This week on the People’s Guide to Publishing podcast, we answer a very specific reader question: “How does an old punk get fiction published?” Clearly we’ve been waiting for this exact question to be asked, because we were ready for it. Young and middle-aged punks and fans of other subcultural music genres also welcome here.
This project is a little different. Instead of promoting just one book, we’ve decided to give you six at once—six very different books that span our interests and eras.
The norm in publishing is to put out multiple books each season (of which, in this industry, there are three–Spring and Fall are the main ones, and then there’s a small Winter season right after the xmas holidaze). Usually the publisher picks one book from each season and puts all their resources behind it, gambling on making it a blockbuster. We’ve never done this, mostly because we haven’t had the money to gamble on promoting books in the traditional ways. Instead, we spread our best efforts equally around all the books and hope they all win.
So this project represents our (cough) brand, our business model, and a strong sampling of the topics, styles, interests, authors, and books that we care about deeply.
Sandor Ellix Katz’z Basic Fermentation is the blockbuster here… it’s a substantial new edition of the cute little zine-turned-book, Wild Fermentation, that has been winning hearts for years. We also have new editions of Cristy C. Road’s underground classic Indestructible and Dan Méndez Moore’s gripping comics journalism account of Six Days in Cincinnati. we’re putting a spine on Raleigh Briggs’s friendly, hand-written Fix Your Clothes, and we finally gave Kelli Refer’s Pedal, Stretch, Breathe an ISBN. And we have a brand-new book in the mix, too: The Prodigal Rogerson represents J. Hunter Bennett’s meticulous and spirited research into the mysterious disappearance (and reappearance) of the Circle Jerk’s original bassist and songwriter.
Like any good books, these ones are good for entertainment… and so much more. Fixing your clothes, your gut health with fermented food, your wounded sense of community and political rightness… books can provide all that and more, and that’s what gets us up in the morning and keeps us going day after day.
Read more about them over at Kickstarter, where you’ll also have a chance to get to live chat with some of the authors and the people who make Microcosm go!
Caroline Moore came to us with a book that really hit home: Punk Rock Entrepreneur: Running a Business Without Losing Your Values. We’re thrilled with how the book turned out. Moore’s examples are drawn from her own life, other scrappy entrepreneurs including bands like Green Day. This is like the anti-startup guide. Instead of coming up with an idea and looking for funding, this book is about turning your craft and art—what you would do no matter what—into a viable business without the benefit of having much (or any) money.
You can find out more about Moore’s design, illustration, and photography on her website, and check out her sweet goods (some of them Punk Rock Entrepreneur-related) in her Etsy shop. Oh yeah, and we still have a bunch of signed and doodled copies of her book. Order soon and snag one of them!
1. What’s the origin story of Punk Rock Entrepreneur? Where’d the idea come from? How did you end up with Microcosm?
Depending on how far back you want to go, the origin story is an interview I did with a group that focuses on entrepreneurship for teens. They asked what made me want to start a business, and I didn’t have a great answer for them, so I spent some time thinking about it. The truth is, when I started out, I didn’t even really think of it as starting a business, in an official way. I was used to my punk friends touring, starting zines, making and selling art, and that’s what I did—starting my photography business was very unceremonious.
After I’d put some serious time and thought into it, I found that a lot of what I knew about starting and running a business was from that DIY scene. I had been volunteering for a few years with Weapons of Mass Creation Fest, and it seemed like the kind of thing that would go over really well with their crowd. So I pitched it to Jeff Finley and Joseph Hughes (Jeff founded the Fest, and Joseph was handling the speaker lineup that year), and they let me have a spot on their stage. So the idea got upgraded to a 30 minute… well, it was supposed to be 30 minutes, but closer to a 40 minute conference talk. One of my favorite comments that someone tweeted about that was something like “punk enough to get kicked off stage, professional enough not to knock down the podium on her way out.”
My process for writing conference talks is that I basically write an essay, exactly what I want to say, and then practice that and make an outline to actually use as a reference on stage. Which meant that I had everything all typed up, so I posted it to my blog after I got home for anyone that had missed the talk. I was still doing contract work for a design agency a few days a week then, and my boss there said “you should turn this into a book.” I knew I had a ton of material that I had to cut for time, so I started putting together proposals to send out to publishers. I had heard of Microcosm because I’d done some interior illustrations for Bobby Joe Ebola’s book, which they published. After meeting with Joe and Elly at a Dinner and Bikes event in Pittsburgh, and looking over the catalog, the book seemed like a really good fit both for the types of books that Microcosm puts out, and the way that they do business.
2. This is your first book (congrats!). What has surprised you about writing and publishing a book? Any advice for other first-time authors now that you’ve been around this block once?
Thanks! One of the first things that surprised me was the sheer volume of words that I needed to write. It seems like you have so much to say, but then you type everything up and it’s six pages. I had gotten used to writing for blogs, for twitter, for conferences, for things that are meant to be short form. You have to be really concise and get to your point. Which is still important in longer form books, no one wants to read you droning on belaboring a point, but you do have a lot more room to really flesh out a concept. I also say something in the book, “you can’t edit a blank page, but you can edit a bad one.” Staring at a blank sheet messes with you, so just start putting words down. Even if they’re terrible, stupid words, just start writing for the sake of having something that you can work with. We learned to write in chunks when I was in college, and that’s still how I do it. The introductions are the last thing that I write, I start in the middle.
3. In Punk Rock Entrepreneur you propose the counter-intuitive idea that not having a lot of money or resources can actually be the best thing for someone starting a business. Can you elaborate a little bit on this?
It’s certainly not the easiest way. Having a huge pile of money to throw at a project would make things much easier. But not having a ton of cash up front does make you think creatively about how to get your business off of the ground, and it makes you look at the money and resources you do have VERY critically. In particular, you’re very thoughtful about what you’re getting for spending that cash. A band with a trust fund might be able to get an RV to tour in, spend a lot of cash on hotel rooms, food, top of the line gear, clothes, you name it. But that stuff might not be helping them bring in any more money (or fans). They have a lot of money going out, but may not have any more money coming in than the band that’s touring in their car and sleeping on floors. Those folks are keeping their overhead low, so they get to keep the money they bring in.
4. What are you listening to or reading right now that inspires you?
I’m actually giving a talk in Louisville in October (at MidwestUX) about how routine input leads to routine output. I’m really big on interdisciplinary education, because I think the bigger your pool of experiences, the more connections you can potentially make to create interesting work. I’m actually working on condensing that entire chapter (“We Live Our Lives Another Way”) down to a 10 minute lightning talk. I don’t have a ton of dedicated reading time right now (I have a 15-month-old), so I’m reading a lot of psychology articles. Why people behave the way they do is really interesting to me from both a human perspective and a business one. I just discovered the joy of Instapaper to keep track of all the things I want to read.
As far as music, I’m a little all over the place. My husband and I just discovered Smoke or Fire’s The Speakeasy, which is great because they stopped being a band in 2004, which is a recurring theme when we find albums that we both like. I’ve had that in the car on loop lately. I just picked up Signals Midwest’s new one, At This Age. We did a joint book launch/record release show, and I don’t have enough nice words to say about those guys or the music they make. And the last show that we went to was Sikth, which is sometimes hard for me to listen to, because they’re super erratic. But they’re doing some really cool things that I don’t hear much elsewhere, so I find it really interesting even though sometimes it makes me agitated.
5. What’s next for you, in business, art, and life?
This is always a super busy time of year for me, for some reason October is always booked solid. We’re taking our kid on his first plane ride, to go to his dad’s work conference. We’ve already done a work conference each this year, and we both have another one coming up where we’ll be separated. So for this one, we’re going as a family to spend some time together, plus also the hotel is right next to Legoland. I have a few events coming up, Whiskey & Words in Pittsburgh, then Midwest UX in Louisville. I’ve got a wedding to shoot, and I’m setting up mini portrait sessions to benefit Children’s Hospital’s Free Care Fund. Definitely more speaking engagements coming up, and some more events where I can set up and talk to folks about the book.
Things tend to slow down in the winter, and I can get into my “someday” list. Throughout the year I’ll have ideas for art that I want to make, and it just goes into the giant someday pile for whatever time I carve out for personal projects. Sometimes I don’t write up the best description, though, and months later I don’t understand my own notes (like that episode of 30 Rock where Kenneth has a notebook that just says “bird internet.”) I’m also rebranding the photography site over the winter, Ryan Troy Ford agreed to work on a new logo for me, and I’m pretty excited to update that. It feels weird to hire someone to design anything for me, since my undergraduate degree is in design, and I’ve spent a lot of years working as a designer. But designing for yourself is so much harder than for clients, and fighting the urge to just tweak it for all eternity is difficult. Getting someone a little more removed from it is definitely going to be good for the project.
For the business, this is the first time I’ve very intentionally done it part time. Even when I had a full time job, I was still really treating the business as a full time endeavor (which was not great for my health, but that’s a whole other interview.) Being our son’s primary caregiver, I can’t also work full time. We decided I was going to stay home with him, instead of doing day care, so my hours are limited. It’s a good balance for us right now, and I’m happy with the direction it’s taking. But the rebrand is part of a bigger theme of refocusing what I’m putting out there, so that I’m really getting the right clients to work with during those limited hours. Another thing that comes up in the book is how important it is to be attentive to your goals, and to revisit those goals to see if that’s still what you want. I can’t just look at someone else’s business to see what they’re doing, I have to really consider what I want out of my own business, and whether my actions are getting me closer to that.
We ask all of our interns to choose a book and review it for our blog. Usually, when tasked with this assignment, they head downstairs to the warehouse and deliberate for a half hour. Sometimes it takes them a few days to choose. Not Dylan. He immediately knew. Here’s his review, and an appropriately tough selfie with the book:
Tom Neely’s Henry & Glenn Forever & Ever is hilarious. The idea of taking two icons from the hardcore punk scene (which, at its height in the mid-80s, was taken over by macho assholes who made the scene about faux masculinity) and creating a fictional gay romance between them is just genius.
The thing I appreciated most about the book, however, is its constant references and jokes about not just The Misfits and Black Flag but about heavy metal and punk music in general. This is also, unfortunately, what limits the audience of the book, since your average reader probably doesn’t know who the hell King Diamond or Ian MacKaye are, but for people who do understand these references, they make reading this book all the more enjoyable.
I myself lost it when aliens brought zombies to life and announced that their prime directive was to “exterminate the whole fucking place,” as well as every time I noticed all the random 138s scattered about.
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone with reasonable knowledge about punk and metal music and culture.
Co-founder of the Why Not? Fest in Minot, North Dakota, Jazmine is a shining beacon that you can change your community by getting involved and rocking and rolling. She loves to be organized. People that don’t do what they agreed to get under her skin. She shows us how even tragedies like suicide can inspire communities to create the greatest memorial music festival.
About a year ago, I was visiting my pal Davey’s bike shop (the recently exploded & then reopened G&O Family Cyclery in Seattle) and impulsively bought a little, waterproof speaker that straps onto my bike’s handlebars.
It immediately changed my daily life. Instead of a tedious, repetitive daily chore, my commute instantly became a solo dance party on wheels. Suddenly, fewer people would pass me in the bike lane. Was I inspired to keep pace with the music, or were they hanging back to rock out to my tunes? Hills seemed less steep, and the familiar sights I passed every day took on new meaning and interest in alignment with the soundtrack.
I also noticed, though, that my music choices majorly affected my experience and how I rode. One day I put on a particular punk album, and rode recklessly and made unsafe choices—that was immediately deleted from my phone. For a while I biked to work listening to the Riot Grrrl bands I’d never explored in the 90s, and would arrive feeling energized, empowered, and all worked up and ready for the day. But eventually, I realized that listening to Bikini Kill, although it spurred me along to great speeds and passionate determination, was also giving me a major case of road rage. Every little clueless, reckless, or thoughtless thing that someone in a car would do would set me cursing; even just driving past and existing on the road at all seemed inexcusable. It was exciting, but not fun, and not how I wanted to interact with the world or feel every day.
So I deleted all the angry music, too.
What did that leave? Well, my friend had just turned me on to her favorite band, Cloud Cult. Sitting in her house and listening to it for the first time, I was skeptical. The lyrics were sentimental and their extreme positivity turned me off to an extent that a therapist could probably have a field day with. The musical style was not one I was used to enjoying. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t relate to it, either, and I am sorry to say that I did judge it a little, despite my best effort not to.
But now it was the only album left on my phone. And the first time I played it on my commute, the difference was amazing. The upbeat tempo worked perfectly to bike to, and the extreme positivity … as well as the active attempt that I had to make to embrace it … gave me a whole new attitude on the road. Someone passed me too close and I grinned. I witnessed a near crash, and went around it, whistling.
Have my musical tastes changed from angry to posi? Absolutely not! I mean… okay. Maybe. Go figure. At least having a music-induced mellow attitude on the road during my commute gives me the time and space I need to have a heart-to-heart with myself over my lifelong musical choices and their connection with my emotional state. All that for only the cost of a bike speaker and a few albums? Priceless.
God Forgive these Bastards is an underdog book about an underdog. It doesn’t really resemble any other Microcosm book so we tend to have a bit of trouble selling it—”Can we interest you in a book about DIY projects, a graphic novel about activism….and a novel about a college baseball player who ended up living on the streets?” doesn’t totally make sense to everyone. Once you begin reading it, though, it draws you in and sticks with you long after you’ve read it, as our intern Natalie recently found.
The book is good on its own, but it’s at its very best paired with the jazzpunk album of the same name that it was written to go along with it; the songs also tell stories of underdog anti-hero Henry Turner and his forgotten life. The record has been out of print for several years, and we are stoked to announce that we’ve reissued it in a limited colored vinyl release, packaged with the book—get them right here!
In honor of the release, we asked Rob Morton, whose brainchild both book and record are, a few questions:
1. The origin story of this book + music set is pretty amazing. The novel + vinyl record set isn’t very common, nor is the ambiguity of the writing and packaging—it leaves you wondering whether or not it’s fiction, and it sounds like that’s intentional. I had a very hard time filling out the decidedly not-ambiguous distribution paperwork for this! Why did you go this genre-boundary-destroying route? How do you handle the confusion it creates?
When the idea came up, it was during a time in our lives when we had a lot of energy for this kind of stuff. Me and the other Taxpayers were high on all these big, fun ideas, like living in Florida in a storage unit, making a living as a Jimmy Buffet cover band, throwing new kinds of music festivals, etc. The Henry Turner project seemed like another neat way to challenge ourselves.
In regards to handling the confusion that the project has created—we don’t, really. We just kind of hope that folks either enjoy it and get something out of it, or don’t. It is funny to get occasional emails from people that say, “Hey, I knew Henry”, or “Hey, you guys are taking advantage of this guy’s life”—at first, we were going to just let folks run with it and think what they will about it, but we decided to divulge the fact that the story is largely fictional because we thought it would be more fun to let others “in” on the secret.
2. Why did you decide to tell / sing / write a redemption and forgiveness story?
You know, that’s the way that I’ve explained the story in the past, but some other people have made the (reasonable) point that it’s not really about forgiveness, etc. Dave from Hymie’s record store in Minneapolis did a good write up where he said “The lazy listener might take from God Forgive these Bastards a simple lesson of forgiveness and understanding. I suppose that can’t be a bad thing, but the fact is that nobody forgave or understood Henry Turner.”
I think that’s a good take on it. Personally, I like redemption stories where shitty people get a shot to do something not shitty, maybe because I’ve done things I regret and I want to believe that nobody is all bad. But whether the Henry Turner story illustrates that point or argues the opposite–that people are incapable of changing–is up for interpretation, I guess.
3. Please tell us about the Gathering of the Goof Punx
It’s a music and culture festival we (the taxpayers) used to put on. We wanted it to be for the goofy weirdos that didn’t really fit into other subcultures, including punk. There were parades, games, movie screenings, and of course, shows. Some of my heroes played the festival, and I met some new heroes at the festival, like the kid who came out for the first time in front of a room of 300 people during one of the shows. It’s been a few years since we’ve put the festival on, and we’ve talked about doing it again in the future, but it takes a LOT of work and coordination, so it’s kind of on the backburner for now.
4. It’s been a while since you recorded this album and wrote the book, and the album has been out of print for most of that time. What artistic endeavors have you been up to since? What comes next?
We’re working on a new Taxpayers record right now, which should be released by summer of 2016. Andrew and Noah play in Shitty Weekend. Dylan plays in Tensor, Backbiter, and a few other bands. Kevin plays trumpet in some jazz bands. Me, I garden a lot and build shitty chicken coops. I’m learning to play clarinet and piano. I write a couple of songs per week. I played drums in a group called Negation for a while, but we have been broken up for a while now. My partner Elise and I have a band called Trash Swan that plays a show once every two years. Mostly, I’ve been slowly learning how to safely use a reciprocating saw and angle grinder without hurting myself or damaging the stuff I’m working on.
You just read an interview with Taxpayers singer and God, Forgive these Bastards author Rob Morton. Get his novel-record combo here!