Wolverine profits from a passion for words

Todd Simmons is the director of Wolverine Farm Publishing/Matter Bookstore, which is located in the Bean Cycle galleries in the heart of Old Town Fort Collins. The company is best known for Matter Journal, an annual literary/art journal, Boneshaker: A Bicycling Almanac, and Matterhorn, a quarterly newspaper that can be picked up around town and read online. Todd was drawn to find work with greater meaning when he began as a sole proprietor in 2002, to build a publishing company. He converted his sole proprietorship to a 501(c)3 nonprofit in 2005, with the help of a grant from New Belgium Brewing. Today, approaching its 10th year in business, Wolvervine Farm Publishing is thriving thanks to a growing fan base and the generosity of individuals and organizations who donate to the Matter Bookstore. In addition to Todd, Wolverine has four part-time employees, two contractors, and dozens of volunteers.

Q: Tell me about the idea that started Wolverine Farm Publishing.
A: Amidst a debilitating quarter-life crisis in 2002, I found myself fleeing from my environmental science career in Idaho with a homemade yurt strapped to my car. I really didn’t have a good idea of what I was going to do, other than try to write myself out of my crisis. I loved all things wild, but also had a soft spot in my heart for farming, which in retrospect sheds light on the genesis of the name Wolverine Farm. I was inspired in part by Walt Whitman – who back in 1855 published a set of poems called “‘Leaves of Grass”‘ and was a shameless promoter of his own work – he is one of the better known self-published authors in history. I published a short collection of my own work and soon after connected with a like-minded community of authors and activists who trusted me to publish their work. After a year of this, I connected with Anne MacDonald (director of Arts Alive at the time) who gave me some crucial insights into converting to the nonprofit model.

Q: What are the biggest challenges you face now and ahead of you?
A: Right now, our challenges are managing growth, juggling several responsibilities, managing a team of volunteers, coordinating events, and maintaining close engagement with the community. 2011 was a big year – we published five books, four newspapers, did a 13-city tour with New Belgium (for a book about Tour de Fat) and now we are approaching our 10-year anniversary (2013). Looking ahead, I am keenly aware that e-books will affect how we want to make books, as we place a high emphasis on the book as an art object.

Q: What would you like Wolverine Farm to be known for 10 years from now?
A: For our creative approach to exploring the exciting and diverse border between wildness and civility. And for providing a valuable local platform for our many talented writers, artists and activists.

Q: What has made the biggest difference to your business in the last five years?
A: The amazing people I get to work with – our staff and volunteers. They are smart, engaged, and very passionate. Second, opening a retail space in the Bean Cycle – it has increased our visibility and deepened our connections with the community. The ability to hear feedback directly from our readers is invaluable for a publisher. Third, we have a very strong literary community emerging in Northern Colorado. There are dozens of talented, accomplished, and successful authors living right here in Fort Collins, and, artistically speaking, they are our most undervalued citizens.

Q: Any suggestions for those considering going into business for themselves?
A: Stick to your ideals if you can deal with the consequences. I had plenty of people tell me I was crazy to try to start a publishing company and open a bookstore. You have to be willing to see it through, and you will when you have passion and a willingness to take risks.

Q: What would it say on your tombstone?
A: “Actions speak louder than words.” It’s a saying my mom engrained in me as a child, and sort of funny now, given what I do today. My entire livelihood is built upon words!

Brian Schwartz is the founder of 50 Interviews Inc. He can be reached at www.50interviews.com.

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