Rebecca Heisman—Flight Paths: How a Passionate and Quirky Group of Pioneering Scientists Solved the Mystery of Bird Migration

Flight Paths

Flight Paths


Rebecca Heisman
HarperCollins, March 14, 2023, $30
ISBN-13: 9780063161146, ASIN: B0B3XRDLYL

Heisman reports:

The origins of Flight Paths go back to my pre-pandemic job as a one-person communications department for the American Ornithological Society. Reading paper after paper being published in the Society’s peer-reviewed journals and turning these papers into blog posts and press releases, I found myself fascinated by not only the results but also by the methods. Who knew you could study bird migration using weather radar? Or hydrogen isotopes in feathers? Or passive recordings of nocturnal flight calls?

Rebecca Heisman

Rebecca Heisman

When COVID-19 hit, I became one of the millions of women who left their jobs to take on more caregiving responsibilities at home. I also decided that the time had come to turn this fascination into a book proposal, eventually getting very lucky with both finding an agent and landing a contract.

I queried the woman who became my agent after seeing her mentioned in the acknowledgments of another popular science book with a similar target audience. She sold the book to an editor at HarperCollins who happened to be a birdwatcher.

My book tells how a century’s worth of technological advances has been harnessed to understand where birds go and why. It’s probably the only bird book you will ever read that delves into subjects like the invention of the transistor, the Human Genome Project, and the advent of machine learning.

The nitty gritty: I kept myself organized by creating a digital folder for each chapter, where I kept the PDFs of every paper I read, the recordings of every interview I conducted, etc. I also organized my citations as I went. I used Zotero software, which made creating the list of references in my finished manuscript MUCH easier than it might have been without it.

If I had it all to do over again, I would have done deeper research and more detailed outlining at the proposal stage instead of leaving myself with so much to figure out after I’d signed a book contract, but it all came together, and I’m very happy with the finished book. My advice to aspiring authors is just go for it! Make sure you have a topic you won’t be bored with after being immersed in it for several years!

Contact info:

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Tell your fellow NASW members how you came up with the idea for your book, developed a proposal, found an agent and publisher, funded and conducted research, and put the book together. Include what you wish you had known before you began working on your book, or had done differently.


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Advance Copy

The path from idea to book may take myriad routes. The Advance Copy column, started in 2000 by NASW volunteer book editor Lynne Lamberg, features NASW authors telling the stories behind their books. Authors are asked to report how they got their idea, honed it into a proposal, found an agent and a publisher, funded and conducted their research, and organized their writing process. They also are asked to share what they wish they’d known when they started or would do differently next time, and what advice they can offer aspiring authors. Lamberg edits the authors’ answers to produce the Advance Copy reports.

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