How I Got My Agent: James L. Rubart - Writer's Digest

How I Got My Agent: James L. Rubart

"How I Got My Agent" is a recurring feature on the GLA blog. Some tales are of long roads and many setbacks, while others are of good luck and quick signings. If you have a literary agent and would be interested in writing a short guest column for this GLA blog, e-mail me at and we'll talk specifics. James L. Rubart’s first novel is Rooms, a suspense novel released in April 2010 by B&H Books.
Publish date:

"How I Got My Agent" is a recurring feature on the GLA blog. I find it fascinating to see the exact road people took that landed them with a rep. Seeing the things people did right vs. what they did wrong (highs and the lows) can help other scribes who are on the same journey. Some tales are of long roads and many setbacks, while others are of good luck and quick signings. To see the previous installments of this column, click here. If you have a literary agent and would be interested in writing a short guest column for this GLA blog, e-mail me at and we'll talk specifics.

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Before I headed out to my first writing conference in the spring of ’06, an acquaintance said, “Chip MacGregor will be there. He’s an editor and he's wired in the industry. You’ve gotta meet him! Get your manuscript in front of him if you can.”

Included in the conference fee was the chance to submit a manuscript to two pros, editors or agents. So a week before the conference, I sent the first twenty pages of Rooms and a synopsis to Chip. I spotted Chip on Friday afternoon, the first day of the conference, holding court in front of the coffee shop’s large fireplace. A group of five aspiring writers huddled around him and peppered him with questions. And they told him how badly Time Warner (now Hachette) needed their books. Late that evening, as I chatted with three writers I’d just met, Chip approached our table and slid into the chair directly across from me. (He and one of my new friends are old buds.)

Intros were made, and within moments, Chip slung a sarcastic remark my way. (Please understand: Chip can’t help himself. He has a great sense of humor and a lighting quick wit.) I was intimidated and nervous, but figured “Why not?” and slung a playful barb of my own back across the table. Chip’s eyes lit up as if to say, “I like this! Someone that’s willing to volley with me.” We end up poking fun at each other for the next hour and a half, finding out along the way we have a ton in common—like sleight of hand being a long-time hobby, and a love of Cannon Beach, Oregon (where my novel is set).

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Rooms (order the book here) is a suspense novel
and James L. Rubart's
debut. It was released
in April 2010 by B&H Books.

See James's author website here.


Late Saturday morning, I got my critique back from Chip. Rejected! He said Rooms was an interesting character study but not a fit for Time Warner because allegories don’t sell. But hey, I wasn’t going to let my dream being shredded into microscopic pieces keep us from being friends, so I went to his workshop Saturday afternoon and chatted some more. On Saturday night, Chip and I hung out again, both of us doing card tricks for a bunch of fellow conference-goers.

Then came Sunday night. Chip and I hung out for the third night in a row, going to dinner with three other writers. By the time the conference ends, I thought, “Cool, I’ve got a friend in the publishing biz.” I didn’t imagine us ever working together. Because of his rejection, I figured any chance with Chip was over.


I'll skip ahead to July of ’06, when I found myself in the surreal position of having three agents interested in repping me. I needed advice. Who to call? Yep, Chip of course. He was gracious and gave solid counsel about the pros and cons of each agent. Around that time—in a moment of self-candor—I admitted that my writing, while good enough to attract serious attention, still wasn't quite where it needed to be. I attended an intense three-day writing workshop and started re-editing my manuscript. It's also around this time that I got word Chip had left Time Warner and started his own agency.

It wasn't long until we touched base again. Chip called me as my dad and I strolled in Lincoln Park next to the waters of Puget Sound. “So what’s going on in your writing world?” he asked.
“Well," I said. “I’ve got this agent and this agent and this agent interested in me, and I went to this writing clinic where I learned a ton and I’m in the middle of reworking Rooms.”
“Ah, you don’t want to go with any of them. Send me some chapters.”
After a few minutes, the light dawns. He’s talking about signing me. I struggle to believe it. Ten days later (it felt like ten months), Chip replied and offered representation. Wow.

Oh yeah, and if you're wondering about Chip’s rejection note from that first conference? Of course I still have it. I even read it to him the other day. Gotta keep the barbs coming, you know?

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This post is an online exclusive complement
to a spotlight on Kristin in the May/June 2010
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