How my memoir became a New York Times best-seller

When Judy Mandel sent me a note to let me know that her memoir, Replacement Child, was on The New York Times best-seller list for e-books, I was beyond excited for her. This is pretty much every author’s dream, and it couldn’t have happened to a nicer or more deserving person. I asked her to share with us how it happened — this is her story. In addition to authoring her memoir, Judy is  a writing coach, teacher, and editor. Her essays and articles have appeared in Connecticut LIFE, Complete Wellbeing Magazine, The Southampton Review, and other publications. Learn more on her website

How my memoir became a New York Times best-seller

By Judy L. Mandel

Sometimes it happens this way. An e-mail message pops up, like every other message you have ever gotten from your publisher. There is new interest in your book that’s been out for two years. Or a new inquiry. Or a new promotion. Whatever.

But one of those messages recently brought me news from my publisher that I never thought I would see.

The email subject line read: New York Times Best Seller.


I did what any reasonable author would do – I started crying.

Alarmed, my husband asked, “What? What is it? Is someone dead? What’s wrong?”

I handed him the phone to read the note. “Oh my God!” It was a unison chorus.

It was true!

Yes, it was true. My little book, now in backlist, had made the E-Book New York Times Best-Seller list – a writer’s dream come true. For a memoir of an unknown writer, that’s pretty much a shot at the moon.

Although I have always believed in the book and it had done reasonably well, I knew immediately that the reason for this burst of recognition came from my efforts to link my book to that of another famous author.

Judy Blume had released a novel, In the Unlikely Event,  that used the same historical context for her fiction that rooted my memoir. Hers revolves around the community reaction to the real-life series of plane crashes that happened within 58 days in Elizabeth, N.J. in the ’50s. Mine centers on the second of those crashes that altered my own family. Her book brought mine a new audience.  

How it happened

memoir best-sellerI had heard about Blume’s novel in early April from a reader of my book, Replacement Child. She lived in Elizabeth at the very site of the plane crash that hit my family’s home in 1952. She wrote to ask if Judy Blume had interviewed me, because she had talked to others in the town.

“Who would know more about the crashes than you?” she wrote. Blume had not.

Her book was due out in June. My first action was to notify my publisher, who was hesitant to infringe on Blume’s book launch plans with any tie-in to my book. So, never one to let sleeping dogs lie, or even take a nap, I wrote directly to Blume on her website, thinking I had a 50-50 chance that she would write back.

It took a few days, but she did indeed write me a thoughtful note. It was then that I realized that all the hype about Blume being a down-to-earth, generous, and warm person was true. She told me she had read Replacement Child when she started researching her book in 2009.

“Of course I’ve read your wonderful book,” she said.

Be still my heart. 

Don’t be afraid to ask

I was content for a day with this exchange. When I mentioned it to my son, he encouraged me to ask Blume for some recognition. I practically begged for a morsel and she wrote back again: “Of course I plan to acknowledge your book in mine and to blog about it later.”

She sent me a signed advance copy, bookmarked to the acknowledgment: “Replacement Child by Judy L. Mandel is a book I recommend to anyone curious about the true story of one family who was caught up in the tragedy of the second plane crash.”

memoir best-seller
Click on review to read it.

I was ecstatic. I read her book, an incredibly good read that got all the facts right and even mentioned my dad’s jewelry store on Broad Street, which tickled me. I called my publisher again and sent the quote from her book so that they could use it in my promotions, which they did. I also wrote a full review of Blume’s book on Amazon, mentioning my book as the real-life story. It has been the top-rated review for quite awhile on her page, for which she thanked me. Not that she needs little old me.

When you have a book that has tie-ins to anything currently in the news, take advantage of it. Write a blog post, find a hook, find some way to connect it into the subject matter of your book so that people take notice. It won’t be the same for every book, so keep sharp to the world around you.

And, never say never!

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  1. What a great success story, Sandy! Thank you for sharing the specific steps you took that led to your remarkable achievement, Judy. You show how persistence pays off. Congratulations!

    1. Thanks so much Kathleen. Persistence is pretty much my middle name, and I do think it is a key ingredient for writers to be successful. From the persistence to finishing a manuscript through the publishing and marketing, whether by traditional or self-publishing.
      All my best,

  2. How wonderful and inspiring. Thank you so much for sharing. I’m kind of shocked that your publisher did not take it and run with it, but that proves what everyone says: the marketing always falls to the author. I’m so excited that you took the initiative…

    1. Leslie,
      I don’t want to give the impression that my publisher did nothing. They did do social media outreach and placed Judy Blume’s quote on my pages–which was a great thing to do. I think it does fall to the author to look out for the opportunities and take action though.
      Thanks so much for writing!

  3. I love this guest post. I’m linking to it in tomorrow’s email tips that are sent to 5,000 subscribers. Thanks for encouraging her to write it, Sandy. Judy, I hope this results in more exposure and sales for you. My author subscribers thank you for the tips.

    1. I’m so glad to hear it, Joan! And I’m grateful to Judy for sharing her inspirational story here.


  4. Indeed a great story. The tie-in factor is not one I ever thought of. Now I am wracking my brain to unearth any such possibility for my biography of Richard Halliburton. Funny how one runs across what may be random happenstances that trigger renewed hope and open new doors.

    1. Google Alerts or something similar, like Talkwalker alerts, can help you uncover or identify possible tie-ins, Bill. Good luck!


    2. Hi Bill,
      I think we all just have to be vigilant and listen. My tip came from a reader of my book who was interviewed by Judy Blume. If she hadn’t informed me, I wouldn’t have been aware until the book had come out. Even then, I wasn’t sure what I should do with the information and just took the plunge and contacted Judy Blume directly. What did I have to lose? And I had always heard how truly nice a person she is. Now I am especially glad we are friends!
      Good luck with yours!

  5. Thank you so much for sharing your story. Great advice! Most authors are afraid to reach out, but your story shows how important it is to leave no stone unturned and the power of leverage.

    1. Hi Ellen,
      It is so true that if we don’t take action when opportunities present themselves, we really have no one to blame. I could have easily let this one pass and I am so glad I did not!

  6. What a fabulous story, Judy! I would love to interview you for our monthly teleseminar series for the Nonfiction Authors Association. We have 9,000 members and many write memoir. Please get in touch with me or perhaps Sandy can connect us. Side note: I wrote Judy Blume a note years back when I owned a bookstore. She sent me a gracious note and signed photo so yes, she really is that fabulous. Congrats on all of your success!

  7. So glad to hear this. Just yesterday I heard about a woman who spent $200,000 to get NYT Bestseller on her book – apparently that’s a thing – and it broke my heart. Love that it also works how it should!

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