7 Questions for Preparing a Proposal

Many thanks to Jeevan Sivsubramaniam, Managing Director Editorial at Berrett-Koehler Publishers and a speaker at the San Francisco Writers Conference for this first-rate handout:

Many people have great ideas for books to help change the world politically or socially, or to help individuals grow in spirit and purpose. Keep these seven questions in mind when writing your proposal:

1. Is your book really needed?

Authors often write books that they feel people need to read, but that does not mean people will read them. More and more people are getting cancer, recovering from mental illness, overcoming addictions, or getting sick of the economy every year, but there are already 1,001 books on these subjects. Why is yours different? What makes your book especially compelling? If you have teenage children or nieces and nephews, pitch your book to them and gauge their interest –you’ll receive the same response from the marketplace.

2. Is your book tightly focused?

Too many people want to write a world-as-I-see-it-and-how-it-should-be type of book in  which  they comment on all aspects of a particular subject. These sprawling works hold little appeal for most book buyers. Readers don’t want a grand vision or blueprint for a new government or economy or behavioral model, unless you are an influential world leader who has the clout to make these changes happen. Exhaustive books are just that–exhausting. If you can’t sum up your book’s core premise in two sentences, it’s too scattered.

3. Who is the audience for your book?

Don’t look for overly general markets and say that your book is “for everyone concerned about “the environment,” ” democracy,” or “spirituality.” In nonfiction, there is no such thing as a general reader. Be specific and carve out a niche for which a sizable yet specific audience exists. No one walks into a bookstore and asks for a book about “something that could be for everyone.”

4. Are your qualifications, background, and knowledge directly related to your subject?

There are doctors who write about politics, politicians who write about economics, and economists who write about spirituality. The problem is that these people lack the qualifications and professional consulting and speaking experience in the subject they are writing about. Are professional qualifications the only measure of authority on a subject? No, but if you needed surgery, would you go with someone who has conducted a lot of independent research and learned a lot about medicine or a board-certified surgeon? You can disregard everything above if you are a celebrity, which explains why Tori Spelling can write a New York Times bestseller about parenting.

5. What are the competing titles?

This question is related to question number 1. Who else has written on this subject and what other books are already out there? How does your book differ–again, in a compelling way–from those? Be realistic and don’t list books by Elizabeth Gilbert, Deepak Chopra, Thomas Friedman, and Malcolm Gladwell as competing titles, unless you are as famous as they are. Then again, if you’re famous, you can write about anything you want.

6. What will the length be and how will the book look?

Be aware of parameters that affect your book. Books are getting shorter, so you will run up against more reservations once you pass the 200-page mark. (Book pages are different from 250-word manuscript pages.) Color photographs and other graphic elements increase the costs for most publishers, so they will have to price the book higher to recoup costs. Inserts such as CDs or other materials also drive up costs. Be mindful of factors like these.

7. How will you actively market and support the book?

Books don’t launch movements; movements launch books. A book doesn’t launch an author’s career and build visibility; an author’s career and visibility are what launch a book, so don’t expect a book to kick-start your career. Don’t tell a publisher you are available to write articles, speak at events, and engage in other promotional efforts. You should already be writing, speaking, and consulting. Have an audience ready to buy your book before you start it so you have a base you can market and sell it to.

A Final Suggestion

Be careful when making assumptions about publishers and how publishing works. Publishing is an industry unlike any other, and the rules that govern other businesses don’t apply. Learn the lesson that Borders learned. The company’s last five CEOs did not have a publishing background and tried to run the company like their previous businesses. What could have worked wonders in other arenas drove a great store to bankruptcy.


To subscribe to Berrett-Koehler’s excellent newsletter, visit www.bkpub.com.


The goal of the blog is to help you and me understand writing and publishing. Rants, comments, questions, and answers most appreciated.

The 10th San Francisco Writers Conference/A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community / February 14-17, 2013/www.sfwriters.org / [email protected] / https://sfwriters.info/blog /@SFWC/ www.facebook.com/SanFranciscoWritersConference

San Francisco Writers University / Where Writers Meet and You Learn / Laurie McLean, Dean/free classes/www.sfwritersu.com/[email protected]/@SFWritersU

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 www.internationalbillofrights.com 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/www.sfwriters.org / [email protected] / https://sfwriters.info/blog /@SFWC/ www.facebook.com/SanFranciscoWritersConference

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.com/[email protected]/@SFWritersU

The Perfect Pitch for a Nonfiction Book: 11 Ways to Excite Me About Reading Your Proposal

The role of the writer is to make bouillon cubes out of chicken soup.

–Susan Sontag

Whether you’re talking about your book to a friend or an editor, the content of your book has to be scalable: You have to be able to capture the essence of it about it in a tweet, a one-paragraph pitch, a one-page query letter, and a proposal.

Pitching your book will take less than thirty seconds. How can you generate maximum excitement for your book in as few words as possible? Without being self-serving, the perfect pitch describes the essence of your book, why it will excite book buyers, and what’s most impressive about your platform, promotion plan, and credentials.

Six of the eleven parts of a pitch are optional; you may not need them. A pitch for a narrative nonfiction book, such as a memoir, will need two or three sentence about the setting, the subject, and the story.

Platform and promotion won’t be as important for certain kinds of books such as reference books, or for small or for midsize houses outside of New York. Here are eleven possible parts of a pitch that will excite me because it will arouse the interest of  editors in the Big Apple:

1. A sentence with the title and the selling handle for the book, up to fifteen words that show why it’s unique or commercial.

2. The model(s) for your book: One or two books, movies, or authors–“It’s The Tipping Point meets The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.”

3. (Optional) The length of your proposal. Proposals have an overview about the book and author, an outline, and sample text, usually about ten percent of the manuscript. They usually range between 35 and 50 pages. The right time to pitch your book is when your proposal is ready to sell. But if you have the chance to pitch your book before your proposal is ready, take advantage of it.

4. (Optional) The length of your manuscript, if it’s ready to submit.

5. (Optional) The names of people who will provide a foreword and cover quotes, if they’re impressive.

6. (Optional) Mention if you’re proposing a series.

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

8. The most important thing about your platform: what you are doing to give yourself continuing visibility on the subject, online or off, with potential book buyers, and if the number is impressive, how many of them. Wrong: “I give talks.” Right: “I give X talks a year to Y people.”

9. The most effective thing you will do to promote your book, online or off, and if the number is impressive and appropriate, how many of them. Wrong: “I will sell books.” Right: “I will sell X books a year.” Your promotion plan must be a believable extension of your platform.

10. What is most impressive about your credentials: your track record; experience in your field; years of research; prizes; contests; awards in your field.

11. (Optional) Anything else that will convince agents or editors to ask for your proposal.

For another approach to pitches, read agent Katharine Sands’ excellent book, Making the Perfect Pitch: How to Catch a Literary Agent’s Eye. Elizabeth and I have chapters in it. Katharine will be doing a breakout session on pitching, and a two-hour intensive, open to the public, at the San Francisco Writers Conference, February 16-20, www.sfwriters.org. There’s more about platform, promotion, and proposals in the fourth edition of How to Write a Book Proposal.

The 9th San Francisco Writers Conference / A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community
February 16-20, 2012 / www.sfwriters.org / [email protected] / Mike’s blog: https://sfwriters.info/blog @SFWC / www.facebook.com/SanFranciscoWritersConference
San Francisco Writers University / Where Writers Meet and You Learn / Laurie McLean, Dean / free classes / www.sfwritersu.com / [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 / www.sfwriters.org / [email protected] / https://sfwriters.info/blog / @SFWC / www.facebook.com/SanFranciscoWritersConference

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.com / [email protected] / @SFWritersU

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



From Author to Contentpreneur: A New Model for Becoming a Successful Author in the Digital Age

Here is an updated compilation of five previous posts.

Now is the best time ever to be a writer, and what follows is a new model for what it will take for you to build a successful writing career in the digital age. Every part of the model is essential. You need to use the whole model to succeed.


Writing begins with a boundless enthusiasm for words, ideas, writing, books, people, publishing, communicating about your work, and serving your readers.


Writing starts with 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, you should read as many novels as you can, and read like a writer. What works for you in the books you love will work for your readers. Reading enables you to establish criteria for style, length, content, illustrations, and back matter.


Reading will also enable you to choose books and authors to use as models for your books and career. Telling agents, editors, and readers your models will enable them to understand what your book is instantly.


It’s been said that goals are dreams with a deadline. You must have literary, publishing, and personal short- and long-term goals that are in harmony and motivate you to do whatever it takes to achieve them. One goal that clarifies your other goals is how much money you want to earn a year, because it determines what you write, and how you write and promote it.

A Plan

Sue Grafton advises writers to have a five-year plan. Once you decide where you’d like to be in five years, you can figure how to get from where you are to where you want to go. Read about how authors of books like yours succeeded and ask them for advice.


You must have goals for what you want to accomplish every workday and the discipline to make sure you accomplish them. William Faulkner once said: “I write when the spirit moves, and I make sure it moves every day.” Even a page a day is a book a year. Balance your goals, and choose the most productive way for you to spend your time. Take care of the minutes, hours, and days, and the years will take care of themselves.


How can you make you and your work stand out in the growing explosion of books and authors? Creativity. In a world awash with media, creativity is essential for making you and your work memorable. 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, it’s not enough to think outside the box, you have to think outside the room the box is in.


To succeed, you have to serve, not sell. There are more ways to serve your readers than ever, and the better you serve them, the better they’ll serve you.


You must have faith in yourself, your idea, your book, and your ability to make it succeed and build a career.


To face a blank screen and dare to believe you have something worth writing takes courage. To persevere despite rejections from publishers and the media, negative responses from readers and critics, and perhaps poor sales, takes courage. Overcoming obstacles takes courage. But you have more than enough courage to meet the challenges that await you. All you have to do is summon it, and the harder your struggle, the sweeter your success.


Writers need to know more about more areas of expertise than ever. Besides the things on this list, 

  • You have to have a positive but realistic perspective about publishing that balances the challenges and opportunities. The information at www.larsenpomada.com will help you.
  • If you want an agent, you have to know what they do, and how to find, contact, and work with them.
  • You have to know about using technology, especially social media. You don’t have to be a techie, but you do have to maximize the tremendous power of technology to help you.

However, you are blessed with more free resources than ever to learn what you need to know without leaving your desk.


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:

1. Coming up with an idea—There’s a New Yorker cartoon that 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 before. If you create an idea that lends itself to a series of books that you are passionate about writing and promoting, you can carve a career out of it.

2. Research–finding the information you need to write your book.

3. A workstyle–choosing the time, place, and tools that enable you to produce your best work. Ray Bradbury summarized the art of writing in two verbs: throw up and clean up. You have to decide whether it’s more effective for you to outline your book or go ahead and write your manuscript, and then massage it until it’s ready.

4. Writing–a combination of art and craft, poetry and carpentry, vision and revision. 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.” If you don’t want rodents 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.

5. Sharing–the great ballet dancer Nijinsky once said: “I merely leap and pause.” After you take your creative leaps, it’s time to pause and get feedback on 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 draft counts. 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.

This section on craft is adapted from a chapter about developing your craft in my book How to Get a Literary Agent.


There are more ways to test-market your book than ever. Test-marketing your book gives you the chance to prove it works and to get testimonials yu can use to sell and promote your work.

A Platform

Your platform is your continuing visibility with book buyers, online and off, on your subject or the kind of book you’re writing. Building your platform by test-marketing your book enables you to maximize the value of your book before you sell it, which, for most  nonfiction, is the only way to get the best editor, publisher, and deal for your book.


There’s a New Yorker cartoon showing two disreputable guys sitting a bar talking, and one is saying: “I tried victimless crime, but I’m a people person.” If you want to be a successful author, you have to be a people person. Writing is a solitary profession, but it’s the only part of the process you have to do alone. Create communities of fans, writers, and other publishing professionals to help you with your writing, promotion, using technology, and getting reviews and cover quotes.


Two cannibals are having dinner and one says to the other: “You know, I don’t like your publisher.”

“OK,” the other cannibal says, “then just eat the noodles.”

The most common reason authors become disenchanted with their publishers is lack of promotion. If you’re writing a promotion-driven nonfiction book, the promotion plan you include in your proposal will determine the editor, publisher, and deal for your book.  Novelists are also as well. A plan is a list, in descending order of impressiveness, of what you will do to promote your book, including, when possible, how many of them. Exaggerate nothing, but submit the strongest plan you can.

Chicken souperman Jack Canfield says a book is like an iceberg: writing is 10%, marketing is 90%. If this is true for the kind of book you’re writing, you will need to spend nine times more effort promoting your book than you do writing it. But there are more ways to promote your book at less cost than ever with just your fingertips.


You have to be a contentpreneur.

  • Your content has to be scalable from a tweet to a book, and your promotion from a one-line pitch to a one-hour radio interview.
  • You have to make your laptop and your smartphone your office and be able to work and to respond to your communities wherever you are.
  • You have to keep writing and publishing a steady stream of work for free and for fees that maximizes your pleasure, income, and visibility.
  • You have to focus on writing work that you can re-purpose in as many forms, media, and countries as you can.
  • There’s a cartoon showing two guys sitting in a bar talking, and one of them is saying to the other: “Since I started freelancing full time, I’ve made quite a few sales…my house, my car, my furniture.”

If you don’t want to be like him, you have to take entrepreneurial responsibility for the promotion and sales of your book.

  • You also have to be resourceful in figuring out how to solve problems and take advantage of new opportunities.
  • You have to build a community of professionals and virtual assistants with whom you can collaborate to create new products and services.


There’s a New Yorker cartoon showing a man and a woman, sitting on a couch talking, and the man is saying: “Look, I’m not talking about a lifetime commitment. I’m talking about marriage.”

Being a successful author requires a lifetime commitment, and I hope that you will commit yourself to becoming the best writer you can be, not just for yourself, but for all of us.


Marketing guru Seth Godin says that the best time to start promoting a book is three years before it comes out, because it may take that long to build a platform,  create the strongest promotion plan for your book, and have the ability to carry it out.

You have to have patience to take the long view as well as the short view in writing and promoting your books, and building your career. You can’t look at your career as one book but ten or twenty—each new book being better and more lucrative than the previous one.


To be the best writer and author you can be, you must love the process. You have to believe that using this model is what you were born to do. You have to

  • love to read and write
  • write out of love for serving your readers
  • love the challenges of devoting yourself to becoming a better writer and communicator about your work

The love you send into the world through your work and your relationships with your readers will come back to you many times over and provide a profoundly satisfying life, regardless of how much income you earn doing it.

The Best Piece of Advice
Add luck to this list, and your books will be failproof. After forty-four years in the business, I’m convinced that every part of this list is essential. I may have left something out—and please tell me if I have–but you will need all of what’s here to succeed. I end the model with the best piece of advice I’ve ever heard about becoming a writer:

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

A Bonus

You can adapt this model for other professions and in your personal life. 

My partner Elizabeth Pomada and I do a presentation about the model.

Failing Your Way to Success: 6 Reasons for Writers to Make Mistakes

I never make misteaks.


To achieve anything you must be brave enough to fail.   

–Kirk Douglas

There is one simple way to avoid ever making another mistake: Do nothing. You’ll never make a mistake if you don’t do anything. But the more ambitious you are, the more mistakes you can count on making in achieving your goals. Failure is as necessary as the success it leads to is inevitable.

Here are six reasons why you should relish failure:

1. Failure is essential to your success.

The Israeli statesman Abba Eban once said that men and nations always act wisely once they’ve exhausted the alternatives. Unfortunately, people keep creating new alternatives. In writing as in life, you back into success by first doing things that don’t work. Sooner or later, you wind up with whatever’s left. The most important rule in The Elements of Style is “Omit needless words.” If you do that, the only words you have left are the ones you need.

2. Failing is the only way for you to succeed.

You will not get your book right on your first draft, but you will have something that you can keep improving until it’s ready to sell. It’s been said that “You don’t have to be good at the start, but you do have to start to be good.” The only thing you can’t fix is a blank page. First, you have to get something written, then revise it until you get it right. First comes the poetry, then comes the carpentry. If you learn from your mistakes, getting your work right is inevitable. It’s not a question of if, only a question of when.

3. The faster you fail, the faster you’ll succeed.

The actor Tallulah Bankhead once said: “If I had to live my life again, I’d make the same mistakes—only sooner.” The faster you fail, the sooner you’ll make all the mistakes you need to make to get your work right, so the faster you’ll succeed. So fail as often as you must, because the faster you fail and learn from your mistakes, the sooner you’ll achieve your literary and publishing goals.

4. You learn more from failure than success.

Success teaches you how to write well enough to sell. But it can also takes the edge off your need to learn, be creative and grow. It can tempt you to write more of the same, only different. Failure prods you to find a more effective way of expressing your ideas. You may remember the famous Thomas Edison quote about inventing the light bulb. “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” You won’t have to write your  book that many times.

5. Writing is a forgiving art.

If a jazz musician screws up when taking a solo, there’s no help for it. But you can make as many mistakes in your writing as you need to before submitting it. Your critique group and early readers will help you know when you’ve written your last draft, and only the draft you submit counts. Because the process takes as long as it takes, the challenge is to have enough patience to to make the execution of your idea   as strong as the idea itself.

6. Making mistakes helps prevents them.

The faster you learn, the more adept you’ll become in avoiding mistakes in later drafts. Spotting them  in advance will enable you to save time. You’ll starting catching them before your fingertips hit the keys. You’ll increase your ability to predict the effectiveness of words and how they flow into each other; sentence structure; and story, setting, and character development.

But take heart. As you grow creatively and try new forms of writing, you’ll find new ways to make mistakes. After all, what could be more boring than perfection?