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
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
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
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.
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.
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.