Creative, Not Famous: Building Creative Communities with Ayun Halliday

Ayun Halliday’s superpower is bringing people together to create amazing artistic happenings. Her book Creative, Not Famous, featuring words and art by almost 40 collaborators about the glories, perils, and responsibilities of being a non-rich, non-famous creative person, fits that bill nicely. It came back from the printer last month, a beautiful, illustrated, square brick of a book that is extremely cool and inspiring if we say so as small potatoes ourselves.

We chatted with Ayun for this week’s People’s Guide to Publishing podcast, and we also interviewed her separately for the post below! All of her stories about us are true, even if only the leading edge of the much weirder truth.

What inspired you to write your book?

Creating and producing Off-Off-Broadway theater with Theater of the Apes. It can be a losing proposition in so many ways. There are those sad trombone moments when you think, “Why the hell am I beating my head against the wall for something so few people seem to care about? Is it really worth all the misery it’s causing me?” 

Of course, there are also those wonderfully triumphant moments when all the labor and time and the ridiculous financials of the thing seem, in retrospect, absolutely worthwhile.

As a theatermaker, I found myself flooded with gratitude to every single fellow small potato who took the trouble to support our efforts. (If you’ve ever wondered if an actor can see you from the stage of a tiny black box theater, the answer is yes.)

I am grateful to every person who subscribes to, resubscribes to, or buys an issue of my zine, or turns a friend on to it. 

Community is something we small potatoes shouldn’t take for granted. 

I have this theory that 99.9% of all artists, musicians, writers, and performers throughout history never “achieved” what society tends to consider success – wealth and/or renown. (Also, a lot of folks who were very big bananas back in the day wind up forgotten within a generation or two.)

And yet, we small potatoes persist! Why? How? What can we learn from each other? How can we hold ourselves accountable, show up for each other, and strive to be worthy of the comparative few who dig what we do?

Early on, I realized that it would be a mistake if mine was the only perspective informing this monster, and reached out to a broad range of creative people who seemed to have some familiarity with working at this level of renown and circus peanuts, who’ve been doing it for a long time, and who hopefully wouldn’t take offense at being pegged as a “small potato.” Their experience, observations, and oft-contradictory advice permeate the book.

What was it like to publish with Microcosm?

This is my second book for Microcosm. My first, the Zinester’s Guide to NYC, also had a lot of moving parts, including illustrations and handwritten elements. 

A decade later, I harbored fond memories of sitting knee to knee with Joe in a flying-ant infested trailer in Portland, Oregon, a composting toilet a couple feet from my back, collaborating on the final manuscript for pretty intensive week. No, really!!!

Ten years was also about how long it took to recover from the communications hell of juggling dozens of contributors and being responsible for organizing their work…) I was ready for another go round.
Not every publisher I’ve worked with “gets” me the way Microcosm does. I chafe at having my edges and idiosyncrasies sanded down, and I really loathe seeing myself packaged as “wacky” or “zany”. That’s never been an issue with Microcosm. 

Everyone I worked with on the Microcosm end of this book was patient, enthusiastic, and courteous, even when the placement of the illustrations felt like a giant, insoluble puzzle … my fault for treating illustrations like punchlines to specific sentences, while dwelling in ignorance of the realities of how books get laid out. 

Finally, I know from experience that Microcosm keeps very tidy records and pays promptly. 

What was the submission/query process like for you?

Wait, what now? There’s a submissions pro…WHY WAS I  NOT INFORMED!? I’ll have to try that next time around… 

As usual, I just sort of tumbled through the cellar door. Elly, Joe, and Ruby the late, great service dog were in New York City on business. They invited me to be a guest on the People’s Guide to Publishing podcast [here’s that episode!]. We taped it in a noodle restaurant I’m quite fond of, and at some point, I started nattering about the need for a “small potato manifesto.” Then we went next door to a matinee at a small Brooklyn theater where I’ve worked in the past, and there was this regrettable, unforgettable moment of audience participation wherein I was called onstage and an Italian clown hoisted my shirt up to my clavicles without consent…but that’s an anecdote for a different interview. I can, however, offer video evidence of Joe, Elly, and Ruby on Metropolitan Avenue 4 minutes and 35 seconds into my 1-second-a-day video for 2018… September 23, check em out!

What else have you written?

Four self-mocking autobiographies, a YA graphic novel, a kid’s picture book, the Zinester’s Guide to NYC, more anthologies than you can shake a stick at without dangling a participle, a bunch of freelance work (including a decade of twice weekly posts for the great Open Culture ) and of course, my long-running zine, The East Village Inky. I’m currently working on a guided journal / creative exercise book to serve as an interactive companion to Creative, Not Famous.

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

The Council of Animals by Nick McDonell. The pandemic did not slake my appetite for dystopian yarns, apparently. This book delivers a biting, non-human-focused comedy of post-apocalyptic manners in which a number of species, domesticated and wild, engage in a highly political debate to decide the fate of mankind. I was particularly enamored of a demented, oppositional, lonely mutant lizard who’s convinced he’s a bat. Funny, topical, inventive…all the things I crave in end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it lit.
Where can people find you online?

How to Resist Amazon and Why: An interview with Danny Caine

This week for the People’s Guide to Publishing podcast, Joe and Elly traveled to Cleveland where we sat at Cafe Avalaun and interviewed Danny Caine, author of the bestselling How to Resist Amazon and Why. Hear about the origin of the viral zine that sparked the book, the second edition in the works, what it’s like to run an independent bookstore, and how readers can tap into the movement away from giant online retailers and towards smaller, independent, community-based businesses… like bookstores.

10 reasons why 2021 was our biggest year ever

This week on the People’s Guide to Publishing podcast, Joe and Elly lift the hood on the Microcosm engine to investigate why 2021 was such an unexpectedly successful year, and share some of the lessons learned. From external factors like the booming gift trade to internal factors like our amazing staff’s teamwork and management restructuring, we discuss what we did and why it worked.

How many books should you publish each season?

This week on the People’s Guide to Publishing podcast / vlog, Joe and Elly answer a reader question—how many books should a publisher put out every season?

For those new to the game, the traditional publishing industry has two or three seasons—Spring, Fall, and Winter (with Fall and Winter sometimes being combined). In today’s episode, we talk about when those seasons run, why they are important, what it means for your workflow, and, of course, how many books it makes sense to fit into each one—and what kind of books do best in each season.

Queering Consent: Call for Happy Endings

Microcosm Publishing is soliciting submissions for our Queering Consent series of queer erotica stories, novellas, novels, illustrated books, and comics!

Pitch us your work in progress or your completed work—make it sexy, make it hot, make it consensual, and make it queer! Titles that fit this series show complex, healthy, joyful queer relationships, have a happy ending, and feature explicit erotic content forming the core of the work.

Anything queer is great! We are especially (but not exclusively) looking for: 

  • Lesbian erotica
  • Real-world (present or past) settings
  • T4T content
  • Polyamorous content

For books, manuscripts should be no fewer than 2,500 words (for a short story zine) and top out around 40,000 words for a book. Manuscripts can be composed of short stories or one longer narrative. Black and white illustrations are also welcome, and we love graphic novels. We are not able to publish poetry or fan fiction.

We are especially looking for submissions from authors and artists who are Black, Indigenous, people of color, mixed race, disabled, neurodivergent, queer, transgender, nonbinary, or who don’t see themselves well represented in mainstream publishing—including (but not exclusively) #OwnVoices content from these writers. 

Here’s a sampling of what we’ve published so far: 

the book cover of Queer Werewolves Destroy Capitalism, featuring a werewolf holding and licking a laughing man
Queer Werewolves Destroy Capitalism – A collection of m/m(+) short stories by MJ Lyons with a science fiction theme
Experience Points – An illustrated m/m novella about the evolution of a relationship that is profoundly healing for both people involved (currently funding on Kickstarter!

We also publish short stories in quickly-read, pocket-sized zine format!


Just a few of our growing collection of Queering Consent zines!

We also are delighted to consider pitches for nonfiction books and zines about queer relationships and sex!

If you have something you think fits, take a look at our full submission guidelines here and drop us a line through the contact form at the top of that page! 

We can’t wait to read the wildest adventures and happiest endings your imagination can produce!