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

Writing for the Knowosphere: Serving Screenagers in the Global Mobile Village

“Soon all media that ever was will be instantly servable….We are only at the dawn of the age of immersive and total connectivity.”
–Author and media maven Michael Wolff, USA Weekend article (7/11-12)

We are floating in the knowosphere where three billion hyperconnected global villagers have instant access to what Wolff calls “the Niagara of content.”
We’re simultaneously in a state of information deficit and information overload, and there’s nothing we can do about either of them. The more there is to know, the less we know of it.

How can you make the growing number of people around the world who want to read your work aware of it? Here are nine suggestions for keeping you and your work afloat when the falls are absorbed into the endless, bottomless stream of content:

1. Read.

You can only write as well as well as you read, so read as many books you love as you can. Those are the books you’ll love writing. They will be models for the style, content, and length of your books. One of those authors may be the model for your career.

  • Use Goodreads and other social media to become part of the community of readers who love the kind of books you’re writing.
  • Come up with an idea for a series of books that you are passionate about writing and sharing, and it can the foundation of your brand and your career.

2. Visualize.

Because of technology, human consciousness is shifting back from the left side of the brain to the right, from words to images.
Wolff noted that:

• Adults spend eleven hours a day on digital media and twenty-three hours a week texting.

• Gamers play three billion hours of video games a week.

• Websters are watching six billion hours of YouTube a month.

They are all the same age: screenagers, dividing their time between computers, cellphones, tablets, televisions, gps devices, and movie screens. The Net net? Writers have to think in images as well as words when writing and promoting their books. What visual elements can you use in your work? Photos, videos, graphics, sound effects, animation?

• The greatest creative opportunity on the planet is telling a story combining all of these elements so effectively that readers aren’t aware you’re doing it.

• By 2020, humanity will be networked with fifty billion web-enabled devices. Books will follow the movies: The biggest source of growth will be foreign sales. In the global mobile village, most books will be read on phones. Enhanced ebooks that integrate other media are the real revolution after Gutenberg. How can you make your books as enjoyable to see as they are to read?

• The title and cover of your book are essential elements in convincing browsers, online or off, to take a closer look at it. How can you use an image in your title and cover art to attract readers?

• Include a link to a video of you showing your passion for writing and promoting your book in your e-query letter and when you submit your work.
Also have a clear, inspiring vision of your literary and publishing goals—what you want to write and the future you want for your work and yourself.

3. Think Small.

You will write different kinds of work of different lengths for different media for free and for fees. But you have to build engaged, win-win communities of fans who will read everything you write.

If you write fiction and nonfiction, or about different subjects or different kinds of fiction, you will have to build a community of readers for each kind of writing. To accelerate the growth of your career, focus on the books that will enable you to reach your literary and publishing goals as quickly and easily as possible. When you achieve your goals, you will be free to write anything you want, and you’ll have a fan base to help you get started.

4. Think Big.

One reason now is the best time to be a writer is that you have more ways than ever to profit from your ideas. So think about your idea in the biggest possible way. The moment you decide on the idea for your book, start making a list of ways that you can monetize it, such as other books, audiobooks, speaking, merchandise, a movie, and foreign rights. Also start a list of ideas for other books in the series you want to write, whether they’re sequels or standalones.

Most authors have to publish at least five books to build an audience. Repurposing your work in as many ways as you can will speed up the process of building your readership and your income.

5. Universalize.

Global villagers share the same needs, fears, and desires. This is why the kinds of books on bestseller lists haven’t changed in a century. A growing number of them read in the international language of culture and commerce. Before long, more Chinese will read English than Americans. You are writing for the world of book buyers who want to read your work.

6. Emulate Your Models.

Until you know who the author is that you were born to be, use your favorite books and authors as models for your books and career. When you succeed, you and your books we be models for other writers.

7. Serve.

Live to serve. Your future will depend on how well and how often you serve your communities of readers and the other people you need to succeed.
The two keys to serving your communities are passion and craft. Your ability to conceive and craft your books so your readers love them will determine the fate of your work. Your eagerness to share your passion for the value of your books will help determine how quickly you succeed.
Your love for writing and sharing your work will help you create your tribe, a fan base of lifetime champions who will read everything you write, buy everything you sell, and tell others about your work.

8. Compete.

Almost 700,000 trade books were published last year. Traditional publishers do less than 300,000, self-publishers almost 400,000. As Wolff remarked about all media, “supply has overwhelmed demand.” And that’s without taking into consideration all of the other ways consumers can spend their free time and discretionary income.

Apart from continuing to compete with yourself by striving to do your best work and being relentlessly passionate about sharing the value of it, you have to help meet the competition awaiting your work with  technovation. This is author Kit Yarrow’s word for using technology to innovate. The way to stand out from other authors is to keep innovating in how you write and promote your books. Follow authors in your field, and ask fans and friends to let you know about what other authors are doing, so you can adapt their ideas.

9. Enjoy!

It’s been said that an adventure is what happens when something goes wrong. Building your career will be an adventure, and things will go wrong along the way. Let your goals keep you inspired, and change them if you wish. You are what you want as well as what you do. Bon voyage!


The goal of the blog is to help us both understand writing, publishing, and their place in the world. I teach what I need to learn. Questions and comments most welcome.
Do one thing every day to make the world better. –John Perkins, Confessions of an Economic Hitman
The 6th San Francisco Writing for Change Conference / Changing the World One Book at a Time
September, 6th, 2014 / /
Keynoter: Adam Hochschild
The 12th San Francisco Writers Conference & Open Enrollment Classes
A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community
February 12-16, 2015/ / / Mike’s blog: @SFWC /
Keynotes: Judith Curr, John Lescroart, Yiyun Li
Michael Larsen-Elizabeth Pomada Literary Agents / Helping Writers Launch Careers Since 1972 / / 415-673-0939 /1029 Jones Street / San Francisco, 94109


A Declaration of Independence for Writers

When, in the course of publishing events, it becomes necessary for writers to end the hopes that lure them to the five New York conglomerates that dominate trade publishing, and to assume among the powers of writers and publishers, the separate and equal station to which the First Amendment entitles them, a decent respect to the opinions of humanity requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all writers are created equal, that they are endowed with certain unalienable rights, that among these are the rights to write and publish as they please. That to fulfill these rights, publishers are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the writers they serve.

Whenever publishing becomes destructive to these ends, it is the writers’ right to alter how they publish, and to institute new organizations, businesses, and ways of working, laying their foundation on such principles and organizing their powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their success.

Despite their passion and commitment for finding and publishing good books, the five New York conglomerates that dominate trade publishing are prisoners of outdated traditions and the profit expectations of corporate overloads, most of them abroad.

New writers trust that being published by one of the conglomerates assures success, but more than 80% of traditionally published books fail. The truth is that being published by a conglomerate is far more likely to lead to failure than success, making it harder to sell the author’s next book.

The conglomerates’ growing expectations for books and authors’ platforms and promotion plans make it harder for writers to find the literary agent they need to be published by conglomerates. More than 90% of new writers have to sell their books to independent presses themselves or publish independently to test-market their work and their ability to promote it.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that publishing traditions long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that writers are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abandoning the traditions to which they are accustomed.

But when a long train of abuses, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them by not publishing them or doing justice to their work, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such traditions, and to provide new ways of publishing for their future success.

Such has been the patient sufferance of writers; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter former systems of publishing. The history of the conglomerates is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object profit and the establishment of control over writers and their books. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

Publishers want their books to succeed, but because they are publishing too many books, the conglomerates:

  • Cannot provide all of the editorial, design, distribution, marketing resources, or the efforts in selling subsidiary rights necessary for all of the books they publish
  • Devote most of their resources to the few books for which they have the greatest financial or emotional commitment
    Do not give their books enough time to build a readership
  • Do not give authors enough access to information about their books
  • Withhold authors’ income longer than necessary
  • May sell overstock or put a book out of print without giving authors a chance to buy copies
  • Do nothing for most books after their brief launch window
  • May merge with another conglomerate which affects their authors’ books, income, and perhaps their editors

We and organizations representing us have petitioned for redress. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common interest to disavow the lack of support for our books. We must, therefore, hold them as frenemies: indifferent or hostile in commerce for most books, but friends and allies in our love of writing, books and publishing.

Therefore, as writers of the United States of America, we do solemnly publish and declare, that writers are, and of right ought to be free and independent; and that as free and independent writers, they have full power to write, publish, and promote their work as they see fit, and to do all other acts and things which independent writers may of right do.

And for the support of this declaration, with the help of technology and a firm reliance on the protection of the First Amendment, we mutually pledge to support each other in pursuing our literary and publishing goals.

Now is the best time to be a writer or publisher. Writers and publishers will continue to contact each other in the attempt to create lasting relationships that grow more creative and profitable as writers’ careers develop.

We know that authors usually have to publish at least five books to build an audience. Developing our career enables us to build our visibility and communities of people to help us, and to learn how to promote and test-market our work. When we become successful enough, agents and publishers will find us. Then we will have to evaluate whether a publisher will add enough to our efforts to justify giving up our independence.

Until then, we will leave it up to our readers to determine how good and successful our work is. As Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote: “The best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market.”

[This was written in the hope that writers will amend, sign, and forward it.]


4 Lessons from Amazon Writers Need to Succeed

Amazon revolutionized bookselling by integrating pricing, selection, convenience, innovation, and customer-centricity. Here’s how you can adapt Amazon’s strengths to become a successful writer:

1.     Be reader-centric.

  • Write what your readers want to read.
  • Take the time and get the help you need to ensure your work is ready.
  • Test-market your work so you can publish it with pride and confidence.
  • Serve your readers, online and off, in as many ways as you can.
  • Make an ever-growing selection of your work available in as many forms, media and countries as you can, along with your other products and services.
  • Keep learning from your readers and other authors. Ask them how you can improve every aspect of what you do.
  • Mindshare is more important than market share. Readers are more important than profit.
  • Be flexible in balancing profit and building a community of readers in pricing your work.
  • Reward faithful readers and those who make suggestions for improvements.

 2.     Innovate.

  •  Adapt what you write and how you communicate to whatever is working best in the marketplace.
  • Have a community of techies who help you keep your technology up to date and provide ideas for innovations.
  • At a time of accelerating change, be prepared to change whenever the benefits of changing outweigh the hassles of doing it

3.     Be convenient.

  •  Make it easy for readers to communicate with you and buy your work.
  • Make it easy for the media and those who need speakers to find you and the information they need from you.

 4.     Hold off on drones for now.

For Amazon, the cost of success is being a frenemy: writers’ and publishers’ biggest customer and an evil empire out to destroy booksellers and publishers. It’s nothing personal, strictly business, and as Jeff Bezos has predicted, Amazon will be disrupted by the next retail revolution. Hope you succeed in ways that you can tell your kids about.

 What did I leave out?

The goal of the blog is to help us both understand writing and publishing.

Questions and comments most welcome.

The 6th San Francisco Writing for Change Conference / Changing the World One Book at a Time

September, 6th, 2014 / / 

Keynoter: Adam Hochschild

The 12th San Francisco Writers Conference  & Open Enrollment Classes

A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community 

February 12-16, 2015/ / / Mike’s blog: @SFWC /

Keynoter:  Yiyun Li

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