Why Didn’t You Sign Me!

In the spring of 2006 I went to my first writing conference to pitch my first novel, ROOMS. Four editors asked for my manuscript and by July I’d talked to three well-known agents who were interested in representing me.

I was elated. Three agents? Even though water still gushed from behind my ears I knew enough to realize having three agents interested was unusual. I figured I’d made it and one of them would offer to sign me soon.

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Didn’t happen.

In August of that year I went to a mentoring clinic led by Cec Murphey, bestselling author of more than 120 books. Before the three-day clinic the eight of us were to send Cec five pages of our manuscript. Cec would critique the pages, then send them back ahead of time so we could hit the ground sprinting when the clinic arrived.

I sent in the first five pages of ROOMS and waited for Cec’s response. I imagined he’d write back and say, “Wow, this is excellent. Send me five more pages!” I mean, c’mon, I had THREE agents interested and FOUR editors.

Not what he wrote. “You have talent, Jim, but you have a long ways to go.”

Insert knife, twist twice, pull out and clean blade. Repeat.

Yeah, it hurt. But I needed the truth. I went to the clinic and was fortunate. Cec turned out to be even more brutal than I expected on my writing, but more compassionate and caring as a person than I could have imagined. He was the perfect combination to propel my writing to the level it needed to be at to warrant serious consideration from a publisher.

I reworked the entire manuscript and sent it to a fourth agent I’d developed a relationship over the summer with, and wanted to work with. He signed me ten days later.

Two years later I had lunch with one of the first three agents, Beth Jusino, who worked at Alive Communications during the time we were talking. I asked her, “Why didn’t you sign me?” She smiled and said, “You were so close, but you weren’t quite there.” Beth was right.

I didn’t know it at the time. I thought I was ready. Yes, I was close, but 90 percent of the way there isn’t enough. Steve Laube says when he looks at a manuscript the writing and story can’t be 90, or 92, or 94 percent of the way there. It has to be 95 percent or above.

(This is one reason I am not (in general) a fan of self-publishing. I believe most novelists think they’re at the 95 percent mark when they’re closer to 85 percent. I certainly was.)

See, your competition isn’t other unpublished writers. It’s me. It’s my fellow Novel Rocketers. It’s the other authors on the bookshelves.

Even though you’ve heard it again and again and again, ad nauseam, it is worth saying one more time:

The best thing you can do get published (and sell books whether traditionally published or not) is to work on your craft. Find (a qualified) editor that will be brutal on your writing and listen to them.

Because here’s the good news: Most aspiring writers stop at 90 percent. It gets hard. It’s daunting. The knife doesn’t feel good when it slides between your emotional ribs.

But if you’re one of the few who are determined to refine that last 6 percent, your odds of getting published go up exponentially.

James L. Rubart writes
best-selling, award winning novels, but you knew that, right? His latest, SOUL’S
GATE hits shelves in early November. His past tomes are, ROOMS, BOOK OF DAYS,
and THE CHAIR. During the day he runs Barefoot Marketing which helps businesses
and authors make more coin of the realm. (Yes, he can help you.) In his free
time he dirt bikes, hikes, golfs, takes photos, and occasionally does sleight
of hand. No, he doesn’t sleep much. He lives with his amazing wife and teenage
sons in the Pacific Northwest and still thinks he’s young enough to water ski
like a madman. More at www.jameslrubart.com

I Think I Like My Own Novels (Maybe) by James L. Rubart

Do you like your own novels?

I’m not sure how I feel about mine.

My novel, The Chair was Christian Retailing’s TOP PICK for September 2011, was nominated for a Christy, is a finalist in the ACFW Carol Awards, and I’ve received many reader e-mails about how much they loved the book.

But my reaction to all that has been: Really? You’re serious? Are we talking about the same book?

I’m not trying to be self-deprecating. It’s truly how I felt.

Why felt and not feel?

Because recently I recorded the audio version of The Chair (after being away from the book for more than a year) and as I read through the novel I caught myself thinking, “Hmmm, I guess that part isn’t completely horrible,” and “Hey, that works okay.”

Can you relate? Yes, I see that hand, and yes you in the back, I see yours as well, thank you.

A few weeks ago my son Taylor and his girlfriend, Mara, read my next novel, Soul’s Gate (releases this November). When I asked how they liked it, both said it’s their favorite out of the four I’ve written. Again, my reaction is, “Really?”

Help me. Why do we do that?

Maybe it’s because a novelist’s concentration as well as their editor’s is on what’s wrong with the book and where it needs to improve rather than on what’s working well. That of course has to be the focus, but I wonder if it skews my thinking after the novel is finished. You?

How long does it take for you to be away from something you’re written to get back and see there are elements that work well?

Do you don’t ever go back and read what you’ve written. If not, why not? And why is it easier for others to love our work more than we do?

James L. Rubart is the best-selling author of ROOMS, BOOK OF DAYS, and THE CHAIR. His fourth novel, SOUL’S GATE hits shelves in early November.

During the day he runs Barefoot Marketing which helps businesses and authors make more coin of the realm. In his free time he dirt bikes, hikes, golfs, takes photos, and occasionally does sleight of hand. No, he doesn’t sleep much. He lives with his amazing wife and teenage sons in the Pacific Northwest and still thinks he’s young enough to water ski like a madman. More at www.jameslrubart.com

Do Literary Awards Make a Difference? Do Nominations? By James L. Rubart

I lost.

As you might know, my third novel, The Chair was a Christy finalist. (For those of you unaware of the award, it could be described as the Oscars of Christian Fiction.) Last night was the award ceremony where they announced the winners—among which I was not.

Yeah, I’ll admit it, it would have been nice to have won, but still much fun was had among my friends in publishing, and great to see close friend and fellow Novel Rocketeer Ronie Kendig take home the gold.

The industry certainly puts a great deal of credence in being a Christy nominee and/or winner, but I’m wondering, do you think it makes a difference to readers?

You’re a writer, but you’re also a reader. Do you pay attention to literary awards? If you do, does a book winning an award motivate you read it? Does the book have to win or does a nomination do it for you?

Do either of those push you over the edge to read a book you’ve been considering? Or does it not make that big a difference to you one way or the other? Do you think I’ve asked enough questions?

James L. Rubart is the best-selling author of ROOMS, BOOK OF DAYS, and THE CHAIR. During the day he runs Barefoot Marketing which helps businesses and authors make more coin of the realm. In his free time he dirt bikes, hikes, golfs, takes photos, and occasionally does sleight of hand. No, he doesn’t sleep much. He lives with his amazing wife and teenage sons in the Pacific Northwest and still thinks he’s young enough to water ski like a madman. More at www.jameslrubart.com 

Enjoy The Magic While You Can

In the early 90s I renewed my interest in a childhood hobby—sleight of hand. I started going to a local magic club, met other magicians, and learned new tricks.

During my first visit to the club they played a video of renowned coin magician David Roth. It blew my mind. I sat mesmerized as coins vanished from under one playing card and instantly appearing under another.

I realized I had discovered a new level of magic I’d never experienced as a kid. A sense of wonder gripped me as I tried to fathom how the tricks were done. From that moment on I devoured books, videos, and watched as other magicians taught how to make the magic happen.

A year and a half later I was performing many of the same tricks that held me spellbound at those first club meetings. I loved seeing the look of astonishment in friend’s eyes as I performed, but I’d lost the wonder. I now stood behind the curtain.

The Writing Magic

When I leapt into the writing world, every conversation about publishing held the same wonder as that first magic club meeting. Every book on craft, every interview with a published author, every article in Writer’s Digest mesmerized me as the coins did. And going to my first conference in ’06? Disneyland!

A year later I became a category coordinator for the ACFW Genesis contest and secretly dreamed of a day when I would be asked to judge an entry. I dreamed of a day when I would enter my own manuscript in the Genesis contest.

I dreamed of the time I would get an agent, then a contract. I fantasized about the day I would hold my own novel, and about the day I’d get an e-mail from a reader saying my book had impacted them. I got a bit giddy when pretending another author would ask me to endorse their book.

Now those days of wonder are gone. I got the agent and the contract. I sat on my front porch and held my first novel in my hands, and my eyes grew moist. Holding my second novel was different. It was nice, but it didn’t get suddenly dusty like it did before. I’d stepped behind the curtain.

Don’t misunderstand. I love being where I’m at on the publishing journey. And I know there is more wonder coming. But it’s different now.

I suppose this entire post is a way to say to those of you who are pre-published, trust me, while it’s hard waiting, there is magic in those moments. Savor them. They won’t come again.

James L. Rubart is the best-selling author of ROOMS, BOOK OF DAYS, and THE CHAIR. During the day he runs Barefoot Marketing which helps businesses and authors make more coin of the realm. In his free time he dirt bikes, hikes, golfs, takes photos, and occasionally does sleight of hand. No, he doesn’t sleep much. He lives with his amazing wife and teenage sons in the Pacific Northwest and still thinks he’s young enough to water ski like a madman. More at www.jameslrubart.com