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

Why a Powerocracy is Winning World War III and How Writers Can Help Save the World

Whoever has any authority over you, no matter how small, will attempt to use it.

–Quigley’s Law

Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.    

–Barack Obama

World War III started in the eighties. Not a shot was fired, so no one noticed. A Pocracy (that’s short for Powerocracy and suggests the gap between its words and actions) silently declared war on people and the planet. After three decades, the Pocracy–a borderless, international assortment of individuals, businesses, governments, and institutions that act independently yet increasingly control our lives–is winning.

Only a worldwide movement of tech-enabled citizens, collaborating to save their rights, their communities, their country, and the environment, can save us. If the resistance to the Pocracy doesn’t make itself felt by the end of the decade, it may be too late.

The War is the inevitable consequence of the quest for order, efficiency, growth, control, power, and money. Technology became the engine that enabled business, government at all levels, religion, nonprofits, the media, the military, and individual influencers to become the Pocracy.

Speaking Truth to Power

The Pocracy’s members first gained support by providing solutions to problems. But power corrupts. That’s the human condition. Now members are concerned more with their own agendas than what is best for the human family and the planet. Because of their power, willingness to collaborate–even with competitors–the Pocracy has become the biggest problem humanity faces. The cumulative effects of the War are growing rapidly, and these tragedies will continue to worsen, unless those who care act.

Because power corrupts at all levels of organizations from local to international, the real enemy we face is power–the power of position, money, time, size, secrecy, belief, ignorance, prejudice, family, the tribe, tradition, the media, marketing, consumerism, inertia, and short-term thinking. The unimpeded growth of the Pocracy makes it increasingly difficult to prevent its members from controlling humanity instead of serving it.

One sign of the problem: patriotism becomes treason. As Edward Snowden said in December, “I am still working for the NSA right now. They are only ones who don’t realize it.” 

Members of the Pocracy have their own onerous, complex set of growing challenges. They can’t provide a vision of our problems, let alone solutions.  Only a bottom-up movement can convince the Pocracy and their employees that serving the common good is in their long-range interest.

Peace is the Way

Force can’t bring about the changes we need. The movement needs to embrace the principles and practices of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela, and be further empowered by creativity, innovation, technology, and scalability. Because means affect ends, we need to balance passion for our ends with compassion while striving for them.

The millions of people who work for the Pocracy are our friends, colleagues and members of our family. They are potential allies who have gone or been led astray. Most believe they are doing the right thing. But our shared nature and fate bind us far more tightly than what separates us.

The Pocracy needs to make the short- and long-term effects of their actions on people, their communities, and the planet transparent more important than growth or profit. Its members need to be accountable to a local or international court of law, based on an enforceable International Bill of Rights ( The court’s judgments need to be swift enough and the cost of transgressions certain and great enough to prevent them. But courts need to make ensuring justice more important than following the letter of the law.

Decision-making needs to be an open, collective, expeditious process. But when change is rapid, disruptive, and unpredictable, decisions need to be monitored and revised as needed. This requires the perpetual scrutiny of media not dependent on advertising or the beliefs of their ownership.

Making Change Possible

Change will come from a mobilized grass roots.

–Barack Obama, Dreams from my Father

The movement needs to overcome the Pocracy’s resistance to change and its effects members’ power or profit. The world needs the benefits the Pocracy provides, and businesses deserve to make a fair profit. The challenge is to focus members’ efforts on what will serve them, us, and the world in a sustainable way.

People who can exercise the power of the ballot need to:

  • Find and elect representatives with no interest in wielding power who are more concerned about their constituencies than themselves
  • Elect officials for as short a period of time as possible
  • Make finding and preparing their successors a continuing process

 Writers and other independent media people have to communicate unbiased, compelling visions of problems and solutions. They are essential voices of change that give their audiences the facts, vision, guidance, and inspiration they need to work together. The goal of the San Francisco Writing for Change Conference ( is to empower writers to become change agents.

 Mobile devices, the organizing tool for the movement, will enable it to maximize its worldwide potential for communication, creativity, community, and collaboration. The movement will only prevail if it is eternally vigilant and makes monitoring and renewing itself an integral, continuing part of how it functions.

 How the Movement Will Succeed

 The movement needs to generate momentum from the bottom up. The challenges it will face are to enable the world to:

  • Abandon individual and collective beliefs that don’t serve the good of humanity. As New York Times columnist Mark Bittman said of food: “If it’s good for us, it’s good for the planet.”
  • Agree on the magnitude and threat of the problems
  • Enlist the support of the Pocracy and its workers
  • Harness the world’s wisdom, knowledge, creativity, innovation, and skills to find solutions
  • Give individuals and organizations enough power to be effective, but not enough to be corrupted
  • Carry them out while–as a United Nations report on climate change noted–“managing the unavoidable and avoiding the unmanageable”
  • Celebrate victories to help sustain the movement’s hope, spirit and momentum 

 The United States is the logical place to start the movement. Americans can be catalysts for the coming of age of the human family by beginning the collaboration needed to preserve freedom and Gaia’s global village. Winning World War III gives us the opportunity to create a new American dream for a new century with solutions that work for everyone on the planet.

 Why the Movement Will Succeed

 Nothing can stand in the way of the power of millions of voices calling for change.

–Barack Obama

 Faced with overwhelming but less daunting odds, the Founding Fathers would, for the same reasons they led the Revolution, relish the prospect of the struggle. Benjamin Franklin warned: “For surely if we do not hang together, we will most assuredly hang separately.” We must find a way to reconcile our differences and care for one another and the planet, or we will suffer a catastrophic future.

            If we survive our follies, this century will prove Napoleon’s belief that, “Humanity is only limited by its imagination.” If we can think of something, achieving it  is inevitable. If the people and resources to build the movement emerge, it will succeed. Now is the time to figure out how to help.


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

Questions, comments, and suggestions for improvements most welcome.

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

September, 6th, 2014 / /  

The 11th San Francisco Writers Conference  & Open Classes

A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community 

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

Keynoters:  Chitra Divakaruni, Barry Eisler, and Mark Coker

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




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  



Bedrock for Writers: What You Can’t Help Believe

What and how you write, how long it is, and the medium you choose to use express your ideas in reveal your relationship to your beliefs. Every time you sit down to write is an opportunity for you to use your beliefs to inspire your best work. As part of the human family, we share many truths. How we express them depends on nature and nurture, the family and culture we grow up in, our vision, our personalities, our creative gifts, and how we see our mission.

The Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes believed that truth is what we can’t help believe. People made tools 1.7 million years ago, painted caves and invented the flute 35,000 years ago, and built religious sites 9,000 years ago. Like us, they were born to be free and to create tools to communicate their truths in words, music and art.

Truths I Can’t Help Believe

Seven decades have brought me these irreducible truths:

  • Pain may be an early warning sign. It helps us learn and grow, but most of the time, it only hurts.
  • Injustice and unjustified suffering are obscene.
  • Human needs, fears, desires, and aspirations unite the human family more than money, power, culture, history, resources, religion, and politics divide them.
  • To be born gives one the right to food, clothing, shelter, health care, a healthy environment, freedom, an education that prepares one for the work that’s available, jobs that sustain those who do them, and the chance to develop all of one’s potential. These needs aren’t gifts; they are as essential to the health of a community as they are to the individual. Providing them is a test of government; if it fails, the people must replace it.
  • Systems can’t work. Why?

–They were created imperfectly with compromises, lack of foresight, and by the same committee that was asked to create a horse but produced a camel.

–They can’t encompass or respond well to all of the possibilities they encounter.

–The world is changing faster than they can change the system to cope with it.

–They are run by bureaucrats who try to justify their existence, shift responsibility, and resist change.

–There are people who try to undermine them and take advantage of them.

Increasingly ineffective systems become part of the problems they were created to solve. They magnify our burden, because we have to fix both the problem and the systems, which resist change. What would the founding fathers think about how their inability to end slavery led to the Civil War? How would they respond to the challenges we face?

  • Decisions generate trade-offs, so the challenge is to make the decision with the best set of tradeoffs.
  • Morality is a luxury of peace and prosperity. If people’s identity, beliefs, or well-being is threatened, they will fight to preserve them.
  • Nobody has a monopoly on truth, wisdom, or virtue.
  • Being a multicultural country will be an essential source of strength for our future.
  • Whether in art or politics, it’s easy to mistake technique for content.

The Effect of Technology

The rate at which the technology business is relentlessly transforming civilization is accelerating yet

  • No one understands it
  • No one is in charge of it
  • No one knows where it’s going
  • No one can control it.

But we still have to keep coming to terms with technology at home and at work. Author Ray Kurzweil predicts that by 2045, computing power will be greater than the collective human intellect. What could go wrong with that?

Technology helped bring about the miraculous changes in the Arab Spring that led to the Occupy Movement. But how do we balance technology’s potential for helping to create change with its potential for political and economic control?

The Laws of Power

  • Power corrupts. What individuals and institutions need is enough power to be effective but not enough to be corrupted.
  • Nobody who wants power should be allowed to have it without controls, including time limits.
  • The first job of those with economic and political power is to maintain the status quo so they can keep it. It takes a quarter of a mile for an oil tanker to make a right turn. The larger and older businesses and institutions are, and the larger–and newer the challenges they face–the harder it is for them to respond effectively, even if they want to.
  • The Golden Rule of Politics: He who has the money makes the rules. Contributions force politicians to favor those who provide them, which is why we have the best government money can buy.
  • People and institutions don’t yield power willingly.
  • If a society must choose between order and freedom, it will choose order.

The Greatest Opportunity Writers Have Ever Had

When Mohammed Bouazizi, a fruit vendor, immolated himself in a Tunisian marketplace, he set the world ablaze with the unstoppable urge to do whatever it takes to be free, because being human creates the need for freedom. Part of that freedom is the need to learn and share the truth.

Thanks to freedom and technology–writers of prose and poetry, fiction and nonfiction–have the greatest opportunity writers have ever had to express their truths. In the void left by government, business, and religion, they can use their wisdom, guidance, and inspiration to push humanity in the right direction by helping people to understand what’s in their best interests, and to act on it. Not to do so, in what may become one of the most important years of the century, is to leave the world at the mercy of those whose words and actions benefit themselves, not the human family or the planet.

IBOR: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Two suggestions that will help from Kirk Boyd, a client I met at the conference and author of the regional bestseller, 2048: Humanity’s Written Agreement to Live Together (Berrett-Koehler):

  • Fostering a global consciousness based on what all of us have in common
  • Having an online forum so anyone connected to the Web can express and discuss their ideas with links to different subjects and countries.
  • Having an enforceable International Bill of Rights (IBOR) that’s posted on that you can sign and share. Kirk and I are collaborating on a book about the IBOR.

Another suggestion: Continuing online international groups of representatives, dedicated to the public good, discussing, mediating, and adjudicating issues. Have these discussions streamed live on the Web, so the public can comment and vote on them.

Three Questions That Will Determine Your Future

What’s bedrock for you?

What beliefs sustain you?

What is the best way for you to use your beliefs to serve your readers, your community, and yourself?

Your life will be the answer to these questions. Not to ask them and answer them honestly is to deny the only person and the writer you were born to be.


I will be moderating a panel about writing for change at the San Francisco Writers Conference, and we will be organizing a Writing for Change Conference this year.

I write the blog to help you and me understand writing and publishing. Did I get this post right? Rants, comments, suggestions for changes, questions (or answers) are most 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/

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Formatting anomalies not in draft. Suggestions welcome.]

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

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

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