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Seekerville: The Journey Continues

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What Makes a Reader Try a New Author?

 

 
Happy Monday! Let's not speak of the torture that is Daylight Savings Time weekend and just jump right into today's topic, shall we? :) 

In my various roles as blogger, reviewer, influencer, and publicity tour company owner, I have the privilege of chatting with a lot of authors. A question that comes up frequently is 'what can I do to get my book in front of new readers?' In all honesty, sometimes I think that answer is different from reader to reader ... and from book to book. What works for one book/author/reader may not work for the next. Authors, this is probably not news to you. But if we filter through the various answers I think we can find some helpful common ground. 

And since I just got done saying that the answers can differ from reader to reader, I thought I'd ask some readers for their thoughts. (Occasionally I have a brilliant idea haha) I started by reaching out to several of my blogging/reviewing/avid reader friends to get their thoughts. 

Jessica Baker of A Baker's Perspective: First and fastest answer I have is a recommendation from a reader friend. There are several people in our bookish community that I know if they liked the book, I'll like it too. More than that, I just love the adventure of trying a new author. I will actually search the bookstagram community, or just visit my favorite online book sources and search for new releases. Once I find a book by an author I haven't read before, I'll check out the book blurb. If it pulls me in, I'll give it a go. I have found so many new authors this way. (so basically know this authors - have a strong book blurb!)
 
Suzie Waltner of Remembrancy: I’m usually willing to give a new-to-me author a try because I’ve found some hidden gems by taking a chance on someone. The first thing that piques my interest in trying a new author is the back cover blurb. If the book features something I enjoy reading (favorite genre or trope, a new setting, an intriguing plot, interesting characters, etc), I’ll try that author. The next thing that makes me read a new author is word of mouth. If I’m hearing about a book from other readers or seeing it often online, I’m interested enough to go read that back cover and a few of the reviews. And if both the blurb and word of mouth are building on each other, it’s a book I will automatically read. Also, if that book is in audiobook format, the book will get bumped to the top of my list as I am a reader who can listen to books while I’m at my day job and make a nice dent in my TBR. 

Connie Hill of Reflecting on Days Gone By: I have found some really amazing authors by word of mouth. I love subscribing to authors' newsletters and I’ve noticed they will put in their newsletter what they are reading. I like to know what they are reading. I also find new authors through social media. When someone posts about a book they are raving about it makes me want to read it. As a book blogger I’ve been fortunate to discover so many authors I may not have been exposed to before. I love when I get to partake in an author's first release. It makes me feel like I’m an important part of the journey.

Becca Rae of The Becca Files: There's lots of reasons I would try a new author. Word of mouth is gold, but that also has to start somewhere. Baker Book House has been running preorder sales for quite a while now and I have been known to scroll the "coming soon" section looking to add to my cart (because one almost never buys only one book at a time of course 😉 ). At this point I will confess to judging the book cover. I have found several new authors simply by the cover drawing me in and then reading the blurb. The one that comes to mind to me first for this recently  is Jennifer L Wright's If It Rains. It wasn't the most flashy cover, but it  tugged at my heart. As a reviewer, I find out about a lot of new releases through JustRead and also see the posts splashed all over social media. The more a new author can get out there, the more likely they are to be seen and talked about. I also follow publishers so will hear about the new authors through that chain as well. I fully admit that I am more likely to try a new author when they come from a publisher I already respect. If not, I'm more likely to need to see what others are saying before I'm willing to take the risk. It also needs to be said that the subject matter is what will catch my attention as well. I am largely an avid historical fiction reader. So I'm more likely to try a new author in that genre. But I like books. So like I said, word of mouth is gold and if other readers have said they enjoyed a new author then I'm more likely to give them a shot.

Beckie Burnham of By The Book: Trying a new author has some risks, but often great rewards. I’m always on the look out for something new, and a new-to-me author with a unique setting or subject matter is tops on my list. Whether it’s an exotic locale (A Tapestry of Light by Kimberly Duffy) or a new twist on a favorite genre (The Gryphon Heist by James R. Hannibal) I love stretching my reading horizons. A new author does that for me.

Crystal Caudill of Crystal Caudill.com: Once a new to me author has been brought to my attention I do several things, especially where I have to be so careful with my limited reading time. First I look at the cover, especially if it is indie. You can tell how much someone values their work by the quality of the cover. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it better not look slapped together. After the cover, I flip to the blurb. It has to be well written, grab my attention and leave me with questions without summarizing the story. After that, I read a sample through the look inside feature of Amazon or, if I’m in a bookstore, I’ll skim a bit from the beginning, middle, and end. This is really the make it or break it deal for me. Quality writing is what matters most to me. If there is no Look Inside feature, I’m really hesitant. Then I go based on who recommended the book and how much I think our tastes align. The other way I’ve found new authors is though the peer pressure of book challenges and book clubs. Apparently, the DARE strategy doesn’t work against books.

(By the way... speaking of trying new authors... make sure you keep an eye out for Suzie Waltner's new novel Midnight Blue - a second chance/secret child contemporary romance releasing July 5, 2022 from Anaiah Press. And grab Crystal Caudill's debut novel, Counterfeit Love - a Gilded Age romantic suspense that releases TOMORROW (March 15th) from Kregel!)
 
As you can see, even with the variety of answers & readers above, there are some common things that will lead to a reader trying a new-to-them author. If you look at the phrases I bolded, you'll see repeated elements such as:
  • word of mouth
  • recommendations from trusted readers
  • social media
  • book cover
  • book blurb/subject matter/setting 
But then I got even more curious about what other readers would say. For instance, if I polled a bunch of different readers who like different types of books and aren't necessarily part of the blogging community, would I get similar results? After all, if I'm going to recommend that you dear-to-me authors try such-and-such to get your books in front of new readers, I need to know that these things go beyond book influencers. To make sure they stand true even when someone isn't inundated with books to review, feature, etc.

So. I did. 

I asked two questions on a Google Form and shared it on Facebook. Most of the respondents are my friends and family (though some people shared it to their networks as well), and based on the people who told me they answered the questions they represent a wide variety of reading habits & tastes. 

Out of 280 responses (way more than I anticipated answering - yay!):
  • 30.7% said word of mouth is what most causes them to try a new author; 
  • 25.6% said it was the book cover or blurb;
  • 16.2% said it's reviews from trusted bloggers/bookstagrammers; and
  • 11.6% said that social media posts most influence them to try a new author.
One thing I found interesting was how little newsletters & reviews on retail sites seem to be the dominant factor for a reader to try a new author - only 5.8% for retail site reviews & only 1.4% for newsletters. This is not to say that there is no value for either of these in an author's marketing strategy - because publishers who know way more than I do seem to put so much stock in them both - but perhaps the value of these factors as far as putting your books in front of new readers is much less than we realize. 

Another interesting (to me) result is that, while I did not include it in my initial list of options, several people also wrote in 'endorsements' as the most significant factor in trying a new author. Most of the other write-in answers were similar enough to the options above (for our purposes) that I tossed them in with those respective categories.

I know that's a lot of info and numbers, and maybe you're like me and your eyes start glazing over when math is involved. So, let me give you a quick summary that you can add to your author tool-box: 

When asked for the single most influential factor that causes them to try a new author, over 75% of the readers polled pointed to 'word of mouth' (which includes social media posts & trusted reviewer recs) and 'book cover/blurb'. 

What are some practical ways you can harness this info to work for you?
  1. If you are indie publishing, invest in a professional cover & run your back cover copy (and even the cover) by several trusted readers to gauge their interest level & strengthen it accordingly. These two elements to your book are the first impression you give to readers. The cover (front and back) can make or break a reader's decision to pick up your book - spend time there accordingly.
  2. Look for ways to drum up word of mouth recommendations. Invest in a blog tour or social media tour with a company like JustRead Tours or start a grassroots campaign on your own to keep people talking about your book. Get that book cover that you've invested in onto social media. Reach out to bloggers who review in your genre and ask them for a feature. Some may not have time for a review, but even a spotlight/excerpt or author interview can get that word of mouth machine working. 
What about you? Did these reader results surprise you? What's something you've done to increase word of mouth buzz that worked for you & your books?
 
What Makes a Reader Try a New Author?

Carrie Schmidt is an avid reader, book reviewer, story addict, KissingBooks fan, book boyfriend collector, and cool aunt. She also loves Jesus and THE Story a whole lot. Co-founder of the Christian Fiction Readers' Retreat and JustRead Publicity Tours, LLC, Carrie lives in Georgia with her husband Eric. She can be found lurking at various blogs and websites (because she can't stop talking about books) but her main home is the blog she started in 2015 - ReadingIsMySuperPower.org.


How to (Mostly Painlessly) Engage Your Readers, with guest Pepper Basham

 How to (Mostly Painlessly) Engage Your Readers, with guest Pepper Basham

"The Author and the Reader can be Friends" (or, How to Painlessly Engage Your Readers)

Hi Seekerville! Carrie here. I recently did a call-out for topic ideas in a Facebook group I'm in for folks involved in the Christian fiction industry. Confession: I always have a bit of a panic attack when it comes to what I should write for Seekerville. So I wanted to know what authors want to know from a reader, reviewer, and book marketer. One of the topics that got the most attention was reader engagement. So I turned to my sweet author friend, Pepper Basham, for help with today's post - because Pepper is phenomenal when it comes to engaging her readers. 

PEPPER: Have you ever watched the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, Oklahoma? There's a whole lot of division between the cowman and the farmer, which leads to a song called “The Farmer and the Cowman Can Be Friends". Well, we want to offer some helpful encouragement, in the relationship between the Reader and the Author. We CAN engage as friends (or at least as mutual encouragers), and it doesn’t have to be as complicated or stressful for either party as we too often make it.

CARRIE: Or as Pepper put it (to the above tune), "Bookish folks should stick together. Bookish folks should all be pals. One may string the words together, but the other helps the stories sell.” Connection leads to investment, and if nothing else we can connect over BOOKS! That "binds" us together. (Now I'm humming a hymn) Add Jesus into the mix and it makes the binding even tighter.

PEPPER: Hey, you know I love MUSICALS!! And why not give it a little bookish flair, right? But I love this conversation because I think it’s a whole lot better between an author and a reader to hopefully explain both sides.

Now, I’m not saying Carrie and I have the corner on this conversation. Each reader and author is unique, but there are some things both of us have learned that hopefully could be a help to some of you out there 😊

How to (Mostly Painlessly) Engage Your Readers, with guest Pepper Basham
Sometimes selfies are hard.
CARRIE: Agreed. I have the blessing of calling Pepper Basham a friend, and it started when I had the opportunity to review her debut novel, The Thorn Bearer (which, if you haven’t read her Penned in Time series, you need to). I was drawn immediately to not only her wordsmithing-ness (it's totally a real word!) but also to her warm personality and absolute love of books. That handful of initial conversations has led to a precious friendship…which has also led to me becoming one of her self-professed biggest cheerleaders.

PEPPER: And I am SO thankful for you!! It’s amazing how those few bookish conversations have now turned into this…what is it? 6 year friendship?

CARRIE: I think you’re right. And, authors, you obviously don’t have to become besties with all of your readers. But there are some principles of author-reader engagement that we can pass on, from a book marketer and an author who are both avid readers, too. As I mentioned, Pepper is FABULOUS at engagement so feel free to stalk her on Facebook and see what she does 😊

PEPPER: LOL! I’ve stalked many an author myself, so turn about is fair play, I suppose 😊

I AM also a reader. I mean, I have felt the uncertainty about reaching out to an author to fangirl over their work, but let me just say, I’ve made some of the BEST friendships that way!!

However, from an author’s point of view, here are a few things I’ve realized in this author/reader dynamic.

  • One of the most difficult things about engagement is the typical "difficult" thing about most everything: TIME. Engaging with readers can be very time consuming. As a pastor’s wife, mom, and speech-language pathologist, time is not always something I have in large quantities, but I’ve learned how to sprinkle the time in places that have worked. And I try to always respond to readers who send me a note to let them know I value the time they used to read my book and then send me that note.
  • I've found that reader engagement fuels me much more than it drains me because most good readers recognize that the quality of the touch points an author tries to make is much more important than the frequency. Yes, frequency matters, in part, but quality matters even more.
  • One of the most AMAZING things about engagement is that it's a wonderful connection to folks who encourage and support me in this weird and sometimes isolating world of fiction writing. You really do end up building a community. I LOVE having a group of readers to chat with, bounce ideas off of, and find encouragement. It's remarkable. I really don’t know how I’d manage all of the things I do with marketing and planning without having such an amazing group of readers on the journey with me.

                    Carrie says: COMMUNITY. Remember that. It will come up again in a minute. There                                 won't be a quiz.

  • Authenticity is KEY. I think when readers know you care about them and value their time/encouragement, they want to get involved on your journey as an author.
  • One of the things I LOVE BEST (and my street team can confirm this) is having other people to fangirl over my fictional friends with me. In fact, we’ll fangirl over other authors’ fictional friends together too!!! The JOY of reading, books, and characters is a common connecting denominator. We enjoy good stories and we love the affirmation of others enjoying them too, especially when we've poured so much of our hearts into those stories.

PEPPER: So, Carrie, from a readers perspective what helps you feel like an author is approachable? What can an author do to show they value your companionship on the reading/writing journey? 

How to (Mostly Painlessly) Engage Your Readers, with guest Pepper Basham
CARRIE: Authors, y'all know that some readers have no qualms about contacting an author; unfortunately, these are often the ones who send nasty emails about why they didn’t like your book or the typo they found on page 23. The readers you WANT to contact you – the ones who will encourage you & pray for you & gush over your characters and the way you turn a phrase – are sometimes just as intimidated to reach out to you as you are to reach out to them. They don’t want to be a bother, are too busy fangirling to form coherent words, etc.

From my reader, reviewer, and marketer’s perspectives, here are some easy action steps that even introverted or overwhelmed authors can do to increase authentic reader engagement & at the same time show that they value us as part of their community.

  • Be active in bookish forums. (Facebook is great for this. Or the comment section of popular book blogs.) Readers & authors hang out there, and it provides a safe place to get your feet wet on this whole engagement thing. It’s a comfier place for readers to reach out to authors as well – seeing them ‘in the wild’ so to speak and realizing they love the same books as we do, etc. I personally love it for instance when authors like Carrie Turansky, DeAnna Dodson, and Patricia Bradley comment on my posts about other authors/books on my personal book blog. Erica Vetsch has also done a great job of this, as well, in her FB group for readers & authors of Inspirational Regency Fiction. And Laura Frantz & Pepper Basham have one for Armchair Travelers that also has terrific engagement, just born out of a love for traveling to great destinations on the pages of fave books. 
(From Pepper – WE LOVE to connect on forums! It’s a low stress connection. Kind of like a “drop-in” party 😊)
  • Invest in a blog tour from a reputable publicity company. I especially recommend this for debut or relatively new authors. (Get recommendations on tour companies your author friends have used & loved.) Typical blog tours include Q&As and guest articles along with the reviews & spotlights. Those personalized posts allow readers to connect on a more personal level with the author, and that connection leads to future investment in the author and his/her books. (Or if a professionally-organized blog tour isn’t in your budget and you have a street team you’re comfy with, ask if any of the members would like to host you in a Q&A or guest post on their blog) 
(From Pepper - And they’re so helpful in helping an author branch out to new readers)
  • Approach interacting with your street team as building a community, rather than just something else you have to do. (See? I told you 'community' would show up again) I’ve been part of some street teams where the author only pops in to say “I have a new book coming out. Here you go.” And I’ve been part of street teams with authentic engagement between books too, and I can tell the author truly cares about us as more than free publicity. For example, Toni Shiloh weekly shares her prayer requests & praises with us and asks how she can pray for us, too. Pepper Basham shares little snippets of her life, of her writing progress, of what God’s been teaching her. Shelley Shepard Gray, Dana Mentink, and Becky Wade are really great at this as well - sharing fun things from their life, prayer requests, asking us questions about our lives, etc. Each of these authors is a fave of mine because of their books, but also because they engage with their readers and, in doing so, make us feel a part of their community. Again, that authentic connection leads us to greater investment as readers in those authors. 
(From Pepper - Did I already mention that I LOVE MY STREET TEAM!!!!!)
  • Ask fun questions / start fun conversations on social media. Toni Shiloh asks #tonishilohquestions to correspond with various “National Days” of whatever (National Strawberry Sundae Day, National Jigsaw Puzzles Day, etc.). A simple question is all that’s needed – or throw in an eye-catching graphic too just to grab attention. Pepper Basham often chats about fun romance movies and posts photos of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Biltmore. Janine Rosche posts about her intense dislike of discarded flossers in random places, and over on Instagram she does simple reels where she decides if someone’s TikTok clip is ‘Worthy of a Romance Novel’. Before Facebook got rid of the polls feature on pages, Bethany Turner had a weekly poll that was just way too much fun, on such serious topics as Who’s cuter - George Clooney or Noah Wyle? Which portrayal of Mr. Darcy is the best? Would you rather visit Narnia or Hogwarts? etc You can find tons of icebreaker questions and bookish questions online, so this is something that doesn't require a lot of thought, effort, or time - just do it with some sort of consistency to keep the conversation going.
These are really easy & fun ways to engage with readers without getting too personal or having to be too creative. The bottom line is this: CONNECTION LEADS TO INVESTMENT. It doesn’t have to be complicated or too time-consuming. Build 5 minutes into your day where you make a conscious effort to make an authentic connection with readers over a shared interest or experience. But the lasting benefits of reader engagement are priceless – not just for your book sales, but also in having your own personal cheering squad when life & writing gets tough.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Pepper Basham is an award-winning author who writes romance peppered with grace and humor with southern Appalachian flair. Both her historical and contemporary novels have garnered recognition in the Grace Awards, Inspys, and ACFW Carol Awards. Her historical romance, The Thorn Healer, was a finalist in the 2018 RT Awards. Her historical romance novels, My Heart Belongs in the Blue Ridge and
How to (Mostly Painlessly) Engage Your Readers, with guest Pepper Basham
The Red Ribbon
, and her contemporary novels, the Mitchell’s Crossroads and Pleasant Gap series, showcase her Appalachian heritage, as well as her love for humor and family. She currently resides in the lovely mountains of Asheville, NC where she is the mom of five great kids, a speech-language pathologist to about fifty more, and a lover of chocolate, jazz, hats, and Jesus.

Carrie Schmidt is an avid reader, book reviewer, story addict, KissingBooks fan, book boyfriend collector, and cool aunt. She also loves Jesus and THE Story a whole lot. Co-founder of the Christian Fiction Readers' Retreat and JustRead Publicity Tours, Carrie now lives in Georgia with her husband Eric, though her roots range from East Tennessee to northern Illinois. She can be found lurking at various blogs and websites (because she can't stop talking about books) but her main home is the blog she started in 2015 - ReadingIsMySuperPower.org.


Authors, what intimidates you the most about reader engagement?
Readers, what helps you feel like an author is approachable?

Keep Your Promise


 by Jan Drexler 


We’ve all heard the advice to start your story with a good hook.

What’s a hook? A hook is your opening sentence or paragraph that catches the readers’ attention and makes them want to read to the end of the book.

We have many resources to help us craft a good hook, but today I want to discuss what happens when a hook goes wrong.

My husband and I enjoy watching movies in the evening. Lately we’ve been bingeing on old westerns from the 1950’s, and we’ve discovered some gems. Of course, there have been some duds, too.

For me, one of those duds was a Robert Mitchum film, The Man with the Gun.

Clicking on the picture will take you to the film. Before we go on, please watch the first 40 seconds. That’s right – ONLY the first 40 seconds. 


(If the link doesn't work, go to Youtube to watch it)

First of all, let’s get past the obvious: NEVER kill the dog in your story!

Okay, now on to the problem.

This is the hook. The bad guy, Ed Pinchot, rides into town and the first thing we see him do is to shoot a dog. Where can this character go from here?

I spent the rest of the movie wondering what Pinchot would do next. Would he rampage through town with his gang shooting up the place? Would he have a showdown with the good guy? Would he try to steal the good guy’s girl?

After all, the opening scene showed his cruelty. A bad guy’s story arc is a negative one, so his first scene should show his negative traits, and we can expect that things will only get worse from here.

But in this story, it doesn’t.

Yes, Pinchot shows up again, but he is consistently the weaker character in every scene he’s in. He doesn’t confront the good guy, we never see him rallying his troops, we never see him take any action at all.

I kept thinking – “But he’ll show up at the end. There will be a big shoot-out like the OK Corral. He’ll almost win, but in the end, Robert Mitchum's character will come out on top.”

I kept expecting it.

And it didn’t happen.

What did happen? Go back to the movie and fast forward to the 1:20 point and you’ll see.

Pinchot rides into town with his boss. The entire movie has been leading to this point. THIS is the big moment. Good vs. Evil. Bad guys vs. good guys.

In fact, we haven’t even seen Pinchot's boss, Dade Holman, until this point. He’s been a faceless threat through the whole story.

But when you watch the clip, you can see that this scene only lasts 90 seconds.

The film attempts to increase the tension throughout the movie, raising the stakes with the shadowy threat of Dade Holman always lurking in the shadows.

But when the final battle comes, it falls flat. No discussion between the characters, no flash of tension. Not even any real conflict.

Yes, I’m pretty sure I muttered bad things at the television through the whole movie. I really didn’t like it.

Why?

Because the storytellers (the writers and director) didn’t live up to the promise they had made to the viewers at the beginning of the movie.

That opening scene said, “This guy here? Watch him. He’s the bad guy, and he’s scary bad.”

The rest of the movie pretty much ignored him.



How does this relate to our writing? 



First of all, don’t promise something that you can't deliver.

That’s what happened in The Man with the Gun. The writers made a promise, but the rest of the story made it impossible to deliver on that promise. It would have been better if the bad guy didn’t shoot the dog, but only threatened to. Then his other appearances in the movie could build on that threat instead of falling short of the promise. 



Second, make your promise fit your character.

The bad guy, Ed Pinchot, was threatening, but he was like a dog barking at the end of a chain. Dade Holman controlled him, and he only went as far as his boss allowed him to.

In that opening scene, he acted on his own…but it was the only time in the movie that he did. 



Third, follow through on your promise.

In The Man with the Gun, the story fell flat because that beginning promise was never resolved.

What could have been done differently? Like I said earlier, the writers could have changed the promise to make it a threat rather than an action. Or they could have made his character’s actions escalate in violence until he finally killed someone. 




Anton Chekov once wrote, “If there is a gun hanging on the wall in the first act, it must fire in the last.”

That means that every element in a story must be necessary, and elements should not make “false promises” by never coming into play.

If you make a promise, follow through. 
-If Ebenezer Scrooge refuses to let Bob Cratchit put one more piece of coal on the fire in the first scene, he had better send Bob out to buy more coal at the end of the story. 
-If Will Turner shows himself to be a talented swordsman early on in the film, we had better see him using that blade in stunning ways by the end of the story. 
-If we see George Bailey risking his life to save his brother when they were children, you know we will witness his heroic actions to save his family, his business, and his town.




Another great example of  writers following through with their promise is the classic children’s book, The Story About Ping by Marjorie Flack and Kurt Weise. In the first few pages we see Ping witnessing what happens to the last duck that marches across the wooden bridge to the boat in the evening. After a series of events, what happens at the end? Ping is the last duck. “SPANK came the spank on Ping’s back!”

When I read this story to preschoolers, it never fails to happen. Every child’s eyes widen when they realize that Ping is going to be the last duck to go over the little bridge. They understand the necessary ending because the author set up the situation – promised the ending – in such a clear way. 



Have you thought about the promise you’re making to your reader in your opening scene? Do you follow through with it?

And readers – think about some of the best books you’ve read. Go back and read the opening hook. Did the author follow through with their promises?




Jan Drexler has always been a "book girl" who still loves to spend time within the pages of her favorite books. She lives in the Black Hills of South Dakota with her dear husband of many years and their active, crazy dogs, Jack and Sam. You can learn more about Jan and her books on her website, www.JanDrexler.com.

 

 

 

 



Let's Talk Stakes

Let's Talk Stakes


Hello everyone, Winnie Griggs here.  Recently I've had discussions with two different writer friends (both relatively new in their careers) on the subject of story stakes - what they are and how to weave them in effectively. So I thought it might be worth it to re-run a post I did here at Seekerville on that very subject way back in 2015.

So here we go.

Stakes are what drive your story forward, what makes your reader really care about the ultimate outcome. Simply defined, the stakes are the consequences your character will face if he fails to achieve his goal. If there is nothing particularly life-changing about those consequences, then your reader won’t have a reason to care.

 

Let's Talk Stakes


 

That being said, stakes don’t have to be large in the general scheme of things, they just have to be large to your protagonist. Because if the consequences for failure doesn’t destroy your protagonist’s world in some way—be it physical, emotional or spiritual—then the reader will begin to think so what, which can be the kiss of death for your story. Having the kind of stakes that your reader can relate to, that allows the reader to internalize the consequences of failure, is what ratchets up the story tension, and story tension is what propels your reader forward through the book. In other words, give your reader something in your protagonist’s world to root for, and then put it at risk.

 

The stakes are what fuel the tension and conflict in your story. And as you know, the higher the tension, the more of a page-turner your story will be.

 

 

 

So here are a few tips for keeping your stakes front and center:

 

  • First and foremost, make certain your readers know what the stakes are.
    And the sooner the better. The longer you take to introduce the stakes, the greater the risk you run of losing or boring the reader.

  • Never completely remove the stakes.
    If you remove the stakes, you remove the sense of urgency from your story, in fact you rob it of all story tension. If you’re going to remove or resolve a particular story goal or a consequence of failure, make certain you’ve introduced something even bigger to take it’s place.



    Let's Talk Stakes

  • Which brings me to - Keep raising the stakes.
    Your stakes should escalate in stages throughout your story. In other words, the consequences for your protagonist if he should fail to achieve his goal should become more significant as the story progresses, and at the same time, his chances of success should narrow.
    Turn it into a real nail-biter as you close in on the climax of your story. An added benefit from increasing the stakes is that it forces your character to make riskier and riskier choices. You should always be thinking how can I make this bad situation worse for my protagonist.

  • Reinforce the stakes occasionally.
    Despite what I said above, you won’t be able to raise the stakes in each and every scene.  So when you’re not working on raising the stakes, you may want to reinforce them.  Subtly remind the reader what the stakes are, or show some other aspect of the consequences that may not have come to light initially.

  • Make your stakes engaging.
    Your stakes need to really matter to the character in a way that engages the reader. But keep in mind, the stakes don’t need to be earth-shattering to do this. Internal stakes can be just as compelling if properly motivated—for instance, failing to get the job your character has set his sights on can be devastating to him, and vicariously to the reader, if he’s sacrificed for years to work his way up the ladder and has tied his entire sense of self-worth, or the future well-being of his family, to achieving that goal.

  • Test your stakes by asking so what
    What would happen if the protagonist just walked away from his goal? Would there indeed be strong consequences and repercussions to that character? If not, then you don’t really have high stakes. This is true even if there are dire consequences to ‘nameless others’ in the story. Because stakes are all about personal loss and the reader connection. What the reader cares about, what they are investing their time and emotions into, is your protagonist.

So what are some ways to raise the stakes in your story?
  • Be Clear On The Consequences
    Make certain your reader understands the stakes.  Even if you’re not ready to reveal all the repercussions, there should be a clear impression that the stakes matter.



    Let's Talk Stakes

  • The Stakes Should Be Personal
    Having consequences that involve nameless masses is nowhere near as effective as having stakes that impact your protagonist personally.  If you’ve done your job right, the protagonist is who your reader will identify with, who they will sympathize, with and you must give them a reason to worry about and root for them.

  • Use Subplots To Fold In Additional Stakes
    Subplots are a good way to introduce conflicts with smaller stakes that will keep things moving in Act Two of your story.  And if you want to show your protagonist failing early on, this is a place to do it.   But these additional stakes are most effective when they feed into and impact the major story stake in some way.

  • Escalate
    Start with small but intriguing consequences, then allow them to snowball into something that grows bigger as the story progresses.  If you pile it all into your opening scenes that leaves you nowhere to go.

  • Use The Domino Effect
    It’s the old cause and effect method.  You want a logical escalation.  Show how decisions – good or bad – that are made at each step of the way cause problems and escalation of consequences down the road.

  • Most Importantly, Show What Your Protagonist Must Sacrifice
    Part of what’s at stake is that your protagonist will change in some way to reach their goal.  And this will likely require a sacrifice on their part.  Make certain, before the climax of your story, you have given us a view of how deep this sacrifice will be.  You want to give your resolution as much power as you can to make the story satisfying to your reader.

Let's Talk Stakes

 


So what do you think?  Are stakes something you struggle with in your own writing?  Did these pointers help?  Can you think of things to add?

Leave a comment to get your name in the drawing for a copy of your choice of any book in my backlist

 

 


What Makes a Reader Try a New Author?How to (Mostly Painlessly) Engage Your Readers, with guest Pepper BashamKeep Your PromiseLet's Talk Stakes

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