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My First Sale by Deborah Macomber, Celebrate Even the Minor Successes

I read somewhere that Debbie Macomber has a mailing list of over 75,000 readers who receive postcard updates of her latest releases. Her first sale, HeartSong, was the first ever romance to be reviewed by Publishers Weekly.

It’s hard to imagine that someone like Ms. Macomber ever worried about being published. But Macomber, like every author and every aspiring author, began with one sale and the story that she tells for us is not that of the sale of her first novel, but rather a different kind of first sale. Her most recent book, 8 Sandpiper Way debuted on No. 8 on the New York Times.


I’m sure all writers remember the sale of their first book. For me, that fateful phone call from New York came on September 29, 1982 (at 4:39 p.m.)–but what I want to tell you about is my very first official sale.

I’d been pounding away at the typewriter for nearly three years, and I’d completed two and a half manuscripts. They were returned so fast that I often tell people they hit me in the back of the head on the way home from the post office.

book review Although people usually laugh at this, the fact remains that rejection is hard. I couldn’t help wondering if I’d ever sell, if there was the slightest chance I’d ever succeed as a writer. I was a stay-at-home mother with four young kids, and I didn’t know another writer in the whole world. My equipment was a rented typewriter, which I set up on the kitchen table and moved at mealtimes. But despite the hardships, despite the setbacks and disappointments, that dream of selling a book stayed alive in my heart.

I was taking a hundred dollars a month out of our family budget; to say our one-income budget was tight would be an understatement. I felt I had to do something to contribute, so I started writing and submitting articles, anecdotes, even crossword puzzles for kids, anything I felt might supplement our income.

My first sale was an anecdote about our five-year-old son, Dale. He was participating in a Christmas program at our church. His entire role was to step forward and recite his Bible verse, which he did flawlessly-‘except that he forgot the reference. In a moment of panic, he looked to me for help. I cupped my hands around my mouth and loudly whispered, "Luke," reminding him that the verse was from the Book of Luke. Dale’s eyes brightened, and with his back held straight, he shouted out, "Luke Skywalker!"

The acceptance notice and the check for $5.00 arrived shortly afterward. That five-dollar check might as well have been for a million. Something I’d written was considered worthy of publication! It validated me as a writer and offered me the hope and encouragement I needed.

I often tell this story at writers’ conferences because I want struggling writers to celebrate the small successes along the way. Each one invigorates you and reminds you that your goal is within reach-‘and getting closer every day.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Terry Odell
    Aug 29, 2008 @ 08:04:02

    I’ve had the pleasure of hearing Debbie’s talks, and the woman is amazing. She was at a local chapter meeting, and the chapter had just initiated a policy of giving pins to its published authors. I can’t tell you how much I treasure standing at the front of a room, even a small one, being recognized along with Debbie Macomber!

  2. Lori
    Aug 29, 2008 @ 08:30:58

    What a great story and something worth remembering. And having spent hours in Promise, Texas and so many other lovely places created by Debbie, it’s another feel good moment! Thanks!

  3. Gennita Low
    Aug 29, 2008 @ 08:36:55

    Debbie’s speeches are always amazing and inspiring. If you get a chance to attend one of her talks, please do, because she’ll show you how deep the commitment to being a writer is, has to be.

  4. Jessa Slade
    Aug 29, 2008 @ 09:17:18

    I too have heard Debbie speak and her story can move a ballroom full of romance writers to tears. Not always a difficult task, I grant you :) but the idea you can go from kitchen table to where she is now… That is inspiration for you, whatever your goal.

  5. Janine
    Aug 29, 2008 @ 09:29:59

    Lovely story and it makes an important point. Thanks!

  6. Leeann Burke
    Aug 29, 2008 @ 10:26:00

    Like many here, I also had the honor of taking a workshop with Ms Macomber. Actually she was my very first workshop at my first RWA National Conference. What I got from her workshop was that the road to publication may be easy for some but not all. However if you persist (like she did) and grow as a writer you will get published.

    I also learned to wear waterproof mascara, because she had us all in tears. Thanks Jane for posting this First Sale article because it made remember that workshop and how I felt afterwards – filled with hope and determinations to reach for my publication dream.

  7. Roxanne St. Claire
    Aug 29, 2008 @ 11:07:04

    There are few people in any industry with the class, talent, humor, heart, generosity, patience, and infectious laugh of Debbie Macomber. We are so fortunate to have her as one of the great voices and well-known faces of romance! As a friend, mentor, author, and businesswoman, she is truly an inspiration. Fantastic first sale story!

  8. colleen gleason
    Aug 30, 2008 @ 12:35:03

    Wonderful story, Debbie! I’ve recently begun to read your BLOSSOM STREET books and have really enjoyed them. I read your Angel books when they first came out and loved them too.

    I also want to thank you for being the pace-setter for the Unleash Your Story fund-raiser for Cystic Fibrosis!

    As a mother with a CF child, I’m deeply grateful for your time and effort with this event, and appreciate that having your name attached to it will give the fund-raiser (and the plight of children with CF) even more awareness.

    For anyone who’s interested in finding out more about this, visit

    The fundraiser is Sept 1-30, and readers and writers are invited to participate.

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