How to Get a Traditional Book Deal if You’ve Self-Published

how to get a traditional book deal if you've already self published

I hope you all had a chance to catch a few lessons from the Profitable Blogging Summit last week! I was following along from the beach in Punta Cana while working on new and experimental kinds of sun poisoning. (Seriously. My skin hates me right now. And yes, yes, I should know better. I have already given myself many demerits.)

I love answering questions at summits and conferences, but the difficult part is that I have to answer questions in 30-60 second spurts. And anyone who knows me knows that I do not excel at brevity. I don’t think I’ve ever had anything but a 6-part answer to a question.

But it’s not because I like to hear myself talk! (I actually very much think my voice sounds ridiculous when recorded.) It’s that publishing is very complex and has so many facets, exceptions, and tangents that there’s no way to provide an honest, hard-and-fast rule about anything.

So today I wanted to give you guys the long, 4-part answer to one of the questions Kirsten asked me: What does it take for a self-published author to get a traditional book deal?

When we chatted about this on camera, I grabbed my copy of The Joy of Less to illustrate a shining example of one author who successfully went from self-published to traditionally published.

The Joy of Less had sold 70,000 copies in just over 4 years by the time I took it on, so clearly Francine had created an incredibly successful and powerful book on her own. But she was ready to see her book in bookstores both nationwide and worldwide. And luckily, we were able to place the book with Chronicle, a wonderful publisher, as well as sell foreign rights in 17 countries.

And because I love ya, I’m going to be giving away 2 free copies of the book to 2 lucky readers today!

The joy of less francine jay book deal

The new edition is gorgeously redesigned, streamlined, and a great example of how a self-published book can live a whole new life with the help of a traditional publisher. I think you’ll love holding it, reading it, and sharing it with other clutterbugs in your life!

To enter to win a free copy of The Joy of Less, scroll down to the bottom of this post!

In the meantime, let me take a big breath and better explain how the self-pubbed to traditional-pubbed process works:

As we all know, the job of an agent or acquiring editor is to make an educated guess about how a book will perform in the marketplace. We all have our own hunches about how marketable a concept is, how well an author’s platform will translate into sales, and how much readers, reviewers, and the press will like the book.

That’s what our jobs come down to: making bets based on hunches. If we make good bets and take on good projects, we do well. If an editor signs a breakout author, she can start getting promoted up the ladder as she works on the author’s next (hopefully as successful!) books. If an agent signs a breakout author, she can negotiate an even better deal for the author’s second book, and then her third and fourth book after that. That’s the part that thrills us to our cores: building lasting careers for authors we admire.

But any agent and editor will also tell you that it’s nearly impossible to predict with total accuracy whether a book will do well in the marketplace. With one big exception: self-published books.

Because self-published books have already had their debut in the marketplace, editors and agents will know exactly what to expect, and they’ll have many more data points when they run their P&Ls.

This can be a great thing if you have a highly successful self-published book, because you’ll be able to show editors and agents that investing time and resources in you will be fairly low risk. But it can also make self-published books with middling sales look like an especially high risk.

So the very first thing I ask myself when assessing a self-published book is:

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A Can’t-Miss Blogging Conference to Watch at Home

profitable blogging summit maria ribas literary agent

I know I’m supposed to be on vacation (whoops), but I wanted to pop in and let you all know about a great summit I’m speaking at this week. The Profitable Blogging Summit is perfect for writers, bloggers, small business owners, and anyone else who wants to get more readers for their work. It’s also perfect for anyone who doesn’t want to drag themselves to a frigid, horrendously decorated hotel ballroom to get the conference experience. I call it the couch-conference circuit.

The fabulous Kirsten Oliphant has pulled together a great list of experts to cover all the blogging questions you’ve ever had. And yes, it’s free!

Here’s what you can learn if you tune in this week:


  • Creating an Effective Pinterest Strategy – Jennifer Fishkind
  • Going from 0-3 Million Pageviews – Becky Mansfield
  • Growing Your YouTube Channel in 2016 – Amy Schmittauer
  • Building an Email List from the Start – Matt Ragland
  • Becoming a Profitable Blogger – Kirsten Oliphant


  • Writing & Optimizing Viral Posts – Paula Rollo
  • Designing Profitable Online Courses – Melyssa Griffin
  • Building a Simple Sales Funnel – Caressa Lenae
  • Creating an Effective Visual Brand – Andrea Beltrami
  • Diving Deep into SEO – Zach Doty
  • Writing Killer Sponsored Content – David Ulrich

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How to Announce Your Book to Readers

How to announce a book deal to your readers

But first, the publishing stories worth reading this week:

How to Use Guest Blogging to Promote Your Book (Beth Hayden on This is a great all-in-one post on why writers should be guest blogging and how they can go about doing it, with an easy step-by-step process to follow. Take it one step at a time, and you’ll find it’s not as intimidating as it seems!

Not Enough Hours: Marketing Priorities for the Author Without a Team (Chad Cannon): “So what about the author without a team? I often hear frustrations and concerns from authors who want to market their books well, but who feel there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to hit all the ‘perfect marketing plan’ check boxes.”

‘You May Also Like’ and ‘Pretentiousness: Why It Matters’ (Jennifer Szalai for The New York Times): “The word ‘tasteful’ can, like its well-bred cousins ‘refined’ and ‘agreeable,’ function as either compliment or insult, depending on the thing it’s modifying and the person who’s doling it out. Does the thought of spending a day in tasteful company sound enjoyable or unbearable? Would you want to see a tasteful movie? Hear a tasteful joke? Do you think a professional critic should be tasteful? Does ‘tasteful’ entail a cultivated aesthetic, one arrived at through formidable powers of judgment and discernment, or a contrived affectation that degenerates into an automaton-like weakness for bamboo cheese boards and artisanal-coffee-shop playlists?”

The Powerful Case for Developing Your Fiction Writing Platform (Emily Wenstrom on The Write Life): “Your author ambitions don’t stop with one book deal, right? Most writers consider a book release a stepping stone, rather than an end goal. You want to keep growing your audience so your next book sells even better, and so on. This audience growth over time is called the long tail. A platform is key for this.”

How to Announce Your Book to Readers

{By the way, I have a fun little giveaway at the bottom of this post, so scroll down to catch it!}

Last week was one of those weeks I got to say my favorite words: “We’d like to accept your offer.”

I love saying that. It’s one of the shining moments of being an agent, especially when you know how much an author deserves that deal and how much they’re going to love working with that particular editor.

That moment naturally always brings me to this moment: Announcement Day, one of our favorite days around here. Today I have a big “congratulations!” for Rachel Tiemeyer and Polly Conner of the blog Thriving Home, who will be writing a whip-smart practical cookbook called From Freezer to Table: Whole Foods Recipes + Strategies for Cooking Ahead, Freezing, and Eating at Home. Here’s the official Publisher’s Marketplace deal listing:

Rachel Tiemeyer Polly Conner Thriving Home book deal

I have had so much fun working on this project. Polly and Rachel are just dream authors (says the broken-record agent who thinks this about all her authors…but they really are!), and we had a blast coming up with creative ways to make the book even more useful and helpful to readers.

Here’s a little sneak peek at how I described their book in my pitch letter to editors:

When Rachel Tiemeyer gave birth to her son, she had a rude awakening: dinner was not happening anymore. Most nights she would throw her hands up, open up the freezer, and pull out a boxed lasagna or frozen pizza. Her family wasn’t eating well, and she didn’t have a clue what to do about it. That is, until a friend invited her to a Freezer Club in the spring of 2007. She realized that if she wanted to eat healthy, easy, affordable, whole food meals, all while spending less time in the kitchen and more time with friends, then freezer cooking was the ultimate solution.

Now, in From Freezer to Table, Rachel and Polly will share their foolproof freezer recipes that hit the coveted trinity of healthiness, ease, and affordability, as well as step-by-step instructions on exactly how to freeze meals correctly (and how to make sure your friends stay your friends even when the cooking goes wrong!). With over 6 million page views in 2015, Thriving Home has already carved out a large majority of the readership in the freezer cooking world: the site is a top 5 Google search result for all freezer cooking search terms, making it the go-to resource for millions of freezer-curious cooks.

Rachel and Polly announced their book deal on their blog this week, and they did it the very best way:

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4 Ways to Work Through a Creative Block

How to get past writer's block

But first, the publishing news worth reading this week:

How to Grow an Amazing Fiction Readership (She’s Novel): “Whether you want to build a full-blown career as a novelist or just bring in a few extra bucks on the side, growing your readership is pivotal to making sales. In fact, selling your stories usually goes a bit like this: Publish a book. Tell your friends and family. Realize you actually have to market this thing. FREAK OUT.”

Calling All Foodie Freelancers: 20 Dining and Food Magazines to Pitch (Kristen Pope on The Write Life): “Don’t limit yourself strictly to ‘food’ magazines and publications. Many other publications, ranging from travel to regional magazines, include a food or dining section, and even more are open to food-related pitches, so keep an open mind when trying to place stories about the culinary world.”

9 Research-Backed Ways to Spark Your Creativity (Michael Hyatt): “Creativity is essential to leadership and business. But we don’t always feel very creative. And I know some people doubt they’re creative at all. The good news is that all of us can easily become more creative.”

5 Tips for Overcoming Marketing Writer’s Block (Chadwick Cannon): “I hear a great many authors tell me that they have these great ideas for how to market their book, but when it comes time to put those big ideas on paper in a streamlined and practical way, their minds freeze up. Or that they have strong thoughts on what their promo copy should say, but then can’t get started when they finally sit down to put it on paper.”

4 Ways to Work Through a Creative Block

We all get stuck sometimes. Last night I was sitting on the balcony with Jarrett and whining about not knowing what to write for a post. We had finally called it quits with work for the day, packed away the laptops, poured the wine, and were watching a thunderstorm roll in. But I was using these precious moments of leisure to complain about the work lying ahead of me the next day.

Isn’t that always how it is? We check one day of work off then immediately start to ruminate on the next day.

I’m convinced that tomorrow’s work is the private terror of the creative mind.

As soon as we hit our goals for the day, we start dreading tomorrow, when we’ll have to sit down and face that blank page again. And what we want, more than anything, is for it to go away. And if it can’t go away, then we sure as heck better be struck by a bolt of inspiration between now and then.

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