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.]


10 Ways to Find the Agent You Need

An old cartoon shows a group of agents sitting around a table, and one of them is saying: “We’ve got to figure out a way to keep these damn writers from getting ninety percent of our income.

In the early eighties they did find a way: they raised their commissions to fifteen percent. Agents are now trying to figure out how to cope with the changes in publishing. Some  are adding services and increasing their commissions. But one reason why now is the best time ever to be a writer is that there are more ways to find an agent than ever. And the more challenging publishing becomes, the more agents and editors need new writers. Here are ten ways to find the agent you need:

1. Your writing community: The writers you know, online and off, will recommend agents.

2. The Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR): The 450 agents in AAR are the best sources of experienced, reputable agents. Members are required to follow the AAR’s code of ethics. The directories talked about in item number five of this list indicate when an agent is a member, and you can look up agents at

3. The Web: Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Google, online directories, agents’ websites..

4. Writers’ organizations: They’re listed online and in Literary Market Place.

5. Directories: Directories vary in the kind and amount of information they provide. For the best results, check what the first two say about the same agency: Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents; Guide to Literary Agents; Literary Market Place (LMP).

6. Literary events: Writing classes, readings, lectures, seminars, book signings, conferences, and book festivals present opportunities to meet and learn about agents and publishers. Conferences offer opportunities to meet agents.

7. Magazines: Publishers Weekly, The Writer Magazine, Writer’s Digest, and Poets & Writers have articles by and about agents. If you don’t want to splurge on a subscription to Publishers Weekly, read it at the library or online.

8. Books: Check the dedication and acknowledgment pages of books you like and books like yours.

9. Your platform: Let agents or publishers find you—be visible online and off, get published and give talks, publicize your work and yourself. When your continuing national visibility is great enough, agents and editors will find you.

10. This is an online news source and community for publishing insiders. If you become a member ($20/month), then you’ll have access to a database of publishing deals made by agents and editors, as well as contact info for hundreds of publishing professionals.

Finding agents is easier than ever. Getting one to say yes is a far greater challenge and the subject of the next post.

Adapted from the fourth edition of How to Write a Book Proposal by Michael Larsen, Writer’s Digest, April 2011.

The Third San Francisco Writing for Change Conference: Changing the World One Book at a Time / November 13-14, Hilton Financial/Chinatown / /Keynoters: Dan Millman (The Way of the Peaceful Warrior) and John Robbins (Diet for a New America) / blog:

End Rejections and Obstacles Immediately

Where you stand depends on where you sit.

–Miles’s Law

It’s been said that you have about the same chance of winning the lottery whether or not you buy a ticket.

I received an email from a writer who I’m sure believes that you have about as much chance of getting a book published whether or not you write it. He is so discouraged by the process that he’s going to stop writing. I wrote to him, and here are my thoughts on his predicament:

As a writer whose work has been rejected often and an agent whose submissions to editors have been rejected thousands of times, I empathize with you. Want to stop getting rejections? Don’t submit anything. That and self-publishing are the only ways to do it. Otherwise, accept the inevitable. The New Yorker rejected a story by Saul Bellow after he won the Nobel Prize for literature.

Publishing is a business that guesses wrong most of the time. More than 80% of the books that are published lose money, and agents and publishers reject bestsellers. Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 has that title because it was published by the 22nd publisher to see it.

Publishers want to publish books with pride and passion. They love literary books as much as they need commercial books, and bestseller lists include both kinds of books.

I’m sorry you haven’t been able to connect with an agent or editor. Their jobs depend on them finding new writers and helping them succeed, and it’s the best part of their job. But they accept less than one percent of the submissions they see.

You’re angry because they send form letters. But  agents and editors receive thousands of submissions a year, so they can’t take the time to write personalized letters.

Your query letter may be part of the problem. Agent Katharine Sands says: “The writing you do about your writing is as important as the writing itself.” This is why you need readers who can assure you that every word is right, and your that letter has the impact you want it to have.

Your proposal or manuscript may also be the reason why you haven’t sold your book.

How many competitive books have you read to establish criteria for your book?

What books did you use as models for your book?

How closely does your work meet the standards they set?

How many drafts did you do?

How many qualified readers gave you feedback on your work as you were writing it and after you finished it?

Agents and editors can tell instantly whether someone can write and knows how to start a proposal or manuscript, and because they’re swamped, they must decide as quickly as they can whether to keep reading.

Are they infallible? No.

Do they make mistakes? You betcha.

At the San Francisco Writer’s Conference, bestselling thriller writer Steve Berry said that his first five novels were rejected eighty-five times. Five of Sue Grafton’s first seven novels were never published. After Danielle Steel’s first novel was published, she wrote five more that were never published.

Although technology can accelerate success in the arts, writing is the easiest of the arts to enter. All you have to do is sit down and start putting black on white. It’s also the easiest in which to succeed. You may feel better about your problems if you talk to actors, artists and dancers about the challenges they face.

You have to have faith in your work and yourself and keep writing. You’ll become a better writer with every book. Sure, you’ll go through periods of doubt, but if you persevere and have readers to critique and encourage you, you will work your way through the doubt.

Want to eliminate all of the obstacles in your life immediately? Eliminate your goals. No goals, no obstacles. The challenges you face are commitment tests. The larger your literary and financial goals, the greater the obstacles you will have to overcome to reach them. And the sweeter your success will be when you do.

Ray Bradbury once said that when you’re starting out, you have to learn to accept rejection. When you succeed, you have to learn to reject acceptance. I hope you’ll have that problem as soon as possible.

If anything can stop you from becoming a writer, let it. If nothing can stop you, do it and you’ll make it.

Comments and questions welcome.

Selling by Telling: Speaking from the Heart

Jerry Seinfeld once said that people are more afraid of public speaking than they are of dying. This means that at a funeral, you’d be better off in the coffin than giving the eulogy.

Speaking, like writing, is exposing yourself in public, so  fear is natural. But readers want to connect with authors in person, so speaking can accelerate sales and the development of your career.

If speaking about writing, your work, your subject, or yourself makes sense for your book, consider these suggestions:

Giving talks will help you

* promote and build an audience for your book and other talks

* get feedback on your ideas, your humor, the impact of your stories, and the difference you make in listener’s lives

* build

–sales of your books, products and services

–word of mouth

–online buzz

–relationships with your listeners

–your email list, if you ask for addresses

–a collection of videos for fans, agents, editors, the media, book buyers, and people who book talks

The challenge is making your listeners share your passion for your book. Look at a talk as having three parts: an introduction, the body of the talk and a conclusion. Or as someone once said: Tell’em what you’re gonna tell ‘em, tell ‘em, then tell ‘em what you told ‘em.

As with your book, don’t think about what you’re selling, think about what people are buying. What’s the best way to present the essence of your book so it serves and excites your listeners? Appealing to the head is easier than appealing to the heart. People understand the value of ideas. The heart part is harder.

The most effective talks inform, enlighten, entertain and inspire. They

* provide valuable information

* present a vision or perspective based on that information

* hold listeners spellbound

* inspire audiences to act, if only to buy what you offer

* continue to improve as speakers learn from responses to them and find ways to make them more effective

Unless you can read a section of your book that will have a strong affect on audiences, the impact of reading isn’t clear to me. Usually, the Q & A session that follows readings is more interesting. But reading is a standard part of book-signings for novelists and memoirists, and if it will help sell your book, do it.

Use handouts. They add lasting value to your talks and can include your contact information, events, products and services, and order information. The organization that  invites you to speak may print them for you.

Want the best intro? Write it yourself. Also write your outro, what you’d like to have said after you speak about book sales, upcoming events, your blog and website.

Most of what you communicate isn’t the words; it’s you. It’s everything else that audiences experience: your clothes, movement, gestures, voice and passion.

To minimize the fear of speaking:

* Attend talks, watch them on YouTube and television, listen to them on iTunes and CDs. Use the best as models.

* Write and revise your talk until it’s as strong as you can make it. Use stories and humor. Credit the work of others.

* Practice your talk as often as you can.

* Audition your talk. Ask people to make suggestions, and grade the content and impact on a scale of one to ten.

* If you’re planning to read your talk, underline the syllables you will stress. Professionals memorize talks. They look at the parts of them as modules that they can shift and eliminate, depending on the length and subject of the talk.

* Attend a talk at places where you’ll speak, if you can.

The better you know your talk and the more often you give it, the more confidence and less fear you will experience. The kicker: the fear of speaking is a good thing if you use it to energize your talk.

Business, professional and nonprofit organizations need speakers. As soon as you feel ready to speak, begin doing it. You’re an amateur until someone asks you how much you charge.

At the end of your talk, ask your audience to tell you if they know of any organizations that would like you to speak. If you’re speaking before publication, they may welcome you back when your book comes out.

What are the joys of speaking?

* Audiences laughing at your jokes and being moved by your stories

* Listeners telling you how much they enjoyed your talk

* Changing people’s lives

* Getting paid to give voice to your passion

* Creating a community of fans and customers

* Being asked to come back

* Getting referrals for talks

If corporations, associations and nonprofit organizations will pay you to speak, you may be able to make more income from giving talks and selling books after them than you can in royalties.

To develop your speaking skills, join Toastmasters, If you want to become a professional speaker, join the National Speakers Association,

The pen is mightier than the sword, but the tongue may be more lucrative than either.

Comments, questions and humor welcome.