a person at a typewriter

Good Trouble: Building a Successful Life and Business with Autism

by Joe Biel Author, Joyce Brabner Foreword and Sander Hicks Foreword

The history of Microcosm Publishing, from its origins as a record label and zine distro in Joe Biel's bedroom closet in Cleveland to Publishers Weekly's fastest growing publisher of life-changing books. The book comes out to mark Microcosm's 20th anniversary and all the shit and splendor that's gone into making us who we are.

In 1996, everything about Joe Biel's life seemed like a mistake. Biel was 18, lived in Cleveland, got drunk every day, and had mystery health problems and weird social tics. All Joe's friends' lives were as bad or worse. To escape a nihilistic, apocalyptic worldview and to bring reading and documentation into a communal punk scene, Biel started assembling self-published misfit zines and bringing them in milk crates to underground punk shows. As Joe applied the economics and values of underground punk rock music to publishing books, Biel's worldview expanded along with the milk crate operation, and so did the punk community's idea of what was possible. Eventually this became Microcosm Publishing.

But all was not rosy. Biel's head for math was stronger than any ability to relate to people, and for everything that added up right, more things broke down. Joe developed valuable skills and workarounds, but it wasn't until a diagnosis with Type-1 Autism that it all began to fall into place.

Good Trouble is a tale of screwing up, trying again, and always finding a way do it better. It's a book for anyone who has ever failed big and dreamed bigger. It's about developing a toolkit for turning your difficulties into superpowers, building the world that you envision, and inspiring others to do the same. This is the story of how, over 20 years, one person turned a litany of continuing mistakes and seemingly wrong turns into a happy, fulfilled life and a thriving publishing business that defies all odds.

With a foreword by Sander Hicks, founder of Soft Skull Press, and an introduction by Joyce Brabner, co-author with Harvey Pekar of Our Cancer Year.

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  • back cover

Comments & Reviews


"...Interesting to find out about the development of Microcosm."


"A necessary step in documenting a slice of the history of small press publishing in America."


"...This is the story of how, over 20 years, Joe turned a litany of continuing mistakes and seeming wrong turns into a happy, fulfilled life, and a thriving publishing business (Microcosm Publishing) that defies all odds."


"if the general public is ever going to ditch the stigma attached to Asperger's or other neurological disorders, it's probably going to be because of art like this. Because in the pages of Good Trouble, Joe Biel is just another normal person, working his way through life. His brain just happens to work a bit differently than yours or mine." July Indie Groundbreaking Book selection.



"... Joe Biel reveals his talents in multiple areas...This is the story of remarkable accomplishments in spite of many obstacles."


"[Biel] has changed history, and given people a voice in the process...he made gigantic strides for the indie community and helped countless people realize that whatever they might be going through that is making them feel utterly alone - that couldn't be further from the truth...for all creative folks, anyone trying to do something they love, going up against the odds. This is a must read." http://fingersonblast.com/album-reviews/good-trouble-building-a-successful-life-business-with-asperg.html


An informative look into the workings of a DIY company attempting to function, grow, and thrive under a punk rubric. It is to the book's strength that much of the business insights are offered as descriptive chronicles of how Microcosm was doing, whether good or bad, at each point in Joe's life.


"This could, and should, be viewed as proof positive of the powers that the DIY ethic of Punk Rock can change and enhance a person for the better...It demonstrates that an alternative business model can be attained even as gentrification occurs in the city of Portland...However you view the core of this story, there can be no doubting that it’s an inspirational tale."



"a DIY success story that helped legitimize, organize, and amplify the practice of zinemaking as well as many brilliant voices...I liked Biel's warts-and-all rundown of the pitfalls of managing a business as a collective and the mistakes he and the various members made through miscommunication and bad money management. These are not easy things to admit and it is refreshing to read an honest breakdown of how this shit actually works."


"A gripping and fascinating read – this is the author’s own story...It will make you give pause to think."



"Biel's honesty, his resolve, his tenacity, and his failures as much as his successes make the reader want to root for him..."


"Biel's determination and candor are the highlights of this inspiring tome, and anyone suffering from Asperger's will probably find solace here, and others will enjoy the DIY spirit that has enthused Biel's way of life. Good stuff indeed."


"Joe's health, other relationships, Asperger's diagnosis/coping and the evolution of Microcosm into today's much-more successful model wind up an interesting, fascinating, informative...read."



"Good Trouble is the story of how, over the span of 20 years, inspired by punk rock, he inspired a litany of continuing mistakes and seeming wrong turns into a happy, fulfilled life and thriving publishing business..."


"This business sense left me stunned and I found myself pouring over the details of Biel’s business operations.... A clear literate field only exists when the playing field is leveled, so that all voices and stories are heard. The clear focus of Biel is to be commended and I can’t wait to see what else he releases via Microcosm Publishing."



"Similar to the autobiographical writings of John Elder Robison and Temple Grandin, Biel’s story provides an invaluable service by revealing what Asperger’s is like from the inside; this is extremely helpful to those not on the spectrum."



"One of the “superpowers” of “Aspies,” Biel describes in his book, is an incredible stubbornness and fixation on a goal, something that has helped him rolling through the difficult periods."


"Biel's great love of the punk scene and his great capacity for mathematics were the keys to overcoming his disability. In short, this is the story of someone extraordinary that, despite the difficulties of his life, managed to fulfill his dreams."



“This is the story of how, over 20 years, one person turned a litany of continuing mistakes and seemingly wrong turns into a happy, fulfilled life and a thriving publishing business that defies all odds.”



"This book . . . it’s about beating the odds, messing up and trying again, and turning difficulties into superpowers—while inspiring others to do the same."


"A punk rock publishing manifesto that represents the triumphant ability of the human sprit to rise above devastating loss and crippling obstacles, and find meaning in a weird weird world."


“Good Trouble is a wild and bumpy ride – heartbreaking and heartwarming, raw and intensely personal. Joe Biel’s complex relationships with people, punk, and Asperger’s make for both a relatable memoir and an appropriate frame for the twenty-year history of Microcosm Publishing, whose readers and writers have tried to create a better future from the heavily burdened trenches of the present.”


Good Trouble is good medicine for anyone who's ever daydreamed of running a small business (or running away on a punk rock tour).


Like all the best stories, Good Trouble is a true story. It’s also a success story. Good Trouble shows that road to success, however you define it, is twisty and bumpy and sometimes takes longer than you thought. And then when you get there, success doesn’t look the way you thought it would look at all and there’s a weird smell. You’re all like, “This is success? This is what I killed myself for? Maybe I can get my old job back at the pizza place if I beg.”


Shows an alternate American business model—one where vision and dreams trump financial resources and experience, and where DIY becomes the basis for decisions as Biel and the Microcosm staff define their own route to success inside American capitalism. A true American counter-culture story of the 90’s to the present, Good Trouble presents one path to ensuring the survival of print.


Joe Biel is a part of a legacy—a lineage of independent publishers who scraped up just enough spare change to begin to put new voices into print...After I read Good Trouble my head was buzzing, my ears heard a silent ringing, I suddenly had new eyes to see my own life.


Asperger’s can be hell on relationships, and we get to see that—but we also see how a brain difference helps him create Microcosm Publishing. Numbers talk to him, even when co-workers won’t.


I could not put this book down. Joe’s struggle to run one of the staple businesses of the punk community while negotiating his personal and professional relationships as a man with Asperger’s make this story both educational and compelling. It’s part self-help book for anyone who has trouble understanding his or her own emotions (which I think is everyone) and part biography. It’s a fascinating read.


"So much happens in Good Trouble. ... The book is punk autobiography, an indie small business manual, a reason to worry about what urban sprawl does to cut young people off from diversity and culture, and a painful look at what hides in some homes, hurting too many of those kids."