It's not everyday that a debut novel becomes a bestseller, which is perhaps why people are curious as to why and how Crossing Oceans made its way on to the CBA, ECPA, Amazon, and PW Religion lists.
Anyone who regularly follows the bestseller lists for a few months will notice that while the book titles change, the authors rarely do. People like Ted Dekker, Francine Rivers, Karen Kingsbury, etc show up there over and over—making it difficult for a new name to squeeze in. (This is true in the CBA as well as the general market).
There is, of course, no single way to turn a book into a bestseller. If there were, everyone would be doing it with every book. I can’t speak for the rest of debut novelist’s who were lucky enough to break in, but this is how it went for me:
· I had a champion.
Actually several. It started with a top-notch agent, Chip MacGregor, who championed the book and sold it to Tyndale House. Karen Watson, Associate Publisher there, read a partial manuscript and became passionate about it. She took a risk and gave an untried author a chance.
This wouldn’t have happened though if the idea had been poorly executed. It took years to hone my skills. Over the course of ten years, I'd written several manuscripts that were ultimately rejected, read every how-to writing book I could get my hands on, and aligned with the toughest critique partners I could find.
Lucky for me, the rest of the team at Tyndale House also got excited and additional resources were thrown at the book. One "higher-up" from Tyndale commented it was one of the best debuts he’d ever read. That’s the kind of excitement that helps sell a book.
· I had a great editor.
I doubt I have to convince writers how important this is. Kathy Olson saw my vision for the story, suggested changes and heard me when I had questions or disagreed. We listened to each other, and there was compromise on both our ends. She didn't change the essence of the story, or my voice, which I'm truly thankful for. What she did do is make a good story better.
· They listened.
Right from the beginning stages, I worked with a team that wanted, and heard my input. They suggested changes they thought would improve the book. They also invited my feedback from everything from the cover design to the portion of endorsement we ended up using.
I was grateful when my (fan-stinking-tastic) marketer ran ideas past me about ad displays and which outlets they planned to advertise with. I offered insight, which could have been ignored, but wasn't. When I saw a PR tie in, I wrote to my publicist and we brainstormed and then acted. Sometimes she pitched an angle, sometimes I did, depending on who we thought would get the best results. There were no egos involved on either end, just a desire for the book to succeed.
A major book chain buyer, (God bless her!), fell in love with Crossing Oceans and got the stores excited about it too. She ordered lots of copies, gave it placement at the front of the store. It was put on sale nationwide, which helped introduce it to readers. I couldn’t have planned that if I wanted to.
Another national chain made it their book club pick. This certainly wouldn’t have happened if Tyndale hadn’t pitched it to them or if it wasn’t a story that resonated, but I’m sure lots of other books were just as worthy. Like I said, serendipity.
Kindle offered it as a daily deal, dropping the price to $1.99 for the day. This also introduced me to many readers who wouldn’t have discovered me otherwise. Again, not my doing.
· Word of mouth
Word of mouth normally only happens when enough people, the right people, (read The Tipping Point), read a book and become passionate about it. My publishing team took care to submit it to the "who’s who" of reviewers and outlets.
On my end, I worked to gather up early readers and to create buzz. I spent probably on average 2-4 hours a day on publicity. That’s a lot of time, but you only get one chance to debut. Many outlets are more curious about your first book than subsequent ones. It pays to pour everything you have into the first
It also helped that Tyndale offered up Crossing Oceans as a freebie on Kindle and Nook. It stayed at number one free download on Amazon for most of that two weeks and then stayed in the top one hundred paid for weeks after. That’s a lot of potential for word of mouth.
I had a platform which I’d spent years building: www.novelrocket.com. With a strong base of supporters, it was easy to scare up folks who were happy to help me get the word out. (When you take time to help others, expecting nothing in return, you tend to get the boomerang effect. Hint. Hint.)
This isn’t a conclusive list, but it’s a good representation of how and why Crossing Oceans launched so well. A bestseller tends to happen when you have a well-written & sticky, (again—see The Tipping Point), book, a great team of champions, and an author willing to do their part.
It’s important to point out the obvious—some great books don’t sell so well despite all involved doing everything right. And some maybe not so great books sell very well despite little effort.
I think God sometimes smiles on certain projects for reasons only He knows, and perhaps some books are meant to reach many, while others are meant to reach a select few—but that’s a topic for another post.
What I do know is that we could try our best to recreate this series of fortunate events I experienced with Crossing Oceans, but probably will fail miserably because most of the best breaks weren’t within our control.
What we can do is to write the best book we can, do as much to promote as we can, hope that our publishing team and readers "get" us, and say our prayers.
Gina Holmes is the author of CROSSING OCEANS, her debut novel that hit the bestseller lists and won numerous industry awards, and her latest, DRY AS RAIN, which has been getting very strong reviews. Both books were published by Tyndale publishers.