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
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
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.
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
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.