authors, creativity, Editing, Publishing, self publishing, writing

7 keys to creating unforgettable characters

Along with making sure your book has all the element s of a great story, you also need to make sure your characters are interesting, consistent and an element of your book that draws readers in and keeps them interested. Good characters or poor ones will often determine whether your readers stay with you to the end of the journey or get off at the first stop. If readers lose interest in your characters, they usually lose interest in the story.

So how do you develop memorable characters? Here are some ideas to keep in mind as you write

Create a history for your main characters

The Davinci Code is one example of a book that has all the elements of good characters..

Past experiences help make us who we are and explain many of the decisions we make. So even if you don’t reveal everything about the lives of your characters in your story, it is still very helpful to write a biography to use as a guide for your writing. Identify key events in their lives and key people who influenced them. Answer questions like where did they live, where did they go to school and what jobs did they have. Who helped them along the way? Who hurt them? Knowing these things about your character will ensure you have them act consistently and help you understand what drives them. If you don’t understand a character, your readers won’t either.

Make sure your characters act consistently

Inconsistency in your characters will confuse your readers and make them lose interest. Once you develop a character in a certain way, readers are expecting that character to behave in accordance with his or her personality and motivations as you have revealed them. If that character behaves in a way that doesn’t make sense, your readers will notice. Be consistent in even the small things, such as hair color, to big things, like the character’s manner of speaking.

Avoid stereotypes

Shrek is not the stereotypical ogre, which is one of the reasons readers are drawn to him.

A good story surprises the reader and rewards them for reading. Sometimes that happens with a plot twist, but it can also happen with what I call a character twist. One of my favorite examples is the children’s book, Shrek. Even though Shrek is an ogre, he is actually kind and helpful. He is not the stereotypical ogre roaming the forest wreaking havoc in people’s lives.  Make sure there is something unexpected about your characters, but that it aligns with the biography you wrote for them and they act true to themselves throughout the story.

Develop secondary characters that are interesting  

Sidekicks can be some of the most likeable and interesting characters in the story. In some cases, readers can like them as much as the main characters.  They can help or hinder the main characters. They can provide comic relief or threats.  The key is to make sure they move the story along and not just there to take up space on the page. Here again, you may want to consider writing a biography of the character before writing he or she into the story.

Reveal your characters as the story unfolds

Often times, because we love our characters so much we want our readers to know everything about them right away.  So there is a temptation to tell the reader everything about our main character right at the start. We want to give a full physical description, tell the life story, and reveal the innermost thoughts of a character as soon as he or she is introduced. But that can create a very lopsided story and get bog down the reader in too many details.  Introduce your characters, but let your reader get to know them better as the story unfolds just like they would do in a relationship in real life. It will make your book much better.

Have an antagonist

Life has struggles and sometimes we don’t really learn who a person is until we see them in a conflict. In some cases, challenges can come from nature, but usually the most common and interesting struggles are with other people. Good versus evil is the oldest story line there is, but it still works. So make sure as you unfold what the main character is driving towards, it is clear who is creating resistance

Use all the senses

One of the ways you can keep a reader interested in your characters is engage all the senses as you reveal them. Sight is the most obvious sense to use because you can describe what the character looks like or what they are wearing, but don’t neglect the other senses of sound, taste, touch, and smell. Aroma can tell us something about a character. For example, you don’t need to tell the reader your character smokes. Instead, you could say the jacket he wore had a hint of cigarette smoke. It still conveys the idea that this person likely is a smoker, but it does it in a more interesting way.

Hopefully, you have found these suggestions helpful. If you have other keys you would like to share, please use the comment section to provide your tips.

Author Solutions, authors, Editing, Indie book publishing, Publishing, self publishing, writing

4 different types of editing every aspiring author needs to understand.

There are no one-draft wonders in book publishing. Every book, including children’s books, can benefit from the keen eye and experience of an editor, but not all editing is the same. There are different types of editorial services based on the need of the manuscript. Understanding these differences can be very beneficial as you work with your editor to make your book as good as it can be.

Knowing the differences in editing services can help you make good decisions about what is needed to make your book even better.

Knowing the differences in editing services can help you make good decisions about what is needed to make your book even better.

In a previous post titled, Six tips for finding the right editor for your book, I outlined some ideas on how to find the best editor for your book, but in this post I want to identify and explain the different type of editing you might need for your book.


Copyediting, which is sometime also called line editing, applies a professional polish to a book. The editor reviews your work, fixing any errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Depending on the definition, copyediting may also include editing of syntax, word choice, tightening of sentences, and the application of style, such as The Chicago Manual of Style.

Some editors distinguish copyediting and line editing and consider them two separate edits. Copyediting is often the lighter, grammar-only edit, and line editing is a more detailed look at each sentence’s meaning.

Every book, including children’s books, can benefit from the keen eye and experience of an editor, but not all editing is the same.

Line Editing

Line editing is often used interchangeably with the term copyediting. However, when it is distinguished from copyediting, it refers to a unique edit that falls between copyediting and developmental editing.  With line editing, the editor looks at your book line by line and analyzes each sentence. The editor considers word choice and the power and meaning of a sentence. The editor considers syntax and whether a sentence needs to be trimmed or tightened.

Developmental Editing

The developmental editor looks deeply at the organization and strength of a book. The editor considers everything from pacing to characters, point of view, tense, plot, subplots, and dialogue. Weak links are exposed and questioned. The editor scrutinizes order, flow, and consistency. He or she asks questions such as: Is this the right number of chapters? Are the chapters and paragraphs in the right order? Are there any places in the book where the pacing lags? Is there a hole in the information or story presented? Are the characters likable? Developmental editing considers all the aspects of a manuscript that make the book more readable and enjoyable.


Proofreading is also often used interchangeably with copyediting. The goal is the same: find any mistakes related to grammar, spelling and punctuation. However, proofreading is usually performed on the final layout of the book to make sure it is error-free before it goes to print. Chances are most errors have already been caught in the earlier stages of editing, but this final check gives you one last time to make your book as good as it can be.

Author Solutions, book marketing, helpful hints, Indie book publishing, Publishing, self publishing, writing

How to make your book cover attract readers: A conversation with book designer Adam Hall

Over the past year, I have gotten to know, Adam Hall, who is a book designer for indie authors. His website,  is a showcase for his work, but Adam also does design for a variety of diverse projects and audiences. He has worked with both first-time and experienced authors on one book or a series. I asked him to share some of his insights recently about designing for books. His answers to my questions follow below.

Type is as important as the image on a cover.

Type is as important as the image on a cover.

How did you start designing book covers? 

I got my start by doing a favor for a friend, Ernie Lindsey. He is an indie writer who has made the USA Today Bestseller list with his series, Sara’s Game. A few years ago he needed some help tweaking a cover. Ernie and I have now collaborated on about 10+ projects. Through his, and other’s encouragement, I decided to make it my focus in my design career.

“……a good cover won’t always make you want to buy a book, but a bad cover will most definitely make you not buy one”

 From your experience what are the keys to making a book cover design work really well?

The cover needs to convey the genre, and give a clue into the story. It doesn’t need to tell the whole story, but create enough intrigue to catch the readers’ eye. Focus on typography as much as the images. If the art is brilliant, but the title text is all wrong, the whole piece falls flat. The art and typography have to work together.

How does book cover design differ from other design projects you do?

In addition to book covers, I work with musicians and bands on artwork and websites. With music design you are basically marketing the individual or group. With book covers you are telling a story. It is fun to find that nugget in the story that you can use in artwork to capture that the idea in the book in one image. That makes book cover design more challenging than doing design for music, but that’s part of what makes it fun.

The thumbnail is what they will likely see first if they search online, so it is critical the thumbnail makes a good first impression.

What design mistakes do you see most often on book covers?

One common mistake is not considering all formats when doing the cover design. You have to make sure the cover looks great in thumbnail size AND full size. You only have a split second to catch a potential reader’s eye as they’re searching out that next book. The thumbnail is what they will likely see first if they search online, so it is critical the thumbnail makes a good first impression.

Finding the one image that captures the story is a key to good book design.

Finding the one image that captures the story is a key to good book design.

What tips would you give to first time authors?

I think two of the most important people an author can find are a good editor and designer. You have to trust both to make your work the best it can be.

When it comes to working with a designer, do your due diligence and look at a designer’s previous work. A friend of mine has said “a good cover won’t always make you want to buy a book, but a bad cover will most definitely make you not buy one”. I thought that was a brilliant point. Find a designer who can help make your cover one that motivate readers to buy your book.

Author Solutions, authors, helpful hints, Indie book publishing, self publishing, writing

3 brainstorming techniques that can help you capture the best ideas for your book

One of the keys to writing a good book is making sure your manuscript contains the best of ideas or story you want to brainstorm ideaconvey. That means you need to make sure you include all the main ideas and supporting concepts for a nonfiction book and all the key plot points and characters in a fiction book.

Brainstorming before you begin writing can help you capture scattered thoughts and explore new ones you might not have considered. You can brainstorm about your book in general to get started, or you can brainstorm something more specific, such as a particular character, the setting of your story, or a chapter. There are several brainstorming techniques that are useful for writers. Here are a few to try that could help make your book even better.

Ask Questions

Instead of focusing on the answers and what you know, think about questions you could ask about your topic or plot or a character. “What if” is a great place to start. What if the character was from another planet? What if no one spoke the same language? What if you wrote a workbook to accompany your non-fiction book? “What if” can lead to a number of new ideas.

Another way to approach this technique is create a sheet that has six categories: who, what, when, where, why, and how. Then start writing down questions that need to be answered. Who are the antagonist’s allies? What is the one thing the main character cannot live without? Where will the story unfold? Give yourself a time frame, and write down as many questions as you can. At the end of the brainstorming session, dig deeper into some of the interesting questions that arose.

Create a Mind Map

Mind mapping can help you explore new directions and new ideas for your book.

Mind mapping can help you explore new directions and new ideas for your book.

To expand your basic idea, try the technique known as mind mapping. Mind mapping is a technique used to organize your brainstorming ideas. Start with a circle in the center of a blank page (use a large sheet of paper, a whiteboard, or even a sidewalk and chalk). In the middle of that circle, write your main idea or initial thought, and then branch off from there. Draw other circles branching from the first one, filling them in with related ideas or subplots. Continue expanding on each subsidiary idea and then on ideas subsidiary to the first sub-idea. Continue quickly, creating more branches and associations. At the end, your page will be filled with a mind map of ideas that will help you develop your story.

Make a List

The first two brainstorming ideas are intended to create a breadth of ideas around a topic, but making a list will help you explore the depth of a topic. To start set a number as your goal for your list. It could be ten, or 20 or 50. The number doesn’t matter as much as the commitment to create the list. Then write a statement or idea at the top of the page. For example, at the end of the book, the main character will ______________. Then start making a list of all the possible things that could happen to the main character. Most of the ideas on the list won’t be viable, but the goal is to just open up your thinking to find that one really killer idea on the list. Don’t worry about the quality or order of the items you are listing, just get them out onto the page. Then go back and review your list when you are done. You will probably be surprised at some of what you listed, but look for that one idea that can make your book really special.

Have you used brainstorming techniques?

I trust these three simple ideas are helpful to you, but perhaps there are other techniques you have used in your writing process. If so, please share those in the comment section and I will post for the other readers to see.

Author Solutions, AuthorHouse, authors, helpful hints, Indie book publishing, Publishing, self publishing

Essential info on how to work with an illustrator: An interview with Jamie Cosley

Recently I had a conversation with Jamie Cosley, who makes his living as an illustrator. While Jamie’s web site show cases a wide range of illustrations, his portfolio features work for a number of children’s books. Given the number of aspiring authors I speak with who are writing a children’s book, I thought it would be helpful to hear from an experienced illustrator like Jamie to know what to expect when working with an illustrator to make your book as good as it can be. What follows are Jamie’s answers to some questions I posed to him.

Illustrator Jamie Cosley shares tips on what to expect from working with an illustrator.

Illustrator Jamie Cosley shares tips on what to expect from working with an illustrator.

How did you start doing illustrations for books?  My first picture book was Poppy’s Planet by author Russ Brown.  He was looking for an illustrator on Twitter. I found his initial post and sent him a link to my website.  We’ve also worked on two other books since then. I like being able to work with first time authors and self publishers.  Most of my connections at first were made through Twitter, but now a lot of projects come from referrals.

“It’s real easy to crowd a page. You need to make sure that everything the reader will see on the page is necessary to the story.”

What advice would you give on the best way to work with an illustrator?    I would just like everyone to know that it is a lot of hard work!   Illustrating a picture book (depending on the amount of detail the story requires) can take anywhere from 6 weeks to 6 months to complete.

Make sure you don't crowd the page. Everything on the page should be essential to the story.

Make sure you don’t crowd the page. Everything on the page should be essential to the story.

How do illustrations for a book differ from other illustration projects?  The main difference is consistency.  You have to learn to draw certain characters over and over again without changing their size or appearance.  If you have a little girl with a bow in her hair and it’s on the left side of her face, you need to remember that throughout those 32 pages.  That can be very tricky so I think it’s important to develop a model//character sheet that shows your characters from all different angles before you even begin.  If you do a lot of prep work up front it will be easier on you in the long run.  When you do a spot illustration for a magazine or newspaper article you will probably only have to draw it once :)  It’s a lot different.

“There is nothing like holding that finished product in your hand….”

What design mistakes do you see most often in books that have illustrations?  Composition is really tough.  It’s real easy to crowd a page. You need to make sure that everything the reader will see on the page is necessary to the story

What tips would you give to first time authors?  Be patient.   This is never easy.  When you start to see your dream take shape it’s easy to become impatient and want to speed things along.  Maybe even cut corners.  There is nothing like holding that finished product in your hand but take a deep breath and make certain that there aren’t any mistakes first.  Let more than a few eyes see it so you only have to print once!

Consistency in characters, tone of voice and reading level are key to a good children's book.

Consistency in characters, tone of voice and reading level are key to a good children’s book.

 Anything else you think would be helpful for readers to know.  It’s an exciting time to be a creative person.  You have sites like Kickstarter and Patreon where you can go out on your own and make things happen!  So do it!  Make things happen!  Don’t be afraid.  Dream big!

Author Solutions, authors, Editing, writing

Can outlining make your writing even better? Here are 3 methods to use and find out.

I have to admit I was not a fan of outlining and have heard multiple debates among writers about whether an outline is needed. Some see it as essential before they start the writing process. Others see it as too restrictive and something that limits creativity. I probably would have fallen more in the latter category, but over the last few years, I have come to really see the value of establishing an outline before writing.

No matter what method you use, an outline could improve your writing.

No matter what method you use, an outline could improve your writing. 

Having a good outline is like having a good map. GPS on our phones has made maps old school, but not that long ago, having a map was critical before embarking on a journey. For me an outline simply serves as a map. It establishes where you are starting and what your final destination will be and some of the key milestones you will pass on your journey. It doesn’t mean you can’t take a slightly different route once you begin your journey or add a stop or two. It just simply gives you a path to follow as you write. Too often, first time authors, write to get down on paper the essence of what they want to say, but don’t make it easy for others to follow along. An outline can help avoid that problem.

Three options for you to create an outline.  Over the years, three different methods for outlining have become the predominant options for authors. There is no ranking of one, two and three. Rather, they present choices for you to find which method works best for you. The following list will touch on the basics of popular methods.

Classic Outline

This classic outline includes Roman numerals, letters, and numbers for headings and subheadings. It is the most highly organized form of outlining and relies heavily on sequential thinking. It is often uses most for nonfiction works. The goal of the classical outline is to create a blueprint that effectively divides main ideas and subordinating ones, while at the same time coordinating ideas into a cohesive whole. Most of us learned this method in school at some point

Summary Outline

In a summary outline, you start by sequentially listing plot events. Then write a short summary of each chapter. Clearly define goals for each chapter and discuss the characters, settings, and chapter timelines. This kind of outline is linear in nature. It can be used in conjunction with a classic outline to create an even more detailed blueprint for your book. It is also most often used for a fiction book.


This form of outlining is popular because it allows for constant reorganization of ideas. It is a great technique for when you

Using Post-It notes can be an effective way to storyboard.

Using Post-It notes can be an effective way to storyboard.

want to get all your ideas down and then begin to play with options for how the book or story could flow.  You can use index cards or sticky notes and write down all the key events or points you want to make. Then on a wall or table, begin to layout the order you want the ideas or events to appear. This method is really helpful if you are a visual person and need to see the flow. It also helps you see where you may have holes in the story or a weak transition.

Have you used a outline when you write? If so, what method? Have you found it helpful. Use the comment section to let me know what you think.

Author Solutions, authors, book marketing, Ebooks, Indie book publishing, Publishing, self publishing

4 takeaways from BEA (Book Expo America) that authors should know about.

Last week I attended the premier industry tradeshow, Book Expo America, also affectionately known as BEA. Here were some of my observations.

Book Expo America show floor

Lots of activity on the Book Expo America show floor (Book Expo America)

The death of publishing is greatly exaggerated.

While publishing has gone through significant changes the past year, the floor was still filled with lots of new books and authors. Then on the weekend, the doors were open to readers and the floor was filled with lots of eager fans ready to meet some of their literary stars.

Publishing is still a place for start-ups.

One of the more interesting sections for the trade show floor was dedicated to start-ups focused on the publishing industry. I did not get a chance to walk all the booths in Start-Up Alley, but judging by the amount of space they occupied, there were a number of new ideas trying to gain traction. Time will tell but it was encouraging to see investment in new ideas for readers and authors.

Using social media for discovery is a big topic.

As expected a hot topic was how to use social to promote discoverability. One of the most interesting new entrants is Bookgrabbr. According to their site, BookGrabbr is an App and web-based technology product designed to expand the brand and media platform of any author by creating and increasing visibility in the book community and securing new readers and customers for those authors’ books.

Smiling Archway authors packed the booth at BEA.

Smiling Archway authors packed the booth at BEA. One author even wore a Superman cape.

Archway Publishing authors were extremely happy.

At the end of the show, Archway Publishing hosted a reception for authors. As usual, the authors who attend BEA and the event, loved it. I heard two words consistently, “overwhelming and exciting”. That is how authors felt about the time at the Expo and at the reception. It is always a great way to close out the day.