Review: A People’s Guide to Publishing

(This column is posted at, Steve’s Tumblr, and Pillowfort.  Find out more at my newsletter, and all my social media at my

I picked up “A People’s Guide To Publishing” by Joe Biel to get new ideas for my self-publishing.  Biel founded Microcosm Publishing and knows what he’s doing.  The book changed my writing agenda for the next two years, and I’m going to recommend it to all writers.

The idea behind PGTP is how to start a publishing company.  That may seem to be outside the scope of most indie authors, but a good 80% of the advice applies to them as well.  The difference between “publishing company” and “indie author” is more fluid than many realize.

I learned a few things. So let’s take a look at the book.

The author, Biel, speaks from direct experience creating Microcosm Publishing and interactions with other writers and publishers.  While he acknowledges the world today isn’t the world he started in decades ago, the advice stands up because most of it he’s using right now.

Let’s talk about what the book covers (everything, but let’s list the everything).

I was delighted that the book opens about vision.  Author or future publisher, vision matters – what do you believe in and who do you serve?  Your vision helps you decide on concrete steps, so I was thrilled to see it so well explained (I’ve had to do this before).

After vision, the book covers the real nitty-gritty on publishing and not relying directly on Amazon, Ingrahm, etc.  The author believes – and wants you – to engage in actual physical books and control your printing.  Biel considers Amazon Kindle or Ingram’s POD services to be glorified vanity presses that can limit you, even if they have their uses.  He makes a good case, to be honest.

The advice given here surprised me because it made me think in different ways?  Why not make your book a ‘zine at first to test it?  Could you split distribution between a POD service and a regular printer?  Do ebooks really fit your marketing plan?  Could you just print 20 copies of your book and test it at a bookstore?

With the printing and stocking out of the way it’s time selling, marketing, and more.  This advice isn’t particuarly noteworthy, but what stands out is its practicality and explanations of why things work.  He’s very much of the return-audience, focused-effort, long-term outreach school.  This may sound overwhelming, but he even has advice on using limited time and resources.

Finally, the book discusses running your own publishing business.  Some of this may not be relevant to a solo author, but don’t skip it.  You might find out how to budget better, or understand how to protect your IP.  Like the rest of the book, right when you think “this doesn’t apply to me” it ends up applying to you.

As you guessed, this is a very complete book.  It has exercises, checklists, links, and more.  If you need more, Biel and his company have all sorts of books on writing, publishing, and “punkish” entrepreneurship.

I’d like to say more about the book beyond “buy it,” but buy it.  It’s a fantastic guide to self-publishing, even if you don’t want a company so much as a profitable hobby.

What did it do for me?  It helped me re-look at my back catalog, look into doing less e-book only books and more physical-and-e-books, and look at better ways to do print.  My regular readers know I’m planning to shake things up, this book is why.

No more rambling.  Go get it now, read it now, and use the information.  Maybe we can even learn together.

Steven Savage

Can’t Get No Validation

(This column is posted at, Steve’s Tumblr, and Pillowfort.  Find out more at my newsletter, and all my social media at my

Now and then I encounter or hear of a writer and their works where the person seems desperate for agreement with their worldview.  They don’t want to share an experience, you must agree, or you must be some kind of heretic.  It can be bloody nihilism of some bad horror film or airy utopia bull, but the person wants, craves that agreement.

There’s something peculiarly weird and needy about these kinds of authors and auteurs.  Much like religious evangelists, it seems they need others to feel the same as they do to know they’re real.  It’s like they’d die like Tinkerbell if not clapped for enough, they’re that empty.

I think this is why you find so many failed artists among politicians and even religious leaders, both of whom love big productions and producing media, even if ghostwritten.  Denied the ability to be famous from books or films or comedy, they seek other ways to inflict themselves on the world.  They may have changed fields, but they’re still telling tales and wanting someone to clap.

The thing about these people who need validation is how un-independent they seem to me – be they artists or politicians.  Craving validation so much, they adapt to the market and ride trends and say what works, even when it’s not them.  The author famous for ten pandering books that are famous is no different than the politician who jumps on every trend for votes and makes destructive policies.

So often a quest for validation means there’s no one left to validate – all the person has become is a series of marketing calculations and a bank balance wrapped in human skin.  The thing is the artist may write on war to get attention, the politician may start one. I’ve often said people should get experience in at least one art, so they can communicate and be aware when people are trying to manipulate them.  Perhaps I should also add that becoming familiar with the pathology of art – and art-related professions like politics and religion.

Steven Savage

The Current Of Forms

(This column is posted at, Steve’s Tumblr, and Pillowfort.  Find out more at my newsletter, and all my social media at my

While reviewing my plans for 2023, a few possible writing ideas tempted me.  However, that temptation turned into classification as I told myself certain ideas worked as blog posts.  Fortunately, I stopped myself and asked a question

I asked “why am I assuming these are blog posts?”

Suddenly I felt a shift in perception.  Why do some of us – as I am sure I am not alone – assume the proper form of an idea so easily?  We feel this is a blog post, this is a book, this is some nebulous project we discard, and so on.  At least for me – and I am sure others – it seems we build a mental filing system for how to realize our writing and then rarely touch it.

This “current of forms” that draws us along is similar to ideas of adaptions.  A book becoming a movie or show is treated as some kind of triumph.  I mean it’s often a financial one if you get a good deal, but is it really?  I’ve encountered media in different forms and been surprised what worked well, as opposed to good, if profitable.

This is doubtlessly due to my revived interest in ‘Zines and ‘Zine history.  Seeing so many people self-publish booklets, magazines, and oddities opened my mind to the many ways to give expression form.  I wonder if there are so many ways to publish now that we just automatically slot our ideas into one of the many existing ways and then stop thinking about it.

But it’s worth thinking about!  Is something best as an ebook, or a physical book, or a podcast?  Why is it authors must have a blog when their books may speak for themselves?  Is a podcast more someone’s style even if they like doing a newsletter?  I think it’s worth rethinking what forms we give our works as we may be missing better – and more enjoyable – ways of doing it.

My mind’s been opening up since then.  Why not do some works as PDF e-zines (say, on than blog posts?  Shouldn’t I make print versions of my small Way With Worlds books as they’re so popular and can be donated when one is done?  Maybe I should do that podcast . . .

Do I know where this is going?  Nope.  But I feel like my creativity is going into an interesting direction, freed from the old currents of my mind, and I’m curious to see what’s next.

Steven Savage