A history lesson and rah-rah session
December 5, 2009 | Written by admin
I'll admit, blogging is not my favorite thing to do, made obvious, perhaps, by my lace of presence here. It's not that I'm a wildly private person or anything so mysterious. It's simply that when I sit down to blog, something else which feels much more productive is waiting for my attention.
I honestly don't know how Chip does it all. He's a genius, of course. With an unlimited capacity for words. I think he must never sleep or eat. Though I do happen to know he'll pause to tip a Guinness once in awhile. But, hey, he's Scottish. It's required, I think.
Don't take it personally that I don't show up here often. I love you all, I really, really do. Thing is, I prefer to ponder topics for awhile before I bother putting them on paper (yeah, I'm so, so deep!) Ugh. Not what I meant.
Anyway … I've been thinking a lot lately about how much time it takes to build a career in this industry. Whether on the author, editorial, or agenting side of things, this is a slow business. Writing is slow. Publishing decisions and the editing process is slow. And the money is getting slower than ever. Success in this business rarely happens overnight, though I often get the impression that's what authors are after.
So, the other day I was at the Nike employee store exchanging some shoes a friend had purchased for me. On the wall behind the counter hung a framed poster of one of Nike's original white leather models. Maybe you can picture it? The long, rounded toe and bright red iconic Swoosh along the side. I had a pair just like it in high school.
As I pushed my shoes across the counter and waited, I looked at the poster and it got me thinking about Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight's collaboration. About how their long-term partnership, which I happen to know began the year I was born, didn't really pay off big until a decade later when, in a blink of inspiration, Bowerman poured liquid urethane into his wife's waffle iron and created their trademark outsole.
I thought about that waffle iron idea and wondered if they knew at the time that was the moment which would help define who Nike would become. Did they realize they were creating something upon which entire careers would rest? Could they possibly forsee the colossus world headquarters they would eventually build? Probably not.
At that moment they were just trying to fill a need. Build a shoe for Bowerman's star runner, Steve Prefontaine, which would grip the new running track at the University of Oregon. (Yes … THE University of Oregon. The very same place where, this week, the Ducks shut the door on the Oregon State Beavers first chance to return to the Rose Bowl since WWII. Sigh. Congratulations, Chip.)
Bowerman's idea must have seemed strange at first. Especially to his wife. And it was probably hard to
explain, like most ideas are at first. But, Bowermans's willingness to
take a risk and Knight's motivation to find a market for their product
eventually turned into the worldwide empire we all take for granted
It took decades for them to build Nike into the entity it is today. Love 'em or hate 'em, Nike employs over 30,000 people. In fact, in my neck of the woods, you can't swing a golf club without hitting someone employed there. Sports memorabilia, artifacts, and tributes are all over the Nike Campus. Some of the world's recent top athletes have entire buildings named after them. Prefontaine, Jordan, Armstrong, McEnroe, Woods (hey, I said TOP, I didn't say admirable. Let's try and stay on the subject here, k?)
Which is what?, you're probably wondering. Well. Here's the big aha I've come to in all my pondering. When Phil invited Bill to become his business partner, Bill might have originally been motivated to do so to encourage his former track student. Or, he might have recognized a business opportunity. Or both. But, you can bet he was motivated to say yes to Phil's invitation because they had a common vision. Together they recognized the world was in need of a better track shoe.
Did it happen overnight? Nope. But, they stayed with it until, together, they figured it out. Their combined efforts created a product and a company which would change the habits and expectations of consumers. It's history now, but at one point, it was just an idea.
You know what? I see and hear ideas ALL THE TIME. Some are inspired, others, not so much. Some obviously have experience and substance behind them. Others are as thin as the air they were pulled out of.
A big part of my job as an agent is recognizing the potential of an idea and seeing beyond what is staring back at me in black and white.
Wanna know when I get most excited about an idea? It's when I see the combination of a great idea, and the promise of great writing, delivered in a fully developed, executable proposal. When I see that an author has worked hard, taken their time, done their due diligence, and carefully delivered a fully developed proposal which proves they can execute the idea beyond the writing of it, I sit up and take notice.
For me, a good proposal is where the rubber meets the, er, track. It's really frustrating how many folks send or pitch me an idea, but then don't back it up with a full, clear proposal. Worse is when I ask to see something and then receive bits and pieces of a project as if the author expects that I have the time to wade through it all and put it in order.
will help and consult with an author on a proposal. And sometimes, I'll spend a lot of time with it, but only for the best of ideas. I think authors need to do
the research, invest some grey matter, study the market, prove they
know what they are asking me, and prospective editors to invest in.
I'm picky about proposals, and getting pickier all the time. And for good reason. I know that when an editor agrees to take a proposal to their team, and possibly then on to a pub meeting, they are in the hot seat with the idea. They have one shot to present an idea, and they need the proposal to be bullet proof.
Don't get me wrong. I've seen some good ones I've had to pass on for various reasons. I can't possibly handle every project which comes my way. But, the ones I do choose to take on need to deliver.
Authors who are willing to accept that their original idea may need a little tweaking here and there; those who understand that my job as an agent is to help make it accessible, available, and attractive to prospective editors and publishers — those are the authors I most enjoy partnering with.
And, like Bowerman and Knight, I like to think that together, we (I and the authors I represent) see their career as a product in the making. One which may take time to develop. It may not eventually come in hundreds of shapes, sizes, colors, and product lines. We may not launch world-wide empires, nor have a crystal clear vision of what the future will bring. But, in the end, I want to work with authors who will invest time, effort, and dedication on their end, and who trust that I have their backs – even when the rejections keep coming and the waiting gets unbearable – and who believe that, together, we have what it takes to run the race for the long haul.