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


Black and White Magic at the San Francisco Writers Conference

When I was trying in vain to explain how challenging it is to put on the San Francisco Writers Conference, someone suggested it was like doing ten weddings. That sounds about right.

But like every year, it was magic time at the SFWC. Why? As the brilliant Geoffrey Rush says in one of my favorite movies, Shakespeare in Love: “It’s a mystery.” But the elements that make this magic possible are clear: the writers, the presenters, the program, the hotel, and the city.

The Writers

More than 300 writers came from thirty-one states and seven other countries, many of whom have come to previous conferences. Writers are the most important people in publishing because they make it go. Without their courage, creativity, discipline, and commitment, publishing wouldn’t exist. They’re also the most important people at the conference for the same reason: it too wouldn’t exist without them.

Their passion for making magic by transforming an idea into a reality by putting black on white and for learning how to write, get published, and make their work successful is what makes the conference possible. They trusted us with their time and money; we had to justify their faith in us.

They came to learn, network, share their work and ideas, and have a good time, and they did. We encourage them to meet as many writers, presenters, and volunteers (who are also writers) as they can.

The Presenters

The conference is lucky to have presenters who provide valuable information and enjoy networking with attendees during the conference. The conference was blessed with more than 100 presenters, which as far as we know is the greatest number of presenters in relation to the number of attendees at any conference.

Attendees had the pleasure of hearing two outstanding keynoters: Dorothy Allison and David Morrell. They brought immense authority to their talks. They told attendees what they needed to hear about writing and publishing, but their talks were expressions of who they are. They said what they would have said if they were talking to one person instead of 300. They know how to connect with an audience, so their talks were great examples of what writers should aspire to when they speak.

The Program

More than seventy breakout sessions covered a wide variety of topics in fiction, nonfiction, children’s books, poetry, marketing, and technology, so attendees had a wide variety of sessions to choose from, depending on their needs and interests.

The Hotel

The four-star InterContinental Mark Hopkins Hotel on the top of Nob Hill is a beautiful setting for the conference, and attendees enjoy being there. The food and service help.

The City

It rained until Sunday, but even in the rain, San Francisco is a gorgeous setting for the conference. Although there were presenters from around the country, most of them came from the Bay Area, which is America’s second largest publishing center. The Bay Area is the best place in the world to be a writer.

There’s a flourishing literary culture and a wealth of authors, publishers, publicists, agents, freelance editors, and other publishing professionals, as well as the best collection of independent booksellers in the country.

This isn’t everything that went into the conference, and all of it together may not sound like the makings of magic. It doesn’t begin to capture the sense of excitement, the pleasure and inspiration—sometimes life-changing–the conference gave to attendees, the knowledge gained, or the value of the relationships it helped create. The same thing happens every year and inspires us to keep tyring to figure how to prevent the problems that occur and do it better next year. Wish us luck!

CDs and MP3 of the conference will be available shortly at

The 30-Year Overnight Sensation

You will never have to worry about a steady income.

–an unwittingly prophetic message I received in a fortune cookie that’s as accurate for  writers as it is for literary agents

Last weekend, Elizabeth and I spoke at the Central Valley Writers’ Conference in Oakhurst. Selden Edwards, a 67-year-old retired schoolmaster, told the remarkable story of how his literary first novel, The Little Book, went from nowhere to the New York Times bestseller list.

The book is a  time-travel story set in San Francisco in 1988 and Vienna  in 1897. What’s remarkable about it is that Selden worked on it for more than thirty years, the longest period of time I’ve ever heard someone working on a novel. Blessed with a steady income, Selden keep rewriting it and submitting it, but couldn’t get an agent or publisher interested. He couldn’t even get feedback on the novel.

But then, luck and four linked relationships led to bestsellerdom. Through publicist Milt Kahn, a friend in Santa Barbara with whom Selden plays basketball, he found out about freelance editor and publishing veteran Patrick Lo Brutto. Selden said the manuscript was 80% done when it got to Lo Brutto. Pat and Selden worked on it for a year, and by the end of it, Selden said it was 90%.

Pat is a scout for the Trident Media Group, a literary agency in New York. He suggested that Selden send the manuscript to Scott Miller at Trident. Less than a week later, Miller called saying that he had to represent the book. Scott submitted it to senior editor Ben Sevier at Dutton, and four days later, received an offer in the “high six figures.”

Ben and Selwen worked on the manuscript for six more months to get it to 100%. With a significant promotional commitment from Dutton, The Little Book went on to become a New York Times bestseller. The second book, in what will be a trilogy, is in the works.

Selden’s story is proof that if you keep learning from your mistakes, find the help you need, and persevere, you will succeed. One thing’s for sure: It won’t take you as long as it took him. So keep at it and keep in mind the words of the sage who said: “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”