02/22/2012 07:35 pm ET Updated Apr 23, 2012

How to Sell a Novel in Just 25 Years!

When my agent called a few weeks ago to say that an editor at Penguin wanted to buy my new novel, The Wishing Hill, I literally had to lie down. Otherwise, I might have fallen out of my chair. After all, I've been waiting for this call for 25 years.

How did it take me so long to publish a novel? And why was this novel chosen, but not one of the other half dozen my loyal agent sent out?

I don't really know. I was doing what all writers do, really: I was writing fiction around the edges of my life. I've been married (twice). I've had children (three of my own, plus two stepchildren.) I've done some traveling. I've renovated old houses and summer cottages. I've made a good living as a nonfiction writer.

Despite having so many people to love and things to do in my life, however, I never stopped trying to write a novel good enough for an editor to say, "Hey. I want to publish that." I got so frustrated with the wait that I finally published my own novel, Sleeping Tigers, just a few weeks before I got the call about Penguin wanting to buy The Wishing Hill. I'm delighted that not just one, but two of my novels, will now be in print. To those of you longing to do the same, I hope it takes you less time than it did me. Meanwhile, here are a few tips for outlasting the rejection letters:

Watch Reality TV
Shows like American Idol or So You Think You Can Dance can be just the antidote you need to a crisis in confidence. That single mother with the lip ring, the doughy girl who thought she'd never be a dancer, and the guy with the cowboy hat all have talent. But, just like writers, they have to hit the audience and judges at the right time to win the gold ring.

If You're Writing, You're a Writer
Lots of people say, "Oh, if I had the time, what a book I could write!" It's true that everyone has great stories to tell -- but only a few of us actually write them down and revise them again and again. If you're writing, you're a writer, and you will get better as you go.

Every Rejection Is Just One Person's Opinion
We've all heard the stories about various novels being rejected, like, 800 times, before editors taking them. Every rejection letter is written by just one editor. Tear up the short, nonsensical notes (I once received a rejection that said, "This does not amuse.") Editors send those out because they have to say something. Keep sending your work out. It can only get published if it's out there.

There Really Is Such a Thing as a Good Rejection
When a friend called recently, despondent because she'd received a rejection letter, I asked her to read it to me. The editor had clearly taken the time to read her novel carefully and had made constructive comments. Even better, the editor said she'd take another look at the novel if my friend rewrote it. There really are editors out there willing to take the time to do that. My advice? Put aside your ego and do it, then send your book back out.

Be Not Afraid of Young Pups
Pick up an issue of Poets & Writers magazine, and you can't help but envy all of the babes-in-arms out there winning fiction contests and earning publishing contracts before they're old enough to need their author photos digitally enhanced. Yeah, well. Some people are talented and lucky, and some of us are talented, but don't get sprinkled with lucky stardust until later in life.

Never Equate Being Published with Being Rich or Happy

What did I do after I sold my first novel? I celebrated, of course--but only after picking my son up from school, throwing in another load of laundry, and doing the supper dishes. The thing about publishing a novel is that it won't make you rich, especially now that advances are lower and publishing companies are paying out in thirds or even fourths. Plus, don't forget to subtract your agent's commission and taxes on earnings.

As for being happy? My contented writer friends were happy before they published their novels. And my writer friends who are unhappy? Yep. They were that way before they published their books, too. Being published really won't change your life, unless you happen to become as well-known as Stephanie Meyer or J.K. Rowling--and my guess is even those two could shop at the local Market Basket for eggs without being recognized. They just drive better cars.

Surround Yourself with People Who Believe that Writing Is Worthwhile
Writing is a long and sometimes lonely business, so it's key to have a constructive writing group, writer friends, and a spouse or partner who believe that the act of creating a story is a worthwhile use of your time. Without my incredibly supportive husband and my LIW (Ladies in Writing) group, with whom I swap not only manuscripts, but stories about rejection letters and agents, children and spouses, I never could have made it through the past 25 years of crafting stories and surviving doubt. They helped me remember that the creative journey itself is worth savoring and sharing.