Goodreads Blog

Marketing Advice from Self-Published Author Josiah Bancroft

Posted by Cynthia on February 05, 2018
Josiah Bancroft originally self-published his book, Senlin Ascends, in 2013. It was by no means an instant success. Bancroft estimates it sold just 250 copies in its first three years. Last year, after the book caught the attention of some high-profile fans, it was sold to Orbit (an imprint of Hachette Book Group), which re-released it in January. As part of the re-release, Orbit covered the galley in Goodreads reviews. "Senlin Ascends is a word-of-mouth hit and the best way to show that was by sharing what readers were saying on Goodreads, explains Alex Lencicki, Marketing and Publicity Director at Orbit. "We also liked how all those quotes stacked up into a "babel" of voices. "Everyone is talking," like in the myth."

Josiah already shared some tidbits about his publishing experience in an interview with Goodreads last month, but we wanted to dig a little deeper to find out what advice he has for other self-published writers.

Can you tell us a little about your process of self-publishing Senlin Ascends?

When I first started writing Senlin Ascends, I was part of a small writing group called the Ides. We had been meeting for many years at that point, and I showed them the first fifty pages or so of the draft. After getting their feedback, which was perfectly fine and salient, I came to the realization that I wanted to continue writing the story on my own. I think there's a good case to be made for writing groups and beta readers, and I've benefited from both over the years. But I also think that, for some writers, there comes a point when they need to strike out on their own, make their own mistakes, and pursue their own weirdness.

The cover art was created by Ian Leino, who has been my best friend since childhood. Ian is a fulltime professional graphic designer and artist. Other than my wife, Sharon, there has been no one who's been more supportive of my writing efforts over the years. We discussed a few ideas for the cover, but the aesthetic and image he eventually produced were entirely his own. But he did more than create the face of the series. He also brought me along with him to comic conventions. He helped me come up with my sales patter, and he jumped in when I struggled to deliver it. He was there when I sold my first copy to someone. Without Ian, I truly don't think there would be any Books of Babel. When my publisher Orbit informed me that they would be using Ian's artwork for the republished covers, I was ecstatic.

The galley cover for Senlin Ascends wrapped in quotes from Goodreads members.
You mention focusing on a few online platforms to promote yourself. What activities on Goodreads did you end up doing that you enjoyed the most? Any advice for authors who are not comfortable promoting themselves online?

I took advantage of Goodreads' giveaways on several occasions. In my experience, the program was useful. It connected me with several readers who remain avid fans to this day. I've also dabbled with blogging on Goodreads, though I've come to realize that blogging isn't my forte. Which leads me to the best advice I can give someone who's a little leery of public exposure, self-promotion, and social media: Don't try to do everything. Find the platform that suits your skills and your interests best and focus on it.

When I self-published Senlin Ascends I tried to do it all: blogging, tweeting, a professional website, Facebook, Reddit, newsletters, press-releases, and, a little later on, Instagram. I stretched myself very thin, which only made me feel more anxious and unready. I think if your goal is to build an audience, the most important things are consistency and focus. There will always be someone standing by to tell you you're doing everything wrong. Take their advice with a grain of salt, and don't lose faith in your method to your madness.


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After you had submitted the book for a contest, the author Mark Lawrence picked it up and decided to become the books 'champion.' This opened a lot of doors for you. Can you tell us a little more about the role he played and why that was a turning point in your publishing story?

It would be hard to overstate Mark's role in getting Senlin Ascends published. After discovering the book through his Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO) contest, he shared the book with everyone he knew, including his writer friends and his agent, Ian Drury, who would eventually become my own agent. He blogged about it on his site, and he flogged it on Reddit's r/fantasy forum, Facebook, and Twitter. His publicizing efforts had their intended effect. After three years of languishing, my book began to sell.

Behind the scenes, Mark offered me a ton of invaluable advice, from pointing out a dead link on my Goodreads page to explaining how I should interpret trends and sales. I like to think I've taken advantage of the opportunity he provided me, but I have no illusion that my success is owed entirely to the luck of my book finding its way into Mark's hands. This is both the most discouraging and, potentially, the most liberating aspect of publishing: Luck is the primary variable in the equation of success.

Are there specific book publishing and promotion resources you can recommend for self-published authors?

Probably the most productive thing a self-publisher can do is to find a community to contribute to and converse with. I learned this lesson late, but there's nothing more helpful and hopeful than sharing your work with an active and healthy community. I think it's best if that community isn't only composed of writers, but really, the composition of the community is not as important as its culture. I found a supportive community of readers, bloggers, and writers through Mark Lawrence's SPFBO and in r/fantasy. It took me a while to figure out how to interact with them; I am not the most socially adept person. But I discovered that a little politeness goes a long way.

How has working with a traditional publisher like Orbit helped expand the audience for your book?

Orbit has put a ton of effort into getting the book into the hands of authors, reviewers, and national publications, which has resulted in some lovely press for Senlin Ascends, including a write up in the Washington Post and a blurb in the Toronto Star. The fine folks at Orbit gave me the opportunity to speak to their sales force and to a room full of book buyers, which was an incredible experience. They produced a promotional video and organized many interviews with bloggers and venerable sites like Goodreads. They ran contests and placed some prominent ads, and they're working to organize panels and other in-person engagements later this year. Working with professionals has taught me that I am a very good writer and a terrible publicist. Having their help has been transformative.

The author will respond to questions left for him in the comment section below on February 15. Senlin Ascends is available now. Be sure to follow Josiah Bancroft to see his activity on Goodreads.


Next: Five Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Goodreads Giveaway

You might also like: Marketing Advice from Authors, for Authors

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Comments Showing 1-42 of 42 (42 new)

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message 1: by Garfield (new)

Garfield Whyte Congrats....wishing you more success.


message 2: by Misty (new)

Misty Hayes This is awesome and extremely informative. Love reading about these success stories.


message 3: by Randall (new)

Randall Krzak Many thanks for sharing and good luck for continued success!


message 4: by Nicky (new)

Nicky Moxey How sad that Goodreads giveaways are no longer a free option!


message 5: by Pamela (new)

Pamela Fernandes Can an author replicate the success one has with a publisher such as Orbit?If there's one tip from their marketing that you could give self published authors what would it be?
Congrats on the book, the cover art is stellar!


message 6: by R.A. (new)

R.A. Great read. Thanks Josiah!
There's nothing better than reading a refreshing a success story :-)


message 7: by Teri (last edited Feb 13, 2018 05:48AM) (new)

Teri Case Greatly appreciate the honesty in this post. My debut novel is just out and what Josiah Bancroft shares is validating.

And congratulations, Josiah! Happy Writing!


message 8: by Minerva (new)

Minerva Spencer What a great interview. I really appreciated several things you said: first, about working with a crit group or going your own way. This is a very difficult decision and some writing communities place a lot of emphasis on crit groups/beta readers. It is a bold and fearless step to trust your own writing!

Also, as to book promotion and spreading oneself too thin. I think this goes for all authors indie/hybrid/trad. It's easy to feel like a ping pong ball between the various social media platforms--which is in ascendance, which is going out of vogue, is a blog too personal/not personal enough, et cetera. Anyhow, good advice to pick ONE and stick with it. Thanks again!


message 9: by Ruth (new)

Ruth G. I love these success stories. First and foremost, one must have talent. Obviously Josiah Bancroft is a talented writer, but as he states luck and being touted by others in the industry are invaluable. I recently went from small press to self-published and am staggering to increase sales, but these informative stories keep me moving along .

Next up, Goodreads giveaways.

All the best,
Ruth Zavitsanos
www.ciaosummer.com


message 10: by Nicky (new)

Nicky Moxey Ruth wrote: "Next up, Goodreads giveaways."
The rules have changed, alas. It now costs more budget than I'm able to give it, as an Indie.


message 11: by Michelle (new)

Michelle Connell Good interview and some good advice. Thanks for sharing your story with us.

I agree about the Goodreads giveaways, I can't afford to run them anymore :(


message 12: by Steven (last edited Feb 13, 2018 11:40AM) (new)

Steven D. I wish my three books would take off that way, especially my flagship book: The Perennial Wanderer: An American in the World. It sells but not spectacularly. What makes me mad is Amazon has farmed it out to bookstores all over the world, without telling me. Consequently I no longer see royalties from Amazon, and the myriad of bookstores pay no royalties. It is translated to a number of languages, too. In Europe I found a bookseller who offered the book for $2500.00!! I'm fighting book battles with the Europeans. What Josiah Bancroft has accomplished is great! Congratulations!


message 13: by K.R. (new)

K.R. Lehman Thank you for this. It's very inspiring and encouraging!


message 14: by Kathryn (new)

Kathryn Enjoyed the interview! I read a few reviews and the story sounds fascinating. On my TBR pile now!


message 15: by Kari (new)

Kari Trenten Thank you for stopping by and sharing advice with us! Good luck in continuing your journey as a writer!


message 16: by Thomas (new)

Thomas Schneider You, Josiah, sound like a great guy and humble too. The interview mentioned that you submitted Senlin Ascends to a contest. Which contest was that? I am still waiting for Mind Duel to be discovered! :-)


message 17: by Josiah (new)

Josiah Bancroft Pamela wrote: "Can an author replicate the success one has with a publisher such as Orbit?If there's one tip from their marketing that you could give self published authors what would it be?
Congrats on the book,..."


It would be difficult, I think, to replicate the exact elements of my path to publishing with Orbit. My particular path was pretty winding and benefitted from several lucky breaks. But, if it's any consolation, there are many other self-publishing writers who've found ways to move to traditional publishing. So, there's no one way forward. And there are many, many writers who've found great success by self-publishing. While the path to success may be unclear, it's helpful to realize success takes many forms.

Orbit had the wonderful idea of covering the Advance Reader Copy of Senlin Ascends with blurbs from Goodreads' reviews of the books. The concept was genius because it emphasized the grassroots aspect of the book's growing popularity, and it gave those early readers credit for their help. You can never underestimate the positive effect of being gracious and thankful to the people who've supported you.


message 18: by Josiah (new)

Josiah Bancroft Thomas wrote: "You, Josiah, sound like a great guy and humble too. The interview mentioned that you submitted Senlin Ascends to a contest. Which contest was that? I am still waiting for Mind Duel to be discovered..."

The contest was Mark Lawrence's Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off. Obviously, it's a genre specific contest. I wish there were more like it out there. I hope your work finds a readership soon!


message 19: by P (new)

P Hamilton-Stubbs Congratulations and thank you for sharing. How can I find a good editor to review my book for typos and grammar errors or make suggestions on how to "say it better"


message 20: by Josiah (new)

Josiah Bancroft P wrote: "Congratulations and thank you for sharing. How can I find a good editor to review my book for typos and grammar errors or make suggestions on how to "say it better""

When you say, "make suggestion on how to say it better," it sounds as if you're talking about writing style and perhaps general coherence. If you're interested in developing your prose and your style, you might benefit more from a writing group or a critique circle of some sort rather than an editor at this point. Writing groups can provide the valuable feedback you need to improve and develop your style.

If you're satisfied with the general state of your prose, then you may consider whether you're looking for someone who's predominantly a copyeditor or someone who is mainly a content editor. A copyeditor will help you with the typos and the grammatical errors, but not with the substance or themes of your work. An editor can help with the structure of your story, the character development, and themes, but generally they won't focus on correcting typographical errors. Some editors offer to do both, but not all. Generally, I would recommend you work with a content editor first and a copyeditor last.

Finding a good editor is tricky. I found mine through my circle of academic friends and ultimately through my publisher. There are many forums online for connecting writers with professional editors, but I can't recommend one over another because of a lack of personal experience. I will say this: a good editor is expensive, but you get what you pay for. If you pay a friend of a friend a couple of hundred dollars to edit your three hundred page book, don't be surprised if you end up with an error-riddled result.


message 21: by Glenn (new)

Glenn Rolfe Great job,Josiah.


message 22: by Lucy (new)

Lucy Lang Great interview ~ very helpful and thank you for all your author tips Josiah


message 23: by Brenda (new)

Brenda Lanz Thank you for sharing your ideas and thoughts. Very helpful. Blessings on the future.


message 24: by Gary (new)

Gary Raham Congratulations, Josiah! Like you, I have struggled with promotion. It's not nearly as much fun as creating new worlds. I fear that many authors like you can be easily lost unless they persist, train themselves to be better communicators, and, as you say, have a little bit of luck along the way.


message 25: by Meryl (new)

Meryl Cook Thanks Josiah and congratulations on your success. I self published my first two books in twelve months and am working on a third. I'm beginning to look for a publisher, as I think my series has potential. I sold 1,000 of my first book the first year. My series is called One Loop at a Time. The first is a memoir (a story of rug hooking, healing and creativity) and the second is a guidebook (The Creativity Workbook). The third will be a year of learning to live a heart-centred life.
I appreciate you sharing what worked and what didn't in your process. Warmly, Meryl


message 26: by Chiara (new)

Chiara Crisafulli Thank you for sharing your experience here with us. Best of luck :)


message 27: by E.A. (new)

E.A. Padilla So glad to hear stories like yours. It's something, I imagine, most of us self-published authors hope to attain. Thanks for sharing.


message 28: by Patty (new)

Patty Ann Great advice about being selective and limiting social media posts. Learned that one myself early on. It's really wonderful that your friend's cover graphics are getting kudos alongside your writing. Congrats on your well earned success and thank you for sharing your experiences!


message 29: by Jean (new)

Jean MacLeod Congratulations, and thank you or your inspirational interview.


message 30: by Olivia (new)

Olivia Ball So good to read your interview, and congratulations on getting that exposure, and your success. Thanks so much for your advice. And I too thought giveaways would be a great way to get exposure but now with their changes, I, also can no longer afford to participate. Appreciate your advice about spreading yourself too thin on social media!


message 31: by L.G. (new)

L.G. McFerren What a great success story. Thanks for sharing the journey with us Josiah!


message 32: by Susan (new)

Susan Stewart Steven wrote: "I wish my three books would take off that way, especially my flagship book: The Perennial Wanderer: An American in the World. It sells but not spectacularly. What makes me mad is Am..."

Steve - If I may be so bold, I would suggest the title of your book may be holding sales back. When I read, "The Perennial Wanderer: An American in the World" I was puzzled. I didn't know what the book was about, but even worse, words like Perennial and Wanderer sounded kind of boring, so I didn't even try to figure out what it meant.

I find it helps to pay attention to the titles of mega best sellers. For example, as a Stephen King fan, "Bag of Bones," "Gerald's Game" and "Misery." The titles don't tell you what to expect, but they are intriguing enough to pick up the book and read the flap.

One more thing: Did I understand you correctly that if someone has self-published a book on KDP, that Amazon can "sell" your book to other booksellers and reprint it in other languages? Please tell me I misunderstood you.

Michelle wrote: "Good interview and some good advice. Thanks for sharing your story with us.

I agree about the Goodreads giveaways, I can't afford to run them anymore :("



message 33: by Danelle (new)

Danelle Murray Congratulations, you certainly seem deserving of the success! May there be many many more.


message 34: by Claire (new)

Claire Gem Thanks for sharing your journey, Josiah. It gives me hope that I just need to be more patient in allowing my books to come to the light. I am going right now in search of groups who enjoy the genre I write in: supernatural suspense romance, i.e. contemporary ghost stories.


message 35: by Susan (new)

Susan Stewart Josiah wrote: "P wrote: "Congratulations and thank you for sharing. How can I find a good editor to review my book for typos and grammar errors or make suggestions on how to "say it better""

When you say, "make ..."


I spent 23 years as a professional copy editor and content editor and continued to do so after I sold my business. Now I am writing novels along with Amazon listings and website copy for clients. We are out there!


message 36: by Jeff (new)

Jeff Williams Best of luck, Josiah!!


message 37: by Wendy (new)

Wendy Fierstein Thank you, appreciate the tips.


message 38: by Viral (new)

Viral Dalal Thank you, Josiah. You have shared extremely valuable tips, and most importantly one thing : It does(can) take time.
Do you think that the path to getting the book in reader's hands is different when it comes to a true story(Biography) vs. Fiction.

Best,
Viral.
www.viraldalal.com


message 39: by Clare (new)

Clare O'Beara Steven wrote: "I wish my three books would take off that way, especially my flagship book: The Perennial Wanderer: An American in the World. It sells but not spectacularly. What makes me mad is Am..."

As an independent publisher too I think there is some confusion in your post. Likely you have Googled your name and seen the book available to purchase from online bookstores.

If the store is real, what they will do is order a book from Amazon and when it is printed and arrives, pass it on to the customer, who may not have an Amazon account; or else their store gets bulk post orders more cheaply. Amazon will give you the royalties. Amazon has probably printed out a batch of your book and left a few in the warehouse, so the royalty doesn't necessarily come at the same time as the sale.

Amazon isn't going to translate your book without your knowledge, because it isn't worth it to them. They'd need to sell a lot of copies to pay for that. You'll see stores around the world offering the book to customers in the local language, but the book will be printed in the original language.

If the store is not real this is a scam and you would be better advised not to try to buy a copy or pay to access their site to get a free download (what do you think scammers will do with your credit card details?) The scammer will not have your book. This is because you are not worth it to them, unlike a new Stephen King book. All they want is authors' credit cards.

So if you are not getting many royalties this means you are not selling many books. Reviews are another indicator. I recommend putting the book into KDP as I get more royalties from page reads than sales nowadays.

Hope this helps. I don't work for Amazon so feel free to query with them.


message 40: by Tinthia (new)

Tinthia Wishing you continued success. Quick question: How do I find a community? Argh!!!


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.................♥..............
.ፊዳከ አቢ ወኡሚ ያ

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•••┄┄┉┉•✽̶»̶̥ {{ ✿ }}»̶̥✽̶•┉┉┄┄•••
❣ ❣
❣ ❣
ﺻﻠﻰ ﺍﻟﻠﻪ ﻋﻠﻴﻪ ﻭﺳﻠﻢ
ﺻﻠﻰ ﺍﻟﻠﻪ ﻋﻠﻴﻪ ﻭﺳﻠﻢ
አልላሁመ ሶሊ አላ ሙሐመድ
ወአላ አሊ ሙሐመድ ከማ
ሰለይታ አላ ኢብራሂም
ወአላ ኢብራሂም ኢነከ
ሀሚዱል መጂድ አልላሁመ ባረክ
አላ ሙሐመድ ወአላ አሊ ሙሐመድ ከማ
ባረክታ አላ ኢብራሂም ወአላ አሊ ኢብራሂም

ኢነከ ሀሚዱል መጂድ ሰለላሁ አለሂ ወሰለም
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Abyssinia Muslim  Students Jema. እህቴ ሆይ ሂጃብ ከማረግ የከለከሉሽ ስህተቶችሽ
1. “እምነት ሂጃብ ስለለበሱ ሳይሆን ዋናው ከልብ መስተካል ነው......”
ከየት አመጣሽው? በእርግጥ የሰው ልጅ ሙሉ አይደለም ይሄ
ስህተትሽን ለመሸፈን የመጣ ተራ ምክንያት ነው:: በእውነት በልቡ
የተስተካከለ በድርጊቱ ይስተካከላል
2. አንዳንዴ ደግሞ “እኔ አላህና መልክተኛውን እወዳለሁ ለመውደዴ
የግድ ሂጃብ መልበስ አይጠበቀኝም....” ያንቺ ሃሳብ ነው?ወይስ
የቁራአንና የሐዲስ? አላህ እንዲህ ይላል
“በላቸው አላህን የምትወዱ ከሆነ ተከተሉኝ አላህ ይወዳችኋልና
ኃጢያቶቻችሁንም ለእናንተ ይምራልና አላህ መሀሪ እና አዛኝ
ነው::”(አል-ኢምራን 31) አዎ አላህና መልክተኛውን የምትወጂ ከሆነ
የግድ ሂጃብ መልበስ አለብሽ
3. ”ወላጆቼ ሂጃብ እንዲለብስ አይፈቅዱልኝም” ነብዩ “የፈጣሪን ትዕዛዝ
ለመጣስ ለፍጡር መታዘዝ የለም” ብለዋል፡፡ አሳምኛቸው አስረጃቸው
ካልሆነ ግን በዲን ጉዳይ ዝም ብለሽ አላህን መታዘዝ እንጂ ሌላን አካል
በጭራሽ
4. “ሂጃብ ስለብስ ይጨንቀኛል እራሴን ያመኛል.....” ይህ ሸይጣን በአንቺ
ላይ የሚጫወትብሽ ጨዋታ ነው፡፡ እራስሽን አሳምነሽ ከእርሱ
ራቂ::እርሱ በርግጥም የኔ፤ያንቺ፤ የጌታሽም ግልፅ ጠላት ነው፡፡
5. “ መደነቅን ስለምወድ ቁንጅናዬና ደም ግባቴ አቋሜ እንዲታይልኝ
በሂጃብ ግን ይህን አላገኝም” እዚህ ጋር አንድ ጥያቄ አለኝ የዓለም
ህዝቦች በአጠቃላይ ቁንጅናሽን ቢያደንቁ አንቺን ከአንቺነትሽ ስንዝር
ከፍ ያደርጉሽ ይመስልሻል? መልስሽ አያደርጉኝም ነው ታደያ ይሄ ጉራ
ነው! አላህን ጉረኛን አይወድም መሸፈንሽ በአላህና በመልእክተኛው
ቆንጆ ሲያስብልሽ መገለጥሽ በሰይጣንና በጭፍሮቹ መደነቅን
ይቸርሻል፡፡ ምረጪ የትኛው ይሁንልሽ?
6. “ሂጃብ በመልበስ አምናሁ ግን እኔ ወጣት ነኝ” የትኛው ኢንሹራንስ ነው
ችግር የለም ለዚህ ጊዜሽ ያለሽ ለአቅመ ሄዋን አልደረስሽም? በቃ!
ሂጃብም ማድረግ ግዴታሽ ነው!
ጌታሽ እንዲህ ይላል ”......ወደመልካም ሥራ ተሽቀዳደሙ::” (አል-
በቀራ 148)
ያ ዓመተላህ አንቺ መልካም የአላህ ባሪያ ራስሽን አሳምኝው::አላህ
ቀጥተኛውን መንገድ ይምራሽ


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