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Can An Online Presence Help Make a Best Seller?

One morning last week I woke up to find this tweet from author friend Rosslyn Elliott: “@JodyHedlund on CBA Bestsellers List! Go, Jody!”

At first I thought I was dreaming. After all, it was only 5:15. The daylight savings switch was messing with my sleep—I'd been staying up late to edit, but my internal alarm hadn’t adjusted to sleeping later in the mornings.

I gave myself a mental shake then scrunched my blurry eyes and read Rosslyn’s tweet again. Was I really on the Bestseller List? She had to be joking. I tweeted her back saying I wouldn’t believe it until I saw it and asked her to send me the link. Of course, since it was such an ungodly hour, I knew she wouldn’t see my tweet right away.

By this time, my eyes were wide open and my heart was thudding loud enough to wake my children. I googled “CBA Bestseller List,” and thankfully on the first try I found a link to the list. And sure enough, there I was. The Preacher’s Bride was #18 out of the top 20 fiction titles.

I sat back in my desk chair and stared at the screen, stunned. How had my book ended up there? Had someone made a mistake in calculating sales figures? Had the list-maker done eenie-meenie-miny-moe with a stack of debut author books and somehow landed on mine?

How does a book make a best-seller list? And more importantly, how in the world had mine made it?

Of course I got excited, shed a tear or two of joy, and said a few prayers of thanksgiving. In fact, all day my smile was about as big as the one on the above balloon (sent by a friend to congratulate me!). My mom called me. My husband kept hugging me. Many of my cyber friends got excited with me. All-in-all it was a great day of celebrating.

But over the ensuing days, the question lingered. How had my book made the list? I decided to get expert opinions on the matter. So I asked my agent, Rachelle Gardner, and also my Bethany House Publisher (BHP) editor, Dave Long.

My wise and wonderful agent said: “There was a lot of buzz about the book, and your blog is a big part of that. The connections you made with other writers have been very important, because it created word of mouth. Some of the decisions BHP made definitely helped - giving it primary position in catalogs, pushing it with online retailers, etc. These things sometimes make a big difference, but if nobody likes the book, they don't make a bit of difference. So the biggest factor is the fact that when people read your book, they like it! That's what makes them talk about it and pass the word. Your book is great! If it wasn't, nothing else would matter.”

My talented, top-notch editor said: “The full reason is likely a combination of a number of factors . . . [the book] was featured by Lifeway and CBD and in other Christian retailing catalogs as a way of having its profile raised with the readers shopping their bookstores. I think it has a cover ideal for the market that could appeal both to historical romance readers and bonnet fiction readers—which covers a pretty large group. Hopefully your efforts online and BHP’s marketing efforts helped spread the word. First and foremost, though, I think it’s a strong story that captured people and got them recommending it.”

Both my agent and editor mentioned my online efforts.

You may be wondering (as I was) HOW much influence did blogging and an online presence play in pushing my book onto the Best Seller List?

While there’s no accurate way to measure the correlation, I think it’s safe to say, blogging and building a web presence contributed to the buzz, helped with word of mouth, and pushed my book out farther than if I’d done nothing online. THANK YOU to each and every one of you who purchased my book, read it, and helped promote it. YOU are ALL part of the reason my book is doing so well!

If my blogging can make a difference in the sales of my book, that should encourage all of us to keep working on building an online presence, especially in the early days before we’re contracted. Yes, it takes a lot of work and effort to build a platform. But if we work at it slowly but steadily, the platform will take shape and will hopefully be tall and solid by the time our books hit the shelves.

Even more important than an online presence, however, is the quality of our stories. Both my agent and editor mentioned that the STORY trumps everything else. We can have perfect marketing efforts, but they won’t do us any good if our story doesn’t grab the reader.

Blog? Perhaps. Build an online presence? Yes. Pour out our hearts and souls onto paper? Absolutely.

What do you think? Did my online presence and/or blog influence you to read my book? And are you working at slowly building and broadening your platform so that you can give your book a better chance at succeeding?

41 comments:

  1. Congratulations, Jody! Wow, you are in amazing company on that list. What great news to celebrate on Thanksgiving. :)

    And to answer your question...yes, your blog keeps me coming back, so that made me want to read your book even more. The fact that it was a great book made it easy to recommend to friends.

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  2. I am so excited for you!

    Your online presence definitely made the difference. I will be honest with you - this was my first time reading this genre. I suspected I'd like your writing style because of the way you blog, but I wasn't sure about the story. And now I'm telling my friends to buy the book and read it. Your writing is excellent and the story is so good - layered and interesting and moving.

    So yes, your web presence opened the door, but The Preacher's Bride closed the deal, so to speak.

    Congratulations and may you have continued success!

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  3. If you didn't blog, I wouldn't have read your book, so yep, you got it into my hands. :-)

    But.....that didn't make me like it. A great story, solid writing is what made me want to post about it, and it's what got others to post about it too.:) CONGRATS!!!!!

    And guess what else? Since everyone liked this book so much, you know even more people will be going out to buy the second one!! *grin*

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  4. I definitely think it comes down to the quality of the book. Like you said, all those marketing techniques wouldn't have gone anywhere if your book wasn't capturing hearts and minds. So that has to come first and foremost. BUT, on the flip side, if you wouldn't have marketed online, your book might never have had the chance to reach as many hearts and minds as they did. It's both - but definitely the story comes first.

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  5. If I hadn't found your blog and developed a friendship with you, I might not have picked up your book (not as quickly anyway), because I don't gravitate toward historicals very often. BUT I love your writing, your voice and the story was amazing. You deserve that spot on the bestsellers list. Congratulations, friend!!!

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  6. Jody, what awesome news!! I think I have to side with the online presence thing - word of mouth is really key to promoting a book. That being said of course, if the book isn't good, people will stop promoting it. That's my biggest fear right now! I can blog, tweet and interact on Facebook until the cows come home, but if people don't like what I've written, it won't matter a lick. Gaaaah!! I guess I have to wait and see what happens there, right? Until then, I will promote, promote and promote, and hopefully my story will be well received.
    I haven't read your book yet, but it's on my list and I'm looking forward to it.
    Congrats again!!

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  7. Jody, I was sooo excited when I learned that The Preacher's Bride had made the CBA fiction bestsellers list, right up there with Francine Rivers, Karen Kingsbury, and Jan Karon. It's great to see you in such esteemed company--and with your debut novel, no less.

    Did your online presence lead me to read TPB? Definitely! Because I know you and had followed your journey to publication on your blog, I was eager to read your story. Even if I hadn't discovered your blog, though, I feel certain I'd have seen some of the many glowing reviews showing up on blogs throughout cyberspace and added your book to my Gotta Get It list.

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  8. Absolutely, the online Jody encouraged me to read TPB. I haven't been shy to admit it's not the kind of book I normally read. But the integrity of your posts and quality of your writing here certainly made me want to dive in. Glad I did. Helped open my mind.

    Congratulations for making the list!
    ~ Wendy

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  9. Congrats Jody! I'm so excited for you - and your book totally deserves it!

    I have to admit that I would never have picked up The Preacher's Bride if I didn't follow your blog. I'm not exactly the target market. But I loved it and am sending it to all of my friends :)

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  10. Well, you know your blog made a huge impression on me and directly resulted in me buying your book. :)

    I started my blog for fun a few years ago, but now it is always in the back of my mind that I need to be professional and use it to help build an audience for my unwritten future book. :)

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  11. Jody, how absolutely fantastic. Doing a happy dance for you here in Albuquerque. I do think an online presence makes a difference, but it is the story that is at the heart of everything. What a wonderful gift for Thanksgiving.
    Karen

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  12. I bought your book because of your blog, Jody. I don't read a lot of Christian fiction, but knowing you and your lovely ways, I wanted to support you. Plus, the story sounds great.

    Still haven't gotten to it; too many other books I've committed to first. Can't wait, though.

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  13. THANK YOU everyone! It's truly all of your support that's made this journey as fun and exciting as it's been! :-)

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  14. I'm new to everything in publishing. So I can't comment on this topic. But I enjoy reading what you have to say about it. I'm glad you're finding success. And I admire how hard you work at it.

    Considering doubt? It's inspired a whole new series at the Moonboat "True Confessions of a Writer" -- I'll be linking back to your post soon. The first of the series is up today.

    You've been a real encouragement to me, Jody.

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  15. I think a good blog presence definitely contributes - along with having a great book. The great book has to be first because that starts word of mouth but buzz gets it out there in the first place! Awesome. You must be thrilled.

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  16. It's true that if I'd seen your book in the bookstore and hadn't had any foreknowledge of it, I wouldn't have picked it up. The cover makes it look like bonnet fiction, the very idea of which makes me want to retch. You are a kind blogger, but that matters little in my decision to buy books. But because you're a kind blogger, I read blurbs about your book. It was the subject--a retelling of Elizabeth Bunyan's life with her husband--that made me buy it. And then if I hadn't liked it, I wouldn't have blogged about it.

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  17. HUGE congratz! I came to your blog belatedly, so I can't really comment on the role of your blog influence, but I'm delighted to hear your news, and wish you continued success. Rah!

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  18. So happy for you, Jody! The book deserves its placement. It's excellent!

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  19. To God be the glory! Praise Him.
    Have posted a next-week blog about your book!

    It's linked to ice cream.
    Yeah.
    Blessings,
    Patti

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  20. first, super-congrats! That's fantastic news! :o)

    second, yes, definitely online presence helped with me. It made me aware of the book, and I'd be way more likely to pick it up/put it on my TBR list b/c of the great reviews I keep reading.

    All the best~

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  21. Jodi,
    Congratulations on making the CBA bestseller's list! That is quite an accomplishment for your first published novel, so be proud of your self for a job very well done. From a public face/marketing standpoint, those of us learning the ropes would do well to watch how you have handled your career with grace and style and genuine friendliness. You deserve all the success you are getting.

    And now I have to admit (blushing with shame) that I haven't had a chance to read it yet, because life has been so hectic. But I'm going to give myself a break from querying over the holidays and your book is going to be one of my rewards to myself during that time off. And I'm very much looking forward to it!

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  22. I wouldn't have known you if it wasn't for your blog. So yes it played a bit part having a blog. I don't get out to bookstores much, I practically live at the library.
    Great lesson in promotion, thanks Jody.

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  23. Congratulations, Jody! Very exciting, and you deserve it!

    Definitely, your online presence brought my attention to your book. But, like your agent and editor said, it is because of your well-written and intriguing story that I continue to mention your name and The Preacher's Bride to others. And, that's also the reason why I can't wait to get hold of your next book.

    Enjoy this moment! I'm so happy for you :)

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  24. Your blog helped me find you. The evidence of your Godly heart and the calibre of your writing kept me coming back. And getting to know you here is ultimately what sold me on your book. I just know it's great and have no doubts that it's worthy of its CBS Bestseller placement. (Congratulations again! That's so awesome!) I have it on order and only my current focus on NaNoWriMo is keeping me from pestering my bookseller about its delay. When it arrives it will vault to the top of my TBR pile. :)

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  25. Oh, Jody, I couldn't be happier for you, sweetie. But I must say that if I hadn't known you from blogging, I probably would not have read the book, since I'm not a "bonnet story" reader. So---blogging and your great personality clinched it for me.

    After that, it's a stunningly-written story.

    Hop over to my blog today and see what wonderful comments people are making about PB and you in my prize drawing!

    Love,
    Jen

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  26. Yes, the story is most important first and foremost, but I have to believe that all this work- the blogging, the tweeting, the... everything, it all helps somehow!

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  27. Jody, it's so funny that I inadvertently broke the news to you! I happened to look at the list because of another author's FB post, and I just assumed that you knew. :-) But I'm glad to have been the bearer of good tidings.

    And I totally agree with your post, especially this: blogging and social media are great for making connections, but what sold your book is the high level of enthusiasm from your readers. Everybody knows the difference between a "this was a reasonably good book" review and a "this was a stellar book" review. Yours were of the stellar variety, and only The book itself can generate that much excitement in its target audience. So congrats, again!

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  28. Wow, congratulations Jody! That’s awesome news.

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  29. The fact that your online presence has helped to catapult you onto the bestselling list is a testament to its effectiveness. Authors who are accessible online seem more likely to succeed in this writing endeavor, or so I've seen.

    Congratulations!

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  30. Yes! Word of mouth is still a major factor in selling books. I'm so happy for you!! All of your hard work and devotion have paid off!

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  31. Setting up a blog and blogging is how I found your book, which, as I've told you before, I think is wonderful! It's one I want to read again.

    Best seller list! How exciting. I'm so thrilled for you!!
    Ann

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  32. Congrats Jody! That's amazing news! :)

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  33. Jody!!!! What a wonderful gift...on the best seller list. Congratulations. Yay!

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  34. Jody! What fantastic news this is. Congratulations! I will say very honestly that if it wasn't for your blog, I never would have read your book. I've never read a book with a girl with a bonnet on it, and I probably won't again (unless your next one has a bonnet, of course!) Reading your blog built so much trust, and I knew I'd like your book before I even read it.

    And of course, I did. And I'm passing it along. So well done!

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  35. As a reader I am definitely more excited when books come out for authors that I have been able to interact with. It makes them more real and brings them to a friend level. I love author blogs!

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  36. Congrats, Jody! I'd say your online presence absolutely made me read your book. Your blog is very friendly and informative. Through it, we've come writer "friends". I like to read the releases of my writer friends, especially their debut releases. Because I'm not a big reader of historical fiction and not a fan of bonnet reads, I might not have otherwise picked it up. But boy, am I glad I did!

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  37. I definitely think it has something to do with it. Even if you are not published yet, it is a great way to get to know other authors and find crit partners.

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  38. Congratulations, Jody. Bestseller list - yes, you definitely deserve this! As far as your on-line presence goes - that's how I found you, ordered The Preacher's Bride and reviewed it. I love your blog. I feel like I know you personally.
    Holly
    http://www.hollyweiss.com

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  39. Congratulations, Jody! And this is a great post. I'm new to your blog, but I agree wholeheartedly that the writing should come first. I think some people put more effort into their blogs than they do into their manuscripts. That said, thank you for sharing your insight about how important having an online presence is. Because sometimes I wonder if it's worth all the energy we put into it, and you've convinced me that it is.

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