Kate Ward
October 30, 2009 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Nearly 60 agents turned down Kathryn Stockett’s debut novel before publisher Amy Einhorn picked it up in 2007. ”Those rejections lit a fire under my rear end,” says Stockett. ”I would say, ‘I’ve got to make it better.”’ Now those agents must be feeling some serious regret. Published in February, The Help, about a ’60s-era Mississippian who’s writing a book about African-American maids, now has 789,000 copies in print. Its steady word-of-mouth sales have kept it on the New York Times best-seller list longer than any other hardcover novel this year. Not bad for a novel whose first printing was just 57,300.

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