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Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Making of a Bestseller

Gina Holmes is the founder of Novel Rocket. Her debut, Crossing Oceans, became a bestseller and was a Christy and Gold Medallion finalist and winner of the Carol Award, INSPY, and RWA’s Inspirational Reader’s Choice. Her sophomore novel,  Dry as Rain,  was a Christy Award Finalist as well as an ECPA bestseller . Her upcoming release, Wings of Glass releases this February. To learn more about her, visit

The Making of a Bestseller (or What We Did Right)

By Gina Holmes

My debut novel, Crossing Oceans, surprised many when it showed up on bestsellers lists. This is rare for a first time author. Look at the lists for a few months and you’ll notice that the books titles change, but the authors rarely do. You will see that people like Ted Dekker, Francine Rivers, Karen Kingsbury, etc show up there over and over making it very difficult for a new name to squeeze onto the list. It’s important to note that I’m talking about the CBA bestseller list, the ECPA and PW religion, not NYT or mainstream lists. If I had made any of those, that would have been even more curious.

There is no one way to make a bestseller. If there was, everyone would be doing it. I can’t speak for the rest of the authors who have broken in with their first, (or twentieth), novel, only how it went for me.

I think it all came down to a series of fortunate events.

         I had a champion.

It all began when Associate publisher of Tyndale House, Karen Watson, read a partial manuscript and got passionate about it. She trusted her instincts on an untried author, and a book that wasn’t even fully written because, I think, she was moved by the story. It resonated with her for reasons that are both well thought out but also personal and visceral. 

This wouldn’t have happened if the manuscript was poorly written, (and of course how well written or not you think it was is a matter of opinion). The story wouldn’t have had a chance to succeed if the writing hadn’t been strong. If hadn’t taken years to hone my skills. To write several manuscripts that were rejected. To read every how-to writing book I could get my hands on. To align with the toughest critique partners I could find that could fill in my gaps. And then, write a story that was not just, (hopefully), well-written but also spoke to readers in a personal way. Long story short, I had a champion because I had something worth championing.

The team at Tyndale House read Crossing Oceans and I think after that, additional resources were thrown at the book because higher ups were wowed. One comment from such a higher up was that it was one of the best debuts this person had ever read. Which goes back to having champions. And it’s also important to note that I, the author was one of the greatest champions of the book. I personally believed in it, so, it was easy for me to tell people, ‘”It’s a good story,” and maintain eye contact.

·      I had a great editor.

I don’t need, I hope, to convince writers how important this is. She saw my vision of the book, suggested changes and heard me when I had questions or disagreed. We listened to each other, and there was some compromising on both our ends.  Never did she change the essence of the story or my voice. If she had it could have been a death knell because I would have ceased to believe in it and the book would have lost its biggest champion even if somehow it read better.

·       My publishing team listened to me.

Right from the beginning stages, I worked with an entire team that wanted my input, heard my input, and revised upon my input.  They mentioned the changes they thought would make the book better, (see above).

They showed me the cover and I was allowed to offer suggestions and feedback from everything from the design to the portion of endorsement we ended up using. I didn’t feel patronized when I shared my thoughts. I was treated like a professional who knew as much as they did about what would (most likely) work.

My marketer ran ideas past me first from ad displays, to the best outlets to advertise with. I had a lot of insight that could have easily been ignored, but wasn’t. When I saw a PR tie in, I wrote to my publicist and together we brainstormed and then acted. Sometimes she did the pitching, sometimes I did, depending on who we thought was in a position to get the best results. There were no egos involved on either end, just a desire to have the book succeed.

·      Serendipity

In addition to the above, I had champions outside of my publishing house. A major book chain buyer 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 and put it on sale nationwide to help introduce people to it.

Another national chain made it their book club pick. This wouldn’t have happened if they didn’t like the book and if my team at Tyndale hadn’t sent it to them for consideration.

Kindle offered it as a daily deal, dropping the price to $1.99 for the day. This introduced me to many readers who wouldn’t have discovered me otherwise.

·      Word of mouth

Word of mouth normally only happens when enough people, the right people, (read The Tipping Point if you don’t know who these people are), get the book, read the book, and get passionate about the book. My publishing team took care of submitting to the who’s who of reviewers and I filled in the gaps on my end with as many early readers and buzz as I could manage. (I spent probably on average 2-4 hours a day on publicity. That’s a lot of time I know but you only get one chance to debut and many reviewers and outlets are going to be more curious about your first book than subsequent ones. It pays to put everything you have into the first (if it’s good).

Also helping word of mouth was my publisher offering up Crossing Oceans as a freebie on kindle. I stayed at number one free download on kindle  for most of that two weeks I believe and then stayed in the top one hundred paid for weeks after. I believe I was told something like 80,000 people downloaded it during that promotion. That’s a lot of potential for word of mouth.

This isn’t a conclusive list, but it’s a good representation of how and why Crossing Oceans has done so well. A bestseller tends to happen when you have a well-written & sticky (see the Tipping Point) book, a great team of champions, and an author willing to do their part.

 At least that’s how it worked for me.

SALE: nearly 1/2 price if you pre-order online. 

On the cusp of adulthood, eighteen-year-old Penny Carson is swept off her feet by a handsome farmhand with a confident swagger. Though Trent Taylor seems like Prince Charming and offers an escape from her one-stop-sign town, Penny’s happily-ever-after lasts no longer than their breakneck courtship. Before the ink even dries on their marriage certificate, he hits her for the first time. It isn’t the last, yet the bruises that can’t be seen are the most painful of all.When Trent is injured in a welding accident and his paycheck stops, he has no choice but to finally allow Penny to take a job cleaning houses. Here she meets two women from very different worlds who will teach her to live and laugh again, and lend her their backbones just long enough for her to find her own.


  1. SO interesting, Gina. I also loved the story I read SOMEwhere that you were inspired for the cancer story in Crossing Oceans after all the stuff you'd gone through personally, like divorce and trying for awhile to get published. Maybe I got all those facts wrong. But I do think it's nice to know that all the waiting angst can be channeled into something productive, like refining that MS or working on the next one, maybe incorporating some lessons we, as writers, have learned the hard way.

    Thanks for sharing what worked! Will definitely keep this in mind, for someday...

  2. Thanks Heather. Yeah, I didn't realize it when I was writing Crossing Oceans that I was actually working out the pain of divorce. It took months to figure that out and then it was blatantly obvious. You got your facts right! Are you one of the few NOT at ACFW? Me too :(

  3. Yes, I'm one of those select few who get to stay home this year. Hubby still looking for job, so the $$ isn't there. I am TOTALLY planning on going next year, though. Will try to find you if you're there!

  4. I'm hoping to be. Sounds like a tentative date!


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