It was June 2008 when fellow birders Dave and Abby Watson encouraged me to write a bird-finding guide to central New Mexico. “You’re a writer,” they said. “You would do a great job.”
It seemed like an impossible task, and I quickly dismissed the idea. However, over that summer, the notion kept popping up when I was exploring one of central New Mexico’s natural environments. I realized that I already had been collecting my impressions when I wrote the story about the week’s birding adventures and posted it on my blog – It’s a Bird Thing. It would be a natural extension to look at each location in a new light. As I roamed through the Sandia Mountains or prowled along the central Rio Grande, I began paying attention to the trails and facilities and started accumulating notes. I noticed what was helpful in other bird finding guides as I traveled to new areas.
By spring, I felt it was a project I could undertake and enlisted the involvement of my friend and birding mentor, Barbara Hussey. She was excited to be a part of the endeavor and has been a wonderful partner in the project. A month later, she and another friend, Sue, traveled to Texas in search of birds. As we wound our way through the Hill Country, down to Corpus Christie, over to the lower Rio Grande and back, we consulted two different guides and made note of what was helpful and what was missing.
After enjoying looks of the Green (Barb) and Ringed (Sue and I) Kingfishers early one morning at Salineno, a remote village along the Rio Grande, we realized we had no clue where to find a rest room – and vowed to include that information in our publication. Most bird-finding guides, we would later discover, are written by men!
Because both Barb and I had traveled to other cities on business trips where we didn’t have a car, but wanted to sneak in some birding, we decided to include public transportation options when they existed.
By the end of May we had decided what sites we would highlight, and the features we would include about each one. By June I started writing in earnest. From northern Virginia, Barb began researching public transportation options, the best travel routes to reach each site, and the closest food, gas and lodging.
I quickly discovered some of the gaps in my notes, and made multiple trips back to each location – a wonderful excuse to do early morning birding before returning to my computer. However, it became difficult to enjoy my weekly trips with the Thursday Birders, since I felt compelled to check out details.
Fellow birders became additional site experts, reviewing and making recommendations to site descriptions where they frequently led field trips or located near their home.
In August, I contacted University of New Mexico (UNM) Press. They were very excited and the Acquisitions Editor felt it would be a good addition to their collection. I told him that we would be able to have a final manuscript to him by December 18. We both wanted to enjoy the holidays without having it hang over our heads.
As I completed each site description, I e-mailed them to Barb for her always excellent feedback. I reached my goal to have all of the site descriptions written before I flew to California in early October. A print-out of each chapter went with me to proof between visits with family and friends and on while away the time on the plane and the airport.
When I returned I began vetting each site with the government agency responsible for the location and researching the prevalence of the bird species we had included in the guide through Cornell University’s eBird online database of sightings. Through their bar graph feature, I was able to determine when migrating species arrived and left central New Mexico.
The manuscript was finished and sent off on schedule.
In early February after returning from a visit with my son and his family in California, I received a package from UNM Press – with the manuscript and a letter saying that it was with deep regret that they would not be able to publish our book; the press was experiencing severe financial constraints.
I learned how to submit a book proposal and started approaching numerous publishers. All came back with a polite rejection – until we got to Texas A&M Press. They were very interested and wanted us to send the full manuscript. We scrambled to make the numerous changes we had decided would enhance the manuscript and sent it on its way.
By the end of June, the editor had sent us the comments from our first peer review and told us she was in the process of contacting the second reviewer. By mid–August, we had the second set of comments and summarized the changes we would make as a result of the reviews. Their perspectives as individuals who had spent time birding in central New Mexico, but who were viewing the sites with fresh eyes, were extremely helpful.
Meanwhile, Barb was busy drawing trail diagrams and my sister, Chris, used her Computer Assisted Drafting (CAD) program to turn them into finished products.
The faculty review committee met on September 22 and unanimously approved Birding Hotpots of Central New Mexico for publication. “The committee members were enthusiastic and completely supportive,” she stated. “We’re ready to move forward.”
It still doesn’t seem real.
Early this week, a box went in the mail with two copies of the final manuscript and accompanying disks of photos, diagrams, etc.
The publishing process is lengthy, but will be worth the wait. The book should be ready to purchase in July 2011. Stay tuned for more details.