Joining the Dream Team for Writers

Dream as if you’ll live forever, live as if you’ll die today.

–James Dean

The beginning of a new year gives us the opportunity to think about what we’d like to see happen in our lives. One of the disadvantages of youth is that the younger you are, the more time you think you have ahead of you. But nobody knows what fate has in store for us.

You’ve probably heard the saying that if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. The ability of medical science to keep us alive and healthy is running neck and neck with the ways in which Gaia and human folly may do us in before we wear out. But the uncertainties in our lives don’t lessen the need to have dreams that inspire us and illuminate our daily life.

I urge you to dream big, because you can’t know how much you can accomplish in your personal and professional life. But the bigger your dreams, the more important it becomes to have a plan to achieve them, and to make every day count in striving to achieve them. I promise you that you can be more and achieve more than you think you can. And more members of the global village in more places need what you have to offer more than ever.

So plant yourself in the biggest pot you can. Spring is coming. May 2012 be your best year yet!


I write the blog to help you and me understand what we need to know about writing and publishing. Rants, comments, questions, and answers most appreciated.

The 9th San Francisco Writers Conference/A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community/February 16-20, 2012/ / [email protected] / /@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/[email protected]/@SFWritersU



A Holiday Wish List for Perfect Days

If your days were perfect, what would they be like? They might include

 waking in early morning light next to your beloved, passionate about pursuing your missions

 living as if every day were your last

 spending time with a family that is a source of love, renewal, encouragement, and wisdom

 having a home filled with love, light, color, art, books, and music that enlightens, entertains, and inspires everyone who enters it

 sharing simple, varied, beautiful, colorful, delicious, nutritious locally produced food

 filling the day with challenges that inspire your creativity

 loving what you do so much you don’t notice the time

 learning about what excites you and you need to know

 striving to improve whatever you do

 seeing the value of people, information, and experiences to give them the attention they deserve  staying informed about what’s important

 transforming anger about problems into action

 laughing and making others laugh

 balancing desire and necessity; thought and feeling; serving others and yourself; screen time and the rest of your life; work, home, and leisure; planning, flexibility, and spontaneity

 putting short-term goals in the service of long-term achievements with enduring value

 having patience with yourself, others, and life’s problems and obstacles

 being debt-free, meeting your obligations, and saving for the future you’ve planned

 exercising your mind and body

 renewing your sense of wonder at the beauty and grandeur of nature

 understanding your significance in 100 billion galaxies

 having a spiritual practice that brings you peace of mind

 celebrating your achievements

 expressing gratitude through giving and service

 making love as if it were the first time

 ending your day knowing you’ve done all you can as well as you can

 uninterrupted sleep that begins the moment you snuggle your beloved

We hope your days will be as close to perfect as you can make them during the holidays and the new year. Please feel free to share the list. I hope it inspires you and the people you love to make your own lists and share them. The list will always be a work in progress, and I’d like to learn from yours. Happy Holidays!

The 9th San Francisco Writers Conference/A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community/February 16-20, 2012/ / [email protected] / /@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/[email protected]/@SFWritersU

Six Ways to Make the Best City in the World Better: A Letter to Mayor Ed Lee—Part 2

Here is the second part of a letter Elizabeth and I wrote to Mayor Lee about how to make San Francisco a better city.

4. Solve the homeless problem.

End the homeless problem by giving the homeless a place to live until they can lead productive lives. Create a combination of the Peace Corps, Project Homeless Connect (PHC), the Raphael House homeless shelter, Habitat for Humanity, and the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps. Use donated land, labor, and resources to build a green Victory Village outside of San Francisco (although there are empty buildings in the Presidio, and unused military bases elsewhere). Ask for donations to fund the village, and gradually shift money used for the present system to the village.

Build self-governing houses for fifty people and a live-in volunteer coordinator, where residents can either stay to help or learn to make a living and return to the city. Keeping housing low-scale will help prevent the village from feeling institutional and impersonal. Name buildings for large contributors to their construction. Enable those who can live and work independently to leave with a job, a place to live, the goods they need, and a support network. This will give a role to the city’s homeless-industrial complex.

Have a cafeteria, a nonprofit store, a library with computers, a website and a one-page daily newspaper that residents help run, a
bank for saving income they don’t need, and buses for transportation. Those who can’t function independently can still help keep the village going and will be out of the environment that enables dependency and generates crime. Make families that Raphael House can’t help a priority and figure out how to provide schooling.

Enlist volunteers, from high-school kids to seniors to help run the village, and provide education, healthcare, and treatment. Ask
businesses and nonprofits to donate goods and services and give jobs to residents when they’re ready to leave and reward them for their help.

Have a vegetable garden and use technology to create businesses with the goal of making the village self-sufficient and earn income
for residents. This idea creates practical and ethical challenges. But if, like Raphael House, you make compassion and community, not power, the governing principle, and if you ask the homeless to help plan and carry out the how it’s built and run, you will meet those challenges. The first ally to make is the Coalition for the Homeless.

Winston Churchill believed that Americans always act wisely once they’ve exhausted the alternatives. It’s time. This solution will reduce crime and panhandling and accelerate the transformation of Market Street and the Tenderloin.

5.   Create a San Francisco currency.

Have a contest to design a four-color San Francisco currency for one, five, and ten-dollar bills, capturing the city’s beauty, institutions, most memorable people and places, and landmarks. Make them so beautiful that, attractively packaged, visitors and collectors buy them as gifts and souvenirs. As with other local currencies around the country, they will be usable only in the city. Ask banks and other businesses to underwrite the printing in exchange for including their names on the bills.

There’s also money in the merchandise. Partner with local businesses to create gifts such as cups, note cards, and hoodies with the art. Do a new set of images every year.

6.  Paint San Francisco.

Enlist homeowners, house painters, color consultants, preservation organizations, paint companies, art schools and students, and
volunteers to transform the greatest collection of redwood Victorians in the world into an irresistibly beautiful collection of buildings as only San Franciscans can do it.

These Painted Ladies will be as unique and as much of an attraction as the cable cars and the Golden Gate Bridge. They will attract
millions of visitors from around the world. Painted Ladies are worth more to owners, the city, and the tax assessor than colorless old buildings. Have an annual contests for owners and professionals for the most beautiful homes and businesses with an awards ceremony on Alamo Square with Postcard Row in the background. Help fund the restoration of Victorians that have been victims of

While you’re at it, there are a lot of blank walls that, with a creative makeover, will help transform San Francisco into the most
beautiful city in the world. The city’s sunshine, radiant blue sky, and the clarity of the light call for color that reflects and enhances their brilliance.


If the only value these ideas have is to spark your creativity about how to use one of the world’s greatest resources—the people of
San Francisco—to transform it into the best city it can be, it will have served its purpose, and you will earn a place in the pantheon of the city’s greatest mayors.

The growing San Francisco Writers Conference, which we’re co-directors of, brings in almost 500 speakers, volunteers, and writers from around California, an average of thirty states, and several foreign countries. Like us, they love being in this beautiful center of culture and the country’s second largest publishing community, and we encourage them to explore the city.

Former President Bill Clinton has observed that national change can come from the bottom up. Programs like the prize-nominated Healthy San Francisco may be the beginning of the only healthcare solution that works.

So let’s make San Francisco “The City That Knows How” again. Call it Project City Connect. Cities around the country will use these ideas as they adopted Project Homeless Connect. As it did with the Painted Ladies, San Francisco’s example will once again help transform the country. But only one city can be the best in the world. Let’s keep it San Francisco.

Michael Larsen and Elizabeth Pomada, literary agents and co-authors of six books about the Painted Ladies

[Formatting anomalies in not draft.]

The 9th San Francisco Writers Conference / A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community / February 16-20, 2012 / / [email protected] / / @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 / / [email protected] / @SFWritersU

Michael Larsen-Elizabeth Pomada Literary Agents / Helping Writers Launch Careers Since 1972 / Members: AAR / [email protected] /



Six Ways to Make the Best City in the World Better: A Letter to Mayor Ed Lee—Part 1

What follows is the first part of a letter I emailed to Mayor Lee. Hope you find it of interest and that it stimulates your creative juices.  

To Mayor Ed Lee:

San Francisco is the best city in the world. Solving the problems cities face is essential to the San Francisco’s future for the quality of life of its residents and for tourism. Meeting these challenges is also a goal worthy of San Franciscans’ creativity, passion, and idealism. With an innovative, tech-savvy leader, they will do it.

The simplest, fastest way to make San Francisco the top tourist destination in the world and solve its economic problems is to arouse and reward the creativity of people of all ages who live and work in the city, as well as visitors, and friends of the city elsewhere. Here are six ideas to consider:

1. Ask for suggestions and reward those who provide the ones you use.

Ask the public, visitors, and students at all levels for ideas. This will unleash a torrent of creativity. Set up a volunteer board to review and develop ideas and present them to you when they’re ready to implement.

The surest way to stimulate ideas is by rewarding people with money and recognition. If an suggestion saves or generates money for the city, give a percentage of the income made or saved to the person who provides the idea. Start making millionaires and you’ll get all the suggestions you want. Recognize people whose ideas you use with an award in the form of a light bulb at an annual event at City Hall.

Build a website to:

  •  Gather, post, attribute, and develop ideas.
  • Encourage people to send videos about their ideas.
  • Be a forum for people to help collaborate on ideas, contribute resources to develop them, and assemble volunteers.
  • Acknowledge everyone who helps.

2. Make San Franciscans ambassadors.

Make San Francisco a city that cares about its visitors more than just as a source of income. Staff the empty kiosks in key locations with volunteers to answer tourists’ questions. Have phones at the kiosks so foreign-speaking visitors can talk to bi-lingual volunteers who can help them. Kiosks can give away sponsored “Ask me. I live here” buttons in different languages to residents willing to answer questions.

Posting a FAQ list on the kiosks and having touch-screen computers built into the kiosks will make information available 24/7, as will a 24-hour hotline. The kiosks can give away sponsored copies of the list with tourist resources in different languages, designed well enough to be a souvenir visitors will copy or pass on to others planning to visit the city. Hotels can provide the list in their rooms, lobbies, and concierge desks, and include the location of the kiosks. Guidebooks can include the list and mention the kiosks. Have advertising on the kiosks to maintain them.

3. Create a nonprofit venture-capital service like Kickstarter.

One key to America’s greatness is that if an idea is good enough, the resources to make it happen emerge. As with the previous suggestion, build a website and ask residents of all ages to email ideas for businesses they want to start that have value to residents, visitors, or the city. Ask those who can to post videos of themselves explaining their ideas. Make character and ability as important as skill and experience in choosing what to fund.

Have volunteers, including members of SCORE, MBA students, and service organizations, help them develop business plans. Arrange for college students to receive school credits for developing plans. Post plans on the site, with videos of the entrepreneurs explaining them.

Give residents the first chance to invest money, products, and services in businesses that excite them. Encourage investors to mentor their businesses. Like Kickstarter, only fund businesses that reach the funding goal in their plans. Enlist businesses to provide internships in related fields to help prepare new entrepreneurs to run their businesses.

Divide fifteen percent of the net profits into three parts for investors, the city, to cover the costs of running the service. Do as much online with volunteers as possible. Use technology as well as on-site volunteers to provide the entrepreneurs with the guidance they need. Enlist the local tech community to help enable businesses to network with and support each other.

Ask Kickstarter for assistance, and businesses to supply products, services, advisors, and discounts, in exchange for becoming exclusive providers to the network. Give city residents priority for jobs and city businesses priority as suppliers. This idea has the potential to become a huge, ever growing engine of synergy, commerce, and income for the city. Use Kickstarter to ask for funds to start the service.

The second part of the letter will appear in the next post.

FYI: Tomorrow evening—Wednesday–at 5 PST (8 EST), I’ll be doing a teleseminar with author and SFWC speaker Nina Amir about Content, Character and Connection: The Three Keys to Becoming a Successful Writer in a Bottom-Up World. It’s the title of a new talk and day-long seminar that Elizabeth and I do, and that we’ll speak about at the conference. To register, click here:

[Formatting anomaly not in draft.]

Michael Larsen-Elizabeth Pomada Literary Agents / Helping Writers Launch Careers
Since 1972 / Members: AAR / [email protected] /

The 9th San Francisco Writers Conference / A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community / February 16-20, 2012 / / [email protected] / / @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 / www.sfwritersu.c om / [email protected] / @SFWritersU


Query Letters: The Hook, the Book & the Cook

A query letter should be like a skirt: long enough to cover the subject and short enough to keep it interesting.


Agent Katharine Sands believes that the writing you do about your writing is as important as the writing itself. A query is a one-page letter, single-spaced, with a space between three or four indented paragraphs, and without sounding self-serving–it describes the why, what, and who: the hook, the book, and the cook:

  • The hook: whatever will best justify publishing your book

            * (Optional) a selling quote about your book (or a previous book) from someone whose name will give it credibility and/or salability. The quote could also be about you.

            * (Optional) the reason you’re writing the agent:

                        –the name of someone who suggested you contact the agent

                        –the book in which the author thanked the agent for selling that inspired you to write the letter

                        –where you heard the agent speak

                        –where you will hear the agent speak and hope to have the chance to discuss your book

            * Whatever will most excite agents about your book:

                        –the opening paragraph

                        –the most compelling fact or idea about your subject

                        –a statistic about the interest of people or the media in the subject or the number of potential readers

  • The book: the essence of your book:

            * A sentence with the title and the selling handle for the book, up to fifteen words that will convince booksellers to stock it. The models for it: one or two books, movies, or authors. “It’s Harry Potter meets Twilight.”

            * A one-sentence overview of your book, and if appropriate, what it will do for your readers

            * The book’s biggest market(s)

            * Its actual or estimated length

            * The length of your proposal and how many more pages of manuscript you have ready to send

            * (Optional) The names of people who have agreed to give a forward and cover quotes, if they’re impressive

            * (Optional) A link to illustrations, if they’re important

            * (Optional) Include the subjects or titles of the next two books, if you’re proposing a series

            * (Optional) Information about a self-published edition that will help sell it

  • The cook: Why you’re the right person to write the book

            * Your promotion plan: the four or five most effective things you will do to promote your book online and off, with numbers if they’re impressive

            * Your platform: the most important things you have done and are doing to give yourself continuing visibility with potential readers, with numbers if they’re impressive: your online activities, published work with links to it, and media and speaking experience with links to audio and video

            * (Optional) Your credentials; experience in your field; or years of research; prizes, contests, and awards in your field

Include anything else that will convince agents to ask to see your proposal.

A fothcoming post will tell you how to speed up the query process.

 The Third San Francisco Writing for Change Conference: Writing to Make a Difference / November 13-14, Hilton Financial/Chinatown / / Keynoters: Million-copy selling authors Dan Millman (Way of the Peaceful Warrior) and John Robbins (Diet for a New America)

Memoirists: Are You Fiction or Nonfiction?

William Hamilton once did a cartoon showing an aspiring young woman writer asking a balding, mustachioed literary type: “Are you fiction or nonfiction?”

If you’re writing a memoir (a me-moir to the cynical)  you may wonder whether it would be better as a novel. What reasons might there be for making that decision?

Legal Reasons

Publishers are extremely wary about anything that might cause litigation. If you’re going to include unflattering things about living people, they may sue. You can disguise them, but if you’re living in a small town or people will know who you’re referring to anyway, that won’t help.

Personal Reasons

Fictionalizing your past may make it easier to write about. A memoir is constrained by the truth. Writing fiction liberates you to alter your experience as you wish.

Literary Reasons

What are your literary goals in writing the book? If you want to create a legacy for your friends and family, writing a memoir makes more sense. Nonfiction is easier to write because you’re drawing on your experiences and facts you can verify.

But writing fiction liberates you to create whatever combination of character, plot, and setting will have the most impact on readers. And a memoir should read like a novel. Frank McCourt’s bestseller, Angela’s Ashes, which ignited the interest in memoirs, certainly does. You could call it a novel without changing a word. The dialogues he had as a child with his family capture the emotional truth if not the factual truth of what was said.

Like a novel, a memoir has to describe places, characters, and situations so readers will want to keep reading about them. The book needs a story arc that traces your transformation from who you are at the beginning of the book to the person you become after being changed by your experiences. Many novels, especially first novels, are autobiographical, and all novels make use of the author’s experience filtered by the imagination and the needs of the story.

Commercial Reasons

What are your financial goals for your memoir? Will it be more salable as a novel? Will it be more promotable? Will it have more film and foreign rights potential? Will have more potential for follow-up books?

My partner, Elizabeth Pomada, spent quite a while trying to sell Pam Chun’s biography of her great grandfather, The Money Dragon. Finally, we suggested Pam call it a novel, and the first publisher to see it published it complete with photos and trial transcripts. It became a prizewinning bestseller in Hawaii, where it’s set.

I hope these considerations help you answer the question of whether to fictionalize your memoir. Everyone has a story to tell, and I encourage you to tell yours. First get it down on paper in the most effective, enjoyable way you can, and get feedback from a fiction or memoir critique group as you write. Then, if you still can’t decide whether to fictionalize it, let your community of readers help you figure out how best to offer your story to the world. If your writing has enough humor, drama, insight, or inspiration, it will find its audience.

Take heart. The hardest part of many memoirs is surviving the research!

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 (Way of the Peaceful Warrior) and John Robbins (Diet for a New America)