How does a book publisher deal with failure? (A People’s Guide to Publishing)

Not everything that you do will be a great success. It’s a matter of how we navigate these less-than-graceful moments that determine our ability to respond and move on with being reactive. This week on the pod, E & J walk through some of their own failures and how they could have handled them better as well as what they handled well. You are forever judged by the last thing that you’ve done, so make it count!

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!

Microcosm is hiring a Receiver/Shipper in Portland!

piles and piles of boxes in a parking lot

Microcosm is hiring a receiving and fulfillment coordinator in Portland, Oregon

We are seeking a full-time worker to join our growing team at our location in Portland, Oregon. This is primarily a receiving and inventory position, helping make sure our systems are organized and our shelves are well-stocked. Our receiving staff is cross-trained in shipping, helping people get their books and be happy.

Microcosm is an independent book publisher founded in 1996 and based in Portland, Oregon and Cleveland, Ohio. We publish and distribute books, zines, decks and other materials that advance our mission of helping readers change their lives and world. In 2022, Publishers Weekly ranked us the Fastest Growing Publisher, and we also made the list in 2023 at number 3. We are excited to keep growing at a more reasonable pace. Come grow with us! 

Hours: This is a full-time position (40 hours per week) with daytime work hours. Shifts are Monday-Friday, roughly 9-5 (8-4 or 10-6 are also doable).

Location: All shifts take place on-site at our office in the Eliot neighborhood of inner North Portland

Experience: This is an entry-level or early career position. No prior warehouse experience is needed—we are happy to train the right person. This may not be an ideal first job, but it would be a great second or third job. Candidates with previous warehouse or book industry experience, or who are changing careers, will be gladly considered, but the key things we are looking for are ability to do the work plus willingness to work hard, learn, be part of a team, pay attention to details, and think critically about systems.

Job duties

Core duties will include:

  • Checking, accepting, and processing shipments of books and other inventory
  • Receiving new inventory into our database, including ISBNs, quantities, expenses, cover images, and location
  • Calculating expenses and checking for accounting errors
  • Reporting damages to the distributor
  • Shelving items quickly, accurately, and without damaging books
  • Finding items that shippers can’t locate
  • Shelf reading and inventory audits
  • Light production work including making buttons and cutting patches
  • Process incoming mail
  • Pull, pack, and ship books to customers
  • Miscellaneous office duties and cleaning

The ideal candidate will have the ability to:

  • Lift 30-40 pound boxes
  • Spend an 8-hour shift mostly on your feet
  • Climb step ladders
  • Wear a mask when required and observe our health and safety policies
  • Quickly and accurately alphabetize
  • Read small print and identify discrepancies (e.g., two books with the same title)
  • Be motivated by accuracy and efficiency
  • Show up prepared and work hard for your whole shift
  • Work independently once trained
  • Maintain an organized workstation and contribute to keeping shared areas tidy
  • Observe all safety procedures
  • Handle materials on topics that may be sensitive to some, including trauma, abuse, addiction, non-christian religions, various marginalized identities, human anatomy, drugs, sexual instruction, erotica, politics, and dad jokes
  • Work collaboratively to come up with improved systems and workflows 
  • Work within our systems while also speaking up when needed, with an “us against the problem” attitude. Open communication is key!

Pay and benefits:

Starting wage is $17-18.75 per hour, depending on experience. Wage and responsibilities will be re-evaluated after 30, 60, and 90 days. 

Benefits include:

  • All company profits are distributed to staff in the form of profit-sharing
  • Health insurance after trial period
  • Paid time off after trial period
  • Employee ownership program after five years
  • Transparent compensation and clear metrics for advancement
  • Meaningful work at a growing company 

Apply by March 21, 2024 by completing this application. No resume or cover letter is necessary. 

Please do not contact us about your application—we will respond to all applicants by April 8, 2024.

Bookstore Solidarity Project: An Interview with Charlie Hunts, owner of Charlie’s Queer Books in Seattle, WA

Welcome to the next installment of the Bookstore Solidarity Project! Every month, we’ll be highlighting indie bookstore owners and booksellers across the country.

For March, we’re featuring Charlie’s Queer Books, in Seattle, Washington! Charlie’s isn’t the first queer bookstore in Seattle, but it is the first in 20 years. They opened last year, with a focus on diversity and intersectionality in their titles.

Your name and pronouns?
Charlie Hunts (He/him)

Tell us a little bit about the store and your community!
We began as a magic disco-tiled book cart doing pop-ups and then we opened our brick and mortar home in Nov 2023. Our shop is in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle. It’s a funky part of town that’s home to a massive bridge troll sculpture, a rocket, former home to a famous clown, and self-proclaimed “Center of the Universe,” so where better to open a queer bookstore? The Seattle/Tacoma area has the third-highest percentage of LGBTQ+ people among the nation’s 15 largest metros only behind San Francisco/Oakland and Boston/Cambridge, so this city was eager to have a “third place” other than nightlife to hang out at.

What got you into bookselling?
I was a college dropout Harley Davidson mechanic who happened to get in a motorcycle accident *shocker* that left me bed-bound for more than a year. In that time, I fell in love with reading! I went back to school as an English major, started my career in publishing, and then pivoted to marketing for different industries. With the onslaught of book bans, anti-LGBTQ legislation, and the need in the market for queer spaces, I felt like the time was right to return to books.

What’s something about your store that you think will surprise people?
The Seattle Times said we have the best bookstore bathroom in the city. Seriously.

What are some of you favorite ways your community supports your store?
In the short time we’ve been open we’ve had everything from a couple’s first kiss under our mistletoe, to a wife and wife who gifted each other the same book, both purchased here. SO gay, ha. We have a great mix of tourists, locals in the neighborhood, and folks who seek us out. We have our upstairs dedicated to community hangs with tables, reading nooks, and a meeting space. They have shown up big time at our events too.

What are two books you can’t wait for people to read, or your current favorite handsells?
Love After the End and Gearbreakers. Our top-selling non-book item is the Ronald Reagan’s Grave is a Gender Neutral Bathroom sticker.

How can customers who aren’t local shop your shelves?
charliesqueerbooks.com

Be sure to follow Charlie’s Queer Books on Tiktok, Facebook, and Instagram, and check back in a few weeks for their 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.


Bikes, the Universe, and Everything is almost here!

Ever gotten lost in a book? Or on your bicycle? Or both at once, by falling through a portal on the page? Anything is possible in this collection of fifteen very short stories and one comic. Ranging from science fiction to fantasy and traveling in time from a reimagined past to the heat death of the universe, these stories combine the personal and popular power of spokes and words. Meet a young graduate who rides off to become a velo-archivist, a bookstore owner who must learn to bike after cars are banned, a daredevil messenger who makes a harrowing textbook delivery run, a talented scribe who creates a braille bicycle guide, and many more adventurous souls in disparate realities, united by their love for spinning wheels and the written word.


Inside you’ll find 15 new short stories and one comic about bikes, books, feminism, and the universe.

There are just two days left to fund Bikes, the Universe, and Everything on Kickstarter! Rewards include stickers, shirts, books, zines, and more. Plus, if you’re feeling generous, you can add on a tip that will be evenly distributed among the authors.

The complete collection.
Bikes, History, and Everything reward tier.
A book and a sticker!


Want to learn more about the brilliant authors of the short stories in the collection?
Scroll through the project updates to see our interviews with some of the contributors to this edition!



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!
Want to stay up to date on new podcast episodes and happenings at Microcosm? Subscribe to our newsletter!

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.

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!

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 Bookshop.org 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.