If You Love Your Idea, Let It Go

How to release control when collaboration changes everything

Photo: invizbk/Getty Images

When my agent and I were meeting with publishers, pitching them my book, Works Well With Others, the working title was The Impostor’s Protocol.

It sounds like a lesser John le Carre novel, I know. But in my head, that was my book. I felt like something of an impostor in my career (“Impostor”!), and I loved coming up with certain rules and guidelines for how to overcome that feeling at work (“Protocol”!).

But every editor I met with asked some version of, “Are you open to changing the title?” A couple of days after I signed the contract with my publisher, my editor sent me an email: “I think we can come up with something better. The Imposter’s Protocol doesn’t do enough to convey the book’s tone and what you’re going to get out of reading it…”

She was on my side, and I trusted her, so I didn’t think anything of it. We settled on one of the many titles I sent her: Works Well With Others.

I like that title. But I don’t love it. Which, in some way, makes it perfect.

The title was one of hundreds of compromises I made to get my project out into the world. And by the time it was out there, it was no longer mine, really. It was the reader’s.

Your big idea is important because it’s a prototype. It’s something that you can grow inside your head until that initial version gains enough momentum to power the next one. Tend to it, show it off, sell it… and then, once someone says they want it, unceremoniously put your original vision away in storage. It’s become something new. You have a new thing to make.

You may not be as enamored with the new thing. But you wouldn’t love it at all if it weren’t for the care you took to create the prototype, an idea strong enough to withstand the influence of others.

The ideas we love the most never see the light of day. But they live on. I still love the book that I imagine The Impostor’s Protocol would’ve become. But it never had a chance. As it should be.

Speaking of letting your ideas evolve and grow: This piece started out as an essay about how everyone has a book in them — everyone! Somewhere along the way it became something else, but I think it’s important to figure out what your book is — even if you don’t want to write one. So, next time I’ll offer some thoughts on how, and why, to answer the question, “What’s your book about?”

Executive Editor, Medium//author, Works Well With Others//writing 1–2x week mostly about creativity, work, and human behavior, in a useful way//rossmccammon.com

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