Writing great bad guys

shoulder angel HomerJust as you shouldn’t write a perfect protagonist who is good at everything and always makes the right choice, don’t make your antagonist perfectly evil. Everyone has something not-terrible about them. I don’t mean anything like “Hitler loved kittens.” He probably loved them for breakfast. I’m not talking about real-world villains, and I’m not suggesting that your antagonist be loveable. I’m merely suggesting that they be as human as your protagonist. Your reader isn’t dumb. He knows who to root for in your story. You don’t have to instruct him on how to loathe the antagonist. Depending on what sort of book you’re writing the antagonist isn’t necessarily even a “bad guy.” It’s merely a character or entity who is at cross-purposes with your protagonist. Maybe they are in competition for the same job or trophy or piece of ass. If you make your antagonist as fully human and relatable—though maybe not as likeable—as your protagonist you are doing something right. At the end of your tale your reader can feel both happiness for the protagonist and feel a little bit sorry for the antagonist too.

If your antagonist is a legit villain—a serial killer, say, or just a massive asshole who enjoys upsetting other people—then it’s completely within bounds to lead your reader to hating them. To reviling them and wishing for nothing so much as their death, incarceration, or some other less severe comeuppance. (Removal from the cheerleading squad?) But don’t make them a cardboard cutout. A sneer and a mustache twirl. Or go the Dan Brown route and give them full body tattoos or albinism. Seriously, if you’re going to commit super-crimes you kinda have to blend in. To humanize them is to make them interesting. And that’s compelling to read about. One of the most fascinating characters in fiction is Hannibal Lector. Charming, literate, talented and cultured, he’s also an unrepentant monster. Whatever else, he’s never boring.


When to release and promote your books

There are those who say that authors should release a book simultaneously in digital and paper form. Their argument being that everyone who wants to read your book should be able to. If they want to give you money, why make them wait? Well, I’ll tell you. Every new format is a chance to promote your novel. Because unless you want to make enemies, you just can’t say “buy my book” every day. People will tune you out at best and unfollow you at worst. And then you’ve lost them.


In public relations you have what are known as “news beats.” I’m sure a PR professional would explain the concept differently (and probably with a twenty-slide PowerPoint presentation), but here is the way I understand and use it: You create “news” about your product (in this case your novel), and dole out these bits of news in increments that are most likely to be noticed and shared. So the news beats that I could do for my novel Summer Wind could go like this:

• March – Announcement of book “A Lexy Cooper Spinoff Featuring Detective Malick is in the works”
• April – Cover and title reveal “Title of Mike Malick #1 is ‘Summer Wind.’ Check out the cover”
• May – Launch date reveal “Detective Malick returns in Summer Wind October 31”
• August – Book release “Summer Wind, Mike Malick spinoff now available as eBook and paperback”

And then…nothing. You’ve got no more news. Sure you can post reviews and interact with your readers and all that good stuff, but you don’t have any “news.”
Now, if you hold back on paperback or audio versions, then you have more news to share:

• November – “Summer Wind coming to paperback”
• December – “Summer Wind now available in paperback”
• June – “Summer Wind audiobook in the works. Who will voice Mike Malick?”
• August – “Summer Wind audiobook now available”

You’ve had a full year of newsworthy items about one book. And you’re probably ready to start releasing news about the next book. Now, if you’ve got multiple titles to promote, you can do even more. Here’s a peek at my Marketing and Release calendar.

marketing and release calendar
This spreadsheet actually goes all the way through 2017, four more Lexy Cooper books and two more Mike Malick books.

Newsletters are in yellow, promotions are in blue and releases are in green. You can see that I’m promoting different things at appropriate times. I’ll do two promotions for I Saw Lexy Kissing Santa this year. It was free for five days in a “Christmas in July” promotion, and when the holidays roll around again, I will post about the story in all my social channels and hopefully get another round of sales. I’ll do a “Back to Schooled” promotion in September because it’s topical, and it’s the first book in my series–the bait I use to hook new readers.

Today I didn’t do any writing on my fourth Lexy Cooper book, but the time I spent on the business end confirming schedules with my editor and proofreader, updating Lexycooper.com, making a blog post on Goodreads, and scheduling announcements and promotions through the end of the year is well worth missing a creative day. You can be creative AND strategic!



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