Overnight success?

What’s the opposite of that? An Overnight failure?

The idea of an overnight success is relatively new. Joan of Arc, Robin Hood and Sarah Bernhardt were not overnight successes. It took media (the old kind, like TV and movies, and especially the new kind, like Google video) to create the overnight success. My friends Pomme and Kelly are overnight successes. So are some of the characters on American Idol.

Along the way, some people have trained themselves to believe that the only kind of success worth having is overnight success. That if you don’t hit #1 the first week, you’ve failed. That if your interface isn’t perfect out of the box, or if you don’t get 5,000 people standing in line at the opening of your new store, you’ve failed.

The Times today reports on Kathleen McGowan, easily considered an overnight failure. She spent years researching and writing a novel. She went to the annual book convention on her own nickel last year, trying to pitch it. Day after day was spent slogging her way to any person willing to look at it. This year, of course, she’s back with a million dollar plus advance, feted by booksellers, the whole drill.

Squidoo is another interesting case. Here’s a look at our daily traffic, courtesy of our Google Analytics package, since January (I removed four weeks in mid-March, mid-April, because of a glitch with search.)  Squidoo has more than 27,000 lenses built by 15,000 people in about five months. No, the chart doesn’t look like MySpace or Flickr. What it does look like is the early days of Google and Wikipedia and other overnight failures.

The challenge for observers, investors and partners (like the publisher who took on Kathleen) is to avoid the temptation of buying the media infatuation with the overnight success story (which rarely happens overnight). The challenge for marketers is to figure out what daily progress looks  like and obsess about that.

The goal, I think, is to be an overnight failure, but one that persists. Keeping costs low, building a foundation that leads to the right kind of story, the right kind of organic growth. Kathleen wrote a book that she believes in, one that was worth investing years of her life into. And then she painstakingly made progress until she became the next big thing.