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March 2011

Ten Steps to the CBA Bestseller List

Treehouse 1My writer’s journey is like climbing a tall pine tree, hoisting myself up 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 splendid tree houses, filled with authors who are much more successful than me, all laughing at literary jokes and toasting each others’ successes.

Now, after many years of hard work and 26 books I finally made it to one of those tree houses—the one called the bestseller list. Was there a fun party going on up there? Yes, but the merrymaking was only a respite to prepare for the climb to that next level—to tree houses that glittered even more brightly.

My latest book, Love Finds You Under the Mistletoe—coauthored with Irene Brand—made the Nielsen’s bestseller list for five weeks (for religious adult fiction) as well as being number six on the CBA bestseller list (for fiction in January, 2011). Irene and I were ecstatic.

What readers didn’t see was the time spent creating the right atmosphere for success. Here is our 10-point list of how we turned the dream of being on the bestseller list into a reality.

  1. Start with a dynamic publisher. Summerside Press did a tremendous job in creating an irresistible cover. But, along with the snowy Currier and Ives style cover, the publisher added some valuable publicity efforts—which included the amazing expertise at Wynn-Wynn Media.
  2. Spare no brain cells. While writing my novella for the Mistletoe book I tried to make my motto, sometimes lethargy settled in. But I kept reminding myself that my best work, within the parameters of time I’d been given, was the primary way to improve my chances of being on that beloved list. I gave my prose enough layers and dimension that readers were able to step right into the story. Marketing comes together more easily when it’s built on the foundation of a well-told tale.
  3. Prepare to entertain. Just as you prepare your home for company, you must have all your basic business materials ready before your book comes out. You’ll need a professionally made 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 now see authors as part of the marketing team, not just a writer who drops off a product for them to sell. One of the promotional ideas I came up with for the Mistletoe book was to create a free Christmas gift ebook that could be viewed, downloaded, or emailed to a friend. Irene helped write some of the pieces for the gift book, which was full of family memories, holiday traditions, recipes, quotes, and cozy Christmas thoughts. We didn’t make readers sign up to get the free book, but on the last page Love Finds You Under the Mistletoethere was a link so readers could click over to Amazon and buy Love Finds You Under the Mistletoe.
  5. Promotional book trailer. Award-winning Circle of Seven Productions created a book trailer for Love Finds You Under the Mistletoe, and it came out with the perfect curl-up-by-the-fire feel. They also had impressive distribution so the trailer didn’t just end up on our websites.
  6. Blog by blog. We invested in the services of the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance and were very pleased with Bonnie Calhoun’s work. She set up an impressive blog tour, which gave us a solid online presence.
  7. Use your influence. We sent around 50 books to influencers, whom we recruited from various writers’ organizations. These people were willing to read our book and promised to promote it in some creative way—whether to talk it up at their church book club, feature us on their blog, or write a review. We also sent about 50 books for Bonnie’s blog tour as well as copies for the many contest winners on those same blogs.
  8. Feed your readers. Instead of keeping a blog of my own I used the RSS feed on my site to offer readers Christmas thoughts Treehouse2and bits of news about the book’s progress. I do some social networking, but I try not to get wrapped up in it so tightly that I no longer have time to write. Remember, good writing is the best path to the bestseller list, not social networking.
  9. Construct a platform. I’d heard about the importance of platform for so many years 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. If the thought of cohosting a show overwhelms you, don’t worry. You don’t have to do everything. For instance, I elected to cohost a show rather than mail out a monthly e-newsletter because I have some background in radio. That fits my needs as well as my personality.
  10. Give to receive. I give away a lot of books as a way to prime the pump. The momentum built by word-of-mouth-marketing is a powerful tool, so I give away copies to people I think will enjoy the book. I may offer a book to my hygienist at the dentist office, or to librarians, or to folks asking for donations who will use the books treehouse3for door prizes at conferences, banquets, and women’s events.

In the end, when it comes to new books released in the marketplace, we can gather every duck in a row but still not be guaranteed that perfect V-shaped flight to the land of the bestseller list. Some things are simply out of our control. But these 10-steps can give you a leg-up to that glittering tree house.


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