News for Authors

Editor Tip: 6 Ways to Strengthen Your Supporting Characters

by Phil Stamper-Halpin|August, 2017

For fiction writers, a critical part of building the world for your main character is introducing other interesting, authentic characters. In this article, our editors provide tips to strengthen supporting characters.


1.      Turn each character into the main character . . . of her own book.

Think about the time and energy you put into building your main character: planning out her ideals, her interests, filling out a character profile, and/or building a character arc over the course of your novel.

See if you can do that for each of your supporting characters. How does each one grow throughout the course of your manuscript? What does each want? How will she get it? Could any of them be the main character of his own book?

Everything doesn’t have to be shown in the story, of course, but if you have a better idea of the character in your mind, he’ll seem more “real” to the reader.


2.      Give them morals and ideals that challenge the main character.

All of your characters most likely don’t agree on every page—as authors know, conflict is a key component of any story. But instead of focusing on conflict purely in reaction to the main character’s beliefs, dig into why the other character thinks differently. Is it an event from his past, or how she was raised? Answering these questions will build a fuller supporting character without turning her into a cliché.


3.      Make their dialogue distinct from the styles of both the main character and the other characters.

Once you’ve got a good idea of a character’s background, it’s time to think about dialogue. It’s common for groups of friends or family to speak similarly, but even those in the same family can have vastly different vocabularies, based on a variety of factors.

As freelance editor and YouTuber Ellen Brock explains, it’s important to consider five key elements in constructing dialogue style for characters: their upbringing, their education level, their career, their worldview, and their generation. (Watch the video for more information about each element.)

In later drafts, it can be a great revision technique to edit all of one character’s scenes or dialogue at the same time. This will keep you in each character’s voice and help you refine what makes his dialogue unique.


4.      Give each of your supporting characters a defining characteristic.

This is a common (and easy!) tip that’s especially helpful in early drafts. Once you know more about the characters, give each one a defining characteristic. Examples of this could range from the frivolous (always hiccups when she talks) to the more significant (visibly struggles with mental illness, like depression or anxiety). Giving your characters traits that belong only to them, especially ones that are contrary to existing clichés, will strengthen them and help them stand out in the reader’s mind.


5.      Prevent “cardboard cutouts”—add detail!

In early drafts, it’s common to have a fully fleshed out main character, while supporting characters simply exist in the background. The defining characteristics suggested above help readers keep track of the (sometimes many) characters in a manuscript, but authors still need to pull together all the tips in this article to make them stand out on the page.

Just as you might construct a beat to add detail to the world or the conflict, do the same for the supporting characters. Adding small bits of detail consistently throughout the manuscript will result in vivid, dynamic characters who could even stand alone in the story. (Perhaps in the sequel…)


6.      Don’t be afraid to combine characters or cut them altogether.

This is certainly the biggest challenge, but it can also have the most impact. If you’re having a hard time keeping track of your supporting characters in an early draft, that might be a red flag. An easy way to sort it out is to combine characters.

For example, if you have side characters who enter early in the manuscript but disappear abruptly, never to be seen again, you might be able to combine multiple similar characters into one. This works best for background characters who aren’t critical to the story, but can also be effective for larger supporting characters.


And, like anything else in your manuscript, if it isn’t working, don’t be afraid to cut it. It’s hard to say goodbye to any characters, but if you’re getting hung up on their scenes or you believe the pacing slows down whenever they enter the story, it might be time to say goodbye.


Phil Stamper-Halpin is Senior Manager, Publishing Development & Author Platforms for Penguin Random House.

How Penguin Random House Gets Your Books into Libraries

by Jen Childs|August, 2017

Librarians play a key role in breaking out first-time authors and in helping expand the readership of growing and established authors. And for more than twenty-five years, the library marketing team has been a leader in supporting and marketing books to these essential partners. Read on to learn how we get your books into the hands of librarians across the country.


Library Advocacy

Now, more than ever, libraries need our support. That’s why Skip Dye, VP, Director Sales Ops & Library Sales, has made it his mission to do what he can to bolster library funding, including frequent trips to Washington, D.C., to help lobby for library budgets; networking with other vendors to engage their support; and partnering with Library Journal to study libraries around the country and their impact on their communities.

Dye says, “We need to give librarians the tools and resources they need to advocate for themselves—to prove to their community representatives that they are an integral part of all facets of the community, from supporting both pleasure readers and students, to job hunters, to millennials with young children.”


Excerpt Sampler Program

Let the books sell themselves—that’s the principle the library marketing team employs with their sampler program. Through printed and digital samplers, Penguin Random House distributes excerpts of forthcoming titles to tens of thousands of readers across the country. Additionally, their First Look Book Club delivers excerpts to more than 10,000 inboxes every weekday. By offering readers a taste of the newest books in various genres, library marketing hopes not only to get readers hooked on a book, but to introduce them to titles they may not have picked up themselves.


Trade Shows & Exhibits

Library marketing continues to focus on attending trade shows like the American Library Association Midwinter and Annual Conferences, Public Library Association Conference, Association of Rural and Small Libraries, and American Association of School Libraries, among others.

These exhibitions are ideal for showcasing both debut voices and bestselling authors through speaking engagements, galley giveaways, and book buzz platforms—just to name a few. At the recent ALA Annual convention in Chicago, the Penguin Random House adult divisions had twenty authors join them for various events. Combined, these authors spoke directly to more than 10,000 librarians.


Print and Online Outreach

In addition to trade show presence, the library marketing team reaches tens of thousands of additional librarian influencers through print and digital marketing campaigns. They continue to place strategic print and online ads with traditional trade outlets, such as Library JournalBooklist, and Kirkus Reviews, but have developed a robust digital program direct to librarians as well. And the team’s social media savvy, on both their blog and platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, continues to amplify excitement about upcoming titles.


Additionally, our team assembles a weekly enewsletter that delivers information on forthcoming books, themed content, display ideas, book lists, and more to more than 20,000 librarians. The team also manages the rapidly growing book recommendation site Borrow. Read. Repeat. These online outreach techniques make it easier for the team to get galleys into the hands of more librarians.



Marketing Reps “On the Ground”

The in-house marketing team is supported by eight library marketing reps in the field, who travel to major library systems and supplement their visits with telemarketing efforts to expand access to smaller libraries. In addition to their traditional role of spreading the word about our books through sales visits and staff presentations, reps now offer book buzz presentations to library patrons as part of their services. Since we began the program in 2015, reps have buzzed to 20,000 readers in twenty-two states.


From conferences to social media, the library marketing team is always looking for the newest and most effective ways to pitch your books to librarians—and thus get your book in the hands of more readers.

Jen Childs is VP of Library Marketing for Penguin Random House.

How to Connect with Fans on Goodreads

by The Author Newsletter Team|August, 2017

Many readers use Goodreads to discover new books and interact with their favorite authors. Read on to learn about what’s new on Goodreads and find out how you can connect with your fans on this engaging platform. Read more

Between the Lines: A New Series from Penguin Random House & Creative Live

by The Author Newsletter Team|August, 2017

Calling all creators! Penguin Random House and CreativeLive, an online education platform with a creative community of experts, are proud to present a free series starting August 10, modeled on the successful 30 Days of Genius series. CreativeLive worked with authors from John Grisham to Margaret Atwood, who reveal what storytelling means to them and describe the stories that inspired their work. Read more