Whose Idea Was It, Anyway?

Soon after I finished The New Encyclopedia of Sports, my editor at Hawthorn Books asked if I'd like to write a book titled Faith and the Christian Athlete, based on interviews with members of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. I did quite a bit of research, including two interviews, before writing the outline and proposal.

The reply came back very quickly: The editor didn't think such a book would sell very well. I was baffled. The very editor who had come up with the idea was now telling me it wasn't a very good idea, as if I were the one who had come up with it.

Soon I would learn that there was nothing unusual about that.

My agent invited me to come down to New York to have lunch with a young editor from Doubleday Anchor Books, who spoke very enthusiastically about his idea for a whole series of sports trivia books. There would be general, broad-ranging books for individual sports to lead the series, but then there would be more specific trivia books for every major professional team.

I wrote a very detailed proposal, including a general structure and one complete book to show how the structure would work in practice.

The young editor rejected the idea, saying that the trivia craze had run its course and there wouldn't be much of a demand for the proposed series.

(Over a recent two-year period, I edited a whole series of sports trivia books, including specific trivia books for every major professional team. I'm told that they sold so well that the publisher is planning to update them soon.)

A couple years later, I was again having lunch in New York with my agent and an editor with an idea. This editor was a Harvard guy and his idea was that the time had come for a history of football at Harvard. He was as enthusiastic as the Anchor Books editor had been, but I didn't take the warning.

I wrote a proposal with three sample chapters, as the editor requested, and waited for nearly six months. Finally the reply came: A history of Harvard football wouldn't sell enough copies to make it feasible.

But, the editor added, a history of Ivy League football would be feasible because it would have eight times the potential audience. Everybody at his publishing house was excited about that idea, he said.

Yeah, I fell for it. I wrote yet another proposal, waited another six months…and, yeah, it was shot down by the same editor.