Amazon self-publishing is on the rise. With it being the #1 retailer for books worldwide, that makes sense.
But if you wind up making some errors in publishing on Amazon…let’s just say your results as an author will be less than satisfactory.
After all, the self-publishing industry is pretty sensitive to those making mistakes.
But Amazon self-publishing is the best option to self-publish and we’ve made it even easier for you with this guide for doing it with Kindle Direct Publishing.
You no longer need to go through painstaking efforts to land a book deal which locks you into unrealistic deadlines and cuts you out of most of the earnings.
You can now have complete control of your book – and its revenues – by Amazon self-publishing.
But many writers get overwhelmed by the abundance of information about self-publishing. It can be intimidating for first-time publishers. We get it – we were just like you!
So to ease some anxiety and uncertainty, we created this step-by-step comprehensive self-publishing guide for you to follow in order to get your book published on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing Network.
Here is your full guide for Amazon Self-Publishing:
Traditional publishing is on the way out. This has been the reality for some time now and for good reason.
While traditional publishing had its time and was once the only option for publishing a book, the system in place right now is one made for the next Stephen Kings – not for those who have value to share with the world.
Why Amazon Self-Publishing is the Best Option
Though traditional publishing is still a viable option for some, Amazon self-publishing is the best option and here’s why:
Over 70% of books are sold on Amazon
310 million book buyers through Amazon last year
Those buyers accounted for over $178 billion in sales
It’s easier and faster with Amazon self-publishing
There are major differences between traditional vs self-publishing with the majority of authors opting to take their talents to Amazon instead of through one of the Big 5 publishing houses.
Throughout this guide, you’ll read the term Kindle Direct Publishing or KDP. It might sound self-explanatory but we’ll cover some basics.
This is an Amazon self-publishing platform that allows you to create and manage your Kindle eBook, paperback, and even audiobooks in a single place. It’s widely used to build books from the ground up.
And fortunately, setting up your KDP account is easy, and should be the first step you complete.
Your Guide for Amazon Self-Publishing
Sure, anyone can technically self-publish on Amazon, but that doesn’t mean it will do well and actually sell. You have to know the specifics, from setting up your KDP account to the pricing of your book.
If done correctly, you can expect a successful launch and a substantial amount of passive income. Here are our steps for Amazon self-publishing.
#1 – Create a Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) Account
Before you can start with Amazon publishing, you first have to have an account set up with them.
Here’s how to set up your Kindle Direct Publishing account:
Next, click “Update” in your account information and fill in your tax information. It’s important to note that you need to complete your tax information BEFORE you can publish your first book. So don’t skip this step!
Once your tax information is complete, click “Finished” and return to the main page.
Your profile is complete!
With your KDP account setup, proceed to setting up the details of your book, as seen in the areas below.
#2 – Choose a Book Title and Subtitle
In your Kindle Direct Publishing profile, you need to fill in the title and subtitle of your book. While a subtitle is optional, having a good subtitle is something you should definitely consider to bring in more views and create stronger intrigue and help people find your book when searching.
Use a Book Hook: Your book hook should speak to the reader in a unique voice that grabs their attention and feeds into what they are looking for.
List the Benefits: Your potential readers want to know what they will get from reading your book. One technique is to deliver the benefits in the subtitle, providing enough tantalizing information to further attract readers.
Think about what you would be attracted to in a book title. Keep it simple, clear, and unique. Research the title you want to use and make sure it hasn’t been scooped up by a high-performing book already.
You don’t want to make competition for yourself.
#3 – Write Your Book Description for Amazon
You need a powerful book description in order for potential buyers to read what it’s about. Even though the cover and subtitle should do a great job of this, we all want more information when it comes to putting money toward something.
Here’s what people notice first when seeing a new book:
A book description is essentially a short written narrative that illustrates what your book is about. It should be written like a sales page to capture the interest of your reader.
This is crucial because the description, in many cases, is the final factor that determines whether the reader will read your book or not. That, and great Amazon reviews.
When done correctly, a well-written book description can practically sell a book on its own.
Here are some strategies to help craft your perfect description:
Make your first sentence as enticing as possible
Write your description like a sales page or advertisement, not a dry summary of your book
Have the description feel personal and empathetic
Detail the benefits your reader will gain by reading your book
Here’s a great example of a full book description on Amazon:
You can find more amazing description examples with these books:
If you want your book to show up in Amazon and Google search engines, you’ll need the right mix of keywords. Since Amazon allows only seven keywordsper book, keyword selection requires strategy.
But what are keywords exactly?
Keywords are specific words or phrases used to describe your book. If someone was looking for a book on your topic, they might type one of those keywords into Amazon or Google in order to find it.
For example, if your book is about perseverance, you might find keywords like this useful:
how to have perseverance
what is perseverance
persevering when it’s hard
These are all phrases or words people looking to better themselves with perseverance would type into search engines in order to find what they’re looking for, like in the image below.
You can research the right keyword phrases by using search tools such as:
KDP Rocket: This is a great tool for comparing Google search results to Amazon. It gives you a competitive score from 1-99, keyword results from both Google and Amazon, and how much money other books are making. You can check out this KDP Rocket Review.
KW Finder: This tool gives an analytical view of the keyword popularity using a competitive ranking. You can search for five keywords for free per day.
Amazon’s Autofill Function: Take advantage of Amazon’s search box to find good keywords. Amazon’s suggestions are based on search history so you want to search for words that are high in demand with little competition.
Make a list of possible keywords for your book, then leverage the tools above to test your keywords. Putting in the time to get keywords right will have your book rank higher and appear more frequently to readers.
#5 – Select Your Amazon Categories
Amazon provides a collection of categories and subcategories to choose from. Like keyword selecting, your goal is to look for trending areas that don’t have tons of competition.
If you visit your book page, these categories will appear partway down the page, displaying the rank like in the image example below.
These categories are what you will rank as a bestseller in, which is why you want to make sure you pick fitting categories that are specific, but also not super competitive. You want to stand out.
You can also check the rankings of the top three books on the first page of each category.
Amazon sales ranking measures how well a product is selling compared to its competitors. All books that are ranked 2,000 or less are considered to be highly purchased products in that particular category.
Here are a few tips when publishing on Amazon in order to rank in more categories:
Research your competitors keywords
Choose trending categories with lower competition
Acquire additional categories by contacting Amazon and asking for keyword placement
Unless you have an established audience with significant downloads and reviews, try to aim for categories with books that rank between 10,000-30,000.
In your Kindle Direct Publishing account, go to “Your Bookshelf”.
Locate and click on “Kindle eBook Actions” next to the title of your book.
Locate and click on “Edit eBook Content”.
Click on “Upload eBook manuscript”.
Upload your manuscript file on your computer.
Once Amazon finishes uploading your file, a confirmation message will be sent and you can preview the uploaded file to check for any errors.
You can upload the manuscript as many times as you want and the new version will override the existing.
It’s important to check how your book looks using the “Look Inside” feature once the book is live on Amazon. This feature is often the first thing your prospective readers will click on when checking out your book.
When it comes to publishing a successful book on Amazon, having a perfect book cover design is one of the most important aspects to get right. Contrary to what we were told growing up, people do, in fact, judge a book by its cover. It’s actually one of the biggest deterrents.
Your cover is exactly how your book will be judged at first glance.
So you must make sure that it is created professionally and that it will stand apart from the rest of the books in your genre or category.
You can find cover creators on freelancing sites such as:
One popular strategy for beginners is to price your book at $2.99 and gradually increase it by $1 per week. At some point, your sales will begin to dip. And while that’s normally a negative statistic, for this case, it confidently tells you the perfect price of your book that guarantees a profit.
Here are the 4 main pricing strategies to consider in order to be competitive and sell books:
Know the price of your competitors. Compare the list price of your book to the books around you and determine if you would be able to sell your book for a higher price.
Know the size of your followers. Famous authors can charge a lot for their books because they have a big following. If you’re not in this category, your book should be priced lower to encourage new readers to buy your work.
Determine price based on the size of your book. Size does matter when it comes to books. Don’t charge $20 for a 75-page book. Customers will immediately be turned off with the lack of content at that price point.
Measure price based on reviews. Reviews carry a big weight on influence, and is social proof that your book has been read and well received. Therefore, a book with higher reviews (1000+ reviews) can be priced higher compared to a book with fewer reviews (30+ reviews).
You saw the book on the shelf at the bookstore, or maybe you bought it online late one night, and couldn’t wait for it to arrive.
It finally gets to your house and you read the first and second page. Maybe you even get through the first chapter.
But then you get busy with work. The book becomes a coaster for your third coffee.
The topic you’d been so excited about is soon forgotten as the book collects coffee stains and becomes more clutter on your desk.
What if we told you there was a way to grow your work culture and read a book at the same time?
Sound crazy? Actually, it’s very doable.
Books create history, and history creates culture. When it comes to work culture, it’s easy to bypass the importance of books. However, here at Self-Publishing School, we believe in the power of writing books and reading books.
Sitting down to read a book can seem a little intimidating to some people. But with a little guidance, purposeful reading can bring you and your company great results.
Starting a book club is the first step in this process.
There are four core steps to creating a successful book club:
Not only will reading a book help you learn about new topics, but it will also widen your interaction with coworkers and deepen your relationships.
That’s why we want to share not only why every company should have a book club, but the practicalities that will make a book club possible for you.
#1 – What are the benefits of a book club?
Not only are book clubs a key part of building culture, but depending on the book list you choose from, conversations will result around topics that are meaningful to you and those you work with.
At Self-Publishing School, we usually host a book club once a month or every other month. This results in roughly 6-12 clubs throughout the year and has greatly impacted our company culture.
The purpose of a company book club is to develop and train employees to be better employees, leaders, and people. Let’s break that down.
When employees are spread out over different tasks and each person has a different job scorecard, it’s easy for a team to feel disjointed.
But the definition of a team is one of unity and collaboration.
When a team comes together to read a book, the result is a central focus on the same topic. No matter what part of the company individual team members work in, their mindset shifts to the same general theme. This ups team morale and ultimately, team productivity.
The benefits of having every member of a team focused on the same topic is transformational, and something we’ve seen at Self-Publishing School.
It’s said that influential people read quite a bit, and this statement has been proven true through the success stories of entrepreneurs, business leaders, and thought leaders.
The same can be true for your company.
The more widely read your team, the more likely they are to step up in leadership. Regardless of whether you choose a book on leadership, personalities, or another topic timely to your team’s needs, the result will be the same: the more educated your team is, the more they will step up in different situations of leadership.
Every business desires leaders, and the secret is, every business can grow leaders. Maybe your business is a startup or a younger company. That’s ok. It doesn’t always take leadership seminars to grow leaders.
Simply gathering your team around a book with a needed theme can grow your employees from followers to leaders.
When leaders are in the details of a company, the company flourishes.
In today’s world of social media, self-care, and me-time culture, it’s easy to become self-obsessed without trying.
Reading about other people and other topics, universal themes, and the thoughts of leaders around the globe greatly impacts the actions of individuals.
The world is so much bigger than the company you or I work at, or even the company we may run. There are people outside the walls of our homes, neighborhoods, and workplaces that can bring meaning into our lives.
You don’t need to fly your team overseas to learn from world-renowned leaders.
Simply purchase several copies of a book they’ve written. Some white pages with black ink can go a long way in influencing company culture.
When we read we open our minds. When our mind is open we become more aware of others. And when we are aware of those around us we become better people.
We’ve talked about three results of a book club, but how do you actually choose a book? If you’re going to devote company time and the time of your team into the reading and discussion of a book, it’s important to choose the right one.
#2 – How To Choose The Right Book
Here at Self-Publishing School, we usually spend about an hour a week on our book clubs (not counting reading time). At the end of the year, combining reading, meeting time, and time spent scheduling it all out, that’s a good chunk of time.
Some might say, “That time could be spent investing in the company.”
True. But from experience we would argue investing time in a book club is investing time in your company.
Good companies are run by good employees, good leaders, and good people. All these factors result from well-run book clubs.
So back to our original question – how do you pick a book?
Not every team will benefit the same from every book. Choosing a book to fit your company’s current needs is key to making the most out of your book club training time.
Here are a few important questions to ask yourself when choosing a book for book club:
What’s the key message I want my team to understand?
What area do we most need help with as an organization?
What’s a must-read for your team and team goals?
What’s an area your team has been struggling in?
What particular interests does your team have?
How can you encourage your team/how might you be encouraged through a particular book?
Do you know of any authors who can do a Q&A at the end of book club like we do for
Once you pinpoint an area of improvement/focus for the team, search for some book club picks or reading lists online.
A simple way to do this to pick the top three most relevant books from a book club recommendation list or reading list. Determine the most relevant book for your team, then use it as the material for your current book club.
We’ve read topics from leadership books to sales and marketing books.
Currently, we’re working through The Five Love Languages. This has not only helped our company grow in teaching us how we can best work together, but also brought the focus back to the spouses of our team members.
This has grown team relationships as well as their relationships with their spouses, which all contributes to a better team member.
As a company, we love growing our team, but when we can also help our teammates’ personal lives, it’s a win-win.
You know why to have a book club and how to choose a book…
#3 – How To Run The Company Book Club Itself
While we may not read as much as previous generations, reading is still very important, not to mention it comes with the benefits mentioned earlier.
When running a book club, using shorter books help.
What you don’t want are stressed out team members trying to complete a marathon read before the deadline.
What you do want it as low pressure a schedule as possible.
When it comes to the meeting itself, it’s helpful to lay ground rules and then break the meeting down into three parts.
#4 – Book Club Ground Rules
Be sure to create a reading schedule and meeting dates. You can do this in batches where you create all the due dates at one time. You can schedule book club meetings over the course of a calendar month, and meet weekly for 45-60 minutes.
Here at Self-Publishing School, we use Asana to structure not only our company book club meetings, but all our meetings.
You’ll see tips for the following book club meeting structure:
Ask team members to prepare ahead of time by thoroughly reading the chapters and taking notes for reference during the meeting.
To cut down on spoilers, ask book club members not to read ahead of the assigned readings.
As far as running the meetings smoothly, assign a meeting leader for each meeting. Be clear that the purpose of the leader is to facilitate discussion by asking questions, keeping everyone on time, and guiding the conversation. Allow the meeting leader to rotate each week.
If you’re wondering how to effectively choose the next team leader, simply ask the current team leader at the end of the meeting to pick the leader for the next week.
This can be done in “popcorn” fashion.
If necessary, divide book club participants into groups. Try to mix groups with people from different departments and people who don’t often communicate with each other.
This will not only bring the company together but also potentially forge new working relationships and potentially even friendships.
Now that the ground rules are laid, let’s talk about the three aspects of an effective book club meeting.
Book Club Meeting Agenda Part 1: Stories From Out in the Wild – 10 minutes
We like to call this part “stories from out in the wild.”
This is a time designated for team members to share how their real-life reminded them of what they’re learning from the book. Be sure the meeting is open flow and open dialogue. You want this to feel different from other team meetings, more relaxed, and very open for discussion.
The examples/stories should consist of how you’ve seen what you’re learning play out in your work and life over the last week. They are intended to be conversation starters.
During the week feel free to jot down any funny or impactful stories or application of the book playing out in your life.
Book Club Meeting Agenda Part 2: Lessons Learned/Topics For Discussion – 30 minutes
This part can be defined as simply asking what stood out to the team as individuals.
Here are some questions to prompt the book club discussion:
What paragraphs did they connect with?
What point/points stuck out to them?
What were the biggest takeaways?
What did you learn?
What would you like to talk about with the team?
Again, keep this open for discussion and input from all team members. Remember that this doesn’t have to be done in order or turn-by-turn, either.
If someone has something to add, just speak up!
Book Club Meeting Agenda Part 3: Takeaway/Application – 15 minutes
Ask the team based on the week’s reading, what their next steps are.
This doesn’t need to be too stringent, as you don’t want this to become another task to check off the to-do list! Include only one or two things you plan to personally put into action from your learning in the book/the meeting itself.
As a bonus, we’ve brought in different authors to do a short, thirty-minute Q&A. This helps our team connect on multiple levels because they’re already excited about the topic.
Experiencing a live Q&A with the author brings that excitement full circle.
You can check out another one of these we did here:
Book Club Meeting Agenda Final Checks
Here is a reminder of the few points to keep in mind when launching your first book club:
Choose the right book for the book club based on your team’s needs
Schedule all meetings in advance (this can be done in “batches”)
Pick first meeting leader in advance
Open discussion with real-life examples from team members
Remember that book you bought online late one night (or thought about buying) but never actually read?
You just purchased several copies of that book.
Together you and your work team read through the first and second page. During your first meeting, you even have a discussion about the entire first chapter.
Work gets busy but the book your team is reading becomes a central, unifying theme for the company’s busy season.
The topic you’d been so excited about begins to influence your work culture. You even met someone who works in a completely different department and you have plans for next Friday. This coworker will likely become a friend.
Your company’s work culture is growing, and so are you.
Not having an audiobook version of your book might, quite likely, be the death of your success. Which means you must know how to make an audiobook to fix that.
We’re in the age of podcasts, radio apps, and audiobooks, and now couldn’t be a better time to convert your eBook into an audiobook. But many writers get scared off by the thought of creating an audiobook.
“Isn’t it expensive?”
“Won’t it take a ton of time?”
“How do I even do it?!?”
Thankfully, self-publishing an audiobook now is as easy as self-publishing your book. It has become cost-effective and approachable for self-published authors, and there is a range of options depending on the budget you want to spend on it.
Here are the exact steps you need to follow, and our suggestions for turning your book into the next big audiobook.
How to Make an Audiobook Step-by-Step
Audiobooks are on the rise, and if you’re an author who’s not pursuing this book format, you’re missing out on an entire audience who could be enjoying your story.
Here are our top steps for creating an audiobook.
#1 – Prep Your eBook Content for Audiobook Recording
If you’re starting from the beginning, you may have no idea how to convert your manuscript from writing to audio. Your first step will be to prep your eBook content for audiobook recording.
This creates a script you can read as you record the audio version of your book. You don’t want to get tripped up while you (or someone else) is reading through the manuscript, so you need to remove everything that won’t make sense in the audio version.
These are the pieces you should go through and look for to cut out:
Remove any calls to actions or click here prompts
Once you’ve created your new script, read through it one last time to make sure it all makes sense in audio form.
#2 – Decide who will record your audiobook
The next step in the creation of your audiobook is actually recording the book. But before you can do that, you have to decide who will record the book.
Here are your choices when deciding who will record your audiobook:
If you’re writing nonfiction, particularly a story about your life, you may want to record the book yourself. However, if you aren’t confident in producing the best quality audiobook, you can still hire a narrator.
For those of you writing a fiction novel, you’ll likely want to hire an audiobook narrator, as these stories often need a narrator with an acting skillset.
#3 – Hiring an audiobook narrator
Most authors find that hiring a professional to record their audiobook is the most expeditious and least painful route. You may be concerned about the cost of hiring a pro for voice work, but you may be surprised to learn that the cost of this service can be quite reasonable.
In fact, converting your self-published book into an audiobook using a pro can cost less than half the price of doing the work yourself.
Many freelancers will quote a price of under $500 for a full eBook to audio conversion; so don’t let the perceived high cost deter you.
If you’ve never worked with a freelancer before, you might not be familiar with the steps necessary to find the right talent. First, you’ll need a proposal.
The purpose of your proposal is to help delineate the work that’s needed. You’ll want to make sure to include the scope of the work and terms of your offer in your proposal. Your second step is to create sample audio content to share with potential freelance narrators. This is your “retail audio sample.”
The purpose of your retail audio sample is two-fold:
It can be shared with potential narrators during the freelance-hiring phase, and
It can later be shared with your future audience on Amazon to pique their interest in your book.
Have some fun creating your retail audio clip—it can be anything you want it to be! You may opt to read a full chapter, or simply condense a summary of plot highlights.
The ultimate goal of your retail audio sample is to intrigue both potential narrators and your potential audience. If you can capture their collective attention and pique their interest in your book, they’ll want to hear more.
If you’ve never worked with a freelancer, check out Voices or Upwork for a list of narrator pros.
You can also do a simple Google search to find those who have a career in narrating audiobooks.
#4 – Record the audiobook yourself
Your second option for creating an audiobook is self-recording in a studio. Realize that self-recording may be more costly in terms of effort, time, and money, especially from the paid time to use a pro recording studio.
We recommend that you block out a significant amount of time to complete your self-recorded audiobook.
Here’s a good timeline for self-recorded audiobook production:
Book your recording studio three weeks ahead of time.
Record your book in-studio. Plan for up to sixteen hours of recording studio time.
Plan for at least two weeks of post-recording editing.
Of course, these times are just guides; the time-frame may change once you start your project. Obviously, a longer book will take longer to record and edit.
Plan accordingly, and give yourself plenty of time to polish, edit, and finalize a professional product.
#5 – Work with an audiobook producer
The third path to creating an audiobook is to hire a professional producer. If you have never recorded an audiobook before, working with a producer would help you through the technical difficulties.
Audacity. Audacity is a free, open source cross-platform audio software for multi-track recording and editing. You can download Audacity here.
You could go fancier and get higher-end equipment, but these tools should be more than enough to get the job done.
Location and Space for Making an Audiobook:
You want to find an isolated, padded room or recording box. “Room Tone, or “Noise Floor” can bring in all sorts of sounds from around the environment.
Recording in your room is an option but make sure your space is set up for recording and that it is “silent.” If this is difficult, hiring a producer, in this case, would be a recommended option.
Audiobook Recording Tips:
Next, you need to make sure you avoid any random noises that might pop up, and any variances in the recording quality.
Here are some tips to help make sure you do that:
Turn off all fans and machines.
Read in a small, carpeted area
Stay a consistent distance away from the microphone.
Be prepared to make mistakes and record sentences over when necessary.
Read the chapter through from start to end.
Keep your voice at a similar level and tone across recording sessions.
Modulate your breathing and don’t hold your breath.
Read from a Kindle or device. No page turning sounds.
Schedule sessions several days apart. Avoid sounding exhausted.
With the Audacity software and your mic, you should be able to get a decent quality recording of your book. But keep in mind that, recording you own audiobook is an exhausting process and it isn’t for everyone.
You have to set yourself up with the proper environment, and set aside the time for recording. If you have never used Audacity or any type of recording equipment before, there is a learning curve that adds weeks to the audiobook production.
For these reasons you may decide to hire someone for the first audiobook, learn what you can, and then try it for your next book.
#7 – Upload your audiobook to audiobook creation exchange
Now that you’ve recorded your book, either by yourself or with the help of a freelancer, you’ll need to upload your book to Audiobook Creation Exchange, also known as ACX.
When you publish on the ACX, your audiobook will be made available on Amazon, Audible, and the Apple audiobook store.
It’s the only place you need to go to make sure your audiobook gets heard by as many people as possible. You retain all of the audio rights, while ACX handles all of the distribution for you, similar to how the Kindle Direct Publishing platform works.
While there are a lot of steps, uploading is a user-friendly and self-explanatory process.
Here’s a step-by-step guide of how to upload your audiobook on ACX:
Click “Add Your Title.” [Note: You must have a Kindle ebook published]
Search and find your book then click on “This is My Book” prompt.
Click on the “I have this book in audio and I want to sell it” prompt.
Choose your territory and distribution.
(Note: We recommend the “World” rights options with 40% royalties for the best results.)
Choose the language(s) you’d like to sell the book in.
Agree to the “Audiobook License and Distribution Agreement” terms
Complete the “About My Book” section.
(Note: You can duplicate the content from your Amazon page or create original content.)
Complete the proper copyright information.
Complete the info about the narrator, audiobook publisher, and any reviews.
Click the “add audio file” prompt.
Go to browse for the first section of your audiobook to ensure it was added.
Continue this process until your entire book is uploaded.
Don’t forget to change the chapters and section titles as you go.
Finally, upload your book cover.
Make sure all info from your printed book matches that of your audiobook. Your author name should be the same and the book cover should be the same as appears on your eBook.
ACX will not allow you to continue if there are discrepancies in identifying information.
What are audiobook royalties on ACX?
When you publish your audiobook on the ACX, you’ll earn between 20%-40% of their title royalties. If you work with a producer, then you’ll have a royalty share with them, and the rate that you receive is dependent on how your producer is compensated.
If you work by yourself, you keep the whole 40%, if you split it with a producer, you could each earn 20%.
Many people think they need to do something massive or be famous in order to write about their lives…
That’s not true at all.
In fact, more people can relate to regular, non-famous people and their struggles than they can those who have been in the limelight.
The reason writing about your life is important is because you have a story. You have something worth sharing that can actually change the lives of others through your trials and tribulations.
Even if you’re not ready to write a memoir, you still have something valuable to share—knowledge gained through the years or maybe you just experienced a short, influential event in your life that you believe can help other.
No matter what that story is, you can and you should tell it.
How to Write a Book About Your Life in 10 Simple Steps
So you’ve discovered you have something to share with the world…but what you don’t know is how the heck to make it happen.
Here are our top tips for writing your life story.
Take a few minutes to free write or journal each day, focusing on one memory. A good writing prompt for this free-write session is to write about a significant 24 hours in your life. This is just to help you get started. The memories written down from this significant moment in your life will be use later to build upon to create your nonfiction narrative.
Even if you don’t ultimately use this particular memory in your overall narrative, getting into the habit of writing down memories will benefit you as a writer and help keep those memories fresh.
After you’ve written down a variety of memories—whether they’re a part of an overall narrative or a collection of essays—they now need to be organized into a coherent story in order to actually write it.
Since you’re writing your life story, technically the plotline is already there; it just has to be written down and organized in a manner that will speak to your audience.
However, if you are the more organized type and not a “pantster” like other writers, outlining what memories you want to include in your life story may help get the writing juices flowing.
Not only can an outline help you get clear on the message and order you’ll write your book, it can also help you form writing goals that will set up a writing habit. These are two keys to actually finishing your book.
Other writers struggle with writing unless they have an outline or book template, even if it’s a book outline of their own life. It all depends on you, the writer.
#3 – Pick your genre
“Creative nonﬁction has become the most popular genre in the literary and publishing communities.” – Lee Gutkind, What is Creative Nonfiction?
There are several book genres that fall under the nonfiction genre: memoirs, essay collections, autobiographies, motivational books, and more.
Since you are writing a book about your life, it might feel like you have to put it in the “memoir” genre, but that’s not always the case.
In fact, it might hurt your book sales to mislabel your book as a memoir when it’s actually more of a self-help in a specific category.
An example of this is While We Slept by our own coach here at Self-Publishing School, Marcy Pusey.
While this author does label this book as a memoir, it also fits in several other categories. These Amazon categories will help you 1) reach a wider audience and 2) help you tell the story in a way that will speak to those readers.
If you’re struggling to decide whether your book about your life is a memoir or autobiography, this can help:
The main difference between memoirs and autobiographies are their focus. Memoirs focus primarily on one specific time, or “memory” of one’s life, like a battle with a disease, traveling to a foreign country, or adopting a special pet.
Autobiographies, or “biographies of oneself,” focus primarily on your entire life from start to finish—from when you were born until you die, or at least until the current moment in your life with details about achievements or notable moments.
Autobiographies also tend to be a bit more factual than creative, though there have been some very well written autobiographies published.
What if neither of these makes sense for my book about my life?
Maybe you don’t have a specific period in you want to focus on, but don’t necessarily want to tell your entire life story from start to finish. This is where a collection of personal and/or lyrical essays may be more of your style.
Think Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? and Why Not Me? Kaling is still telling her life story, or at least memorable moments in her life story, without necessarily being one complete narrative. Collections of personal essays are like the nonfiction version of a collection of short stories.
If you are still uncertain about which nonfiction subgenre to write your life story in, this is a major topic covered in the Self-Publishing School VIP course. They take you through choosing your categories that will help your book sell the most.
#4 – Research
Regardless of how you begin writing your life story—with free-writing or outlining—research can help you build on memories to create a fuller story and establish you as a credible writer.
Memories are fickle, and we don’t always remember things correctly, especially if you are writing about something that happened many years ago.
Researching for a book can seem like a daunting task. In fact, out of all the research you’ll end up doing, only a very small percentage will end up in your story. In order to find that small percentage, however, you need to do your research.
Here are some tips for book research when writing a book about your life:
List memories or facts you’re not 100% certain about
Ask family members or others close to you for details
Get quotes from those people if necessary
When writing and you come across something you need to research, simply make a note to research and keep writing so you can write faster
#5 – Identify characters and perspective
The people you have met in your life influenced you in some way, and as such, they will influence how you write your life story as well.
Here are some tips to organize these characters for your story:
Make a list of people, also known as “characters” in this case, who you want to include in your story
Write down their description: physical appearance, age, background,
Write down their relationship to you (and if you’re close or distant to them)
This will assist you in describing them in your narrative through the rule of “show don’t tell“, that way readers can visualize them and understand how they affected your life personally.
The only thing you may have to alter is a character’s real name, or names.
Changing names can protect a person’s true identity in their story. Unless you have permission to use someone’s true name, change it and include a disclaimer at the beginning of your story. Make a note in your character list of names you change, that way you can keep track of who’s who.
Also, just because this is your life story—so technically, it’s told from your point-of-view—doesn’t mean you can’t explore the perspectives of the other characters in your story.
Keeping other character’s point-of-view in mind will give your story more dimension, and will help you to avoid a one-sided, train-of-thought narrative.
#6 – Add speculation
Use “speculation” to fill in gaps in your life story. Not sure if one of your character’s motivations? Is your memory of the event a bit foggy? Using what you already know, combined with the research you’ve conducted, speculate to the best of your ability.
Here is an example of writing speculation:
“I am not sure why my parents chose to end their marriage after 15 years together. They were always private people, and after their brief announcement to me about their separation, neither of them spoke a word to me about it ever again.
Perhaps they were trying to spare me the heartache of the ordeal. I often wonder if my father’s time in the service made him distant from mother; that was the case with me. Maybe my mother, like me, became lonely as a result of that.”
Words and phrases like “perhaps,” “maybe,” and “I wonder if” show your reader that you, the narrator, are speculating.
Try to find creative ways to speculate, as well. You are, in a sense, still telling a true story; you’re using what you know to create a hypothesis about something that is still a mystery to you.
If you were to claim this hypothesis were true without facts to back it up, you could get end up in trouble.
#7 – Determine the setting
Readers want to know where your life story took place, or the setting. Like fiction, you need to consider how the setting of this story affected you as a person.
Here are some questions to help you discover the setting of your book:
Where was this place?
What did it look like?
Did you enjoy living/visiting there?
Do you remember any smells from the area?
What was the culture like there?
Were you a spectator of that culture or immersed in it?
How did the setting contribute to your experience?
What mood did that setting elicit?
Details like these affected your life tremendously—maybe more than you realize—and therefore must be included in your narrative, just as they would be if this was a fictional story.
Not only that, but this helps paint a much clearer picture for your readers and creates a more entertaining experience.
When you forget to write dialogue…the book can end up reading like a very boring textbook.
Dialogue is what gives the writing—and the story itself—life.
But that leaves the challenge of writing accurate dialogue. Unless you used a tape recorder or video to record a conversation, chances are you’re not going to recall previous conversations word-for-word.
Just write down what you remember to the best of your ability, and paraphrase if you must. If you are still on good terms with the person you’re speaking within your memory, try contacting them to be sure that their memory of the conversation is similar to yours. You can even ask them to approve any written dialogue that’s in quotes if it’s not 100% accurate to what was really said.
Write dialogue the same way it would be used in a fiction book and remember to use correct dialogue formatting and tags.
#9 – Prepare for negative pushback
Not all of us have sweet stories with cute pets. Sometimes our memories and experiences are on the dark side—for example, The Kiss by Kathryn Harrison.
This memoir focuses on the time in the author’s life where she has a sexual (and incestuous) relationship with her father. She received a huge amount of negative reactions to her story.
If you are going to write and publish a personal and scandalous true story about your life, steel yourself for these kinds of negative reactions, particularly from those in your life unhappy with you telling the story to begin with.
Chandler Bolt and the rest of the Self Publishing School team are excited to meet you at Author Advantage Live this fall. Here is how to get the most out of the event before it even begins!
#1 – LET TIME WORK FOR YOU.
[Here’s how] Most people get caught up the One Day Attitude. “One day soon I’ll finish my book” or “One day soon I’ll launch my business to $10,000 a month.” Having a time constraint for a goal is one of the best ways to ensure it gets done. Parkinson’s Law states “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
Time is on your side right now.
Action Step: Commit to one goal from now until we meet you at Author Advantage Live.
Use the form below to send in your goal so we can best hold you accountable & celebrate your success at the event.
“I plan to get through my 2nd draft and have it professionally edited.”
VIP & Launch Your Book Accelerator Student
“Publish my second book & finish my course content. “
Mike Acker VIP & Course Building for Authors Student
You are more likely to accomplish a goal if you write it down. You are also more likely to complete your goal if you have someone holding you accountable. Let’s do both!
#2 – GET THE DISTRACTIONS OUT OF THE WAY.
[Here’s how] You have the opportunity to make a lot of progress during the event.
Most will get more out of 30 minutes at the live event than they would for weeks on their own.
In some ways, the amount of focus you will have at Author Advantage Live is equivalent to 30 minutes a day for 6 months.
Action Step: Tell people ahead of time that you will be “off the grid.”
Let your friends and family know that during the dates of September 20-22nd (or September 18-22nd if you’re coming to the Launch Your Book or Launch Your Course Accelerator) that you’ll be focused on your book(s) and your business.
For those that matter most, set a check in time at night so they know when to expect you and you won’t have to task switch throughout the day from your phone to the conference.
Use every moment you can to implement and connect with other authors and experts that will help you move forward. The more you can stay immersed during the weekend, the better you’ll set yourself up for success after the event for years to come.
#3 – UTILIZE THE BRILLIANT EXPERTS ONSITE.
[Here’s how] Often we get in our own pattern of how to do things, that we forget there are people who have already solved and conquered the problems we are facing. One of the questions we ask frequently at Self Publishing School is, “who do we already know that has solved this problem?” in order to avoid wasting time and money.
The more you are aware of your challenges the faster you can get real action steps from real experts in person.
Action Step: Create a list of the biggest challenge(s) you are facing as an author or a business builder.
At the event there will be numerous opportunities to get direct feedback from others who have already solved the challenges you are facing.
(Especially if your challenge is something massive, like I don’t like doing sales and marketing for my book.) Start your list now … so when you have the opportunity you will get the feedback you need.
#4 – BUILD UP YOUR NETWORK.
Yes, ESPECIALLY if you don’t love networking 😉
[Here’s how] A woman I spoke with last week was very excited about the event, but was freezing up by the idea of making connections with other people at Author Advantage Live. We always say, “Extroverts love live events, but introverts need them.” Building up a community of other authors and impactors is crucial to continue to challenge you to elevate to the next level.
Action Step: Show up physically & mentally. Instead of dreading the thought of networking, simply focus on being present.
Author Advantage Live is structured in a way where you don’t have to be a good networker and you don’t have to be an extrovert to get a lot out of it. Simply showing up and being present, you will leave with real connection and real people to support you on your journey.
You deserve support. Be ready to show up and you will experience it.
#5 – CREATE LIFELONG ACCOUNTABILITY.
[Here’s how] Having your Accountability Buddy to hold you accountability is one thing, but it’s also powerful to bring someone from your inner circle.
A character archetype is a typical character that represents specific actions, nuances, and characteristics, and can also be known as “character tropes.” These characters have well-known qualities that shape their narrative and the story.
There are many characters that have similar and recurring qualities that are easy to recognize in stories.
Take mentors or professors for example. This can include any “wise one” that is a resource for support and knowledge for the main character.
We’ll cover more of this in that section below, but Albus Dumbledore is a great example of this character archetype.
Character Archetypes List of the Top 14 You Need to Know
Not every story needs a character archetype, and having a few doesn’t mean your characters aren’t well-rounded or unique. At the same time, your characters can also have multiple qualities of these archetypes, which adds to their complexity.
Character archetypes are used in order to ensure your character cast is diverse, while also fulfilling plot and story structure needs.
There are certain elements every good story needs in order to satisfy readers and character archetypes are a big part of what does that.
That’s why we’re covering 14 character archetypes to think about when writing a novel.
#1 – Character Archetype: The Leader
The leader is a well-known and widely used character archetype for a number of reasons.
Firstly, this archetype is always active, meaning they don’t allow things to happen to them but rather, they move the plot forward through decisions and their own actions.
You’ll often find that main characters often possess the qualities of a leader, which makes for an alluring book.
Qualities of a The Leader character archetype:
Active and not a passive character
Makes decisions for other characters
Leads the “charge” in almost all scenarios
Is the go-to character for advice
Can grow into the leadership role if they’re not there right away
They are typically a key-player in the plot and overall story
Character Archetype Examples: The Leader
For more clarity, here are some recognizable examples of this character archetype where you can easily identify these traits.
Harry Potter in the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling – Throughout the series, Rowling paint Harry as a leader in several ways. We first see him as less than a leader, living under the stairs but as the story progresses, his leadership shines in several ways. Firstly, he decides to forgo friendship with Draco Malfoy because, well, he doesn’t believe him to be a good person. This sets the stage for even more leadership characteristics as he stands up to Snape, and ultimately takes on Voldemort in the end. His leadership continues to grow as he leads his friends and classmates through difficult times in the series.
Katniss Everdeen in TheHunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins – The first act of leadership we see from Katniss is the very beginning of the story. She is hunting for her family…so they can eat. It’s a very basic form of leadership that’s necessary due to her mom’s state after her father passes away. We continue to see her leadership flourish as she volunteers as tribute, sets a precedent of distaste for the games, and ultimately saves both her own and Peeta’s life by the end of the first book.
Tobias Kaya in The Savior’s Champion by Jenna Moreci – Tobias begins the book as a provider for his family. This leadership role is necessary due to his sister’s disability. As the book progresses and Tobias enters the deadly tournament, allies seem to be his only means of survival. He bands together (somewhat reluctantly) with a few key competitors and soon finds himself as the voice of their group, making decisions out of instinct without even realizing the position he’s in.
#2 – Character Archetype: The Outsider/Wildcard
This character archetype serves a very distinct purpose. Oftentimes, this is a character that adds a layer of mystery and intrigue to the story.
For example, this character won’t be “close” to your main character or even other secondary characters. They often come into the story to aid or solve a specific issue, but can also be seen as untrustworthy.
Character Archetype Examples:
Johanna Mason in The Hunger Games trilogy – Johannah Mason meets Katniss and Peeta during the opening of the 75th Hunger Games. Wild, unpredictable, and untrustworthy is our first reactions to her, solidifying her character archetype as the outsider or wildcard. Because her character is so unpredictable, we’re both worried and interested in what she’ll do next, which increases the tension when she appears on the page.
Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter series – Luna Lovegood is a very important character in the Harry Potter series but is often seen as an outsider not only from her own perspective but from others. We don’t really know what she’ll do next and this adds to the intrigue of any scene she’s in.
#3 – Character Archetype: The Caregiver
This character archetype speaks for itself. The caregiver is essentially the character who serves to take care of others.
They often have qualities that are “parently” and can be the voice of reason when the plot thickens. This character is one others often turn to for help, reassurance, and even encouragement.
Characters may also wonder how they’d get through what they have without this one character ensuring their safety and wellbeing.
Character Archetype Examples:
Louisa Clark in Me Before You – The main purpose of this character’s role is to be a caretaker. Her job in the story is to care for a disabled man. The characteristics she possesses in the story are directly in line with this character archetype of being a voice of reason, encouragement, and caring for others in the story.
Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter series – While Hermione’s character serves several purposes throughout the story, a major contributing factor to her narrative is the care she takes of both Ron and Harry. How many times throughout the series do the two of them even say, “What would I do without you?” This is a common reaction to the caretaker character archetype.
#4 – Character Archetype: The Rebel
Many main characters can fall under The Rebel character archetype because this trait often leads to interesting and intriguing conflict readers latch onto.
Keep in mind, however, that this is also a great archetype to use for villains or antagonists.
The qualities that make up The Rebel archetype are exactly what you’d expect; the characters often go against the grain, resist rules, regulations, and orders, as well as follow their own paths.
Character Archetype Examples:
Fred and George from the Harry Potter series – While Fred and George, twin brother of Ron Weasley in the series, are also known as The Jester character archetypes (which we’ll cover below), they’re primarily rebels as well. The most infamous instance that showcases this is in book 5 when Delores Umbridge takes over. They drive her out with their own invented pranks, “sticking it to the man” in the way they know how best.
Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games trilogy – Katniss may not have thought herself a rebel at first, but her actions quickly showcase her natural rebel side. From threatening to eat Nightlock berries at the end of the first book to actually leading the rebellion as a whole, she’s The Rebel through and through.
#5 – Character Archetype: The Mentor
One of the most iconic (and sometimes clichéd) characters in stories is The Mentor.
I’m sure many examples are already popping up in your mind for this one. A classic example of this is Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series.
The Mentor character archetype is someone who serves as a source of information, motivation, support, and encouragement usually for the protagonist or that group in a novel.
This character is also commonly used as an exposition element in the sense that they can provide information to the protagonist that the audience also needs to know, but in a natural way that doesn’t feel like “info-dumping.”
Character Archetype Examples:
Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series – As mentioned above Albus Dumbledore is a prime example of a mentor in this series. He guides, teaches, supports, and encourages not only Harry, but several students he grew close to throughout the series.
Haymitch Abernathy in The Hunger Games trilogy – This may be unclear at first, but Haymitch is literally and figuratively The Mentor in this trilogy. His character literally mentors Katniss and Peeta in the games as his duty but later mentors them in ways unrelated to the games by offering advice and taking on their personal conflicts.
#6 – Character Archetype: The Professor
The Professor and The Mentor are very similar character archetypes. However, with The Professor the emphasis is on their role as an educator and teacher instead of just a mentor.
Therefore, Dumbledore can be seen as The Professor, though another character occupies that role in this series.
This character archetype is usually a teacher or educator the main character grows close to. The key defining factor is that The Professor both teaches in a formal way, but also takes an interest in aiding your character’s personal life and journey. They offer guidance and help when the characters need it most and can be a go-to for information for your characters.
Character Archetype Examples:
John Keating in Dead Poet’s Society – In this iconic story, Professor Keating guides his students on a journey through poetry…and adolescence. Not only does he teach his students poetry in a way they can understand and appreciate, he’s also instrumental in developing Todd Anderson, the main character and student.
Professor McGonagall in the Harry Potter series – This archetype is evident in Professor McGonagall as well. Her role is to be an educator and to hold students to the highest standard, pushing them and even creating conflict within the story.
Mr. Bruner in The Edge of 17 – Mr. Bruner is Nadine’s teacher and also someone she goes to for guidance in her personal life. He not only serves as her educator in school, but he’s a confidant for Nadine’s personal problems and helps her get through them.
#7 – Character Archetype: The Warrior
When you think of this character archetype, it’s very evident which characters fall under this category.
Think of the best warriors in any movie where they appear. Those characters are often tough, confident, and skilled in combat. Many army officers, commanders, and persons in charge of armies will occupy this archetype.
But a character doesn’t need to be in a role of combat or military in order to be The Warrior. They can possess qualities of a warrior without the title.
The Warrior can also be both a good or bad character.
Character Archetype Examples:
Gray Worm in the Game of Thrones series – Chosen to lead the Unsullied under command of Daenarys Stormborn in this series because he “has no fear,” his character is the epitome of The Warrior. He is fierce, skilled, battle-ready, and willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish what he wants and needs to.
Cinna in The Hunger Games series – This might be a very underrated quality of Cinna’s in this series with The Warrior traits not evident upon first glance. But we later learn how instrumental this character’s role is to rebelling against the Capitol, marking him just as deserving of the title “warrior” as anyone on the battlegrounds.
#8 – Character Archetype: The Hunk
Also known as “The Adonis,” this character is the stereotypical “hot guy” in stories.
While he may also serve other roles, this character is a distraction (often to the main character) and is usually the love interest in stories.
This character can go one of two ways. You can have the stereotypical hunk who is unintelligent and only gets by on their looks, or he can be the hot guy who is misunderstood and has more going for him than people believe.
Either way, the main factor is that he’s very handsome to the point of distraction.
Character Archetype Examples:
The Adonis in The Savior’s Champion by Jenna Moreci – In the Sovereign’s Tournament, a competition to the death to win the hand of The Savior, there are several competitors, one of which is nicknamed The Adonis. This character is very much the stereotypical hunk with no brains, and it serves a very distinct purpose in this novel. He’s a fan-favorite of the spectators and stirs up jealousy amongst the competitors.
Christian Gray in 50 Shades of Gray – On the other hand, this character is more in line with the second version of The Hunk, a hot guy with more to him than meets the eye. Christian Gray is written as being so attractive, it turns heads when he walks by. But he’s also a billionaire businessman with a lot more than meets the eyes. He’s very smart while being a hunk, and then some.
Cedric Diggory in the Harry Potter series – This character serves as a mix of both types of The Hunk. He is a competitor in the Triwizard Tournament, and the ladies love him. He’s handsome, charismatic, and also a highly intelligent and skilled wizard. All of these add to the conflict of Harry competing because others root for Cedric and not him, creating issues at school and in his personal life. Not to mention the fact that Harry’s crush ends up dating Cedric.
#9 – Character Archetype: The Wise
This character archetype is someone who often serves as a destination for characters in adventure or epic novels.
You may recall stories of characters needing to travel to meet this “Wiseman” who could tell them what to do or where to go next.
With a character like this, their role in their personal life is also in line with being The Wise in the sense that they also serve as aid, advice, and intellect outside of your main character’s needs.
Character Archetype Examples:
Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings Series – While this character also serves as The Mentor, it’s important to note that he’s a very wise, all-knowing character as well. Throughout the series, he proves himself a source of information for several characters.
Yoda in the Star Wars franchise – We can’t talk about The Wise without mentioning Yoda, one of the “wise man most in books.” He knows the most, aids anyone he comes by in their efforts, and is a classic example of The Wise character archetype.
#10 – Character Archetype: The Orphan
While many authors aren’t bad people, we do tend to put our main characters through the wringer and orphaning them is one of the top ways to create sympathy for the character…and we all know that doing that makes readers love them more.
There are so many examples of characters whose parents passed away shortly after they were born or even later, into their teen years.
The most distinguishing factor for this character archetype is that the loss of their parents, whether it when they’re a baby or adult, has to add to the conflict of the story, including internal problems. If the story can exist as-is without their deaths, it’s not useful for the parents to be dead.
Character Archetype Examples:
Tony Stark from The Marvel comics – Although Stark loses his parents at the age of 21, this plays a big role in who he is in the franchise. After they pass, he has to take over his father’s company, where he grows into the person we really know him as: Ironman. Their death also plays a pivotal plot point in storylines later as well.
Harry Potter in the Harry Potter series – Harry’s parents died when he was a baby but they left before something so important, the series could not have been written as-is without it: Harry’s scar and connection to Lord Voldemort. Their deaths catapulted the entire conflict of the story, and it also causes him internal conflict in that he struggles with his identity due to their absence.
Snow White – We all know this story. Because her mom dies, her father has to remarry, which puts her in the path of Maleficent, the villain of this story.
#11 -Character Archetype: The Hero
The Hero is one of the most common character archetypes there is in stories, and this is because good stories often have a “triumphant” character who prevails over evil and save others.
Many heroes also embody other character archetypes as well.
The best defining factor for The Hero is that they save others through their actions against the antagonist.
Character Archetype Examples:
Here’s a long list of The Hero character archetypes:
Matilda Wormwood in Matilda
The entire Order of the Phoenix
#12 – Character Archetype: The Jester
If your favorite character in stories is ever the goofball who’s really funny, they’re likely The Jester character archetype.
This type of character has a few jobs, the main one being comedic relief. They can serve as a strong literary device to cut the tension in order to give characters a relief, or to distract from something worse coming up.
A couple of key identifiers of The Jester in stories is that they cut tension either with what they say or do, are the butt of every joke, or make others the butt of every joke. The Jester’s job is to elicit laughs and keep the scene and mood light.
Character Archetype Examples:
Fred and George Weasley in the Harry Potter series – We’ve already talked about these rebels but they’re also very much Jesters for this series. They make jokes and even pull pranks, both of which lighten the mood of a story that’s very dark.
Fat Amy in Pitch Perfect – The story of Pitch Perfect is made hilarious by Fat Amy, one of the main characters. She adds jokes, comedy by the way her character acts, and generally brings the story to a new level of funny.
Dory in Finding Nemo – We’ve all laughed at Dory in this story. Because of her short memory, there are plenty of moments for jokes and laughter, not to mention her character’s general demeanor.
#13 – Character Archetype: The Seductress/Seducer
With this character archetype, there’s a very specific goal of the seducing behavior.
Most often, this character is someone who’s attractive and can seduce someone in order to get something they want, or even to subdue them in order to do this.
The main point of The Seducer archetype is to trick someone into being vulnerable in order to gain the upper hand in any type of situation, whether that’s life or death or simply getting out of a speeding ticket.
Character Archetype Examples:
Dominika Egorova in Red Sparrow –This character archetype for this movie is quite unique. While her character, with the alias of Katerina, may not have been this type to start, she is taught this very specific skill in order to achieve her goals as a spy.
Black Widow in the Marvel comics – Similar to the previous example, this character was trained in many art forms, seducing being one of them. Her character often has to seduce men, playing to their deepest desires, in order to extract information for the intelligence agency she works with.
#14 – Character Archetype: The Bully
We all know a bully in real life and stories have no exception to their presence. Of the character archetypes, this one is easy to stop.
It’s is often used to make your main character’s life a lot harder. They can be a bully physically or even emotionally. As long as they belittle your character to the point of increasing conflict in the story, they’re The Bully.
Character Archetype Examples:
Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter series – From the get-go, Draco Malfoy has bullied Harry Potter and his friends. He puts them down, tries to disrupt them with their plans, and even tries to have Harry killed (and kill him himself) later in the series.
Regina George in Mean Girls – This character is the epitome of a bully. She puts others down and makes them feel like less than, so much so that the climax of the movie comes to a head with her “burn book,” which consists of a diary of bullying comments about others.
Patty in Diary of a Whimpy Kid –There are several bullies in this story, the main character’s own brother being one, but Patty indeed holds this title as well. She consistently bullies Greg throughout the story.
You don’t have to know every single literary term in order to be considered a writer. In fact, most people are writers before they discover the detailed nuances of writing and even publishing a book.
But there are some that every writer should be aware of.
Here are the literary terms every writer should know:
Imagery – The use of visually descriptive or figurative language in writing. One way to describe this is showing versus telling, and we’ll cover more on this later in this blog post.
Personification – When you give human characteristics to non-human objects or elements. This will also be covered in more detail below.
Point of view – How your story is told and through whose perspective is what your point of view is. This could be first person, second person, third person, or more that we’ll cover down below.
Protagonist – This is the “good guy” in your story or the person your readers will root for. Oftentimes, this is the main character or even you, if you’re writing a nonfiction book.
Antagonist – Also known as the “bad guy,” or the person trying to prevent your protagonist from succeeding. This person or group or organization will likely be the reason for your protagonist’s hardships in your book.
Foreshadowing – We’ll cover this in detail below but essentially, foreshadowing is the placement of clues about what will happen in the future of your story.
Conflict – This is a basic term to describe the difficulties your protagonist or you face in your book. Any issues between characters or elements are known as conflict.
Rising Action – Rising action is the events that directly lead up to the climax of your novel.
Falling Action – When writing a novel, this is often the last chapter or two after the climax to “tie up” loose ends in your story.
Climax – The biggest, most pivotal point in your novel. This is when your protagonist faced their challenges head-on and either “wins” or “loses.” Think of any time Harry Potter directed faces off with Voldemort at the end of the books. This is the climax.
Voice – A writer’s voice is the unique narrative of the writing. This is the way in which the author chooses to display sentences and even down to the phrasing they use.
Style – Much like the author’s voice, the style is the unique way the author writes but also encompasses the entirety of the novel and story as well. Their style can mean how they write, but also how they tell a story and the way in which they allow events to unfold.
Here’s a quick example of what different writing voices and style look like between two famous authors, Stephen King’s The Outsider and George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones.
List of Literary Devices to Use in Your Writing
When it comes to writing, you always want to be learning more.
Why? Because the more you know, the better your writing will be.
There’s no need to use every single literary device in your book, but by knowing what’s available for you to use and how to use it strategically, your writing will become stronger and therefore, more captivating to readers.
Here is a list of 15 literary devices to use in your writing.
#1 – Allusion
No, this is not illusion, though the two can be confused with one another.
An allusion is a literary device that references a person, place, thing, or event in the real world. You can use this to paint a clear picture or to even connect with your readers.
Allusions are often used as literary elements that help connect the reader to the works. By referencing something the reader may be familiar with in the real world, this invests them more than if you didn’t have any connections.
Allusion Literary Device Example:
Allusion Example 1: “Careful, now. You don’t want to go opening Pandora’s Box.”
In this example, the allusion is Pandora’s Box. Because this is a reference to a real-life element, it’s considered an allusion.
Allusion Example 2: He was a real goodguy ball-buster, the Deadpool of his time.
In this example, the narrator is using Deadpool as the allusion by referencing the person they’re describing as being like the super-hero (if you can call him that) Deadpool.
#2 – Diction
Diction is a literary device that’s the choice of words or style used by the writer in order to convey their message.
Basically, that’s a fancy way of saying that diction is the way in which the author wants to write to a specific audience.
Here are the different types of diction and what they mean:
Formal diction – This is when the word choice is more formal or high class. Oftentimes, writers use formal diction as a literary device when more educated individuals are speaking or the content is for those with higher education.
Informal diction – When your characters (or you writing a nonfiction) are speaking directly to everyday people, this type of diction would be use as it’s more conversational.
Slang diction – Slang is commonly used for a younger audience and includes newly coined words or phrases. An example of this would be use of the word, “fleek” or other new slang phrases.
Colloquial diction – This is when words that are used in everyday life are written. These may be different depending on the culture or religions present in the writing.
Diction Literary Device Example:
Diction Example 1: “I bid you adieu.”
The diction present here is formal diction, as most people don’t use “bid” and “adieu” regularly in everyday speach.
Diction Example 2: I remember her hair in particular, because it was on fleek!
Here, “fleek” is a slang term used to describe a woman’s hair, which means it’s slang diction.
#3 – Alliteration
Alliteration is a literary device that uses the same letters or sounds at the beginning of words in a sentence or title.
There are many nursery rhymes that use alliteration but this is also useful for creating something memorable within your writing.
You can also use alliteration when choosing the title of your book, as it makes it easier to remember, as you can see in the example of alliterative titles above.
#4 – Allegory
An allegory is a figure of speech where abstract ideas are described using characters, events, or other elements.
That’s more of a fancy way of saying that instead of being literal with an idea, you use characters, events, or other elements in order to describe it in a way the reader can better understand.
Think of it like a story within a story. You use characters, events, or other means to represent the literal meaning.
This one is a little better understood with examples than a definition.
Allegory Literary Device Example:
Allegory Example: One of the most famous works using allegory is George Orwell’s Animal Farm. The perceived story is about a group of farm animals who rise up and defeat humans but the underlying story is about the Russian Revoluation.
Using an allegory is often telling a darker story in a way that’s easier to understand and for readers to receive.
#5 – Colloquialism
One way to increase the world building in your book is to use colloquialisms.
Colloquialisms are expressions, words, and phrases that are used in informal, everyday speech, including slang.
You can use these a couple of different ways. Firstly, you can use these as slang in the real world and secondly, you can even create your book’s own colloquialisms for their world and culture, and even when writing dialogue.
Colloquialism Literary Device Example:
Bamboozle – to deceieve
Gonna – going to
Be blue – to be sad
Bugger off – go away
Over yonder – over there
Da bomb – the best
You can create your own coloquialisms within your own world to increase the realism.
#6 – Euphemism
We tend to think of euphemisms as sexual euphemisms, which is how they’re often used. However, euphemisms are actually any terms that refer to something impolite or unpleasant.
We create phrases or other words in order to avoid using the actual term because they’re impolite, rude, or indecent. Those alternatives are considered euphemisms.
This is often why we think of sexual euphemisms when we hear of this literary device. Most individuals would rather make a much lighter comment when referring to something as “indecent” as sex, but the same case is made for when someone dies.
Euphemism Literary Device Example:
Before I go – before I die
Do the dirty – have sex
Rear-end – butt
perspiration – sweating
Thin on top – bald
Tipsy – drunk
Having a loose screw – being dumb
#7 – Flashbacks
Flashbacks in literature are when the narrator goes back in time for a specific scene or chapter in order to give more context for the story.
Oftentimes, we see flashbacks in books where the past greatly impacts the present or as a way to start a story off on an interesting note. This is seen in Harry Potter whenever Harry gets to see a memory of the past from Dumbledore or even Snape.
Foreshadowing Literary Device Example:
You can even use flashbacks as a plot device, like in the example below.
For example, in Vicious by V.E. Schwab, she uses flashbacks as a recurring element in her book. Every other chapter goes back in time and then back to the present for the next chapter as a way to structure the story itself.
So in this instance, Schwab is using this literary device to shape the entire narrative of her story instead of simply using it as a single piece, which is a unique take on flashbacks.
#8 – Foreshadowing
Foreshadowing is when the author places elements within the writing that gives clues about what will happen in the future of the story.
These can often be small bits and pieces that some readers might not pick up on the first read through. They might even look back and realize that certain elements were foreshadowing once they hit the climax or a big plot twist was revealed.
Foreshadowing can be both literal and thematic.
You can write a scene where there’s a conversation that the reader can’t fully understand the meaning of until more is revealed.
You can also write a scene that has symbolic elements that foreshadow events, like placing a black crow in a scene that foreshadows a death, as crows are symbolic of this.
If you really want to up your creative writing, you can even create themes to foreshadow within your own world.
As an example of this literary device, you can create a culture in which rabbits are a “known” sign of change and conspicuously place a rabbit in a later scene.
Foreshadowing Literary Device Example:
Foreshadowing Example 1:
In Back to the Future, one of the clocks in the opening credits has actor Harold Lloyd from the silem film Safety First hanging from the minute hand. This foreshadows Doc Brown hanging from the Hill Valley clock tower later in the movie as he tried to send Marty McFly back to the 1980s.
Foreshadowing Example 2:
In The Avengers Tony Stark makes a comment about one of the ship’s engineers playing a game called Galaga as they all get together for the first time. The objective of the game in real life is to defend Earth from alien invaders, which is what happens later in the movie.
#9 – Imagery
This is one that we briefly touched on above and also one you likely learned in school, though it may have been a while since then so we’ll give you a refresher.
Imagery is when you use visually descriptive or figurative language in your writing. Think of it more like showing versus telling in writing where you use more sensory language versus blunt, plain words.
You would also use stronger verbs in order to present stronger imagery in your writing.
Get Your FREE Strong Verbs List Here
Over 200 strong verbs and the weak ones they replace!
Imagery Literary Device Example:
Here’s an example of imagery from Hannah Lee Kidder’s anthology, Little Birds:
Notice how Kidder uses visuals to bring life to her words. You’re very easily able to picture where this scene takes place and exactly what those rocks look like.
#10 – Personification
Personification is a literary device where you give human-like qualities to non-human elements.
This is one of the most well-known literary devices and it’s useful for a number of reasons:
It creates a stronger visual
It pulls readers further into your world
It helps the readers relate to and understand what’s going on
It can allow readers to have a new perspective
You can give readers a new view on a typical visual/occurrence
Personification Literary Device Example:
Personification Example 1:
The wind whistled past my ears like a familiar tune I’d long forgotten.
Personification Example 2:
The moon yanked a blanket of silver light over the forest.
Personification Example 3:
Squatting in the corner was a felt chair covered in the dust and damp of abandonment.
#11 – Juxtaposition
Juxtaposition means placing contrasting elements next to one another in order to emphasize one or both, including words, scenes, or themes.
This literary device can sound overly fancy but it’s quite simple.
Many times, authors will use juxtaposition in order to create a stronger emotional reaction from readers.
Think of when a happy moment in a movie or book is followed by a sad, heart-wrenching scene. That scene is made even worse by the fact that we just had our emotions on a high.
Juxtaposition can also be used on a smaller scale, with contrasting words or phrases next to each other in order to emphasize both, like in the first example below.
However, when it comes to giving your book that “rollercoaster” ride of emotion effect, juxtaposition used on a larger scale can make a huge difference.
Juxtaposition Literary Device Example:
Juxtaposition Example 1:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness.” – A Tales of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.
Juxtaposition Example 2:
I hate loving you.
Juxtaposition Example 3:
You will soon be asked to do great violence in the cause of good. – The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers
#12 – Metaphor/Simile
This is the most popular literary device that has to be used with caution because if used too much, metaphors and similes can reek of cliches and amateur writing.
Metaphors and similes are comparisons used to create better clarification and understanding for readers.
While these are similar, they’re quite different.
A metaphor is a comparison between two things that are NOT alike and replaces the word with another word.
Similes are comparisons between two things that are NOT like and replaces the word with another word but uses “like” or “as” within it.
Metaphors VS Similes Examples:
Metaphor Example 1:
She was drowning in a sea of her own despair.
Simile Example 1:
It was like she was drowning in a sea of her own despair.
Metaphor Example 2:
His heart was lead, weighed down by the memory of what he’d done.
Simile Example 2:
His heart was as heavy as lead, weighed down by the memory of what he’d done.
Literary devices are used to make your writing stronger. However, you don’t have to use every single device out there. These are the best to strengthen your writing.
#13 – Onomatopoeia
While its name may be confusing, this literary device is actually easy to understand once you get past its difficult spelling.
An onomatopoeia is a word or phrase that shows you the sound something makes. Since we can’t hear books, this literary device is best used to paint a clear picture and include the sense of hearing in your writing.
When using this literary element in writing, the correct formatting is almost always to have the word italicized to show emphasis of the sound.
Onomatopoeia Literary Device Example:
#14 – Symbolism
Every story uses symbolism in some way. This literary device is the use of a situation or element to represent a larger message, idea, or concept.
Many times, authors use symbolism as a way to convey a broader message that speaks to more readers. You can also use symbolism to foreshadow what will happen later in the story.
Symbolism Literary Device Example:
Crows are used to symbolize a bad omen, like death
The color purple symbolizes royalty
The color red can symbolize death, struggle, power, passion
Spiders can symbolize spying, sneaky, or untrustworthiness
#15 – Tone
The tone of a book is something that conveys the narrator’s opinion, attitude, or feelings about what is written.
This literary device has the power to shape the entire narrative.
For example, if you want to catch a reader off-guard when something traumatic or intense happens, keeping the tone light and humorous before the event can increase the sensation of shock and tension.
Tone can guide your readers right into the emotion you want them to feel in a particular scene.
Below is a table detailing how many words make up a novel in each respective genre, as some are typically longer than others.
Type of Writing
Pages in a Typical Book
100 - 15,000
1 - 24 pages
"The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry
30,000 - 60,000
100 - 200 pages
"A Clockwork Orange" by Anthony Burgess
60,000 - 100,000
200 - 350 pages
"Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone": by JK Rowling
120,00 - 220,000+
400 - 750+ pages
"Game of Thrones" by George R.R. Martin
Keep in mind that these are a baseline. You want to make sure your novel is in the ballpark word count for your genre and target audience but just remember that you can easily go over or under depending on how well the story is crafted…
…and if it covers our 5 key milestones – it will be crafted well.
How do you plan a novel? Your Novel Structure Breakdown (& Template)
Planning a novel involves coming up with your plot, character development, knowing your audience, and outlining your book.
Coming up with your plot involves knowing which genre you want to write or even utilizing a list of writing prompts to get your thoughts moving.
Character development is one of the most vital parts of your novel. Take the time to know your characters and protagonist well before you start writing in order to better plot your novel to fit how they act.
Your audience will dictate the type of content in your plot. You can always plot first and then decide if you’ll be writing young adult, new adult, adult, or even middle grade. Just make sure you categorize your novel correctly in order to reach the right audience.
Once you know the above, you’re ready to outline your novel. First, however, you have to figure out if you’re a pantser, plotter, or somewhere in between before you can outline your book.
If you want to have a solid fill-in-the-blank template, we have three story structures for planning your novel.
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What’s the Difference Between Pantser Versus Plotter
A plotter is someone who plans out their novel with an outline before actually writing, whereas a pantser is someone who writes with seemingly no direction – they write by the seat of their pants.
Are you a plotter or a pantser? Fiction authors tend to fall into one of two buckets when writing their books.
These are writers who basically only have a few vague elements about the story in mind when they start writing, but nothing else.
One of the most famous pantsers is Stephen King. In interviews, Stephen King has said that he often has an idea of the beginning, the premise, and a vague idea how it’s all going to end – and that’s all he needs to start writing his book.
These are writers who need to know every piece of their story, down to the minute detail, before they will write a single word. They have full, complete outlines that serve as a guide for their writing.
They will know who each and every one of their characters are, what their motivations are, the chapters needed for the book, chapter sections, and in some cases, even paragraphs. Probably the most famous plotter out there is James Patterson.
Knowing if you’re a plotter or pantser will dictate your entire writing process.
Clearly, it’s possible to be successful whether you’re a plotter or pantser. But here’s the harsh reality: whereas Stephen King and James Patterson sit on opposite extremes of the ‘Outline Spectrum’, most of us fall somewhere in between.
But that still doesn’t answer the question:
Are you a pantser or a plotter?
My best advice is to be something in between. Someone who looks beyond the “outline” of a novel, and identifies something much more important in their story…the 5 key milestones we’re about to reveal to you.
How to Write a Novel with 5 Key Milestones of Every Successful Novel
Most novels and movies have five key points that make up the core of their story – it’s a formula that’s been around for longer than books have.
This may not even be something authors do intentionally but rather, these are what make a story (even spoken) good and captivating.
What’s more, these milestones are something that readers have subconsciously been trained to look for when digesting a piece of fiction.
In other words, if you don’t have these five key moments, your reader is likely to turned off of your story because it didn’t meet expectations set by the hundreds (if not thousands) of stories they have already digested before yours.
You tell your reader what kind of story it will be – a comedy, drama, mystery, fantasy, sci-fi – and you give a few clues as to what they can expect. Whatever you said in these initial pages must be followed to the end of your story.
A stone-cold drama cannot turn into a slapstick comedy by the end of the story. That doesn’t mean a stone-cold drama can’t have humor in it, it just means that you can suddenly pivot and become an Adam Sandler movie.
Also, during the setup, we learn a little bit about:
Their everyday lives
The world they live in
We get a sense of where the story is heading.
One mistake made by first-time fiction authors is that they do not properly set up the story expectations and the reader goes in expecting one thing, only to get another.
Nothing annoys readers more, and so it is essential that during the setup phase of your novel, you set the expectations that you will meet during the book or you’ll lose those 5-star Amazon reviews that make such a difference.
The Setup of a novel Example:
In the Hunger Games, we meet Katniss. From her surroundings, it is obvious that she is poor, and as soon as she steps outside of her wooden shack we see hovering drones.
Within the first few pages of this book, we have learned three essential things:
This book is a drama
Katniss is our heroine and she has a miserable life
SURPRISE! There are drones and other technologies that indicate this to be a sci-fi
We are about to read a dystopia set sometime in the future
How to Write a Novel Action Step:
Ask yourself these questions:
– What does your story’s setup look like? – What happens? – What story promises do you make?
Create a list of everything your reader needs to learn in order to enter your story’s world before crafting your introduction.
#2 – The Inciting Incident
The inciting incident is the moment in your story when your hero’s life changes forever. It is the ‘no-going back’ moment, where nothing that happens afterwards will return your hero’s world back to normal.
Katniss volunteers, Neo takes the blue pill, Dorothy lands in OZ … the aliens are here!
As soon as your inciting incident happens, your story should be full throttle towards the climax.
The most common mistake first-time authors make is that their inciting incident is reversible. That means that something could happen that would return the hero’s life back to normal.
No, no, no!
Your inciting incident should as final as the severing of a limb or a death of a loved one. Nothing should be able to reverse the effects of your inciting incident has on your hero.
Inciting Incident in a Novel Example:
Katniss volunteers! In the Hunger Games, the inciting incident is irreversible because – quite literally – soldiers grab Katniss, whisk her away from her world, and into the world of the games.
There is no escape.
And even if she could get away, she would be hunted by the Capital for the rest of her life. With those two simple words, “I volunteer!” her life has changed forever.
Note: There is an exception to this rule when it comes to romances.
With romances, the inciting incident is almost always when the two lovebirds meet. (Not always, but for the vast majority of romances, this is the case.) With romances, try to create an inciting incident that simultaneously shows how perfect these two people are for each other while setting up the numerous reasons why they can’t be together.
How to Write a Novel Action Step:
Answer these questions in full and complete the brainstorming activity. – What is your inciting incident? – Is it strong enough? – Are there ways you could up the stakes or shorten the timeline? – How can you make it your inciting incident as impactful and irreversible as possible?
Brainstorm several inciting incidents… Don’t settle for one. Take a look at your inciting incidents and ask yourself this: Which one of these is the harshest, deadliest inciting incident of the bunch. Then pick that one.
#3 – The First Slap
Now, we are away to the races for writing a novel!
Over the next few chapters, your character should be making a series of gains and losses, where the aggregate result is that their situation is slightly better than what it was at the moment of the inciting incident.
The reason why we need this upward trajectory is because we are setting up the reader for the first slap.
The first slap is the moment when everything that our hero has gained is lost in fell swoop. Your hero is brought down to zero. In other words, all gains are lost, and your hero’s situation has never been bleaker.
The greater the fall, the more engaged your reader will be.
First Slap Example:
In the Hunger Games, Katniss’s world is brought down to zero when she actually enters the Games.
Between the inciting incident on the first slap, Katniss has made several gains, garnering the attention of the Capital and making some friends along the way. But none of that matters the moment she enters the Games – and what a moment it is.
How to Write a Novel Action Step:
Brainstorm what your first slap can be. Like with the inciting incident, try to come up with 3-5 scenarios and pick the one that is harshest. Take a look at all the events that could potentially happen between the inciting incident and the first slap. This is a loose mind map as you are not committing to anything at this point, but do try to get a sense of whether or not your hero will be making gains and losses (with a net value of gains) and try to assess whether or not the first slap is harsh enough to truly wow your reader. Remember, you want your readers to hate you for what you’ve done to the characters they love.
#4 -The Second Slap
Your hero has rose to the challenge! They have successfully thwarted the big evil that has been thrusted upon them by the first slap and she is doing well.
…Now it is time to bring her back to 0 again.
The second slap should be as harsh, if not harsher, than the first slap. This is the moment when the reader should be looking at your book and thinking, “Wow, this author is mean. Diabolical villain mean!”
In the second slap we are setting up for the climax, which means that the hero needs to have an out. In other words, there should be some semblance of hope.
Second Slap Example:
In the Hunger Games, the second slap is when the Game Masters announce that two tributes can survive the Games should they both be from the same district.
Katniss goes looking for Peeta, only to find him mortally wounded – he is bleeding to death and won’t survive the next few hours, let alone the rest of the Games. We know enough about Katniss to realize that Peeta dying is the worst thing that could happen to her (besides her own death).
But there is hope!
An announcement is made that there is something at the cornucopia that the Tributes need, and Katniss just knows that there is medicine there for Peeta.
How to Write a Novel Action Step:
Brainstorm several seconds slaps and pick the harshest one. Then ask yourself: where is the hope and how will it lead into the climax?
#5 – The Climax
The rollercoaster that you’ve put your reader on is almost over.
The reader has gone from an engaging setup where they get to learn about your characters and world to the inciting incident where everything is turned on its head.
Then they are subjected to the first and second slaps where you embrace your inner sadomasochist in order to punish your hero and give the readers the thrills they so richly deserve.
Now it is time to wrap it all up with the climax.
There is only one rule to the climax. A rule that must be adhered to, no matter what genre you are writing in:
Make it amazing! The climax should be the moment where your reader puts down the book and goes, “Holy S&*%! That was awesome!”
Novel Climax Example:
The climax in the Hunger Games is the final confrontation between Katniss and the remaining Tributes, as well as the monsters that the Game Masters send after her. It is wrought with danger and excitement.
But what makes the climax truly kickass is the poisonous berries at the end.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, pick up a copy of Hunger Games today and read it! You’ll immediately get why this scene is so amazing.
How to Write a Novel Action Step:
Brainstorm your kickass climactic scene! Show us how amazing, smart, resourceful, powerful your hero is when overcoming their final obstacles, but remember to make sure it’s realistic and makes sense for your character.
There you have it: how to write a book is made much easier with your 5 key milestones. This method is particularly effective for first-time authors who are still finding their writing feet (or should I say typing fingers) and is an awesome resource that experienced writers can rely on time and again when planning their stories.
The 5 Key Milestones combined with a spot-on Premise and A-Story will tell you where your story starts, where it is headed and how it will end.
In other words, if you do the novel writing exercises above, you should have everything you need to get your novel to the finish line.
You may have heard that most writers—Self-published and traditional—are starving artists who never make more than $1000 a year.
The stories are true. Many writers starve. But many sell a lot of books and do very well, if they stick with it and build multiple income streams.
I’ll just get this out of the way right now. Writing a book is hard work. Creating a sustainable platform with several income streams is harder. But, if this were easy, everybody would be doing it.
Making a living from your writing is definitely worth it and, as a writer who wants to earn cash online from their craft, it is one of the most rewarding achievements you will experience in the self-publishing business.
Dune by Frank Herbert—rejected 23 times before it was published.
As an INDIE author, the days of sifting through rejection slipsare over.
You write, you publish, and you build your own book business like Jenna Moreci did creating her full-time author and Youtube business where she now gets to spend her days doing what she loves.
Check out an interview we conducted with her about how she did it:
Or, you build a business from a book. Either way, your writing is the gateway to a better life that you create and have total control over.
If you want to know what it would take for you to bring home a full-time income from your books, check out this book profit calculator. It’ll do the math and show you what you’d need to sell and how much you’d make in total:
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Do you know why most authors only earn a few thousand dollars a year or less from their writing?
Here are 4 reasons authors fail to make a living writing:
They only write one book. You need momentum with your book platform to generate enough monthly sales to support your lifestyle. This is possible with building out a library of books and maximizing on the earning power for each. We will look at this more later.
They don’t stay current with shifting publishing trends. The self-publishing industry is constantly changing. If you aren’t staying current with what is working (and what has stopped working) your book sales plummet and you don’t reach as wide an audience as you’d like.
They stick with one platform as the only source for earning income. Many authors stay with Amazon only. This makes sense considering they have 85% of the market for ebooks. And Amazon’s exclusivity program, KDP Select, makes it easy to sign over all power to the online digital giant. However, if you keep your eggs in one basket, what happens when that basket falls out of the tree? In other words, Amazon decides to make a major change to their platform overnight and, within a week, your monthly royalties get cut in half. Yes, it happens as we see time and time again.
They don’t invest in the quality of their product. Poorly designed book covers, sloppy editing, a boring book description…equals a product nobody wants. If you want to make a living writing books, invest in your book (particularly getting a good book cover) so that it sells.
Bottom line: Write and publish consistently, write high-quality books people want to buy, expand your reach by publishing across multiple platforms, and stay up-to-speed on the latest marketing strategies that are working.
This is the formula most successful self-published authors are using to make money with writing.
Build Your Author Platform to Make Money Writing
You, as an author and creator, needs to form the mindset that this is your business—your book business. Regardless if you are a part-time author looking to make some extra income, or your goal is to be a full-time author, when you start making money from your “hobby”, you are turning it into a business.
When it comes to creating income from writing, it boils down to one word: Platform.
Your author platform is the structure of your writing career. It should consist of multiple income streams. This begins with your platform.
According to Michael Hyatt, bestselling author of Platform and Free to Focus, a platform is, “The means by which you connect with your existing and potential fans. It might include your company website, a blog, your Twitter and Facebook accounts, an online video show, or a podcast. It may also include your personal appearances as a public speaker, musician, or entertainer.”
As a writer, even if you are writing a book for the first time, think about what your platform means to you. This will become the structural foundation that your writing author business is built on.
If you want to make a living writing fiction or nonfiction, the approach to how you structure your income streams are similar, although the content is different.
What drives your platform, however, is the one thing that many overlook: Your author mindset. From now on, approach your craft with the mindset that this is your business.
Like every business, you have to be focused on the customer experience and products available to those customers. Delivering the right product, in this case the book they are looking for, is how to convert the curious customer into a paying one.
Components of an Author Platform
Your author platform is made up of:
A Catalogue of Books: This consists of published books, and all variations of the book including paperback, hardcover, large print and audiobooks. Your books, aside from bringing in consistent revenue, act as funnels for building your subscribers list and promoting your other products. Your books could be stand-alone reads, as many nonfiction titles are, or a series of thrillers.
Email list: This is your list of raving fans that have given you permission to contact them by providing you with their email address. Your email list is at the heart of making a living, not just as an author but, anyone who is building an online platform.
Wide Distribution Model: As a self-published author, Amazon may be where you make 80% of your income. But if you have more than three books available, you want to consider opting out of Amazon’s KDP Select program and publishing wide with other platforms such as aggregators Draft2Digital, PublishDrive and Kobo. Set your print books up for sale through IngramSpark. You can tap into a huge international market that, not only will drive your book sales but, open up opportunity for international foreign rights.
Courses: As an author you could develop courses based on the content of your books. For example, take a look at what Lise Cartright has built through her platform Hustle & Groove. Picture a multitude of courses available for when browsers or subscribers come to your site for the first time. Building online courses is a great way to expand this platform.
Website: A critical piece of your writing business is your author website. This where you stage all of your talent. You might have an author blog that brings in leads for your books and courses.
You could create content that you don’t publish on Amazon and make it exclusive to your website only. You can cross promote with other authors and set up an autoresponder email funnel to build a deeper relationship with your readers.
Your author website should include these basic features:
A free offer: This is free content a new subscriber downloads after opting in.
Featured blog posts: Your blog is an asset and potential income stream as it brings in leads through visitor traffic.
Course platform: Highly recommended. These are great assets to build out and easy to scale up.
About page: Make a dynamic introduction here.
Scalable Assets and Multiple Income Streams
Let’s get to my favorite topic: Creating multiple income streams to grow your business!
This is what I love about self-publishing. You are at the helm of your own ship and you, and only you, get to choose the direction to take.
We know that, if we write and publish lots of books, potentially our library of books grows and this generates strong passive income.
But relying on book sales only is a lot of work, and it is more work if you are selling on just one platform, Amazon.
Check out how our very own coach Lise Cartwright has built her passive income stream with books (and how she can teach you to do the same when you become a student):
As an authorpreneur, a self-publisher who writes and publishes their own books, you want to always be thinking creatively how to expand your income streams.
Let’s take a look at the list below for book assets.
Large print books
Making a Living Writing with the “Multiple Book Model”
Let’s be honest. Making money from one book can be very difficult. Most authors who earn a living as a successful writer have several, if not many, books in the pipeline.
These authors not only publish consistently but, are focused on delivering a series of books to build a valuable fan base.
The people buying your book series, once they are hooked into your series, crave more. This makes it a no-brainer for scaling up your author platform with every new book launch.
The more books you publish, the more income you can potentially earn and add more subscribers to your list.
We know that publishing consistently brings in more money and builds your platform over the long-term. But why does this model work?
Your readers love new material, and so does Amazon. When your platform is active with new book releases, sales and reviews coming in consistently, the algorithm is “switched on” to help you sell more by pushing your books into the higher-traffic channels.
As your platform continues to scale up, your platform grows.
It might be slow at first, and you feel like you’re doing a lot of writing without any gains, but…that is the way it is when you begin to build.
Most fiction authors start to see a return on investment after the 4th or 5th book in a series. For nonfiction, this could happen sooner but, I certainly experienced a big shift after launching my 5th book Relaunch Your Life.
Another reason multiple books work is, new readers discovering you are almost always going to buy your other books if they like what they read. If that same reader likes your books, maybe he or she wants the course you are offering as well at 20% off.
Expanding Book Formats to Make More Money from Your Books
Don’t just settle for publishing in a single format.
We’re covering the several different types of book formats you can publish in that will increase your income from writing over time.
#1 – Boxsets
A boxset is a series of books bundled together allowing readers to purchase the series at a reduced cost per book. This is a great product to create as soon as you have 3 or more books in a series.
We live in the digital age but, paperbacks are still massively popular. In fact, 30% of my author revenue still comes through paperback sales.
With the power of Print-on-Demand, readers can buy our books through Amazon or IngramSpark, and these sites do all the heavy lifting. No inventory.
#4 – Hardcover Books
You can use IngramSparks’ powerful distribution network to create stunning hardcover versions of your book. Why not? It’s another income stream that, once set up, sells itself. You have to pay a fee of $49.00 per title and you’ll need an ISBN for each version of the book.
Ideally, you are not just selling a book. You are converting a browser into a lifelong customer. That is the real power of building a brand and an author platform.
Right now, take a few minutes to map out a rough plan for your book platform. How many books will you write this year? Is this a series of books or stand-alones? How far apart will you publish your books? Could you compliment your book by introducing a course to go with it?
Creating Scalable Income Streams
Successful 6-figure authorpreneur Joanna Penn accounts for her success to multiple income streams she calls “scalable assets” that bring in thousands of dollars every month.
Check out how she does it in the video below:
In essence, a scalable asset can be anything you create once and continue to sell over and over again.
For example, you put in over a hundred hours to write a book. Now, if you were being paid $30 an hour to write, that would be $3000 to you after the work is done. But let’s say your book sells at $4.99 as an ebook, and $12.99 for the paperback.
You consistently sell 30 eBooks a day at a 70% royalty rate, because your book is priced between $2.99 and $9.99. The paperback priced at $12.99 earns a fixed 60% royalty rate through KDP. That is roughly 182.00 per day for ebook and paperback sales. Making money with ebooksis doable and sometimes the most lucrative option.
Now, this continues for 30 days and that is: 185.00×30=$5,550. Now, I calculated this just for one book if it does really well. Imagine where you could be with five, ten or twenty books each generating their own passive income streams?
How about if you had audiobooks as well? What about foreign rights sales? A course that goes with the book?
Get the idea now.
Yes, the dream is very real. It is right in front of you, if you want it!
How can you scale up your author business right now?
How many assets can you create over the next six months?
Build an email list of raving fans
If you haven’t started building an email list yet, you need one. Without a fan base to market your books to in the initial book launch phase, you are left to the mercy of the Amazon algorithm. Your list is the horde of fans waiting for your book release.
A successful book launch is critical. When you Sell More Books, this is a trigger to Amazon that your book is popular and in demand. Amazon steps in to push your book into the also-bought section, the area that recommends popular items to customers when browsing.
How do you create an email list?
You can start with offering a free gift inside your book.
This is a lead magnet that could be a:
Your readers give you their email by signing up (what Seth Godin calls “Permission marketing) and they get added to your newsletter list. This is one of the most effective ways to sell books and continue to add to your subscribers list.
Your list is happy because they get to join you on the journey as you keep them in the loop on every writing project. Then, when close to launching, you can invite them to your launch team and offer the book for free to a segment of your list.
This helps to secure book reviews during launch week. In turn, your book sales flow in and your book has a stronger chance of sticking in the marketplace after the initial 30-days is over.
Remember: From the day your book is published, Amazon puts all books in “new releases” category. It is critical you maximize paid downloads and reviews during this 30-day period for the long-term success of the book.
Ready to Become a Full-Time Author?
Okay, you don’t have to be full time to still make money selling your books. But to make money at this, there are three things you should do consistently.
Here is a list of three action items that you, as a real author, can take to scale up your platform, sell more books, and earn good money while you sleep.
#1 – Form a writing habit
I write every morning from 5:30—7:00. This is a consistent schedule I have kept for the past 3 years and during this time I wrote and launched 12+ books.
Developing a writing habit is crucial if you want to make a living writing.
If you still have a day job (and most people do) you’ll need to find the time of day works best for you, establish your most productive writing time and make this a habit of creating content during this peak time.
Once you’ve established your best time for writing, write consistently for five days a week.
#2 – Publish consistently
If you follow the steps above and write with consistency, you can publish frequently, too.
Imagine where your (fiction or nonfiction) platform would be if you put out a book every 3-4 months. This is how you create scalable income.
Do the work now and reap the rewards later.
#3 – Communicate with your fanbase
We looked at the importance of an email list and why you need one. When you are getting ready to launch, you want to be able to shout it out to someone who is listening.
Your team of dedicated email subscribers are ready to help you launch bestseller after bestseller. But, communicating with your list is critical in between book launches.
At the very least, send out an email once every two weeks, and if you can, once a week. Provide tips, strategies, or an update on what you are working on.
Keep your tribe in the loop!
#4 – Determine Your Level of Success
You have to work out the details of what your success means to you.
How many income streams can you build, and what are they? Will you focus on the wide distribution model, or stay exclusive with Amazon?
This is different for every writer and depends on what you are comfortable with in terms of time and financial investment.
Stay focused on the big picture and scale up gradually. With every new book, you are generating potential to earn more and gain wider recognition as an author.
If you write one book and focus all your efforts on this, think of other income streams to tie in with your book and the kind of fan base you want to build. Will you offer coaching? Courses? Outsource your tech skills to help other authors?
You are an author, and now is the best time to make a living as a writer.
Since the explosion of digital books on Amazon and various other platforms like Kobo, iBooks, and Smashwords, first-time authors and professional authors alike can write, publish and promote their books for less than $1,000.
On the other hand, you can spend as much as $20,000 on self-publishing and book marketing costs if you have that kind of budget. Let’s break down the costs of the self-publishing process.
We’ll share some secrets to bring those costs down if you’re budget-conscious.
The Rise of Self-Publishing
If you’re an author dreaming of making your books available to millions of readers, you can make it happen. You only have to invest your time, some money, and a little bit of sanity.
Before we dive into how much it costs to publish a book, check out how much you will make if you choose to self-publish your book by filling out the book profit calculator below.
Enter Your Information Below To Calculate Your Potential Book Sales
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Knowing how much you stand to make can help you understand that any investments into publishing your book (like the expenses we’ll detail below), can be earned back—and this shows you how many book sales until you will have earned it.
Because there are many factors that can affect the cost of publishing your book.
What it really boils down to is this:
How much are you willing to spend, and how well do you want your book to sell?
The reason I ask these questions is because if you go cheap on everything, you could end up putting out a low-quality book that gets panned by bad reviews, and then it won’t sell.
When publishing on Amazon, quality sells. And yes, quality costs money. But there are ways you can creatively cut costs and still put out a quality book. Let’s take a look.
How Much Does It Cost to Publish a Book?
The cost of publishing a book varies greatly but self-published authors can expect to spend anywhere from $100-$2500 to publish a book based on additional book production costs like editing, cover design, formatting, and more, which we cover.
To start, let’s look at a sample budget for publishing a book.
Now, these aren’t the high-end numbers for self-publishing. You can spend as much money as you want — this is a list of budget-conscious pricing for getting your book done within a reasonable budget.
As with really any service, you can choose to spend a lot more for more experience or you can opt for someone really great at what they do, with cheaper prices.
Just keep in mind that quality matters with your book!
It’s better to invest in yourself like you’re a business. Because as an author, you are one!
I’ll go into each of these in more detail, with links you can check out for yourself and find what works within your budget.
Take some time to shop around see where to get the best value for the best price.
However, these are some average prices you can expect when self-publishing your book.
What You Need
Professional Cover Design
Each book NEEDS a professional cover. People judge books by covers and without investing in one, your book will fail.
$100 - $600
Even if you're the best writer out there, your book will still need a fresh, unbiased pair of eyes on it.
$300 - $1,500
A good book needs proper formatting for paperback, hardback (if you want this) and for Ebook. Luckily, this can be included with cover design at many design firms.
$50 - $300
If you want to run ads for your site or pay your launch team in any way, these are costs you will have to cover.
$0 - $500
This includes courses, building your site, automated email services, writing software, and more.
How Much Does a Book Cover Designer Cost?
Even though we’ve been told “you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover,” the reality is, we do it anyway.
The book cover design can often determine whether or not people will actually pay for it and read it. Your cover will make or break your book right off the bat. If there’s any one cost you don’t want to go cheap on, this would be it.
A high-quality book should always be edited by a real editor. Whether you hire a line editor or copy editor, you should get a professional to look over your work. Don’t try to cut corners here. Even if you’re a professional editor yourself with 30 years of experience, you need to outsource it to a professional editor.
Trust me: A book that contains typos will get bad reviews and sales will drop flat.
Make sure you shop around when hiring a book editor. Since book editors rates vary so greatly, you can often find an amazing editor as a fraction of the price of bigger editing companies, like NY Book Editors.
If you’re a Self-Publishing School student, we provide a rolodex of tried-and-trusted editors with reduced rates.
A 40,000 manuscript edited through NY Book Editors can run you up to $2,700 for a comprehensive edit.
Love your book by spending the cash on editing. You can find quality editors at Upwork, or you can find the editors we recommend in our Preferred Outsourcer Rolodex if you’re a member of the Self-Publishing School community.
You can get a very short book, around 15,000 words, line edited for about $150-$250 if you search a wide variety of editors and find one with reasonable pricing.
Ghostwriting, developmental or structural editing will run you much more than that depending on the length of your book and the depth of edits you require — prices run around $2,000 for 100,000 words.
How Much Does Book Formatting Cost?
When it’s time to format your book, if you’re publishing on Amazon, you might want to get it formatted both for print and for Kindle. You can outsource the formatting of both your e-book and print book for around $60-$200.
Fiverr has some good formatters at reasonable prices. I’d also recommend asking fellow authors if they have any great recommendations for book formatters.
Once you find a book formatter you really like, hang on to their contact information for future reference.
Take a look at these costs of publishing to get an idea for this:
How Much Does it Cost to Promote Your Book?
When it comes to spending cash on promotional sites, you could empty your bank easily. Set a budget for yourself and go with the best of the best within that budget.
Budgets vary but I’ll spend $29 on the low end for Buck Books and Ebook Launch go as high as $1,000 if you add on a bundle of promo sites to launch your book.
Again, this is a major money suck if you’re not careful; you can throw thousands into it and get mediocre results.
For the best results on several paid launches, I have used:
You could also look into taking multiple courses on Udemy.
But again, you can spend a fortune on various courses. I would recommend sticking with one course until you complete it and branching out to learn other skills after you get your first big win.
#2 – An Author Website
Building an author platform is a great consideration if you’re looking to expand your business, write blogs and promote your work. You can build an entire website or just a landing page with a call-to-action to get users to opt in.
It’s also important to capture leads to build your mailing list. A lead capture form on your website helps you find quality leads and determine your primary audience.
Here are some things you’ll need to look into in order to get started with building a website:
Hosting: You can sign up for hosting with servers such as Bluehost or Hostgator. The cost would be around $150 per year, which is very reasonable for website hosting. You will get a discount when you sign up for the first year, but pay full price when you renew.
Domain Name: You can purchase a domain name to secure your brand and start driving traffic to your site. Check out Name.com. A domain name will cost around $10-$15 per year.
Email Subscription Services:
If you want to collect email addresses, you’ll need to sign up for an email subscription service to manage your emails. There are several choices:
MailChimp: This is free up to the first 2000 subscribers. If you opt in to use their autoresponder service or other upgrades, you’ll have to pay around $10 a month depending on the number of subscribers.
AWeber: This platform costs $19 per month for up to 500 subscribers.
ConvertKit.com: ConvertKit has tons of value. Price is based on subscribers but starts at $29 a month for your first 1,000 subscribers. This is now one of the most robust sites for building an email list.
#3 – Publish Under Your Own Company
I’ve talked about this elsewhere, but there are perks to publishing your print book under your own company, instead of publishing with a CreateSpace (which has now merged with KDP) ISBN or another print-on-demand service.
The ISBN (the 13-digit number above the barcode at the back of your book) lets bookstores and libraries know everything about your book, including the publisher.
If you use a free, generic ISBN assigned to you by CreateSpace or Ingramspark, you’ll limit your chances of a bookstore carrying your own book.
Free ISBNs eliminate your ebook from being stocked on Overdrive, for example, which circulated more than 105 million eBooks in 2014 to public libraries all over the world.
Getting your own ISBN and setting yourself up as your own publisher will cost $295 for 10 ISBN codes, but it will help you access all distribution channels.
This isn’t necessary if you’re just starting out — it’s more important to publish your book and get it out there. However, if you are serious about building a self-publishing empire and making a full-time living from your writing, you’ll want to eventually invest in getting your own ISBN codes and setting up your own publishing company.
How to Increase Book Sales
We all want to make cash with our writing. It may not be the only reason we write, but self-publishing your own book is still an investment. And like any investment, it’s nice to get a return rather than taking a loss.
Here is a list of strategies you can implement to increase your book sales, crush those low book sales, and get more eyeballs on your work.
Reach out to podcasters and influencers in your niche and set up an interview. This has proven to be a big game-changer for authors like Hal Elrod and Tim Ferriss.
Run promos every 3 months. After your book has been at regular price for a while, wait three months and then drop it to 99 cents again. Set up some paid ads every other day for one week. Try using the KDP countdown strategy.
Blog about the topics in your book. Set up a blog and get more traffic and interest in your work by writing about what you love. Traffic that lands on your page can be directed to your Amazon Author Page and that means more book sales!
Write another book. Building a catalog of books is a great formula for generating higher monthly income.
Apply for a spot on Bookbub. Bookbub is the big gorilla when it comes to book promoting. It’s expensive ($300 and up), but it’s a solid investment and you will make your money back on the promo costs. You can check out Bookbub here and sign up for an author account to get started.
This drives your rankings up, and this drives sales even further. Sound good?
You can start to build your email list by including a link to a lead magnet in your ebook. A lead magnet is an offer of a free, valuable piece of content that readers will get if they go to your website and subscribe to your email list.
#3 – Barter When You Can
If you’re just starting out with self-publishing and you’re on a tight budget, look to barter services when you can. By coming to a deal where you exchange your services or something you have that is of value to people, you can save yourself lots of money.
As a writer, maybe you have some copywriting skills.
See if you can share some of that in exchange for design work from a cover designer. But it doesn’t have to be just raw skills that you barter — Dana Sitar got a cartoonist friend of hers to do the illustrations for her book in exchange for $50 and 10 percent of direct sales of the book.
It’s a decision she doesn’t regret, as the illustrations get her raving reviews. If you’re on a budget, you don’t need to fully cut back on the quality of your book.
See if there are possibilities to cut a deal and get the service you require to set your book apart.
#4 – Write a Great Book!
This might seem like an obvious tip, but paying attention to the quality of your book throughout the writing process is going to save you money. The better your book, the less you’ll have to spend on editing.
You will also gain a solid reputation as someone who writes really well. This means loyal fans will spread the word about your book and your blog, your email list grows, and any future books you release will practically promote themselves.
Your Next Step
We are in a great era of self-publishing.
Anyone can turn their dream into a reality with just a few months of hard work, a bit of cash, and a great book idea. We’ve broken down the cost to publish your book so that you have a rough idea of what to budget. Writers have gone on to publish bestsellers with as little an investment as $1,000, while others have required up to $20,000.
It all depends what you prioritize and if you can save costs in a manner that doesn’t decrease the quality of your book.
You could place endorsements or “blurbs” on the back cover of your book, the praise sheet, or even the front cover, as you can see from my endorsement example below.
But, how do you get top influencers to support your book? Here are five simple steps to get endorsements for your book.
#1 – Find the right influencers
The most powerful endorsements are those given by people who are well-known in your field.
To select the right influencers, find out who your ideal readers admire. Post the question on targeted social media groups or ask them directly.
Also, ask yourself what top influencers you follow and respect. Add their names to the list.
Focus on quality over quantity, but if you don’t have enough names, search for bestselling books similar to yours and check out who endorsed them.
It’s important that the influencers have a style and values similar to yours. That way, your ideal reader will be likely to be attracted to them and be familiar with their work.
How do you figure out the style and values of potential endorsers? Start by visiting the “About Me” page on their website and pay attention to their branding and message.
Then, visit their social media pages and focus on the style of their posts and the content they share. You’ll get a good idea of whether the person’s values and style might be a good match for you or not.
#2 – Deliver value first
Because it’s much easier to get a yes from someone who has already received value from you, it’s important that you start planning your request for endorsements in advance.
For blurbs by top influencers, you might need to start the outreach process several months ahead of the publication of your book.
Something as simple as sending them a handwritten note about how much their message means to you, posting a video review of their book on Amazon, or recommending them on LinkedIn will help you stand out.
Here are other examples of powerful ways to stand out:
becoming an active member on the influencers’ social media groups
attending one of their conferences
joining one of their paid programs
You should do this because you truly enjoy their message and not just because you’re seeking endorsements. Your true intentions will come through in your communications and behaviors.
Avoid going straight to the ask without having taken the time to deliver value first.
#3 – Prepare to ask
Before you reach out to potential endorsers, do everything you can to make it as easy as possible for them to say yes.
Prepare well in advance so you can find the best opportunities to ask for the endorsement, and give yourself enough time to get through gatekeepers.
For example, if the influencer will be speaking at an event in your town, you could grab a ticket and introduce yourself.
However, local events aren’t your only choice. One of my friends was interested in building a relationship with an influencer who would be speaking three thousand miles away. But that didn’t stop her.
By following the influencer on Instagram, she learned that this person loved brownies and would be attending the event with her husband.
My friend ordered a dozen brownies to be delivered to the event with a customized note that read, “Best wishes during your presentation. Hope you and your husband enjoy these treats!”
That was the start of their friendship.
As part of your preparation, write a sample endorsement for each influencer. Blurs usually hover around 50 words (never more than 100). If you know their work well, you will be able to create blurbs that closely match their writing voice.
#4 – Ask for the endorsement
It might feel nerve-wracking to ask, but never wrong. If you’re hesitant, it might be too soon in the relationship, especially when it comes to top influencers.
If you ask too soon, they will either ignore you or reject your proposal.
Rushing might mean that you’ll have to start the process all over again and find someone else to endorse your book.
Never send a mass request to a group of influencers. You’ll waste your time, and hurt your chances of ever building a relationship with them. Customization is key.
Send the influencers a copy of your book along with a well-crafted message asking for the endorsement.
Ideally, you’ll send them a physical copy. It doesn’t have to be the final version, and it doesn’t have to be perfect. It can be a printed PDF.
That said, you must ensure that whatever you send to the influencer is professionally packaged.
If sending a physical version of your book is not possible, you can send them the PDF or ebook, but you’ll have to ask in a way that stands out. You could achieve this by customizing your message in a unique way, creating a video specifically designed for them, or preceding your email with a handwritten note.
Think outside the box! A video card or a note written on a balloon would be clever ways to stand out, too.
Be succinct. Remember that time is a high-price commodity for influencers (for everyone!) so you don’t want to make it a chore to understand what you’re asking.
Start by expressing why you feel they’re the right person to endorse the book and why you respect them so much. Be sure to mention that you’re eager to make your readers aware of their work.
Next, specify the length of the blurb you’re seeking as well as by when you need it done.
Don’t make your deadline too far in the future so that it’s put in the back burner, but don’t make it so soon that the influencer will immediately say no. I personally chose 3-4 weeks to collect the blurbs.
Be prepared to negotiate an extended due date, and allow for extra time in your planning.
When you share the blurb that you wrote, explain that you’re just trying to make things easy for them.
Express how much you appreciate their time and attention, and close with the promise to follow up in a week or two.
#5 – Follow Up for Book Endorsements
If you don’t hear back from the influencers, it’s easy to assume they’re not interested in writing the endorsement and be tempted to give up. However, it’s important to realize that they might have not received your message yet.
Emails go to spam folders. Gatekeepers delete emails and toss out mail. You never know!
When you follow up, try a different way to reach the person. If you used email first, follow up with a handwritten note or a message on social media.
If you find out the name of the influencers’ gatekeepers, reach out to them directly. Build a relationship with them as well, and you will have a great chance of success.
My rule of thumb is to follow up three times. If you don’t hear from them, it might be time to move on.
As you can see, with a well-written manuscript, proper planning, and a great dose of authenticity, it’s possible for you to get endorsements from top influencers in your field.
The most important step is to take action.
It’s easy to be sidelined by fear of rejection, but if you think about it, the worst thing that can happen is that they’ll say no. If you’re confident in the quality of your book, you have nothing to fear.
Take the first step today to gain powerful social proof and make your book a success!
But before we dive into these exact methods for how to write a short story, let’s talk about why any and all writers should learn how to craft solid, captivating short stories, even if your end writing goal is to write full-length novels or even nonfiction.
Why All Writers Should Learn How to Write a Good Short Story
There’s a lot more to writing short stories than you may think. Just because they’re shorter in length doesn’t mean it takes any less skill to execute a good one.
In fact, being able to tell a full story in such a short amount of time arguably takes more skill than writing a full-length novel or nonfiction book.
That being said, why is it beneficial for all writers to learn how to write a short story?
#3 – It makes the story sections of your nonfiction book more captivating
Every nonfiction book has portions where stories must be told in order to get the point across.
This is what allows people to relate to you as an author, which pulls them in deeper and makes the core message of your book resonate with them more.
But if those stories are weak, not well-written, and lackluster, it’s unlikely someone will enjoy them as much.
It’s also likely that your message will get lost because the book doesn’t carry the same impact.
How long are short stories?
Short stories should remain below 7,000 words in order to be considered a “short story.” They can be as short as only one sentence, as this is known as flash fiction.
You already know that short stories are…shorter than your average novel but do they have any other difference?
Here’s a chart detailing the main differences in how many words are in short stories, novels, novellas, and nonfiction works.
Type of Writing
Pages in a Typical Book
100 - 15,000
1 - 24 pages
"The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry
30,000 - 60,000
100 - 200 pages
"A Clockwork Orange" by Anthony Burgess
60,000 - 100,000
200 - 350 pages
"Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone": by JK Rowling
120,00 - 220,000+
400 - 750+ pages
"Game of Thrones" by George R.R. Martin
As you can see, the main difference is length, but that’s not all. When you write a short story, you’re only writing a very impactful snippet of your character’s otherwise full life.
You don’t have to unpack your entire character’s life story in a few hundred words in order to write a great short story.
How to Write a Short Story
If you’re ready to tackle this avenue of creative writing or you just want to learn how to write a short story to strengthen the overall quality of your book, here’s how you can do that.
#1 – Focus on Character Development
In order for a short story to be impactful, you have to know your character well. Having good character development is essential in short stories, since your characters often drive the story.
You only have a certain amount of time to show your readers who that person is and you can’t do that if you don’t even know who they are.
Think about it.
If you write a short story about your best friend, whom you’ve known for many years, versus writing one about someone you just met yesterday, you’ll be able to craft a much stronger story about your best friend because you know them so well.
The same goes for your fictional characters.
You don’t have to spend a ton of time on your main character, but know their history, age, personality, family life, friend life, love life, and other details that shape the way someone sees the world.
Above is an example of what a character arc typically looks like in a full novel.
Keep in mind that since your short story is, well, shorter than a novel, you may remove a few steps. Knowing the overall character journey, however, can be helpful for character development within short stories.
#2 – Outline
Thankfully, the outlining process for a short story is much easier than a full novel, but I do still advise creating one in order to have a cohesive flow throughout the story.
This is definitely useful for those of you who prefer outlining versus just writing by the seat of your pants.
Here’s what your outline should encompass for a short story:
The point of view you’ll use
How you’ll start the story
How you’ll get from the beginning to the main issue
What happens at the “climax” (yes, even short stories have one!)
Resolution of the main issue
The very end
Keep in mind that your short story can end very abruptly or you can flesh it out until there’s a satisfying ending.
Because we’re automatically intrigued by the fact that people don’t normally go around collecting roadkill.
Now, you don’t have to start your short story with something as strange as that but you do want to give your readers a sense of who your character is by depicting something different right away that also has to do with the core focus of your short story.
Take this short story called The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry, for example. This author starts with a very low money amount and then hits you with the fact that it’s Christmas the very next day.
This is out of the ordinary because many readers understand that having such little money (scraped up money, at that) right before Christmas isn’t typical. It’s odd – and also hits their emotions right away.
#4 – Get the draft done ASAP
Done is better than perfect. We’ve all heard or read these words time and time again – and that’s because they’re important; they’re true.
This is especially the case when it comes to short stories. Once you have your outline and know how to start writing, drafting the short story in full comes next.
Don’t worry about editing or polishing the story up in any way right now. After all, you can’t possibly make good edits until you know what the story looks like in full.
That would be like matching your earrings to your pants without first having the full outfit put together. You don’t know if those earrings work well with it until you see what else you’ll be wearing.
It’s the same for writing. Focus on getting your draft done so you can move on to the next step.
#5 – Edit your short story
Editing is where the real magic happens when it comes to writing. We all have this idea in our minds that we’ll get it perfect the first time and that’s just not how writing works.
Most of the time, your first draft is just the bare bones of what’s to come but through line editing, developmental edits, and proofreading, it will transform into something better.
Think of the actual writing as the wooden structure of a house and the editing as the drywall, paint, windows, light fixtures, doors, and anything else that’ll make the house complete.
Showing versus telling (readers need you to show more!)
The editing process for short stories is pretty much the same for novels. The only difference is that short stories tend to focus more on imagery and exposition than they do full character and plot development.
#6 – Title it!
This can be one of the most difficult things for any book, let alone a story that’s only a few hundred to a few thousand words.
The good news? Short story titles are a little less important than titles for novels. They can also be very abstract.
What you want to think of when titling your short story is this:
What’s the overarching theme?
What is something unique about the story?
What sounds intriguing but not explanatory?
What makes sense after reading the short story?
These questions will help you develop a title that not only makes sense, but is also intriguing enough to pull readers in while staying true to what the story is about.
#7 – Get feedback
No matter how experienced (or inexperienced) you are as a writer, you need feedback.
In order to learn and improve and ensure your message is coming across as desired, you need someone else’s fresh eyes on it.
Here’s an example of what feedback might look like if you’re using Google Docs to write your short story:
We need this help because the simple fact is, we’re too close to our writing.
It’s impossible to read your story with a critical eye when you’re the one who came up with and wrote it in the first place.
Allowing others to read your work and offer feedback is one of the best ways to improve and make sure your story is exactly how you want it.
#8 – Practice by writing short stories often
The number one best way to learn how to write good short stories is by writing them often.
When you’re writing regularly, your brain falls into the habit of being creative and thinking in terms of short stories.
The more you do it, the easier it will get and the more you’ll improve. So focus on writing a certain number of short stories per week and stick to that – even if they aren’t your favorite.
#9 – Write one short story every day for 30 days
This is separate from writing short stories often. If you really want to kickstart your progress and get really good quickly, then create a challenge for yourself.
Write one short story, whether it’s 500 or 1,000 words, per day for an entire month.
When you’re done, you’ll have 30 full short stories to review, edit, and improve upon. Doing this not only builds a habit, but it also gives you a lot of experience quickly.
After those 30 days, you’ll know more about how you like to write short stories, which mean more to you, and how to write them to be good.
#10 – Focus on a single message to share
Short stories are known for being impactful even though they’re not novel-length.
And that means they have to have a core theme or message you want to get across. This can be anything from loving yourself to ignoring societal expectations.
In order to do this, think about what you want people to walk away from your story feeling.
What is the desired outcome?
If you just want people to enjoy the story, that’s great. However, what makes a story impactful and enjoyable is what readers take away from it.
Brainstorm some themes that are important to you and work your short story around them. This will not only make you care about your story more (which means it’ll be written better), but it’ll also make ti more satisfying for readers.
#11 – Tie it up with a satisfying ending
Nobody likes a story that ends on a major cliffhanger.
It’s okay for your short story to have an unresolved ending. In fact, that’ll likely be the case simply because the story is…well, short.
But you do want to tie your story up in a way that leaves the reader feeling satisfied even if they didn’t get all the answers.
Many times, this means circling back to an idea or element presented in the beginning.
This structure often allows readers to feel as though they’ve read a complete story versus just a snippet of a larger one.
Now that you know how to write a short story, it’s time to put these new skills to the test with some short story ideas guaranteed to produce something interesting and intriguing.
Here are 20 short story ideas to take your writing to the next level:
Your character opens the mailbox to find their biggest fear inside.
After a devastating fall, your character is learning the hardships of healing after an accident.
Your character accidentally insults their company’s CEO – right before a big promotion.
Your character lost a child years ago but lives as if it just happened the day before.
Your character’s village wise woman tells the story of how magic was lost due to abuse.
Your character lives in a space pod traveling space, and they’re also claustrophobic.
Ash floated from the mountaintop and awoke your character from their night’s sleep.
Your character hasn’t eaten in days and stumbles upon real berries, and so does a starving bear.
When your character’s heart is broken, they must find a way to heal it – any way.
Your character is an orphaned 7-year-old who hears voices.
Your character just found out they have a rare disease…that hasn’t been detected anywhere in centuries.
After a fight with their ex, your character decides to go on a trip to the neighboring town that hosts very…unusual tales.
Your character accidentally runs into the wrong person on the street…and now they can’t sleep at night.
When your character moves schools, they didn’t expect to find a secret lurking throughout the school…that all the teachers know about.
It’s your character’s turn in their culture’s ritual of fighting a lion barehanded. They’ve never been good in fights.
After extreme weather conditions plague your character’s town, they finally leave home to find everybody has gone missing.
Your character is in the back of an ambulance, trying desperately to revive someone who’s apparently dead…so why are they still away and breathing?
After a short stint at a hospital as a nurse, your character decides to take their skills to the mountains as a wilderness medical professional. They just didn’t expect to find odd and interesting injuries among campers.
An apple appears at your character’s front door every morning and they can’t figure out who’s putting it there.
When an avalanche quakes the mountains in your character’s town, it unveils something that’s been hidden for…millenia.
Tips for Writing with Short Story Ideas:
Sometimes short story ideas are enough but if you want to utilize them effectively, keep these tips in mind:
#1 – Keep it simple and focus on a single portion of a character’s life
#2 – Make sure the reader has a clear picture of your character right away
#3 – Focus on the theme and message you’re trying to get across
#4 – Let the short story idea create a life of its own
#5 – Be unique and think of many possible endings to the story before outlining
Now you know how to write a short story! It can seem a little scary, but with these tips, you’ll be off to creating some really captivating stories.
Passive voice is when you write a sentence in which the subject receives an action. For example, “The ant was helped by the human.” is passive voice because the subject (ant) receives an action (help). The active voice of this sentence is, “The human helped the ant.”
Typically, passive voice is seen as weak when writing a book and in most cases, this is true. However, passive voice can serve its own purpose in writing.
One instance to use passive voice intentionally is when you don’t know (or care) WHO created the action.
It was so long ago, so obscure, so common, or so…something that the point is not on the subject performing an action; the focus is on the result.
Most of the time, though, active voice is the way to go. It’s more direct (less wordy) and commands more interest. You use strong verbs in active voice, so the entire sentence is (usually) stronger.
Active voice sentences are easier to understand.
How much passive voice can you use?
The English language has melded far too many linguistic influences to have any absolute rules.
Therefore, the frequency of using passive voice versus active voice is a judgment call on how you would like to balance out your active and passive sentences, particularly when you can actually use passive voice intentionally as a literary device.
The key is to understand the difference between the two.
How to Choose Between Using Passive Voice or Active Voice
In general, active voice is preferred. Below is an explanation that I used with English students.
Active voice shows direct ACTION; passive voice is more ho-hum and wordy with unnecessary prepositional phrases.
The passive verb usually needs helping verbs. Sometimes it even sounds stilted.
Active voice has movers and shakers; passive voice is like being a couch potato. Do you want to be the one DOING the action or be passive? Be an active leader, not a follower! Start with the main subject and go from there.
Passive Voice Examples:
ACTIVE: I love reading.
PASSIVE: Reading is loved by me.
ACTIVE: AC/DC Thunder won the game easily.
PASSIVE: The game was won easily by AC/DC Thunder.
With students, the focus is on active voice; with a professional writer like yourself, you will most likely have a blend of both active and passive sentences, but active should still far outweigh passive.
Here are song titles along with a rewrite in passive voice:
“I Love Rock ‘N Roll” *Rock ‘N Roll Is Loved by Me
“I Gotta Feeling” * A Feeling Was Gotten by Me
“You Light Up My Life” * My Life Was Lit Up by You”
“We Found Love” * Love Was Found by Us
“I Want to Hold Your Hand” * Your Hand Is What I Want to Hold
“Another One Bites the Dust” * The Dust Was Bitten by Another One
“I Will Always Love You” * You Will Always Be Loved by Me
“I Heard It Through the Grapevine” * It Was Heard Through the Grapevine by Me
Sentences with the understood subject (you) have an imperative active voice which is much more authoritative than passive tense:
(You)” Un-Break My Heart” * My Heart Should Be Unbroken by You
(You) “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree” * A Yellow Ribbon Should Be Tied Round the Ole Oak Tree by You
(You) “Let the Sunshine In” * The Sunshine Should Be Let In by You
(You) “Play That Funky Music” * That Funky Music Should Be Played by You
Conversely, this next song title has a passive voice that works: “That’s What Friends Are For” (better than Friends Are for That).
With the rewrites changing active voice to passive, did you discern a pattern where many of them ended with a prepositional phrase containing the person doing the action?
Think of gossip.
People want to know who is doing what! (They really did that? You’re kidding!) Put the subject right at the beginning so everyone knows whom you’re talking (writing) about and what they did!
How to Vary Your Sentence Variety Using Passive Voice and Active Voice
If you have the same subject over and over and if the object is more of the point anyway, passive voice allows for sentence variety.
Furthermore, if it doesn’t matter who did the action because the result is the point, passive voice works.
The chairs in the old high school library were refinished and moved to the new library weeks before the tables were moved. Temporary chairs were in the high school library.
I needed the tables from the old elementary library to sort the genre boxes, so students had chairs, but no tables for a while. The elementary students enjoyed sitting at the “invisible” tables and joked how they didn’t have to push in their chairs when they left.
After class, a first grader told his teacher very sincerely, “The tables really are invisible!”
I smile whenever I think of his endearing comment.
Passive voice rationale: It didn’t matter who had refinished and moved the chairs or who had put temporary chairs in the high school library. I hadn’t done those things, and those details would not have added to the book.
Nonetheless, I had completed the genrefication project (where the library was totally reorganized by book genres). I didn’t want to start almost every sentence with “I + action verb + direct object.” It would sound awkward to repeatedly start sentences with “I did this, I did that, I, I, I….”
Passive Voice Checker & How to Determine Your Percent of Passive Voice
Beyond the basic spelling and grammar check (which can be helpful with tools like Grammarly or even Hemingway Editor) is Word’s readability feature.
It tells you various details about your writing, including the percentage of passive sentences, the Flesch Reading Ease, and the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level.
For example, the segment about the chairs and the invisible tables scored an 8.8 Flesh-Kincaid Grade Level, which means it was written at a reading level where an 8th grader in the 8th month of school should be able to comprehend the text.
Many teen and adult fiction books are written at 4th – 6th-grade reading levels (based on Accelerated Reader scoring) because the writing flows at those levels for recreational reading compared to reading to learn new information. Newspapers may rank more at a 10th-grade reading level, depending on the complexity of the information.
If you are using Word and would like to know your percentage of passive sentences and readability scores, here’s what you do:
Go to Review at the top of Word.
Select Spelling & Grammar from the top left.
Select Options… from the pop-up.
Select Settings… at the bottom of the next pop up (next to Writing style:)
Then scroll down until you see Passive Voice and check the box
Select “OK” and you’ll now be able to check your passive voice in Word
In case you were wondering (and even if you weren’t), this article was written at a 6.7 reading level with 6% sentences being passive.
Now check some of your writing and see if you agree with your results.
By the way, I just took my own advice here and checked my children’s picture book, The Flower Fairies Meet the Talking Rainbow Rocks. It contains 4% passive sentences (acceptable to me) but has a 4.1 reading level, which is higher than I would have guessed and higher than I had planned for a picture book.
My book’s science-related terms increased the reading level. Word’s readability tool actively helps with various writing considerations beyond passive voice. You may use it purely for passive voice, but it will tell you even more.
Active writing is lively writing. It is aggressive in the most positive sense. It burrows in there and zooms straight to the point.
Stay active with your writing, and stay active in your writing.
Taking that leap can be difficult, especially if you’re not sure what to expect. Let us do some decluttering of your mind by cluing you in on some of the unexpected realities of self-publishing your book!
#1 – You’ll become a tech-savvy self-publishing whiz
Self-publishing involves a number of different technical capabilities you probably don’t know of before starting the process.
And because you’ll be responsible for the entirety of your publishing journey, you’ll learn a lot about all of the different platforms you’ll need to make it happen – which is made a lot easier with a program that shows you exactly what you need to do, when to do it, and how to get it done.
#2 – A lot more income
You probably think of self-published authors as the “starving artist” type, forever playing catch-up with bills and life in general.
In reality, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
In fact, check out this book profit calculator to determine just how much money you can make depending on how you price your book, the royalty rate, and how many book sales you acquire.
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If you do work hard and pursue self-publishing by learning from those who have done it before, you can actually expect some cushy additional income.
Why is that, you ask?
Because you don’t have to fork over a chunk of your earnings to a publisher. Because you are the publisher.
#3 – You’ll learn a lot about yourself
This is especially true if you’re writing non-fiction but it’s just as meaningful for fiction authors as well.
Writing a book takes a lot of your own experiences, values, and meaningful content to you. That means you get to do some digging into your psyche to uncover the very core of who you are. And if you’re writing a memoir, be prepared for a lot of this.
That’s a bit deep, but I really want you to understand just how much you can learn about yourself from self-publishing a book.
And it’s not even all about the writing itself, either.
Self-publishing takes a lot of drive, ambition, and a very determined individual.
It’s a challenge and whenever we enter into challenging times in our lives, we learn more about ourselves than ever before.
Self-publishing a book is the same.
Through your writing, editing, rewriting, marketing, and self-publishing journey, you can figure out more of who you are and what you want out of life.
And that alone is worth it.
#4 – You’ll make amazing connections
Networking isn’t really something many people think of when they consider self-publishing.
In fact, most people assume self-published authors are shut-ins who spend all their time shrouded in thick blankets with a steaming mug of spiked coffee between their hands.
And knowing talented, hardworking individuals will only help you reach your goals faster.
The point is, self-publishing helps you build those connections you might not otherwise get. After all, self-published authors stick together.
#5 – You build almost-instant credibility
The crazy thing about self-publishing is how much other’s view of you changes.
Before, you may have just been a blogger with a business that just wouldn’t take off. After you have a book available, others will see you as an authority figure in your field.
They will feel more comfortable paying for your products or services simply because you wrote a book.
It might seem a little silly because your knowledge base is the same, but when a potential customer can purchase your book, they instantly see you as someone with expert knowledge and this increases the likelihood that they’ll buy from you.
Even if you’re not a business owner, self-publishing a book will still give you a boost in the eyes of strangers and even people you know well.
#6 – Opportunities will come knocking
We like to refer to self-publishing a book as opening the door to Narnia. Once you go through with the process, you will throw yourself into an entirely new world where opportunities basically fall into your lap.
One of the (arguably) best opportunities granted was becoming part of the Self-Publishing School team behind the scenes by teaching and helping other students find the same success she did.
Bottom line: you might become addicted to writing books.
#9 – You’ll generate tons of new ideas
Writing a book forces you into a quicksand-like imaginative headspace. The more you write, the more you understand what else you can be writing and you end up in a pit of creativity that releases your mind and allows you to think outside the box.
You practically get sucked into creative thinking.
Meaning, you’ll come up with so many new ideas for other books, blog posts, or even business ventures.
Think of your creativity like a muscle and self-publishing as the gym. Each time you sit down to further your self-publishing progress, the more creative you will become.
#10 – You’ll become a routine-writer
Before you learn the real process of self-publishing a book, you probably only ever wrote when you were inspired.
And that’s not always useful.
You’ve always had this book idea and would spend bursts of time typing out so much content…
only to lose that inspiration the next day…and the next…and the next, until you basically forget all about it.
When you actually self-publish a book, you learn that becoming an author isn’t just about writing when you want to but writing anyway.
The best part about this?
You write faster, become better, and can publish much sooner than if you waited around for inspiration to find you.
There are a few main types of story structure but overall, the structure of your story is how the events are laid out with an emphasis on using each part to further the story in an intriguing and cohesive structure.
Structure, suffice it to say, is important. The structure makes all the difference in creating a narrative that is poignant and satisfying.
More importantly, structure helps you, as the writer, keep track of all the events so that characters and story elements don’t fall through the cracks.
Keeping track of story elements makes writing a lot easier. Like following a recipe, it keeps you from leaving out important bits or putting in too much of others. Even simple stories contain numerous smaller nuances that, when forgotten, lead to disaster.
Watch any B movie from the 80s and you can see places where the editor, the script, and the director all lost the plot…don’t allow that when writing a novel yourself.
Furthermore, readers expect certain structures within story. They have an emotional attachment to certain pacing. They start to feel anxious if an element they are expecting hasn’t yet occurred, or never occurs.
Depending on the book genre, manipulating these expectations is a part of the style.
If you want to keep track of all of this, we’ve put together all three of these methods into story structure templates for you.
To gain access to all three, fill out the form below:
Get Your Story Structure Templates
Why focus on the structure of a story?
Much like the streets of Rome, you want your story to get somewhere.
You might enjoy meandering through London’s sprawling game trails turned roadways, but you want to get somewhere eventually.
That is why a story structure serves as a map to guide you, the characters, and the reader to an eventual, and hopefully rewarding, destination.
Some of the most famous stories out there have a very specific, replicable story structure that has served them well.
Now that we’ve stressed the need for a story structure its time to learn about your options. Story structures don’t have to be confining, rigid, things.
They work best when used as signposts and tentpoles, holding up the scaffolding and guiding you on your way.
Note that a story structure is somewhat different than a story shape. The shape is more about the feel and thrust of a story over its arrangement.
Story Structure #1 – The 3 Act Play
The most basic of story structures, very popular in Hollywood style films, is the 3 Act Play.
Many world-famous novels use this structure, including:
Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
This structure relies on a total of five elements which includes the acts themselves, composed of various scenes, and two key transitions, referred to as “pinches” here.
Here is the three-act structure broken down:
Act 1: Setup – We’re introduced to the main players as well as the main conflict. We understand the voice, tone, and direction of the story.
Pinch 1 – This is when the initial conflict arises (sometimes known as the inciting incident).
Act 2: Confrontation – We’re in the thick of the main conflict here, along with some secondary conflicts. We’re faced with difficult (seemingly impossible) odds to overcome.
Pinch 2 – The conflicts addressed in Act 2 come to a head, and decisions need to be made. This is often the moment where all hope is lost for your protagonist.
Act 3: Resolution – Everything boils down to this act. All of the conflict, subplots, and challenges arise and the climax kicks off, shortly followed by the resolution of the story.
In the past, plays were structured with five acts, with two of the acts serving as long-form versions of the modern transitional elements of Pinch 1 and 2.
These have faded, partially because audiences have adapted to storytelling tropes and don’t need them spelled out. Also, stage tech, at least in plays, has advanced, requiring less busy work on the fringes to enact scenery changes for the more crucial acts.
Act 1 – The Setup
The first act introduces the characters with some mild character development and sets up the conflict. Take Romeo and Juliet (a fine example because we can discuss both the play’s 5 act structure and the films 3 act version).
The major players are all introduced in the first act and then attend a party. This gives us further information about each character in how they rep and participate in the party. We also see their conflicting social dynamics.
We set up an additional set of character dynamics between Romeo vs Paris as parties interested in Juliet and Mercutio and Tybalt as loyal but antagonistic figures.
Pinch 1 occurs at the end of the first act, introducing the conflict of the young couples’ love for each other.
Act 2 – The Confrontation
In the play this is developed through the second act as the stakes for the lovers is spelled out. They marry in secret and that forms the end of the major plot point, the star-crossed lovers are not just passingly at odds with their society.
Within the 3 act structure, this is a single plot point. We get that they love each other, and that love means marriage.
Then, the middle act is the apprehension of their actions bringing about unintended, but not unforeseeable consequences.
The second act is often the longest as it is the place where elements move and forces muster. Everyone has to get into further trouble, further develop their roles, and gain power toward a resolution.
Act 2 ends shortly after a complication that brings the elements to a head. No longer able to maintain the secret, Romeo is confronted with a duel and his actions result in the death of his friend which then results in his banishment once he kills Tybalt.
Act 3 – The Resolution
Act 3 then begins with the fallout of these actions.
With Romeo headed to banishment, Juliet seeks a drastic plan to keep him around. She fakes her death to bring out the true feelings of the interested parties.
Since it is a tragedy, Romeo to get the clever reveal of the ruse and kills himself rather than being alone, though your story structure doesn’t have to follow this specific tragic ending.
Juliet then has to kill herself in turn and we end up with a high body count to bring the story to a close.
Story Structure #2 – Hero’s Journey
While the 3 Act structure works well for simple, straightforward stories, it doesn’t have the necessary oomph to underpin more nuanced tales.
When the good guys and bad guys are less black and white, you need to reach for the ancient wheel that is the Hero’s Journey.
The journey typically consists of 12 steps. It is the backbone of traditional storytelling, except it works and is a joy to take part in.
Older versions of the structure had more steps, the Tarot stemmed from an early understanding of this story structure starting with the fool (our hero) and ending with the world (resolution or complete understanding).
Here are the 12 steps of the hero’s journey:
The Ordinary World
Call to Adventure
Refusing the Call
Meeting a Mentor
Crossing the Threshold
Tests, Allies, and Enemies
Approach the Innermost Circle
Seizing the Talisman
The Road Ahead
Return with the Elixir
These steps explain, in detail, the trajectory of the story while leaving room to put in differing characters and pursuits of different ideals. While many contemporary stories still follow this structure, it is easiest to see it in the light of an epic.
We’ll use Lord of the Rings as an example of this story structure. While the entire story follows the structure multiple times, we’ll stick to Frodo’s arc.
Step 1 – The Ordinary World
The Lord of the Rings story begins, rather appropriately, in the most banal land in Middle Earth. The Shire is a pure ordinary world where nothing too much happens, and everyone lives without any idea that better or worse things exist outside its borders. (Well, they have some idea, but go the cognitive dissonance route to ignore it.)
Step 2 – The Call to Adventure
The Call to Adventure comes when Gandalf shows up in search of the One Ring.
He tells Frodo a quest needs to be taken up but doesn’t give the full details. This bleeds into Refusing the Call as Frodo accepts part of the responsibility, without understanding the rest.
Step 3 – Refusing the Call
Refusing the Call is about seeing what has to be done and deciding there has to be someone else.
A good hero, like a proper Platonic philosopher-king, needs to reject the call first to be more worthy of it. Frodo will finish Refusing the Call later in Rivendell as he tries to bargain that others are more capable.
Step 4 – Meeting a Mentor
Though Gandalf served as a Mentor in The Hobbit, Aragorn (as Strider) is the Mentor here.
Meeting him gets the four hobbits along the correct path and out of the shying away into the real journey. The Mentor often brings insight, training, or purpose to a hero.
Step 5 – Crossing the Threshold
Crossing the Threshold reflects the hero facing a challenge and realizing they can make a difference.
For Frodo, this occurs twice, the first time as he faces the barrow wraiths and rescues his friends, the second is surviving the orc attack in Moria. Both thresholds show the power of gifts he received from Biblo but also hint at how friendship will play a role in his other tests.
Step 6 – Tests, Allies, and Enemies
Tests, Allies, and Enemies is a larger middle section of the Hero’s Journey which winds through other elements.
The gathering of the fellowship is a gaining of allies, their journey is a test, the fellowship mirrors the numbers of the enemy Ring Wraiths.
This step might not necessarily be a solid, definable moment, but rather something that has been happening throughout the story until this point.
Step 7 – Approach the Innermost Circle
Approach the Innermost Circle is a great danger, if not the greatest danger, a hero faces.
Within Frodo’s journey, this is when he attempts to leave the rest of the group behind, going alone on the river because he fears what will happen if he keeps with the group.
This moment in your story should be high tension, with consequences that impact the overall plot.
Step 8 – The Ordeal
The Ordeal is what takes place inside the Innermost Circle.
In the wastes of Mordor, Frodo must hold out against the weight of the One Ring. It is a prolonged Ordeal but well within the idea of the step.
This is another step that can fall within a previous step.
Step 9 – Seizing the Talisman
Seizing the Talisman is about gaining an object of power that will turn the tide for the hero.
Tolkien has many of these for other characters, usually in the form of legendary or magical weapons they acquire. For Frodo, the specifics of the talisman are in his pity on Gollum.
Step 10 – The Road Ahead
The Road Ahead takes the hero from the talisman to a final conflict.
In this case, Frodo is betrayed by Gollum and nearly killed by Shelob, saved only by the friendship with Samwise.
The consequences of Seizing the Talisman are usually a downward turn, comparable with Pinch 2 from the 3 Act structure.
Step 11 – Resurrection
Resurrection often involves a person, or entity returning after being thought dead.
Gandalf becomes the white, Luke comes back with a mechanical hand, Frodo fails to discard the ring and has to be attacked by Gollum.
Frodo’s resurrection is being saved at the last moment by his previous good decisions, often a resurrection succeeds because of past decisions by a hero and rarely the actions they take in that moment.
Step 12 – Return with the Elixir
Finally, the hero must Return with the Elixir, taking everything they have learned and accomplished back to the Ordinary World they once inhabited.
Frodo and Sam arrive to take on Saruman, showing their knowledge and skill acquired through the Journey to return the land to peace.
This is often the last chapter, showing your character/s returning to their life or beginning to create their new life.
Story Structure #3 – The 5 Milestones
If the previous two structures seemed restrictive or overly elaborate (the Hero’s Journey is 12 freaken steps, after all) then the 5 Milestones structure is for you.
This structure keeps it simple by focusing on five plot points, usually one or two scenes each, that create the scaffold of the story. These Milestones have to go in order, but the space between them can be adjusted quite a lot.
Here are the 5 Milestones for this story structure:
We’ll use the Hunger Games to rundown this structure.
Milestone 1 – The Setup
The first Milestone works just like the 3 Act and the Ordinary World. It shouldn’t be surprising as beginnings all need to do the same thing.
Collins sets her premise up by explaining the reason there are districts, why the Games exist, and introducing Katniss as the protagonist.
We know, rather quickly, that the world is dystopian and unfair, and we know the main character has the skills to make an impact.
Milestone 2 – The Inciting Incident
This leads to the Inciting Incident, the kickoff to the main plot and conflict in your novel.
In this case, Katniss’ own sister is chosen to take part in the Games. A task she is not ready for and will likely not survive. Not only that, it will spell disaster for the rest of the District if or when she fails.
That specific moment is the inciting incident because it leads to Katniss’s next decision, which kicks off the entire point of the book: Katniss volunteers to be the tribute.
This sets the rest of the plot in motion while also anchoring the reader to the motives of the hero.
Milestone 3 – The 1st Slap
The 1st Slap, much like Pinch 1, sets the stakes and introduces the larger plot.
The Inciting Incident is often character motivating and motivated. The 1st Slap is usually external, a factor within the world that must be overcome.
The opening of the Games sets the stakes and shows the danger Katniss will face. This parallels Crossing the Threshold in the Hero’s Journey story structure, where first blood is drawn and the hero, as well as the reader, see the reality of the dangers.
Rather than simply being told “there be dragons”, they see one firsthand.
The 1st Slap also makes good on the promise of adventure by putting the hero into the middle of a peril that they must escape. There is no turning back, only moving forward.
Milestone 4 – The 2nd Slap
This takes us into the 2nd Slap. Here, we see things get worse like a Pinch 2, but we see the hope on the horizon.
We know the Talisman, as seen in the Hero’s Journey story structure, is out there to be seized.
In The Hunger Games, this is seen by Katniss working out a plan to fake a relationship with Peta to get support from the outside; a means of survival.
She needs to keep him alive for his sake, and for hers. He is dying from an infection and she is told there will be an item she needs at the feast.
The feast is a huge risk, but it offers hope. She must take the chance. Things go badly, of course, and the hope teeters her on ruin.
Milestone 5 – The Climax
All of this creates the landscape for the final Milestone: The Climax.
With the Games coming down to just Peta or Katniss, we go back to the events of the Inciting Incident and loop that motivation into how the hero wins.
Frodo helped Gollum, who saves him in return (not out of good intent, but it gets us there). Katniss has a need to protect others, all her actions follow that desire.
She sees a way to save Peta by threatening herself. This kind of character-driven resolution makes for a rewarding story and makes it easy to weave the details of your final victory throughout.
Your readers stay looped into the triumph because they root for the character because they like them, not because the plot says that they win.
The secret to making a story kickass is to make it come from within. A good reader can smell a set up a mile away. A good reader also loves to see a Milestone achieved.
There you have it, three ways to get a story from ‘In the Beginning’ to ‘The End’ that will keep you focused and organized. The reader will know what you’re doing, following along through the peaks and valleys, the twists and turns, confident that your roadmap will lead somewhere promising.
Side note: you’ll need a big box of tissues for most of these, so be sure to grab one before you dive in!
Best Romance Books Per Category
The answer is for pulling novels from specific categories is simple: there are far too many amazing books out there to choose from and if you’re mapping out a list of the best, you’re going to miss a few important ones.
Categorizing them makes sense because you’ll be able to decide for yourself which type of book you’d enjoy more.
Consequently, you’ll find the best one in each category here. Once you finish it, you’ll be able to say if you enjoy that theme or not. And if not, you’re ready to jump into one of the other picks.
11 Best Romance Novels
If you’re looking for a quick read for a weekend or want to learn in order to write your own book, this list can give you some inspiration.
#1 – Slammed by Colleen Hoover
Category: Poetry, specifically slam poetry
Romance Novel Summary: Layken, an 18-year-older student meets her new neighbour, Will. Will is 21. They have an instant connection based on their similar likes, which gives Layken hope for happier days.
Once their connection is deep within you and you love them, there’s a revelation that shocks them and us, and they can’t be together. The problem is, they really want to.
Why You’ll Love It: If you’re not reading it because you love slam poetry, don’t worry. You’ll love slam poetry once you’re finshed! You may even want to try your hand at writing poetry afterward.
I had heard a few poems before but with this book, I became totally obsessed with slam poetry. It takes the novel to a higher level and forces us readers to connect with it a lot more. It becomes personal.
It’s also easy to identify ourselves with this story because it discusses topics that we’ve all had to face, including death and grief. Colleen is a brilliant writer and she just knows how to pull your strings.
Quote: “Question everything. Your love, your religion, your passion. If you don’t have questions, you’ll never find answers.”
#2 – Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Category: Young Adult Romance
Romance Novel Summary: You’ll meet Cath Avery, who has a total opposite twin sister, Wren. When they both start college, Wren tells Cath she doesn’t want to be her roommate and they should live their college experience separately.
Then, one day, between her awkwardness and fan-fiction stories, she meets Levi. And then everything changes. Slowly. But it changes.
Why You’ll Love It:This is not only a young adult romance, not only about love. It’s also about making decisions at a young age and growth. The story is beautifully structured, and you won’t be able to put it down before you finish it.
Besides having a really solid love story, you’ll also have a good laugh when diving into Rowell’s world.
Quote: “In new situations, all the trickiest rules are the ones nobody bothers to explain to you. (And the ones you can’t Google.)”
#3 – The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks
Category: Greatest Love Story
Romance Novel Summary:This is the story of Noah Calhoun and Allie Nelson. It is set in North Carolina after the Second World War. Noah thinks of Allie, a girl he had met 14 years prior. And one day, she shows up in his town.
Nicholas Sparks is the master of twists and turns in love stories and this one does not disappoint. This is a book of surprises that will test Noah and Allie’s love until the end.
Why You’ll Love It:I mean, do I really need an explanation here? Everyone knows Nicholas Sparks and that his books are amazing and will leave you in tears!
If you’ve watched the movie, read the book. If you haven’t watched the movie, read the book! It’ll break your heart in the most beautiful possible way.
Quote: “Every great love starts with a great story…”
#4 – The Hating Game by Sally Thorne
Category: Modern Romance
Romance Novel Summary:Lucy Hutton is a nice, sweet girl; Joshua Templeman is her opposite: cold and grumpy. They meet when the publishing houses they work at merge. It’s hate at first sight.
But everything changes with a kiss…
Why You’ll Love It:Two opposites attract… isn’t it just brilliant when you have a love/hate relationship in one of your books?
Because this is a modern romance, the storyline is also modern, which is the reason why many, many people love this novel. It’s easy to relate with it and Lucy is like the next-door neighbor, you just adore her.
And with this title, how you could NOT want to read it?
Quote: “It’s a corporate truth universally acknowledged that workers would rather eat rat skeletons than participate in group activities.”
#5 – The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo
Category: Loss and Grief
Romance Novel Summary:Lucy is a senior in college at Columbia University when she meets Gabe, also a college senior. They meet on an ill-fated day that will shape their lives and the lives of those around them forever.
They meet throughout the years but there’s always something in between them, there’s always something preventing them from being together.
And in the end, Lucy has a very important decision to make. What will she decide to do?
Why You’ll Love It:If you’ve read and love PS: I Love You by Cecelia Ahern, this book should be next on your list.
I think it’s beautiful the way Santopolo deals with loss and grief, which are two themes so close and tangled with the subject of love.
Even though they can be difficult to approach, the message is important and not every romance needs a stereotypical happily ever after.
Quote: “Maybe it’s the act of opening yourself up, letting someone else in—or maybe it’s the act of caring so deeply about another person that it expands your heart.”
#6 – Dance Until Dawn by Berni Stevens
Category: Fantasy Romance
Romance Novel Summary:This is the first book in a series called “Immortals of London”. Ellie Wakefield has been saved from death by William Austen, a 300-year-old vampire.
Ellie has to learn about this new world and together they face unexpected challenges.
Why You’ll Love It:
Who doesn’t love a good-ol’ vampire story? Add to that a little old banter, and there you have it, the perfect novel!
Fantasy and romance are just like peanut butter and jelly; there’s no reason why they should go together, but they do, formidably.
This book is full of mystery and Stevens has written it in a way that you just crave for more. It’s fresh, well-detailed but very easy to read.
Quote: “I understand that this is rather a lot to take in,’ he said. ‘But I would appreciate it if you would stop referring to me as either psychotic or perverted.’ ‘Well I’d appreciate not being kidnapped and shut in this filthy hole.’ ‘Touché’.”
#7 – Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Category: Feminism and Classic Literature
Romance Novel Summary:The story revolves around the Bennets, a noble family that doesn’t have a lot of money because of Mr. Bennet, the father.
It all starts when two single noblemen arrive to town and, as it is custom, meet the single women, because ain’t it universally acknowledged “that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife”?
When Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy meet, it’s not all rainbows and flowers, but would it be a real love story if it was otherwise?
Why You’ll Love It:Classics are important for a reason, and that reason is mostly because they’ll teach you something about the past, which most often than not, still has some truth in the present day.
You’ll love Pride and Prejudice because Jane Austen wrote it for everyone to dream about it. It’s an important story that needs to be read.
Elizabeth Bennet was born way ahead of her time and she’s here to teach you a lesson in sarcasm and feminism – you just cannot not read it!
Quote:“He is a gentleman, and I am a gentleman’s daughter. So far we are equal.”
#8 – Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
Category: Illness and Loss
Romance Novel Summary:Louisa Clark loses her job and desperately needs to find another one. When the opportunity of taking care of Will Traynor, a young man that is wheelchair bound, knocks on her door, she doesn’t jump of happiness.
It’s a slow start and their relationship doesn’t seem to evolve, but as any other love story, there are twists and surprises along the way for both Louisa and Will.
Why You’ll Love It:This is a story of poor meets rich, good meets bad, but not at all as you’d expect it to be.
It’s not even about these pairs at all. But you’ll connect, at first, with the main character, Louisa, because of this. She’s simple and relatable.
You’ll read it in an afternoon and you’ll still be crying months later.
Quote: “I will never, ever regret the things I’ve done. Because most days, all you have are places in your memory that you can go to.”
#9 – Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Category: History, specifically the Civil War
Romance Novel Summary:Scarlett O’Hara has a hard task at hand: she’s fighting for her family’s plantation and for the love of her life – if that wasn’t enough, this is amid the Civil War.
In the end, will she get it all or lose everything?
Why You’ll Love It:It’s History holding hands with a love story, what more could you need?
It has the charm of the south in a very troubling period of history; it’s family and love struggles. It’s one of the most popular books ever written, and you just need to find out why!
Quote: “It was better to know the worst than to wonder.”
#10 – It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover
Category: Abusive Relationships
Romance Novel Summary:Lily is a determined, successful woman. She had a difficult life growing up, but she never stopped fighting for what she truly loved. She meets Ryle who has a no-dating rule, but they quickly become close.
She thinks he had a difficult past too, but she can’t figure out what happened exactly. When things start changing, she’s put in a place she never wanted to be back again.
“Sometimes it is the one who loves you who hurts you the most.”
Why You’ll Love It:If you’re looking for strong-minded, determined women, this book is for you. Lily is written in a way that you’ll be rooting for her from page 1.
It’s a book that will touch some of you deeply and will haunt you for many years after the last page was turned. A beautiful love story that has more to it.
Quote:“Just because someone hurts you doesn’t mean you can simply stop loving them. It’s not a person’s actions that hurt the most. It’s the love. If there was no love attached to the action, the pain would be a little easier to bear.”
#11 – Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
Romance Novel Summary:Simon is 16 and very much homosexual, however, no one knows. When his secret is about to be revealed, a series of events lead him to being blackmailed.
He’ll try to navigate high school without anyone finding out his secret while not messing up his friendships nor his own life.
Why You’ll Love It:This is a fun yet serious book. The characters are well-created, and the dialogues are hilarious.
The topic is an extremely important one nowadays and the lack of novels about the LGBTQ+ community make this one a success.
The hardships of being teenager and on top of that, one with a secret, are well played in this novel and you’ll easily fall in love with Simon (and Blue).
Quote:“Why is straight the default? Everyone should have to declare one way or another, and it shouldn’t be this big awkward thing whether you’re straight, gay, bi, or whatever. I’m just saying.”
Romance novels are unique in many ways…
If you’re looking for a happily ever after, maybe you won’t find it in all these books.
However, aren’t stories closer to our reality a whole lot better? They allow us to think of our successes and failures and give us hope for a better future.
If you’re looking for page-turners, refer to this list. I promise you these are novels you won’t be able to put down once you’ve read the first page!
A prologue is like a short story—a small glimpse, set in your story’s world, written in the same style as the rest of your book but with clear separation from the start of your story.
Maybe it’s an entire literary device, like a flashforward of your protagonist that gives the reader a taste of the world, some crucial information for the plot, and will make sense later.
Maybe it’s an event from thousands of years ago that sets the wheels in motion for your story’s inciting incident. Maybe it’s a background prologue your reader needs to settle into a fantasy or sci-fi universe (but not an info dump).
Maybe it’s a snippet of your story from a different perspective—for example, this could be used if your story needs information from when your perspective character was a child who couldn’t understand what was happening, or if they simply weren’t present for the event.
If you’re struggling to connect the reader to your story with enough necessary information to understand what’s happening, maybe you need a prologue.
A prologue should read exactly as if you were writing a short story without a true ending—your prologue should leave the reader questioning and curious.
Note: Any questions you create in the prologue must be resolved by the end of your story.
How to Make a Prologue Stand Out
The prologue should stand out from the rest of the book in a significant way.
If it fits seamlessly into your story and the reader can’t tell it’s a prologue without a label, that isn’t a prologue.
While it should be written in the same style as the rest of the book, here are examples of how it can stand out:
Time difference. Your prologue could be set in the past to reveal an important event. It could jump into the future and the rest of the story becomes a sort of flashback up to that point. Oftentimes, you won’t even see the future-set prologue in the book, because the story will end before it reaches that point, but the book should show a logical progression to your future-set prologue.
Different perspective. Maybe your story is in first-person and your prologue is an event from a third-person omniscient perspective. Maybe we get a view of the main character from the perspective of a friend or parent. Maybe we see a character’s perspective who never actually shows up in the story.
Your reader should see a distinct difference between the prologue and the rest of your novel, else why is it a prologue instead of the first chapter?
You also don’t hop back into this perspective at any other point in the book—if you can, then why did you need the prologue in the first place?
If you go back to that perspective, you likely could include the information in the story itself instead of separating it into a prologue.
How to Know if it’s a Prologue
There are many ways to start a book besides jumping into the story. Let’s look at a few options to establish the differences between them.
Preface or foreword
A preface is basically the author explaining something to the reader about how the book came to be, who was involved in creating it, and other information about the book’s creation. A preface is not a part of the story, and it can be skipped without damaging the reader’s understanding.
A foreword is similar, but written by someone who is not the author—a foreword is typically a reflection of how the book relates to society and readers.
It gives the reader supplemental information, and it usually isn’t crucial for the reader’s understanding of the rest of the book.
A prologue is typically used only in fiction. It gives the reader information about the story, in the same form of the story.
So the prose of a prologue will have the same writing style and vibe of the rest of the book, even if it’s in a different timeline or perspective. If a reader skips reading the prologue, it will affect their understanding of the book.
How to determine if your book needs a prologue
Not every book needs a prologue and if yours truly doesn’t, the actual prologue can then take away from the book, giving away too much or being irrelevant in general.
So let’s figure out if your book actually needs a prologue or not.
Why should you write a prologue?
If something happened far out of the context of your story that is CRUCIAL to understanding it. If you have the information you must convey to the reader that can’t be worked into the main novel, you may need a prologue.
If the story doesn’t make sense without the prologue. If you can remove the prologue (or a reader can skip it), and their understanding is not damaged, a prologue is not necessary.
If you can’t weave the prologue’s information into the story without muddling your plot. If working the prologue content into your story is unnatural or confusing, you may need a prologue.
Why shouldn’t you write a prologue?
If your story makes sense without it.
If the content could be included in the main story.
If it’s a copout to writing an interesting opener.
If you’re just writing it because you think you’re supposed to have one.
If it’s just an exposition dump.
If it’s just for world-building.
If it’s just to set mood or atmosphere.
If it’s to supplement a boring first chapter opening.
Note: prologues can certainly be used for mood, atmosphere, world-building, and clever exposition, but these shouldn’t be the sole purpose.
So clearly, there are more reasons not to write a prologue than there are reasons to write one. Be very critical of your prologue to be sure you should include it.
But if you decide your story does need a prologue, here are five tips to write a great one.
How to Write a Good Prologue for Your Book
Not every prologue is created equal.
Just as a great prologue can make a book, a bad one can ruin it completely. Here are some tips to keep it fresh, exciting, and influential to your book’s story.
#1 – Keep it brief
Your prologue shouldn’t be longer than your average chapter length.
It should be one event (maybe two), it shouldn’t bother with developing characters, and it should only include the crucial information.
#2 – Keep it interesting
If your prologue is boring, readers will skip it. We all know that the first pages of your first chapter are extremely important.
This is where the reader will either be hooked to finish the book, or where they lose interest.
If you include a prologue, it should be just as gripping as your first chapter.
However, this doesn’t mean you can slack in the first chapter. The two should work together to be as intriguing as possible to yank the reader in and not let them go.
An author who exemplifies this greatly is Jenna Moreci in her novel The Savior’s Champion. The prologue is vital to the story, is written in another perspective, and is just as (I would argue it’s even more) gripping as the first chapter.
#3 – Focus on crisp, original prose
Even if your prologue is historical or in a book genre that’s less “exciting”, or if it’s a document of some sort, keep your prose on par with the rest of your book.
Put special effort into the quality of writing—this is your reader’s first taste of what’s to come!
#4 – End with a burning question
After your prologue, your reader should be so intrigued that they immediately jump into the first chapter.
You want them to say “What the **** is going on?!” so loud it freaks their cat out.
Naming Characters Intentionally: Why Character Names Matter
Character names have the power to transform your reader’s perception of your character entirely.
Let’s use the example of names from How to Train Your Dragon, the animated film.
Character name example: Hiccup
Why this character name matters: This name is extremely fitting to the type of character Hiccup is. The reason for a silly, “weak” name like this is because that is what the creators want you to think of when you hear the name. They want you to have low expectations so that when this character rises above, the emotional impact is far greater than if he had a typical “hero” name.
You can use this same ideology for villains. One in particular with a famous name is from Harry Potter.
Character name example: Lord Voldemort
Why this character name matters: From the beginning, Rowling crafted this name to be foreboding. In fact, this character himself chose the name because of that. As the author, you can craft your villain’s name based on your intentions. If you want readers to underestimate them, choose a silly name like Bob. But if you want readers to fear the wrath of your villain, choose a more fitting name like Lord Voldemort.
Character Name Generators
If you’re looking for the easy way out and would rather someone else do the work in naming your characters, there are tools online for that.
Here are some of the top character name generators:
Character Name Generator – This one allows you to fill in several different defining factors in order to produce a character name that fits your character best.
Fantasy Name Generator – Are you writing a fantasy novel and need some character name ideas? This generator offers several different options for theme-based character names for your fantasy book.
Name Generator for Fun – With this one, you can choose from several categories, like villain names, rap names, superhero names, and more.
Name Generator – This character name generator also gives you options to narrow in on details about your character for a more fitting name. However, this one has more real-life names than uniquely created, so it may serve better if you’re writing in the contemporary book genre.
Welcome to the most common, tried-and-true method to name characters in books.
People use this method in real-life to name their children, too!
The root-meaning method simply refers to using a core meaning or belief or even origin of a name for symbolism in your book.
Here are some examples of this:
Tobias Kaya in The Savior’s Champion: His name means “goodness” and is very much meant to align with who his character is and his role in the series.
Frodo Baggins in Lord of the Rings:Little do most people know, the name Frodo originated from the old English word “fród,” which translates to “wise by experience.”
Katniss Everdeen in Hunger Games:This book’s author really took the name meaning seriously when crafting her main character. Katniss is a plant in the genus Sagittaria, which roughly translates from Latin as “archer.”
You can easily find the meanings of names by venturing to baby naming websites. You can also type in a name you like to Google and it will usually pop up.
#3 – The Mash-Up
One of my personal favorite ways of creating new names is to simply mash real-life names together until I find something that’s real-sounding but also unique to my world and characters.
This method of coming up with character names is better learned through seeing than a simple explanation:
Josh and Riley = Joley, Jile, Rosh, Rishe
Casey and Michael = Cachel, Cachael, Casel, Misey, Miche, Michey, Masey
Emily and Rochelle = Emelle, Echelle, Romil, Romily, Rochil, Rocily
Obviously, some combinations will be better than others, but this is a quick way to generate new but realistic character names.
Here’s the step-by-step breakdown for how to create simple character names with this method:
Choose or find 2 real-life names
Match them side by side
Take the first half of the first name and mix and mach it with the last half of the second name
Repeat step 3 but vice versa
You should have a list of several different sounding names
Choose a few to keep that you like
Repeat this process with several pairs until you have a roster of character names to choose from
#4 – The Add-On
This method is super similar to the previous method but with more freedom.
This is another personal favorite and how I manage to come up with cool and interesting names that are also unique to my story.
Instead of taking two names and matching the beginning of one with the end of the other, simply choose real names and swap out the endings or add on to them completely.
The steps for this one are pretty obvious. Choose a random real-life name and simply swap out the endings for a combination you create on your own.
I always try to do varying combinations, remembering that double consonants work well, as does changing the length of the vowel sounds by adding or changing those letters.
I do this often and keep a spreadsheet with names I like, as in the image below.
#5 – Develop-First Naming
Sometimes choosing a character’s name too early will make you subconsciously develop that character into someone who fits that name.
This can be bad if you need that specific character to act and behave in a certain way.
With this character naming method, you will develop your character in full first and then choose their name. The reason for this is to ensure you’ll write that character with intention.
For example: in the Harry Potter series, the mood tends to be more serious. Rowling created Ron Weasley as comedic relief. While Ron is much more than that, the intention is still for him to be a goofy, funny character.
The name “Ron Weasley” supports this development.
Had she named him a more serious name like Reginald, Theodore, or Christopher, crafting those scenes may have been very different.
The same can be said for another character called Draco Malfoy. This name is far more dark than it is funny, which is fitting for his character.
The steps for this character naming method are simple:
Understand your character’s role in the story. Do you want them to be serious, funny, silly, foreboding?
List names that make you feel the way of your intentions.
Ask friend and family to tell you what each name makes them think of personality-wise.
Narrow down your choices to 3 and ask another group.
Decide on the best-fitting name.
#6 – Make Them Up
If you want to have 100% unique character names (like Lhonniadreah, a character in the book I’m writing, Lhonni for short), you’ve got to get creative.
But you’re a writer, so you know how to get creative.
This particular method doesn’t have many rules.
Essentially, you can simply think up a random name. Perhaps you have a base or a beginning that you like.
For example, my full original name for the character mentioned above was Lhonni. But I felt her character needed a longer name to fit with the traditional style of the names in her culture.
Secondly, I decided to pull from the common letter match-ups this culture sees often. In this case, the combinations of the “dr” sound with long vowels is popular.
I went on to create several combinations of potential full names:
Ultimately, the name I chose best fit her as a character, and I decided afterward that her mother’s name would be “Dreah,” so that her name is a namesake that’s in common format for the culture I created.
Here’s how you can replicate this process:
Write down a sound or start or end of a name you like (this can be a “-ly” ending, an “ash-” beginning, or even an “-eer-” middle of a name.
Decide if you want the name to hold any significant meaning the way mine does. This does not have to be the same meaning. You can even find base words in English or Latin to use.
Take into account any world-specific cultural influences on the name. Your world building expands to even your character’s name. Don’t forget this! (If your book takes place in this world, think about family spellings and such as a substitute)
Create a list with several different versions and variations. Remember your character’s name can take on very different meanings and intentions based on the sound (and look!) of it.
Choose the name that feels right and embodies your intentions for the character. And let it stew for a few days! Now, even if your character is brave and strong, like in the Hiccup example, using a less-than-obvious name can provide a unique perception that fosters a better reaction later.
#7 – Name-by-era
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is unintentionally destroying your reader’s suspension of disbelief by naming a character something wildly out of the ordinary for a time period.
If you’re writing historical fiction or just a story from 10-15 years ago, you want to make sure your names are realistic for the time period.
This trick is also helpful if you want to give your out-of-the-real-world novel a specific time era vibe.
The most famous author who uses this method is George R.R. Martin in his infamous series Game of Thrones.
What Martin did in order to give this epic fantasy series realistic but medieval sounding names is simply alter just a few letters in a name.
Here are some examples of names from Game of Thrones with more common real names:
Gregor — Gregory
Joffrey — Jeffery
Brienne — Brianne
Theon — Theo / Theodore
Petyr — Peter
Jorah — Jonah
Gilly — Lilly
Podrick — Rodrick
Martin has a way of completely transforming these very similar-to-real-life names into something with both a. fantastical and medieval twist in order to further transport us to his world.
Of course Game of Thrones also features completely unique names like Daenerys and Tyrion along with real-life names like Robert and Jon. Martin uses this combination to his advantage—and you can too!
Top Tips for Naming Characters in Your Book
No matter which method you choose for naming your characters, you’ll need a few tips to make it more effective.
Here are the best tips for naming book characters with intention.
#1 – Remember, length matters
This is particularly true if you have several characters who will interact with one another regularly.
If you have all very long names, your reader will be exhausted.
You don’t want that…
What you do want is a reader who doesn’t have to focus on the pronunciation or longevity of several character names.
Using a combination of long, short, and medium length names will allow your readers to read easier so they can focus more on visualizing what’s happening.
Here’s an example of this with names from my work in progress:
This combination allows several of these characters to be in the same scene without exhausting or confusing the reader.
#2 – Keep nicknames in mind
You can use your character’s name as a plot device if you really wanted to.
Maybe the reveal of your main character’s full name is important to the story and your character has only been called by a nickname their whole life.
Nicknames can also serve as a way to show and not tell within your writing as well. Those close to your character are more likely to use a nickname and therefore, you don’t have to dumb as much exposition in order for them to learn.
Just make sure the nickname is also fitting and not too similar to other characters’ names.
#3 – Make sure the name fits the character
We’ve already mentioned this tip a number of times but it’s worth mentioning again.
If your character’s name is very, very ill-fitting, it will stand out in a bad way to readers.
This is why getting feedback and understanding your character fully is so vital for the naming process.
#4 – Make sure the name fits the setting
Where your story takes place can change the names you use for your characters.
What’s the location?
Does your story take place in a cold, harsh climate or in a dry, warmer environment?
The location matters because the names used can help enhance or take away from the mood you’re trying to create within that environment.
For example, harsher climates tend to pair well with curt, quipped names to mirror this. But if you want your character in this specific place to stand out, you can give them a name that’s ill-fitting in order to focus on this contrast.
A great example of this is Ygritte from Game of Thrones. Yet again, George R.R. Martin has named someone who lives in a tough, gritty environment with a suitable name that gives off this vibe.
What are the cultural influences?
As mentioned in a few of these tips, culture plays a large role in your characters’ names.
Does your culture, whether you make it up or it’s real, influence your character’s name in any way?
For example, in a certain culture in my work in progress, names can often be namesakes. However, instead of simply naming a baby the full name of whomever they’d like to honor, they add the name to the start of another.
Lhonnidra is a common name in a certain place of my book. However, her mother Dreah died. Her father then named her after her mother, but in this world, that would translate to Lhonniadreah instead of just “Dreah.”
Ask yourself if there are any cultural influences and if there isn’t (and you’re completely making up this world), feel free to add some!
What is the intended time period?
Even if your book takes places in a completely different world, you can still allow readers to get a sense of the intended time period you’re going for with the names you use.
For this method, use old victorian names or names from medieval times as a base when also using another method for coming up with a unique name.
Victorian name example: Emaline
Created for a unique world while maintaining the same vibe:Emarise
You can tweak the names until you find something that feels right.
#5 – Consider how each name sounds
There are several literary elements that touch on the way similar or contrastingly different sounds can play into the attractiveness of writing.
Although most people don’t read novels out loud, unless they’re reading to their kids, we all still have a voice in our head that is “out loud.”
And that voice is drawn to names that sound appealing.
This can often be a subjective element when coming up with character names, but you can probably recognize names that sound good versus names that sound bad.
But you can also use this to your advantage for further character development as well.
“Ugly” sounding names are a great fit for characters you’d like your audience to interpret as just that. It’s all about what intention you have for that character.
An example of this is the name James Bond. I think we can all agree this is a great sounding, tough name that fits the character well.
#6 – Get feedback on the names
Other people are a better judge of the first impression of a character name simply because it’s fresh for them.
Enlist 7-10 people you can get feedback from when it comes to these names.
Send the name along with 2 sentences describing the character (physically and personality) and ask them if they sound like they fit.
Oftentimes, we might really like names that are hard to read or pronounce for new readers. In that case, you’ll want to problem solve for a solution.
#7 – Don’t be afraid to go crazy with it
This is your book! This is your world and if you have names that are a little out there, that’s okay!
The only reason you’d want to reel in the craziness is if the names are too complex for readers to easily comprehend and remember.
Nobody wants a character whose name people forget when talking about the book. After all, characters are one of the first things raving fans gush about with a new book they love.
That being said, don’t be afraid of creating your own names in your own world. Real-life parents make up names for their children every day. You can do the same for your characters.
#8 – Create cultural similarities in your world
This is mainly for authors writing in a unique world they make up on their own.
Different cultures and languages have very different names and common ways to spell and pronounce those names.
Here’s a quick example of several names from opposite sites of the world in my story:
If your characters are from very different areas, the names should reflect that, just like in life.
#9 – Avoid using already-popular book character names
Using the name “Harry” or “Katniss” isn’t the best idea. At least…not if you want your characters to be remembered as your characters.
With infamous names, it’ll be very hard to set your character (and therefore, your book) apart.
If you want to use a name and aren’t sure if it’s in another super popular book, just do a Google search for “Name in book” and if it doesn’t populate a very specific result, you’re in the clear.
#10 – Avoid similar names if your character is based on someone you know
All writers draw inspiration from the real world. They’re lying if they say otherwise.
BUT, if you do base a character on someone you know in real life (which we recommend you change enough that they wouldn’t know anyway), don’t use a name that’s similar for the character.
This can make people feel very uncomfortable, not to mention it’ll be that much more obvious to outsiders who know you.
#11 – Bring your characters to life
Don’t just name your characters and leave them to exist only in your imagination and future conversations of friends or family asking you if you’ve finished your book yet.
If you’re ever having a bad day at work, you may indulge in scrolling through some kind of social media app to get your mind off your problems.
As you scroll, something catches your eye, so you stop. It’s a video of cat with no front legs, learning how to jump, run, and play while still managing to be cute and adorable.
You can’t help yourself; you smile.
Not only is the kitty’s antics a little funny, but the story is also inspiring. Despite its disability, the cat forges on as if it had four legs instead of only two. Well, if that sweet little kitty can overcome its obstacle, you can get through your bad day at work.
This is the power of pet stories.
Along with making us laugh, pets and animals have a way of tugging at our heartstrings. Even though they’re animals, their tails—I mean, tales—humanize us every day.
Pets and animals—big or small, hairy, feathered, covered with scales, paws, wings, or hooves—have a way of impacting our lives, whether it’s with humor or heroism.
Either way, there’s a big market for pet stories and they give you a strong reason to write a book about them.
Besides, anybody who has ever had pets always has a few stories to tell.
So, do you think your pet/s have a unique story to share? I’ve got some tips to help you share it.
#1 – Journaling or freewriting about your pets
Set aside a few minutes each day—let’s say, 20 minutes or more—to write about your pets. Developing this writing habit is crucial to actually finish your project.
Try to focus on one memorable event and write it down. This doesn’t need to be perfect; you can always revise later.
If you are still feeling a bit stuck, try these ideas for writing about pets:
Write about the time you met your pet for the first time. Were they given to you as a present? Did you adopt them from the shelter? Or did you find each other through some sort of happenstance?
Write down something funny your pet did. Did they fail at training? Did they have an odd habit? Why was this memory significant to you? Was anyone else there with you and were they also amused or no?
Write about a time you lost your pet. How did this affect you? How was their loss significant? What brought you two back together again? If your pet passed away, how did you handle your grief after?
If you are still feeling stuck, try using these pet writing prompts to help you get some ideas to write down.
#2 – Research and notes
Just like any other form of writing, you will need to backup your brainstorming with sound book research.
This research will provide background information to your pet’s story to give it a fuller narrative and may help you to develop a theme (we’ll talk about themes next).
Here are some research topics for pets and animals:
Species/breeds: Research your pet’s species and breed. Does your pet fit these characteristics? Make notes of your pet’s behaviors and habits and see if they are common. How do they communicate (think sounds and body language)? Do other pet owners experience the same behaviors with their pets? This kind of research is especially important for exotic pets, like tarantulas, snakes, and turtles. It is unlikely that many readers of your story will have any kind of experience exotic species and/or breeds, so be sure to share more information with them
Service animals: If your pet was a service animal of some kind—therapy, police, military, leading the blind, search-and-rescue—research about those services provided and the organizations out there that provide them. These animals have benefited people tremendously and have very moving stories. If you have done any kind of professional and/or volunteer work with service animals, readers will find your insights and experiences invaluable.
Adopted/rescue pets: Perhaps you adopted your pet from an animal shelter. Research the specific shelter you adopted your pet from, as well as how shelters functions in general. How high is the need to adopt animals? If your pet’s species or breed is one that has a high rate of ending up in shelters, it’s imperative to conduct research on this issue and provide readers information on it and how to prevent it. For example, pit bull terriers and huskies are two dog breeds that are known to often be sent to shelter; pit bull terriers are sent in because people use them for dog fighting and believed to be an aggressive breed, while huskies have extremely high energy and are very clever, both of which make them difficult to handle. This will encourage readers to think carefully about pets they adopt into their family and prepare for the responsibility they require. Perhaps you volunteered with a pet or animal sanctuary. Research the history and the purpose and mission of the organization.
Pet care advice: Taking care of pets requires a great deal of responsibility. Each pet has its own set of care instructions, and some even require special care. What is the best way to care for this particular pet? What kind of expenses has your pet incurred? For example, let’s say you bottle-fed a kitten because it was an orphan. In your story, detail where you bought supplies for bottle-feeding, how often you fed them and how much for each feeding, how long you had to bottle-feed them, and at what age is best to finally transition from milk to solid food. Readers may find this information handy in the future.
It may be wise to research and share some advice on how to encourage kids to be responsible for their pets.
Sometimes kids are eager for a new pet, but once they realize how much work it is to take care of them, they quickly lose interest and neglect the pet they so badly wanted before.
This is an issue that many parents face and often end up taking care of the pet themselves. It’s important to hold children accountable to their choices, but there are ways to do that without making them begin to dislike their pet.
#3 – Developing your pet’s character
If your pet is still in your life, observe them and take notes. What are their habits? How do they interact with people and other animals? Do they do anything unique or peculiar? This research will enable you to develop your pet’s character and endear them to your reader.
Don’t assume that just because you love your pet, your readers automatically will as well. This may be hard to believe, but it’s true. What makes your pet any different from others? You have to develop their character just as deeply and richly as you would a human character.
Your pet’s story won’t stand out to readers unless their character stands out to them as well.
The following excerpt from Marley by John Grogan is a great example of developing a pet’s character by using the rule of “show, don’t tell”:
“Just as we were reaching the car, we heard a commotion coming from the woods. Something was crashing through the brush—and breathing heavily. It sounded like what you might hear in a slasher film. And it was coming our way. We froze, staring into the darkness. The sound grew louder and closer. Then in a flash the thing burst into the clearing and came charging in our direction, a yellow blur. A very big yellow blur. As it galloped past, not stopping, not even seeming to notice us, we could see it was a large Labrador retriever. But it was nothing like the sweet Lily we had just cuddled inside. This one was soaking wet and covered up to its belly in mud and burrs. Its tongue hung out wildly to one side, and froth flew off its jowls as it barreled past. In the split-second glimpse I got, I detected an odd, slightly crazed, yet somehow joyous gaze in its eyes. It was as though this animal had just seen a ghost—and couldn’t possibly be more tickled about it.
“Then, with the roar of a stampeding herd of buffalo, it was gone, around the back of the house and out of sight. Jenny let out a little gasp.
“‘I think,’ I said, a slight queasiness rising in my gut, ‘we just met Dad.’”
Even though we only see the daddy dog for a just brief moment—literally—we’ve learned something about John’s new puppy, Marley; he is going to be a big, wild, hard-to-handle, and happy dog.
Now that you have some done some substantial brainstorming and research, think of a theme your pet’s story could fall into. Themes in pet stories help connect ideas and issues with stories. Often our experiences with our pets coincide with life-changing events. If this is true for you, consider how your pet’s presence helped you through that time in your life.
Examples of themes include coming-of-age, new relationships/romances, new parents, twenty-something years, thirty-something years, historical events, etc. You could even write a pet-themed cookbook with recipes for fun pet treats!
#5 – Read books about pets
To better understand the niche market of pet and animal stories, read books about pets.
Here are some examples of books about pets you can learn from:
Marley and Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog by John Grogan
Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Lauren Hillenbrand
Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron
Alex & Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Discovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence—and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process by Irene M. Pepperberg
What kind of impact did this animal have on the writer?
What’s the theme of the story?
What kind of research about this animal did the writer have to do?
What does the writer do with this story that you like?
What would you do differently in your pet’s story?
#6 – Build the pet’s online platform
Yes, you did read that right. While many pets have an online platform, it’s necessary for yours to have one if you’re writing about them.
As you complete your pet’s story, begin building an online platform…for your pet. Having an established online platform will help market your story once you publish it, so come up with a plan on how to promote your story, and your pet.
Here are some creative ways to create “buzz” about your upcoming book about your pet:
Create an Instagram account for them
Blog on your author website about them
Have a bunch of videos of your pet? Make an online video series
Their online platform can be about anything—funny things they do, the two of you traveling together, throwing birthday parties for them, and so on. You can even write posts and captions from their point-of-view.
In fact, this will even help you with building their character to make them more relatable to your audience.
If you’re still feeling at a loss on how to do this, read some pet blogs and search social media for examples.
They may give you an idea of what you need to do to get followers for your pet.
Ok, so here’s the deal. What I am just about to tell you might sound controversial. It might even sound downright ridiculous.
You could even get offended.
But bear with me for a while. Just hear me out…because what I really want for you is to sell more books, and your book cover is one of the most important factors playing into that reality, even though we’ve all been told not to judge a book by its cover.
The book cover exists to serve one – and only ONE – purpose. And that purpose is to sell your book. Everything else is details.
Shocked? Offended? About to pick that nearby glass of water and smash it on my head? Just hold it for a few minutes.
I understand how we creatives hate the four-letter words starting with an S. Sell? Sale? Sold!?
But it’s true. If you haven’t read Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad Poor Dad yet, I urge you to get a copy and read.
Robert Kiyosaki was once being interviewed by this bright young journalist. She had a real flair for writing. She asked Robert if he had any advice for her. And guess what Robert told her. “Go take a sales course”, he said.
The young lady was shocked. She sat there silently for a few minutes, staring at Robert Kiyosaki in disbelief. And then she spoke. She told him she had spent all her life writing and studying. She held master’s degrees in literature and journalism.
And she had worked so hard all her life, so that she won’t have to “stoop so low” as learning to sell!
Robert explained how she was a far superior writer than Robert could ever hope to be, but Robert was still a best-selling author, while she wasn’t. She could write the best book ever written by a human being, but it wouldn’t matter if nobody read it.
And that is why you need to “SELL”.
Makes sense? I hope it does because as I mentioned above, your book’s cover is one of the most important pieces of becoming a successful author.
What makes for a good book cover?
I have been on that side of the fence where creatives hate the concept of selling or marketing. And I have been on that side for the longest time. But the sooner you get yourself comfortable with these words and concepts, the better.
And the best way to start is by understanding that investing in a goodbook cover design, and knowing what makes a good one. Knowing the basics is still really important even if you plan on hiring a professional cover designer.
And why should you even listen to me? Well, I have a bachelor’s degree in marketing. And trust me, I learned nothing at school.
After my bachelors, I spent nearly ten years convincing myself and the world that I am an artist.
And you know the funniest part? All of my creative buddies and peers were in the same situation.
And that is when I decided I needed to learn what I had shunned for the longest time. I needed to learn to sell. We founded Dastaan Online. And the first business that needed our help was our own. We started publishing a literary magazine called Dastaan World.
Writers, artists, photographers, even those who write poetry along with readers flocked to us. I decided to design covers for every story we published. And our contributors loved them!
My covers might well be beautiful, and thought-provoking and sublime and what not. But that is all secondary. They keep coming to me, because my covers help them sell their books.
Every other quality of a good book cover can be indented as a subcategory or explanation of this one point.
Use texture and patterns to add non-distracting details
Use high and low angles
Combine several composition tips into one for full-effect (but not ALL of them)
But you can start off with a few interesting guidelines or you can simply hire a book editor who’s experienced in the field of composition.
#3 – Develop a Clear Focal Point
Every composition, every piece of deliberately designed visual communication, needs a focal point. The easiest way to find your focal point is to ask yourself (or, preferably, a friend) where your eye goes first on this piece.
Whether it’s the title, your author byline, a figure in the artwork, some specific abstract shape, your focal point is what grabs your attention and catches your eye the first.
And it’s not accidental.
In this example by Self-Publishing School’s Omer Redden, you can see that the focal point of his book Life Doc is very clearly and intentionally the eye-catching title.
There’s a whole science behind this elusive art called composition. It is this magic skill that dictates where a viewer is going to look, and in what order.
You can have multiple focal points, but they should not compete with each other. They grab your viewer’s attention in the order you have designed them. Primary, secondary, tertiary and so on.
This dance of attention depends on what story you want to plant in their head. This story will make them open your book and eventually decide to buy it.
#4 – Title, Subtitle and Their Relatives
Please don’t make the mistake of thinking your cover is completely at your designer’s mercy. No. You are the writer. And you play the key role in determining how well your cover is gonna perform.
When trying to come up with a book title idea, ask yourself this: Will it pull your reader from across the store? Or the webpage? It should be compelling. It should be visible and readable.
AND it should be strengthened further by any additional visual elements on your cover.
Self-Publishing School coach Scott Allan’s book Undefeated is a great example of this. Here you can see his title plays an integral role in the cover design as a whole, with a very telling message with the torn reveal of “un” in “undefeated”
Your title, and any subtitles and taglines are going to play a pivotal role in selling your book. So get your inner Don Draper out when crafting your cover copy!
#5 – Simplistic Book Cover Design
And finally, I like to keep my covers simple. And I personally tend to like covers that are simple and minimalistic.
Although, my covers may sometimes look complex because of all the digitally painted and photo-manipulated detail, the ideas and composition must remain simple. It all goes in favor of the focal point and our intention to just say enough that will compel our viewer to buy the book.
Overly complex covers usually give a very blatant impression of desperation, where the designer didn’t exactly know what to put in.
And hence, they put everything they could think of in there. Not cool. Don’t do this. Keep it simple!
So when you decide to finally lock down your book cover, remember to keep it simple stupid. Keep the big picture of your story in mind.
Make your viewers focus on the key selling points of your book.
If you feel stumped about your book cover design, you can always reach out to a professional for help. If you’re a student of Self-Publishing School, you’ll even be provided a list of cover designers whose work already checks the boxes of this list.
You can see a little preview of this below:
Just keep these guidelines in mind, whether you are designing the cover yourself, or paying someone to do it for you.
Let’s get started by comparing the 3 book writing software “giants,” and then I’ll share some less well-known tools that might help improve your writing process even more.
Which book writing software features are right for you?
I’m not trying to sell you on any particular book writing software in this article. Instead, my goal is to give you an idea of what’s out there so you can weigh the options for yourself in order to aid in your specific process.
In the end, the truth is that there are many great writing tools out there. It isn’t really a question of which tool is BEST. What it comes down to is: which tool works best with YOUR book writing process?
There are 11 things to consider when deciding which program to use for your book:
How easy is it to format text the way you want?
Does it have templates available?
How much does it cost?
Is the program simple & easy to use?
Does it offer any extra features or other bells & whistles?
How about a distraction-free writing experience?
Is the program user-friendly?
Can you access your files no matter where you are?
How easy is it to collaborate with editors & team members?
Is there distribution capabilities when it’s time to publish?
Writers everywhere flock to these specific tools and claim them to be the best book writing software for them. We’ll break down each so you can decide for yourself if their features are the best fit.
#1 – Microsoft Word
Before any other writing tools came along, Microsoft Word was the only option available. Everyone used it.
Today, even though there are many other word processors out there, Word is still the most widely used book writing software in the U.S. Millions of people continue to use it for their writing needs.
And it’s easy to see why. Word has a lot going for it!
It’s been around a long time. It’s trusted, reliable, and gets the job done well.
It also provides a relatively distraction-free writing experience; much better than working on Google Docs in your browser, for example, where you’re only an errant mouse-click away from the entire internet.
If you just need to wake up in the morning and meet your word-count goals by keeping your head down and getting those words pounded out onto the page, then Word is an obvious choice of book writing software. No fuss, no muss. It’s about as simple as it gets.
Word also offers some simple organization.
While writing your chapters, changing the chapter’s heading (seen in the example below) allows easy navigation as your book progresses further and further.
Using headers, you can organize your book into chapters—and then you can navigate through them quickly using the Navigation pane:
In order to view your navigation pane in outline-format click:
View > Navigation Pane (it’s a box to check) > select the bullet/outline tab within the navigation pane (seen above).
Word is also pretty vanilla. That’s part of its appeal, sure, but it also means Word lacks some of the more advanced features you get with other programs like Scrivener and Google Docs.
For example, Scrivener offers more advanced outlining functionality. And Google Docs makes it easier to share and collaborate on your files.
All in all, Word is a solid contender for best book writing software. But there are many other choices out there.
Book Writing Software Cost: $79.99 if purchased separately.
#2 – Scrivener
You just learned that Microsoft Word is the most widely used word processor in the world. But does that mean it’s the best book writing software?
Think about it this way. The fact that Word is so prevalent means that it has to cater to all sorts of users—students, businesspeople, writers, teachers, marketers, lawyers, the list goes on and on and on.
But Scrivener was created for one type of person only:
And if you’re a writer, chances are you’ve heard of Scrivener. A lot of writers absolutely love this program, with its advanced features and distraction-free writing experience.
In short, Scrivener gives you an insane amount of flexibility for writing, formatting, and organizing your book for self-publishing.
Blogger and author, Jeff Goins, swears by Scrivener after giving up word. He says,
“I wasted years of my life doing all my writing on Microsoft Word. But that’s all over now. I have finally seen the light.”
Entrepreneur Michael Hyatt also praises Scrivener: “I now begin every piece of content—no matter what it is—with this tool. It has simplified my life and enabled me to focus on the most important aspect of my job—creating new content. I am more productive than ever.”
Here are some of the top takeaways of this book writing software:
Long story short: Scrivener is an investment, but one that’s worth it. It will take some time to master. But once you get the hang of it, you’ll never go back—it’s the single most powerful book writing software out there.
If you like what you see from Scrivener, you can buy it here:
We’ve looked at the appealing simplicity of Word and the in-depth power of Scrivener, but there’s another book writing software that more and more people are starting to use for various reasons:
Essentially, Google Docs is a stripped-down version of Word that you can only use online. It’s a simple, yet effective writing tool.
The beauty of this program (and Google Drive in general) comes in the ability to share content, files, and documents among your team. You can easily communicate via comments, for example:
This program keeps a complete history of all changes made to a document, so if you accidentally delete something you wanted to keep, simply click the link at the top of the screen that says, “All changes saved in drive.”
That will bring up the version history, where you can review all the changes that have been made to your book file and revert to a previous version if you so choose.
Google Docs doesn’t require any installation and can be accessed anywhere via your browser, or an app on your phone.
(Anyone who has ever lost a draft of a book understands how valuable this feature is!)
And here’s one of the best features: everything is saved on the server frequently and automatically, so you never have to fret about losing a version or draft of your work
Plus you can access your work when you move from one location or another—no carrying a laptop or thumb drive around with you. When you share a book draft with others, like test readers or your editor, they can comment directly on the draft using the built-in comment functionality.
Out of the “big 3” book writing software tools, Google Docs is probably the least sophisticated when it comes to formatting and outlining tools. But it makes up for that with easy collaboration, sharing, and online access.
Book Writing Software Cost: Free
Book Writing Software You Might Not Know About
Let’s get to know some of the best book writing tools you can use to up your author game and make some progress.
Just because you may not be familiar with a specific writing software doesn’t mean it’s not beneficial or even better than what you’re using now.
#1 – Pages
Think of Pages as the Mac alternative to Microsoft Word.
It has a variety of beautiful templates to choose from, has a simple design, and syncs with all devices from within iCloud so you can access it in a number of different places.
Personally, I love the ease of Pages. It works great for creating ebooks or manuscripts with a variety of writing tools you can get creative with.
Book Writing Software Cost: $28
#2 – Freedom
Freedom isn’t technically a writing tool, but it sure can help improve your writing. It’s a productivity app designed to help eliminate distractions by blocking certain websites – something more than beneficial for those of us who get sidetracked easily.
For example: let’s say you have a tendency to get distracted by social media sites. All you have to do us start a Freedom session that blocks all your social media sites—and then you won’t be able to visit them even if you wanted to.
Here’s what it looks like when you schedule a session:
Notice that you have a lot of options. You can schedule one-time sessions (starting now or later), or you can set up recurring sessions (for example, to block distracting sites every day when it’s time to write).
When you try to visit a site that’s being blocked, you’ll get this message:
This is a really liberating tool. Once you know you don’t have the option of visiting those distracting sites, you’ll find it easier to keep focused on your writing and you’ll be able to get a lot more done.
Book Writing Software Cost: $2.42/month and up, or $129 for lifetime access.
#3 – Ulysses
If you’re a Mac owner, this might be the best book writing software for you. While you do have to pay $39.99 per year to use it, the cost to use Ulysses is completely justified.
One of the best features has to be the distraction-free capabilities. As a writer who gets distracted easily, this is definitely a feature I look for in a good book writing software.
This one is also great for exporting. Meaning, you can do all your writing in-app and then export it in relatively any format you’d need in order to send it to your editor, critique partner, or even beta readers.
And if you’re someone who has a hard time keeping all of your notes and ideas organized for your book, this app also has a feature that helps you keep all of it straight!
Say goodbye to forgetting what you wanted to add in that obscure scene you wrote two months ago!
Overall, this is one of the best book writing software programs out there for Mac users. But if you’re not sure if it’s worth the price, you can actually try it for free for 14 days. What a deal!
Book Writing Software Cost: $39.99/year
Free Book Writing Software
There’s not much we love more than getting stuff for free – especially when it comes to our aspirations. You don’t have to doll out a ton of cash just to use highly beneficial book writing software.
In fact, there are many best free book writing software programs.
#1 – FastPencil
FastPencil is a nice little platform with lots of tools. You can also use it for distributing your ebook. It is free to start writing with, but they offer paid services as well.
Everything happens online in your browser, which means you can access your files from any computer (as long as you’re connected to the Internet).
Here’s what the word processor looks like:
Book Writing Software Cost: Free (paid upgrades are optional)
#2 – FocusWriter
FocusWriter is a word processor for writers that’s intended to eliminate distractions to help you get your book written quicker. It’s a basic, lightweight writing tool that was designed to be completely free of progress inhibiting distractions.
In its fullscreen mode, there are no toolbars or additional windows, just a background and your text so that you can concentrate solely on writing your draft.
FocusWriter also allows you to choose what your screen looks like, as seen in the example below.
You can customize the image in the background to suit your project to help inspire your writing.
It’s simple and effective. If you need a lot of features, it probably won’t work for you. But if simplicity is your thing, then you may have found your perfect free writing tool.
Book Writing Software Cost: Free
#3 – yWriter
yWriter is a really popular word processor (intended mainly for novelists) with some impressive features (especially for a program that’s completely free).
It helps keep your project organized by giving you space to include notes on all sorts of things, like character notes, scene notes, scene goals, etc.
You can specify whose point of view each scene will be written in, and you can see the word count of your entire novel broken out by chapter—all at a quick glance:
One thing that yWriter does differently than a lot of other writing programs is focus on scenes rather than on chapters. A lot of writers prefer this since scenes are usually fun chunks of story to work on.
And using yWriter, you can rearrange all those scenes to compose a compelling novel.
I’d call it a Scrivener alternative that’s free to use. But one downside is that it only works for Windows (at least, for now).
Book Writing Software Cost: Free
#4 – Evernote
Evernote is a note-taking app. It’s a great way to keep track of your thoughts—like brainstorming ideas, outlining chapters, and jotting down inspiration when it strikes.
The mobile app is particularly useful for capturing new ideas when they strike, since most people have their phone with them 24/7. This is what it looks like on a mobile device:
While Evernote has been around for a little while, they seem to always be expanding on their features, making it one of the best writing softwares out there.
Here’s are some of the extended features Evernote offers:
While you can use Evernote to write content—I’ve used it for writing blogs and other small sections of books—you wouldn’t want to use it as your main word processor. Its functionality is a bit too limited.
But as a way of keeping track of ideas, it’s a great find.
Book Writing Software Cost: Free, but there is a cool upgrade for $5 a month that gets you Evernote Premium
#5 – Hemingway Editor
The Hemingway Editor is a unique kind of writing tool. It’s a style checker that’s designed to help tighten up your prose and make your writing clear and bold.
Simply paste your writing into the editor and scroll through. You’ll notice that the program highlights certain words & passages—like long, hard-to-read sentences, passive verbs, and phrases with simpler alternatives.
It’s basically your own personal editor rolled into a writing software.
Here’s an example of what it looks like:
(Yikes. Too bad Dickens didn’t have this app.)
What I love about this tool is how easy it is to use. Everything is color-coded and super easy to understand, so you can see at a glance where your writing could use a little elbow grease.
Book Writing Software Cost: Free, or you can purchase the desktop version for $19.99.
#6 – Dropbox
Reading this, you may be wondering: Dropbox? How is that a writing tool?
Trust me—it is!
While it’s true that Dropbox isn’t a word processor like Scrivener or yWriter, it is a very helpful writing tool. Especially for writers who write on more than one computer, who need to collaborate with other writers or editors, or who want an easy way to back up their work.
Here’s how it works:
When you set up Dropbox and install it on your computer, it will create a new “Dropbox” folder on your machine.
Any files that you save in this folder will be automatically backed up to Dropbox’s servers in the cloud, which will be automatically downloaded to any other computers that are synced to that same Dropbox account.
A lot of writers choose to save their book on Dropbox, so that it will be automatically backed up. And as you can see, it looks the same as any other folder on your computer:
Using this strategy, you can make it easier to share and collaborate on your files—even if you aren’t using Google Docs.
Book Writing Software Cost: Free for a basic plan, or $9.99/month for extra storage.
#7 – Open Office
You may know of this software, you may not. Essentially, it’s a free version of a word processor much like Word or Pages. If you don’t have Word on your computer and can’t afford to buy it, this is a great alternative that’ll get the job done.
Here’s what this book writing software looks like:
The capabilities are pretty limited with Open Office but if you really only need the basics and don’t want to spend any money, this is the perfect writing software for you.
Book Writing Software Cost:Free
#8 – PauseFor
If you’re someone who needs incentive to stay off your phone (and actually write), this is a perfect writing software.
Technically, it’s not for writing. PauseForis a productivity app designed to motivate you to stay off your phone. That means you can get more writing done by spending less time scrolling through Twitter or whatever your social medial of choice is.
PauseFor is designed for YOU to set a time, and then not pick up your phone until that time is done.
But what’s the incentive?
The longer you stay off your phone and the more sessions you complete successfully, the more you’ll have to DONATE. That’s right. You can be a philanthropist AND a writer at the same time.
Simply set your time, don’t touch your phone, and collect your Kin. When you a certain amount, you get to choose where the donations go.
Book Writing Software Cost: Free + the added benefit of feeling great about donating
#9 – Grammarly
If you haven’t heard of this editing software, you’ve been living under a rock. It has taken over as one of the most versatile simple editing softwares and for a good reason.
We have a Grammarly review that covers all the features and functions but essentially, this is a browser extension you can download and it automatically corrects your grammar and spelling in whichever online medium you’re writing on.
This writing software is perfect if you need to brush up on your grammar or are looking for an easy way to sound professional in written emails as well.
Book Writing Software Cost: Free with upgrade options
How Much Does Book Writing Software Programs Cost?
I would recommend not worrying too much about the cost of these programs. After all, dropping $100 or less on a program is not that big a deal if it is going to help improve your writing for years to come.
That said, I know you work hard for your money—and you want to get the best deal you can!
Here is a breakdown of the most recent prices for all of the tools in this article along with their comparative features:
What’s Your Favorite Book Writing Software?
Take some time to check out each of these tools if you aren’t already using them. Stay focused on crafting your next book and stick with the book writing software that gives you the best results in terms of saving you money, time, and frustration.
Keep writing. Keep it simple. Best of all, enjoy the creative process!
Now that you have these awesome tools at your disposal, what is your favorite writing tool? What best suits your needs as an author? Can you speed up the writing process with any particular tool?