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A Word (Or Two, Or Three) About Persistence

I’ve never met Gary Sutton. This is the story of why I’d like to… Sutton started sending me notes months ago, sometime around October. He was promoting his new book, Corporate Canaries, a manual for identifying business disasters before they happen. First came the advance proof. At just 160 pages, it would have been easy to miss had it not been bright canary yellow. It got about 30 seconds of my time, after which I tossed it into the books pile and promptly forgot it.

I’ve never met Gary Sutton. This is the story of why I’d like to…

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Sutton started sending me notes months ago, sometime around October. He was promoting his new book, Corporate Canaries, a manual for identifying business disasters before they happen. First came the advance proof. At just 160 pages, it would have been easy to miss had it not been bright canary yellow. It got about 30 seconds of my time, after which I tossed it into the books pile and promptly forgot it.

When the hardcover version of Corporate Canaries hit the shelves a few weeks later, the little yellow books started nesting all over the cube farm. Fast Company must have gotten between 5-10 copies of the book. They were everywhere. Now, it’s kind of a blur, but I think I got two or three nice hand-written notes from Sutton during this time (extra copies included). Accustomed to ambitious authors, I gave the book another look. The idea was original – business advice as seen through a coal-mining lens. Smart enough to step out of the cave, Sutton wove in real-world examples from companies like Mercedes and Merrill Lynch. And, yes, the man has cred; he’s been turning around companies for more than two decades. Still, it wasn’t for me. I opted not to review the book.

But Sutton wasn’t going to give up. Bright yellow postcards started fluttering into my mailbox, each signed in Sutton’s canary-scratch handwriting. Somewhere in there, I seem to remember getting a photocopy of Sutton’s previous appearance in the magazine (maybe here) with a friendly, suggestive word or two about the book. When yet another copy of the book landed on my desk, I flipped through it again. This time, Sutton had inadvertently included a piece of notepaper which turned out to be a checklist of magazines he’d been courting. (In case you were wondering, that’s where it went, Gary!) If my memory serves me, Business 2.0 was checked off, as were Forbes and Fortune. I think Newsweek was on there, too. Though I never saw it mentioned in any of those magazines, Jack Covert, over at 800-CEO-READ, highlighted the book on his blog.

At this point, there was no chance I was going to review the book – it had been on the shelves for a few months and I didn’t see enough there to merit reviewing it. (I only review three books a month – so the bar is high.) But Sutton still didn’t let up. When I came to work this morning, I found another postcard perched on my desk. Pictured on the front was Sutton, peeking out from behind a copy of his book. On the back, signed “over-eager author,” the note said simply, “It could happen, Lucas.” Indeed.

But it won’t. Not in Fast Company, at least. Each month brings new titles to consider and more authors to turn down. But in honor of Sutton and his little yellow book, which managed to fly out of the slush pile again and again, I hereby establish the Persistent Canary Award. Created to recognize a book or author that just won’t stop chirping, the Persistent Canary will be awarded only to those that manage to strike Sutton’s tactful balance of relentless self-promotion and tongue-in-cheek humor. (Flacks with speed dial need not apply.)

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So, while I still haven’t read the book, here’s to Mr. Gary Sutton – winner of the first Persistent Canary Award. Sure, it’s a bit of a dubious honor, but something tells me he’ll appreciate it. (And maybe he’ll finally stop writing me.)