Pub Rants

Good To Great?

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STATUS: TGIT! I think it’s going to be a lovely weekend in Denver. I’m looking forward to it. Yes, I’ll probably work some but hopefully not until Sunday night.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? THIN LINE by Indigo Girls

Last night I was reading GOOD TO GREAT by Jim Collins. It’s a nonfiction work on why some companies make the leap and others don’t. I’m only into chapter 2 so I can’t relay a lot of info about what I’m learning yet but it did put me in a philosophical mood.

As I see the world, it’s not enough to simply be a good agent with an eye for good material. Well, that’s not exactly true. If you are an agent working for an already well established agency, that’s probably accurate as the agent only needs to find good material, work with individual clients, etc. He or she isn’t also running the company.

But if you are an agent who also runs the show, then having a good eye for excellent material is not the only factor on what will make the agency successful. You also have to know how to run a company well.

And therein is the reason why I’m reading two “business” books currently: GOOD TO GREAT and THE 10-DAY MBA.

Because guess what? I don’t have an MBA. In fact, I only have one agent friend who has an MBA. I also know a few agents who are also attorneys (which is a nice combo) but doesn’t really teach you how to run a company. To be successful, I not only have to be a good agent, I have to be a good CEO of the company.

So what have I learned so far from Jim Collins? CEOs that have taken companies from good to great where not flashy, celebrity-type leaders a la Lee Ioccoca. In fact, they were people that held the good of company over their own personal success—be it in wealth or in reputation.

They were soft spoken, self-effacing, and often had great humility—but not one of them was weak in character, drive, or determination. Collins called these folks Level 5 leaders.

Dang. I might have already failed the first step to becoming good to great. We’ll see. The second thing I’ve learned, and I’m pretty sure he’s going to talk about this more in the book, is that it’s not enough to have all the people on the same bus. What’s important is having the right people on the bus and those people are the key to implementing good to great elements beyond the CEO.

Now I’m feeling pretty confident that I’ve got the right people on the bus with Sara, my contracts manager, my attorney, my accountant, my bookkeeper, and my co-agents.

That’s a start!

Collins also mentioned that it was a conscious choice on the company’s part to make the leap. One reason why I’m reading the book. He also says that being a “good” company is also the biggest obstacle to becoming great. Interesting, isn’t it? I consider Nelson Literary Agency to be a good company—so in a sense, according to Collins theory, we are our own worst enemy. We could be keeping ourselves from making the leap.

Have other agencies thought of this? Have specific agencies gone from good to great? If so, I wonder what agencies I’d name that have made the leap. Could that be measured? In GOOD TO GREAT, Collins only looks at public companies where data could be measured in sales/stock growth over a 15 year period. That rules out private companies—of which most agencies are.

I haven’t any answers folks but I do have a lot of questions.

19 Responses

  1. Natalie Hatch said:

    Kirstin a great non fiction book to read is ‘Maverick’ by Ricardo Semler chairman of SEMCO one of Brazils largest conglomerates. Fantastic read, he really shows what it took to make massive changes in his company to make it go from struggling to successful.

  2. Rock and Roll Mama said:

    They’re good questions, and they’re probably part of the reason you’ve made so many sales since your move to Denver. It seems like you do an excellent job of keeping the macrocosm in mind, while giving your all to each cog in the wheel.

    I love reading books by business leaders, for the free education. Katharine Graham’s “Personal History” is my number one pick for learning to trust your gut and gather sound advisors as you grow a business. I also like “Iacocca” and anything by Peter Drucker.

    I’m working on the same issues in my ms right now…reading “The Break Out Novel” by Donald Maass and using what works for me as I draft my 5th revision. Cause “good” is not going to cut it.:)

    Happy 4th, everybody!

  3. Ryan Field said:

    This post is very relevent to what serious writers are facing nowadays, too. You can no longer just be a “good” writer, you also have to be an outstanding marketing and sales director.

  4. Pema said:

    Does that mean if I’m not soft-spoken I won’t be great? 😉

    I know that to be successful, one must work – a lot. But it’s hard to sometimes put our professional lives over our personal lives, don’t you think?

  5. Wakai Writer said:

    I’ve always felt the same way about businesses—that it’s the people who make or break them.

    The companies (large and small) I’ve worked for that take a long time to make sure they get the right people for every position, top to bottom, and then give those people incentive to want the company to succeed as much as the owners do, are the ones that do well. The ones that don’t, don’t.

    It’s not about the benjamins, it’s about the people who help you make the benjamins. ;-p

  6. Lisa said:

    I’m a huge fan of GOOD TO GREAT! I read it when it first came out in hardcover and I completely understand your enthusiasm. Jim Collins ought to throw me a bone for all the free word of mouth PR and book sales he got from me 🙂

    I bought THE 10 DAY MBA at around the same time, but I confess that I never finished it.

  7. Kris_W said:

    I’ve read Good to Great and used it in for-profit and non-profit business situations. I highly recommend that you find and read the companion monograph ‘Good to Great and the Social Sectors’. Although GtG has some useful concepts, it reduces all measurement of success solely to money. The monograph adapts the GtG ideas to core goal based measurements of success and may be more applicable to the diverse ideals of people working in the arts.

  8. Haste yee back ;-) said:

    Are you sure you’re not just looking for a guru?” Because for every struggle on this planet there’s someone, somewhere, willing to take your money and tell you how to – whatever it is you want – get it!

    Oh, and they like to include lots of secrets or tricks or steps (performed in a certain way), or insider information only those in the “know” have and use. And if you’d just give me your $$$, I’ll let you in on all of the above. Humans crave certainty and these people will sell the “delusion/illusion” of certainty to anybody they can. They know it’s a short cut to quelling the most uncomfortable feeling accompaning uncertainty – anxiety!

    IMHO. There is no measuring stick to the Universe, no sign posts, no up or down. There just IS! And there ain’t no figuring out “IS” other than to assign values someone else suggests, or those you decide for yourself. (And deciding for yourself takes great courage, because then, you’re responsible – and that’s another post!

    Haste yee back 😉


  9. Kvly said:

    Hi there, Kristin! Been reading this blog for a while, but finally leaving a comment. This post makes me want to go out and grab some business books, which I would usually never read. There’s so much to learn to be savvy in the publishing industry…I agree with one of the comments above – the sales you’ve made and your success are indicative of the fact that you are pretty savvy already…

  10. Melissa said:

    Kristin, forgive the off-topic question, please.

    Some writing friends and I are debating whether a manuscript should have one space after the period or two. (I know, I know, but we can bicker all day about details like this.)

    When I published a non-fiction book, I was told by my editor to strip out the extra spaces. So I write my manuscripts with one space. Others say two spaces is preferred and correct.

    None of us believe a manuscript would be rejected over this, but we still would like to know which is preferred by agents and publishers.

  11. leesmiley said:

    I’m coming at things from nearly the opposite direction. I’ve been a successful retail manager for several years and am now trying to find representation.

    From the retail side, I have seen the value of having the right people on the bus. Perhaps more important, though, is ensuring the people on the bus are all moving in the same direction, something that can only be attained by strong leadership and abundant communication.

    The same also applies to fiction. No story is successful unless the characters are the right people on the bus. Without every character playing the exact role they are meant to play, the story falls apart and heads off in directions the writer does not intend.

    Have a great holiday weekend and happy reading!

  12. joycemocha said:

    Kristin, other ways you could use to measure your growth is to look at your sales–not just volume (number of MSs/rights packages sold) but dollar amount, both net overall and net per package (i.e., sales to publishers–which should possibly be broken down into domestic and foreign, sales of movie rights, sales of electronic rights, etc).

    If I were running an agency, not only would I want to be tracking whether we’re holding solid or growing in the types of rights we’re selling, but if we’re getting more per each package of rights.

  13. cindy said:

    like you, i was struck by the notion that being good is what prevents one from being great. you can apply it to writing. if i’ve written a good book and continue to write good books with good sales–i’d be perhaps less inclined to “rock the boat” and take risks.

    thanks for philosophising with your readers.

  14. georgiam said:

    Since you are the CEO of your own company (and since that company is also a private company with no partners) there’s no conflict of interest: your personal success is measured as your company’s success. So no problem there.

    Having the right people is key, but that’s a given, isn’t it? From interviews I’ve read from successful CEO’s one important aspect I wholeheartedly agree with is a willingness to constantly educate yourself, and not just on subjects relative to your business. I think you’ve got that down. Practical experience though beats everything. So , that’s your strength.

    But, what would you consider a “great” agency? If there are certain problems the agency faces, then solving those would make the agency better. E.g. need more financing? How can we cut costs?

    Making something that’s working well, work better? E.g. it would be beneficial to try to get more movie deals, because that increases back sales and establishes the name of the author. How can we do that? By creating different marketing campaigns for the book? Creating better/more relationships with our contracts? Etc.

    Just sitting down and brainstorm with your stuff on issues and goals would be a great first step. Then maybe read a business plan so that you can sit down and make one for an idea from step 1. You’re already a step ahead on the electronic front…maybe you could start innovating on that.

    Anyway, sorry this was too long, and I think it reads kinda stupid…oh, well. Thanks for the links, browsing from there I found a book with case studies that might prove very helpful for my future.

  15. Ginger Simpson said:

    Your post brought to mind something a great businessman once said to me. His comment has stuck in my mind for years, and I understand now why he is where he is. We were having a discussion about management styles and how supervisors can either instill the need in employees to be their best, or at best, mediocre. He owns a Budweiser distributorship for a large city and money will never be a problem for him. 🙂

    I envy his position and power, but clearly when he gave full credit to the people who work for him and told me how much he appreciated them and what they’ve done over the years to elevate his status, I knew they did it because he made them feel like an integral part of the business. People always give more when they feel appreciated and believe what they do matters. I’ve always worked harder when led by someone with those qualities, and trust me, there aren’t enough of them in this world. Just my two cents worth, with thanks for reminding me about a dear man.

    Ginger Simpson

  16. Anonymous said:

    I find a well written business plan is essential. You can read all the books you want, but unless you’ve got a well writte plan, those pearls of wisdom won’t get you far. The SBA website is a great place to start for any business at any time.

    One thing to remember –one part of your business plan has to be to create and exit strategy! Loads of businesses forget this.

  17. Anonymous said:

    I wasn’t that thrilled with Good to Great – it basically boiled down to some pretty obvious concepts:

    1. Get the right people on the bus (so smart, motivated, dedicated employees make for a better company!? wow!)

    2. Don’t be an ego-maniac (I think my mom taught me that when I was six.)

    3. Focus on doing what you’re best at, passionate for, and can make money. (Wow, if we could all find *that* magic combo! Too bad writing isn’t economically feasible for most people, so I guess that takes it right out of the equation.)

    I’m being cynical and it’s not a bad read, but it didn’t enlighten me much either. I was expecting something more.

  18. MasterJennJenn said:

    Hi my name is Jenn Pierce. I come by every couple of months to soak up the advice in your blogs. I don’t know if you are looking for suggestions but I wanted to recommend E-Myth Revisited and E-Myth Mastery by Michael Gerber. I will tell you that I’m biased as I work at E-Myth Iowa as a business coach and we use many of the materials in Mastery. I want to be clear that I’m not trying to sell anything. I just know that as a former small busienss owner Revisited change my life. I’m positive that if you read it you’ll feel connected to the person in the story. Revisited is more of the spirit/prinicples behind E-Myth and Mastery is more about the application. It’s geared toward small business owners and will apply to any industry. I just wanted to throw the suggestion out there. If you have questions or if you read it I’d love to hear your thoughts.