Here are my current Giveaway Contests

Berry Good Giveaway Hop through June 15th

Upcoming Agent Spotlight Interviews and Guest Posts w/ Debut Authors & Query Critique Giveaways

Analieze Cervantes Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 7/14/2021

Mary Cummings Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 7/21/2021

Allison Hellegers Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 7/26/2021

Sera Rivers Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 8/11/2021

Renae Moore Agent Spotlight Interview on 8/25/2021

Nicole Eisenbraun Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 9/15/2021

Agent Chloe Seager and Author Brianna Bourne Guest Post and Query Critique and You and Me at the End of the World Giveaway on 9/20/2021

Crystal Orazu Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 9/22/2021

Kristin Ostby Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 10/11/2021

Agent Spotlight Updates

All agent spotlights and interviews have been updated as of 7/15/2020, and many have been reviewed by the agents. Look for them to be fully updated again in 2023.


Happy Monday Everyone!

I have a few winners to announce.

The winner of THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING is Joanne Fritz!

The winner of JOSHUA AND THE LIGHTNING ROAD is Liz Brooks!

The winner of Brent Taylor's Query Critique is Jenny C.!

And the winner of the May I Suggest Giveaway Hop is Anne May who picked the Amazon Gift Card!

Congrats! E-mail me your address so I can send you your book. Please e-mail me by the end of Wednesday or I'll have to pick another winner.

Today I'm thrilled to have debut author Holly Bodger and her agent Lauren MacLeod from The Strothman Agency to share about raising your stakes in your novel.

Holly's novel is a YA multicultural, futuristic story that sounds fantastic. I just reserved it at the library for my summer fun reading. And it just came in. Yay!

Here's a blurb from Goodreads:

In the year 2054, after decades of gender selection, India now has a ratio of five boys for every girl, making women an incredibly valuable commodity. Tired of marrying off their daughters to the highest bidder and determined to finally make marriage fair, the women who form the country of Koyanagar have instituted a series of tests so that every boy has the chance to win a wife.

Sudasa, though, doesn't want to be a wife, and Kiran, a boy forced to compete in the test to become her husband, has other plans as well. As the tests advance, Sudasa and Kiran thwart each other at every turn until they slowly realize that they just might want the same thing.

This beautiful, unique novel is told from alternating points of view-Sudasa's in verse and Kiran's in prose-allowing readers to experience both characters' pain and their brave struggle for hope.

So here's Holly and Lauren!

Stake it Up

HB: One of the things Lauren often reminds me is to increase the stakes in my novel. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, a character’s stakes are what he has to lose if he doesn’t meet his goal. For example, if Harry Potter doesn’t defeat Voldemort, he will die, so his stakes are death. In the case of my own book, 5 TO 1, Sudasa’s stakes are a life of misery married to a boy she hates. Kiran’s are death.

LM: I just searched through my sent email for the phrase “the stakes” and it does, indeed, seem to be one of those things I’m constantly talking about with you guys. But without high stakes, what is the point? Why should a reader invest themselves in this story or character? 

HB: You are so right, Lauren. The stakes are what keeps the reader reading. In fact, according to James a character’s stakes must always be death. Don’t get too excited. He defines death in three ways: 1) actual physical death, 2) professional death (in YA this might be called death in stature, ie, a place on the basketball team), and 3) emotional death. This last one can be hard to pull off as it requires that you convince the reader that it will really occur. When I used this this last one for Sudasa, I had to make sure that it was REALLY clear that a life married to a boy she hates would be emotional death.
Scott Bell,

LM: That is such an interesting way of framing that! I feel like there should be some sort of category for interpersonal relationship death (not necessarily romantic, but frequently), but maybe that all falls under the umbrella of emotional death? (For some reason ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS popped into my head and I was trying to figure out where I’d slot those stakes.) Holly?

HB: Yes, I think loss of love/friendship would be an emotional death as long as the relationship is important to the main character. That’s what stakes must be personal. The main character must be facing his or her own death (or in this case, loss). If the stakes belong to another character, then they must relate back to the main character through an emotional death. For example, Katniss risks her life initially to save her sister and while she wants to win the games so she can continue to support her mother and sister, the stakes (of actual death) are hers because she is the one who might die. Had the games been different and Katniss had been playing for Prim’s life, we would have believed Katniss was facing emotional death only if we also believed Prim was so important to Katniss that she could not possibly go on living without her.

LM: Sort of like the emotional death Katniss would be facing re: Peeta Mellark? (Oh Peeta!) Katniss is facing her own death, but the reader also thinks she may be facing an emotional death if she loses Peeta. So she has personal stakes on two sides and, thanks to the winner takes all nature of the Hunger Games, she is put in this really fascinating place where it seems like she can’t win. The more stakes you can raise, and the more you can set those in conflict with each other, the higher the tension, the more I care as a reader.

HB: Yeah, Hunger Games was full of stakes. Katniss was facing the loss of her sister and Peeta, in addition to her own life. This really helped build engagement with Katniss because the stakes were specific. This is really important. I have lost count of the number of loglines I’ve seen where the only stakes are the end of the world . How does a reader know what this means? Will the Earth actually implode if the main character does not succeed or is this just an exaggeration? 

LM: Oh I agree with your requirement, but I think there is a place for *dramatic music* THE END OF THE WORLD, as long as there are some personal stakes tied up in there, too. I think there is some pretty fertile ground here, especially when you set it up so the stakes for the world conflict [am I beginning to sound like a broken record? I clearly like my stakes with a side of major conflict] with the main characters personal stakes. It demands a sacrifice or some sort of moral reckoning, which is also inherently interesting. 

HB: So Lauren likes her stakes with a side of more stakes. Do you see a pattern here? 

The final thing to remember with stakes is that they must be believable. This touches on a whole other topic about powerful antagonists, but the point here is that we must believe the stakes will absolutely come true if the main character loses. We rooted for Katniss because we actually believed she would die in the Hunger Games. If she’d gone into the arena to fight to the death and her opponents were all toothless gerbils, we would not have believed the stakes.

LM: Agreed. I’d add that the best books also really build the case for it being unlikely for the main character to get what they want. In the case of escaping physical death, for example, most writers (especially of YA) probably aren’t really going to George R. R. Martin a character and readers know that, so the burden falls on the writer to really make us fear/worry for our characters. 

I think this is probably easiest in something like the Hunger Games and hardest in YA or MG when your stakes are more of the “professional death” variety. We see “so-and-so will die” or “the world will end” so frequently because those stakes register on a visceral human level. 

Thanks for sharing all your great advice, Lauren and Holly.

You can find Lauren at  @Lauren_MacLeod.

You can find Holly at

Lauren has generously offered a query critique and Holly is offering a copy of 5 TO 1for a giveaway.
To enter, you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment through May 30. I’ll announce the winner on June 8th. If you are interested in the query critique, please let me know in the comments. You must let me know this to enter. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, please leave it in the comments.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. This is an International giveaway.

Here's what's coming up:

I'll be off next Monday for Memorial Day. Have a great holiday!

Next Wednesday I have a guest post by Elizabeth Varden and a giveaway of her new MG mystery IMOGENE AND THE CASE OF THE MISSING PEARLS.

I'll be off on Monday June 1st to get ready for my daughter's graduation and will be offline all week because I'm having family visiting to help celebrate our happy event.

Monday, June 8th, I'll have an interview with debut author Sarah McGuire and a giveaway of her MG fantasy VALIANT.

Hope to see you next Wednesday!


  1. Congrats to the winners. Nice to see Joanne Fritz won a prize.

    Holly Bodger's premise sounds really unique. I love the exploration of gender roles and culture that's going on.

    Lauren MacLeod's death stakes really resonated with me. I'm going to look at two of my polished manuscripts and see how they measure up against the three types of deaths.

  2. It's nice to meet Holly and Lauren. I agree, stakes must be authentic and believable. Loved hearing their thoughts and appreciated the insight.

    I'll pass on the giveaway. Have a great week! :)

  3. Upping those stakes is so important - and something I need to keep working on! :)

  4. That's some great advice about upping the stakes. The higher the stakes, the faster I tend to read! haha
    I would love a critique or a copy of the book.
    Thanks for the giveaway!

  5. Congrats to all the winners! Excellent post from Holly and Lauren. The stakes being personal, clear, and believable are vital to a good story.

  6. Congrats to all the winners. 5 to 1 sounds amazing. I want to read it ASAP. I also believe in upping the stakes. Its a very crucial element in our stories.

  7. The stakes have to be high. Emotional stakes can be the most fun to write, too.

  8. Congrats! to the winners. It' great to meet Holly and Lauren. Death is always what's at stake in my books. Often multiple deaths of innocent people that the protagonists have to prevent. Of course, some will have to die early on to set the stakes even higher. I mean, someone has to die.

  9. A great combo here today. I love it when the stakes for characters is high, and I agree about having a finer set of categories. Wouldn't that create a stir in the bookstores, on Amazon and in libraries. :-)

  10. A great combo here today. I love it when the stakes for characters is high, and I agree about having a finer set of categories. Wouldn't that create a stir in the bookstores, on Amazon and in libraries. :-)

  11. Great interview and an interesting YA sci-fi novel with diversity to add to my reading list when it comes out. I'd like a shot at the critique and an extra chance for tweeting about it. Thanks! (

  12. The romance conundrum in this sounds really fun as does the world. Definitely adding it to my reading list. :D I'd like a shot at the critique plz.

  13. I always struggle with stakes, so this was a great reminder! I'd like a shot at the critique.

  14. I love reading a book with characters that I can ID with that are dealing with relatable and significant stakes. I'd like a shot at the critique and I posted to twitter.

  15. I LOVED LOVED 5 to 1 and this interview was so great it gave me a lot of hope for my own novel. I would love the chance to win the query critique and I have shared this article on twitter. :) Love you blog and look forward to reading more. (lauramitzner at gmail)

  16. What an interesting premise! One that isn't too far off the mark, particularly in places like China. This is a book I know I'd enjoy reading.

  17. That is a very interesting premise, and the cover is gorgeous! I agree--clear stakes are very important, otherwise the reader isn't sure why he or she should care about the characters. I'd love to be entered for the query critique! :) I also tweeted about the giveaway @adelethelaptop.

  18. Congrats to the winners! Lots of stakes is good. Even minor characters should have something at stake.

  19. I'm thrilled to win THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING! Thanks so much.

    Don't enter me in this new giveaway, since I just won something. Love the cover of 5 to 1, though. And how interesting that it's told in two POVS, one in verse, one in prose.

  20. Congrats to the winners (yay, Joanne!). I love the sound of 5 to 1--so unique. I am sucker for anything set in India, and this premise sounds really intriguing. I enjoyed reading your take on stakes--very helpful!

  21. Stakes with a side of stakes - got it!

  22. Hi Natalie. I'm glad I popped by today and read about the 3 types of death for upping the stakes. As I write romance, the emotional death is my best choice. Not that easy to pull off. :-)

  23. Great interview!

    I'd love a critique or a copy of the book :D
    (tiffanielynn @

  24. A fabulous post thank you. I had not thought about what is at stake in quite that way before.


  25. I love the three types of deaths presented here. I'm going to keep this in mind for the future. High Stakes are a huge thing, because without them, the book is quiet, and the reader doesn't really care what happens to the characters. My agent is constantly telling me to raise the stakes, so maybe it's something theyvallnresdxin the magic agent handbook;)
    This novel sounds gorgeous. And the cover? One of my favorites. I'd love to win a copy of this!! Thank you.
    Sdebear1 At aol dot com

  26. Yes, great reminder on the stakes in your story. It's why we keep reading. 5 to 1 sure has taken care of this. I've added it to my TBR list. I also enjoyed the great dialog between author and agent.Thanks for featuring.

  27. Congrats to Holly and great discussion! I would LOVE to win a query critique :)

  28. Very interesting premise for a novel. I look forward to reading this book. And a great reminder to keep raising the stakes....

  29. I would love to win a query critique from Lauren!

  30. In Save the Cat's beat sheet, Blake Snyder also makes it certain that death is present either realistically or emotional. Thank you for using Katniss as a reminder for both physical and emotional death! That's a great reminder why the storyline did so well. Major conflict and personal stakes indeed! Sacrifice is also another great reminder.

    All awesome advice! Thank you for sharing.
    And love your 5 to 1 blurb! Unique storyline.

  31. Thanks for always hosting awesome giveaways :DD

  32. Stakes are truly important. Without them, there really isn't any reason for readers to be invested. Loved this post!

  33. We are also prepping for a graduate here! Congrats! Thanks for the post and advice. I would love to win the critique or novel. I tweeted :

  34. Great interview and great giveaway! I'd like to enter for the query critique please! My email is And I Tweeted about the giveaway here:


  35. I am so. Excited. About this book! I'd like to enter both giveaways, for the book and for the critique. Thank you!

  36. Hello! I would like to enter the book giveaway. :) I tweeted about it here:

  37. Great discussion!!! I love using Hunger Games when I talk to me ELA classes about stakes :-)

  38. Great post with lots of valuable information. Thanks for that. Please let someone else win. I absolutely love the cover of 5 to 1, but am buried in books right now.

  39. sounds interesting, thanks for the giveaway

  40. What a fantastic discussion of raising the stakes. Please enter me in the contest.

  41. The very personal stakes are always what get me hooked on a book.

    Congrats to your daughter!

  42. I've already got 5 to 1 on my TBR list so a free copy would bump it right to the top, but a query critique would be awesome too because I haven't perfected how to lay out the stakes yet. I tweeted about the giveaway.

  43. Happy graduation to your daughter!

    Yeah, making it personal is what hooks me too. Congrats, Holly! Definitely want to check out your book.

  44. Those toothless gerbils might cause death by cuteness overload. ;)

    It's so true about raising the stakes. I love how you mentioned the different types of death. It's easy to go for the physical one, but the other two are just as important. Congrats, Holly! I love the premise of your book. Beautiful cover too!

  45. Great advice on stakes! I've wanted to read 5 TO 1 since I first heard about it - the premise sounds fantastic. I'd be thrilled to win either the book or the critique.

  46. Don't enter me for the critique, but please enter me for the book. The book sounds intriguing. I've seen a few reviews for it and would love to read it.

    meredithfl at gmail dot com

  47. 5 To 1 sounds so interesting and it's kind of scary that the premise could actually be true in the future with the gender selection that is popular today!
    My tweet:

  48. This is an interesting discussion of "stakes" in fiction. Holly Bodger states on her website and in this interview that James Scott Bell insists that the stakes in fiction must be death. While death lurks in many good novels, especially in thrillers, more subtle factors are at stake in other equally good works of fiction. For example, characters may need to come to terms with the death of a family member in a novel like Kathryn Erskine's _mockingbird (mok′ ing-bûrd)_. In _The Wednesday Wars_ by Gary D. Schmidt, a young student and his teacher begin with conflict but eventually learn to appreciate one another's talents and insights. I hope that we can allow a wide range of stakes in good novels of different kinds.

    I'm interested in both the critique and in the book. janetheller at

  49. 5 to 1 sounds like a great read and I think the premise is fascinating. I am curious to learn more about the world Holly created. I also enjoyed learning more about the stakes from both Holly and Lauren.

    Thanks so much for the giveaway. :)

  50. I enjoyed this dialogue very much. It helps clarify a novel's trajectory in so many ways. The idea of "stakes" often sounds cut and dried, but this conversation gave it real texture.

  51. Ooh that sounds like a fantastic premise! It sounds much more orderly than the wars that have previously broken out when the gender ratio has gotten out of balance..
    AJ Lauer

  52. My first comment did not seem to go through so I am trying again.

    I agree that stakes often =death in many novels. Often but not always. Sometimes the stakes are the MC's integrity or sanity.

  53. Congrats to Holly! It amazes me that people keep saying dystopian is dead when there are great new ones getting published all the time. Holly sure is stepping out of the box by basing something on India. I love diversity!

  54. What a great premise. I really want to read this one. I would love the chance at a query critique. I will also be tweeting about this. So glad I happened upon this, while researching an agent I'm querying.

  55. Sounds interesting! And congrats to your daughter!

  56. This comment has been removed by the author.

  57. Thanks for this excellent and detailed reminder to raise the stakes. I think I've been guilty of the "or the world ends" stakes, but I'm reformed now, mostly. :P

  58. Congrats to Holly on her release! This book sounds amazing. Verse and prose, that I've got to check out.

  59. 'Scuse me, gotta go raise the stakes even higher for my main character! Thanks for the insights, and please do enter me in your contests.

  60. Firstly, thank you for all the work you do on this site. It is such a fantastic resource.

    Reading this interview I really got the sense that raising the stakes can also help one figure out when their story really "starts" and assist in avoiding unnecessary backstory, meaningless subplots, etc.

    I'd like to enter for the query critique. My email is

    Thanks again!

  61. And shouting out on Twitter!!