The rest of the instructions are the same for both challenges.
2. Make your picks.
3. If you have an ESPN username and password from last year you can log in when you submit your picks, and you can also just click to rejoin the Bransford Blog Challenge. Otherwise you may need to create a new user ID and password. But don’t worry, it’s not onerous and you can decline to receive updates in case you’re spam conscious.
4. Hover over the link that says “My Groups” and then click “Create or Join a Group”
5. Search for “Bransford Blog Challenge.” Enter the password, which is “rhetorical” and then click Join Group.
Then you’re all set! You can make changes to your bracket by clicking on it until it locks on Thursday (and yes, there are play-in games before then, but the bracket still doesn’t lock until Thursday).
Do one of those things? I’ll donate $2.00, up to a max of $2,000.
While you’re at it…
5) Make your own per-comment or tweet pledge and I’ll tweet your pledge! (Be sure and use #NBHeifer so I can find you)
5) Click over to other participating blogs in the comments section leave comments there too.
Heifer International is an organization that fights hunger by giving families around the world livestock, training, or other assistance that helps improve their livelihood. Heifer has been recognized for its work in Fast Company and Forbes, among other places.
If you have anything to spare this holiday season I hope you’ll consider making a donation. Over the past years we have raised over $15,000 together, which is really awesome. Here’s that link again to donate directly.
What does “raising the stakes” literally mean? And how does one go about raising said stakes? What kind of stakes are we even talking about raising, tentpoles or poker?
I’m here to make this as simple for you as possible.
Ask yourself these two questions
Essentially, what’s at “stake” in a novel is a shorthand for what’s important. Your reader wants to feel like they didn’t just spend $15 on a novel where nothing meaningful happens.
It is in your best interest to raise the stakes so the reader feels like they’re reading something where the things that are happening matter.
The best way to think of the “stakes” more specifically is in terms of rewards and consequences. If the character succeeds, they get something great. If they don’t, something terrible is going to happen.
Thus, the very simple key is to ask yourself these two questions:
What does my character think will happen if they succeed?
What does my character fear will happen if they fail?
That’s it! That’s all you need to know!
Of course, it’s not quite that simple. That’s because…
Your characters have to want something
So often I read novels by aspiring authors where things happen to characters and we see them bouncing around in sometimes exciting and chaotic fashion, but they don’t want anything in particular.
This is a problem. That’s because your reader is going to be inclined to want what your protagonist wants and will root for them to get that. If your protagonist doesn’t really want anything in particular, why should your reader care?
So for every major character in your novel, you should know three things both on a macro level and in every scene:
The things the character wants
What they think will happen if they succeed
What they fear will happen if they fail
And don’t forget this: Your reader needs to know these things too.
The motivations and fears can sometimes be implied or hinted at instead of explicitly stated, but if your reader doesn’t have a sense of what the important characters want and what they are risking to get it, you have a problem on your hands.
Tailoring the stakes to your novel
Now, what constitutes “success” and “failure” for your characters will vary greatly by novel and by genre.
In science fiction and fantasy, the character might be trying to save the world and thus failure may mean millions of people dying. In literary fiction or memoir, the character might be trying to navigate a relationship or find personal fulfillment. In mysteries, it may literally be a matter of life and death.
But regardless of the scale of the canvas of your novel, whether it’s billions of people’s lives or just one relationship, you have to find a way to make it personally matter for that character.
It’s not enough to be satisfied that your character was, in fact, the person who saved the millions of denizens of Muenster Forest from the Cheese Monster. What does it mean to your character personally?
How to raise the stakes
If you want to raise the stakes, it’s all about connecting the rewards and risks to the things your character truly cares about.
Luke Skywalker doesn’t just want to save the galaxy, he also wants to save his friends while thumbing his nose at his father when he proposes they go into business together.
Harry Potter isn’t just trying to escape Voldemort and ruin every day of Snape’s life, he’s also trying to find a connection to his deceased parents.
In novels where it feels like there’s a lot at stake, it’s not just about trying to save kingdoms or rescuing princesses from Death Star cell blocks. The characters’ quests are bound up in their identities as human beings. Or, uh, as cheese monsters. Anyway. They matter in the broader world as well as to that character as an individual.
So if you want to raise the stakes, think of it in these two ways:
How can I broaden the canvas so my character’s potential success or failure has a greater impact on the world of my novel?
How can I increase the amount that success or failure matters personally to my character?
At the end of the day, raising the stakes = giving a character more reasons to care. And if your character cares more, so will your reader.
There you have it.
Oh, and I still have no idea whether the actual origin of “raise the stakes” refers to tentpoles (moving) or poker (raising the bet). Does anyone out there know?
Nathan here! Marketing a children’s book can be a tricky endeavor indeed. For some tips, I invited the good people at Reedsy over for a guest post. Enjoy!
Children’s books are some of the trickiest books to market. The people who you’d ultimately like to read your book—children—are very rarely the ones who buy it, and so you’re caught in the position of having to market your book to people it wasn’t written for.
Regardless of whether you’re working with an established publisher or going the indie route, new children’s authors need to take a lot of the marketing work into their own hands. You can’t just sit back and expect someone else to make you a bestseller.
So what can a children’s author do to get their books in front of the right people?
1. Be smart with social networks
New parents are among the most tech-savvy people you’ll find. They’re in their 20s and 30s, and for them, the Internet is one of the first places they’ll turn to when they’re looking for book recommendations.
Look for relevant #childrensbook or #mommyblogger hashtags on Instagram and get involved. Find Facebook groups dedicated to the specific subject matter of your book (Magic! Unicorns! Naughty kids!) and become an active member.
The key to ingratiating yourself with these communities is not to just rock up and plug your book off the bat. Become an active member and start helping other folks first. Then when you do start mentioning your book, you might find they’ll be more willing to help you spread the word.
2. Start guest posting
The phrase we use a lot when we talk about our target audience is to ‘find where they live.’ That means determining where they’re likely to spend a lot of their online life. Are they likely to be active on Reddit? If so, find the threads and be vocal. Do they read certain parenting blogs? Great! Contact the editor and start pitching ideas for guest posts.
Remember that blogs and community sites won’t just want you to plug your book. You need to actually offer up content that’s useful and relevant to their readers. If you can find a topic that allows you to mention your book seamlessly — then you’ve hit the jackpot.
3. Plan a school visit (or two)
By that, we’re not suggesting you just show up to your local elementary school and mill around until you find an unattended class. Many schools will dedicate time and budget to author visits. If you’re a local author with a great book to share, why not get in touch with an administrator or a librarian and ask what you can do for them?
And if you can get your book into a school library, then you’ve got your foot in the door with the kids by the time you publish your next book. Many bookstores will also schedule storytime each week, so why not hit them up as well? You never know where your next reader could come from.
4. Use YouTube to your advantage
What are kids watching these days? Chances are, they’re spending less time watching TV than they are skipping through videos on YouTube. Though only a select few genres in adult fiction really lend itself to a book trailer, they’re great to attract the attention of young readers — especially if you get your keywords right!
Martin Cavannagh is a writer from Reedsy, a network of the industry’s best editors, designers and book marketers. They also offer a series of free publishing courses. If you enjoyed this post, you might want to sign up for How to Market Your Children’s Book.
One of the hardest parts of being a writer is learning to be the right amount of selfish.
Writing a book is an endeavor that takes hundreds of hours. In order to ever get it done, you have to carve out time even as you’re juggling a job, family, friends, and the temptation to binge watch old seasons of Survivor. (Okay maybe that last one is just me.)
Earlier this summer, I had planned to take a one week hiatus from blogging, which turned into… a four month hiatus.
Well, a whole lot of things, including travel and work and unexpected surgery (fine now!) and more travel.
But most importantly: I realized I had to start prioritize writing a novel I’ve been working on for way too long. I had to prioritize myself.
Many people are embarking on #NaNoWriMo this month, and will likely bump up against the challenge of striking the right balance between carving out time to write and well, keeping your life moving.
Here’s what I learned along the way.
Figure out your actual “must dos”
We all have “must dos” every week that we couldn’t shirk even if we wanted to.
Jobs. Kids. Spouses. Family.
There are some iron-clad commitments we’ve made and our lives would quickly start falling apart if we neglected them.
But there are also a lot of things we do that feel like must-dos because they’re part of a routine or because we feel a certain obligation to people… but the world isn’t really going to fall apart if we stop doing them.
Maybe it’s that thing you volunteered for or your book club or a weekly social gathering or even a time consuming task that you can afford to pay to have done for you.
It’s so easy to start confusing your actual “must dos” and your “nice to haves,” because often people do depend on your or at least derive some benefit from what you’re doing.
To me, blogging felt squarely in this category. I like giving back to the writing community, but the world will go on without new posts. I had to put it on hold to prioritize my writing.
Extreme calendaring can help
For the past year I’ve extolled the benefits of extreme calendaring, which basically boils down to putting nearly everything you to into a calendar and then spending a bit of time each week tracking how you spent your time.
This is a great way of seeing what’s really taking up your time and can help you figure out how much time you need to carve out for yourself. You may need to give some things up in order to have enough time for yourself, and extreme calendaring will help you see your tradeoffs.
Once you’ve accounted for your must-dos, immediately put in your “you” time, whatever that means for you. And then track your time week by week so you can “adjust your dials” and figure out the right amount to allocate.
But often it’s not even the literal time, it’s more about your mindset. You may need to…
Give yourself permission to accomplish your dream
Often what’s standing in the way of carving out the time to write is not other people. It’s you.
You’re the one who feels guilty or thinks it’s frivolous or thinks people are going to be mad at you if you say no to them in favor of staring at a computer screen thinking about imaginary people.
Chances are, you haven’t admitted to yourself or other people how important this dream is, because it seems crazy or you don’t know if it’s going to amount to anything or you’re afraid if you give voice to your dream it will dissolve in front of you.
If you just own it and tell the people you love how important writing is to you, chances are you’ll be surprised at how supportive they’ll be.
There’s only one thing all successful writers have in common: they did whatever it took to sit down long enough to write a novel.
Don’t neglect the people around you, but don’t give yourself over to obligations either. Be the right amount of selfish. You only have one life, so make it count.
That said, it’s totally okay if you want to tell the agent a bit about yourself. This can give them more of a sense of your personality.
Just don’t go overboard. Keep it concise. Remember, your goal is to give more of a sense of who you are and your personality.
Lisa Brackmann had a pretty great bio paragraph in her query letter for Rock Paper Tiger, which made her sound like an extremely interesting person (which, by the way, she totally is):
I have a background in politics, Chinese history and the entertainment industry. I am working on a pop biography of Zhou Enlai for a small press and with a partner wrote a feature screenplay based on a series of Taiwanese fantasy novels, THE IMMORTALS, which was optioned by ActionGate Films. I was also a contributing editor for TWILIGHT OF EMPIRE: RESPONSES TO OCCUPATION, a collection of essays about the American occupation of Iraq (Perceval Press, 2004). I lived in China, travel there often and speak decent, if not quite fluent, Mandarin.
Things that don’t really belong in a bio:
Why you started writing
How dedicated you are to writing
How many rounds of revision your book has been through
Trust me, agents have heard all of that a million times before.
Include all of your books
If you’re previously published, you should include all of the books you have published and/or self-published, along with the publisher and year. This is important. Don’t make the agent go hunting for who published them.
If it’s just a few books you can probably weave them into your bio paragraph, but if it’s a bunch you may want to just list them below your signature and point to them in the bio.
Only include publishing credits that directly relate to your project
As a general rule of thumb, only include publishing credits if they’re relevant to your book project. Don’t include publishing credits for the sole purpose of trying to show you write well.
That means if you’re writing fiction, published short stories in reputable journals are relevant. Academic papers or unrelated articles in a magazine are not.
The exception to this is if you’re, say, writing a novel about a very particular subject like poisonous mushrooms and you happen to have written some great articles on poisonous mushrooms. Then… sure. Include it.
Also, only include publishing credits that have at least a regional audience. Publishing a letter to the editor in your local paper isn’t quite going to impress.
Don’t overthink it
At the end of the day, this is the least important paragraph in your query letter. A great idea for a book trumps everything else.
Don’t agonize over this one. Just be concise, punchy, and focus the rest of your energy on your making your book sound as amazing as possible.