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. Helen says:

    You Go Girl! Amen and keep fighting. I loved your book….and still think it should be a movie. Do you think that Anakin could possibly “sparkle” even more then he already does in your heart?
    Stay the path. Your dedicated followers are still reading.
    LOVE YOU LOTS!

  2. Don’t ever give up. I loved the book so much I bought three copies. I’m giving them as gifts. Very Special gifts. I still think it should be a film.

  3. naseem says:

    I am with you- the publishing world is a hard hard place. I loved your book, and have talked it up to book sellers and given it to friends who would appreciate your story and its message. Keep believing in your work.

  4. Theo Nestor says:

    Rebecca,

    I love this blog post. I wish I were a fabulous NY somebodyerother who could give your book the needed boost. I’m just another writer, but I totally hear you–the complete grind of it all, the hopes so high the disappointment so low. Been there!

    I don’t know if bloggers ever repost blogs and link back to the original one (driving millions of readers–okay 20–to your site), but I’d love to repost this on my site Writing is My Drink. Email me if you’re interested.

    Love the ending…yeah, write! They can’t take that away from us.

    Theo

  5. ChristineZ says:

    Keep writing with the passion that you had while writing that book. I am now intrigued by your book and wonder where I can buy it? Is it available for Kindle?

    Also–I LOVE YOUR COVER.

  6. rebecca says:

    Big hugs to you, Helen, Patricia and Naseem. There are many good things that have come from writing LIFT, great friendships and important lessons.

    But I get asked daily it seems, “How is your book doing?” And I just couldn’t stand saying “fine” one more time…

  7. Rich Dustin says:

    Just stumbled upon this post… by accident… by connective linkage. I am not of the world of falconry. Yet, it was read, consumed, and highly appreciated for it’s honesty. You touched an unsuspecting reader. Your integrity is intact. Agents and publishers could learn from this. It shouldn’t always be about them getting paid first.

  8. rebecca says:

    LIFT is available online at Amazon, B&N etc. You can buy it directly from Red Hen, order it from your local indie store or get a copy directly from me here: http://rebeccakoconnor.com

    I believe Red Hen Press plans on making it available on Kindle, but hasn’t yet.

  9. Rebecca:

    For a writer so gifted, it shouldn’t be agony trying to realize your dreams. Your dedication, candor and fortitude are not only stellar, but stunning.

  10. Laura says:

    Well now I’m definitely buying your book, and I hope other people will come across this blog entry (I clicked on the link on a Tweet from VIDA_lit) and buy it too. We need more thoughtfully written works published. I myself am at the stage of rewriting a years-in-the-making, already-polished manuscript because agents say it’s well-written, great voice, etc., etc., but they can’t sell it in this market because it’s not shocking enough. So while I can’t fabricate “shocking” things about my story, I can make it tighter and leaner and a faster read, and see if that helps on the next go-round. So that is what I’ll do–I can’t just quit. Like you, I have a story that needs telling and I can’t give up. Best wishes to you in your next endeavor as well.

  11. feralchick says:

    411? omg, I broke into tears when I read that. There is something terribly wrong when a book this wonderful can go so overlooked. And I agree with Patricia about it making a great film. Someday . . .

  12. T. says:

    Thank you ! I wont if you wont!

  13. rebecca says:

    Love you all! Thank you thank you thank you thank you for the kind words and support.

    LIFT is probably done and hopefully I’m moving on and through the novel I’m working on now — but while you’re out there reading and writing, remember that there is a person behind every book. Support the writers and people that you appreciate. Buy their books. And if something intrigues- buy it and if you love it tell EVERYONE.

  14. rebecca says:

    Loads of hugs, Gayle.

    Those of you who are just starting out, be kind and generous to your other writer friends. There will be times in the future when they are the light in your darkest moments. Gayle has done this often for me…

  15. Hang in there. Definitely keep writing, and breathing, and blinking, and all that other stuff that you really can’t help doing.

    Proud to be one of the 411.

  16. Margrethe says:

    As long as you keep writing, some of us will keep reading it. Don’t give up just because there are only a few hundred of us who recognize your gift.

  17. Samantha Dunn says:

    I adore you, Red. xxoox

  18. rebecca says:

    Love you too, Sam. If it weren’t for LIFT I may not have met you. I AM grateful for that.

    –Redheads unite!!

  19. Lizzy says:

    Soon to be 412. Living in New Zealand, amazon.com is the only seller who will ship to me, but if your book is still in stock on payday it will be on its way to me. I can’t wait to read it :). And Margrethe is right – please don’t give up hope.

  20. Cynthia says:

    I found your blog through the parrot posts which I thoroughly enjoy. You are a very good writer and I found your book lovely and inspiring. Keep writing please – write for yourself, from the heart, which you so obviously do. The readership will follow.

  21. Chandi says:

    Rebecca! We were in a writing class together at UCR! Just came across your blog. How are you? Glad to hear about your perseverance with your book. You’re a fabulous writer! I gave up on the book I was working on in that class. Working on a different one…slightly similar though… still memoir style.

    I have blog that I started in 2008 at the beginning of my divorce…it chronicles that process and the major illness I had at the same time. Last two years have been crazy (hard) but I’m doing great now. The publishing world is so tough. I have hopes of course, for my book, but I know how tough it is out there!

    Keep in touch!
    Chandi
    http://italiandreams.wordpress.com

  22. Isaac says:

    Proud to be one of the 411! Can we call ourselves the ORIGINAL 411 since you’re going to sell a bunch more after that post?? 😉 Great book and I’m glad to have shared that adventure. As all the others have said, keep it up!

  23. rebecca says:

    Criminy. I just wanted to rant– not try to sell more books. Although, I’m sure my publicist is smiling.

    But Ike, no matter what happens from here on out, I am certain I will now always think of my readers as my beloved 411.

    Did I mention I love you guys??

  24. Dawn Stuart says:

    Yes, here I am, and smiling indeed.(-: I’m stoked to see you come out the other end of this, ranting, ready, and writing.

  25. Linda Tate says:

    As the author of an award-winning memoir that has sold only around 450 books, I could definitely relate to your post. Thank you for your honesty and candor in writing it. So many good books out there — so few purchased.

  26. rebecca says:

    I know I’m not alone and that this is a common story for authors, but it hurts to hear it from someone else. Hugs, Linda!

  27. Just wanted to thank you for sharing your story so honestly and so beautifully!

  28. Steve Bodio says:

    As of TODAY all readers of Q blog will be ordered to buy Lift if they haven’t already.

    You know I have been there too– terrific reviews, indifferent agents, incompetent publishers, few sales…

  29. rebecca says:

    I know, Steve– you who have written some of my all-time-favorite books– I know. And I’m very sorry (and grateful) that you have been my solace throughout the journey. I’ve always been able to tell myself “Sh*t. If this can happen to Bodio, who am *I* to complain.”

    Look at me. Complaining all the same. 🙂

  30. […] of support over on Operation Delta Duck. I woke up in that morning and found myself writing a post about the journey of getting LIFT, my memoir published and the amazingly dismal results of all my efforts. Mostly, I was just trying […]

  31. Joe says:

    Rebecca,
    I wish I had enough cash let you just write for a living. You put words to stuff that only knows a place in my soul. You and I see stuff that no one can really understand and I could never explain to people that do not have our shared passion. When I fail to explain to people why I do what we do, I point them to your blog.

    You are very, very talented and talent should never be wasted. You keep typing and a lot of us will keep reading. You never know when one of us might forward something to someone that turns out to be somebody….

    I seem to recall talking with you and another falconer years back about flying big water right after JR 3rd did a talk about it. This publishing stuff, that’s big water, you just need to remember to wait for them to clear before the stoop.

    Joe

  32. Cheryl says:

    Rebecca, I’m one of your “Ty lovers” and have shared some of your parrot posts on the World Parrot Refuge FB. I love your writing: so honest, evocative and beautiful. Your “Earning My Wings” post was amazing. It was my honour to share it with the parrot folks on FB.

    I’ve been meaning to get a copy of Lift for some time, and your post was the kick in the butt I deserved, frankly. I’ve ordered it directly from you! Yay! I can’t wait to read it. Thank you for persevering. Your words deserve to be read, and I’ll continue to share them with others. :0)

    Cheryl

  33. Gail Storey says:

    Thank you for your authenticity and generosity in sharing this experience. I can relate, since I’m getting extremely complimentary rejections for my new ms. ;-D
    Your book sounds wonderful, your blog is inspiring, and we don’t always know the power of the awareness that comes through us.

  34. rebecca says:

    Cheryl — THANK YOU. I’ll send your book out ASAP with love.

    Gail — Hang in there and hope for magic, but be true to yourself first.

    Joe– You made me cry– only partially for the kind words. It was the metaphor that floored me. Yes, publishing is big scary water with a thousand ducks and the need for pinpoint focus and desire. I’m still afraid to hunt on big water– afraid to lose the falcon, afraid to lose myself, but the possibilities are immense. Bravo. And THANK YOU.

  35. […] even managed to write a brilliant article about the difficulties she faced getting Lift published and the lackluster sales of the book (Lift […]

  36. […] Lift received deservedly great reviews, and the author wrote an eye-opening (and typically intelligent) blog post about the rocky path she traversed before getting Lift published. […]

  37. terrie says:

    I kicked myself for missing your visit to Copperfields in Sebastopol; now I’m kicking myself over not buying your book earlier. Saw this via Bodio’s blog and getting the book now. Nice to find your blog here, too!

  38. Patrick Seitz says:

    Well said, Rebecca! We should have coffee soon and catch up–and I’d like to buy that 412th copy… 🙂

  39. TCWriter says:

    Books defying categorization seem to always be a tough sell, but Lift blew me away (I bought Lift before buying Lift was cool), and I’m betting it has legs (kinda long legs).

    Here’s hoping it picks up speed and blows through 1000 copies by the end of the year.

  40. Janice Rines says:

    I can’t wait to buy at least two copies of your book. Where can I get it. My Daddy was becoming a falconer (don’t know if I spelled that right). But I was down south visiting him and he had been at it a long time and had sponsers. He was keeping excellent records. Weighing the bird everyday and weighting the food. Placing the bird on a pertch walking (I don’t know exactly how far) blowing some type of whistle and the falcon would fly and get the raw meat my Daddy had for him. I was so impressed. He has a farm and was also making his own leather and different size gests?(don’t know if I spelled that right either) See I don’t know much, but I was impressed with the discipline in what he was doing and he has always loved, been interested, and had all types of animals and birds long before I was ever born. But I love to read up and find out more about what he’s (my Daddy) doing and be able to talk or listen to him and really know what he’s talking about. I want a copy of your book and I want to get a copy for him too. It’d be great if you could sign one for him and one for me. That may be asking too much. I can pay using paypal. His Name is Al McCraney and I’m Janice McCraney Rines. But leave out the Rines and just make it Janice McCraney if you can. Continued success and I really admire your gumption. You go girl.

  41. Priscilla says:

    Rebecca, you are so right to keep writing! I love that you’re honest and determined to be true to yourself and your story. I suspect the story of LIFT is not over yet. The quality, hard-to-pin-down stuff often builds over time–over years, not days or weeks as our current climate of instant opportunity would have us believe. It’s so much more sustaining to take joy in the writing process no matter where it leads. As I write my own book I remind myself of this daily. Here is a short post I wrote on it a while back.

    I’m so glad to discover your blog and your writing! I also see a friend of yours, Gayle B, is an author I copyedited many years ago for HarperSanFrancisco. Heading to her blog next…

  42. Jacqui Brown says:

    Girl I hear you loud and clear. The amount of time and effort one puts in to, not only writing a book, but also promoting it, is insane. I have self-published for this very reason. There is no such thing as big publishers marketing campaigns anymore. I love having control over what I do. I have two books out and two coming out in November and December. I love to blog books first because then I see exactly who my audience is. I now know exactly who my audience is. They are people exactly like me!

    Hang tough, keep writing, don’t let ’em see you sweat!

  43. Steve Bodio says:

    At least three more from my blog have bought– I will keep pushing. Uphill if I must. And word of mouth will multiply…

  44. i’ve been meaning to get this for some time ( purchased today ) but other things, always seemed to get in the way. Keep at it, it will all come together !

  45. Dana says:

    You are an inspiration. There is no way that you will not sell a bazillion books and a movie…..

  46. Mary Golden says:

    Hi, Rebecca,

    Gail Storey posted a link to this raw tale of grit on the Boulder Media Women listserve which has about 500 people reading it now and again.

    I’ll order a copy of your book to share with a friend who also loves birds.

    Another tale of a writer’s travail is a memorable part of “Hereafter,” a film by Clint Eastwood. Cécile de France plays a French television journalist and media star who gets the contract of her dreams to write a book about a politician. Instead, she turns in a book about the hereafter, much to the consternation of her publisher.

    Writers write. Thanks for the reminder.

  47. As a fellow writer, teacher, and hunter, I find your spirit a familiar one. There’s a book about you called “Feel the fear and do it anyway…” I am getting my butt into the blogosphere soon, to document a move from urban to rural lifestyles, and I’ve always been handy with dogs, birds, and raising wild hairs…so I see that you will never quit, and that’s where you need to stay. As a stranger to you, but not to your experiences, I applaud your willingness to put it out there. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!
    ps…also buying the book…

  48. Tom Hardy says:

    Just finished your book today. Loved it. Thanks very much.

  49. rebecca says:

    I continue to be floored by the outpouring of support this post created. Thank you all so much for your kindness and for reading LIFT. xo R