Monthly Archives: February 2024

Why Does Publishing Create So Much Waste (and what can we do)? (A People’s Guide to Publishing)

Largely due to consumer preference and obstinate legacy behaviors, the world of book publishing still operates on the same model from the 1800s. Mass production creates overprinting, and the ship and return model creates damaged books that don’t have anywhere to go. This week, we take a look at how that happened and what publishers can do about it!

Get the People’s Guide to Publishing here, and the workbook here!
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Joe Biel awarded PubWest Innovator 2024 by Andrea Fleck-Nisbet (A People’s Guide to Publishing)

In February 2024, in Maricopa, AZ, IBPA’s CEO Andrea Fleck-Nisbet awarded the PubWest Innovator Award to Microcosm Publishing Founder and CEO Joe Biel for “Reimagining what publishing can or should be” and “Exceptional efforts to develop new skills that expand publishing into the future.” Here is Fleck-Nisbet’s speech and Biel’s Q&A period from the awards ceremony.

Get the People’s Guide to Publishing here, and the workbook here!
Want to stay up to date on new podcast episodes and happenings at Microcosm? Subscribe to our newsletter!

The History of Microcosm in 10 Books

Essential titles for understanding who we are, what we do, and why we do it

Some of these books hold the key to the Microcosm ethos; others are books that marked a turning point or opened significant doors for our publishing operation. Each is a damn good read selected by Elly for your reading, learning, and DIY-ing pleasure. Shop the collection or read on to learn more about the role each has played in the life of Microcosm!

Making Stuff and Doing Things: DIY Guides to Just About Everything by Kyle Bravo
When Tree of Knowledge folded their publishing operation in 1996, this was one of the first books we published and still one of our perennial bestsellers. 28 years later, this cut-and-paste zine-style compilation of how-to guides on subjects ranging from crafts to health to community is still capturing imaginations and turning 20-somethings away from consumer culture.

Make a Zine: Start Your Own Underground Publishing Revolution by Bill Brent and Joe Biel
The late, great Bill Brent started this guide to the ultimate, original form of self-publishing. Brent invited a young Joe Biel to be involved with the project as a way to appeal to younger readers. As zine popularity waxes and wanes, so does this little book, now in its fourth edition and almost completely rewritten for modern times. Is there anything more punk than putting out a zine?

Make Your Place: Affordable, Sustainable Nesting Skills by Raleigh Briggs
This friendly, handwritten book came out in 2007. In 2008, just as the recession hit, it got a bunch of great blog write-ups and sold thousands of copies overnight. It was our bestseller by a mile until Dr. Faith came along.

Henry & Glenn Forever & Ever: Ridiculously Complete Edition by Tom Neely and Friends
This little comic began as a joke scribbled by cartoonists on napkins in a bar. We never sought out a lick of publicity for this book, but it quickly went viral and has escalated from there into more comics and much astonished laughter. If you get it, you get it.

Bikenomics: How Bicycling Can Save the Economy by Elly Blue
We’ve long published books about bikes, starting with the iconic Chainbreaker. Elly Blue wrote Bikenomics for Microcosm in 2012 and then got hired three years later, proving that you actually can leverage writing into making a living, sort of. Elly Blue Books and Microcosm merged companies in 2015, and we continue to publish feminist bicycle books and zines today.

Good Trouble: Building a Successful Life and Business with Autism by Joe Biel
Joe Biel’s honest, earnest, and sometimes harrowing memoir from 2016 also tells the story of Microcosm. Its publication deliberately marked a transition to new era and new culture for the company, in which we grew up and professionalized a bit while holding on tight to our values and spirit.

Unfuck Your Brain: Using Science to Get Over Anxiety, Depression, Anger, Freak-outs, and Triggers by Dr. Faith G. Harper
Dr. Faith appeared in our office one day in 2015 with what looked like notes for a powerpoint presentation called “Your Brain Is an Asshole.” Over the course of the next hour and a half, we developed it into the seed of a book (and series, and line of books by other authors about mental health and healthy relationships) that’s changed millions of lives around the world.

A People’s Guide to Publishing: Building a Successful, Sustainable, Meaningful Book Business From the Ground Up by Joe Biel
We made Joe sit down and write notes on everything learned about publishing in over the last quarter century, primarily so we could unlock that knowledge for ourselves. This one caused the book industry to really take notice of the work Microcosm has been doing, and, more important, has helped countless new publishers get their start.

The Practical Witch’s Almanac by Friday Gladheart
Around 2017, we had a salesperson on staff who discovered that witchy stores really, really like to buy books, so we started looking for witchy books to publish. Our turning point was meeting Friday Gladheart, who began publishing her almanacs the same year Microcosm started. It only took us 20 years to find each other. We started out distributing her 2018 almanac and became her publisher in 2019—the 2025 edition is now available for preorder!

How to Resist Amazon and Why: The Fight for Local Economics, Data Privacy, Fair Labor, Independent Bookstores, and a People-Powered Future! by Danny Caine
Danny Caine, owner of The Raven Book Store in Lawrence, KS, started publishing this zine during the height of the pandemic. Our publicist at the time found it on social media and reached out to see if Danny wanted a hand with production and distribution. We helped free up his bookstore team from stapling zines in their back office so they could focus on other groundbreaking initiatives, while we were able to help bring this ray of resistance to indie bookstores around the world.

Cat Party!: Cats We’ve Known in Words and Pictures

The cats in our lives are always close to our hearts, whether they’re napping in a sunbeam, demanding pets and treats, playfully attacking our shoelaces, or haughtily ignoring us. From joy, whimsy, and coziness to nostalgia and loss, these diverse images, comics, and real-life stories span the emotional highs and lows of a life shared with cats and kittens (and, in one case, collectible cat figurines). The many ways of felines are chronicled here in over 50 multimedia contributions, compiled from the first 10 issues of the Cat Party zine along with some new content just for this book. Editor Katie Haegele drew inspiration from the readers of her book Cats I’ve Known, who wanted to tell the stories of the cats that had touched their own lives. The result is like a series of conversations and encounters with a panoply of some of the most relatable people on the planet: cat people.

These cat people include Quimby’s Bookstore founder Steven Svymbersky, cartoonist and performance artist Dame Darcy, punk legend Joe Genaro (Joe Jack Talcum of The Dead Milkmen), Microcosm founder Joe Biel, comics artist Mardou, Defectivepudding, Heidi Moreno (Heidiroo), Justin Duerr, Vanessa Berry, and many more artists, writers, musicians, homebodies, dreamers, and close observers of the world.

Bookstore Solidarity! Josh Christie of Print: A Bookstore (A People’s Guide to Publishing)

Print: A Bookstore has been a triumphant, bright light in envisioning what a bookstore could be. Both as a brick and mortar that is a champion for information and reading, but also holding up its staff and creating entertaining skit videos with its staff! This week on the pod, we feature co-owner Josh Christie about the store in our ongoing Bookstore Solidarity project!

Check out Josh’s interview on the blog here.

Get the People’s Guide to Publishing here, and the workbook here!
Want to stay up to date on new podcast episodes and happenings at Microcosm? Subscribe to our newsletter!

Weird Music That Goes on Forever: A Punk’s Guide to Loving Jazz

Once you’ve collected every 7″ from your favorite label, broken your back in the mosh pit, and become so well-versed in the interpersonal dynamics of every hardcore band that there’s nothing more to learn, what’s a punk to do? Try jazz, recommends Bob Suren. No, really. Suren, who wrote Crate Digger about his life and work in punk, turns his obsessive gaze onto another form of rebellious, improvisational outsider music, but this time with more sax.

What does Dixieland have in common with D.R.I.? Did Charles Mingus write the first punk song? And who was the Butthole Surfer of jazz? Suren answers these questions and many more. Reading his irreverent guide to jazz, filled with punk references and colorful language, is more fun than getting arrested for vandalism. Learn about the surprising history and scandalous etymology of jazz, explore its connections to punk, and take in biographical sketches of over 25 notable artists—with plenty of recommendations thrown in for your listening pleasure.

Joe got an award!

This past week, Joe and Elly attended the annual PubWest conference in Maricopa, AZ.

Surprise! Joe was announced as the winner of the Innovator Award for “Reimagining what publishing can or should be” and “Exceptional efforts to develop new skills that expand publishing into the future.”

Here is Andrea Fleck-Nisbet’s speech and Joe’s Q&A period from the awards ceremony.

Congrats, Joe! We think you’re pretty great too.

An Interview with Karen Finlay, owner of Alibi Bookshop in Vallejo, California

Welcome to the next installment of the Bookstore Solidarity Project! Every month, we’ll be highlighting indie bookstore owners and booksellers across the country. This month, we’re featuring Alibi Bookshop in Vallejo, California, owned by Karen Finlay.

Your name and pronouns?
Karen Finlay, she/her

Tell us a little bit about the store and your community!
We moved to Vallejo from Oakland in 2017, and there was a tiny used bookstore with a small selection; I was disappointed that we didn’t have something *more.* Some people can’t live away from water, and I can’t live far away from a bookstore. One day I said, “I wish I could open a bookstore in Vallejo!” Well, be careful what you wish for — we wound up buying the store and opened in 2019. Not the greatest timing because a pandemic was looming, but our community has kept us here and we are so, so grateful.

Vallejo, the most diverse city in the US, is an interesting and historical town with its share of issues, but the best community anywhere. It was a navy town , but the navy left in the late ’90s and the city declared bankruptcy in 2008, and our downtown still reflects that. But we are working hard to bring back some vitality, and it’s been fantastic! The pandemic derailed our initial efforts, but we’ve been ramping up again. We’ve had sold out events at the local movie theater, two active book clubs, author events, a writing group, partnerships with local businesses… And anchoring downtown to bring in more businesses. We love it here so much. We try very hard to explain that shopping locally is one of the best things you can do for your city, and the message is starting to take hold. We have a ways to go, but the baby steps are getting bigger.

We don’t have a shop cat — we have two enormous “kittens” who are useless at shelving, so they have to stay home.

What got you into bookselling?
In high school I got a job at Upstart Crow, was an English/Creative Writing major in college and grad school, worked in publishing for nearly 20 years (a year of that with THE GREAT ANNA-LISA), and voila, now I own a bookstore!

What’s something about your store that you think will surprise people?
There are continual surprises and delights in this store — sometimes I think it MUST be haunted. For years this space was a legendary cigar shop, but it was also a jeweler, an egg store in the 1930s, the Democratic Headquarters for Vallejo for Robert Kennedy’s campaign so Teddy Kennedy was here, but my favorite incarnation was that it was “Foxy Lady Boutique” that specialized in hot pants. And I just discovered that the movie star Raymond Burr lived in this building as a child!

I think the thing people are surprised about that there’s a bookstore here at all! People think that bookstores are a thing of the past, and we gladly prove them wrong. Just now a woman was in here — she drove here from a different town because she had heard about us and wanted to see what the “fuss was about,” and said that I proved them all right! Take THAT, Amazon.

What are some of you favorite ways your community supports your store?
Vallejo SHOWS UP for us. We have a dedicated core group of customers, and they try to support by buying books/gifts, sharing on social media, spreading the word or even bringing us strawberries or flowers from the farmer’s market, and today a lady brought me a donut because she was thinking of me. But my favorite are the people who stop by to make sure I’ve gotten something to eat! I love our community so, so much.

What are two books you can’t wait for people to read, or your current favorite handsells?
My favorite handsells are “Tell the Wolves I’m Home” and right now, “The Great Believers” and “Just Kids.”

How can customers who aren’t local shop your shelves?
On our page!

Be sure to follow Alibi on Facebook and Instagram, and check here for Karen’s podcast episode!

You can read our other Bookstore Solidarity Project posts here!
And click here to get a copy of How to Protect Bookstores and Why.

Which Publishers Grew 12% Over The Past Three Years? (A People’s Guide to Publishing)

The pandemic was an unexpectedly magical time for the publishing industry. Sales went up when they were expected to go down. Printing slowed to a crawl due to the paper shortage. But four years later, we have some clear, emergent publishers who seemed to have permanently claimed an additional piece of the market share. This week we take a closer look at them!

Get the People’s Guide to Publishing here, and the workbook here!
Want to stay up to date on new podcast episodes and happenings at Microcosm? Subscribe to our newsletter!

Unfuck Your Business Workbook: Using Math and Brain Science to Run a Successful Business

Do you want to start a business? Or does your existing business feel stuck? Either way, this no-fluff workbook will walk you through the steps of planning and troubleshooting your enterprise. Publisher Joe Biel and bestselling author Dr. Faith G. Harper, co-authors of Unfuck Your Business, reunite to help you make your business idea viable, find your niche, and evaluate your growth and success. With the help of worksheets and exercises, you’ll make sure the money adds up, plan your strategy for growth, hone your management skills, and work through common pitfalls like imposter syndrome and self-sabotage. Even if you’ve never run a business before and don’t see yourself as a numbers person, you can succeed with the right tools. Work out your dreams on the page and then watch your hard work, critical thinking, and belief in your meaning and purpose make them come true!

Missed the Kickstarter? You can still access all the rewards and add-ons in PledgeManager!