Chip MacGregor

January 17, 2012

A Series of Fortunate Events – a guest blog from Gina Holmes


It's not everyday that a debut novel becomes a bestseller, which is perhaps why people are curious as to why and how Crossing Oceans made its way on to the CBA, ECPA, Amazon, and PW Religion lists. 

Anyone who regularly follows the bestseller lists for a few months will notice that while the book titles change, the authors rarely do. People like Ted Dekker, Francine Rivers, Karen Kingsbury, etc show up there over and over—making it difficult for a new name to squeeze in. (This is true in the CBA as well as the general market).

There is, of course, no single way to turn a book into a bestseller. If there were, everyone would be doing it with every book. I can’t speak for the rest of debut novelist’s who were lucky enough to break in, but this is how it went for me:

·      I had a champion.

Actually several. It started with a top-notch agent, Chip MacGregor, who championed the book and sold it to Tyndale House. Karen Watson, Associate Publisher there, read a partial manuscript and became passionate about it. She took a risk and gave an untried author a chance.

 This wouldn’t have happened though if the idea had been poorly executed. It took years to hone my skills. Over the course of ten years, I'd written several manuscripts that were ultimately rejected, read every how-to writing book I could get my hands on, and aligned with the toughest critique partners I could find. 

Lucky for me, the rest of the team at Tyndale House also got excited and additional resources were thrown at the book. One "higher-up" from Tyndale commented it was one of the best debuts he’d  ever read. That’s the kind of excitement that helps sell a book.

·      I had a great editor.

 I doubt I have to convince writers how important this is. Kathy Olson saw my vision for the story, suggested changes and heard me when I had questions or disagreed. We listened to each other, and there was compromise on both our ends.  She didn't change the essence of the story, or my voice, which I'm truly thankful for. What she did do is make a good story better.

·      They listened.

Right from the beginning stages, I worked with a team that wanted, and heard my input. They suggested changes they thought would improve the book. They also invited my feedback from everything from the cover design to the portion of endorsement we ended up using.

I was grateful when my (fan-stinking-tastic) marketer ran ideas past me about ad displays and which outlets they planned to advertise with. I offered insight, which could have been ignored, but wasn't. When I saw a PR tie in, I wrote to my publicist and we brainstormed and then acted. Sometimes she pitched an angle, sometimes I did, depending on who we thought would get the best results. There were no egos involved on either end, just a desire for the book to succeed.

·      Serendipity 

A major book chain buyer, (God bless her!), 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. It was put on sale nationwide, which helped introduce it to readers. I couldn’t have planned that if I wanted to.

Another national chain made it their book club pick. This certainly wouldn’t have happened if Tyndale hadn’t pitched it to them or if it wasn’t a story that resonated, but I’m sure lots of other books were just as worthy. Like I said, serendipity.

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

·      Word of mouth

Word of mouth normally only happens when enough people, the right people, (read The Tipping Point), read a book and become passionate about it. My publishing team took care to submit it to the "who’s who" of reviewers and outlets.

On my end, I worked to gather up early readers and to create buzz. I spent probably on average 2-4 hours a day on publicity. That’s a lot of time, but you only get one chance to debut. Many outlets are more curious about your first book than subsequent ones. It pays to pour everything you have into the first 

It also helped that Tyndale offered up Crossing Oceans as a freebie on Kindle and Nook. It stayed at number one free download on Amazon for most of that two weeks and then stayed in the top one hundred paid for weeks after. That’s a lot of potential for word of mouth.

I had a platform which I’d spent years building: With a strong base of supporters, it was easy to scare up folks who were happy to help me get the word out. (When you take time to help others, expecting nothing in return, you tend to get the boomerang effect. Hint. Hint.)

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

It’s important to point out the obvious—some great books don’t sell so well despite all involved doing everything right. And some maybe not so great books sell very well despite little effort. 

I think God sometimes smiles on certain projects for reasons only He knows, and perhaps some books are meant to reach many, while others are meant to reach a select few—but that’s a topic for another post.

What I do know is that we could try our best to recreate this series of fortunate events I experienced with Crossing Oceans, but probably will fail miserably because most of the best breaks weren’t within our control.

What we can do is to write the best book we can, do as much to promote as we can, hope that our publishing team and readers "get" us, and say our prayers.


Gina Holmes is the author of CROSSING OCEANS, her debut novel that hit the bestseller lists and won numerous industry awards, and her latest, DRY AS RAIN, which has been getting very strong reviews. Both books were published by Tyndale publishers. 


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  • Great post, Gina!

    And, as I’ve said before, best last line of a book ever!!! 

  • Gina Holmes says:

    What’s the benefactor model, Mary? And thanks for the kind words. It’s nice to have people rooting for you in this business (or any 🙂

  • Mary DeMuth says:

    It’s been entirely heartening to see your journey and watch your hard work pay off, Gina. And I cried my way through your book (a rarity for me). Well done, friend.

  • Gina Holmes says:

    Chip, have you noticed that the comments are not posting in the order in which they’re made but rather randomly? Or am I loopy? (Most likely both). Anyway, thanks for everyone’s kind comments. It’s very nice to know this was helpful to some. 

    Oh and Laney, the trouble is when you’re trying to break in, you’re kind of under the beggars can’t be choosers but if you’re lucky enough to get more than one house vying for you, choose the most enthusiastic. Enthusiasm sells books.

  • Laney Flanagan says:

    I guess not only can writing a book be difficult but finding a good team is also a major benefactor. Now I know for whenever I write my first book I look long and hard for the perfect team. Thanks for the wonderful insights. 

  • Ruth Douthitt says:

    Wow! What an inspirational success story!  I will definitely buy and read your book. I am a published author (through OakTara) and am working hard on building a platform through social media. It is a challenge since I work full time and write at night, but with some diligence, patience, and lots of PRAYER, I hope to have a successful story to share with other writers one day.

    Great post!  Thank you for sharing!


  • Gina Holmes says:

    Congratulations to those having their debut releasing soon. You’ve already overcome the biggest hurdle of all, especially if it’s traditionally published. You’ve survived lots of rejection and put in lots of hard work but all of that continues on the other side of the fence. But at least you’re on that side of the fence now. Take a moment if you haven’t before you delve into the next battle of publicity, reviews and sales numbers to enjoy the view from the summit you’ve just climbed to. I’m not always the best at enjoying the here or now but it doesn’t get better than that first contract. Truly. Randy, thank you. That means a lot. 

    As far as God versus our own efforts, that’s a tough one, isn’t it? I can’t look at the success of The Shack and not think that there was something spiritual in its success, whether you love or hate it. It’s astronomic rise made no human sense but so many were moved by it. There are other books I can think of that should have, in my opinion, be on the NYT list but probably aren’t earning back meager advances. 

    I think it’s dangerous to think it’s all on us, or that it’s all on God. I think we’re to do all we can, to be good stewards, to labor and toil, but to also rest in the peace that what’s supposed to happen will. This doesn’t just go for writing but for life.  Thanks for all your wonderful comments and encouragement! And Chip, thanks for the honor of having me on. 

  • BMcGlothlin says:

    “I think God sometimes smiles on certain projects for reasons only He knows, and perhaps some books are meant to reach many, while others are meant to reach a select few…”
    Thanks for this Gina. For me, the statement I quoted above is the best one from the whole article. I grow weary of authors who’ve “made it” saying “do it my way and you’ll be a success too!” The bottom line is that God lifts up those He chooses for His own reasons. And while knowing the basics behind what makes a book successful is good and helpful, what brings me peace in the process is that God is in charge of it. I can work my tail off advocating for my book AND rest in God’s plan for it all at the same time.

    You’re the first author (other than me 😉 I’ve heard acknowledge this part of the process. Thanks.

  • Randy says:

    Gina, you left out one really important thing—-it’s a wonderful, well-written story. You did a great job! And, I personally believe that DRY AS RAIN is even better. I can’t wait for your next one. God has gifted you, my friend, and your multi-year investment of toil and tears is now being mulitplied back. Keep it up!


  • Keli Gwyn says:

    Thanks for an enlightening post, Gina. I remember watching Crossing Oceans soar to those bestseller lists when it released. I love hearing how you had such a great team working with you to make that happen, but I know you put a lot of effort into promotion yourself. Like Katie, I have my debut novel coming out in a few months, so I’m taking notes. =)

  • Gina Holmes says:

    Thanks Ane 🙂 and Tanya. Katie, you’re talking about the subject of an entire book. I can’t really effectively answer that in a comment. What I can tell you is to get Publicize Your Book and do the stuff in there. There are other publicity books too, but I found that one to be the most helpful. 

  • Ane Mulligan says:

    There are lots of reasons it happened, but the number one is that you got an idea for a killer story with universal appeal, and then you wrote it brilliantly. 🙂

  • Tanya Dennis says:

    Congratulations, Gina! I’m thrilled for your success. You’ve worked hard to get it.

  • My debut is releasing in May, so this post was VERY interesting to me.

    I loved Crossing Oceans. I bought it for people for Christmas last year, I loved it so much. 

    Anyway – I’m curious. When you say you spent 2-4 hours on publicity a day….what exactly were you doing? I’d love to know more!

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