How Writers and Readers Are Changing Publishing

Mike Larsen was awarded the 2018 SFWC/SFWF Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to the publishing industry. Both Mike and his wife Elizabeth Pomada have helped thousands of writers over the years through their literary agency and as cofounders of the San Francisco Writers Conference. Mike is flanked by SFWC Marketing Director Barbara Santos and SFWC Director Laurie McLean.

Publishing’s New Power Couple
23 Reasons Readers and Writers are Reinventing Publishing

Technology disrupts publishing by minimizing the barriers between readers and writers. Publishing only needs three elements: writers, readers, and tools for connecting them. Technology provides the tools. Readers and writers are replacing traditional publishers, media, and reviewers, and creating a new literary culture. Here are 23 reasons writers and readers are creating a new publishing paradigm:


  1. Writers are the most important people in the publishing process, because they create content.
  2. Writing is the easiest of the arts to enter and succeed in.
  3. You have more control over your work and career than ever.
  4. You can reach more readers in more ways and places faster and more easily than ever for free.
  5. Technology makes writing, revising, publishing, and promotion faster and easier.
  6. You have more software tools than ever to help you write.
  7. You have more books and authors than ever to use as models for your books and career.
  8. You have more ways than ever to earn income from your work.
  9. You have more publishing options than ever.
  10. Your books will be published, perhaps by you.
  11. You have more ways to prove the value of your books before you sell or publish them.
  12. You can use crowdfunding to finance your books.
  13. You can use Patreon to support your writing.
  14. Technology empowers you to make a difference as well as a living.


  1. Readers are the second most important people in publishing, because they keep books alive.
  2. More readers in more places can find books in more forms faster than ever for free or at a discount.
  3. The response of readers to your content and communications will determine your success.
  4. Social media makes books readers love unstoppable and makes them sell faster than ever, regardless of who publishes them or how.
  5. Readers want to love your work.
  6. Readers love sharing their passion for books.
  7. You can sustain your relationship with your fans by sharing original and curated material.
  8. 2020, five billion smartphones will connect readers, writers and books.
  9. Five million book-club members can help assure a book’s success.

Worms in the Big Apple

Amazon controls more than 40% of print sales and 80% of ebook sales, which is not healthy for writers or publishers. Others threats to writers include short attention spans, the shift to a visual culture, and the competition for people’s time and money.

Publishers will remain a powerful, essential force for discovering writers and exciting readers about books. But for the first time, the future of writing and publishing is in the hands, eyes, hearts, and minds of the people who make it possible: readers and writers. Give your readers what they want and they will reciprocate.


Mike Larsen, author, Author Coach
Cofounder, San Francisco Writers Conference: A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community and San Francisco Writing for Change Conference: Writing to Make a Difference /
415-673-0939 / 1029 Jones St. / San Francisco, 94109

The One Safe Prediction: 10 Guesses About Publishing in 5 Years

People, companies, and countries that don’t reinvent themselves every three-to-five years will get left behind. 

–John Chambers, Chairman and CEO, Cisco Systems 

The one safe prediction you can make about the future is that you can’t predict it. But here are ten guesses about where the industry is heading: 

  1. Content will remain king, trumped only by the ace: the contentpreneurs who produce it. 
  2. Readers, the second most important people in publishing, will continue to supplant the top-down publishing paradigm by being gatekeepers who rule by word of mouse. 
  3. The form content takes will be irrelevant. Publishing will be a hybrid business; writers and publishers will produce and market content of different lengths in as many forms, media, and countries as they can.  
  4. Fewer, leaner conglomerates will dominate trade publishing, and publishers will thrive by empowering authors to write and promote their book, and by devoting themselves to what they can do better: editing, marketing, production, and distribution. 
  5. Updating ebooks, integrating all media into them, and making them interactive will be transparent. Multimedia nonfiction will be huge, and readers will judge books by their ability to inform and entertain so effectively that awareness of medium and technique disappear.  
  6. Barnes & Noble’s superstores stores will be gone. A growing community of 3,500-4,000 square-foot independent booksellers will thrive because  

–They are essential to the discoverability and the future of print books. 

–They will use different business models, including co-ops; nonprofits like other cultural institutions; a combination store like the carwash cum bookstore and beauty salon cum bookstore that already exist; and membership-based businesses in which customers prepay for books. 

–They will be five-minute Amazons: they will have the books customers want because they will have EBMs, Espresso Book Machines, also essential to the future of print books. EBMs will enable stores to  

* Sell books in and out of print 

* Stock one copy of ten books instead of ten copies of one book 

* Never run out of books at an event 

* Print books their customers write

* Publish books such as anthologies of costumers’ work

–If needed, they will have cafes.

–Besides providing a respite from staring at screens, bookstores will be needed even more as community centers that respond to their community’s needs and tastes, offer events and classes, and serve as a meeting place for reading groups, and writers’ and community organizations.  

–Their customers will understand that a quarter of every dollar spent in a chain store leaves the community while indies spend that income in the community. 

–They will stock magazines to help keep customers informed and print media alive. 

–They will offer same-day delivery. 

–Online and off, major media will be increasingly compromised by advertisers and corporate imperatives, so readers will understand that bookstores are as essential to the flow of information as libraries. 

–Knowing this will prod the American Booksellers Association and Association of American Publishers to collaborate on finding communities that want bookstores and helping them to start them and ensuring they have EBMs. 

  1. AAP will help publishers collaborate on creating a nonprofit, co-op Amazon: a distributor that welcomes all independent and traditional publishers, and lets them set their own terms and fulfill orders.  
  2. To help justify their existence, books more beautiful than ever. In a high-tech, visual culture, the physical and literary pleasures books provide will be more needed and appreciated than ever. 
  3. Agents will be Executive VPs of their clients’ businesses, mentors who help them increase the quality and visibility of their work as well as their income. 
  4. Ten million web-enabled devices will help unite the global village. Their potential for  community, communication, creativity, collaboration, and commerce will provide endless possibilities for writers and publishers. 

To sum up these fantasies in one sentence: the future will be a golden age for writers, booksellers, and publishers who rise to meet the challenges and opportunities of permanent turbulence.  

The goal of the blog is to help us both understand writing and publishing. Questions and additions most welcome. 

The 5th San Francisco Writing for Change Conference / Changing the World One Book at a Time 

October, 12th, 2013 / / / Keynoter:  

Jean Shinoda Bolen, Moving Toward the Millionth Circle: Energizing the Global Women’s Movement  

The 11th San Francisco Writers Conference / A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community   

February 13-16, 2013 / / / Mike’s blog: @SFWC / 

San Francisco Writers University / Where Writers Meet and You Learn / free classes / / / @SFWritersU    

Michael Larsen-Elizabeth Pomada Literary Agents / Helping Writers Launch Careers Since 1972 / / 415-673-0939 /1029 Jones Street / San Francisco, 94109  



Creating a Literary Ecosystem: The 10 Essential Elements of a Successful Writing Career

You can create a literary ecosystem: a balanced, organic, evolving, sustainable, inter-dependent, international, environmentally sensitive community. Your system will be unified by two holy trinities and by passion, interest, service, connection, and commerce. The ten circular, integrated elements of your literary ecosystem will be

  • Passion—your love for creating and communicating your work
  • Purpose—literary, publishing, and community goals that inspire you to achieve them
  • Professionalism

–knowledge about writing, publishing, and your field

-the holy trinity of craft: reading, writing, and sharing

–the holy trinity of commerce: communities, a platform, and test-marketing

–using the technology you need to succeed

  • Perspective—understanding that developing your craft and career is a long-term process
  • Products and services—being a contentpreneur by producing a steady stream of work in your field in different forms and lengths that you re-purpose in other media
  • People—win-win relationships with engaged, committed, growing communities of people you serve who want to help you, because they know, like, and trust you
  • Platform–your continuing visibility, online and off, on your subject or the kind of book you write with your communities and potential buyers   
  • Pre-promotion–test-marketing your work in as many ways as you can
  • Promotion— serving your communities by using your passion and platform to share the value of your work  
  • Profit—what you need to achieve your personal and professional goals and maintain the system

The importance of each element will vary, depending on what you write. Promotion and test-marketing will be more important for a book than a blog post. 

Your ecosystem has to keep learning from and contributing to your communities, the hyper-connected human family, and the planet. Your system will continue to build synergy as long as you sustain it by enriching its soil with content and communication. Make cultivating your ecosystem a lifelong quest. You will accomplish more than you can imagine.

The blog aspires to help us both understand writing and publishing. To make the blog as helpful as it can be, please respond with your questions and suggestions for changes. I hope you find it worth sharing.

Do one thing every day to make the world better .   –John Perkins, Confessions of an Economic Hitman

The 10th San Francisco Writers Conference / A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community / February 14-17, 2013 / / /

Keynoters: Bella Andre, Anne Perry, and R. L. Stine /@SFWC/

San Francisco Writers University / Where Writers Meet and You Learn

Laurie McLean, Dean/free classes/

415-673-0939 / 1029 Jones Street / San Francisco, 94109

The 5th San Francisco Writing for Change Conference / Changing the World One Book at a Time

September 2013 / Unitarian Universalist Center / Geary and Franklin /

Marrying Commerce to Community: The Next Bookselling Revolution

People, companies, and countries that don’t reinvent themselves every three-to-five years will get left behind.

–John Chambers, Chairman and CEO, Cisco Systems

At the end of the nineteenth century, there was concern about the future of reading because people were spending so much time riding bicycles. New technology makes people think either/or instead of both/and. Publishing will continue to be a hybrid business, and it will flourish, online and off, as never before, if the publishing community collaborates on thinking outside the big box, and is creative and resourceful in taking advantage of the huge opportunities technology offers.

Overlooked in discussions about bookselling is that print books are a unique medium. They can be converted into other forms and media, but they are irreplaceably valuable. Imagine the world without movies and CDs as it was at the beginning of the twentieth century. Then imagine it now without print books. A catastrophe for our personal, professional, and political future. Can you imagine taking an oath on an e-reader?

Mosaic: An Online Bookselling Community

One way to assure the future of print books is to regard them as artifacts of culture, not just commerce. The solution to online bookselling is for the publishing community to create its own Amazon as a non-profit cooperative, formed and administered by American Association of Publishers and the American Booksellers Association with the advice and support of The Author’s Guild, the Association of Authors’ Representatives, and other writing and publishing organizations.
Publishers would upload books into the system, post metadata, change whatever they wish whenever they wish, and fulfill orders. The cloud and the low cost of starting tech companies make this project easier and cheaper to accomplish than ever. Present and former Amazonians would be delighted to help. It could start just by selling books, then add features members want.

A possible name for the organization: Mosaic, because it would be a unified image yet each imprint would be distinct and enrich the whole. The slogan to improve on: “We care about books.” With the support of stakeholders in the industry, Mosaic will be fail-proof and a service to readers everywhere. Making the software available to other countries will make the idea universal.

Indies Unbound: An Offline Bookselling Community

It’s been predicted that Barnes & Noble will not recover from its problems and will suffer the same fate as Borders and the independents the chains destroyed. The creative destruction of four-story bookstores will be the greatest opportunity ever for independent bookselling, if they become community-based nonprofits or co-ops. The ideal size for a bookstore is 3,000-4,000 feet. A growing network of independent booksellers can thrive if they do these four things:

1. Become member-and-community-supported nonprofits like other cultural resources, such as PBS, libraries, museums, symphony orchestras, and dance and opera companies. A customer in Four-Eyed Frog Books in Gualala, California handed owner Joel Crockett a $100 bill as a deposit on future purchases, which inspired him to start a Community Supported Bookstore program. Members buy enough books in advance, perhaps at a discount, to help assure the store’s survival.

If the ABA decides to receive petitions from towns with, for example, a thousand names of people who commit to buying $100 worth of books a year, the ABA can help find someone to run it, help the person to start the store, and have someone available to answer questions. Regional associations and other indies will help.

The publishing community can support the ABA in making the case to the government that booksellers who wish should be nonprofits. The AAP and the ABA can help support new booksellers who want to adopt this model. Towns, local realtors, and independent stores could help provide needed products, services, and space.

This could happen with libraries that want to start a store. The ABA can post the demographics required to sustain a store, and send them to librarians, Chambers of Commerce, and regional bookselling organizations asking for potential locations. This idea will lead to the revival of stores forced out of business.

2. Have Espresso Book Machines that enable stores to stock as many books as Amazon as well as printing books for schools and independent publishers. Wouldn’t it be better for stores to stock one copy of twenty titles than twenty copies of one title? I watched Jason Epstein’s excellent Book  Business being printed at McNally & Jackson in New York, before being handed the book warm off the press. It took five minutes. Since technology years are like dog years, in five years, it will take one minute. AAP and ABA should collaborate with Xerox on helping to get EBMs into bookstores now and encouraging publishers to make their lists available on EBMs. Color printing and printing in other formats should be integrated into EBMs as soon as the technology makes it possible.

3. Make Bookstores an ever more needed respite for screenagers by being community centers that

  • respond to their community’s needs and tastes
  • provide events and classes
  • serve as a meeting place for reading and writing groups
  • contribute to community events and causes

4. Continue to collaborate with other businesses to make customers aware that communities lose a quarter of every dollar spent in chains while indies spend that income in the community. There is a growing interest in locally produced food and independently produced goods. Indies can use signing and all the other ways they communicate with customers to convince locavores to become loca-shoppers.

The America we love will not outlive print books. Technology is transforming the world from a collection of me cultures into a hyper-connected we culture, a global village with a human family united by the same needs and desires. We need books more than ever to help solve the problems our institutions can’t.

Technology is giving us these two gifts for the book community to enlarge the community of the book. If, for the first time, the book community collaborates on marshaling the passion of readers, writers, and professionals, print books will receive the support they need and deserve. Like writing and publishing, bookselling is a labor of love. Wedding community and commerce will create an enduring union that will produce happy readers, publishers, and booksellers.

The blog aspires to help you and me understand writing and publishing. To make the blog as good as I would like it to be, I need your comments, questions, and answers. I hope that you will find it worth sharing with your community of writers.
The 4th San Francisco Writing for Change Conference: Changing the World One Book at a Time
September 15, 2012 / Unitarian Universalist Center / Franklin & O’Farrell, San Francisco
The 10th San Francisco Writers Conference / A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community / February 14-17, 2013 / / / /@SFWC/
San Francisco Writers University / Where Writers Meet and You Learn
Laurie McLean, Dean/free classes/
415-673-0939 / 1029 Jones Street / San Francisco, 94109

The Royal Flush of Content: Aceing Big Brother—Part 2

In The Royal Flush of Information: Content is Queen, Community is King, Marketing is the Jack, and Passion is the Ten. Control of Content is the Ace.

Perhaps a decade ago, a book described how industries tend to wind up with three dominant players: Ford, Chrysler, GM; Wendy’s, Burger King, MacDonald’s. Blogger, industry maven, and co-director of PublishersLaunch, Mike Shatzkin thinks that the Web will wind up with three major aggregators of content. The candidates: Apple, Google, and Amazon, the potential
Big Brothers.

President Clinton’s Treasury Secretary Robert Reich believes that the largest banks are so big, corrupt, and irresponsible (San Francisco Chronicle, 11/6) that they should be broken up. In a hyper-connected world, information is the coin of the realm. Tech companies don’t care about writers, books, or publishing. Whatever their executives may personally believe, their job is to follow the money wherever it leads, putting profit before any other purpose.

Printed books have been around for 500 years; none of these companies or technologies will be around in 50 years. Giving Big Brothers the right to control access to culture will be a disaster. Now’s the time to end the bromance and split Apple, Google, and Amazon into companies with less power for controlling culture and less potential for becoming more corrupted by that power. Divide the Brothers before they conquer.

BTW: The Joker is the Future, which no one knows, and no one can predict or control. But as techno-visionary Alan Kay famously said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”
This is where you come in. Give your readers stories to rave about. Enlarge the possibilities for using technology to tell stories in new ways. Dazzle us with your creativity. We will love you for it, and the joke will be on everyone who rejects your work.

[Formatting anomalies not in draft. Suggestions welcome.]

I write the blog to help us both understand what we need to know about writing, publishing, promotion, and agents. I hope you find it worth reading and sharing. Rants, comments, questions, corrections, and ideas for posts greatly appreciated.

The 9th San Francisco Writers Conference / A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community /February 16-20, 2012 / / / / @SFWC / / 415-673-0939 / 1029 Jones Street / San Francisco, 94109

San Francisco Writers University / Where Writers Meet and You Learn / Laurie McLean, Dean / free classes / / / @SFWritersU