Daniel is an incredible cutting-edge pioneer for executing book launches as well as a behind-the-scenes book marketer. He has worked with Tony Robbins, Maria Shriver, and David Bach, among his high-end clients. He has sold millions of books for his clients and creates highly influential platforms to continue to market their books. In addition to marketing others, Daniel is also a best-selling author with his book Stay Positive: Encouraging Quotes and Messages to Fuel Your Life with Positive Energy
Before marketing books, Daniel owned a direct-response ad agency, so he’s no stranger to the details and challenges of digital marketing. Being a friend and business partner of Jon Gordon, he agreed to help him launch and market his first book.
With this first book-marketing success, Daniel developed his new business marketing books for other authors. For Jon’s book alone, he’s sold over 5 million copies! “We pivoted his brand and took the success that he had, and pivoted to the brand he has now.”
Seventeen years ago, Daniel was the first person to create a book marketing launch team for his client. Today, these are an essential component of any book launch. When promoting clients, Daniel asks about the available resources for their brand and utilizing these resources to create a buzz for their book launch.
“One of the biggest challenges clients come to me with is they are coming to me too late, or the author is thinking too short-term.” Many authors have a hard time asking others to promote themselves, but the reality is that the “messenger has to be willing to spread the message.” Your book won’t sell just from publishing. You have to work and promote yourself and your platform to show others who you are and why they want to buy your book. “Many authors underutilize their own platform because they are afraid to promote the book because they don’t want to come across as ‘salesy.’
Listen in to find out what the most successful book launches have in common with each other, how you can use the processes that Daniel uses to have a successful book launch, and how to use multiple marketing strategies to sell your book to success.
With a children’s book, things might get slightly more complicated–you’re marketing less to the end consumer and more to the adults around them.
Parents, grandparents, teachers. They all want to buy a book that their children will love, so the first step to marketing a children’s book is writing and illustrating a book that will appeal to those children.
There are many strategies for selling the book once you’ve produced it. Let’s look at some specific ways to market children’s books.
Marketing children’s books is different from marketing adult books in a few ways. The biggest way is that you might be marketing to multiple groups–parents, teachers, children themselves.
Parents, teachers, librarians, and booksellers will be responsible for distributing your book. Most kids won’t be making the purchase or selection of their own books, and for the most part, parents are going to want to know what their kid is reading.
Your marketing and cover matter have to be appealing to both the children in your target audience AND adults, because parents and teachers are the ones making most of those purchases.
You want something that’s eye-catching to catch a kid’s interest, and to give them a sense of the art style and general tone to come. But you also want something that gives the adults a clear idea of what kind of book they’re picking out for their kid!
Another differentiation from marketing regular books is that kids books tend to have a stronger loyalty in readership. Parents don’t want to endlessly shop for good content for their kids. It can be stressful and time-consuming for attentive parents to vet media for their kids, so once they find a good author, they’re likely to continue buying those books. This is great for children’s lit authors! Once they’re in the door, they’re invited to live there. So how do we get in the door initially?
Now let’s look at a few methods you can use for marketing your children’s books, to both adults and children. We’ll discuss ads, social media, school and library visits, as well as podcasts, speaking gigs, and utilizing an illustrator if you’ve hired one.
Most people’s first instinct when they hear “book marketing” is probably the act of actually buying advertisements, so let’s cover those first.
There are a few different ways to go about buying ads. The first is the most obvious–look on your favorite social media platforms and see what it costs to run ads there. Facebook is a popular choice.
Another option is sponsoring influencers. You can pay relevant podcasts, YouTube channels, and social media influencers for a spot in their content.
For example, since my YouTube channel is dedicated to writers and writing craft, brands hire me to make reviews or tutorials for their products like NovelPad did or sponsor a video related to their product like GetCovers did. This kind of sponsorship puts your product in front of relevant users with someone they trust vouching for the product.
And of course other ad spaces still exist, like print ads and billboards, but when compared to online options, they’re often too expensive and less accessible. That doesn’t always mean they’re not a good option, so consider your goals, platform, and target demographic before you rule them out!
Most parents of young children are on social media, so you can utilize those platforms for connecting with parents and teachers for cheap or free. This can be as simple as posting your book cover with relevant hashtags. You can use hashtags about your book’s content that kids are interested in (#Dinosaurs #Ponies) and hashtags that target the specific users (#MomLife #ParentingHacks).
You can also search through Facebook groups for your particular niche–potty-training, robots, etc., and connect with parents there.
Social media is high-traffic, low-cost, and can be a very personable way to meet parents and expand your readership.
Many schools have a budget specifically for authors to come read their books to students, so reach out! Email schools and offer to come in to do a reading. Send them a presskit or info packet so they have access to the cover, synopsis, and age range so they can plan which children you’ll present to.
Do what you can to make your visit memorable for the kids, then check to see if the school admin minds if you send the children home with information packets for the parents to learn more about your books.
Libraries are another great opportunity to connect with children and their parents. Libraries are phenomenal community resources that reach a surprising amount of people. Talk to your local library about ordering a few copies of your book, and see if they’d let you host a reading event.
Librarians are also the best at recommending age-appropriate books to kids.
You might not make any money past that original sale as people rent your book, but it’s a fantastic way to get your name in circulation and gain dedicated readers.
Libraries are a great way for families to have a day out without feeling obligated to spend extra cash, so a reading or book signing at your local library could be the perfect way to both promote your book and give back to your community.
Side note: if you have an indie author in your life and you’d like to give them some free marketing, ask your local library to order their book if they don’t already have it!
Given that there’s a podcast for nearly everything, it’s also a given that there are plenty of podcasts out there for kids and their families.
Find a podcast for kids or a family-friendly podcast that you think would fit well with your personal brand. Lots of these podcasts host interviews, so send them your press kit and ask if they’ll take you as a guest. Keep in mind that many podcasts, particularly popular ones, might take a few reach-outs before they get back to you about a guest spot.
There might be opportunities outside of actually having a guest spot, like finding storytime podcasts and submitting one of your books for them to read. You might even write a short story to serve that format and send it out to as many storytime podcasts as you can find.
This is one of the few key areas to market books effectively in today’s digital climate, so much so that it’s a big part of our Sell More Books program.
A great opportunity for authors to make extra cash and build their readership is through taking speaking gigs.
If you’re new to speaking or have a smaller audience, you’ll likely start very small with speaking gigs. This is actually great, because it allows you to build experience speaking with less intimidating crowds at local venues.
Figure out your niche, then find groups and venues that serve that niche. You might pitch specific talks to give, or you might just introduce yourself and see if they have a need for a speaker you can meet.
As your opportunities organically grow through speaking at smaller events, your confidence and presentation skills will grow too.
Writing a book is a team effort whether you’re writing children’s or adult books, but it’s especially true when you’re writing children’s books. The illustrator is an absolutely vital part of your bookselling process, and they might be a huge part of your marketing strategy as well. With the rare exception that you’re a talented writer AND a capable artist, you’ll have to partner with an illustrator to produce your book.
Hiring an illustrator gives you an opportunity to be strategic. If the illustrator already has a platform and successful books under their belt, their audience becomes your audience when you produce a book together.
You can partner with your illustrator in marketing and pull new readers for yourself from their existing platform. Just like writers, illustrators want people to buy their books! That’s double the team for your marketing efforts, to choose your illustrator wisely. The illustrator facet is one of the biggest ways that writing and marketing children’s books is different from other books.
Writing and marketing books for children can be a little tricky to navigate, but it’s worth it! Kids run through books quicker than any other demographic, which means it’s a lucrative genre. There’s also something very special about writing books that people read in their formative years. The values and comfort kids receive from the books they read is worth the work it takes to get those books into their hands.
Need some help marketing your children’s book? Check out this free training just for children’s book authors!
What marketing efforts are you looking forward to trying for your children’s books? Let us know in a comment!]]>
In this article, we’ll take you through the process involved with writing children’s book series. We’ll show you how to develop your story, how to get it drafted, and finally, how to go about revising!
There are many ways to write a children’s book. Some are just more effective at producing a better book, faster. Here are our recommended steps to write a high quality children’s book right from the start.
The first step in any major writing project is brainstorming. You’ll need ideas, after all, and brainstorming is where all that creative magic happens!
Once you’ve got some spark of an idea, whether that’s a single character or just one line of dialogue, your next step should be to start brainstorming.
When we brainstorm, we prepare the mass of ideas that we’ll carry with us into our outline and first draft. This is my personal favorite stage, because it comes without all the concern regarding plot, pacing, prose–you’re just feeling out your story, getting all your ideas down, and getting excited about what you’re about to create!
Here’s a few tips for how to brainstorm effectively.
You’ll want to do a little research when you start brainstorming. For any book you’re writing, you’ll want to be up to date with the genre–what’s being written, what’s been overdone, and what direction is the scene taking.
You don’t need to let this information decide which projects you’ll work on, necessarily. Writing to market can often go badly in a slow business like publishing–it’s best to go with the project and idea you’re most passionate about, regardless of what else is out there.
But doing this research will inform your own process. Maybe you’ll find ideas you want to incorporate into your stories, or you’ll see how someone else did something you’ve been stuck on.
You’ll also want to figure out your target demographic. For children’s books, this means figuring out whether you’re writing newborn to age 3, early leveled readers, first chapter readers, middle-grade books, or YA books.
Ask yourself these questions:
Having an idea of who you’re writing for will give you enormous insight into the rest of the process. If you’re writing a picture book, you’ll need to have illustrations top of mind. If you’re writing YA, you’ll have more room for complex, nuanced, and darker subject matter within your work.
When you know what your age group is, check out some books and see what sorts of subjects are handled in those groups. Also take note of how those issues are handled.
All readers get attached to characters, but this is especially true for children. You’ll want a stellar cast for your young readers to fall in love with, and this is a great time to think about them without the burden of plot.
When you know what sort of world you’re working with, imagine the characters in it. Who’s carrying out your plot? Think of some fun, interesting characters and write down whatever comes to mind. Sometimes, great children’s book ideas come from just an interesting character idea!
Remember that characters in children’s books don’t need to be flat or uninteresting. Kids are people, and they’re pretty smart, and they know when someone’s talking down to them! Your children’s book characters should be just as interesting and three-dimensional as if you were writing for adults.
For some people (myself included), it’s enough to just type out all your thoughts in the Notes app and call it a day. But it can be really hard to get all of the thoughts detangled from one’s head to paper. Thankfully, there’s a few easy methods that can help you get those creative gears turning!
This is simple: you get a piece of blank paper and write down a core idea at the center. It could be ‘a rat with red shoes,’ or a single line of dialogue. Anything in the world works. From there, draw a line and add the next thing that comes to mind. ‘A rat with red shoes’ might connect to ‘he loses his shoes in a bet,’ or ‘crocodile with sunglasses.’
Once you’ve got enough that you feel you can make a story, you’re done!
Stream of Consciousness
Set a timer, start typing, and don’t stop until the timer’s out. You don’t have to worry about grammar–it could be a list of different ideas, if that’s what suits you. The idea is just to keep typing until all of your ideas are out of your head and onto the page!
Sometimes, people condense the outlining and brainstorming stage–sometimes a stream of consciousness brainstorm turns into a fully fledged outline before too long. But if you’ve got something like a mind map, or if you’re still a little unsure whether to start, an outline is your next step.
It’s especially important to outline when you’re planning a book series. You want to know where your story is going, not only in each individual book, but across the entire collection. Each book should contain its own rising action, climax, and resolution, and the series as a whole should also follow a similar structure.
It’s a lot to keep track of, and an outline will be the best way to make sure you get all the way through your series!
There are a few different ways you can go about writing a children’s book series. You might have a series where the reader needs to read them in chronological order in order for it to make sense–if you pick up the fourth book in Heroes of Olympus, you might not totally understand what’s going on if you haven’t read the first three in the series.
You might be writing something more like Nancy Drew, however. In these types of stories, we’re watching the same characters get into new shenanigans. The characters might develop in small ways over the course of the series, but the main appeal isn’t the overarching story, it’s seeing which new adventure they’ll be embarking upon. These stories are self-contained, so each book is a complete story–you don’t have to have read the previous book to understand.
Know which one you’re working with. If it’s more like a self-contained episodic situation, then you may just need a few ideas to make sure you’ve got a few different books lined up. If you want a series where there’s one overarching conflict and resolution, you’ll want to make sure you outline that conflict.
Your outline is there to help you, not to restrict you. At the bare minimum, you want to know your starting point, your climax, and your resolution. Where do your characters start, and where do they end up?
In a series, you’ll want to have these points settled in each individual book, as well as for the series as a whole.
However, it’s important when you’re writing a series to keep an open mind. Your outline is there for you to fall back on in case you get lost, but if you find there’s been a development (maybe your characters interact differently with the environment than you thought they would, or the plot contrivance you engineered feels a little too loose), that’s okay! Just make a note, make sure it’s consistent in the rest of the series, and keep on.
Just like there’s different methods for brainstorming, there’s different methods for outlining, and there’s no one way that’s better than the others. Here’s just a few different ways to try it.
Bullet Point Outline
This is maybe the simplest method. You can do it on paper, or on a Word doc! Simply make a bullet-point list of the things that will happen. You’ll want to do this for the series on the whole first, then see how your first book will factor into that.
This is a method commonly used for film, but there’s no reason why it can’t help for novels! You’ll need index cards and something to stick them to–a wall, a bulletin board, a whiteboard, a fridge, whatever. Write your scenes or plot points on the index cards and stick ‘em on the wall.
This is helpful for visual learners. Being able to actually pick the scenes up and move them around can be super helpful in seeing how your story plays out, and it can help you see plot holes and empty space.
You’ve got an outline, which means you’re ready to draft! If you’re working with a picture book, you’ll want to know which types of illustrations you’ll need during the outlinine phase, and the drafting phase is where you’ll bring them to life.
The most important rule for a first draft, in my opinion, is to not stop, children’s book or otherwise. Once you get the ball rolling, you want to keep that momentum. Stopping to revise or worry over an outline change can ruin that momentum, and it can be hard to get going again.
This doesn’t mean you can’t make deviations from your outline or changes as you go. While you’re drafting, make notes of the changes you’ve made, and refer back to them while you’re revising to make sure these changes stay consistent throughout the series.
If you get lost or stuck, refer to your outline! It can be difficult, sometimes, if you’ve gone off the outline tracks and find yourself stranded. And maybe the next point on your outline no longer works with this new direction you’ve taken.
You can do a few things from here. You can pause and rework your outline to match up with where you’ve headed, or you can just carry on to the next plot point as if those changes never happened. Either way, you’ll have to revise anyway, and that’s when we can worry about internal consistency.
Once you’ve finished that first draft, you might be feeling a mix of emotions. First things first, congratulations are in order–you have written a book! It might be a bit of a mess right now, but that’s completely normal.
Revisions are where we take the lump of coal you created during the draft and turn it into a diamond. So, how do we make sure we revise correctly?
Children’s books often rely heavily on relaying a moral message to the reader. They commonly teach kids a lesson about the way the world works or teach them how to deal with a common human issue.
Because of this, it’s important to make sure that your message is getting across in the way you want it to.
This means you need some beta readers! Beta readers are readers who read your work before the professional edit. Have your friend’s kid read it, or your cousin–if you can find someone in your target demographic to look it over and tell you what you think, great! If you can’t, even just having your other adult friends look at it can be helpful.
You might also have a librarian or teacher look at your book–these people work with children, so they know what to look for in children’s books.
This is a list of children’s book series examples you can learn from. Most often, we pick up on things just by reading and experiencing them, and we even gain inspiration from well-done stories. Just remember not to copy. It’s perfectly okay to have inspiration from them, but don’t make your stories the exact same.
These are great children’s book series examples to take a look at:
At the end of the day, your children’s book series will be best if you plot it all at once, and plan in advance. That way, you can whip out the stories and publish them in quick succession, which is what we’ve found to work the best with the authors in our Children’s Book School and Fundamentals of Fiction programs.]]>
James writes and publishes his information to JamesClear.com since 2012. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller Atomic Habits, which has sold more than 4 million copies worldwide. James is also known for his popular 3-2-1 newsletter, which is sent out each week. Click here to learn more and sign up.
“This was a natural evolution based on what I was writing on.” Having written articles on James Clear.com, James decided that putting together a book was the next step in his writing journey. In November of 2012, after exploring different topics, he realized that the topics on habits, creativity, and daily productivity that he was interested in were the topics that others wanted to learn about.
After writing about different topics such as strength training and other wellness articles, James realized that he needed to find his voice. “I started to develop my style, taste, and approach and I knew what my topics were.” From here, he built his email list and audience. Based on the strength of his audience, James was contacted by publishers. Although he never set out to be an author, he found himself in the author space.
Although he does use website data such as page views to assess what articles and topics have been most popular, James mainly uses the response to his newsletter to decide which topics are most popular with his readers.
Listen in to find out why James uses reality as a rubric or measure to write about, learn James’ process for writing a book, and the importance of taking and noting ideas throughout your day for your book content.
Probably giant castles dripping with cobwebs, likely haunted by somebody’s long-lost lover. You might think of something like Dracula or Edgar Allen Poe, classic examples of gothic writers.
You might also think of Southern gothic aesthetics on Pinterest or TikTok–run-down churches with broken crosses out front, murky bayous cast in a grayscale filter, stories of hauntings in abandoned houses.
Gothic literature makes up more of our current cultural landscape than people realize, and although the name evokes literature from days of old, there’s still a place for gothic lit in the contemporary sphere!
Read on to learn more about gothic literature and how to write it for a modern-day audience.
Gothic literature is a genre of literature that combines dark elements, spooky settings, conflicted and disturbed characters into a whimsically horrific, often romantic, story. It’s the darkest portion of Dark Romanticism, emerging soon after the Romantic literary era.
Brief history lesson for gothic literature: Romanticism deals heavily with individualism, transcendentalism, and emotion. Romantics were all about internal struggles and ego. Gothic literature takes this movement and focuses on the macabre, the unsettling, and dials the dramatics up to a ten.
So in short: gothic literature takes the flair from Romantic literature and adds horror and thrill. Fun!
You’re probably familiar with many pieces that fit into the gothic literature genre. Here are some examples of authors and stories you’ve probably come across:
When I think of gothic literature, Dracula is the very first thing that pops into my head.
It ticks all the gothic literature boxes:
Stoker’s Dracula has, obviously, inspired countless vampire stories in its wake. Most significant in the past couple of decades has been Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight saga.
Edgar Allen Poe is the second thing after Dracula that comes to mind for me. Let’s consider some of the overarching themes of Poe’s work: we’ve got lots of unsettling plot devices and imagery, constant mystery and intrigue, and consistently melodramatic narrators.
For example: The Tell-Tale Heart leads with a mystery. Suspense and drama builds significantly throughout the story. We see the narrator descend into a literal madness trying to conceal the beating heart beneath his floorboards. We’ve got an icky beating heart, a man out on his own, high emotion, some madness for good measure–this is gothic literature to a T.
Wuthering Heights, another direct inspiration for Twilight (I’m getting you ready to talk about it later so you won’t be mad, brace yourself), is also an absolute masterclass in gothic fiction. Let’s side aside some of the, uh, iffy aspects–by which I do mean the incest–and look at the novel’s components.
We’ve got a secluded manor deep in the woods (check), a family riddled with mystery and intrigue (check), supernatural elements (check), and above all, romantic tension dialed up to a hundred million.
You might find with Wuthering Heights, specifically, that people will either love or hate it–I’ve personally never met someone who felt neutrally about it. When people love it, it’s usually because of how capital R Romantic it is. You’ve got the devastatingly beautiful foggy landscape, the heightened emotion, and spooky ghosts–what more could you want?
People who hate it, interestingly, will say the same thing. They’ll say there’s too much description of the stupid fog, the emotion is way too over-the-top, and the romance is overcooked.
Keep that dichotomy in mind–we’re going to talk about how to write gothic literature for a contemporary audience next.
So! Maybe these kinds of stories are the ones you love the most, and you’re thinking there’s no way anyone could publish something like Wuthering Heights today and have any success at a publisher.
And you’d be right–sort of.
In contemporary publishing, we still have the components of gothic literature floating around in the form of thrillers, ghost stories, and, above all (in my opinion), supernatural teen romance. If you’re looking to write a novel, there is absolutely still a market for high-drama, eerie fiction with a focus on romance and suspense!
Don’t believe me? Let’s talk about Twilight!
Twilight takes place in a spooky, eerie forest. It follows a teenage girl who is a stranger to this location, and we watch her deal with a very intense first love with a creepy vampire boyfriend who is also kind of hot. This is textbook gothic literature, all the way down to the melodrama and maybe-a-little-too-intense love story.
I’m not here to argue for Twilight as a great piece of literature, but I bring it up to point out that this kind of thing absolutely still sells.
That said, it’s important to write it for a modern-day audience. Books are different now than they were during Poe’s day, and we have to adjust accordingly.
Here are 4 tips and tricks to write a gothic novel that modern-day readers will love:
Okay, remember what we said about Wuthering Heights and how people loved and hated it for kind of the same reasons? The chief complaint is that it’s way too melodramatic and drawn-out, whereas the chief praise is that it’s got such a dramatic flair.
You’ll also hear this complaint about Twilight. People will say it’s too dramatic and worn-out, and in my opinion, they’re kind of right.
To some extent, this is going to be a matter of preference. I personally love the dramatic flair gothic literature brings to the table, and I consider the super-intense romance and emotional roller coasters to be a convention of the genre.
However, modern-day audiences are used to more realistic stuff. It’s easier to get away with in YA because teenagers are going through super heightened emotions–melodrama generally makes sense to kids who are experiencing the absolute highs and lows of the human experience every day before noon.
For an adult audience, though, you might want to keep the melodrama to a minimum. Keep the scenes believable, keep your character’s motives believable and clear, and temper your more over-the-top plot elements with a healthy amount of skepticism.
That being said–emotion is at the core of gothic literature, so you don’t want to lose it altogether!
High drama and high emotion are vital.
Relying on extended metaphor can help you out here. In Twilight, for example, we’ve got a teenage romance where the girl feels like she’s literally going to die, and the boy also feels like he’s literally going to die, and everyone is freaking out all of the time.
If they were just two regular kids, this might be way too much. But Meyer’s gone in and made Edward a vampire. Now, Bella literally might die! Edward literally might get her killed! The constant fret over dying feels more appropriate now, and all Meyer has to do is enhance the existing high stakes to really drive home that drama.
Lean into high-stakes drama in your gothic novel. Mortal peril, terrifying monsters, and supernatural threats are all welcome! Make it genuinely concerning and frightening to your audience, and they’ll be on-board for some dramatic reactions from your characters.
Another way to lean into a high-drama vibe is to really hone your location. Since Gothic literature is a subtype of Romantic literature, it often deals heavily with nature–you get a lot of nature vs. man, man alone in the vast forest, that kind of thing.
This is why the giant spooky manor in the middle of a forest is so effective.
Original gothic literature often dealt with medieval settings and drew on medieval Europe for much of its inspiration. Lean into old buildings, decaying infrastructure–if it’s a Southern piece, let’s see some churches from the 1700’s. If it takes place in Europe, let’s see a castle or an old, decrepit manor.
It could also be as simple as a run-down house in the woods, an old apartment complex in an eerie neighborhood, or a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. We’re looking for something creepy, dramatic, and preferably isolated. And extra bonus points if our protagonist is a newcomer to this location!
It’s easy for people to scoff at gothic literature because it’s so high-drama and high-emotion. But there’s absolutely no question that it’s immensely successful, so something about it has to be working, right?
Well, it’s that drama. People love drama. When we gossip with our friends, we don’t make a point to make the subject of gossip as uninteresting as possible. We throw in hyperbole, we get into it. The phrase isn’t “the tea is lukewarm,” it’s “the tea is scalding.”
Gothic literature appeals to that part of us that wants the most. So write it that way!
As I mentioned earlier, you want to keep everything in check and make sure the plot checks out and still feels believable. But you want to make it a fantastic sensory experience for your reader.
In part, this will mean delicious descriptions, especially of the macabre. It means that when something is suspenseful, it should be super suspenseful. When something is romantic, we should be swooning. Gothic literature should be a sensational experience which takes us to the emotional limit–anything less is just unacceptable.
When you’re writing a gothic literature novel, lean into scary elements, spooky settings, and heightened emotion. At the same time, make the stakes clear and keep them high so that the heightened emotion feels appropriate.
And the golden rule for all writing goes here, too: if you’re not sure you’ve struck a good balance, get some friends who loved Twilight to read it for you.
Need a little creative writing pep-talk and training? Our full-time Fiction Author coach created one for you! Sign up below!
Do you have any contemporary gothic novels to recommend? Let us know in the comments!]]>
We’re often told not to judge a book by its cover, but unless someone refers a book to us, the cover is usually what first catches our attention, it leads to sales of you children’s book ultimately.
While by now you’ve likely read enough books to know a great cover doesn’t necessarily promise a great read, and a bad cover can sometimes hold a fascinating book, children don’t.
Like it or not, telling someone not to judge a book by its cover doesn’t necessarily apply to children’s book covers. As far as children’s book covers go… an engaging cover is essential.
Remember, young children are fascinated by what they see. All of life is new for them. Plus, young children’s attention spans are short. It’s crucial to grab their attention by at least the first page of your book, but ideally, by the front page of the book—your book’s cover.
First, let me congratulate you on realizing the importance of your book cover. You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t believe a great book cover can take your book from the shelf to the hands of those little ones. This and other epiphanies to be had in our children’s book school.
A great children’s book cover should be engaging. That’s a great start. But how do you practically make a cover engage a child? How do you even know where to start?
It comes down to branding. Brands are strong whether you plan on publishing once or with a series of children’s books.
When thinking through your cover, consider your brand. You write for children, so cartoon-style characters are probably going to fit better than a photo of a real person. Cartoons are engaging and fun.
Also think through your colors. Children love prime colors. They also love sparkles, bedazzled, and camouflage. What is the tone of your book? Is it a bedtime story? Consider using calming pastels. Is it a book about going on trip with family? Consider using colors that are more bold like reds, greens, and blues.
Maybe your protagonist is a shy little boy. If he is represented on the cover, allude to his personality in how you color his clothing. A shy little boy would probably wear more muted tones than an outgoing child.
Note: When choosing the background for your cover, remember to reserve space for your title. If you want your title to be in big, bold, blue lettering, but you have a cloudless sky taking up the top third of your cover, this may not work out well.
If you’re publishing a children’s picture book and you already hired an illustrator, a natural next step would be to talk with them about designing your cover.
This will help in a several ways:
If your book doesn’t have illustrations, or you want to find someone else to design the cover, a simple Google search can bring you a wide array of possibilities.
Referrals from other writing friends can be helpful at a practical level, because your friends will be able to tell you what they liked or disliked about working with a particular illustrator.
Writing conferences, online writers groups, or local colleges are all great places to look for contacts as well.
Finding an illustrator with the style you want may be difficult at first, so go to the library or your local bookstore, browse books until you have a stack of five or ten covers you really like, then take photos of the covers and write down the name of the cover designer. If nothing else, you have design inspiration to show your future designer, and who knows, if you try contacting the designers of these covers, they may answer!
Just as with middle grade (MG) young adult (YA) or adult books, the back cover of your children’s book should contain your back-cover copy. This is a brief description of your book, condensed into a few short paragraphs, with a teaser at the end to intrigue the reader into opening your book and reading it.
If you wrote a book proposal, you could use your synopsis as a rough draft to start your back-cover copy, and possibly use a portion of your elevator pitch (EP) as your first sentence.
Remember, an elevator pitch is intended to tell an agent or acquisitions editor what happens in your book from start to finish.
Back cover copy is intended to give the reader just enough information they can’t help but open your book. Don’t reveal the ending!
On your back cover you should also include a brief author bio. Again, if you have a book proposal feel free to pull your bio from the one-sheet in your proposal and use it as a template. Your bio can be in first or third person, should be professional, include any major accomplishments that make you a credible writer for this book, and be written in a way that also reflects your personality.
Often, an author will include a professional headshot with their bio. This should be a photo taken by a professional photographer. Before getting your photo taken remember to wear clothing that reflects you as a professional author.
We’ve covered where to find a cover designer as well as the type of copy that goes on the back cover. To help you feel fully confident as you finalize the look of your cover, let’s go through several examples of great children’s book covers:
This cover has consistent, muted, pastel tones. The emoji faces are engaging: silly, tired, surprised, and happy, and communicate well with children. Also, for children who play on their parents’ phones, this is a great cover because it relates at a daily level.
When you think meditation you likely associate it with calm and quiet. These muted tones are nearly translucent, almost like a watercolor, and reinforce the title. The children depicted look happy but calm, which again, reinforces the copy of the title. The font is childlike, resembling something a child may have tried to draw.
The way Klaus is looking at that squirrel, it already appears he’s about to head out on an adventure—up a tree! This type of cover plunges the viewer into the scene and helps them subconsciously ask questions: What is Klaus doing? Is he running away from home? Will the squirrel get away? Where is his family?
When children first learn to read, they often associate letters with simple photos. They may be taught “S says sss like in snake,” or “W in watermelon.” Depending on their age, a child may be transfixed with trying to name everything on this cover. The bold colors are engaging and confident.
This cover is particularly engaging because the way the trees frame the sides, it looks like the three characters are about to enter the woods and run into the viewer. The lighter colors provide a dichotomy between the house in the background and the dark, wildness of the woods.
Simply from the cover, it’s easy to tell this book is a happy, child-friendly story. Gustave smiles as he waves, and the colors are cheerful. The water is rough but not scary, the woods look exciting rather than intimidating, and the primary colors reinforce familiarity.
This is a bigger-concept title and the straightforward design helps articulate what it means. Having one child standing between two countries, holding one flag in each hand, is a great way to communicate a possibly difficult concept to a young child.
This book’s title portrays that it’s about learning to walk, but the cover has an appropriate focal point on the child’s shoes. The shoes are almost as big as the child’s head, drawing attention to them. Red is bold and confident, and an easy color for a child to connect with.
Just as children shout and point when they see something engaging outside, the same reaction should be true when they see your book. This is why it’s important to have an engaging book cover that draws the attention of those little eyes!
Enjoy following these steps and designing a cover that will grab attention and engage these new, young readers!
Want to learn more about writing and successfully publishing a children’s book this year? Check out the free training!]]>
You can say that your heart sped up, or that you feel flustered, but none of that really gets at the truth. It’s more that you’re flying, that you’re invincible, that your love is the sun and you’re in their orbit forever.
When we’re trying to describe intense experiences, metaphor lets us do a better job by giving our audience a reference point for those experiences. Figurative language allows us to express fully through that experience, while extended metaphors act as a trusted tool of choice. When it comes to writing a good novel, this step is crucial.
If I tell you that my day was bad, that’s one thing. If I tell you my day was a nightmarish death march, that’s a little more vivid, and does a better job getting at the intensity of my emotion.
Extended metaphor, likewise, can play a huge role in getting big emotions and themes across to your reader. In this article, we’ll talk about what extended metaphor is, give you some examples, and break down how you can use it in your own work!
An extended metaphor is when we take that comparison and we stretch it out over several stanzas, paragraphs, chapters, or lines. We’re using that metaphor as a vehicle to make a larger point and really explore the assorted meanings of that comparison.
Okay, so, quick recap so we avoid confusion between these literary devices:
Simile is the comparison of two things using ‘like’ or ‘as.’ If I say my day was “as bad as a category five hurricane,” that’s a simile.
Metaphor is the comparison of two things without using like or as–you’re stating it plainly. With that hurricane example, it would be “my day was a category five hurricane.”
The two fundamental parts of any metaphor are tenor and vehicle. The tenor is the thing being described, and the vehicle is the thing to which we compare the tenor.
Litcharts.com uses Life is a Highway as a brilliant example:
“In the metaphor ‘Life is a highway,’ life is the tenor because it’s the thing being described, while “highway” is the vehicle because it’s the thing life is being compared to. The metaphor operates by borrowing key attributes from the vehicle and attributing them to the tenor. The “Life is a highway” metaphor takes the attributes of a highway—including its association with journeys, adventures, speed, and the fact that we all travel them side-by-side—and connects them to life.”
Let’s use another quick example:
In Emily Dickinson’s poem “Hope is the Thing With Feathers,” she compares hope to, you guessed it, a bird. Here, the tenor is “hope,” while “the thing with feathers” is the vehicle, since it’s what we’re using to explain hope.
It’s also important to keep in mind two key types of metaphor: allegory and conceit. Knowing which you’re working with can help you use each more effectively in your own work.
Allegory contains two stories in one. You’ve got the literal events of the text, and you’ve got the second symbolic meaning. In an allegory, the author is using character, events, and plot to make a commentary on a second meaning which the reader is meant to understand on their own.
Allegory often uses a literal story which has nothing or little to do with modern reality or real-world events to tell a second story that comments on real-world events. You might get a story that, on the surface, looks like it’s about a dad taking his kid to a baseball game, but if you look closer, it’s actually about the complexities of growing up.
Conceit is the comparison between two unlike things. This is a sort of simile and metaphor combo, where we get two things that really don’t seem alike at all made comparable by the author.
For an example of conceit, if I said “Marriage is a shattered guitar,” I’d have a little explaining to do to make my case–it’s not obvious from the start, like “life is a highway.”
Still a little foggy? Let’s go over some examples from books, poetry, music, and film to give you a better idea of how extended metaphor looks in the wild.
The Fault in Our Stars gave us that famous quote: “You put the killing thing right between your teeth, but you don’t give it the power to do its killing.” It absolutely rocked my world in 2014, and it’s still a great example of extended metaphor!
This line is said by Augustus Waters, a kid dealing with cancer. He’s explaining why he likes to carry around unlit cigarettes, but his explanation also applies to the situation he’s found himself in with Hazel Grace.
Because they’re living with chronic illness, which they understand to probably be terminal, this is how their lives feel. They have to face the reality of their situation every day without being overcome by it, and without it preventing their ability to still have a fruitful, meaningful life in the interim.
A personal favorite of mine, this song compares a lover to an angel of small death and the codeine scene. What does that mean?
Well, ‘small death’ comes from la petite mort,’ which is a French phrase used to talk about sex. ‘The codeine scene’ obviously refers to drugs. Hozier uses this comparison to say his lover is the angel, or God, of sex and drugs. Which is pretty cool!
He pulls this metaphor into his verses to expand on the metaphor. Lines like “feeling more human and hooked on her flesh” point to this idea that he is hooked on his lover. He’s using the comparison to describe an addictive, intense attraction, and one that maybe isn’t totally healthy.
Y’all remember a Bug’s Life? It’s about a group of bugs forced to perform labor for the evil grasshoppers. In the film, the bugs have to overexert themselves to feed the grasshoppers in exchange for a small amount of the product they’ve foraged. It’s an unfair system that keeps the ants hungry and scared, and the grasshoppers fed and happy.
It’s a kid’s movie, but it’s also kind of about Marxism!
In the end, the bugs are fighting to have full rights to their own labor. Why should they work so hard to see so little of the product? Why should the grasshoppers get to benefit from the bugs’ labor? The bugs want the means of production!
Remember what we said about allegory? It’s a story about bugs fighting grasshoppers, sure. But it’s also a story about workers collectivizing to overthrow an evil corporation.
Now that we know what an extended metaphor is, I’ve got a few tips and tricks for how to make sure your metaphors land perfectly!
Early on, identify your tenor and vehicle. Know what the thing you’re comparing is, and know what you’re comparing it to. This can help avoid reckless or offensive comparisons, and it’ll help you keep your symbolism and imagery relevant and fresh.
If you’re not sure what you want to use as your vehicle, that’s okay! Identify your tenor and write it down. Then, take a minute to write about what that’s like. Once you’ve identified something you can draw parallels to, take another moment to write about why those things are similar.
Writing out the metaphor will help you know where it’s going. Much in the way outlining your story can help you keep it focused and streamlined, having a grasp on your metaphor early on can help you keep it consistent.
No one likes a heavy-handed metaphor. If you’re using an extended metaphor, try to give your audience exactly enough to get the parallel you’re making and nothing more. Like with everything you write, it’s way more impactful if the reader puts it together themselves, and this is especially true for metaphor!
Remember how we talked about metaphor being a great vehicle for conveying things we could otherwise get across?
If you use a metaphor that’s too easy–something sweet being sugar, for example–you’re missing out, because we’re not actually learning anything new or interesting. We already know sugar is sweet.
This ties in with the last point, but cliche is perhaps the biggest pitfall to metaphor for new writers. It takes a little bit to hone a new, interesting metaphor, but it’s very important. Like we mentioned in the last section, you want to use your metaphor to make an interesting point, and cliche metaphors have nothing new to offer your reader.
They can also come across as lazy, cheesy, or trite, which might ruin the overall effect of your scene.
Not sure whether your metaphor has been done before? Do a quick google search and make sure you read widely to get a sense of what’s been done.
Everything has already been done, of course, but you just want to make sure you’re not regurgitating something about your love being a beautiful flower. Or if your love is a beautiful flower, you want to make an interesting, unique point about it.
There’s a simple trick I like to use to avoid metaphor that’s too on-the-nose. When I’ve got a comparison I want to make, I do what we discussed earlier and write it down. Generally, though, I like to disregard the first couple things I come up with. The first things that come to mind are usually the things I’ve seen before, or what I remember from pop culture. The stuff that comes up when I dig deeper is usually more unique.
Need a little help? Our fiction coach created this amazing training for creative writers and fiction writers! Check it out!
What’s your favorite allegorical novel? Got any favorite extended metaphors from poems or stories? Let us know in the comments!]]>
Chalene Johnson is a world-renowned motivational speaker with more than 30 years as a health expert. She is a New York Times best-selling author, health and lifestyle expert, and top health podcaster with over 20 million downloads of her show. Tens of millions of people around the globe have transformed their bodies and their lives with her help, and her fitness programs have been featured in gyms and on TV for more than 12 years. She and Bret, her husband of over twenty years, are the founders of the SmartLife movement. Together, they have built and sold several multimillion-dollar lifestyle companies and helped countless people to do the same.
When asked why she decided to write a book, Charlene says, “It allowed me to differentiate and to show people who I really am and what was important to me.” Known for fitness when she wrote her book, she wanted to help people with personal development. It was a way she could tell the world what was important to her.
Her second book was a focused business decision. Charlene’s business coach at the time wanted her to use her book as a PR tool. So, reluctantly agreeing to write the book, she and her book gave her the PR needed to become an expert in her field.
With her first book, she funnels readers into an online course and other secondary sales. Although it was painful to write because of her ADHD, she wanted to have this book at the top of her sales funnel. Using a ghostwriter, she was able to write and complete her first book. However, she doesn’t feel that a ghostwriter was a good choice for her first book based on her circumstances at the time.
Even though she struggled through writing her first book, Charlene likened writing her health book to therapy. “I know for me that I’ll read the first three or four chapters and I’ll tell people I read the book.” However, she realizes that many others will also form an opinion from reading the first four chapters. Hence, she points out much of the valuable information for her book into these sections.
Charlene is very protective of her work time and space when she is writing. “I create an environment and boundaries that allow me to stay uninterrupted and without any distraction, and to recognize my own Achilles Heel.” She knows what distracts her from work and writing, so Charlene purposefully creates a space where distractions aren’t a variable.
Listen in on today’s episode to find out what Charlene did to get herself into writing mode, why mornings were better for her, and why you want to keep a journal to find out what activities bring you to your creative streak.
Figurative language always plays a huge role in fiction. When we write, we’re trying to describe something that the reader doesn’t know about–we can stick to bare-bones, literal communication, but that’s going to be a pretty bland reading experience.
Figurative language, in a nutshell, is using words or phrases outside their literal dictionary definition. You might not think this is a big part of how we communicate or write, but actually, figurative language is an enormous part of verbal communication.
We often can’t describe things the way they are, and instead describe things by comparing them to something else, and this is usually figurative language. Understanding what figurative language is, what the different types are, and how to use them will help you immensely in your writing. And in this article, we’re going to do just that!
Real quick, let’s talk about figurative meaning.
Figurative meaning is meaning that isn’t literal. Figurative meaning is symbolic, and it’s imparted through figurative language, which is what we’ll talk about here.
Here are a few quick examples of figurative meaning, just so you know what we’re working with here:
From Dictionary.com: “to know your ropes” can mean two things. Literally, it means to know your literal ropes well, as in to have a thorough knowledge about the physical ropes in your possession. Figuratively, it means to know your stuff, or to be well versed in your area of expertise.
Also from Dictionary.com: “allergy” is used to describe literal allergies, like a peanut allergy or a pollen allergy, or it’s used to describe an intense dislike of something. Someone might say “I’m basically allergic to zebra print” to mean they dislike it immensely.
There are a ton of different types of figurative language, so this isn’t a comprehensive list by any means. However, these are the most common types of figurative language you’ll come across in everyday conversation and in the books you read, and they’re a great place to start if you’re looking for more tools in your writerly arsenal! You probably already use a lot of these and don’t even realize it yet.
Alliteration is when a sound repeats at the start of several words which are close to one another. The words don’t have to be directly next to one another–they can just be close by–but they should be close enough that you can hear the sound repeated when the sentence is spoken out loud.
Example: Before her broken heart burst, she barreled down the street.
Here, we see the ‘b’ sound repeated in ‘before,’ ‘broken,’ ‘burst,’ and ‘barreled.’
Ideally, this will be used to some effect–maybe a sentence that’s meant to sound harsh will have repeating ‘k’ or ‘t’ sounds to make it sound halting and short. Something meant to sound more fluid and romantic might have more soft sounds. Tinkering with this can change the feel and texture of your passages.
Assonance is when similar vowel sounds happen in words which are close to one another. Unlike alliteration, this doesn’t have to happen specifically at the beginning of the word–it can happen anywhere in the word, as long as we see it come up a few times in words which are close to one another.
Example: Son of a gun.
Son of a gun has the sound in ‘son’ and ‘gun’ repeated, giving it a catchy, punchy feel.
Consonance is when similar consonant sounds repeat in words close to one another. It’s much like assonance, except the vowel sound is swapped for a consonant sound.
Note that this isn’t the same as alliteration. Consonance only involves consonants, for example, and assonance only involves vowels. Alliteration could be both. Consonance also doesn’t have to take place at the beginning of the word, while alliteration does.
Example: Megan’s off-hand comments frazzled the Chief of Justice.
Here, the ‘f’ sound is repeated in ‘off,’ ‘frazzled,’ and ‘Chief.’ Notice that the ‘f’ sound doesn’t always fall at the beginning of the word, which is what makes this an example of consonance instead of alliteration.
Simile is when we compare things using the words ‘like’ or ‘as.’ This is something we see constantly in poetry or in particularly descriptive prose–it’s difficult to get the reader to understand the significance or preciseness of something, so comparing it to something else the reader knows can really help.
Example: Her laugh was as sweet as sugar.
If you were writing this, you might have a great idea in your head of what this character’s laugh sounds like. But maybe you go to write it, and saying ‘her laugh sounded sweet’ isn’t doing enough. How can you explain how sweet it was to the reader? We know how sweet sugar is–describing it as ‘sweet as sugar’ helps us understand.
Metaphor is the comparison of similar things without using ‘like’ or ‘as.’ This is very similar to simile, in that we’re using something to explain or describe something else. However, while simile compares them by using ‘like’ or ‘as,’ metaphor simply states that the things are the same. Because it shortens the distance between the two things and makes for more powerful statements, some authors argue that metaphor is superior to simile, but both are common!
Example: When she broke up with him, his heart was a rock in his chest.
His heart isn’t literally a rock in his chest. Instead, we’re using the phrase ‘rock’ to get across the way this character feels without stating it outright. His heart was a rock in his chest–we get the sense of his chest feeling tight, that he feels upset or even distraught.
You’ll also come across extended metaphor, which is where an author uses an image throughout a few lines or stanzas to convey meaning. A great example of this is in Robert Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken, where the two roads symbolize two walks of life.
An idiom is when a combination of words, together, makes up a meaning different from their literal meanings.
Wait, you may be saying–isn’t that all of figurative language?
Well, kind of. But idioms have a strong cultural element to them. People in a group will use an idiom and understand what they mean, even though the words together might not make any sense to any outsider.
Example: That test was a piece of cake.
This is a metaphor, yes, but it’s also an idiom. ‘Piece of cake’ is a commonly used phrase used to mean ‘easy,’ so saying the test was a piece of cake or like a piece of cake lets us know it was easy.
Onamonapias are written expressions of sounds. They’re not what the sound actually sounds like, but they’re used to get those sounds across.
Example(s): Zap! Pop! Bang!
Zap doesn’t sound exactly like an electric shock, but it sort of gets across the vibe of an electric shock–same with pop and bang. These words sound similar to the sounds they’re describing.
Personification is assigning person-like attributes to something that isn’t a person.
Example: The tide danced in and out, but never reached the Smith’s house.
A tide can’t literally dance, but the word ‘dance’ gives us a playful, lyrical sense of the tide’s movement. We’re ascribing a person-like characteristic or movement to the tide so we can better understand it.
Hyperbole is the use of extreme, dramatic language to get across something. The reader or listener knows the hyperbole isn’t literally true–it’s just being used to convey the extremity of the situation. Characters or people who use lots of hyperbole often come off as dramatic.
Example: “My hairbrush broke–this is the end of the world.”
It’s obviously not the end of the world if your hairbrush breaks–here, that phrase is being used to get across the severity of how the situation feels.
Irony is when we describe something using words that have the opposite meaning–this is often done for the sake of comedy.
There are three main types of irony: verbal irony, situational irony, and dramatic irony.
Dramatic irony is when the audience understands something opposite what the characters do.
Example: Romeo doesn’t know Juliet isn’t really dead, so he kills himself.
Verbal irony is when a different word is used than what is meant.
Example: Someone saying “oh, my day has been awesome” if their day has actually been terrible.
Situational irony is when something happens which is different than what we expect.
Example: In the Emperor’s New Groove, there’s a scene where Kuzco is lost and frightened in the woods. The lighting gets dark and the bushes rumble, Kuzco trembles in fear, and we expect a monster to leap forward, but instead it’s a little bunny rabbit.
Allusions are when we compare things to famous nouns. Note that this isn’t metaphor or simile–what makes allusion unique is that we’re using well-known people and places. Allusions can also be (and frequently are) references to other famous books, movies, or T.V. shows.
Example: “Well, I’m not Mozart or anything, but I think I play piano well enough.”
We know Mozart to be an excellent pianist. Because of that, we understand this person isn’t literally claiming not to be Mozart, but is instead claiming not to be very good at piano.
In a synecdoche, we use a part of something to represent the whole thing.
Example: Dallas won the Superbowl last weekend.
All of the city of Dallas did not win the Superbowl last weekend. Here, we’re taking the team (the Dallas Cowboys) and referring to it as ‘Dallas.’ The football team is representing the entire city of Dallas.
Now that we’ve covered some common types of figurative language, let’s run through a few more examples to make sure we’ve got them down.
EXAMPLE: A police station gets burglarized.
This is situational irony. Since a police station is, in theory, meant to prevent crime, it’s ironic that a police station would be the victim of a crime. This is situational irony because it depicts something happening which we wouldn’t expect.
EXAMPLE: Snow fell soft as flower petals on the rolling hills.
This is a simile. Our key word here is ‘as.’ We’re using ‘flower petals’ to describe ‘snow,’ and since we’re using ‘as,’ it’s a simile as opposed to a metaphor.
EXAMPLE: “I’m pretty fit, but pull-ups are my Achilles’ heel.”
This is an allusion. Achilles’ heel, specifically, is a classical allusion, referring to the myth of Achilles. What the speaker means is that pushups are their one big weak spot.
EXAMPLE: “It’s raining cats and dogs out there.”
This is an idiom. It’s not literally raining cats and dogs, as those words together would imply literally. Instead, this is a commonly used phrase that we understand to mean that it’s raining a lot.
That’s why we work everyday to provide you resources, like the one below, to help you get from “Idea” to “Published”.
Check out the resource below, and if you’d like one-to-one or group help and support to finish your book, you can book a call with one of our Publishing Strategists here to learn more about what we do and how we help authors all over the world share their ideas through self-publishing.
Think about it like this: every story needs conflict. A story’s not interesting if the hero gets everything they want without any resistance–we need tension, drama, stakes, and compelling characters to keep us invested the whole way through and make the hero’s victory worthwhile. These are the building blocks to writing a great novel.
We’re here to talk about the opposition today! We’ll figure out what they are, how they function in stories, and give you some examples of antagonists you may have seen before. We’ll even get into some common misconceptions about them, so if you think you already know everything there is to know about them, stay tuned!
An antagonist is a character opposing the protagonist. They’re the character presenting obstacles or challenges that keep the hero or main character from getting what they want. It’s really that simple! An antagonist doesn’t have to be the main villain of a story–there are usually more than one antagonists in any given story.
Your protagonist has their goal, whether it’s to get together with their significant other, save the world, or overthrow the government. Your anti-hero’s goal is simple: stop the protagonist from getting what they want.
An antagonist might stop them in a million different ways, and it all depends on the story. In a romance, maybe the antagonist is a bitter ex-boyfriend who doesn’t want to see his ex-girlfriend happy, so he keeps trying to sabotage her new relationship. In a fantasy story, they could be an evil warlock bent on destroying humans for good.
Like we mentioned earlier, the role isn’t always necessarily the main villain. Your main villain is almost certainly going to be an antagonist–if they aren’t doing anything to trouble your heroes, then they’re probably not a great villain–but anyone who gets in the protagonist’s way is technically an antagonist.
So, when we were talking about villains, I listed some examples of antagonists doing some morally bad things. This is pretty typical–heroes are generally good guys, so a bad guy is usually going to be the one to get in their way.
But this isn’t a hard rule. This character doesn’t have to be evil in a moral sense! If your protagonist is a villainous character who does awful things and the antagonist is trying to stop them, they’re still the antagonist–they’re just morally good or lawful.
The thing to keep in mind is that bad and good are moral terms that describe the moral value of someone’s actions. The bad guys want to blow up New York, so the Avengers save the day. Dr. Doofenshmirtz wants to blow up the Tri-State area, so Perry stops him. Perry wants to keep the Tri-State area safe, and every single day of his life, Dr. Doofenshmirtz is one heck of an obstacle.
But maybe there’s the Grinch looking to destroy Christmas. That’s not a super cool thing to do, and the audience knows it, but the Grinch is still our protagonist. We don’t want him to succeed, really, and we’re not rooting for him to rip up that Whoville fun–he’s our protagonist, but he’s not a good guy. Similarly, the Whos down in Whoville are impeding him, so they’re antagonists. They aren’t bad guys, but they are antagonists.
We’ve defined character traits and explained what their role is in a given story–now it’s time to look at some examples!
Shrek’s goal, from the get-go, is pretty simple and pretty obvious. He wants to be left alone in his swamp to hang out and be gross, and when a bunch of fairytale creatures show up on his land, this becomes impossible.
It’s true that the fairytale creatures being there prevent him from achieving his goal, but they were sent there by Lord Farquaad–they didn’t come on their own accord. Lord Farquaad is the one kicking them off their own land, refusing to cooperate, and ripping the legs off gingerbread men–he’s the antagonist, not the creatures. He’s also the main antagonist, because he drives the central conflict of the film.
We also have Monsieur Hood, who’s basically Robin Hood, and who wants to do some highway robbery while Shrek and the gang are coming back from their quest. Monsieur Hood is an antagonist, because he’s literally standing in the way of what our protagonists want. However, he’s not the main antagonist.
Disney is famous for its villains for good reason–they’re consistently well-branded and reveling in their misconduct, and it’s a blast to watch. Mother Gothel is no exception!
Rapunzel wants to leave the tower, explore the world, and figure out who she is. Mother Gothel wants to keep Rapunzel in the tower, prevent her from exploring the world, and keep Rapunzel’s identity a secret. She spends most of the movie trying to hunt Rapunzel down and recapture her. She’s our main antagonist.
We also have the Stabbington brothers, our secondary antagonists. They want revenge on Flynn for stealing the crown, and they join up with Mother Gothel to achieve this goal.
Sauron, Orcs, Sarumon, Smeagol from Lord of the Rings
Naming every character that could fit into this definition in Lord of the Rings would probably take a minute–Lord of the Rings is an enormous series with a half a billion characters. However, it’s a great chance to pick apart some antagonists and differentiate between main, secondary, and miscellaneous.
Our main antagonist is Sauron. Defeating Sauron is our central goal–he’s doing the most to destroy our protagonists’ hopes and dreams and worlds. We also have Sarumon and Smeagol, secondary antagonists who work to prevent the protagonists from getting that one true ring to Mordor.
We also have a sea of orcs. These guys are also opposite the protagonist, since they’re working to prevent our characters from defeating evil, which is their goal.
Again, they’re not categorized as bad guys because they’re fighting for evil–our protagonists just happen to be fighting against that evil.
Zuko’s one of the best antagonists ever! Let’s talk about why.
At the start of the story, his entire purpose is to capture the Avatar. The Avatar is our main protagonist, so this makes Zuko an antagonist. It’s pretty cut and dry for a while… and suddenly, the tables turn.
Zuko changes his villainous ways, denounces his evil father, and switches sides in the third season. He joins the Gaang, and at this point, he stops opposing the protagonist. He’s no longer preventing Aang from achieving his goals–he’s helping him, which means he’s now a protagonist.
Firelord Ozai from Avatar: the Last Airbender
Unlike Zuko, Firelord Ozai sticks to being an opp the entire time. He’s driving the main conflict–his desire to take over and destroy the entire world is exactly what Aang spends the entire show training to prevent.
Zuko provides an additional challenge, because he’s also trying to capture Aang, but he isn’t the one trying to take over the world. He just wants to get back on his dad’s good side. Ozai, on the other hand, is pretty hell-bent on world domination.
You might think antagonists don’t exist in literary fiction, but you’d be wrong! Antagonists get more complicated when it comes to more character-driven work. It kind of takes the nuance out of your complex coming-of-age narrative if you’ve got a cloaked villain stroking his beard in the background.
Willy Loman is a great example of a protagonist who’s also an antagonist. He wants to fulfill the American Dream through his role as a salesman, but he’s also delusional. He’s insecure, he’s volatile, and throughout the entire play, he is his own worst enemy. He prevents himself from achieving his goals, and the drama from the play comes from watching him implode. The American Dream isn’t stable, and neither is Loman.
In literary fiction, antagonists are usually kind of complicated. You’ll have the protagonist be their own antagonist, or have the antagonist be a misunderstood family member–when in doubt, ask yourself who it is that’s preventing the protagonist from achieving their goals. In Death of a Salesman, it’s Willy Loman.
Maximum Ride’s a book series about bird kids who escape their lab and wreak havoc on America, all the while struggling with their weird existence as bird kids. The lab is known as The School, and that’s our main evil force opposing the bird kids.
The School constantly pursues the kids in an attempt to recapture them for further scientific tinkering. This creates the main problem the kids face throughout the series: they want their freedom, and the School wants them captured. These guys are our main antagonists.
We also have Erasers, the goons The School sends to recapture or kill the kids. Erasers aren’t the ones creating that main conflict, but they are definitely posing a problem–these are secondary antagonists.
Hades stole a lightning bolt from Zeus, and Percy has to go get it back. Hades is our main antagonist in the Lightning Thief! You may have heard Greek Mythology buffs complain about how this series makes Hades into something of a villain, since in traditional Greek mythology, he’s really just hanging out.
But, one more time: Hades isn’t an the main opposition in this story because he’s evil. He fits the trait because he’s got, and wants to keep, the thing Percy, our protagonist, needs to succeed in his quest.
The Lightning Thief and the Heroes of Olympus series is full of fun secondary antagonists, but for an easy example, let’s consider the Minotaur. When Percy’s trying to get into Camp Half-Blood, the Minotaur is literally physically in his way, preventing him from achieving this goal. Bam, antagonist.
Remember when I said that literary fiction can create some complicated antagonists? So can any genre, if the author plays their cards right. Cersei’s pretty obviously a villain in Game of Thrones–right?
Well, it’s complicated. Game of Thrones is told from many characters’ points of view, and almost every character wants to end up on the Iron Throne, Cersei included. She prevents many of our more likeable characters from being on the throne and does a ton of awful stuff to prevent them from even getting close, which does make her an public enemy number 1.
However, from her own point of view, she’s a protagonist. People like Margaery Tyrell and Ned Stark become antagonists, preventing her from keeping the throne.
She’s definitely an anti-hero, but she’s also kind of a protagonist, which makes for a fun, complicated reading experience.
Who is your favorite TV, movie, or book antagonist? Let us know in the comments below!
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