Heckled By ParrotsBlue Sky WritingRebecca K. O'Connor

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The Story of a Blog that Became a Book

WLAMF

WLAMF

Those of you who have been following this blog since it’s beginnings as Operation Desert Dove in 2002 know that I think I’m a writer. I’ve published a romance novel, a parrot training book, a bunch of reference books—but I was really wanting to write something “meaningful”.

I began blogging because I wanted to tell a story as it unfolded. I wanted to work on my craft. I wanted to write a love song to falconry, the passion that had most shaped the adult years of my life.

The impetus to start blogging was the first season with Anakin, my first peregrine falcon. I wanted to record the fear, the flyoffs, the setbacks and finally the triumphs. I knew that the season would change me and I wanted to be writing while it happened. I had no idea what a ride it would be though and frequently I thought that it was going to end in tragedy. It was an unexpectedly tense story that if fleshed out could have made a great memoir.

So here is the place where I’m discovered, the phone ringing off the hook with agents wondering if I have representation. I get the pick of the litter and am ushered into a brilliant career, finding heaps of praise and solvency if not riches. Or not.

There were hundreds of thousands of blogs even eight years ago and I didn’t have the luck of being “discovered.” I plodded along, posting most days but never really building a huge audience. That was okay though. I had built my narrative through line. I had a story to work on. So I took my binder full of 8 months of posts to graduate school, hoping to find meaning and myself in the journey, crafting it into something I could be proud of. I worked hard. I went to conferences, received fellowships, published excerpts, won awards and achieved the sorts of things that make an MFA thesis attractive to literary publishers.

So here is the part where a big NY agent “discovers” me through one of my pieces in a literary journal, falls in love with my writing, works with me to make the manuscript into something spectacular and gets me a contract for not just this manuscript, but my next two books. Or not.

I sent out a lot of queries. I wrote and rewrote my first three chapters, the synopsis and the query letter over and over until I finally found an agent who was intrigued. My first agent wanted me to call the book “Sky Trials” (even though I’ve never participated in a sky trial and don’t really have any desire to even now).

He wanted me to call it this because the story should be about a woman in a man’s world, my horror story about dealing with the chauvinistic machismo of falconry. But that wasn’t really my experience. I actually love the men of falconry. And when I didn’t want to write that story, the agent dropped me.

So here is the part where after standing by my guns to write the manuscript that I was meant to write, I meet an agent at a conference who loves my gumption and gets what I’m doing. It isn’t an easy sell because it’s not a sensationalized story, but my agent LOVES THIS BOOK and she hits the streets and knocks on doors and gets me a contract with an editor who is just as much in love with the book as she is. Or not.

A few years and many versions of my query package later, I did find another agent, a well-known well-loved NY agent with a lot of clout. I was excited, especially when it was sent to a big publishing house and an editor known for loving manuscripts with birds. I barely slept for weeks until I got the news—the editor liked it, but really didn’t think that anyone but falconers would want to read this book. I was very disappointed, but figured it was okay because it was only our first try and I was used to being told “no” many times before I heard “yes”. At least she didn’t hate it.

Except that my agent didn’t want to shop this book anymore. After all, no one but falconers would want to read it. She wanted me to write her something else. Agents are people too and people aren’t perfect. I don’t know what was going on in her life at the time, but my book, now titled LIFT was no longer a part of it.

So here is the part where I get up my gumption again, pull out the contacts I’ve made at the small presses I would love to see this book published with and find a home for it myself. I turn my agent around when the book gets placed and now she can’t wait to see my next book. In fact she’s already shopping the proposal for my next book and she knows she can build a career for me. It may take several books, but she is going to be there come hell or high water because she believes in me and just knows that I’m going to be a best-selling author. Or not.

I did still want to shop LIFT to my favorite small houses and my agent dismissively told me to go ahead and send the manuscript on my own. So I did. I was very fortunate that it found a home in a small but prestigious press. Then my agent disappeared when it came time to negotiate the contract. She didn’t want anything to do with me anymore. Not even with whatever I was writing next. Once more I was without representation.

But this is where a Cinderella story happens. Small prestigious press, book with great reviews unknown to New York gets a big buzz, people talk, readers love it,  the book sells like gangbusters and the publisher can’t keep up with the demand. I have agents knocking at my door. Everyone wants to know what my next project is and better yet, they want to be that one that shops it—or not.

LIFT

LIFT

The publisher was very excited about their “woman warrior” book. Galleys went out, some even hand delivered by the hardworking small press. LIFT got a starred review in Publishers Weekly (a starred review!!), a nice write up in Library Journal and glowing reviews almost across the board. It was happening! So the hard working writer invests the money and the time making appearance, doing readings, talking on radio shows and sends out galleys to many bloggers. Every free moment, every spare dime into this project she believes in with all her heart. The publicity is all great and the reviews continue to be stellar and here’s what happens…

A year later LIFT has sold 411 copies.

And now I’m out of scenarios in italics. It’s not about the money (mostly, anyway, because it does suck being broke). Really, the tears are for the fact that so few people have read the book I loved so dearly, fought so hard for and believed in with all my might. I did everything I could, everything I was supposed to and it didn’t make a difference.

And my story is pretty standard. In fact it’s better than many stories and because LIFT is with a small press that loves it, my book will remain in print, perhaps for perpetuity. It would be out of print by now with a bigger publishing house. It would be over. Instead, it’s only mostly over.

So what do I do? Is there someone I can blame, slander or sue? Or is it all my fault? This being more likely, do I just throw a massive tantrum and quit?

Fuck no.

I can’t. I want to, but I can’t. I can’t because I want to believe that good things happen to hard working people with passion. I don’t want to live in a world where that is not true. I can’t because I just know I have something important to say and I’ll never figure out what that is if I don’t keep writing. I can’t quit because I wake up with stories in my head and don’t know how to live without my imagination. I simply can’t quit.

And chances are the story of LIFT will be same for the next book and the next and maybe all the books I ever write. Life’s not fair and there is nothing you can do to tip the scales and make it fair. That doesn’t mean that you should let it win though.

So fuck you, publishing industry. I’m not going to quit. I’m going to fly my falcons and do what Sugar over at The Rumpus recommends. I’m going to “Write like a Mother Fucker” even if no one is reading.

…And I’m going to continue to love all of you who have read this blog over the years, read a copy of LIFT and shared your own stories with me. In fact, I’m going to love you all even more. All 411 of you are the very best friends a stubborn girl and wayward falcon could have. I love you all to pieces.

Whatever it is that you are passionate about in your own life, keep at it. Don’t you ever ever quit. And I won’t quit either.

54 Comments

  1. Dawn says:

    Rebecca – I found your blog through the parrot connection as well (proud to be owned by two of them, as well as a springer spaniel). Keep the faith! Your gift for words is awe-inspiring. The love of falconry, the outdoors, writing, et al. comes through loud and clear. Please don’t stop.

    From another proud, and humbled, original 411. Thank you for all your courage and inspiration. Dawn

  2. [...] months ago I had a small melt down online about the long journey of writing and publishing Lift and considering the acclaim the little book [...]

  3. [...] months ago I had a small melt down online about the long journey of writing and publishing Lift and considering the acclaim the little book [...]

  4. Melissa Hart says:

    Rebecca, I just discovered this post. I admire your honesty, as well as your devotion to “Lift.” I’ve been thinking about your book again this week, re-reading my review of it over at High Country News. I love “Lift” so much, and I’m thrilled that it’s going to be an audiobook, as well!

    –Melissa

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