Getting a Traditional Book Deal After Self-Publishing

Replacement Child by Judy Mandel

Today’s guest post is by Judy L. Mandel, author of the Replacement Child, forthcoming from Seal Press in March 2013. I asked her to tell the story of self-publishing her memoir, which ultimately led to a traditional book deal from Seal.

Most authors don’t give any credence to luck, but they lie. Luck has so much to do with everything. It was luck that I decided to put my book up on Barnes & Noble’s Nook Press in the summer of 2011. It was luck that I had met my incredible agent Rita Rosenkranz at a conference four years earlier. It was luck that I had knowledgeable colleagues to confer with to help me navigate my next steps.

But it was not luck that I attended many writers conferences prior to self-publishing, to figure out my best course of action. Those conferences offered valuable information about sending out queries, writing proposals, and approaching agents. I knew I wanted an agent and a traditional publisher, but I also knew that as an unknown memoirist, it would be a tough road. I gave myself a year to query, send out chapters when requested, and do my best to procure an agent for my book. I wasn’t getting any younger.

When that year was over, I had requests for partials and the entire manuscript from 50 agents. My query was working. About half of them showed interest in the book, but were wary of taking it on in the market at the time in 2008. Not a great year for any beginning endeavor. At that point I started looking at self-publishing and decided to form my own imprint to publish my book. I had been in marketing for twenty years and knew how to manage any creative project—although, looking back, I didn’t know exactly all of what I was taking on. I hired an editor, a designer and an online marketer to start.

I did a great deal of marketing for Replacement Child in 2009 and 2010 when I first self-published the book. I went on a nationwide book tour at my own expense, visiting bookstores that would have me in towns where I had friends or family to put me up. It was a great adventure and a chance to see people I normally don’t get to visit. Some of the stops were great, where I was able to get some advance publicity. And some were terrible where only one person showed up for a reading. C’est la vie.

The online blogging community was very receptive, and I am very grateful to them for their support with reviews and guest blogs. Review copies were sent out to blog reviewers before the book was released, to bloggers that had reviewed memoirs in the past.

Local media was receptive, and I had articles in my local papers in my town in Connecticut, and did readings at local libraries. I had several radio interviews, both for blog radio and traditional stations. I joined organizations and took advantage of opportunities to speak and do readings whenever possible. Replacement Child also garnered several awards for self-published books, including a National Indie Excellence Award and a Writer’s Digest award.

By the summer of 2011, I had sold about 2,000 print books and a few hundred e-books on Amazon. It’s very hard to say which marketing tactic worked best, but all combined produced this modest success. I decided to list the e-book on the Barnes & Noble site in July and was encouraged to see that they had picked it for a featured book of the month. I credit that pick for bringing more awareness to the book.

Just after I listed the e-book for that last shot, I wound up in the hospital. My book was the furthest thing from my mind that fall, knowing I had to go back for surgery in a few months. It was Christmas when I noticed some weird deposits in my bank account online. Again, I absolutely forgot that I had arranged direct deposit for the e-book sales. It turned out I was selling around 4,000 e-books a month.

That’s when I contacted Rita Rosenkranz and we talked about whether it made sense to approach a publisher. I was grateful for her wise counsel that helped me think through the decision. In the end, I believed there was still a measure of credibility in having a traditional publisher. Reviews come more easily and you are taken more seriously. That is changing, but I believe it is still widely the case. After considering the pros and cons, I told her I would like to try. She sold it very quickly to Seal Press.

It’s been quite a ride so far, and I am excited for the book to be released in March. You can find more information about Replacement Child at

Posted in E-Books, Guest Post, Marketing & Promotion, Self-Publishing and tagged .

Judy L. Mandel began her career as a journalist, branched out to public relations, and settled in corporate marketing, where she worked for more than 20 years as a marketing director for several Fortune 100 companies. Mandel is now a student in the MFA program of Stony Brook Southampton and lives in Connecticut with her husband. Visit her online at

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Darrelyn Saloom

If an author believes in her book, this is what she must do. Great post. Continued luck and good health, Judy.

kirsten oliphant

I think the climate has changed so much for self-publishing, and it’s really exciting that self-pub isn’t the sort of exile of the average writer (or less-than-average) that I think it was considered for so long. I just self-published my first book via Amazon Kindle, and everything from the process to the marketing felt sort of organic and simple. It’s a start, but I also think that if I do get a traditional deal (which is my end goal with fiction) I may still self-publish some bits of non-fiction and things that lend themselves well to that format and marketing.… Read more »


[…] How a self-publishing memoirist was able to sell her book to a traditional publisher after three years on the market.  […]


[…] paths, Judy L. Mandel’s (@judymandel) guest post on Jane Friedman’s blog, about her success at Getting a Traditional Book Deal After Self-Publishing illustrates one—that took years to follow by the […]

Diana Stevan

This post underlines that it takes more than talent to successful. Judy, you’ve shown belief in yourself and hard work are the other ingredients for making it today. Also chutzpah! Congratulations. Love the title of your book.

Grace Peterson
Grace Peterson

Hmm… I’ve read your book Judy and it’s excellent. I think your successful sales figures are one more step in establishing the credibility of self publishing as a viable option for authors. However, I have to wonder why, with all of your success, you would now sign with a traditional publisher. You say that there is more credibility with a publisher, but to me it seems you’ve already established your credibility and now you’re minimizing it and robbing yourself of your future well-deserved royalties. Is it just me?


[…] Judy Mandel describes her experience: It was Christmas when I noticed some weird deposits in my bank account online. Again, I absolutely forgot that I had arranged direct deposit for the e-book sales. It turned out I was selling around 4,000 e-books a month.Share this:ShareFacebookTwitterStumbleUponRedditGoogle +1Email promotion, publishing industry, Self-Publishing, websites […]

J Q Rose

I agree with Grace Peterson. If you have had such success with book sales, I don’t understand why you would want to get into a traditional house. You must believe this is the best choice for your writing career. Congratulations!


[…] In Getting a Traditional Book Deal After Self-Publishing for her book, Replacement Child — set for a March release from Seal Press — Mandel writes of knowing in advance that she had a tough sell on her hands. I knew I wanted an agent and a traditional publisher, but I also knew that as an unknown memoirist, it would be a tough road. I gave myself a year to query, send out chapters when requested, and do my best to procure an agent for my book. I wasn’t getting any younger. […]


Judy, Thank you for this inspiring and informative post. It’s clear to me that your road to publication started with writing a great book and never giving up on your story. I’m looking forward to reading your memoir. Best wishes!


Very interesting to read of how you took the self-publishing route to the traditional publishing route. I was most interested in the self-funded book tour–how creative! Were you able to market to the area at all or were you dependent on the book store marketing? How did you select the bookstores/cities? I think you could write a whole blog on just this aspect of the book marketing!


[…] Getting a Traditional Book Deal After Self-Publishing […]


[…] Getting a Traditional Book Deal After Self-Publishing by Judy Mandel […]

Tory Allyn

Hello Judy,
I too was a self-published author that was picked up by a traditional publising company. As of this writing, it is being re-edited and will be out at the beginning of 2013…thanks you for your experience! Tory Allyn

Alma R Hammond

Hi Judy! So you were able to get your original book published via selfpub published traditionally? I just self-published a great children’s book, but didn’t know this was possible. I would love to know the process of how you did this. Thanks for great article. Will tweet it.