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February 24, 2006

Serious Expectations

Posted by admin

Around our house we've been following the Olympics with enthusiasm. Every two years this is a two-week ritual that we embrace --- no, actually, we completely succumb to the pomp and commentary. I like it because the Olympics give us a time to pause and watch. We do a lot of talking about where we all were four years ago --- and even 18 months ago when the summer games happened. The boys are now 11 and 16 and a lot has changed since Salt Lake City in 2002. Most of all, they are staying up to watch more events at midnight!

Most people I talk to this year have told me that they have not watched a single event. Yesterday I had lunch with Farah Miller, a publishing colleague from Knopf, who told me that she too has been addicted to watching the Games. Her DVR is whirring in stereo with ours. We shared anecdotes about the athletes, the commentators and our own memories of some of the top moments. I laughed as I realized that we were talking about these moments with the same level of excitement that we typically reserve for our favorite upcoming books and authors.

These Olympics have me thinking about hype. We came into these games knowing names like Michelle Kwan, Bode Miller and Apolo Anton Ohno, all of whom showed up in Torino with one agenda -- winning gold. Serious expectations for them were heard from all camps. All of these expectations were dashed in one way or another. Watching, I decided it may not be a good thing to have a Coke or Visa commercial endorsement. It's bad enough to not win, but then to have a 60-second spot reminding everyone of what you were supposed to do is pretty embarrassing. Of course, I am sure the checks were lovely.

New stars who we barely had an eye on or B-roll of footage of --- speed skater, Joey Cheek; ladies skater Shizuka Arakawa from Japan and skier Julia Mancuso --- scored wins and left people pausing. WHO was THAT? I can see the B-roll on them being ordered up for 2010.

Watching these "Olympic moments" I think about authors. The "gold apparents" are much like bestselling authors for whom publishers have serious expectations season after season. Sometimes they deliver. Sometimes they slip and fall. When their star tarnishes we look for the next great thing.

The new stars are the debuts. When they deliver --- or exceed expectations --- they are in their Golden Moment. If the first book is a success, others are quickly ordered and rushed into production. The author who took six years to write book one; now has 11 months to do book two. The result often is a sophomore effort that does not hold up, and book one remains the triumph.

Then there are debuts that people at publishing houses love whose sales expectations, which often were inflated to start, are not met. They quickly are abandoned though their next book may be their best work. They don't "earn out," much like the stars on the Olympic teams who just do not deliver and thus will never get the backing and support going forward.

Bode Miller --- who inspects the race course for minutes (when he inspects at all), while others are taking a full hour ---- is like the author who does shoddy research and thinks he'll get away with it. I am wondering if for race five, he'll finally get the memo on this. For the record, there have been lots of "life talks" with my boys this week as things like this happen. Bode led to Parental Lecture 2468 on "Preparing in Advance To Achieve Success." And yes, the boys do roll their eyes when I do this.

"The Snowcross Chick" as I call Lindsey Jacobellis ---- the snowboarder who was way ahead in the Snowboard Cross and then showboated her way to a loss ---- reminds me of an author who writes a great beginning, a strong middle with a brilliant twist and then falls apart at the end leaving us scratching our heads wondering what he or she was thinking. Oh and for the record, am I the ONLY one who did not figure out that Jacobellis was the skier in the VISA commercial who was frozen in the starting gate? This was Parental Lecture 2469 about "Showing Off Never Pays Off."

As for injuries and illnesses. Ever notice how many athletes at the Olympics have the flu? Okay, memo to self. If I ever make the Olympic team, I will get a flu shot! Is that a banned substance? Also, the number of injuries that happen in practice make one pause. Broken wrists, bruises, groin pulls. Imagine working 16 years to get to the Olympics and then getting the flu or falling in practice. Hmmmm...I wonder how many people really fell in the shower on the soap. Isn't it far better to say, she injured herself in the triple lutz than she tripped over her own two feet?

Here's to a fun last weekend of competition.