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

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.]


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  



12 Parts of a Perfect Pitch for a Nonfiction Book: Exciting Agents and Editors About Your Proposal

Pitching your nonfiction book to an agent or editor takes less than thirty seconds. The goal: generate maximum excitement in as few words as possible. Without being self-serving, you must capture the essence of your book, why it will appeal to book buyers, and what’s most impressive about your platform, promotion plan, and credentials.

Books are either prose-driven or promotion-driven. Promotion  and platform–your continuing visibility, online and off. on the subject of your book with potential book buyers–aren’t as important for certain kinds of books such as reference books. They’re also not as important for academic presses, or for small, niche, or midsize houses outside of New York. So you have to be clear about your publishing goals for your book and what it takes to achieve them.

Half of the twelve parts of a pitch are optional; you may not need them. Here’s how to excite agents and of editors at Big Apple houses:

  1. A sentence with the title (and subtitle, if needed) and up to fifteen words that prove your book is unique and salable.
  2. The model(s) for your book: one or two books, movies, or authors–“It’s The Tipping Point meets The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.”
  3. (Optional) A narrative nonfiction book, such as a memoir, requires two or three sentences about the time, setting, and the story.
  4. The most important thing about your platform: what you are doing to give yourself continuing visibility on the subject, online or off, with potential book buyers, and if the number is impressive, how many of them, and where. Wrong: “I give talks.” Right: “I give X talks a year to Y people in major markets.”
  5. The most effective one-to-three things you will do to promote your book, online or off, and if the number is impressive and appropriate, how many of them. Your promotion plan must be a believable extension of your platform.
  6. The length of your proposal.
  7. (Optional) The length of your manuscript, if it’s ready to submit.
  8.  (Optional) The names of people who will provide a foreword and cover quotes, if            they’re impressive.
  9. (Optional) Mention if you’re proposing a series.
  10. (Optional) Information about a self-published edition that will help sell it.
  11. Your most impressive credentials: your track record; experience in your field; years of research; prizes; contests; awards.
  12. (Optional) Anything else that will impress agents or editors.

            Like the parts of your proposal, these elements are the building blocks of your pitch. Arrange them in whatever order will give them the most impact. How to Write a Book Proposal discusses platform and promotion.


The 5th San Francisco Writing for Change Conference

Changing the World One Book at a Time

October 12, 2014 /

The 11th San Francisco Writers Conference

A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community 

February 13-16, 2014 / / / Mike’s blog: @SFWC /

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

Larsen-Pomada Literary Agents

Helping Writers Launch Careers Since 1972 / / 415-673-0939

1029 Jones Street / San Francisco, 94109

A Nonfiction Writer’s Audition for Our Agency

Every word in a nonfiction proposal has to be right. The sample chapter has to be as enjoyable to read as it is informative. The proposal has to generate as much excitement as possible
in as few words as possible. But even that may be a small part of the challenge for arousing the interest of agents.

Here is what I email to new nonfiction writers who want to submit a proposal to our agency. I hope it gives you a perspective on what it takes to excite New York publishers about books from new writers:

A book is like an iceberg: Writing is 10%; marketing is 90%. –Chicken Souperman Jack Canfield

Many thanks for writing about your book. Somebody is going to publish it. Out of necessity, our goal is to sell books to New York houses, and they want writers with a platform and a strong promotion plan. So the challenge is to maximize the value of your book before you sell it. Because it’s harder for publishers to launch new authors, publishers want authors who are ready to launch themselves. As agent Rita Rosenkranz says, publishers aren’t buying promise, they’re buying proof. Because we can usually tell from a platform and a plan if we can help a writer, that’s where we like to start.

The plan in your proposal will follow “The Author’s Platform,” a list in descending order of impressiveness of what you have done and are doing, online and off–including numbers when
possible–to give yourself and the subject of your book continuing visibility with potential book buyers. A plan shows how you will use your platform to sell books. Editors won’t believe a plan unless it makes sense based on what the author is already doing.

Your plan starts under the subhead “Promotion” and begins like this: “To promote the book, the author will:…” This is followed by a bulleted list of what you will do, online and off, in
descending order of impressiveness, and when appropriate, how many of them. Begin each part of the list with a verb.

Numbers are very important to publishers. For example, having a blog and writing “Will give talks” won’t help. Publishers will want to know how many people read your blog and how many talks you’ll give and to how many people, which, again, has to be based on what you’re already doing.

If one of your goals is being published by a New York house, you’re welcome to email me just your title followed by your platform and promotion plan, written
as I’ve suggested, in the body of a letter, not as an attachment,
followed by your query letter, whenever they’re ready. Regard your ability to follow these suggestions is a compatability test. Please call me at 415-673-0939, Monday to Thursday, 11 AM-4 PM, California time, if you have questions.

If you haven’t already done so already, please check the helpful information My book, How to Write a Book Proposal has more information about promotion and building a platform.

If I can’t help you as an agent now, our site describes how I may be able to help you as a consultant.

Hope we can help.

Mike Larsen


If your goal is to be bpublished by a small or midsized house outside of New York, you may not need this ammunition to sell your book, and these publishers buy books directly from writers.  But it’s important for you to find books and authors to use as models for your literary and financial goals. Go for it!

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