presented, not to you personally. If you think the publisher maybe didn’t get what you were trying to do in your piece and so you feel like you need to argue with her/him to get your point across, then what you really need to do is revise the way that you present your manuscript. The cover letter and work itself should make your best argument.

·   You are not your work. Yes, you might write really personal pieces and it can feel like your writing is yourself, but writing is a craft. Writing is a job. Do you define yourself solely on the job that you have? You are more than a job. You are a writer—but the actual writing is not you.

·   Say you wrote a kickass zine about how to knit cell phone cases using recycled materials. That’s great! But if there are dozens of other zines about how to knit computer cases using recycled materials, then your zine may not be needed or appreciated as much. It doesn’t mean your work sucks, it just means fate didn’t help you out on that one, and so off to another outlet or project you shall go to see if they, too, not only love your zine, but are looking for something along the lines of what you have to offer.

·   Rejection means that someone is reading. Regardless of what the response to your writing is, isn’t it kinda neat that someone is reading and considering your work in the first place? Writing is a lonely field, so even a rejection is a connection.

·   Multiple rejections are encouragement to work more on your piece. Even though you might love your writing, it may keep getting rejected all over the place. That just means that there’s probably something about it that’s not quite working or you are not reaching the right outlet. Set it aside. Work on something else for a bit. Come back to it. Rejection is feedback. Listen to it.

·   The fact that you’re even submitting—hell, that you’re even writing—is pretty fantastic! Remember that.

·   Also remember that you won’t ever get anything published if you don’t submit it. Post-rejection, revise if needed and keep submitting! To come full-circle: rejection is a part of the publication process, just like submitting, just like waiting, just like writing. Keep at it. Always.

Chelsey Clammer is a creative nonfiction writer in Minneapolis building a diverse and prolific body of work while utilizing the power of spreadsheets and metrics.

 

Daily Cosmonaut #12: Making What’s Familiar vs Making What You Want.

Stamping our logo on a piece of paperIn 2014 at the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association (PNBA) trade show, as Microcosm was debuting Erik Spellmeyer and Jamie Floyd’s Brew It Yourself: Professional Craft Blueprints for Home Brewing. A woman came up to us excitedly, saying, this is exactly what my customers want, something that tells you how to design your own beers rather than how to recreate a popular beer recipe at home. “Great!” I exclaimed. Many other store buyers echoed these sentiments.

Admittedly, I had never given the issue much thought. Microcosm had distributed a series of very successful zines about how to make your own beers but they had been focused around how to save money or how to use beer as a fundraiser or how to make very simple alcohol in your cupboard without any experience. When Erik started working in sales at Microcosm, he was an experienced brewer after his years working at Ninkasi. He had more technical knowledge about fermentation and brewing than anyone else at Microcosm so he reviewed the zine that we were about to republish. He called me, concerned.

“Joe, we can’t publish this. There’s a lot of information that’s incorrect. It’s just not…coherent. I should just talk to [Ninkasi founder] Jamie Floyd and we’ll write a new book.”

It was a good idea so I accepted. What I hadn’t counted on was just how many books existed about how to brew beer and how many of those were “official” books from a certain brewery or another. Ours was the only book that was designed to give the reader the necessary information to design the kind of beers they wanted based on their tastes. And I realized in that moment at PNBA that a vital aspect of Microcosm’s mission had always been to give readers enough information for them to make the choices about what they wanted instead of replicating their favorite familiar flavors.

Daily Cosmonaut #11: Looking Successful vs Being Successful

Microcosm tabling setupIn 2007 while Microcosm was at the Bay Area Anarchist Book Fair, a couple approached our table during the last hour minutes of the final day. They pawed around through our displays for a few minutes and then, looking concerned, before finally asking “Hard times, huh?”

It took me a few minutes to figure out if I was more confused or offended at that assessment. How could they know. Ironically, 2006 had been Microcosm’s most successful year to date and sales had grown 20-50% each year. They offered me $1 for an $8 paperback and I declined. They explained that they were looking for a publisher for their own book but clearly we were in not qualified.

I stewed on their words and then steamed on how it was insulting. Before long I realized that the problem was that they had no appreciation for our grassroots approach or the economy of not having an elaborate stage-show of a booth. From talking to them, success was implied by Porsches and diamond rings, fancy displays and prestigious awards. Microcosm had always been focused on saving time and money by ignoring award submissions, finding event displays in the trash, and investing the savings into our mission and staff salaries. But it takes a certain kind of person to understand interpret that, let alone appreciate it.

 

It’s our inherent punk rock nature that communicates these values to a peer. But this experience at the book fair was the first time that someone vocally interpreted it to me as an outward sign of failure or cutbacks.

Within a few hours my pride was restored as I realized that this was what I wanted to project. This is who are we are in a genuine sense and what the world should know about this. Of course not everyone will understand but then again we aren’t Penguin Random House. And that is true for every reason.