Anita Higman

Bestselling and award-winning author, Anita Higman, has twenty-six books published (several co-authored) for adults and children, and she has five books coming out in the next three years. She has been honored in the past as a Barnes & Noble "Author of the Month" for Houston, and her latest coauthored book, Love Finds You Under the Mistletoe, was on the Nielsen's bestseller list for five weeks as well as the CBA bestseller list. Some of Ms. Higman's publishers are Guideposts/Summerside Press, Barbour Publishing, Bethany House, McGraw-Hill, Lillenas Drama, and Simon & Schuster/Howard Publishing. She would love for you to visit her site at

Ten Steps to the CBA Best-Seller List

This month we're going to look at what an author by night accomplishes during the day for her writing career.

My writer’s journey is like climbing a tall pine tree, hoisting myself branch by branch until my legs are shaking and my spirit is faint. Sometimes I make good headway, only to slip and nearly lose my footing altogether. At other times I look up and see many splendorous tree houses filled with authors who are more successful than me, all laughing at literary jokes and toasting one another’s successes, their celebratory beverages splashing on my face.

Now, after many years of hard work and twenty-six books, I finally made it to one of those tree houses—the one called the best-seller list. Was there a fun party going on up there? Yes, but the merrymaking was only a brief respite before preparations for the climb to that next higher level—to tree houses that glittered even more brightly. But that topic is for another article. Let’s talk about the illusive tree house called “the best-seller list.”

My latest book, Love Finds You under the Mistletoe—coauthored with Irene Brand—made the Nielsen’s best-seller list for five weeks (for religious adult fiction) as well as being #6 on the CBA best-seller list (for fiction in January 2011). Irene and I were ecstatic about the response to the creative efforts we poured into our two separately written but interconnected novellas. What readers didn’t see was all the time spent creating the right atmosphere for success. Here is my ten-point list of what we did to help turn the dream of being on the best-seller list into a reality.

1. Start with a dynamic publisher. Summerside Press did a tremendous job in creating a cover that was irresistible. The snowy Currier and Ives–style picture was pretty enough to frame. Since the book was also designed to look like a Christmas present, it invited readers to peek inside. Along with the beautiful cover, the publisher added some valuable publicity efforts—which included the amazing expertise at Wynn-Wynn Media.

2. While writing the Mistletoe book, I tried to make my motto “Spare no brain cells.” Sometimes, though, lethargy settled in. But I reminded myself that my best work, within the parameters of time I’d been given, is the primary way to improve my chances of being on that beloved list. I want to give my prose enough layers and dimension that readers feel tempted to step right into the story. Marketing will come together more easily when it’s built on the foundation of a well-told tale. I hope readers feel that my novella Once upon a Christmas Eve is the best it can be.

3. This next suggestion seems elementary, but it’s important. Just as you prepare your home for company, have all your basic business materials ready before your book comes out: a professional photo, business cards, an up-to-date Website, and if you can afford it, a logo design incorporating your brand.

4. Brainstorm fresh marketing ideas. Publishers see an author as part of the team, not just a writer who drops off a product for them to sell. One of the newer promotional ideas I came up with for the Mistletoe book was to create a free Christmas gift book in e-book form, which could be viewed, downloaded, or e-mailed. Irene Brand helped me write some of the pieces for the gift book, which was full of family memories, holiday traditions, recipes, quotes, and cozy Christmas thoughts. Readers did not need to sign up for anything to get the free book, but on the last page we included a link so readers could click over to Amazon and buy Love Finds You under the Mistletoe. This idea received enough attention that I would consider doing this kind of promotion with my next book.

5. Award-winning Circle of Seven Productions created a Book Trailer for Love Finds You under the Mistletoe, with a romantic and elegant curl-up-by-the-fire feel to it. Just what I’d dreamed of. Also, Circle of Seven had some impressive distribution for the trailer so it didn’t just end up on our Websites. I don’t know how profoundly Book Trailers affect sales, but they are an important and enticing piece of the overall promotional pie.

6. Irene Brand and I invested in the services of the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance. We were very pleased with Bonnie Calhoun’s services of setting us up with an impressive blog tour, which brought a solid online presence with our new release.

7. We sent out around fifty books to influencers, whom we recruited from our various writers’ loops and were willing to read our book and promote it in some creative way—whether to talk it up at their church book clubs, feature us on their blogs, or write a review. We also sent out about fifty books for Bonnie’s blog tour as well as copies for the many contest winners on those same blogs.

8. Instead of keeping up a blog of my own, I used the RSS feed on my site to offer readers Christmas thoughts and bits of news about the book’s progress. I also do some social networking, but I try not to get wrapped up in it so tightly that I no longer have time to write. As always, good writing, not social networking, is the biggest step toward the best-seller list.

9. I’ve heard about the importance of platform for so many years that I decided to take it seriously. For about a year I’ve cohosted a Christian show on BlogTalkRadio, and in between interviewing Christian entertainers, I get to talk about my new releases. We have 80,000 listeners, so this has become an important marketing tool. But if the thought of cohosting a show overwhelms you, don’t worry; you don’t have to do everything. Choose what you do best. For instance, I elected to cohost a show rather than to mail a monthly e-newsletter, because I have some background in radio and I love it. That kind of platform fits my needs as well as my personality.

10. I give away lots of books. I see this method of promotion as priming the pump not cutting into sales. The momentum built by word-of-mouth marketing is a powerful tool, so I give away copies to people whom I think will enjoy the book. Of course I’m hoping they will tell a friend. I may offer a book to my hygienist at the dentist office or to librarians or to folks asking for donations to use for door prizes at conferences, banquets, and women’s events. I keep boxes and boxes of books on hand for this very purpose.

In the end, when it comes to new releases, we can gather every duck in a row but still not be guaranteed that perfect V-shaped flight to the land of the blockbusters. Some things are simply out of our control. I hope this ten-step list gives you a leg up to that glittering tree house called the best-seller list.


Love Finds You Under the Mistletoe