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


Words and Birds: Catching the Write Flight

Birds in flight … are not between places, they carry their places with them-claims the architect Vincenzo Volentieri. We never wonder where they are: they are at home in the sky, in flight. Flight is their way of being in the world.

–Goeff Dyer, quoted in The Global Soul by Pico Iyer

More people in more places have access to more books faster, more easily, and more inexpensively than ever. If you don’t want to splurge 99 cents to download all of Charles Dickens’ books on your e-reader, you can still have more than 80% of the best books ever written for free.

Public-domain books are available in print and for your e-reader from your library. If, as I do, you prefer print, they’re also available in low-priced editions at bookstores. Want to discover new authors for free or at low cost? Online booksellers and social reading sites like Goodreads will help you discover your next favorite writer.

What a glorious time to be a writer or reader! It’s far from heaven, but it’s about as close as you can get in this mortal coil. And sharing your passion for books online and in book clubs will make friends of strangers.

For birds, the sky’s the limit. But you can soar on the wings of words as far and high as your ability, freedom, resources, creativity, and imagination can take you. If reading and writing are your way of being in the world, now is the best time for you to take flight. You were born to fly. I hope you find home in the sky. May your words be wings that transport you wherever you want to go. Bon voyage!

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 /

From Content to Contentpreneuring: 6 Cs for Becoming a Successful Writer in the Digital Age—Part 1

 The blog and my books have discussed why now is the best time ever to be a writer. But writers need a new model for building a career. They have to reinvent themselves, first as content providers, then as contentpreneurs.

I’ve discussed parts of the model in previous posts, but have added to them and created a framework for them with six words starting with the letter c: content, clarity, communication, contentpreneuring, commitment, and celebration. Each of these words will be a separate post, because each includes several elements.  All are essential to your career.

1. Content

As a writer, your worth comes from your words, and words start with passion. Becoming a successful author requires enthusiasm for words, ideas, writing, books, people, publishing, collaboration, communicating about your work, and serving your readers. To transform passion into profit, believe that what you love to do is what you were born to do.

There are a dozen reasons why now is the best time ever to be a writer. But at a time of technology-driven transformation, writers need a new model for build a writing career.

I’ve discussed parts of it in previous posts, but have added to them unified them in six words starting with the letter c: content, clarity, communication, contentpreneuring, commitment, and celebration. Each of these words will be a post, because each has several elements. All of them are essential to your career.

1. Content

As a writer, your worth comes from your words, and words start with passion. Becoming a successful author requires enthusiasm for words, ideas, writing, books, people, publishing, collaboration, communicating about your work, and serving your readers. To transform passion into profit, believe that what you love to do is what you were born to do.

When the brilliant Little, Brown editor Michael Pietsch first read Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, he said: “I want to publish this book more than I want to breathe.” How much do you want to write and promote your book? Your passion for doing both will help you triumph over obstacles.


After passion comes reading. You can only write as well as you read. Read what you love to read and write what you love to read. An acquaintance once came up to me all excited and said: “I just finished my first novel!”

“That’s great!” I said.

Then he asked, “What should I read next?”

Well, if you’re a novelist, read as many novels as you can. Become an expert on the kind of book you want to write, and analyze what makes them work. What works for you in the books you love will work for your readers. Reading enables you to establish criteria for style, subject, length, content, illustrations, and back matter.


How can you make you and your book stand out in the explosion of books, authors, and media? Creativity: the secret sauce that only you can bring to every aspect of your work. There was a New Yorker cartoon showing a man standing over a cat, next to a litter box, and saying: “Never think outside the box.” To be creative today, you have to think outside the room the box is in.


There was once a cartoon showing one writer saying confidently to another: “I’ve got all the pages numbered. Now all I have to do is fill in the rest.” That’s where craft comes in. Besides reading, writing has five essential elements:

* Coming up with ideas: The French premier Georges Pompidou once said: “Conception is much more fun than delivery.“ Life and the media are inexhaustible sources of ideas.

A New Yorker cartoon shows two women nursing cocktails, and one is saying to the other: “I’m marrying Marvin. I think there’s a book in it.” There’s a book in just about anything and more subjects to write about than ever. If you practice niche craft by creating an idea that lends itself to a series of books you are passionate about writing and promoting, you may be able to build a career with it.

A publisher will buy your idea in one of two forms: For a memoir or a first novel, you usually need a complete manuscript. But most nonfiction is easier to write, sell and promote. And publishers buy most nonfiction from proposals with an introduction about the book and the author, an outline, and usually one sample chapter.

* Research: finding the information you need to write your book. Hemingway believed that you should know ten times as much about your subject as you put into your book. The more you learn, the more you can earn, and technology helps you do research faster and more easily than ever.

* A workstyle: the time, place, and writing tools that work best for you. Kahlil Gibran once wrote: “Your daily life is your temple and your religion.” If you want to be a successful writer, you have to pay your dues to the muse by making writing a daily ritual. Push yourself with an attainable goal for the number of pages you crank out a day and a deadline for finishing your projects. Even a page a day is a book a year.

Ray Bradbury summarized the art of writing succinctly: throw up and clean up.  Decide whether it’s better to outline your book or write your manuscript, then massage it until it’s ready to submit. The Indian statesman Nehru once noted that “All my major works have been written in prison. I would recommend prison not only to aspiring writers but aspiring politicians, too.” There’s only one right way for you to write, and that’s in whatever way enables you to produce your best work.

* Writing: which is a combination of art and craft, poetry and carpentry, vision and revision. Don’t be guilty of premature submission. Mario Puzo, the author of The Godfather, said, “The art of writing is rewriting.”

There’s a cartoon showing two mice sitting on a writer’s desk in the middle of the night reading his manuscript, and one is saying: “We’d do him a big favor if we ate chapter four.” No amount of marketing can make a book that doesn’t deliver sell. If you don’t want rodents and readers criticizing your work, be your own editor. Keep revising your work until it’s 100%, as well-conceived and crafted as you can make it.

Craft leaps off the page instantly.  Agents and editors weed through thousands of submissions a year, so they only read far enough to make a decision. Every word you write, starting with the first word of your query letter, must motivate them to read the next word.

There’s a cartoon showing an editor sitting across a desk from a writer and saying: “I’m afraid chapter five moves a bit too slowly, although the pop-up gorilla does help a little.” You can’t rely on a pop-up gorilla to keep agents and editors reading your work. It’s been said that if at first you don’t succeed, skydiving is not for you. But writing is a forgiving craft. Only your last revision counts, that final reckoning when you must resolve the tension between thought and feeling and make every word count.

The quintessential virtue of salable prose is that it keeps readers turning the pages. If you can keep your readers turning the pages, it doesn’t make any difference what you write about. The fate of your book hinges on the response of its first group of readers. Word of mouse that goes viral is the best promotion your book can have. But it starts with your words. So write as if your future depends on it; your future as a writer does.

* Sharing. The great ballet dancer Nijinsky once said: “I merely leap and pause.” After you take your creative leap, it’s time to pause and get feedback on your work. You can’t get your writing right by yourself, but you don’t have to. Build a community of knowledgeable readers to give you feedback. Consider hiring a freelance editor. It doesn’t matter how you do it, just make sure your work is 100% before submitting it.

Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen share every cup of chicken soup with 40 readers who grade the stories on a scale of one to ten. They only use the 9 and a 1/2s and 10s. So join or start a writing group that meets online or off to critique each other’s work.

Next: the second C word–clarity.

I write the blog to help you understand what you need to know about writing, publishing, promotion, and agents. Rants, comments, questions, and corrections welcome. The 9th San Francisco Writers Conference / A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community / February 16-20, 2012 / / / / @SFWC / 1029 Jones Street / San Francisco, 94109 / / 415-673-0939 / San Francisco Writers University / Where Writers Meet and You Learn / Laurie McLean, Dean / free classes / / / @SFWritersU


Reading Good Memoirs So You Can Write One

Many thanks to author and teacher Laura Davis for this great advice for memoirists:

If you want to write a memoir, it’s essential that you read good ones. Become a student of the genre. What I ask my students to do is to learn to read as a writer, not as a reader. This means studying a book, not just being entertained by it.  I ask my students to read books twice—once to fully inhabit the story, to experience it as a “naïve reader.” And the second time to read beyond the story—to look at the choices the author made and analyze why he/she made those choices.

Some of the questions you can ask yourself when you’re studying a memoir are:

       1. Why did this author start the story where she did? Why did she end it where she ended it?

       2. Does this writer have empathy for all the characters in the book? Why or why not?

       3. What do you think was left out?

       4. How is the memoir structured? Why?

       5. What did the author choose to reveal about herself? Not reveal?

 Here’s a list of some of my favorites, just to get you started:

      1.    Road Song by Natalie Kusz

      2.   Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

      3.   Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison

      4.   Half the House by Richard Hoffman

      5.   I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

      6.   Jarhead by Anthony Swofford

      7.   Expecting Adam by Martha Beck

       8.  The Language of Baklava by Diana Abu-Jaber

       9.   Annie’s Ghosts by Steve Luxemburg

       10. The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls

       11.  Farm City by Novella Carpenter

       12.  Madness by Marya Hornbacher

 Laura Davis is the author of seven bestselling books including The Courage to Heal, Becoming the Parent You Want to Be, and I Thought We’d Never Speak Again. She teaches writing in Santa Cruz and around the country. There are still a few spaces left in her upcoming Memory to Memoir Retreat at a beautiful retreat center above Santa Cruz, on the weekend of November 4th-6th.

Laura Davis:

Memory to Memoir Retreat:

The 9th San Francisco Writers Conference / A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community / February 16-20, 2012 / / / 415-673-0939 / / @SFWC / / 1029 Jones St. / San Francisco, CA 94109 / San Francisco Writers University / Where Writers Meet and You Learn / Laurie McLean, Dean / free classes / / / @SFWritersU