The Secret to Writing Good Characters

Ben Wiseman Illustration NYTCharacters make or break a novel, especially for agents. When agents get 100s of manuscripts submitted per month, what is it that draws us to some books and not others? Characters.

What agents look for in a main character:

  • Degree of likability
  • Interesting
  • Honest
  • Have a strong and unique voice
  • They feel like they had a real life before the book started and after the pages are done
  • No coincidences
  • Motivation for what they do
  • That we meet them at an interesting point in their lives
  • Most importantly: They must have a secret. What are they hiding?

All strong and interesting characters carry a secret with them. A secret that is slowly revealed to the reader. A secret that some find controversial always helps. A secret that the character has to explain and is the reason why they do what they do and why they are the way they are. And remember: the best secrets impact more lives than one.

Further Reading:

30 Questions to Ask Your Main Character

Image: Ben Wiseman NYT

How Writers Can Show Agents They’re Career Authors

pen to paperAn agent’s job is part project manager, part contracts consultant, part therapist, part editor, and always full-time advocate. We try to be so many things for our writers and all agents have particular strengths in one part of that equation.

However, what we all have in common is treating our writers’ careers like a business.

When we sign up new authors this is what we ask ourselves:

“How can we help you make a living from your writing?”

Not only do we have to fall in love with a manuscript, connect with the author personally, sell ourselves to the writer as their champion, and know how to sell their book–we have to have a strong vision for their career and know that we are the best agent to help them secure that future.

That’s why you hear agents saying “it wasn’t for me,” or “I liked it but I didn’t love it.”

We have to be looking two books, three books, or a series ahead. It isn’t just what’s on the page today, but if we think they can grow into an author we can help for years to come.


  • In the author bio paragraph of your query letter tell us you are working on your next book.
  • Have a short synopsis of your next book prepared if an agent asks.
  • Know where you see yourself in 5-10 years as a writer. Writing the same genre? Switching gears? Still writing?
  • Network with other writers and show a public commitment to your own success.
  • Make sure your social media bios include the word writer and your posts link to writing or creative topics from time to time.
  • You don’t have to have an MFA, but attending writing workshops or joining organizations is helpful. There are so many: SCBWI for children’s books, WFWA for women’s fiction etc.
  • Knowledge about how the industry works. This is my top book on the business: INSIDE BOOK PUBLISHING. This will provide you with more than you need to know.
  • Know what you want from an agent (other than the basics): publicity division, film/tv specialists etc.

4 Tips To Increase Goodreads Book Promotion

bwbooks2Goodreads: everyone’s favourite social book tracking site. What more can you want as an author than to be where the bibliophiles are?

There are many ways to use Goodreads, but from the perspective of an author trying to get the word out you’re in a great place to find your market.


1. Giveaways

Goodreads giveaways are a great way to get early reviews of your book. This sets the tone early. Word of mouth can spread quickly. Organize this with your marketing department and make sure galleys are allotted to this.

2. Paid Advertising

Many writers struggle with the idea of using their own money to promote their book. This is a great way to choose and pay for a package to do your own marketing with your publisher’s assistance supplying graphic designed images–or if you are self-published, on your own.

3. Blog Cross Promotion

You can link your blog through your Goodreads author page so it auto-updates whenever you write a new post. It’s an easy way to make sure your Goodreads author page is another landing page for readers.

4. And most importantly: Adding to “To Read” List

This means emails go out on pub day reminding them to buy! What more can you ask for then that gentle reminder? Everyone that added you to their ‘to reads’ list will be notified.

Q: How do you make Goodreads work for you?

More resources:

Free ebook on Goodreads promotion

8 Ways Authors Can Use Goodreads

The Ultimate Goodreads Guide

What’s the best writing advice you’ve received?

hemingway quoteWe all know that “write every day” isn’t everyone’s rule. For all the writing advice available there is a counter argument. Many writers have said there are no rules to writing. Elmore Leonard tries “to leave out the part readers skip.” And if you have writers block Hemingway says “you have always written before and you will write now.” And if you’re feeling like a novice Margaret Atwood says “writing, like everything else, improves with practice.”

So how do you know what writing advice to take?

Anne Lamott is one of my favorites on the subject:

“Good writing is about telling the truth. We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are.”


Q: What’s the best writing advice you’ve read or received? Write every day? Finish what you start? Write first revise later? Share yours in the comments below…