eBook – Good Trouble: Building a Successful Life and Business with Asperger’s


The history of Microcosm Publishing, from its origins as a record label and zine distro in Joe Biel’s bedroom closet in Cleveland to a thriving, sustainable 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. He was 18, he lived in Cleveland, he got drunk every day, and he had mystery health problems and weird social tics. All his friends’ lives were as bad or worse. To escape a nihilistic, apocalyptic worldview and to bring reading and documentation into a communal punk scene, he started assembling self-published misfit zines and bringing them in milk crates to underground punk shows. As he applied the economics and values of underground punk rock music to publishing books, his worldview expanded along with his business, and so did and 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 his ability to relate to people, and for everything that added up right, more things broke down. He developed valuable skills and workarounds, but it wasn’t until he was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome 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.

Testimonials for Good Trouble

Library Journal

“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.”

Bicycle Times

“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.”

Staf Magazine

“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.”

Irish Film Critic

“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.”

Kickstarter Newsletter

“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.”

Brett Warnock, co-founder Top Shelf Productions

“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.”

Dawson Barrett, author of Teenage Rebels

“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.”

Ayun Halliday, author of No Touch Monkey!: And Other Travel Lessons Learned Too Late 12/1/2015

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

Bob Suren, author of Crate Digger

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.”

Lisa Wilde, Yo Miss

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.

Sander Hicks, founder of Soft Skull Press (from the foreword)

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.

Joyce Brabner, co-author of Our Cancer Year (From the introduction to Good Trouble)

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.

Brea Grant, director, actress on Heroes, Dexter, Friday Night Lights

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.

Joyce Brabner, co-author of Our Cancer Year (From the introduction to Good Trouble)

“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.”


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Microcosm Publishing

By: Microcosm Publishing

A small, charming, and innovative publishing house, Microcosm Publishing empowers readers to make positive changes in their lives and in the world around them. Microcosm emphasizes skill-building, showing hidden histories, and fostering creativity through challenging conventional publishing wisdom with books and bookettes about DIY skills, food, gender, self-care, social justice, and art. The then-distro and record label was started by Joe Biel in his bedroom in 1996 and is now based in Portland, OR. Microcosm constantly strives to be recognized for our spirit, creativity, and value.