Hold the Scalpel!

You think you’re ready to submit your work to editors and agents?

Maybe you are.

I thought I was ready in the spring of ’06. (I wasn’t.)

I’d finished the manuscript for my first novel, ROOMS and through connections I made at the Mt Hermon Writers Conference I got the story in front of three agents. All three were interested in representing me. But none signed me.

Why? My story needed more work. My novel was 90% of the way there. But as agent Steve Laube says, a novel from a first time author needs to be 95% – 98% of the way there.

When I mentor aspiring novelists at writing conferences I often see good writing. But not great writing. To be signed by an agent and get a publishing contract, your writing has to be great. And most authors are too close to the trees to evaluate whether their manuscript is ready to be part of the forest.

I’m fond of this classic writing anecdote which illustrates my view:

An author and a brain surgeon went golfing one spring day and the brain surgeon said, “I’m taking a six weeks off this summer to write a book!”

The author stared at his friend and said, “That’s a stunning coincidence. I’m taking six weeks off this summer to become a brain surgeon.”

What I find with most pre-published writers is a person who has read a few medical journals and think they’re ready to perform surgery. It doesn’t work that way. To be published takes years of intense study of craft and mucho hours.

As Malcom Gladwell says in his book OUTLIERS, most people don’t master an area of pursuit without putting in at least 10,000 hours. In other words, years and years.

Each September the American Christian Fiction Writers put on a Gala honoring published and pre-published writers. The contest for pre-published writers is called Genesis. Winning a Genesis award is a strong indication of a writer who is close to being publishable. Close, but not necessarily fully ready.

I’ve talked to a number of Genesis winners who expect contracts to fly their way after winning. They’ve been chosen out of all the other entries! They don’t understand why editors and agents don’t do a Snoopy dance after viewing their material.

The reality is the winner’s competition isn’t the other Genesis competitors. Their competition is already published authors. Their competition is the Carol award (ACFW’s Book of the Year) finalists.

Back when Simon Cowell was on America Idol reigning as the king of snarkdom he would sometimes lambast a contestant who was clearly the star of the night. Randy and Paula would be shocked. His defense was he wasn’t comparing the contestant to the other singers on stage; he was comparing them to the hit makers in the marketplace. I think he was right.

Is this discouraging to you? It shouldn’t be.

The truth is most writers aren’t willing to put in their 10,000 hours. They want to be published now, so they self-publish or throw up an e-book on Amazon and essentially take a short cut to publication.

Sorry, there are no short cuts.

That’s the good news. The intense competition weeds out most pre-published writers.

Which means if you’re willing to do the brutal work to bring your work into the 95% ready zone, your odds of getting published increase dramatically.

You wouldn’t expect to do surgery on a patient by reading a few medical journals and studying medicine for three or four years. Same thing with publishing. Writing is a highly specialized skill that takes years. Yes, I know I’ve said that already, but it bears repeating.

Don’t be discouraged. Every published author I know has gone through an intense residency program.

Keep going. Make a detailed and rigorous study plan so when you are ready you’ll pass your medical boards with high marks.

To your scalpel and mine.James L. Rubart is the bestselling author of ROOMS and BOOK of DAYS. His latest novel, THE CHAIR just released.