Once upon a time, a teenager named Joe Biel started going to punk shows and began dreaming about applying the same do-it-yourself, community values of the punk scene around him, to other pursuits in life. He applied all his passion, his intellect, his difference, his weirdness, his prodigal math skills and floundering social skills to build what would become Microcosm Publishing, and a movement along with it.
Twenty years later, Good Trouble is his story and the story of Microcosm. When you back this project, you'll help get that story out into the world and support the biggest small indie publisher you've never heard of ... until now.
About Good Trouble
Good Trouble is a tale of screwing up, trying again, and always finding a way to do it better. 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.
The book has 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.
You could read the book as a small business case study, a manual for turning your oddities into strengths, a primer on growing up, or as a history of a movement—from the DIY punk scene of the 90s and early 00s to the related explosion of zine culture in Portland during that time.
Microcosm Publishing is a traditional-format paperback book publisher. We use tried and true methods, like offset printing in large quantities, selling to stores, and working with a distributor. We work closely with our authors and staff to develop awesome books that take a couple years (or more!) to publish, and then we pay royalties. In those ways, we're basically just like Penguin/Random House but at a much (much!) smaller scale. We're also a lot different. We are still 100% independently owned. We put all profits back into the business, striving right now to keep our wages up with the rising cost of living in Portland. We publish only books that we believe in, almost all nonfiction with a focus on self-empowerment and the DIY ethic we were founded with.
We've now published over 350 books and have nearly three million books in print. They're all vital parts of our history and our DNA. We love them all, and we want you to read them. But some books sell like wildfire, others go more slowly, and with some we've made mistakes in development that lead them to sit in our warehouse like a bunch of brilliant, hilarious, undiscovered paperweights.
What's all this "making room" about?
Which brings us to... this project. See, they don't tell you this when you're a starry-eyed young publisher just starting out, but the way you count your beans and manage your space and maintain your company culture turn out to be just as important—if not more important—than the glamorous parts everyone knows about, like discovering genius writers, editing their manuscripts, and meeting with reporters over cocktails to share your views on weighty literary matters of our time. In fact, Good Trouble is as good a parable as it gets about the problems of running a business without properly managing all of its parts and not having many resources to begin with.
But no matter how prepared you are, you still may find yourself walking into your warehouse one day and seeing a scene like this:
Here's the thing: we're printing a lot of copies of Good Trouble and the 20 other books we have coming out this year. In the same way that we need money to print them and staff to edit, publicize, and sell them, we need to make room to store them. We don't want to throw older books out or sell them for a penny, which is what most publishers would do. Instead, we'd like to redistribute their contents...to YOU.
- Our 20th Anniversary sticker!
- Good Trouble: It's here at last—for us, this is the book of the decade! It's Joe's story of learning everything the hard way, from relationships to the publishing business. We're really proud of this book. We think you'll like it, too.
-So many books: We've gone through our boxes and our spreadsheets, and come up with 24 books that we have waaaaaaay too many of for a variety of reasons, all of which are unrelated to the awesomeness of the words and pictures within. We can't say enough nice things about these books. They're amazing and life-changing. We're super sad that they're sitting in boxes. Back this project and set them free!
Here's the list:
The basic 3 (selected to represent our range of interests and themes!):
- Scam - Down and out in Miami: squatting, train hopping, bike riding, putting on street corner punk shows, and getting by every old way
- Grow - A practical guide to turning your DIY passion into a business
- White Elephants - Getting through grief by going to thrift stores and yard sales, making zines, and rebuilding close relationships
And the rest of the amazing books:
- Aftermath of Forever - A series of hilariously bad dates, set to music
- Alive with Vigor - Lots of people write about taking back their health
- Bamboozled - The parable of a boxer who got mixed up with the FBI
- Beyond the Music - DIY punks who grew up to do more than music
- The Bobby Joe Ebola Songbook - Start a band! Live your dreams!
- The Book Bindery - Tales of working in print production
- Dream Whip 15 - A pedal-powered cross-country movie tour
- Edible Secrets - Declassified gov't documents, illustrated by Nate Powell of March
- God, Forgive These Bastards - A troubled drifter seeks redemption
- Hurt - Writings on torture and democracy
- Katrina's Sandcastles - A teacher in a New Orleans charter school tells it like it is
- Mark Twain was Right - A graphic novel account of Cincinatti's 2001 riots that rings all too familiar today
- Meal Deal with the Devil - A singalong song book for grownups
- New Girl Law - Young women in Cambodia rewrite their country's gender rules
- Railroad Semantics #1 - Aaron rides trains around the west, tagging, taking photos, and sharing his experience
- Railroad Semantics #2 - Continued railroad adventures with gorgeous photography
- Slip of the Tongue - Wise, beautiful, feminist writing about language
- Snake Pit 2008 - Every day of his life, Ben draws a 3-panel comic
- Unsinkable - Building a boat or raft out of scrap and sailing away
- We'll Never Have Paris - Stories of regrets and ill-fated exploits
- DVDs: For a while, we published documentaries, too. Then that industry tanked hard. So we have 5 excellent stories in DVD format that we'll be sending out with some of the rewards. Here are the 5 documentaries:
- $100 and a T-Shirt - The essential documentary about zines
- Between Resistance and Community - Anatomy of a Long Island DIY punk scene
- Homeland Insecurity - A dreamlike visit to la frontera
- Still We Ride - Behind the NYPD's war on bicycling
- X-Ray Visions - The Portland all-ages music venue that defined an era
- Hurt books: Our books travel a lot. They go from the printer in the midwest to our office on the coast and our distributor's warehouses in Tennessee; they get shipped from these places to various wholesalers and stores and whatnot; and then sometimes they get shipped back again. Things happen. Sometimes they get a little banged up—anything from the tiniest scuff to a bent corner or torn pages. Then we keep them on a shelf waiting optimistically for someone to come love them. Maybe that someone will be you. If you get a reward with hurt books, they could be any book we have ever published, old or new. Who knows!
- BFF subscription: You'll get every book we publish, shipped monthly, for the next six months
- Books and movies by Joe: Joe's been a prolific author. Two of his books (Bamboozled and Beyond the Music) are part of the magic 24. His documentary $100 and a T-shirt is one of the 5 DVDs. Here are the others that remain in print:
- Make a Zine
- The CIA Makes Science Fiction Unexciting
- The Story of Lee Harvey Oswald
- Bipedal, by Pedal #2 and #3
- The Perfect Mix Tape Segue (any in print)
- Aftermass (DVD)
- If it Ain't Cheap, it Ain't Punk (DVD)
- Cycling Shorts (DVD)
- Cantankerous Titles & Obscure Ephemera (DVD)
Thank you—whether you've been supporting Microcosm since the beginning, are just discovering us now, or have found out about us somewhere along the way—we couldn't do any of this without you the readers. We're very glad you're out there. Please accept these books as our thanks. And whatever you do, keep reading books!
And wow, you made it this far! In case you don't want this project description to end, here are twenty photos representing twenty years of Microcosm. Enjoy!
Thank you again. We couldn't do this work without you.
Risks and challenges
If this project is unsuccessful, we will sit sadly, alone and cold, in our warehouse bunker, surrounded by teetering stacks of boxes. Eventually we will become motivated to find another solution, such as building a new building around our building with boxes—laminated heavily with waterproof sealant to keep out the elements, of course. When that outer building fills up with boxes, we will build yet another shell. Eventually, we will encroach far enough into the street that all car traffic will grind to a halt and only cyclists, pedestrians, skateboarders, and people in wheelchairs will be able to get through. So perhaps we should hope to fail. But we really would rather make your year awesome by sending you a bunch of books.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (23 days)