what is a foreword

Foreword: What is a Foreword, Do I Need One, and How Do I Write One?

If you’re confused about what a foreword is, you’re not alone.

A new writer, especially someone looking to self-publish a book, has a steep learning curve ahead of them.

There are so many new skills to learn—building and managing a book launch team, finding a book cover design, making Amazon Marketing Services work for you, et cetera—and new vocabulary words to go along with them.


Here are the questions about forewords we answer:

  1. What is a foreword
  2. How to write a foreword
  3. Do I need a foreword for my book?
  4. Who should write a foreword?
  5. What should be included?
  6. What’s the difference between a foreword and introduction?
  7. What’s the difference between a foreword and a preface?
  8. What’s the difference between a foreword and a prologue?

NOTE: We cover everything in this blog post and much more about the writing, marketing, and publishing process in ourVIP Self-Publishing Program. Learn more by clicking here! <https://self-publishingschool.com/programs>

What is a Foreword?

A foreword is a piece of writing that serves to introduce the reader to the author and the book, usually written by someone who is not the author or an editor of the book. Forewords can also serve as a sort of endorsement for the book.

If the author does write the foreword, it might be to explain how the book came to be, or their connection between the work and themselves—like Stephen King often does for his novels.

The foreword always goes at the very front of the book (with one exception, which I’ll get into below), and it’s rarely more than a couple of pages long.

You may see a foreword with either lowercase Roman numerals or typical Arabic numerals, or without any page numbering whatsoever. That is between you and your book formatter.

How to Write a Foreword

You’re pretty sure you’ve seen forewords in books before, or maybe your favorite classic piece of literature has a foreword in the front. You’ve got a book now, or you’re well on your way to finishing it.

Do you need a foreword, too? Do you need front matter at all?

Then again, maybe you’re not new, and you’ve been around the proverbial block enough times to know your way around. Maybe you’ve gained enough recognition to be asked to write a foreword for someone else’s work.

And maybe you’re someone looking to write a foreword for someone else’s book and have no idea where to start.

Here’s how to write a foreword:

  1. Understand what the author is looking for
  2. Know the tone and style of the book
  3. Start with a list of what you want to cover in the foreword
  4. Make sure to mention your credibility
  5. Tie your own experience back into the worth of the book
  6. Get feedback from others and the author
  7. Make any necessary changes to comply with what the author is looking for
  8. Be honest about the book and its impact

Do I Need a Foreword for My Book?

Now that we know what a foreword is, it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty of whether your book really needs one. This is what you’ve been waiting for!

The first thing to note is that a foreword is certainly not necessary.

Plenty of books don’t have forewords, and never have them added on. Unless your book needs the elaboration and context a foreword provides, you won’t miss it.

What you really need to consider is whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction.

A nonfiction book is far more likely to need a foreword than a novel, especially if the topic is dense or interesting, or the author has passed on. Again, Stephen King does tend to produce forewords for his own fiction novels but this is seen far less in authors who aren’t as established.

For example, the fourth edition of The Elements of Style has a foreword by Roger Angell arguing that the guide is just as relevant today as it was the day Strunk and White turned the manuscript into the publisher.

foreword example

But if you are writing fiction, are you covering a period of history, or some other topic, in depth?

A foreword may be helpful if the reader needs a bit of background knowledge to sink their teeth into your book. Charles Todd wrote a foreword explaining just who was the titular character of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot: The Complete Short Stories.

It’s also not uncommon for works of great literary renown to have a foreword added onto the original manuscript, or added as a way of explaining the difference between the current edition and past editions.

Alice L. George’s foreword in the 150th-anniversary edition of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott was written to illustrate why the book is so beloved all these years later.

Who Should Write a Foreword?

A foreword could be written by several people, but not by just anyone.

If you’re of the opinion that your work needs a foreword, approach an expert in the topic of the book or one of your peers in your field, especially if this person is well-known.

This lends the book social proof.

Unless you have something especially noteworthy to say, it’s probably best not to write your own book’s foreword. You may want to write a preface instead.

That being said, if you’ve established yourself as an expert in your field, you may be asked to write a foreword for someone else.

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What Should Be Included in a Foreword?

If you’ve been invited to write a foreword for a book, congratulations! What an honor, and what an impressive accomplishment to add to your resumé!

what is a foreword

Of course, every foreword will have needs as unique as the text that comes after, but here are some ideas for what you could include should you need to write one:

  • Your relationship to the author (if you are or were contemporaries)
  • How the author’s work affected you personally
  • Your opinion of the book, its protagonist, and/or theme
  • The book or author’s historical impact
  • Differences between the current and past editions of the book (if applicable)

It’s also important when writing the foreword to strike the same tone as the rest of the book.

Avoid writing a witty, humorous foreword if the book is more serious, and vice-versa.

You don’t want the writing styles to clash, or you risk jarring the reader when they turn the page.

What’s the Difference Between a Foreword and an Introduction?

The introduction is reserved for a book of non-fiction. It can be used to explain the content, but they can also be used to summarize the work.

The introduction is sometimes comprised of everything that comes before the bulk of the text, meaning the foreword would be nestled within the introduction.

Other times, the introduction is a separate section written by the author themselves.

What’s the Difference Between a Foreword and a Preface?

If you’re looking to write something like an introductory statement to your own book, you may want to write a preface.

In a preface, you can include what your aim was in taking on the project and thank the people in your life who helped to make the book a reality.

Unlike forewords, prefaces are always written by the author, and they’re not signed. If your work happens to include both, the foreword comes first.

What’s the Difference Between a Foreword and a Prologue?

A prologue is always written for fiction, and it takes place within your story’s world.

Forewords never take place within your story’s world, unless you’re writing a fictional forward by one of your characters. You might do this if you’re writing as a fictitious person a lá Daniel Handler.

If your work happens to include both a prologue and a foreword, again, the foreword comes first.

And again, a prologue isn’t signed. (You can probably guess why!)

Forewords Can Be an Important Part of Your Book

Whether or not to include a foreword in your book is—as is most of the art of writing—a matter of personal preference, but not preference alone. Consider what your particular work calls for.

Only you can make that call.

Trust yourself that you’ll make the right one.

excuses not to write

Writing Excuses: 9 Actionable Tips to Overcome Writing Excuses for Good

We all make writing excuses for various reasons and it slows down our progress for writing a book

Publilius Syrus once claimed: “Every vice has its excuse ready.” And writing is no different.

In this article, we will uncover the kind of excuses we make and provide you tips on how to overcome your writing excuses.

So stay put! Learn. Practice. And soar.

writing excuses

Here are our tips for how to overcome writing excuses:

  1. Find your voice
  2. Avoid the “non-native” speaker debate
  3. Develop a writing habit
  4. Cut back on social media
  5. Don’t procrastinate
  6. Stop fearing the fall
  7. Disability is not inability
  8. Strive for progress
  9. Get rid of writer’s block

NOTE: We cover everything in this blog post and much more about the writing, marketing, and publishing process in ourVIP Self-Publishing Program. Learn more by clicking here! <https://self-publishingschool.com/programs>

What causes writing excuses?

There are a plethora of reasons writers give for letting excuses take over their work.

Sure, some are the real-life instances you may connect with, and others are cheesy ideas saved in your head.

You are likely to find reasons like toddler trouble, age, illness, time, little knowledge, to creativity blocks still making headlines in the writing community as the biggest launchers to writing excuses.

But do you know what? Only you can let go of all excuses—and we at Self-Publishing School are here to help you along the way.

The common excuses which prevent us from writing or self-publishing:

  • “I’m not a native English speaker, can I still write?”
  • “What is the right age if you want to self publish? I am 14 years old; do I stand a chance?”
  • Writer’s block (which we cover solutions to below)
  • I am still learning how to write.
  • “I have little vocabulary knowledge: what should I do first to be a writer?”
  • Life problems/disability.
  • Waiting for the perfect time to write.
  • Looking for good writing tips.
  • Fear of failing or falling.
  • Looking for a book genre or how to start a story.
  • Laryngitis.
  • “I want to write a script; what should I do first?”
  • I’ll do it later.

How to overcome writing excuses with ease

The late Great Louis La Moore, the prolific author of over 100 books, once said he could write on a busy street corner: that was years back where authors used a pen, a paper, or a typewriter to create text.

Imagine the benefits you can add to your writing in this era of the iPhone, tablets, and cloud apps that allow you to write on the go?


#1 – Find your voice

Usually, we learn writing by imitation: but no matter how you view it, Laryngitis will only add poison to your book.

I know you may love how JK Rowlings writes or Neil Patel’s variety, but I can tell you that drifting away from your voice will be a bane to your book.


Remember the creativity slowdown I mentioned earlier?

When the author completes his piece, you are blank, with no ideas for your essay. You have nothing fresh to add after you finish comparing your writing to the author you are reading.

The magic to fighting ensuing excuse from Laryngitis is finding your voice in writing. But that’s only half of it.

Here are other kick-butt methods to find your writing voice:

  • Writing more every day.
  • Write your draft freely without editing or looking at another person’s work.
  • Write and research later: or research but take a break before you engage in the writing process.
  • Plot all your plans for writing a novel and ideas on some paper or notebook whenever they pop.
  • Read more from different authors, publications, and manuscripts.
  • Get creative with your work or content.
  • Write with the buyer persona in mind.
  • Get laser-focused with your writing or content by selecting a niche and a language.

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#2 – Avoid the native/non-native English speaking debate

Client: “Native English speakers only.”

Writer: “But I am not native!”

I hear this phrase a lot in the writing community, especially from clients who want their book/content written by Anglophone writers.

But frankly speaking, I have never understood the debate or the relationship between native and non-native speaking to writing unless one is writing on religion, culture, cuisine, or destinations nuance.

What should you do then if you are not a native English speaker?

Many great writers are native English speakers. However, writing should not only be in the English language but in other languages too! And being a native does not equal writing well.

Here is how to win this debate:

  • You can write in your native language and use a service like Google translate to translate phrases and words to other languages.
  • If you want to focus on English, read English books, the dictionary, thesaurus, and journals on the niche you want to write.
  • Practice writing in the English language.
  • Watch English films and movies (not the Housewives thing).
  • Stop using autocorrect while writing.
  • Invest in your education, learning the language.
  • Use online writing assistants like Hemingway editor to bring clarity in your writing.
writing excuses hemingway editor

You can also seek inspiration from the likes of Prof Ngugi Wa Thiong’ and Chinua Achebe who are not native English speakers yet, have published books in the English language and even received international accords for their persuasive writing.

#3 – Develop a writing habit and strategy

Planning is a necessary process in any person’s life – not only for corporates but writers too.

If you do not plan, you plan to make writing excuses! It is that simple.

The building blocks you create in the planning process will inspire you to reach your goal of completing that book.

It will help you avoid replacing writing with watching The Game of Thrones, buying groceries, browsing for advice and settling toddlers or cat mischief and excuses.

Tip on making a successful plan:

  • Designate a specific time for writing and reading.
  • Set targets.
  • Push yourself.
  • Create a content calendar and a place where you find writing prompts or exercise to kill writer’s block.
  • Test your progress – after a week or a month.
  • Make a list of what you want to achieve. It can be in sticky notes on a wall or laptop for affirmation.
  • Set reminders to give you the push and inform you when it’s time to do groceries, shopping, or writing.
  • Create realist goals on the number of words you want to write in a day. For me, I love using 750 words.com for setting and achieving my daily writing goals.

Here too are our favorite writing software you can use in planning, time management, improve productivity, and kill those writing excuses:

#4 – Use social media less

How often do you use social media? Once a week? A day? Every minute?

It is true social media has got a tremendous influence and opportunities these days. It has created jobs, made communication, information, and knowledge more manageable. But it has also contributed to time and resource wastage not forgetting making the world louder.

Studies show on average; we spend close to three hours every day on social media slacking off watching memes or viral content yet, we could use this time to improve on our writing skills.

Take, for example. You take an hour to write 1,000 words. You could reduce the number of hours you spend on social media to two, and the other on writing.

Social media is also not just a place for watching memes, but thankfully, a platform to develop writing habits. You can write on LinkedIn writing, Tumblr, or even Facebook as you connect with friends and family.

Other ways to get over being hooked on social media:

  • Turning off notifications so you can concentrate on writing.
  • Use an app like Zen writing app or the ones mentioned in #3, which keep track of what you do.
  • Write before you engage in another activity. This will make you want to write faster since you want to move to the next commitment.
  • Let your desire for writing be numero uno.
  • Make the environment conducive for writing.
  • Join writing groups like the Self-Publishing School Mastermind Community: an excellent place to find inspiration from those who share or overcome similar challenges and excuses.

How to succeed in writing groups to get over writing excuses:

  • Join relevant writing groups worth your time.
  • Connect with authors and publishers through personal chats for advice and inspiration on places such as Scribophile.com or professional associations for writers and editors.
  • Ask only relevant questions and be on point to get the most answers out of your questions.
  • Build a rapport.
  • Connect, network, and engage in each case.

Never let social media take charge of your life.

Take advantage of its hidden gem and use social platforms as an inspiration to arouse your creativity and bring back your writing mojo.

#5 -Avoid procrastination

“If it’s not easy to start, it will be hell to finish.” — Niklas Göke

Procrastination is the biggest thief of creativity, progress, and success. It is an enemy you must conquer at all cost.

Whatever it is that you may not want to write now, stop waiting for the right time, age, or when the right resources are available to start.

Today, the community has got many great resources. You can write on your phone, tablet, or a pocketbook. You can also use platforms like LinkedIn, Medium, or Tumblr to share your stories: or use a tool like Jami Gold Save to plan your novel if you are starting in this art.

Remember also the Great Louis La Moore words on being able to write on any busy street corner.

Any place, any time is an opportunity to write: not procrastinate.

Note: For your writing to work, you need to be in the writing factory and not embrace the excuse factory.

#6 – Don’t fear to fall

There is a lot that goes into self-publishing a book: drafts, outlines, revisions, finding a publishing company and eventually marketing and selling to the public who receives it with mixed reactions.

Guess what happens during all this process?

Frustrations, name shaming, trolls, in-your-face insults, and horrible reviews with straight-up lies.

excuses for not writing

If this has been the case, keep the fire burning and kill the negative energy in this way:

  • Make a list of all the life lesson and use them for motivation – if you lack the inspiration.
  • Keep a list of your favorite motivational quotes.
  • Take Sir Richard Branson’s offer challenging readers to write letters to their younger self how to navigate life.
  • Make a list of your habits – positive and negative.
  • Write of your failures and how you plan to succeed.
  • Have faith which gives powers and action to thoughts. Most people develop excuses because they do not have faith in their writing.
  • Finally, keep in mind that success waits on the other side of failure.

#7 – Disability is not inability

Are you struggling with specific challenges in life? Maybe an illness, marital problems, family issues, anxiety, low mood, spouse abuse, or low self-esteem?

Life has a unique way of furnishing us with problems—a thing the Bible captures: but it encourages us to overcome our challenges in a unique way.

2 Corinthians 4:8-9: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.”

You may struggle with whatever challenges life throws at you, but do not turn them into writing excuses.

Remember, excuses thrive well where problems exist. The many times you count the troubles you are experiencing, the more you will use them as a reason for not completing your book.

To tow you out of the excuse mode, look up these five authors who succeeded in this art despite disabilities.

I also wish to encourage you to:

  • Write a memoir or a biography, or on the challenges, you are experiencing.
  • Write about your failures and shortcomings and how you plan to undo them.
  • Find a mentor in writing groups, writing conferences, and co-working space.
  • Ask an able sister, friend, or family member to assist where necessary.
  • Use technology, especially those for voice, motion, and creativity.

#8 – Strive for progress, not perfection

When I started writing, I struggled to produce a well-polished draft. I hated rewrites and self-editing made me want to ram my head into a wall.

But with time, I allowed myself to be scrappy.

I realized that giving it all in my drafts held my back: it pushed me into the rabbit hole of procrastination, fear and made me look inept.

You may aspire to be perfect at what you do, considering the good returns it brings. But perfection sometimes carries a poor reputation – plagiarism, Laryngitis, and writer’s block.

This is especially the self-judgment we impose on ourselves when we find our piece is not of the quality of bestsellers or garnered low reviews.

While you may want to become a bestselling author; when starting, strive for progress and with time, harness the power of perfection through edits, second, or third editions.

Remember the old saying of how to eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

That your first piece never made headlines does not mean the next will experience the same fate.

Aim for progress. Perfection is like success, a journey, having no destination: hence the doing is a lot more important than the result.

Here is a broad overview of how to aim for progress:

  • Collaborate with other writers, making relationships with them, whether aspiring or professional.
  • Seek reviews and feedback from beta readers.
  • Find or pay an editor to help bring out your thoughts, ideas, and write more succinctly.
  • Do an activity that will bring more clarity to your writing.
  • Give yourself enough latitude to experiment and maybe fail a couple of times.

#9 – Writer’s block doesn’t exist

It is an excuse us writer’s use to shot our own feet when writing or publishing a book: then seek comfort in a community or in-crowds ailing of the same.

Let’s face it one more time: “Writer’s block is a fancy term made up by whiners so they can have an excuse to drink alcohol.”  – Steve Martin.

Guess what? You can stop it.


It often starts with finding the real ailment, some soul searching and admitting to yourself.

The other list of things you can do to write without writer’s block goes here:

So what’s standing in your way from self-publishing? Not excuses, it is you. But we can fix that—here at Self-Publishing School—with a few shifts in the mindset.

how to start a story

How to Start a Story & Kick Off the Writing Process to Invest Readers

You want to learn how to start a story because you’re smart. You know the introduction of the book is the most important part.

After all, most readers skim those first few pages before deciding to read or not.

So what if you had a process that intrigued readers from the first page?

What if anyone who read your first few pages immediately wanted to buy your book?

It’s possible, and we have a proven system to make it happen.

how to start a story

Here are the steps for how to start a story:

  1. Connect the readers and character
  2. Produce intrigue
  3. Elicit an emotion in your story
  4. Start your story with a strong visual snapshot
  5. Write a compelling first paragraph
  6. Leave a hint
  7. End the first chapter on a cliffhanger
  8. End the first chapter with a bookend

NOTE: We cover everything in this blog post and much more about the writing, marketing, and publishing process in ourFundamentals of Fiction and Storytelling program. Learn more by clicking here! <https://self-publishingschool.com/programs>

How to Start a Story with Intention

By default, nobody wants to read your book. Not even your mother. Not really. She’ll humor you, she’ll hope for you, but she doesn’t want to.

Since nobody is instilled with an innate commitment to read your book, you must craft that desire personally. Your opening paragraph, hell, your opening sentence is as much largess most people will be offer.

As any good salesperson knows, a crack is an opportunity and anything that opens a little can be forced to open a lot. All you need is confidence, technique, and the guts to push forward.

To this end, when starting a story, you must:

  • Hook the reader
  • Offer promises to sustain interest
  • Cultivate a connection
  • Sell the book!

Yes, that is a lot to ask from the first page, which is why so many writers stop before they get started.

Remember, the first page isn’t the first page you write, it is the first page someone reads. Of all the darlings you must get used to killing, your original first page should always be ripe for the axe.

#1 – Connect the reader to your character

Your opening sentence shouldn’t be a warning shot. No haphazard hail Mary you hope lands. It needs to be well aimed and land solid. It sets a tone, introducing the reader to you and your world.

Like any first impression, it has as many don’ts attached as it has do’s. Let’s hit the do’s first.

You want to achieve a minimum of one and a maximum of three of these in your first sentence. Three is pushing it, you might want to try for that all-in approach, but you will just end up coming across disorganized. A page long sentence can be an interesting, impressive feat, but as a first sentence it reeks of smarter-than-the-room and will alienate most readers.

  • Connect the Reader to a Character
  • Produce Intrigue
  • Elicit an Emotion
  • Snapshot a Vivid Image

Diving off a cliff puts the reader immediately into the action. In film school you will see this as in media res. It works by forcing the reader to accept everything that is currently happening while also inviting them to see what happens next or hear what brought the character to this moment.

To execute this action-packed introduction, you need to have a firm idea of what is happening and deliver the setting with confidence, don’t over explain and don’t linger.

How to Start a Story Example:

“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” – The Gunslinger by Stephen King

Connecting a reader to a character is done in several ways. You can show off a strength, reveal a weakness, or share an in-character insight. Each of these gives the reader a hook into the character, helping them to understand why they should follow along to see the character’s arc.

start a story example

How to Start a Story Example:

“Locke Lamora’s rule of thumb was this: a good confidence game took three months to plan, three weeks to rehearse, and three seconds to win or lose the victim’s trust forever.” — The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

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#2 – Produce intrigue

Producing intrigue works a lot the same as the Dive. The difference is you want to leave more questions than generate answers.

Again, the more you know about the story when you drop this first hint, the more clearly it will communicate.

Avoid vague prophecy, hit them with something that will echo when the reader arrives at the resolution.

How to Start a Story Example:

“Chris Mankowski’s last day on the job, two in the afternoon, two hours to go, he got a call to dispose of a bomb.” – Freaky Deaky by Elmore Leonard

#3 – Elicit an emotion

Eliciting an emotion is about getting the reader to feel something, not just displaying emotive language. You don’t want the reader to feel for the character or the world, as those fall into other categories.

With this opening, you need to place the reader in a specific emotional headspace to engage with the rest of the page.

You accomplish this by using trigger phrases and touchstones.

How to Start a Story Example:

“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” – Neuromancer by William Gibson

how to start a story example

#4 – Create a strong visual snapshot

Finally, a snapshot is exactly that, a picture painted in words. You don’t want to make a whole landscape. Take a look at a random post card for five seconds.

What stood out to you? How would you describe that scene to someone else?

That’s the essence of a snapshot, the highlights, and standouts, not the overview.

How to Start a Story Example:

“The thing was big and white and hairy, and it was eating all the ice cream in the walk-in freezer.” — Monster by A. Lee Martinez

While you toil to create these openings, you want to avoid a few key elements. Each of these can destroy your efforts and drive the reader into dismissal mode.

Avoid these elements when starting a story:

  • Mundane
  • Clichés
  • “He woke up”

World building is about establishing what your world is, not what it isn’t. Describing how the regular world works and then adding ‘but mine doesn’t do that’ wastes a lot of time.

Expect your reader to know mundane information and don’t bother repeating it. It bores you to write and the reader to read.

Cliché’s have their place in an established book genre. Don’t confuse a genre trope with a cliché. What you want to avoid is saying the same thing in the same way.

Your fantasy world may well have a dungeon and a dragon, but you don’t want to put those facts too close to each other.

Cliché will kill emotion in its cradle. Readers want to feel something genuine and cliché is the opposite of that.

Far too many science fiction stories start with someone coming out of some kind of sleep. There is a temptation to start the story from the very first conscious moment of the character but remember that you don’t even really remember the first few minutes of your day.

Start the story where you remember starting your day, usually after breakfast and post stimulant.

Not convinced? Alien 3 started with Ripley waking up in a tube. Nobody likes Alien 3, ergo, no starting by waking up.

#5 – Construct a compelling first paragraph

If everything has gone to plan you have gotten a foot in the door, wedged the sucker open, stepped into the vestibule, and presented your wary, but accepting, mark… er reader, with your wares.

You haven’t made the sale yet, but you have an opportunity to deliver a spiel before they work a clever excuse to get you out.

Seize that advantage by showing that your opening sentence leads into an opening paragraph that isn’t just more of the same but a makes some promises that most of the rest of the pages are also going to offer something worth sticking around for.

Having gained some headway, you have more to lose than gain. That is, there are more wrong things to do with the first paragraph than there are right things.

The right course of action has three options for your starting paragraphs:

  • Stay the Course
  • Ramp Up Gradually
  • Double Down

Staying the course

Staying the course means keeping the same tone and attention you presented in the first sentence. This works best for mystery stories or when you have started with a Dive.

In both of these cases, the idea is often to put the reader immediately into the world and you need to be careful not to shake the hook loose with too much pull.

Example: Back to Stephen King and The Gunslinger, the paragraph after the opening line is a delicious snapshot of the desert mentioned. It holds the reader, drawing them further into the enormity of the task presented by the preceding sentence. He already has us ready to find out more, so he sets the hook gently, rather than pulling us right into the boat.

Note also how he goes from one strong type of opening, the Dive (mixed with a character connection), into a snapshot. Right there he’s established three strong openings without breaking a sweat.

Ramping up gradually

Ramping up gradually is seen more often in character connections and snapshots. With each detail you add through the paragraph, you build interest. The character gets slowly separated from other characters of their type.

If you start with a high school student, you see how they break the mold. If you start with a city, you reveal what makes that city unique.

Example: Consider the wide panoramic opening of EM Forester’s Passage to India, how he shows the country in an almost dreamlike shot you can immediately visualize. The book was written before film was invented and yet it used a standard technique employed in nearly all aerial establishing shots.

Double down

The hardest technique to use is the double down. Here you pull hard and fast, hoping to take the opportunity gained by your first sentence to really wow the reader.

While this can be done with several techniques, you see it least commonly with the Dive. If your action is strong enough, more action blows the reader away. However, a complication to the action works.

By slipping in some Emotion or Intrigue you deepen the scene without pushing the reader out.

Example: In The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, a mysterious circus appears in the first sentence. Complicating this matter is the first paragraph which suggests the sudden appearance wasn’t the kind where it was simply not advertised in advance but hints it may well have materialized out of nowhere.

Regardless of the approach, remember that the first paragraph serves to grow your lead and hold the reader through the chapter.

While pulling is the goal, the main aim, as mentioned several times, is to avoid pushing the reader out.

We call these the Goldilocks Paradox:

  • Too Obvious
  • Too Obscure

In the Too Obvious scenario the reader develops a certain “Simpson’s Did It!” mentality. If they feel like they know exactly where the story is going, that this is just one more reprise of the hero’s journey, the fetch quest, the star-crossed lovers, they will put it down.

Conversely, if you go Too Obscure, they won’t have any investment. Sure, nobody has ever really read a book quite like those composed by Thomas Pynchon, but then again, ask anyone what Gravity’s Rainbow is about and be prepared to get a ‘the what and who?’ in response.

You want to land in familiar territory with some new spins. You don’t want to reinvent story structure or character, not in the first chapter. You need to gain trust before you start pulling the rug out from a reader.

#6 – Leave a hint in the last paragraph

While the first sentence gets the reader hooked and the first paragraph makes promises, the last paragraph needs to introduce more concepts while limiting resolution.

That sounds like a heavy order because it is. It isn’t all that bad once you break down the components.

Aim for one of the following:

  • Hint at the End
  • Roadmap to a Plan
  • Cliffhanger
  • Bookend

Each of these chapter endings provides the reader a reason to keep going. Many television pilots fail at this, they either wrap up the first story and have nowhere to go, or they toss in a last-minute villain preview to suggest a larger threat somewhere.

Sure, it worked out for Avengers to tease Thanos but they also had the advantage of a sixty year comics history to assure viewers they know how to build a multi-part story.

When you give a Hint you want it to be broad enough to be interesting but narrow enough that your resolution (within the next chapter or two) satisfies it completely.

If you toss an owl through a window to get Harry Hunter or Harry Potter to explore a magical world, you better make good on the magical world sooner than later.

If you are building up a large world and need to set several things in motion before you get to the major plot, which is a risky move in itself, you need to show the reader a roadmap. The hobbits need to get out of the Shire before they can get to Rivendell on their way to the ultimate goal.

#7 – Opt to end the chapter on a cliffhanger

Ending on a cliffhanger is usually a good call. The pulp stories of the 30s were sometimes christened Cliffhangers because they used this technique extensively. When releasing serial stories, it is the default way to go, how will our heroes get out of this sudden predicament!?

It makes the ending exciting and demands the reader pick up the next installment, or, in your case, turn the page and keep going just a bit further.

Cliffhanger Generation Tricks and Tips:

  • Someone Appears!
  • A Lingering Question
  • A Sudden Insight
  • The Depths Appear

Dropping a new character into the scene, especially one that shows up with the same aplomb as a first sentence Character Connection, gets the reader going. They want to know who this is, and why they will have importance to the next section.

The end of the first chapter of Stardust by Neil Gaiman does this perfectly, introducing us to a baby delivered via faery door. You have to turn the page to find out more.

In a Lingering Question scenario, you invite the reader to ponder something about the event that just transpired.

Why was it so hard, so easy, what was the significance of the turns? Any question that goes unanswered makes the reader wonder. In a serial, they would have to wonder for weeks, or months. In a book, they can always find out by turning a few pages.

Sudden insight works somewhat the opposite of the Lingering Question.

Here, a character understands something that just happened, something the reader may have been in the dark about, this often goes hand in hand with the next tip. Knowing what is at stake drives tension and the character and reader both being ‘in on it’ delivers.

The Depths Appear works well in science fiction, horror, and fantasy stories.

Any place where the world isn’t just what is known, where other dimensional forces can act, where a universe of possibilities can exist, it is possible for something else to be out there.

Alluding to the larger forces at the end of a first chapter puts the story into a context against these larger, more meaningful threats. This is especially a good idea when your first chapter reads like a self-contained story.

#8 – Try a bookend for the first chapter

I lied about the mother thing, turns out she really does want to read your book. She always did, she can’t not, mostly because she loves you.

This type of ending paragraph reflects the Bookend.

Here, you offer a mirror version of the first sentence to show that what has been set up and was so gripping originally has turned around. This works especially well for stories that start in a known world.

Dorothy isn’t in Kansas anymore, Alice ends up down the rabbit hole, and the once bright sky is now overcast with the coming troubles.

romance authors

8 Best Romance Authors: Which Authors to Follow and Even Learn From

Brace yourself, because you’re about to feast your eyes on the best and totally non-partial or biased list of the best romance authors.

Out of the millions of crazy-talented authors out there, I’ve managed to put together 8 of the best romance authors I think were integral in shaping the lives of so many artistic, hopeless romantic souls vying for a place in this book genre.

best romance authors

Here are the 8 best romance authors:

  1. Jenna Moreci
  2. Josie Silver
  3. Rainbow Rowell
  4. Audrey Niffenegger
  5. Nicholas Sparks
  6. Judy Blume
  7. Richelle Mead
  8. Helen Hoang

NOTE: We cover everything in this blog post and much more about the writing, marketing, and publishing process in ourFundamentals of Fiction and Storytelling program. Learn more by clicking here! <https://self-publishingschool.com/programs>

What makes a good romance novel?

It goes without saying that these romance authors’ books have become bestsellers. However, it’s a long way to get through to get on a bestseller list, but it’s real!

If you are one of those crazy guys who dare to overcome this path, make sure to pay attention to each and every detail of publishing your book.

Genuine romance authors know how to draw their readers’ attention right from the first page and even distract you from mulling over the plot even when you are not reading.

The most important point is they follow their idea, moving, sad, and a bit insane (or absolutely crazy one).

Best Romance Authors to Read and Learn From

Without further ado, here’s my list of the best romance authors.

You can read for fun or, if you’re looking to write a book, you can read and learn from their methods and techniques.

#1 – Jenna Moreci

While Moreci doesn’t just write romance, the romance included in her novels are drool-worthy, intriguing, and most importantly, healthy.

This author’s debut novel Eve: The Awakening featured a romantic subplot amidst interlopers, chimeras, and more and still held its own and shined.

Her second novel of a separate series, The Savior’s Champion is a romantic fantasy adventure where yes, the romance is a part of the main plot (and let’s be real, I could read about these characters’ love story forever!).

Moreci has a way of delivering the romance in a natural, yet intoxicating manner while sticking true to a healthy relationship—something this industry is in desperate need of.

If you love romance (along with some action), this is the author to keep an eye on.

#2 – Josie Silver

The Wolverhampton native is the author of One Day in December, a rising cult favorite that rose to fame thanks to the palpable warmth and charming characters that spring to life in every page.

Lovely doesn’t even begin to describe Silver’s writing; her words and stories are imbued with so much magic it’s hard not to cry or swoon when you’re so far deep into the story.

Although One Day in December is the first and only book in her repertoire at the moment, we’re hopeful for part 2 to Jack and Laurie’s whirlwind romance—or at least a spin-off!

One Day in December is the magic and chaos that ensues when you’re pretty certain you’ve just locked eyes with the love of your life, only for your bus to depart without him.

After a year of searching for him, you’re reunited one fateful night at your very own Christmas party—except he’s dating your roommate and BFF. Ten years of friendships, heartbreak, missed opportunities, and what ifs, roads not taken, and fate are reconsidered.

Josie Silver’s masterpiece is a reminder to everyone out there – hopeless romantic or otherwise – that true love and fate take inexplicable turns along the way to happiness, but it gets there.

So, to everyone out there who randomly locks eyes with someone cute on the way to work – if you feel it in your bones that they’re the one for you, go out there and do it! Who knows? They just might be the Jack to your Laurie!

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#3 – Rainbow Rowell

If you love a good cry or heartwarming page tuner, then we reckon you should pick up any book from Miss Rowell’s highly acclaimed selection that goes from raw and real adult stories to warm and relatable teenager ones – all with a panache only the Nebraska local is capable of.

Rainbow Rowell has churned out masterpieces like Attachments, Landline, Eleanor & Park, Fangirl, and Carry On.

Out of the impressive lot, our winner is Eleanor & Park!

Who knew domestic abuse, child abuse, themes of escape, bullying, and body image issues would make for one knock-out novel? Eleanor & Park is everything a coming-of-age story should be.

It makes you feel things so strongly, transports you to a time and place where all you can feel is Eleanor and how the world shifts around her.

Together you weep at her circumstances. Together your hearts flutter for one Park Sheridan. Together you escape to Minnesota in the hopes of surviving the hand you were drawn.

Riveting, raw, and real, this love story is something so uniquely special, it’ll be engraved on your brain for a long, long time.

#4 – Audrey Niffenegger

Okay, hear us out – time travel, unsurmountable passion, and a lifetime of waiting and intertwined destinies – could it get any better than this? Right, didn’t think so.

Niffenegger gave the world a gift when she released The Time Traveler’s Wife, one of the most widely successful romance books and films to have made it into the mainstream and cult favorite niche.

The story takes place between two lovers; Henry, a man born with the inexplicable ability to time travel, and Clare, a woman he has been drawn to meeting in several timelines.

They fall in love, and what follows next is a series of beautiful and tragic moments that teach us the pains of having to wait your whole life for the one that owns your heart.

We could only dream of creating work as stunning and riveting as this. We have so much respect for writers who hone their craft and go through the motions of delivering content that is nothing short of brilliant.

It can be a huge, daunting task, but thanks to lifehacks like Spreadsheeto to help the best of the best streamline ideas and get that creativity flowing quickly and efficiently.

#5 – Nicholas Sparks

Nicholas Sparks is on this list of best romance authors, so that means this is pretty legit now, eh?

Kidding aside, this multi-awarded novelist and screenwriter is famous for bringing into the world a string of romance novels worthy of their own films.

romance authors

Oh wait, most of them are already on the silver screen (and doing great at that!).

Sparks specializes in the language of intimacy and picturesque moments in time, and some of his greatest work include A Walk to Remember, The Notebook. The Last Song, Night in Rodanthe, The Lucky One, and Dear John.

Out of the string of popular picks, The Notebook is our favorite! (Shocker). Ryan Gosling aside, the story is impeccable from beginning to end.

Who doesn’t love young, passionate romance fueled by differences in societal rank and one nosey-as-hell mother out to get in the way of her teenage daughter’s whirlwind romance with a so-called hooligan?

What you can expect from this fantastic read is a love story you’ll be begging the gods for.

#6 – Judy Blume

Hailing from New Jersey, Judy Blume is a multi-awarded child and young adult novelist whose incredible work has landed her permanency and veteran status in the hall of romance book fame.

The brilliant mind behind Tiger Eyes, Forever, Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, Deenie, Blubber, and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Blume is out to conquer the world of fiction with one amazing book at a time.

Our favorite out of the impressive lineup? Forever!

Teenage sexuality, teenage angst… just all of the glorious, painful, and all too real moments about being a young teenager in love are captured perfectly in Blume’s tale of navigating through youth in all its awkward intricacies. 12/10 would read again!

#7 – Richelle Mead

The goddess of all things fiction, fantasy, and romance, Richelle Mead has reached household name levels of fame from exquisitely written novels that play up our favorite kind of scary – or in this case, sexy – ghouls: vampires!

Mead is the author of the Vampire Academy series, which has subsequently been turned into a movie.

Warning: not falling in love with Adrian Ivashkov is absolutely impossible.

#8 – Helen Hoang

romance author helen hoang

This American romance author’s debut, The Kiss Quotient, is a breath of fresh air for more reasons than one: her heroine is autistic – yes, you read that right – and suffers from Asperger’s disease.

Not only is her work inclusive, it’s also realistic and speaks to a much-needed group of people who have been underserved until her work.

Get. Your. Hands. On. This. Book. Honey. Or everything on this list, for that matter!

Every one of these guys is pure talent. But to succeed in this niche where every other one fails is impossible without a successful marketing campaign.

Hard difficult work, but undoubtedly worth trying!

what to write about

8 Things to Write About: What to Write About When You Lack Inspiration

You’re struggling with finding things to write about—that much is clear.

And you’ve decided to make that jump. You’ve finally worked up the courage to write a book. Congrats!

Now the daunting question of what you’re going to write rears its ugly head.

What on earth can you write? What would people want to read?

You find yourself at the first stumbling block, also affectionately (not) referred to as writer’s block.

things to write about

Here are 8 ways to find things to write about:

  1. Write about your passions
  2. Fiction or nonfiction
  3. What you’re an expert in
  4. Write about your experiences
  5. Get ideas from friends and family
  6. Find inspiration to write about online
  7. Brainstorm what to write about for a day or two
  8. Collect a large list of ideas to write about

NOTE: We cover everything in this blog post and much more about the writing, marketing, and publishing process in ourVIP Self-Publishing Program. Learn more by clicking here! <https://self-publishingschool.com/programs>

8 Things to Write About and How to Find Writing Inspiration

Well the good news is that all of us could write a book or two about something!

Each one of us has our own unique set of experiences that others could learn from, not to mention the plethora of writing prompts and story ideas online.

Figuring out what to write about simply takes some self-reflection, brainstorming, and research.

Follow these next steps and you will surely find at least one future book topic!

#1 – Start with your passions

The best place to start is with what brings you joy. After all, you’re going to enjoy writing your book a lot more if you enjoy the topic.

Furthermore, you are more likely to really sell an idea and convince your audience of something if you’re passionate about it.

Here are a few questions for finding what to write about:

  1. What’s one thing you enjoy most?
  2. What do you lose track of time doing?
  3. Where do your thoughts go when you’re not paying attention?
  4. What do people describe you doing often?

These things to write about could be as simple as bike riding, home organization, or cooking. It could be something more technical or complex.

Take out a pen and paper, and make a list of all the things that you really love.

Write them all down, whether they’re big or small. You will draw inspiration from this list, so write down everything that you can think of.

#2 – Choose to write fact or fiction

Once you have a good, working list of all the things you love, you need to decide something important: will your book be fact or fiction?

There are so many different book genres out there that it can feel overwhelming. Hence, it’s best to get an idea of this before you start the writing process.

Your passions list will really help you narrow this one down.

Perhaps your love of cats could make you want to write a fiction novel about a cat who goes on adventures. Perhaps your love of home gardening could make for a great how-to book to help others who want to grow their own food. Maybe your love of ghosts could make for a good horror book.

Whatever it is, your passions are there waiting to be turned into a book idea.

Your specific genre can be modified as you begin to write. However, deciding whether your book will be fiction or about your real life, like writing a memoir, is something you need to decide before beginning the brainstorming and writing process.

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#3 – What you’re an expert at/in

Everybody is an expert in something. Do you believe me? Most people when they hear this go “oh no, not me!” After all, we are often our own worst critics.

However, that’s where everyone is wrong. Each of us is an expert in something.

The truth is that you don’t need a million trophies or some fancy title to be an expert. Furthermore, books written by experts don’t always sell. People love getting advice from ordinary people just like you! After all, if you can write and publish a book, so can they.

You can find your expertise through a brainstorm.

Much like your passion list, make another list! On this one, I want you to write down all of your work experience from the last 5-10 (or more!) years. I’m talking everything that you can think of such as employment, volunteer work, hobbies, and unique experiences.

After you’ve spent some time on this list, start to look at the patterns:

  • What things keep popping up?
  • What do these things have in common?
  • Are these things related?

This list might help you see that you really are more of an expert in something that you can write about.

You might not have been the boss of the company, but you might have learned more than you think working in public relations or even answering phones.

#4 – Pull things to write about from your experiences

Your future book inspiration doesn’t solely come from professional experience. It can come from personal experiences as well. With this, you’ll want to create another list.

things to write about

However, this one will be more of a brainstorm of different life experiences you’ve had.

If you can’t just start making a list, start by mapping out your life.

Jot down a few of these ideas to write about:

  • Where do you live?
  • Where are you from originally?
  • Who are your family members?
  • Who are your friends?
  • Where have you traveled to?

If you answer all of these questions, you will surely start to think of “that one time I …” or other memories.

Write down all the words, thoughts and images that come to mind. Write down how you felt in these moments and how they affected you and you’ll have plenty of things to write about.

When you brainstorm, let your creativity flow! Don’t worry about writing the words in a perfect list. If you feel inspired to draw, draw.

These brainstorm sessions are for you and you only, so let them be as crazy as you want!

#5 – Get writing ideas from friends or family member

Those who know us best often see things about us that we cannot. They have the perspective of seeing our lives from the outside.

If you’re thinking of writing a book, speak with someone you’re close to.

They simultaneously know you best and want the best for you.

Take them out for a cup of coffee and tell them that you want to publish a book. If you already have a few things to want to write about, you could run them by this person.

If you don’t, you could simply ask them what they think you should write about. You might get responses like “I would love to read about your experience with _____” or “I think you could really tell this story well.”

You’ll either narrow down your list of ideas or have a few new ones to add to the list!

#6 – Turn to the Internet

The Internet is a great place to find inspiration for what to write about. First and foremost, you want to ensure that someone hasn’t already written about what you want to write about.

If it’s a broad topic such as “how to travel the world,” surely at least several people have already beaten you to the punch! However, this isn’t the end of the world.

When searching, you can see how these people have written their books and think about how yours would be different. Since no one on earth is exactly like you, you certainly will have your own unique perspective to bring to the table!

Only you can be you!

In addition to a general Google search, use both Instagram and Pinterest to your advantage.

These two social networks will bring your inspiration for what to write about—not to mention give you book marketing opportunities when you do write the book. When searching on Instagram, make sure to look at related hashtags such as this #writerinspiration one.

#7 – Leave all the brainstorming and discussion for a day or two

After you’ve brainstormed and talked with a close friend or family member, put it all down.

Simply go about your life as normal going to work or school or whatever your normal routine is.

You are sure to come up with more ideas or more details to add to your existing notes at the most random times. When something comes to mind, record it right away!

It might be good to have a notebook with you at all times or start a note on your phone.

You can actually use an app like Evernote for this very purpose.

things to write about notes

After a few days of a break, come back to all your notes and decide on what you want to write about.

#8 – Create a list to work from

A lot of authors feel like pressure when picking their book topic. It is kind of scary to pick an idea and then write several hundred pages on it.

However, remind yourself that choosing an idea to write about does not obligate you to write an entire book about it.

You might start by writing the outline or the first few chapters and realize that you’d rather write about a different topic. That’s okay!

Creating a large list of ideas will help you when you’re just not feeling one idea anymore—whether you’re writing a book or simply a blog post.

Get out that notebook and get to work!

The best time to get started brainstorming your perfect idea is now! Don’t wait around and let fear get the better of you.

Get out your notebook and start making these lists. Write down every word, thought or image that comes to your mind!

author advantage live self publishing school

Author Advantage Live – Writing Event for Self-Published Authors

It’s here.

The day has finally arrived.

Today is finally the day…


Self-Publishing School’s FIRST ANNUAL LIVE EVENT…


Author Advantage Live is the ONLY event dedicated to helping you as a self-published author sell your first 10,000 book copies, build a platform to scale your income and impact, and unlock your Author Advantage.

My team has been working on this project in secret since January with the purpose of creating the most valuable, go-to conference in the self publishing industry…

And at the risk of giving away a few surprises, I think we’ve done exactly that.

But here’s the deal – because this is the first live writing conference we’ve hosted, we’ve capped the number of tickets at 300 attendees…

(We didn’t want to end up like the Fyre festival disaster on Netflix.. ;).

author advantage live

And if you’re reading this blog post right now…

So are approximately 150,000 other writers and authors just like you who visit this blog each month.

Which means Author Advantage Live will sell out.

Right now, and for the next few days we’re offering an Early Bird Discount on all Author Advantage Live ticket packages…

This is the lowest price these tickets will ever sell at (to reward our longtime community members who are fast action takers).

But there are a limited number of Early Bird Tickets Available

Once the Early Bird Discount tickets have been claimed, the price goes up $100.

What Is Author Advantage Live?

Author Advantage Live is the ONLY event dedicated to helping you as a self-published author sell your first 10,000 book copies, build a platform to scale your income and impact, and unlock your Author Advantage.

Who is Author Advantage Live For?

Are you a writer looking to learn today’s cutting-edge book sales and marketing strategies based on what’s working right now?

Are you a coach or consultant looking to cut through the noise, position yourself as the undisputed expert in your niche, and create an asset that makes clients ask you to work with them?

Are you someone who wants to take the knowledge and expertise you’ve already written in your book (or already have in your head!), repurpose it, and turn it into a higher-ticket digital product or service?

Are you looking for a proven process to write a book that positions you as an expert, and generates a steady stream of qualified leads for your business?

Are you someone who wants to use their book to build a highly profitable business on the backend?

Or maybe you’re an aspiring author looking for the strategies, frameworks, and inspiration you need to make your bestselling book a reality?

If you found yourself nodding “Yes!” to any of those questions above, then Author Advantage Live 2019 is specifically for you!

What Will I Get At Author Advantage Live?

Author Advantage Live is the first event of its kind hosted by Self-Publishing School… and we’re pulling out all the stops.

At AAL, you’ll be rubbing shoulders and collaborating with some of the top Self Publishing School coaches, team members, and your fellow authors and community members so that you can see what it actually takes to write and publish a bestselling book, build a six and seven figure business, and create a platform that allows you to scale your income, influence, and impact.

Get feedback, support, and encouragement for your book and business ideas during our Author VIP night and mastermind breakouts…

Immerse yourself into the mindset of what it actually takes to grow a six figure online business…

See and engage with Chandler Bolt in person! He’s inspired and trained you via video to this point…the opportunity to engage live with your book, brand, and business ideas is like adding gasoline to the fire.

Build life-long relationships with other authors in the Self-Publishing School community during our networking events and cocktail night, so that you have allies, accountability, and don’t have to go through your journey alone.

All of this takes place over 3 days designed to Change Your Life and get you results:

Day 1: Crafting Your Message & Identifying Your Audience

There is nothing more powerful than a compelling story, and Day 1 is all about focusing on crafting YOUR unique story and identifying YOUR perfect audience.

On Day 1, we’re covering ALL the necessary elements that a compelling story MUST have, as well how to ensure your story and book topic are positioned the RIGHT way that sets you up for maximum book sales while positioning you as an expert in your niche AND driving qualified, ready-to-buy leads to your business.

Day 2: How To Sell Your First 10,000+ Copies

Day 2 is not just about giving you tons of content and theoretical knowledge about selling more books. Our goal for you on Day 2 is to arm you with the playbooks you need to walk away with a tangible, step-by-step gameplan to go out and sell at least 10,000 copies of your own book to position you as the undisputed expert in your niche and unlock YOUR Author Advantage.

At 10,000 copies sold, doors start to open for you that had previously been invisible. Podcast interviews, speaking engagements, partnership offers, and business opportunities will suddenly all start to present themselves.

This is what we call the Author Advantage.

Day 3: How To Build A Business On The Backend Of Your Book

Day 3 is possibly the most POWERFUL day of Author Advantage Live.

Whether you’re a career author, entrepreneur, or what we call an “impactor,” you’re going to walk away from the last day of Author Advantage Live with takeaways that have the potential to change your life.

On Day 3, Chandler is going to show you EXACTLY how to take your book and repurpose the hard work you’ve already done into a higher-ticket digital product or service…

And the step-by-step playbook you need to build a six or even seven figure business on the backend of your book.

You’re going to learn the EXACT strategies we’ve executed at Self-Publishing School to build a $12,000,000 business on the back of Chandler’s OWN books in just 5 years.

Lastly, there’s a special keynote speaker on Day 3 that we are INCREDIBLY excited to announce. You don’t want to miss this!

Click here to visit the Author Advantage Live page, get more details, and purchase your ticket today.

what is a protagonist

Main Character: How to Write a Kickass Main Character Your Readers Will Love

Readers will show up to your metaphorical yard for a good story…but they will come back for a good protagonist…

And we’ll teach you how to write a main character your readers will love, root for, and even cry for.

You have the story you want to tell. You know exactly how to write the novel…however, you’re not sure how to make your protagonist stand out—how to make readers love them.

And that’s the key, after all…

When your book is years old and readers have long since read it, it’s the main character they’ll remember, the joy and fear and happiness they experienced on behalf of that protagonist that will make them remember your book—and you!


Here are the steps for writing a protagonist and main character:

  1. Learn what a protagonist is
  2. Understand a protagonist vs antagonist
  3. Learn from protagonist examples
  4. Make your main character likable
  5. Give them a sense of humor
  6. Make your protagonist powerful
  7. Give your protagonist trouble
  8. Give them several of these qualities
  9. Avoid making a passive protagonist

NOTE: We cover everything in this blog post and much more about the writing, marketing, and publishing process in ourFundamentals of Fiction and Storytelling program. Learn more by clicking here! <https://self-publishingschool.com/programs>

What is a protagonist?

The protagonist of a story is the leading or main character in a book, movie, short story, play, or other works of fiction. They are the person the story centers around and the character readers will root for to succeed.

Essentially, the protagonist of a book is the one whose goals and ambitions are a part of the main plot, often thwarted by the antagonist, who wants to see them fail for their own personal motives to succeed.

Your main character possesses characteristics that are redeemable and lovable—they’re who your readers will grow most attached to and want to see win and succeed in their ventures throughout the plot of your novel.

No matter what book genre you’re writing in (aside from nonfiction), you will need to be able to craft a stellar main character.

What’s the difference between a protagonist and a main character?

Protagonists and the main character can be the same, however, not every main character is a protagonist.

For example, when writing split perspective novels, the protagonist might just be a single character, but the other points of view are also main characters.

A main character is any character that plays a pivotal part in the plot and journey of the protagonist.

Here are a few examples of protagonists versus main characters:

Protagonist (and the main character):

  • Jon Snow
  • Harry Potter
  • Katniss Everdeen
  • Tobias Kaya

Main character (but NOT the protagonist):

  • Cersei Lannister
  • Ron Weasley
  • Peeta Mellark
  • The Savior

What counts as a main character in a story?

The main character in a story is someone who plays an active role in the progression of the plot and story. This includes both the protagonist, antagonist, and other active characters.

For example, your protagonist’s best friend can be a main character (like Ron Weasley), but so can the antagonist (like Voldemort).

You can have several different main characters but usually only one protagonist in your novel.

The difference between main characters and side characters is that a side character typically serves a different purpose in your novel. They might not be directly impacting the plot, but may serve as comic relief, a foil character type to your main character, or even play a specific role to tie different characters together.

An example of a side character is Nick Fury in The Marvel Comics. Most often, the superheroes are the main characters (and protagonists), but Fury is often a side character with the purpose of connecting plot points, but not necessarily moving them forward on his own.

protagonist main characters

Protagonist Versus Antagonist

The protagonist is the character who is trying to accomplish a specific goal while the antagonist is any character or organization opposing them.

The antagonist is often found to be synonymous with “villain,” but this isn’t always the case.

The antagonist of a story is anything or anyone opposing your protagonist. Their goal is to stop them for whatever reason, usually because their own motivations and goals contradict theirs.

Take Cersei Lannister, for example. The popular franchise Game of Thrones unveiled a very specific type of antagonist in Cersei because if you read or watch from her own perspective, she is the protagonist of her own story.

This is one of the golden rules of writing antagonists and any sort of “villainous” character.

George R.R. Martin pulled this off beautifully by making Cersei Lannister the antagonist to other main characters like Jon Snow, the Starks, and Daenerys Targaryen, but because (in the books) we’re offered her point of view, she’s actually the protagonist of her own life journey.

Nevertheless, she is still considered the antagonist—as are the White Walkers.

Protagonist Examples

The reason why so many popular books are a series of books (other than the author wanting to make a living writing several books). We all want to see the next adventure of a character we love.

At some point, if you like the character enough, you stop caring what they are even getting up to (almost) and you just want to know more about them and their life.

Think of any engaging character you’ve encountered in the past decade. These characters could have stopped after one go, but they keep coming back with new and interesting things to do. Sometimes they engage in stand-alone stories, other times their continuing adventures are part of the overall story structure that shows off their growth over a series.

character development arc

Here are some examples of great protagonists:

How to Write a Good Protagonist Your Readers Will Remember

Not every character is worth coming back for. The staying power of a character comes from more than simply surviving the plot (though that usually helps).

You need to do intense character development and give them some special quality and/or make them likable. In other words, make them kickass.

While that is easier said than done, it isn’t too hard to do. Here are six ways to put some kick in your character.

#1 – Make Your Protagonist Likable

People like to spend time with likable characters. Much like in real life, the off-putting people tend to get skipped over and left to the side.

Think of any Tom Hanks character in any of his romantic comedies. He always plays a likeable guy, a guy you’d happily have over for dinner, spend the day with, hang with.

His charisma and charm extend from there, making his characters in dramas more approachable.

In the same way, if your make a character likable and personable, the reader will stick by them in the tough spots. They will care about the events that happen because they like the character.

Consider the way a slasher flick sets up the characters. You know from the introduction who is going to survive the night and who isn’t. The heroes (usually a couple) stand for the same values as the audience. They are kind, good, and moral. They look out for their fellow characters in times of danger.

A likable character sticks up for the little guy and adds a human quality to their supporting cast, even when that cast isn’t remotely human.

When a character feels like a guide, it makes the reader feel safe. Especially in horror or thriller stories, you want the reader to be more excited to turn the page and see the next scene than they are hesitant.

Examples of these likable main characters include:

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#2 – Make Them Funny

Not quite the same as likable and not quite the opposite either. Funny characters can get away with more than unfunny ones, but they can get annoying if pushed.

Like any good joke, timing and delivery matter.

Biting wit and a jocular look at the dangers all around make for some memorable character moments. Make writing dialogue for this type of character worth some outbursts of laughter and you’ll have your reader turning the pages with gleeful delight.

Funny isn’t just jokes consisting of set up and punchline. You definitely don’t want to rely on a string of catchphrase utterance, no matter how much a Groot might work on occasion.

The essence of wit is brevity. Quips work when they are insightful but also come from a real place.

Be extra careful in establishing the background of a metacharacter. Deadpool’s humor doesn’t fly in all stories at all times.

Funny can also mean awkward or accidentally funny.

Think Ron in Harry Potter. He doesn’t mean to be funny… he’s awkward, but in a lovable, hilarious way and we love him for it.

The falls into trouble and falls back out of it style of character goes way back to Greek comedies. The setup for a comedy of errors relies on a likable fellow getting in over their heads and trying not to make a mess as they work it out.

Examples of funny characters:

  • Starlord and Rocket Raccoon in Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Sherlock Holmes in the latest reboots
  • Tyrian Lannister in Game of Thrones
  • Simon Pegg’s Scotty

#3 – Make Your Protagonist Powerful

A character that lacks the ability to affect the world around them becomes tiresome. We want heroes challenged, sure, but we also want to know they can succeed. That when faced with the dangers of the plot and the villains they have a shot that, when it comes down to it, they can kick some ass.

Tony Stark isn’t just a billionaire. He’s a billionaire genius. Take away his armor and he’s still a beloved figure with money, brains, fame and the awareness to point it all that out, if pressed on the subject.

good protagonist

The reason we love underdog characters is because they are secretly the most powerful. They have the power to rise up and supersede the challenges, they just aren’t there yet. The likable, funny exterior makes you root for a character, but you want them to win in the end because they are better than the competition.

If your character is a lawyer, they’re the best lawyer in town. If they are entering an academy to become a pilot, they are on the path to be the best pilot.

A powerful character (ie- the best at something) garners respect from the reader.

Remember to keep the character likable, a powerful character that uses their power to do harm becomes a villain. Redemption arcs aside, you want to avoid both a snotty character and a character that can’t be challenged.

Powerful doesn’t mean perfect.

One of the bonuses of being great at something is that people are quick to forgive them some of flaws. Tony Stark is arrogant. We forgive him that because there is a good reason why he’s arrogant.

Genius characters can get away with being antisocial, wholesome characters can be naïve, and effective characters can be forgiven some moral grey areas.

Unless you are writing noir, you want to keep the positives outshining the negatives. That balance can flip a bit for antiheroes (ie Deadpool, John Wick) but often takes a darker world to be effective.

#4 – Give Your Protagonist Trouble and Conflict

Conflict makes character. Conflict that stems from the characters internal conflicts leads to a different emotional response than conflict that stems from inevitable outside forces.

Case in point, we immediately feel sorry for Jack and Rose because we know the Titanic is going down and there isn’t anything that either character could do to avoid that fate.

We feel a lot less for Superman and Batman in their Doomsday fight when they need a device they casually tossed aside an hour ago.

The more a conflict resonates with the reader, the more they can identify with the character.

While saving the world from the terrible forces of an overwhelming alien order is fun, it isn’t relatable. It isn’t the kind of thing you are likely to face in a day.

You personalize it by bringing it down to the granular. You make it about a particular personal loss, not all the losses.

Examples of great conflict with protagonists:

  • We empathize with Harry Potter because he’s an orphan, not because he’s a wizard in the wrong world.
  • We understand what it’s like not to be believed, not so much dying and being resurrected by magic like Jon Snow.
  • We want to make a difference like Hawkeye, knowing that what we do matters even if we aren’t Thor level powerful.

Be warned: there is a difference between the reader empathizing with a character and pitying them.

  • Jack and Rose are good people enjoying life. They make the most of their last days.
  • Harry Potter is a school kid trying his best. He (almost) never wallows in self-pity over his trials and problems.
  • Thor loses his hammer and his eye. He makes jokes about his problems while trying to solve them instead of giving up.

#5 – Give Them Diverse Characteristics

Character’s shouldn’t be one dimensional cardboard cut-outs. You want to make them rich and full.

To this end, you don’t need to stick to one technique.

As the preceding examples overlapped quite a bit, you see that mixing and matching works better than solo applications.

write a main character

Mix and match your protagonist’s characteristics like these examples:

  • Tony Stark is powerful, likable, and funny
  • Harry Potter is likable, in a situation that’s relatable but outside his control
  • Kirk is likable, often in danger outside himself, and has the skill to outpace his faults

You don’t want to overdo it. A character that is trying to be too many things can become cluttered and confusing. Sometimes this is a result of the Superman problem, you can’t directly challenge a character designed to be too good.

Flaws make for an anchor for a reader to project themselves into a character.

Also, nobody likes a story where the plot dictates the effectiveness of the character from page to page.

You also don’t want to alienate an audience by creating a dreaded Mary Sue (which is a “perfect” character who can never do wrong)…

Leave room for flaws in your protagonist like these examples:

  • Tony Stark is arrogant and a drunk
  • Harry Potter lacks self-confidence and doesn’t get the girl
  • Deadpool has cancer, is a jerk, and can’t seem to die
  • The Cast of Game of Thrones is all too mortal, and largely unprotected by plot armor

#6 – Avoid Making a Passive Character

A common mistake of first-time writers is to make characters reactive, otherwise known as passive.

And you know just how much passive voice is a no-no in writing, passive characters are also frowned upon.

While they might need to roll with the punches when they first splash into the deep end, you want them to drive the action soon after.

A great character is proactive. They take charge, make a plan, and attack a problem with their skills and supporting cast.

Often, you can use the above techniques to define their approach to proactivity.

Here are some questions to ask in order to learn how to avoid a passive character:

  • Do they face their problems with a joke?
  • Do they enlist the help of their cast of friends?
  • Do they solve it with their power?
  • Do they solve the problem by acknowledging that any effort matters because where they find themselves is not their fault?

Keep in mind what fuels your character and they will always have a way to move forward. Not only that, the reader will be rooting for your charter as well.

Great characters come from relatability and impact a reader by appealing to what we like to think about ourselves. A likable character engages a reader and can be a vector into a strange world.

Likable characters humanize conflict and give readers a reason to care.

Funny characters use their quips and whit to attack problems and keep the darkness at bay. We like to leave our fiction with a good feeling and jokes are how we cope with the worst of our issues.

Powerful characters embody proactive approaches. A reader likes to see a character succeed and likes to know what a character is capable of so they can be in on the action, not blindsided by troubles and des ex machina.

A reader likes to see real conflict. That is conflict that matters to a character and challenges the character. They don’t like to see pity and interpersonal wallowing.

Think of your character like a friend. Do your best to advocate for them but remember that they aren’t you. Keep writing and let your characters speak for themselves.

get on new york times bestseller list

How to Get on the New York Times Bestseller List

Do you want to learn how to get on the New York Times Bestseller list?

If so…you may have the common aspiration to become a bestselling author. The prestige, the title, and the credibility are all super tempting…

But there’s more to landing on the NYT Bestseller list than just writing and publishing a book and hoping it gets there.

In fact, there are some huge misconceptions around the “New York Times Bestselling Author” status to begin with, but we’ll get to that later.

These dreams of yours are amazing. Lofty, but right on point. The amount of impact you can have by being a bestselling author is awe-worthy.

For example, our student Anita Oommen not only wrote and published a bestseller, but the impact was immediate on those closest to her: her children, who went on to write and publish their own books.

You can learn more about Anita’s story here.

Here’s how to get on the New York Times Bestseller list:

  1. Understand what the NYT Bestseller list is looking for
  2. Obtain fast and diverse sales
  3. Establish a large author platform
  4. Have a pre-order list before your launch
  5. Get paid for speaking in bulk book purchases

If you want to skip right down to these steps, click right here.

Otherwise, stick around so that you can gain a further understanding of what it actually means and what it truly takes to get on the New York Times Bestseller list.

Because it could impact your path to get there…

NOTE: We cover everything in this blog post and much more about the writing, marketing, and publishing process in ourVIP Self-Publishing Program. Learn more by clicking here! <https://self-publishingschool.com/programs data-lazy-src=

Why do authors want to get on the New York Times Bestseller list?

Getting published in the New York Times Bestseller list is traditionally regarded as the gold standard in the publishing world.  While many notable bestseller lists exist in the publishing world —The Wall Street Journal bestseller list for business-themed books, for instance—the New York Times Bestseller list, published weekly since 1931, is the oldest and most prestigious list.  

To that extent, getting your work published on the list is a major deal–but there are “rules” that bars many ridiculously great authors from ever reaching this status.

Getting published on the Times’ list not only raises your profile as an established author but can offer many more opportunities.

Here are some benefits of becoming an NYT Bestselling author:

Best Seller Lists are Evolving

Perhaps the most important thing to understand about the New York Times Bestseller list is that it is an evolving list.  

It always has been and, as historical and more recent trends seem to suggest, probably always will be. To be fair, it is not only the Times.  

Only as recent as 1995 did the Los Angeles Times begin to count paperbacks again on its bestseller list.  

Further back in time, in 1961, the Chicago Tribune more infamously denied certain high-selling books that it considered to be “sewer written by dirty fingered authors for dirty-minded readers” from appearing on its Bestseller list.  

Various genres and classic works of literature have historically not appeared on the New York Times Bestseller list.  The recent explosion of E-books (The Times began counting them in 2010), self-published books, and audiobooks have also contributed to a more evolving list.

How do best seller lists work?

The New York Times Bestseller list is made up of various lists divided by different categories such as fiction and non-fiction, hardcover, paperback, Ebooks, audiobooks, and various book genres.

For you, the aspiring writer whose goal it is to be published in the their Bestseller list, probably the most important thing to know is what is worth writing if you are to get your work published on the list.  

Again, The New York Times does not consider various categories for their bestseller list. A helpful article published on their site about their various guidelines and scoring method clarifies the matter.  

Here is what those guidelines state:

“Among the categories not actively tracked at this time are: perennial sellers, required classroom reading, textbooks, reference and test preparation guides, e-books available exclusively from a single vendor, journals, workbooks, calorie counters, shopping guides, periodicals and crossword puzzles.”

Cookbooks, contrary to popular belief, are included, as are religion, spirituality, and faith books.    

The NYT Bestseller “List” is Not a True Measure of Bestselling Status

It may seem contradictory and still remains controversial to say but it is nonetheless true: The New York Times Bestseller list does not represent a true best-seller list–that is, when accounting for actual total sales.  

Just what constitutes “Bestseller” status has been the decades-long battle – legal, political, commercial, and otherwise between—the Times, various authors, and book publishers.  

Like any traditional gatekeeper, the Times has its set of rules, standards, and procedures. As such, they hold the “keys” as to “who” gets in…and who is left out (even if they’re deserving).

It is best to think of New York Times Bestseller status as something that is subjective in nature. A book that becomes a New York Times Bestseller doesn’t necessarily have to sell millions of copies, or hundreds of thousands, for that matter. While book sales do meet the subjective criteria that the Times uses, it is a specific kind of “book sale” that counts toward New York Times Bestseller status.  

Moreover, given the explosion of online sales and the diminishing number of traditional brick-and-mortar bookstores (and, consequently, bookstore sales) the sales methodology behind how books are counted has influenced which books appear or do not appear on the list.  

As explained in a recent article about how to become a best-selling author and how to appear on a bestseller list, it’s stated that the New York Times in particular, when tallying books for bestseller status, considers:

  1. Books that sold in a very specific time period: The Times does not track cumulative sales.  Hence, why the Bible, the best-selling book of all time, will not appear on the list.  Books like Don Quixote and The Tale of Two Cities, worldwide beloved classics that have sold millions over the years, also will not appear.  Dan Brown’s Davinci Code, however, will appear, as it did for several years between 2003 and 2006.   
  2. Books sold at very specific places: certain book sales are “weighted” more favorably depending on where they originate. Bulk sales, under certain conditions, are counted toward bestseller status; ebooks published by a sole vendor are not, etc.

Again, the Times explains this in more detail on their site.     

What Writers Need to Know About the New York Times Bestseller List

Even though it retains its prestigious reputation, The New York Times Bestseller list has been the subject of much controversy. Charges of “curated elitism,” an overreliance on books published by the major New York publishing houses, questionable methodologies, bribery, editorial and political bias have prompted lawsuits and intense debates among authors, book publishers, and industry executives.

A 1983 lawsuit by William Beatty, an American writer best known for his novel The Exorcist and 1973 movie by the same name, is a case in point.  

While his book Legion sold many copies during its initial publication—enough to earn a comfortable spot for a while on the Times’ Bestseller list—his book appeared on the list only for one week.

Sensing bias and claiming that by it not remaining on the Times’s list his sales were being hurt, Beatty took his case to Court.  In Court, the Times defended itself on grounds that “The list did not purport to be an objective compilation of information but instead was an editorial product.”  The Court sided with the Times, dismissing a $3 million lawsuit.  

Think of it like this: The New York Times is the newspaper equivalent to a prestigious university and fashionable high-end clothing brand.  When it comes to getting on their bestseller list, just as it is for gaining admission to, say, an Ivy League School, few get in.

For those that do, they did their due diligence, worked incredibly hard, made great contacts, followed the rules, met the editorial standards, among other things.

How to Get on the New York Times Bestseller List

If you really have your hearts set on becoming a New York Times bestselling author, here are some of the things you’ll have to do in order to make it happen.

#1 – Know What the NYT List wants

A Stanford Business School analysis done years ago concluded by saying that the “majority of book buyers seem to use the Times‘ list as a signal of what’s worth reading.”

Knowing what the Times regards as a bestseller is important because it provides a helpful window into this segment of the bestselling publishing world (which has evolved past just the Times in recent years).  

It helps to know what is currently passing for a New York Times Bestseller.

Simply start with the category in which you would like to be published: fiction, non-fiction. Beyond that, genre: history, political, fantasy, science-fiction. It helps too to know who the Big Players are.

The Times is known to favor the Big New York publishing houses. Who are these? What are their submission guidelines? Who are some agents known for working with them?

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#2 – Obtain fast and diverse sales

In the age of digital self-publication and promotion, the traditional publishing route is virtually a thing of the past.  

Not so for a New York Times Bestseller. Unlike selling on digital mediums where you can become a Bestseller by selling your book on, say, Amazon, to whomever, wherever, becoming a New York Times Bestseller follows a different system.

To achieve bestseller status on the Times not only do you have to sell at least 5,000 – 10,000 copies in one week,  but these sales have to be diverse sales.

That is, you cannot sell 10,000 books to a pre-existing list of followers through a personal website or thousands from only one marketplace like Barnes and Noble.

Rather, these sales must flow from retailers across the country and in different geographical locations—everything from Big-Box chains like Barnes and Noble and Walmart, small independent book stores, E-commerce giant Amazon, university bookstores, etc.

It is worth noting that the public does not have access to who the aforementioned retail outlets are.  To prevent possible abuse from those looking to rig the system.

But the thing that is discrediting the NYT Bestseller List further and further is the fact that you can sell many more books than what is required, but would still not make it on the list.

Therefore, Amazon sales only (where 64% of books are purchased!) will not count on their own.

#3 – Build a Strong Author Platform

For first-time and lesser-known authors it is especially critical to have a pre-existing audience before attempting New York Times bestseller status.

This is how you can start to build your author platform and audience:

get on the NYT bestseller list
  • Be active on social media: it goes without saying, people—potential followers, collaborators, industry leaders, publishers, agents, and readers—exist in the digital space.  Find them, connect with them, and collaborate, if possible.
  • Be already building credibility / expertise on your particular niche / topic / passion: write a weekly blog, as an example.  This is perfect practice to hone your writing skills, develop your voice and writing styles, conduct research for your eventual book. The goal is to establish trust and credibility.
  • Collaborate with others in your particular area for more knowledge and broader exposure: if you want to get in with the Big Wigs you got to know your stuff. Once you have built up some credibility you can leverage this and reach out to important figures in your field. It is a win-win-win for you, the person you are reaching out to and the audience that is set to gain important information from the two of you.
  • Engage with your audience: Assess your audience’s “book pulse:” how hungry are they for your words of wisdom, unique insight, creative mind? What questions are you asking them? What have they had to say about your previous blog posts, vlogs, tweets, etc? Are they genuinely impressed, suggesting you write a book perhaps?

Maybe they are giving you more fuel for your book—telling you about things you had previously not known before, mentioning other books that further your expertise?  Engagement is key. What, if any, do you have with your audience?

#4 – Have a Pre-Order List Before Your Book Launch

You should have such a list for any book you seek to publish. For a potential New York Times Bestseller it is especially important from a sales perspective.

Rob Eager, a notable book marketing consultant, explains that, in the case of a New York Times Bestseller, all pre-orders sold before a book launch are counted during the first week of official sales.

So, for instance, 5,000 sold during pre-release and another 5,000 during the first official week equals 10,000 total books sold—a critical number to reach during the first week for New York Times Bestseller status.

Having a pre-order list works hand-in-hand with a pre-existing audience.  If you already have the audience it is, of course, easier to have a ready pre-order list.  If you are successful enough to have both of these before launch you are in good shape.

#5 – Exchange speaking fee for a bulk book purchases

While it may not be the best course for everyone, speaking engagements are incredible opportunities to double-down on your writing endeavors and entrepreneurial goals more broadly.

They are not only great confidence-boosters but serve as great book marketing opportunities.

Exchanging speaking fees for a bulk book purchase is especially important during the pre-order phase because it allows you not only reach a broader audience (and hopefully make more sales) but allows you to meet the Times’ requirement that book purchases be in different geographic areas.  

New York Times Bestseller Status vs. Writing as Means to an End

Given the age of digital entrepreneurship where self-publishing a book continues to gain significant traction, effectively taking down the traditional barriers of entry—publishing industry contacts, top-notch agents, and costly marketing plans—it is really up to you to figure out your writing goals.

Traditional publishing with the aim of appearing on an internationally-recognized Bestseller list like the Times versus self-publishing with the aim of achieving personal / business goals (and potential Bestseller status just not in the Times) is a tradeoff you’ll have to consider.    

Remember publishing a book is not an end in and of itself.  With its ability to boost your name, reputation, and authority, not to mention, depending on your industry, land you more consulting clients and speaking gigs, writing a book can open up some pretty amazing doors. A successful published book is a marketing tool like no other.

Whatever path you choose, keep in mind that achieving Bestseller status in places other than the New York Times Bestseller List has been proven to land equally promising and lucrative opportunities.  

And we are just in the beginning phases of this amazing trend. Self-Publishing School is here to help.

Good luck.