I know this post is going to take a long time to write, so I'm cuddled up on the couch with the last glass of white wine in the house to tell you all about it. I hope you enjoy it. I hope it encourages you.
In May 2004, I started Surrender, Dorothy at the urging of my friend Average Jane. I had read a few blogs at that point, and the little angel was one month old. I, like many bloggers, felt isolated and wanted to reach out while on maternity leave. Little did I know at that point how this blog would change my life. It is now unrecognizable from what it was then.
It has taken a very long time for the traffic on this blog to build. I won't tell you what it is now, but let me just say it's higher than I ever hoped it would be but not as high as I someday hope it will be. But I wasn't really in it so much for traffic, or for pulling in ad revenue, but as a place to write at least five times a week. Anthony Trollope was a mailman for his entire writing career, and I've never anticipated I would be able to quit my job in order to write books. I still haven't. Maybe someday I will be able to, but I am not one of those people who can make a living from her blog. Not now. And that's okay.
I heard all the stories from Cagey and Average Jane about BlogHer 2005, and I decided I really, really wanted to go to BlogHer 2006. We had a free plane ticket from Beloved's job, and I had a place to stay, also free. So it was a win-win to go. As I read my favorite bloggers and reveled in the fact I would soon be meeting them face-to-face, I thought it would be cool and an amazing gift to my daughter to print out my favorite posts from each of them, put them in a binder, and have them sign their work at BlogHer. I thought about this for a few weeks.
Then I thought -- wouldn't everyone like to have such a thing?
In February 2006, I e-mailed Jenny Lauck, Eden Marriott Kennedy, and Alice Bradley with an e-mail entitled "An Idea in Its Baby Stages." I told them about my idea and asked them what they thought. They were all a little cautious, as they had NO IDEA who this Rita Arens person was, but they thought it just might work. They agreed to contribute. Most importantly, they wrote me back. I remember feeling thrilled to see their names in my in-box. For I, if nothing else, am a huge dork.
I found an example of a book proposal online and read all about the marketing part. I decided I needed some statistics to show how much of a trend blogging is, as even two years ago, it hadn't really become mainstream. I e-mailed Lisa Stone of BlogHer and asked if she had any statistics I could use. She asked for my number and called me. She asked a lot of questions about my idea, and I told her cautiously, again, waiting for the part where she would ask me who the hell I thought I was. She didn't. She said, "I want to be a part of this."
And thus began a wonderful friendship.
I started surfing, and reading, and e-mailing, and gathering together a list of 30 or so women and one man whose writing I admired. Some didn't write me back, but a lot of them did. Three or so who wrote me back for a long time ended up having to drop out for one reason or another. I didn't fault them for dropping out, but I remained shocked that many more didn't drop out than did. At this point, the book was called The Tequila Mommy Message Board.
In May 2006, Lisa invited me to join the initial BlogHer ad network, which began with parenting bloggers, or, as we were being called, "mommybloggers." I eagerly accepted, hoping it would help add to my legitimacy as I continued searching for contributors. In June 2006, I was invited to be featured on Mommybloggers, and Mir Kamin claimed to have discovered me.
If Rita were a weaver, she'd be one who sits quietly in the corner, not talking or waving her arms and calling attention to herself, but just ever-so-steadily producing ever-more-intricate fabrics. You might not even notice her. But then when you do finally look over? She's surrounded by mountains of of breathtaking work. I have no idea how she keeps flying below the radar, but when her popularity explodes I am SO taking credit for having discovered her. ;)
Mir will never know how much that comment in particular meant to me. Because I had been writing for a really long time, and I did feel like crickets were chirping an awful lot. But her comment kept me going.
Around this time, the little angel stopped sleeping through the night. She would wake up three times a night, sometimes for twenty minutes, sometimes for two hours. I spent a lot of time on her bedroom floor, dreaming of the book finding an agent. That was as far as I allowed my daydream to go in those days. That dream got me through the most difficult period of my adult life -- when my child wouldn't sleep.
The deadline for submissions to the book was November/December 2006. I hired a lawyer and laid out $900 of my hard-earned cash for real, legal-and-everything contributor agreements, which we all painstakingly mailed around. When the deadline came, I lost a few more contributors who never sent back in their contributor agreements, but I still had enough for a great book, and as the submissions trickled in, I was getting very, very excited.
I took all this uncut stuff and started massaging it into something real. At the same time, the proposal needed help. Lisa worked with me a lot, and Liz gave me incredible insight (do we all realize that Liz has written a book?). In the end, the proposal was 75 pages long. One of my other contributors, Risa Green, who has written a book that oh, I don't know, became a television series, spent a lot of time on the phone with me, telling me about her experience in the publishing world. I owe her a huge debt of gratitude. I still can't believe she was so nice to me.
At the end of March 2007, I got a fancy NYC agent. She changed the title of the book to Mommyblogging at Mach 10, which I kind of hated. I also attended BlogHer Business, where Jory Des Jardins introduced me to Redbook editor Stacy Morrison, who immediately agreed to write a foreward for the book, and I died and went to heaven. My agent sent the proposal out to eight prominent parenting editors at big publishing houses. They all passed. By June 2007, I got this e-mail from my agent:
I have no problem with you trying to sell the book to a smaller publisher at all. And I wish you the best of luck.
I was destroyed. I didn't blame her, I mean, agents don't get paid until your book sells, and if they don't sell it to a big enough publishing house, their little 15% cut doesn't keep the lights on. I remain thrilled that an agent of that caliber pushed the book as long as she did, which was longer than two months. That may not sound like much, but actually, it was pretty good for an unknown author with a book that still needed a bit of explanation to the mainstream media.
The night I got that e-mail from my former agent, I had a nervous breakdown on the back porch of Chateau Travolta, into which we had just moved. I'd uprooted my entire life to move out to the suburbs, the little angel wasn't sure about her new school, I wasn't sure about my new commute, the house needed a ton of work, my husband's job wasn't going so great, and now my dream was being squashed. I was desolate. My husband wouldn't stand for it. He told me to pull myself together, that of course this was going to happen, and look how far I'd come! Stacy Morrison! BlogHer! All these contributors! And who was I to stop now?? WHO???
Sometimes you just need a little tough love. Thank you, oh life partner.
I did what every other undiscovered writer does. I bought the updated Writer's Market and made a short list. Chicago Review Press was number three on that list. I went to BlogHer 2007 with my sister Blondie. I met Esther from a major publishing house. They passed on my book, but she called me and left a voicemail I still to this day have on my phone, saying it was a good book, a great book even, and whoever published it would be a very lucky company indeed. She saved me, again, as I needed saving so many times. Thank you, Esther.
I e-mailed Chicago Review Press. I didn't hear. I called. I called again. Then one day, at work, the publisher called me back. She said a lot of stuff I don't remember, then the one thing I did. She said, "I think I want to do this."
I changed the title again to Sleep Is for the Weak and floated it past her. A lot of people don't realize that most authors don't get to choose their title or cover art. I was very fortunate to keep my title and be able to weigh in on the art. My marketing contact and editor are avid blog readers. They get it. I never had to explain anything to them. They worked with me to redistribute the posts, write some introductions and own the book in a way I hadn't done before. I can't say enough nice things about Cynthia, Mary and Michelle. Throughout the entire project I felt like a huge poser, just waiting for someone to pull back the curtain and point out that I didn't know what the hell I was doing. But nearly everyone I've encountered has been wonderful and giving of her time and energy. All I had to do was ask, and back up my proposals with facts. Yes, getting rejected 15 times before finding a publisher was horrible, but it also made finding CRP so much sweeter.
We signed the contract in September 2007. The book is coming out in bookstores this September 2008, a full year later. It's a BlogHer book, the first BlogHer book, and I hope it's the first of many. The list of contributors is certainly not exhaustive of all the wonderful writers out there. If this book sells well, I hope to do another. I hope to get more people's words out into the world. I hope to write a book all my own. But for now, the dream I began when I was twelve has come to fruition: This fall, I hit the Dewey Decimal system and the Library of Congress. It is worth the 200+ hours and $1500 I have in this book. It is worth my pride, 195 e-mails, countless phone calls and two and a half years of my life. It is worth all the criticism I'm sure I'll receive, because that's what happens when you throw yourself out there. But I write this story to let you know that it didn't happen overnight, and it was worth every fucking minute. Keep writing. Keep trying.
And please, read this book. I think it's really good.